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Dogma about new nuclear power is unhelpful, for and against.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Any company could today apply to build a new nuclear power station. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government will not offer any subsidies whatsoever for the construction or operation of new nuclear power stations either directly in cash or indirectly through subsidies for waste disposal, guaranteed prices, guaranteed purchases, insurance liability cover and so forth?
Mr. Darling: I can see that my hon. Friend is anxious to get more nuclear plant built at the earliest possible opportunity. We will set out our position when I publish the conclusions of the energy review. In the meantime, we have made it clear that it is for the private sector to come forward with proposals in relation to any generating capacity, and we expect it to meet the cost.
Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): DTI officials recently confirmed to the Public Accounts Committee that the DTI has ignored the Treasurys green book in calculating nuclear decommissioning costs. Why?
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Earlier, the Secretary of State said that there is an urgent need to take action to save the planet, and we clearly agree with him. When we asked about the time scale, however, he said that he would announce it shortly. What is the big secret about announcing the timetable for the review? The Prime Minister has given the lead, and we know what he thinks about nuclear power. Is it not time for the Secretary of State to tell us when the statement on the energy review will be made?
Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con):
It is now three months since the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management said that Britain needed to find a long-term solution to the disposal of nuclear waste. Does the Secretary of State accept that regardless of whether new nuclear power stations are being built, we
cannot go on drifting without that issue being addressed? What assessment has he made of the approaches being taken in other countries, particularly in Scandinavia, that are developing deep burial facilities and where, crucially, the open approach that they have taken means that they have managed to carry public opinion with them?
Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman is right that for many years, under successive Governments, there has been much debate on what we should do with this waste, which is with us regardless of what we do in terms of any new generation of nuclear power. CoRWM published its interim findings in April, and I understand that it will publish its final conclusions this month. It suggested a course of action in its interim statement, and I will respond to that when I deal with the energy review as a whole.
Keith Vaz: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I remind her that on 21 June, the Governor of the Bank of England said at Mansion house that he felt that our legal system was incapable of resolving financial disputes such as BCCI in a timely and cost-effective way. The Minister is aware that the last litigation lasted 256 days and that the liquidation has taken 15 years to complete. I am glad that the Minister will be meeting me. Let us hope that, with ministerial action, this very long liquidationthe largest insolvency in historywill be brought to a speedy conclusion.
Margaret Hodge: First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment to the Privy Council. [Hon. Members: Hear, hear.] Having looked at the history of this in preparing to answer his question, I completely understand that it has taken an inordinately long time to settle. When I looked at the judgment in the recent case of the Bank of England v. BCCI, I could detect no suggestion from the judge that the liquidators had acted other than in good faith on the basis of the professional advice available to them. Indeed, the judges anger seems to have been directed rather more at the legal profession than at the liquidators.
The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): The DTI and the regulator, Ofgem, now lead an industry group known as the electricity networks strategy group, which looks at our networks as a whole to ensure that they do not present any barriers to the meeting of Government energy goals. That applies not only to the national grid system, but to local generation.
Mr. Robathan: I am glad to hear that. The Minister may know that I have a longstanding interest in renewable energy; indeed, I have a photovoltaic roof partly paid for by the DTI PV scheme. I should declare that interest. As he knows, decentralised energy can contribute to the efficiency of renewables. Will he therefore consider, following the investigation, extending Ofgems remit to provide for decentralised network generation?
Malcolm Wicks: This is a bit like waiting for Godot, although, for me, rather more interesting. We have to wait for the publication of the review on those aspects. However, I take the hon. Gentlemans point about having more decentralised energy. I am pleased that his roof has photovoltaics. I hope that he voted for the money that allowed that to happen; we will check the record on that. A number of challenges are involved in providing more decentralised energy, not least in terms of planning and regulation.
The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Alistair Darling): If I recall correctly, the tradition is that the question is answered first. In fact, my answer to questions 7 and 9 is broadly similar.
