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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), not just on his speech, but on securing the debate, which is timely. He stressed not only the technical issues, but how energy supply and price and the choices before us affect every one of our constituents. He showed his long-standing interest and
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the consistency of his beliefs about the matter. I, like other hon. Members, would love to have had 24-hour live television news coverage of his battles with the noble Lord Heseltine and Mr. Scargill. I think that, somewhere along the line during the debate, that has become a single battle, but I suspect that it was a little more complex than that.

My hon. Friend rightly referred to over-reliance on gas, particularly imported gas. As several hon. Members have mentioned, dependency on a single supply, and especially a foreign single supply, is an important issue, and I trust that the Minister will refer to it. My hon. Friend also set out well why clean coal technologies should be given a fair opportunity to develop, and why he believes that both pre-combustion and post-combustion technologies should be encouraged. He highlighted several other issues, particularly the potential importance of today’s announcement about the Government’s planning Bill. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain how the Bill will ease the development of new low-carbon energy opportunities. My hon. Friend concluded with remarks about non-productive wind; it was rather appropriate that the Liberal Democrat spokesman should intervene at that moment.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) expressed concern about how Ministers have delayed—indeed, dithered—on several issues, particularly the CCS project at Peterhead. I shall discuss that too. He made a useful contribution, particularly on international comparisons and China, with respect to not just technology, but safety issues. He concluded by saying that Ministers need to lead, and he asked why, when other Governments are proactive, ours cannot be. I hope that the Minister will answer that question.

We had an excellent contribution from the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Hamilton), who looked forward to a range of different technologies that could help to develop the low-carbon power that we all need. He spoke authoritatively about the potential of carbon capture and storage, and he made a bid for geothermal power in his constituency. Perhaps I may add, as a born and bred Cornishman, that I trust that opportunities in the duchy will not be overlooked.

Lastly, the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) made a short but knowledgeable contribution, particularly on safety, on which perhaps we might have had more discussion. It was a shame that the clock did not permit a longer contribution.

Any sensible energy policy should, as other hon. Members have mentioned, avoid relying exclusively on a single technology or on one source of fuel. Such reliance would expose us to needless risk, not least as the soaring demand for energy outstrips the ability of the oil and gas industries to keep up. What is needed instead is that strategy and policy should balance two strategic objectives: reducing carbon emissions from electricity generation and its supplies and, as the hon. Member for Midlothian stressed, putting security of supply clearly at the heart of any decision on the balance between different fuel sources and technologies. Those twin objectives are the best way to create the environment in which business can plan and invest for the long term. At the heart of the approach is the
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recognition that no single fuel is the answer. We need different fuels and technologies if we are to make a long-term change.

In May, the Government finally published their latest energy White Paper, setting out the direction in which policy would be developed. It included a range of issues: a possible framework for future nuclear power stations; changes to the renewables obligation; and a new cap-and-trade scheme for large businesses—important, particularly in the context of this debate. It also rather hesitantly set out ideas on such matters as energy efficiency, decentralised energy and smart metering.

Yet in the past two years—some would say in the past 10—there seems to have been little action. There have been plenty of reviews and consultations, and dozens of studies. We have had interdepartmental meetings, briefings and assertions by the previous and present Prime Ministers that we must change and aspire to improve, but we have had little action.

Sadly, time is not on our side. This country faces a looming energy gap, which has been predicted not for a couple of years, but for much of the past decade. Roughly a third of existing generating capacity will shut in the next 20 years. All our nuclear power stations, except Sizewell B, are scheduled for closure, and many older coal-fired power stations may be forced to close under EU regulation.

Martin Horwood: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Prisk: Briefly—or rather, I will not, because time is against me; I have only three minutes left. We want to make sure that the Minister has his chance.

Meanwhile, as all that closure takes place, our once healthy position as a net exporter of both oil and gas has changed. Three years ago, we became a net importer of gas and last year a net importer of oil—I think that that is the first time in my lifetime that that has happened.

What about coal? We have heard wide variation today—and previously—about the potential reserve of coal in this country. It is measured in capacity and in time. Some say that we have a 200-year potential reserve, and others say it is up to 600 years. However, that will of course depend on two things: the geological and engineering assessments of how much coal can be mined practically and economically, and the rate of production. In the past two years alone, there has been wide variation in production. In 2005, 20 million tonnes were mined; in 2006, 18 million tonnes were mined. In the first six months of this year, the figure was just 8.2 million tonnes, so there is a steady decline, as hon. Members will realise.

The decline in domestic production has ironically occurred at a time of rising imports. Last year, for example, they rose 33 per cent. on the previous year, to 42.7 million tonnes. A large proportion of that—nearly half—comes from one country: Russia. People have different views about the issue, but everyone will recognise that to be so dependent on one source creates enormous danger for the long-term security of this country’s energy.

