Previous Section Index Home Page

Even that means simply a further period of consultation on the planning process. The review is vague even about the future of nuclear power.

Far from being back on the agenda with a vengeance, as the Prime Minister told us, the Secretary of State now says that nuclear power

Is not it the truth that the Prime Minister’s rhetoric is only rhetoric? That applies to the announcement of the Franco-British nuclear forum last month. In response to my questions, the Secretary of State was unable to say what it would do, who would pay for it, what its remit would be or even if it exists after all.

The Prime Minister says that he wants new nuclear power stations. However, the review does not tell us how he will make that happen. What exactly will the Government’s role be in ensuring that new nuclear power stations are built? Is it their intention, as reported today, to take existing nuclear sites away from British Energy and place them under Government control? To what extent will there be Government interference to get new nuclear power stations built? What deals have the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State done, about which they have not told us? How many power stations does the Prime Minister expect? Does the Department of Trade and Industry have a target—six, 12, any more bids? Will a number be set? Does the statement contain anything to match the Prime Minister’s macho, pro-nuclear rhetoric?

We need to spark a revolution in energy and we need green security. After nine years, six Secretaries of States, three energy reviews and God knows how many Ministers for Energy, carbon emissions continue to rise. The review could have done so much more. Three years ago, we were promised final decisions. Today, we have not got them. The review appears to have done almost nothing. It is a grave and perilous let-down.

Mr. Darling: Let me start with the hon. Gentleman’s first point—the desirability of political consensus. It would be highly desirable, given the long-term nature of the planning required for energy, for such a consensus to exist.

Mr. Duncan: Get on with it.

Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman says, “Get on with it”, but I suggest that he start in his own backyard. In January, he said in the Chamber:

11 July 2006 : Column 1267

Only two or three months later, the shadow Chancellor said:

Then, last week, the Leader of the Opposition gave the impression that he was for nuclear power, but maybe not yet. Once the Conservatives manage to get a consensus on what their policy is, I will happily talk to them about what we might do in the future.

The Government believe that nuclear power could provide— [ Interruption.] Yes, I use the word advisedly. It is for the generators to come forward with proposals, whether they are for nuclear, renewable, oil or gas. The Government believe that some of the barriers that make it difficult for such developments to proceed ought to be removed. Yes, there needs to be consultation in some cases. Apart from anything else, if we are to provide a clear statement of need for planning inspectors, there will need to be a White Paper, and that will require some consultation before we produce it. However, we have a very clear sense of direction. We need a mix of energy supplies. We are quite clear about that. That mix has served this country well over the past few decades, and it will continue to do so.

The hon. Gentleman seems to have some difficulty with renewables. In the policy announcement that the Conservatives made last week, they made it clear that, under the Tories, the renewables obligation would go. The Leader of the Opposition made a classic statement on this, saying:

Is he saying that nuclear should be subject to the renewables obligation, or that nothing should be subject to it? If there were no renewables obligation, even the renewable development that we have seen so far would simply disappear, because it needs that incentive. Anyone who is contemplating a future with more renewable energy, not only onshore but offshore, as we are, should be in no doubt that there would be no renewables obligation under the Tories. They would throw that whole industry into uncertainty. All their green talk is completely undermined by their actual policy.

We have set out a clear sense of direction, and a framework that will allow development to take place. As I said, nearly a third of our generating capacity will need to be replaced over the next 20 to 30 years. There is now a clear sense of direction to allow industry to plan, and there are measures to ensure that we reduce our demand for energy and become more energy efficient. It is no wonder that the hon. Gentleman is so embarrassed.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for making an early copy available to me. Three years ago, the Government had an energy review, which the Prime Minister described as a “milestone in energy policy”. The then Secretary of State said that her White Paper established an energy policy “for the long term”. What went wrong? Will the Secretary of State tell us, for example, why the Government are not on track to meet either their renewable energy targets or their energy efficiency targets, which were set only three years ago, and why carbon dioxide emissions are increasing, not falling?

11 July 2006 : Column 1268

On energy efficiency and conservation, I welcome much of what the Government are now promising, but is it not possible to go further and faster on energy efficiency? Why, for example, after this review, will our building regulations still be weaker than those in Scandinavia? The Secretary of State has said some very sensible things on renewables, but he must be aware of the range of major renewable energy projects such as harnessing tidal power from a lagoon-based Severn barrage, the proposed 10 GW North sea wind farm, and the massive potential for marine energy in the Pentland firth. What sort of leadership and encouragement will his policy give to the market for such ideas? Is not there a huge danger that, by going nuclear as well, the Government will undermine and crowd out investment in energy efficiency and renewables?