Mr. Ruffley: That is pretty much what I expected. In 2004, 3.5 per cent. of our electricity came from renewables compared with a European Union average of 39 per cent. for the same year. In what year does the Secretary of State expect the UK to hit the EU average?
Mr. Darling: Again, we will make our proposals when we publish the energy review. Although the amount of energy from renewable sources is not as high as we would like it to be, it has steadily increased because of the renewables obligation that we introduced in 2002. If there is to be a step change, there must be a change in the planning laws because far too many applications are currently bottled up in the planning system. Until that is sorted out, there will continue to be less use of renewables than we would like.
Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): The Secretary of State gave an entirely adequate answer on the subject of legacy waste, which CoRWM is examining. However, if nuclear energy is to play a part in the future energy mix of our country, the new waste that is generated will also need to be treated, stored and disposed of appropriately. What work has been done by anybodyCoRWM has not done muchto establish how the new type of waste, which is smaller in volume but higher in radioactivity, will be disposed of?
Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman is right that CoRWMs work has been directed at current waste, although much of that can apply to the waste that we may have to tackle in future. It is likely that a new generation of nuclear plant would be more efficient and therefore produce less waste, but the hon. Gentleman is rightessentially, we are dealing with the same problem. That is why much of the work that has been done in the past will be useful in future.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State agree that no energy review would be realistic without taking note of the massive amount of coalnot as great as it used to bethat is still used in Britain? Not many pits are left. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is necessary to keep them open? Is not it important to make sure that we use the coal from this country instead of relying on coal from other countries, which may not be stable in future? Will he therefore give a guarantee to the more than 50,000 people who will meet at the Durham miners rally on Saturday that coal will play a major part and that we will dig more British coal as a result of the energy review?
Mr. Darling: Yes, coal is an important contributor, which helped us substantially last winter when there was pressure on gas supplies. The Government have given a substantial amount of money to the coal industry in this country over the past few years and I hope that British coal will continue to play a major role in electricity generation. Of course, as the Government have always made clear, it is up to the generators and producers of coal to reach the appropriate agreement on how much coal is provided. However, the Government have made money available in the past and they will continue to do so.
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that combined heat and power units could play a far greater role in the energy mix? They are more efficient and produce less waste. However, I know of several plants that have been built but not used. Is there a reason for that? Can the Government do anything about it?
Mr. Darling: Yes, we could do better on combined heat and power, but there are several problems, and I will set them out as well as ways in which we might tackle them. Some relate to getting on to the grid and there have also been other difficulties. Other countries have made a success of combined heat and power and, although it has its limitations, we can do a bit more than we have done in the past.
Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): In answer to an earlier question, the Secretary of State made the good point that we have enormous potential to exploit wave and tidal power. He knows that the highlands and islands have enormous potential in that context. One of the problems that companies that develop those technologies face is getting them into a commercially viable state. Can the Government do more to provide support for companies that are developing wave and tidal power technologies so that they can get those products to market faster and ensure that the highlands and islands can take a lead in that sector, and that a large share of our electricity is generated from those sources sooner rather than later?
Mr. Darling: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I would like to see more energy generated from marine and tidal power. As he knows, these methods have had a somewhat chequered past, and there have been many false starts. However, the Government have supported them with financial help. I mentioned the planning problems earlier. I would like to see more wind and marine generation of energy, but if we are going to achieve that, we must also provide the transmission lines to get the energy from where it is generated to where it is consumed, whether that is in the central belt of Scotland or in England. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is sometimes very difficult to convince people that if we are going to generate electricity in the north of Scotland, we will also need the power lines. If people continue to object to all these things, none of it will happen.
Miss McIntosh: I thank the Secretary of State for that full and comprehensive reply. As part of the review, will he tell the House what consideration he has given to the role that green crops such as sugar beet could play in producing biomass, and particularly biofuel? Until recently, the Drax power station, in the constituency of Selby, was taking green crops from the Vale of York to co-fire, but it has now stopped doing so. I am sure that the Secretary of State will realise that this is becoming a matter of some urgency, as the sugar beet factory at York is scheduled to close next year, and we are looking for alternative means of creating energy from these crops.
