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Mr. Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


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Delegated Legislation


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

Value Added Tax

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),


Mr. Speaker: I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members: No.

Division deferred till Wednesday 22 October, pursuant to Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions).

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Committees),

CAP ‘Health Check’ and Community Action on Rising Food Prices

Question agreed to.


Planning and Development (Dorset)

10.27 pm

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): A proposal to build 2,750 dwellings—a new town, in effect—was introduced in the south-west regional spatial strategy following a representation from a developer at the examination in public. The proposal is opposed by every local democratically elected body and every elected representative, as well as by almost 100 per cent. of local residents, on whose behalf I present the petition tonight.

The petition states:


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Energy Policy (Scotland)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Roy.]

10.29 pm

John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): I want to start by declaring an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on nuclear energy. I am delighted to have this opportunity to promote discussion on the future energy needs of Scotland. This is a much-needed debate. We currently have a First Minister who is constructing his own folly in Edinburgh and creating a whole new age of irresponsibility by gambling like the banks with Scotland’s future energy. This has been brought through the back door with planning policy in a way that was never intended in the devolution settlement. And there was good reason for that, with energy being an issue that transcends borders and one which is fundamentally important to the whole nation.

The First Minister is pursuing not an energy policy but an energy prejudice, through planning restrictions that have only one criterion: no to nuclear, regardless of the effects.

John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Robertson: No, I will not.

With power comes responsibility, and the First Minister’s opposition to nuclear power demonstrates his inability rationally to examine the need for a balanced energy policy and the benefit that nuclear generation has delivered over the past 40 years. It is safe, reliable and, according to expert analysis, affordable. It would help us to reduce greenhouse gases, maintain security of supply and provide affordable energy for Scotland. Today, I want to ask the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change what his Department will do about its responsibility to provide this for the people of Scotland who are being frustrated in that respect.

Throughout its history, Scotland has been extremely fortunate with energy. There has been a long-term contribution from our nuclear plants, which at their peak delivered over 50 per cent. of our electricity needs. Even today, they still provide over 20 per cent. of our current base load. We have been self-sufficient in oil and gas, due to the huge investment in and exploitation of our natural resources in the North sea, and we have also had a profitable and viable coal industry.

So nuclear, coal and gas, with a contribution from limited hydro generation, have provided core sources of energy and the welcome balanced energy policy that has been so important to maintaining our way of life. But this now hangs in the balance. Our two remaining nuclear plants, at Hunterston and Torness, will both reach the end of their life cycle some time in the 2020s. Hunterston recently announced a life extension until 2016, but it must be recognised that continuing generation after that date will be extremely difficult and will require substantial engineering solutions if it is to continue to contribute to our base energy load.

Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Having mentioned Torness, will he place on record the hard work of the skilled work force in my constituency?

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John Robertson: My hon. Friend asked me to do that before the debate, and I am only too glad to support her work force and the excellent contribution that they have made to energy in Scotland.

It will come as no surprise to my colleagues that I was somewhat bemused when the Scottish National party Administration welcomed Hunterston’s life extension, but where there is life there is hope—and where there are nationalists, there is always hypocrisy.

In parallel to this, our two coal-fired power stations at Longannet and Cockenzie are scheduled to close at the end of 2015, on account of European emissions legislation. Even if this could be avoided, those two coal-powered stations will have reached their 48th and 52nd birthdays by 2020. Because of this, the environmental impact and the reliability of these fossil fuel plants will be significantly worse than modern equivalents. So, with the imperative of climate change, and the SNP’s manifesto pledge for a greener Scotland, this should be setting alarm bells ringing.

I am in favour of a comprehensive, balanced energy policy including coal, gas and nuclear, and I fully support the development of renewables to meet our future need. I am deeply concerned, however, that while the SNP Administration in Edinburgh advocate low-carbon energy, they reject nuclear power. Nuclear power is a proven, operational, safe and clean core source of low-carbon energy, whose emissions levels are, according to the UN, similar to those of renewables.

John Mason: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Robertson: I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, because he did not ask me before the debate whether he could speak.

So, the SNP’s dogmatic opposition is completely illogical and damaging. I have to say that, south of the border, the Conservatives are not much better. Their flip-flopping on nuclear is unhelpful and dangerous, and it is about time that Conservative Back Benchers gave their Front Benchers a wake-up call.

The need for a truly balanced energy policy utilising all proven sources, which the Government have recognised, has been reinforced by this year’s events. Increases and fluctuations in the price of oil and the effect on the economy have underscored the need to reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels. My constituents feel that need when they get their food and energy bills, but current SNP policies will leave Scotland at the mercy of world events and dependent on gas for our core source of the energy needed to meet at least 50 per cent. of our electricity needs. I would urge the Minister not to stand by—energy is not a devolved area—as we surely cannot allow dogma and misinformation to impact detrimentally on the people of Scotland.

While I completely agree that Scotland is well endowed with natural resources to generate a large proportion of its electricity from renewables, there are practical problems that affect both security and cost. Research and development are never cheap and require huge capital investment to bring any development to fruition. Carbon capture and storage plants, for instance, are being developed in different countries at present, but that is expensive and on current estimates it will be 2030 before a commercially viable plant is fully operational. Investing
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in research and development for renewables is vital, but even if they can deliver the Edinburgh Executive’s ambitious target that 50 per cent. of our electricity will come from renewables by 2020, where will the other 50 per cent. come from?