The right hon. Gentleman’s predecessor told the House in 2003:

What has changed? Is not there also a danger that nuclear energy could crowd out investment in clean-coal technology and carbon capture and storage? Surely we should instead be finding new ways of bringing forward major investment in those technologies, as they have the potential to deliver faster than nuclear. The Secretary of State talks about security of supply, but will he confirm that, under his plans, it will not be possible to build any nuclear power station within the next 10 years? Will he also confirm that the difference between a nuclear and a non-nuclear strategy in terms of gas supplies is actually not very large?

The Secretary of State has laid out an attractive future for decentralised energy generation. Does he not accept, however, that nuclear power would tie us into a centralised grid infrastructure that would minimise the potential for microgeneration and local combined heat and power? He said in recent interviews that he is a late convert to nuclear. He said today that, under his plans, nuclear power will get no subsidies or financial favours. Will he now answer the question that he failed to answer at last week’s Trade and Industry questions, when he could not name a single nuclear power station in the UK or abroad that had been built on time, on budget and without public subsidy? Is he prepared to guarantee, for the entire life of the nuclear plants, that there will be no hidden subsidy, no super-long unfair price contract, no cap liabilities, no Government support for nuclear waste decommissioning, no assistance with waste disposal and no stealth nuclear tax for consumers? If business does not build nuclear plants as he proposes, what happens to his policy?

On nuclear waste, can the Secretary of State confirm that the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management’s interim report only dealt with existing old waste? It only offers a solution over several decades for past waste, which still needs yet more billions of taxpayer’s money. Will he admit that the committee’s interim report was not a green light for nuclear, especially when it talks of the need to consider

As for Nirex, surely merging it and NDA would threaten independence in waste disposal, which would be a disaster.

11 July 2006 : Column 1269

The Government have put forward some sensible ideas today on energy efficiency and renewables. By caving in to the nuclear industry lobby, however, they have destroyed the potential for cross-party consensus. I regret to say that that means much greater uncertainty in future energy policy.

Mr. Darling: If the Conservatives have problems with consensus within their party, so do the Liberals. I can only refer the hon. Gentleman to what his hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), who is in his place, said:

One would not know that to listen to the Liberal spokesman today.

In relation to renewable energy, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that he supports renewable electricity. In particular, he refers to renewable generation in the north of Scotland. Perhaps he will have a word with those Liberal Democrat Members who say that they are in favour of renewable energy and then object to wind farms when they are planned, and object to the power lines to take electricity from wind farms to where it is needed. If the Liberals are serious about those things, they must face up to the difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions, as well as the populist decisions that he set out.

When the hon. Gentleman talked about distributed energy, he gave the distinct impression that he was against having a national grid. I am in favour of distributed energy, and I think that we could do a lot more in that regard. However, having a national grid and being able to draw on such energy sources across the country, whether gas or electricity, serves us well. Apart from that, I more than happy to work with him on achieving whatever consensus is left between us.

The hon. Gentleman made points about wave and tidal power and mentioned the Severn barrage. In relation to the renewables obligation—which I believe is essential, although I am not sure what the Liberals’ position is—I said in my statement that we want to consult on banding that in future, so that it encourages newer and emerging technology. I think that we can do an awful lot more on that.

It is important that, when we consider our energy requirements, we have a mix of energy. I said to the hon. Gentleman that nuclear currently provides about 20 per cent. of electricity generation. If we do not do anything, that will decrease to 6 per cent., and the risk is that gas will be a bigger percentage, which would be deeply regrettable.

I totally reject the argument that if we go for nuclear, nothing else will happen. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, under the renewables obligation, the renewables industry will get the equivalent of about £1 billion a year subsidy by 2010.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We are now into Back Benchers’ time. I remind all hon. Members that they must put only one supplementary to the Secretary of State.

11 July 2006 : Column 1270

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on delivering a measured statement this afternoon. Will he clarify, however, the point in paragraph 49 of his statement that nuclear generators will be required to pay their full share of long-term waste management costs? Does that mean 100 per cent. of waste management costs, and how can we guarantee that, as we do not yet know what the waste management costs will be?