Mr. Darling: The hon. Lady makes a good point. There is some potential in that regard. She mentioned biofuels, and she will be aware that I announced last November that we would impose an obligation that 5 per cent. of fuels had to be biofuels. The impact on carbon of that measure will be the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road every year. These matters are under consideration, and I will have more to say about them shortly.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): What discussions will the Department be having with British Sugar to determine how sugar beet can be used for biofuels? Is the Secretary of State aware that its Allscott factory in my constituency is to close in April 2007, with the result that 650 Shropshire farmers will no longer have a market for this important cash crop? In addition, 120 people working at the factory will lose their jobs. Is it not time for British Sugar to start working with the Government to create co-operatives with farmers to deliver biofuels using sugar beet, rather than just talking about it?
Mr. Darling: I am not in a position to tell the House what discussions have taken place, but, as I said to the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) a moment ago, sugar beet is an important resource. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is particularly interested in this matter, because of its agricultural and environmental significance. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is something that we need to look at in respect of energy and, crucially, of biofuels.
Kitty Ussher (Burnley) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be easier to meet our carbon targets if we moved to the so-called distributed model of electricity generation, in which power is generated on a more local level and sold back into the grid when surpluses are generated? What proportion of our energy demand does he think could be produced in this way?
Mr. Darling: I am hoping that there will be a large attendance in the House when I make my announcement, because I shall be able to answer all these questions more fully at that stage. My hon. Friend is right: we could do rather more with distributed energy than we have done in the past. I would sound a note of caution, however. Some people say that all our electricity could be generated in this way, but I do not think that that is the case. We could do more with distributed energy, but we will still need a grid and large-scale energy production as well.
Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): The Secretary of State said that the energy review would be published shortly. He will also be aware that one of the main concerns of the renewable generators in Scotland is the question of transmission charges. They are the subject not of the energy review but of a separate review recently announced by Ofgem. Ofgem has made some concessions by changing the need to produce financial guarantees up front, but it has said nothing so far about the actual cost of the transmission charges. After the publication of the energy review, will the Secretary of State ask Ofgem to look closely at the whole question of transmission charges, and at the impact that they will have on renewable generation in Scotland?
Yes, I will keep a close eye on that. The hon. Gentleman will recall that we had exchanges about the matter when I was Secretary of State for Scotland. I made it clear then that I am concerned about the impact of the regime. The fact is that most renewables are more
likely to be sited in Scotlandprobably in the north of Scotlandwhich means that the right transmission regime must be in place. As I said to the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander) earlier, that also means that those of us in politics who say that we believe in more offshore, onshore or marine generation must back that up with a willingness to have the means of transmitting that power to where it is needed.
The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Margaret Hodge): This is a matter for the Office of Communications. Ofcoms view is that, while overall competition has produced significant benefits in the form of lower prices and better services, the problem of mis-selling in telecoms continues. It affects a significant minority of customers, and Ofcom has therefore put in place clear rules to protect consumers and is taking decisive action to enforce those rules.
To give one example, I can confirm that Ofcom last week fined one company, Just Telecoms UK Ltd., trading as Lo-Rate, the maximum amount10 per cent. of its annual turnoverfor mis-selling. That is part of Ofcoms ongoing enforcement programme to address this issue and to enforce tougher rules introduced last year. Ofcom is actively investigating a number of further cases.
John Robertson: I thank my right hon. Friend for her extensive answer. However, British companies operating from this country and abroad are contacting customers through third parties, usually from call centres in India. Those companies are mis-selling for other companies, but they imply that they represent the customers original company. What is she doing to try to stop that? Are those British companies, even though they are using a third party, still liable under British law?
Margaret Hodge: The practice to which my hon. Friend refers sounds pretty disreputable, and I would be happy to meet him to discuss it further, to see whether, working with Ofcom, we can take further action. If he agrees, I shall arrange a meeting as soon as possible.
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