|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
That is the issue that the Government must resolve. My hon. Friend is right to tease away at this one, because the crucial question of what proportion of the costs industry will have to bear is not clear. I hope that the
Government will make that clear whenI hope shortlythey produce their further proposals. I encourage my hon. Friend to continue teasing on this one.
Alan Duncan: Of course I shall give way to the Secretary of State, but I seek some assurance from him that that missing piece of the jigsaw will be put in place quickly, so that investors can make decisions knowing the whole picture.
Mr. Hutton: I do not want to torture this analysis to death, but the hon. Gentleman has dug himself into a big hole today and I invite him to get out of it. He needs to do so; otherwise, there will be a big question mark over his position. Will he answer the question that I asked him a few minutes ago about whether it is now his policy not to give consent until a repository has been constructed? That is the import of his remarks. May I also reassure him that during the Public Bill Committee we shall publish more detailed proposals on the costing mechanisms, which will address the point raised by the Chairman of the Select Committee? However, in order to maintain the consensus, I invite the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) to answer the question that I have put to him clearly and unambiguously.
Alan Duncan: The question that really matters, as the right hon. Gentleman is in the Government, is the obverse of that one. Is he prepared to go ahead with a new fleet of nuclear power stations without a regime for nuclear waste being in place? That is the question, but he is casting doubt over it in all his contributions today.
Alongside feed-in tariffs and an adequate waste regime, the Bill also lacks a third key element: energy efficiency. Last year, the Minister for Energy himself said that the era of cheap energy was over. The price rises of recent weeks have seen that prophecy come true. In that context, it is shocking that the Government should introduce an Energy Bill that offers no comfort to the 4 million people who are now in fuel poverty.
Despite considerable clamour from energy companies and the independent regulator, there is no mandate in the Bill for smart meters. Smart meters would not only make people more aware of the levels of energy that
they consume; they would also give much better information to suppliers, to enable them to manage the peaks and troughs. The Energy Saving Trust has estimated that each household could make savings of up to 5 per cent. of their consumption through using such a meter.
Alan Simpson: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that smart meters must empower the citizen, and not just the companies? That empowerment has to involve the ability to read energy that is fed in by the consumer as well as that used by the consumer, and to read gas inputs as well as electricity inputs.
Alan Duncan: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The whole point of smart meters is that they represent the first step towards giving people more power to generate their own electricity and to get paid for it. That is why I believe that they are of great value.
The Energy Bill does not yet contain all the crucial components of a coherent energy policy. There is a fundamental question at the heart of the Bill. It is simply unacceptable that the Government intend to leave the radioactive legacy of their new nuclear programme in such a state of uncertainty. That will paralyse the economics, undermine public confidence, and pass the responsibility on to future generations and future Governments. We do not accept that nuclear power should be allowed to go ahead without a guaranteed regime for handling nuclear waste.
As well as that piece of unfinished business, our main concern, as I have outlined today, is that these policies are neither broad enough nor deep enough to make the vital changes that we now need. We will table a series of amendments today, and we will continue to press the case for the Government to accept more radical suggestions in Committee. If we remain unhappy with the end result, we will be unable to vote with the Government. If they give us an honest and clear picture, we are with them. If they leave anything in doubt, we are not.
Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): I am grateful to be called to speak in the debate. I have been a long-term supporter of the benefits of nuclear power as part of a balanced energy policy, and I would like to concentrate my remarks on that aspect of the Bill. I should also declare an interest, in that British Energy has recently decided to relocate its corporate headquarters to my constituency, bringing with it more than 200 high-quality managerial and engineering jobs. I also would like to make clear from the outset my support for other forms of renewable energy, as I believe that we need a diverse energy mix if we are to meet the challenge of massively reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the UK.
I do not think that any serious supporter of nuclear power in this country is wholly against the renewables sector. The converse does apply, however, in that there are some who want to see an energy mix without a nuclear component. I believe that those who take that position are wrong, and that they are placing the economic future of the country in jeopardy.