In this context, the role of carbon capture and storage technology is vital. Here we come to the nub of
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the debate, on which I hope the Minister will make a full contribution. We have heard about the issues affecting CCS technology. Evidence suggests that that form of technology costs somewhere between $40 and $60 per tonne of CO2 . However, many references have been made to the expectation that that figure will reduce as the technologies develop. It would be useful if the Minister clarified the Government’s view of that. It is clear that whatever the figures are, the Government need to become far more proactive; that is not only my view, but that of other hon. Members in the Chamber.

For the past three years, Ministers have talked about the potential of CCS, yet for much of that time, little has happened. Indeed, it has taken Ministers so long to get their pilot scheme up and running that the one CCS scheme that was under way—at Peterhead—has been shut down. As I understand it, the Government are now pursuing post-combustion rather than pre-combustion technology for the CCS pilot. Will the Minister tell us the reasoning behind that, and will he tell us what representations the industry has made to him on the matter? Does he agree that the result of the delay could be that the nascent technology will move and be followed up abroad and become successful there?

This has been a timely and worthwhile debate. Not only have we talked about coal and coal technology—important though those things are—but we have put them in the context of the wider energy question. All hon. Members accept that there is a large and growing gap in our generation capacity, and that it is crucial for low-carbon generation to come on stream. Any Government strategy must address the gap, and it must do so by reducing carbon emissions while not exposing us to undue insecurity of supply. For much of the past two years, Ministers have produced paper but not a lot else. I hope that the Minister will today answer the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, and explain finally how the Government intend not to talk, but to act.

10.51 am

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): May I first of all apologise for my informal approach to the formalities at the beginning of the debate? If it means that I am never appointed a Government Whip, it will have achieved a purpose of sorts.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) on securing the debate and, more importantly, on the interesting and thoughtful way in which he introduced the subject. In a way, there have been two debates: one about coal and clean technologies and another about wider energy policy. It is difficult to strike the balance, but I shall seek to reflect on both debates even if most of my remarks focus on coal and clean coal technology. I also acknowledge the important contributions made by other colleagues, not least those of my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson), for Midlothian (Mr. Hamilton), and for Selby (Mr. Grogan) who played an important cameo role.

The significance of the issue is evidenced by the fact that we have three interrelated Bills to consider during this Session. The energy Bill itself will be introduced early next year—my hon. Friend the Member for
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Glasgow, North-West perhaps needs to be a little more patient to hear good news on that measure. The Climate Change Bill will put into statute the Government’s ambitions for emissions reductions, and the Planning Bill, to which the hon. Member for Stone referred. Essentially, that measure will be designed to streamline our planning system so that we do not have huge delays in putting in place infrastructure, including energy infrastructure, that is vital to the nation.

We must tackle two great challenges of the 21st century: first, climate change, on which the Prime Minister made an important speech only last week and, secondly, energy security. We are becoming more familiar with the science and the challenge of global warming, but we need to become more familiar with the related issue of energy security. I take absolutely the point made by the hon. Member for Stone on that. There is a huge global demand for energy, but the geopolitics of energy security become more difficult. We will need to import a great deal of our energy, but we therefore need to strike the best possible balance between the need to import and our need to develop home-grown energy resources. It is a pity that we do not have more time in which to pursue those issues.

The good news, however, is that the two challenges have a shared solution, which is for us to move as quickly as is reasonably possibly towards a successful low-carbon economy. The Government are committed to that, and I have mentioned the Climate Change Bill. We must become better on energy efficiency because, after all, the cheapest and cleanest form of energy is that which we do not use, and which we therefore do not need to generate or import. We need a robust carbon price—I noticed that the hon. Member for Stone did not dwell too long on the European emissions trading scheme—and that is significant. Pollution must carry a cost if we are to incentivise the economy to become low-carbon.

Martin Horwood: Does the Minister agree that a concrete step to create a more viable carbon price would be the introduction of feed-in tariffs for renewable energy?

Malcolm Wicks: That is one methodology and one mechanism. The Government have chosen a different if not entirely dissimilar route—namely, the renewables obligation. We are now reforming that because of its importance. It is significant that the Prime Minister committed the country to the EU’s target of having 20 per cent. of energy come from renewables by 2020 and we are negotiating Britain’s percentage of the reduction.

We have been accused of taking no action, but I will not apologise for the fact that the Government have been thoughtful about the matter and that we have looked at the evidence and, hence, unlike some parties, we are not all over the place on some of the critical issues facing the nation. We have had the energy review, a White Paper, and there will soon be an energy Bill. We gave the go-ahead only recently for the world’s largest off-shore wind farm, the London Array, and last week the go-ahead for the world’s largest biomass
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power station in Port Talbot. Both those things are significant and go alongside our feasibility study, the details of which we will announce soon, on the Severn barrage. I was also asked to comment on Cornwall. The wave hub project in Cornwall is significant—wave, marine and tidal energy is absolutely vital.

