Future of Energy in Wales

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Mr. Murphy: I am pleased that my hon. Friend has led that campaign. In response to the point about assurances on safety raised by him and the hon. Member for The Wrekin, nuclear power has to be safe, whether we are talking about waste disposal, energy security in terms of being safe from terrorist attack or whatever. Those important issues inevitably need to be addressed, but the main message from this Committee today must be that we are interested in diversity, safety, tackling climate change and ensuring that our more vulnerable people can pay their energy bills. Hardly anything is more important at the moment than dealing with the enormously significant issue of how we get energy for our people.
10.44 am
Mrs. Gillan: May I start on a note of agreement? I agree with the concluding remark by the Secretary of State. His last sentence summed up what we all feel about future energy policy, whether in Wales or other parts of the United Kingdom.
The format for today’s sitting of the Welsh Grand Committee was an experiment that we discussed together away from the Committee. I want to put on record that I support inviting Ministers to this Committee to give evidence. Judging by the assent that I am seeing around the Room, I hope that I am speaking for both sides of the Committee. If Ministers are willing to come and participate, I cannot promise that it will always be pleasant, but we will know that the voice of Wales is writ large across all Departments. It is often difficult to explain to people that under the devolution settlement the Wales Office and the Opposition parties that speak on Wales have to cover an enormously broad area of subject material. The opportunity for Welsh members of the Committee to hear from Ministers and question them is invaluable. I hope that we can discuss through the usual channels how to facilitate more Committees of this nature.
Chris Ruane: We cannot hear you.
Mrs. Gillan: I am sorry, but I am slightly deaf so I cannot judge the tone of my voice. That is unfortunate, but perhaps the sound system people can deal with it.
I ask the Secretary of State to pass on my thanks to the Minister for Energy for coming to the Committee, although I hope that on future occasions we can have the full hour usually accorded to statements.
Like the Secretary of State, when I started my rough preparation for this speech I remembered my life 50 years ago in south Wales. There are some contrasts to be made. Today, despite the escalating costs and the issues with energy, we take energy for granted. I do not know about you, Mr. Atkinson, but I am just as guilty as everybody else. If I am cold, I turn the central heating up a notch; if I am hot, I put on the air conditioning.
Chris Ruane: Would the hon. Lady consider the advice of the former Conservative MP, Edwina Currie, who advised pensioners who felt cold to put on an extra jumper or cardigan?
Mrs. Gillan: I have never been responsible for any of that lady’s pronouncements, and I do not intend to take on that mantle of responsibility now. I just hope that those jumpers were made from Welsh wool.
Our homes and offices are full of electronic equipment, which is permanently on in most cases—at best, it is left on stand-by. We leave rooms and leave on the lights, the fire and the heating. We do not have respect for our energy. I remember 50 years ago in Llandaff in south Wales, nobody would leave a room in my home without turning the light off, and the fire would not be lit until it was very cold. We even used to plan car journeys quite carefully.
The Secretary of State and I are of a similar age. Although younger members of the Committee are laughing, there used to be a respect for energy that does not apply today. I do not want to hark back to those days because technological advances have brought amazing improvements to all our lives. However, as we now know that energy is not boundless and that it comes from finite resources, we need desperately to revive in our community that respect for energy and where it comes from. Our respect must be for the limits of supply, the cost of consumption and the implications of its use. The Minister for Energy and the Secretary of State alluded to our three main aims and there is no difference between our views on those. They must be energy security, reducing carbon emissions and affordable food bills for all.
We are fortunate to have a mixture of energy production facilities in Wales such as coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, gas and wind turbines. Our ports are also important in importing fuel. The diversity of supply in Wales contributes to the security of the whole UK as well as delivering economic and employment-related advantages locally. These challenges that face the UK face us specifically in Wales. It is important that we ensure that the two areas of Government in Wales that are responsible for energy policy work together. We need the Assembly and Parliament to work closely on strategic policies to secure our future.
Although the Secretary of State has made it quite clear that he has no intention of passing down any further powers when it comes to energy, it is important that the two institutions have a good working relationship and ensure that we move forward together now that that has been made very clear by the Labour Government.
While on the subject, may I remark on the role that the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs has played? It has done some excellent work on energy and has received little mention so far, except from my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West, who quoted directly from one of its reports. The Select Committee has an ongoing role to play. I believe it has produced two reports and there have been two responses from Government. I hope it will be taken into consideration that that investigation and dialogue should also continue.
Albert Owen: The hon. Lady makes two important points about working together, but does local government not have a role as well? Would it not be advantageous to areas if they had as part of their local development plans an energy policy as well as an environmental policy, so that development could happen in future?
I also remind her that hon. Members from all parties who serve on the Select Committee have agreed to be pro-nuclear in Wales.
Mrs. Gillan: The hon. Gentleman has taken the words from my mouth. I was going on to say the importance of the role of local government in this equation is essential. Sadly, more and more powers are being taken away from local government, not least sucked up to the Assembly, and the planning position—I will refer to this later—is going to be very prejudicial. It is important that, rather than scoring cheap political points, we try to work together and move this country forward, because if we run out of energy, we run out of everything in this country. It is something on which we are totally reliant. I have a few questions which I hope the Minister will respond to when he sums up. I would like him to outline how we are to continue that dialogue. What are his plans to continue to ensure that there is co-ordination across all levels of the Government?