I believe that there are four main pillars on which our energy future should be based: a policy framework, an investment framework, a thriving science, engineering and technology base, and cohesion between the regulatory enablers, industry and the Government, all focused on the same objective. I believe that the Bill provides the policy framework for the years and decades ahead. More development is necessary within it, but I am sure that that will happen, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that it will be developed in Committee. I welcome everything he said in opening the debate.
I believe that a sound and cohesive framework for investment in infrastructure is paramount in ensuring that all elements deliver our requirements. It is clear that all sectors within the wider energy market now have increased confidence about future and projected needs as well as Government support to achieve those objectives. It has long been argued by those opposed to nuclear power that, leaving aside other issues about waste, it is uneconomic and the market could not or would not take the risk. Thankfully, that has now changed as a result of the Governments approach to the issue.
As the Secretary of State has said elsewherehe made further comment today he is confident that there is a long-term solution to waste disposal. Others will clearly touch on that, but I am encouraged by the way in which my right hon. Friend dealt with that vexed issue. It is difficult, but a solution has to be found in respect of legacy issues and future demand. I believe that he has been realistic and positive on all those matters.
John Robertson: Does my right hon. Friend agree that part of the necessary waste reduction could be achieved through MOX-type nuclear power stations, in which high-level waste could be reprocessed and reused for fuel?
Mr. Ingram: I am prepared to take any technological or scientific examination of the issue, but at the end of the day, the market must determine how it wants to invest. If there is a solution through that type of magical way, I am sure that the market will find some way to approach it.
The Government are seriously tackling the planning framework, which has been long overdue under successive Administrations. We are creating a more constructive and less destructive approach to help us move forward without undue hindrances on the big issues that affect our national interest.
I would like to ask the Minister for Energy to clarify in his summing up how confident he is that the transmission and distribution network for all power sources, wherever located, will be robust and sustainable, and will attract the right and necessary level of investment to match power output for a new generation of power generators. As he knows, there is a vital synergy between generation and distribution, and I would welcome his comments on that point.
There is no question but that a new strategic approach to energy policy by the Government can act as a catalyst to reinvigorate our national science, engineering and technology base. That is particularly true of the commitment to new-build nuclear stations. Industry has welcomed the announcement, and universities the length and breadth of the country have welcomed the Bill. Imperial college London, the universities of Leeds, Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester and Strathclyde, the Open university and many others are seizing the opportunity to bring the UK to the leading edge of nuclear research and development. No one can question the fact that tens of thousands of jobs will be created and sustained on the back of such a new-build nuclear programme. This is an area in which the UK has excelled in the past, and I believe that we are on the threshold of moving once again into a new period of excellence. It will stimulate further research in the field of nuclear physics and nuclear engineering, and will have additional spin-offs for the supply chain.
Let me provide just two examples. The Institute for Energy and Environment at the university of Strathclyde has embarked upon two major research and training initiatives in partnership with industry, while the British Energy advanced engineering centre will deliver strategic research and consultancy in the areas of condition monitoring, data analysis, diagnostics and decision support. The work done under that initiative alone, while important in the current context, will also put Strathclyde university at the leading edge of the future needs of the nuclear industry.
The other important project is the GSE Systems power station operation simulator. That facility will provide the necessary training environment and programmes to combat the lack of trained nuclear personnel in the United Kingdom, while also providing a multi-million-pound opportunity for the university in the areas of nuclear education, training and research. It is a pity that the SNP-led Administration at Holyrood, led by the First Ministerwho is also the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)would like to strangle those leading-edge initiatives at birth.
The fourth pillar of a successful energy strategy depends on co-operation between regulatory enablers, industry and Government, all focused on the same objectives. We must seek to avoid a regulatory framework that inhibits development. Clearly the framework must be robust and independent, but there should be a commonality of interest between regulators, industry, academia and Government. The Government are to be congratulated on their attempt to create that commonality of interest through working parties. If we are to achieve our objective in tackling the challenging emissions targets, all those elements must work together in a degree of harmony. There has been too much negativity on this policy issue for too long, and I believe that that has affected our energy balance and mix.