The International Energy Agency world energy outlook predicts that world coal use will rise by 73 per cent. by 2030; much of the growth will be in China. The UK’s remaining coal resources are a valuable national asset that we need to put to the best possible use, provided that the economic and environmental costs are acceptable. I note the honourable opposition of the hon. Member for Stone to the last Conservative Government’s savage and foolhardy assault on Britain’s coal mining industry, and the silence of the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk), the Opposition spokesman, on the issue. Our coal authority estimated that reserves at existing and potential sites amount to more than 2 billion tonnes. The Government have until recently supported the coal industry financially—there has been more than £200 million in state aid since 2000—but total UK output has continued to fall. Production in 2006 was 20 million tonnes, down 10 per cent. on 2005.

The principal customer for that coal is the electricity generating industry. Coal-fired generation supplies around a third of UK electricity and can rise to more than 50 per cent., often at very short notice, when demand peaks in winter. I am pleased that we have enabled generators and supply companies to get together usefully through the coal forum. My hon. Friend the Member for Selby acknowledged the importance of that. The forum is a useful vehicle and, incidentally, I hope that it will discuss the mines rescue service soon.

The Government are committed to carbon capture and storage. I do not mind the fact that we are the first Government to announce a major demonstration project. It is interesting how the debate has moved on—some are now asking why there should not be two demonstration projects. Such projects are expensive. The science and technology is relatively untried and no-one has put together a whole project featuring carbon capture, transportation and storage.

Martin Horwood: Will the Minister give way?

Malcolm Wicks: Of course not—if the hon. Gentleman looked at the clock, he would see why not.

Internationally, we are in a lead position on carbon capture and storage, which is a good place for Britain to be. If we are to square the circle between using fossil fuels in future, particularly coal, and climate change, carbon capture and storage is absolutely vital, and we are now in a good position. We need adequate regulation and we are working hard with the Norwegians in the North sea on CCS projects. It was no jest to the hon. Member for Stone when I talked about the emissions trading scheme. It is a vitally important European way in which to pay for CCS in future. This has been a significant debate and I again congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing it, and on the thoughtful way in which he introduced the topic.

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National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence

11 am

Frank Cook (Stockton, North) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Amess for affording so much of your valuable time to Chair this debate. I know how time consuming that task can be, as I have occupied that same seat many hundreds of times in the past as Deputy Speaker in Westminster Hall. Indeed, I will fulfil my next spell of duty in your place tomorrow morning and afternoon.

Mr. Amess, may I ask respectfully that you convey my thanks to Mr. Speaker for granting this debate today? This is the fifth debate that I have initiated in this Chamber; the others took place in the recent past. The first was on police re-organisation and the second, on hospital reconfiguration, was followed by a debate on the problems in prisons and the Prison Service. Very recently, I secured a debate on the Remploy factory closure proposals. I think that I can claim, modestly but with some justification, that in each case I caused the Government to stop and think again and modify their view. I hope and pray for a similar degree of success today.

First, the topic for debate is the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and, at this stage, I put a heavy emphasis on the last two words of its title—clinical excellence—because I hope to return to that, if I live long enough, before resuming my seat.

Secondly, we are debating stents so I suppose that, for the uninitiated, I must start by discussing what a stent is. Many people in this country and in the world have problems with forms of coronary heart disease, a serious and common problem, which is the most common cause of premature death in the United Kingdom: it causes about 105,000 deaths a year. In some 30 per cent. of heart attacks, the patient dies. In the UK, someone has a heart attack every two minutes—some 230,000 people each year—so if we think that, during this 90 minute debate 45 heart attacks will occur somewhere in the country, it might help us focus our attention.

Patients with coronary artery disease have narrowing in the arteries, restricting the blood supply to the heart, and a procedure may be needed to help improve the blood flow. Cardiac surgeons, such as the noble Lord Darzi of Denham, can do a coronary artery bypass graft operation that provides a new route for blood to flow around the narrowing. Cardiologists can do a procedure called percutaneous coronary intervention, or PCI, which is also known as an angioplasty, in which they open up the narrowing by inflating a small balloon in the artery. Both procedures fall under the general description of revascularisation: in other words, easing the flow of blood through our system of veins.

The PCI is often accompanied by a stent, which is a form of scaffolding or mesh, of which there are various designs. The stent is inserted and threaded through the veins, having entered the body through the groin. The cardiologist can position the stent where there is a restriction in the arteries and, with the help of the small balloon, raise the stent open, force back the walls of the vein and then withdraw.

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