We have a difficult situation, but it is not a choice between the economy and the environment. We need to find a way to combine economic, social and environmental progress, and that directly affects how we approach future energy policies in Wales. One thing that we have all agreed on is research and development in business. It affects how we research new technologies and bring them to the market. What strategies does the Minister have to ensure that our research facilities, particularly Aberystwyth university, and our businesses are best placed to contribute to the intellectual development of green energy solutions?
There is huge potential growth for business from an energy agenda that is going green. I am interested to know how we are going to create the commercial framework which will give our businesses in Wales the confidence to invest in the area and bring those much-needed, high-quality jobs to Wales that we all seek.
Mr. Llwyd: I agree entirely with what the hon. Lady says about the Planning Bill and much else, but I would like to add to what she said about the IPC. The IPC has been formulated—brought together—simply to push through 13 classes of bad neighbour developments. That says it all and underlines her arguments. It is undemocratic and a bad exercise of government.
Mrs. Gillan: I agree wholeheartedly. That is the danger and I hope the Government are in the process of having a rethink.
Mark Pritchard: Does my hon. Friend agree that whether it be wind farms, nuclear power stations or the burial of highly radioactive nuclear waste, local councils and local people should have a voice and such developments should not be foisted on them?
Mrs. Gillan: I think that point stands alone and it adds more weight to my point for the Minister to address.
Lembit Öpik: What would a Conservative Government do about the 50-plus MW wind farm developments in mid-Wales? Would the hon. Lady put a moratorium on the development of those turbine farms?
Mrs. Gillan: If the hon. Gentleman thinks I am going to lay out in the Welsh Grand Committee Conservative policies for the next general election, he is very much mistaken. I shall resist responding at this stage.
Lembit Öpik rose—
Mrs. Gillan: May I just continue? The right hon. Member for Neath made some very valid points about a transport company in his constituency. It would be useful to get the views of the Minister and the Wales Office on what is happening about the escalating fuel costs in Wales. We need our cars in Wales. They are not a luxury; they are a necessity, and many of our businesses depend on transport. We have seen not only fuel price rises, but the Government’s retrospective tax to come in on cars that are more than seven years old. That is a very blunt instrument and it is deployed to punish people for past choices, rather than encouraging them to reduce their dependence on petrol and diesel.
What conversations has the Minister had with the Treasury on this tax? I know that he will have received representations, as I have, about the agonies it will cause, as well as the disproportionate effect the tax will have on Welsh car drivers and businesses. Is there any chance of relief for them to look forward to? Setting long-term emission levels for new cars would be a much better way of stimulating the market and business to research and develop low-energy and carbon-cost fuel initiatives, rather than this dead hand of taxing historical choices.
We touched on carbon capture and storage, and it is not entirely clear to me where the Government are going with that, despite what the Energy Minister said. I understand that E.ON has announced that it will not make a further decision on the Kingsnorth coal-fired station until the Government provide a clear signal on CCS. The situation on carbon capture and storage is less than satisfactory. The Minister has said it is an enormous project that will cost an enormous amount of money, and there is only one, but I am not entirely sure that that project is continuing. I hope that there will be some support from him for our idea of setting up a panel of experts to advise on how we can move matters forward and of looking at a wider range of CCS projects, so that in Wales in particular we can participate in cutting-edge research and development, thereby strengthening our economy.
On tidal power and wind farms, much has been said about the Severn barrage project. Research into large-scale renewable energy must form part of the mix with the small-scale domestic renewables that I mentioned. The UK has been at the forefront of marine renewables technology. As the Secretary of State will know, the first commercial tide turbine—a new innovation—is in Strangford lough in Northern Ireland, and a new wave energy power station that has been developed in Edinburgh will be installed in Portugal. I do not know whether Ministers are familiar with those projects. As I said, I am sure that the Secretary of State knows about the one in Northern Ireland, but what are we doing on the Welsh front? We have the asset of an enormous coastline, and there is a danger that more wind turbines will be put along areas of the coast that should perhaps be reserved for tourism and attracting people to Wales. What consideration has been given to those projects? Is there a possibility of applying such projects along the Welsh coastline, and what would be the impact and implications of that?
Chris Ruane: I thank the hon. Lady for generously giving way a second time. Does she share the opinion of the leader of the Conservative party, who described the wind turbines off the coast of my constituency as “giant bird blenders”?
Mrs. Gillan: Again, I am not familiar with that comment. The hon. Gentleman is trying to make a fairly cheap point, when I am trying to make serious points about what is happening along our coastline.
Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): rose
Mrs. Gillan: I shall certainly give way to my hon. Friend because he has further and better particulars.
Mr. Crabb: My hon. Friend is making an important point about how we use the assets that we have in Wales to develop alternative technologies. She might like to come to Pembrokeshire one day to find out about two exciting projects that we have on the go: Wave Dragon is just off the coast of south-west Pembrokeshire, and a tidal power project is being developed off the St. David’s coast in north-west Pembrokeshire. Both projects are supported by the Welsh Assembly Government and the Minister for Energy’s Department.
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