We should not be taken in by the greenwash and saltire swathing of statistics by the SNP. It trumpets the 2006 figures on a lower proportion of nuclear generation as showing a greener Scotland, but it fails to disclose an increase in the use of gas and a reduction in the share from renewables. So a cleaner Scotland it certainly was not in 2006—and that provides a lesson on where I believe the Scottish Nationalists’ energy policy will lead us.

Further evidence was borne out in an astonishing piece in a recent Sunday newspaper, when the First Minister claimed that the green revolution would enter a new phase with a return to “Old King Coal”. While that might make for benign headlines, perhaps the First Minister is unaware of research showing that levels of radiation are up to six times higher for people living around coal plants than for those living around nuclear plants. Perhaps he is also unaware of the thousands of miners still living in Scotland today who suffer from the effects of working in the pits, and unaware of the heavy price they pay in terms of bronchial, chest and lung diseases. But he must surely know of the vast sums of money that the taxpayer has quite rightly had to pay for the extraction of coal and of the recent warning from the wind generation industry that a funding injection is needed to meet the targets. Our security of supply is now in real danger and the energy prejudice being played out by the SNP in planning policy is not only illogical, but highly dangerous. If the SNP continues to oppose nuclear and our two existing coal plants close in 2016, there will be no alternative but to turn to gas for our core energy supply.

The decision to build a new generation of nuclear plants is, in my view, sensible and necessary and should play a role in meeting our needs for Scotland. The decision to sell British Energy to EDF Energy will, I hope, kick-start new nuclear build as soon as possible, but the First Minister’s prejudice could deprive Scotland of the delivery of a low-carbon energy source.

A new reactor on the Hunterston site is supported not only by the work force, but by local communities, which is regrettably more than can be said for a number of renewable developments with which we have had problems. That opposition has set us further back in meeting the challenge we face. Taking the opportunity provided by new nuclear build, with no cost or subsidies to the taxpayer, makes sense and it is vital if we are to avoid dependency on imported gas. The First Minister will not listen to reason— [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Member for Glasgow, East (John Mason) of the SNP needs to know that this is an Adjournment debate, not a general debate, so it is really a matter for the Member whose debate this is and the relevant Minister—and nobody else. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is new to the House, but he should bear that in mind.

John Robertson: It makes sense to have the opportunity of new nuclear build with no cost to or subsidies from the taxpayer. If we are to avoid dependency on imported gas, its development is vital. The First Minister will not
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listen to reason, but will my hon. and learned Friend? Few more important topics face the country at the moment than energy supply. Does he agree that the SNP should not frustrate Scotland’s needs by the back door? Does he agree that we need to revisit the issue of planning policy? Would he support an independent body with jurisdiction for all of the UK to advise on energy sources in planning decisions, which have been plagued by prejudice?

Tonight it is also important to express our thanks to those in the nuclear, coal and gas industries in Scotland. In particular, I thank the nuclear workers, not just those in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Anne Moffat), but those at Hunterston who have contributed for almost 40 years and made sure that our core energy levels have been kept high.

The nuclear industry is a soft target for the media and those opposed to nuclear energy. Any problem, however trivial, has been blown out of all proportion and the atmosphere of mystery and fear has been perpetuated. Yet there has not been a single major nuclear emergency in Scotland and the industry has an enviable safety record compared with coal, gas and oil. That safety record is no accident: the regulation and safeguards adopted by the industry, which is more closely monitored, isolate the dangerous radioactive waste from the living environment. Nuclear power contributes only 0.5 per cent. or so to the population’s annual exposure to radiation, with 85 per cent. occurring from natural sources and 14 per cent. from medical treatment. Therefore, the First Minister should be ashamed of his constant misleading rhetoric and demonisation of workers in the nuclear industry.

I want to move on from how we will keep the lights on, to press my hon. and learned Friend about another important energy issue: keeping the heating on. I have raised that topic with several Ministers, in several Departments, and in several Sessions. I make no apologies for revisiting it today.

Throughout the country, many people would have switched on their heating on 1 October. But as a Glasgow MP whose constituency has high levels of pensioners and benefit claimants, I know that many of my constituents will face an unacceptable dilemma this winter as they weigh up which essential costs to cut. The rise in food and energy prices means that two core needs are being hit, and that will not come as news to my hon. and learned Friend. From his time in the Department for Work and Pensions he will know that the measure that we use to calculate the state pension increase—the retail prices index—is at its highest level since 1991.

In Scotland the problem is more acute than in the rest of the UK: incomes are lower, but the heating season is longer and more bitter. About a third of homes in the country have no connection to mains gas, and in the multi-storey flats in my constituency I see people with storage heaters, running on the most expensive fuel. I would be the first to admit that the Government have done a lot to prevent people from having to face such unacceptable choices. In my constituency the unemployment rate is down by 4 per cent. and 15,000 people receive payments worth hundreds of pounds a year to help with their heating bills. But we can and must do more.

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