Previous SectionIndexHome Page


3. Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): What recent discussions he has had with the Department of Trade and Industry on energy in Scotland. [43212]
24 Jan 2006 : Column 1289

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): There are regular discussions with Ministers and officials in the Department of Trade and Industry on a wide range of matters.

Mr. Weir: I thank the Minister for that uninformative answer. He will know that the DTI launched its energy review consultation document yesterday. Why are the Government determined to foist new nuclear power stations on Scotland when Scotland does not have an energy crisis? We produce eight times more gas than we consume, we have massive coal reserves and a massive potential for renewable energy generation. Is it not the case that Scotland could be energy independent? What we need is not new nuclear power stations but political power.

Mr. Darling: If the nationalists had their way, Scotland would not have any energy generation at all, because they are against nuclear and coal-fired power, and against wind farms unless they are in somebody else's constituency. They must face the fact that, in the next 15 to 20 years, Scotland will lose a lot of its generating capacity because it is getting older and we need to plan ahead now to make sure that we have secure energy supplies in the future. That means that we need to examine whether we should extend the life of the existing nuclear power stations, and whether there should be any new building of nuclear power stations and other plants. I must also point out that this Government and the Scottish Executive have given substantial help to renewable energy generation, which is very important. If the nationalists had their way, there would be no plants anywhere at all.

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, North) (Lab): The Secretary of State will be aware that, 30 years ago, Scotland held a world-class position in the renewables industry, but we lost that position when investment was squeezed out in the rush to go nuclear. Will the Secretary of State ensure, no matter what decision is made on nuclear power following the DTI review of the United Kingdom's energy requirements, that we maintain our investment in the renewables industry?

Mr. Darling: Absolutely. The Government and the Scottish Executive have targets to maintain and expand the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources. However, as I have said before, it is important that we generate electricity from a range of sources, so that we do not become over-dependent on any single one, which would be very risky. The whole point of the review is to have a grown-up discussion about what is best for Scotland. It is simply not possible to have an energy policy in which every option is ruled out, which is the position into which all three Opposition parties have more or less got themselves.

David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con): Last week in the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister said that section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 gives the Scottish Executive the power to veto the construction of new nuclear power stations in Scotland. Will the Secretary of State ask his colleagues in the DTI whether they agree with that interpretation?
24 Jan 2006 : Column 1290

Mr. Darling: Of course they do. I said at the last Question Time that the Scottish Executive would have to give their consent under the 1989 Act. In addition, planning matters are devolved, so the hon. Gentleman is doing no more than stating the blindingly obvious.

David Mundell: When the Secretary of State next discusses energy issues with his colleagues in the DTI, will he raise the impact of rising energy prices on businesses in Scotland? On the day that has seen the announcement of the loss of 700 jobs at Lexmark in Rosyth, will the Secretary of State acknowledge the fragility of Scotland's manufacturing industry? Does he accept that continuing rises in base costs will lead to further job losses?

Mr. Darling: Energy costs are certainly very important. Again, however, it is no use the hon. Gentleman saying that he is concerned about energy prices if he is then going to rule out a whole range of ways in which we could produce more energy, thus reducing prices. In relation to the announcement at Lexmark today, I have spoken to the local manager there and discussed the situation with him. This is clearly extremely disappointing news for the people who are employed at Lexmark, but the Scottish Executive and the Government, through Jobcentre Plus, will do everything that they possibly can to help the people who lose their jobs. In addition, it is also worth noting that more than 1,200 jobs have been announced in Fife in the past year. At a time when changes are taking place in the jobs market here and right across the world, it is important that we have a strong, stable economy backed up by as much help as possible to ensure that, if people do lose their jobs, they get back into work as soon as possible. That is something that we have been able to do, and there are now more jobs in Fife than at any time when the Tories were in power. It is important that we continue to maintain that course.

Mr. John MacDougall (Glenrothes) (Lab): I appreciate what my right hon. Friend has said about the investment in Fife and the campaigns fought by many people, including the late Rachel Squire, to achieve that success.

Scotland's energy needs will arise whether Scotland wants them to or not and they will have to be met. What mechanisms will my right hon. Friend provide to allow Scotland's energy industry to engage in discussions during the energy review?

Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend is right to say how important it is for the Government to maintain a strong and stable economy in Fife and elsewhere, so that jobs continue to be created there. Some 10,000 jobs have been created in Fife over the past seven or eight years. Now we must ensure that we can maintain the current conditions to allow the creation of many more jobs.

It is worth noting that some of the new jobs in Fife that have been announced during the last few months are connected with the construction of a wind turbine there. That is an example of the way in which Fife can gain from the new opportunities. It is important for all energy companies to be involved in the review, and that will certainly happen.
24 Jan 2006 : Column 1291

Election Counts

4. Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the proposals by the Electoral Commission to change the timing of the count at the Scottish parliamentary and local government elections. [43213]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): I received the Electoral Commission's report on 10 January, and, in consultation with Ministers in the Scottish Executive, will consider its recommendations.

Mr. Donohoe: My right hon. Friend will know that I strongly oppose the idea of delaying the count. I believe that the delay is being requested purely because the same staff are used at polling stations during the day as are used at the count. Surely the answer is to employ more staff, so that an important aspect of the whole election process is adhered to.

Mr. Darling: I have some sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. As a Member who represents a constituency in Edinburgh, where results are regularly declared on what appears to be the next day—at 4 or 5 am—I should like to represent a constituency where they are declared at, say, 11.5 pm. We shall need to discuss the matter, not just with those who do the counting but with others, but we have only just received the recommendations and I think that I had better consider them before deciding what we should do.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Is it not essential for the counting of votes in the Scottish parliamentary and local government elections to be separated, ideally by about a year? Given that complex new local government election systems are being introduced, would it not be inappropriate for them to be implemented on the same day as the already complicated parliamentary election system? Only wee fearties want the elections to take place together.

Mr. Darling: I am not sure that I agree with that proposition. I am responsible for the conduct of elections to the Scottish Parliament. Responsibility for the timing of the local government elections lies with the Scottish Executive.

David Mundell: Is the Secretary of State aware that the Electoral Commission has said that the additional member system of election, which would prevent candidates from standing in constituencies and also appearing on regional lists, is "outside international democratic norms"? Will he rule out the introduction of such a system in Scotland?

Mr. Darling: If it were not for the list system in Scotland there would be no Conservative MSPs, so I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. As I have said, I do not expect any early changes to be made to the Scotland Act 1998. We have the recommendations of the Arbuthnot committee, which will need to be considered by all political parties and indeed by others, but I have made it clear that I do not think any changes will be possible before the coming elections to the Scottish Parliament.
24 Jan 2006 : Column 1292

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Lanark and Hamilton, East) (Lab): The Secretary of State will recall the controversy that preceded the establishment of the Arbuthnot committee. Does he agree that, now that we have its report, Parliament—and Back Benchers in particular—should be able to have an input before the Government's response? Would that not best be achieved by setting up a Scottish Grand Committee to discuss the report?

Mr. Darling: I am always open to suggestions. I am sure that the usual channels will want to consider that. One thing that my hon. Friend will want to consider is whether a suitably large attendance at the Scottish Grand Committee can be guaranteed.

Next Section IndexHome Page