Mr. Darling: The statement does mean that they are expected to meet the full share of those costs, which I would have thought was self-evident. My hon. Friend will no doubt be aware that, following the CoRWM proposals, it will be necessary to make provision for existing waste, but the cost of any new waste generated by any new plants would have to be met by the generators.

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): I hope that the House will be given an early opportunity to debate the report at great length, as it relates to a very complex subject. In deference to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I shall concentrate on one issue. Does the Secretary of State understand that while his analysis of valuing carbon is very good, his policy conclusions are, I fear, inadequate? He clings to the climate change levy and complex climate change agreements, which do nothing for the long-term market-based costing of carbon emissions and he invests too much hope in the EU emissions trading scheme. I do not believe that he is creating the stable market for carbon that will bring forward investment in clean-coal technology, renewables or, indeed, new nuclear power stations.

Mr. Darling: The EU emissions trading scheme is, at the moment, the only scheme, so I believe that we should invest substantial time and effort on trying to make it work. Given the nature of the problems that we have to deal with, it is important that any action is Europe-wide. I know that the hon. Gentleman has only recently got a copy of our proposals, but the Government have made it clear that they believe that there must be a long-term carbon price; otherwise, investors cannot make a sensible decision about whether to go ahead with proposals for new plant.

As to carbon capture, I believe that it is essential to do as much as we can. Britain can not only benefit itself from this technology, but benefit other parts of the world such as India and China, where they are building coal-fired power stations. Unless we take steps to capture that carbon, those power stations will be extremely damaging to the environment.

Finally, on the climate change levy, I know that the Conservative policy is to abolish it, but the fact is that, so far, it has made a major contribution to reducing the amount of carbon generated and I believe that it would be a big mistake to abolish it.

Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend’s statement recognises that there is no single solution to our energy requirements. In welcoming the prospect of further investment in renewable energy, I am pleased that he also recognises the contribution that deep-mined coal can yet make to
11 July 2006 : Column 1271
our energy needs. Research has shown that clean-coal carbon capture technology can deliver sustained and large-scale reductions in CO2 emissions.

My right hon. Friend has announced today that he plans to set up a coal forum, bringing together producers and suppliers. Would it not also be valuable to include Members of the House who represent former coal-mining areas and have experience of mining and mining communities, and also representatives of operations such as the hugely successful Tower colliery in south Wales, who would hugely benefit the discussions in the forum?

Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend is quite right that coal has made a substantial contribution. We relied on it very heavily last winter. The model we have in mind is similar to the system set up to bring together the oil industry and the Government, which is known as “pilot” and has been working quite well since 1998. That arrangement allows both sides of industry, suppliers and producers, to talk to each other and to the Government. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy will be happy to meet hon. Members who have coal mines in their constituencies and have further discussions with them. It is important to do whatever we can to encourage the coal industry and the point about carbon capture is equally important if we are to remove the harmful effects of CO2.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): Can the Secretary of State foresee any circumstances in which he could meet his carbon dioxide reduction commitment without at least replacing, if not increasing, the share of nuclear generation in our overall generating capacity?

Mr. Darling: Without that generation it would certainly make it more difficult to meet that commitment, which is why I believe that nuclear should be part of the mix. The Government are not specifying that people should come forward with proposals for nuclear, but we have tried to set a framework—we have started the process today—that will encourage generators to consider that option. Nuclear does mean that we can generate electricity without carbon emissions and it has the further advantage that I mentioned earlier of providing a consistency or base load in electricity that wind power, by its very nature, cannot provide.

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): When the energy gap left by phasing out Magnox and advanced gas-cooled reactor nuclear power stations by 2020 is reckoned by the Government to be about 14 per cent. of electricity generated and when even the nuclear industry itself, no less, in the form of AEA Technology, has recently acknowledged in a comprehensive study that 25 per cent. of Britain’s electricity needs could be readily met by offshore wind power capacity within the time scale required, up from 4 per cent. today—in other words, far more than meeting the necessary gap—why are we going down the nuclear route at all? Nuclear power is far more expensive and hopelessly uneconomic. Decommissioning costs are enormous. There are mountains of nuclear waste, which we do not know where to put, and it will increase our risk of terrorism—

Next Section Index Home Page