As I said at the outset, I welcome the Bill and the Governments approach. Let me end by expressing concern about the position in Scotland. I believe that the present Scottish Administration are out of step with Scottish public opinion, out of step with the opportunities available to industryespecially the science, engineering and technology baseout of step with the bulk of trade union opinion in Scotland, and not merely out of step but marching in the wrong direction to meet the energy needs of Scotland in the decades ahead. They have turned their face against the hard logic that every other major economy is now facing up to. Nuclear power is part of the future, and I find the Scottish Administrations approach somewhat perplexing.
I am old enough to remember, only too well, the brown-outs of the 1960s. I remember the three-day working week, when power stations were closed down. The then Tory Administration initiated a switch off and save campaign. I think it is time to save Scotland and sack Salmond.
Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): Let me begin by striking a brief note of consensus in agreeing with the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) that the Bill represents a missed opportunity. It might almost have been called a Big Energy Bill.
Mr. Tom Clarke: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me, especially as I shall not be able to stay for most of the rest of the debate. He will recall that during a recent debate in Westminster Hall, there was some ambiguity in the official Oppositions approach to Ofgem. Does he accept that the Secretary of State was granted powers under section 4 of the Gas Act 1986 and that subsequently Ofgem was given a duty to speak for consumers, especially low-paid consumers? It has not asked for that responsibility to be changed in any way. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in asking Ofgem to exercise it?
Steve Webb: The right hon. Gentleman has raised two important points with which I hope to deal later. I pay tribute to him for his work on fuel poverty, and I agree with him that the regulators role needs to be addressed.
The Secretary of State and I have crossed swords a couple of times and he tends not to follow my way of thinking, but in a rare lapse, I agree with one of his comments. We do need a diverse range of energy sources; I do not think there is any dispute about that. As I began to say earlier, this is a Big Energy Bill reflecting the spirit of the old Department of Trade and Industry, the utilities, and the business way of looking at things. I am Liberal Democrat spokesman on the environment with responsibility for energy, and I view energy policy very much through the window of the environment. From that point of view, the Bill is profoundly disappointing. It contains very little on matters such as energy efficiency. Surely an Energy Bill
should legitimately deal with that, but where is it? There should be so much more about energy conservationin the home, for example. Where is all of that? Where is the serious material on microgeneration and distributed power? The Bill should have addressed those matters; it had the opportunity to be visionary instead of, essentially, being about big energy and more of the same.
Steve Webb: The hon. Gentleman raises a perfectly fair point about the process by which we determine the suitability of individual applications, but an approach that is supportive in principle of renewables of all sorts does not dictate that any individual application should be guaranteed successunless the hon. Gentlemans position is that those who support renewables should say yes to every application. That would be nonsense; each application should be judged on its merits.
While I am on the subject of renewables, I am glad that the Secretary of State is still present, because it means that I can give him another chance to answer the question he declined to answer when I intervened on him. Why is the United Kingdom 22nd out of the EU countries on renewables? It is a simple question, but we have no answer. I would be happy to give way; I would be happy for the Secretary of State to interrupt my flow and tell the House why we are so poor. We have had 10 years of a Labour Government, who could have done something about this. What we hear from Ministers is the jam tomorrow renewables strategy: Its going to be great, and therell be a bright new dawn. We should have seen the evidence of that by now, but we simply have not.
We only have to look to Germany. If we cite places such as Scandinavia people sometimes say, Well, thats very different, but Germany is comparable to us in many respects, yet it has achieved huge things. For example, it has achieved 200,000 green-collar jobs, as it calls them, in the renewables industry sector. That could have been a huge opportunity for this country. The Secretary of State said that great things can be done when a Government are consistent, give a lead over a long period, and are supportive of renewablesand he is right, so why have we not done that? As well as the 200,000 green-collar jobs that have been created, solar technology investment in Germany has increased from €450 million in 2000 to €4.9 billion in 2006. That is vision; that is achievement. We have not had that from this Government.
support programmes from national and state governments
a legally fixed payment for electricity fed into the public grid.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|