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That this House notes that in the 1980s Britain experienced two recessions with unemployment reaching three million on both occasions, a thousand businesses a week were lost and that interest rates reached 15 per cent.; further notes that the roots and effects of the current financial crisis are global and unprecedented in recent decades; believes that at such a time it is essential that the Government acts to restore stability and confidence and therefore supports the action the Government has taken to inject liquidity into the banking system, to recapitalise the banks and to make funds available to resume the medium term lending essential to small businesses; further notes that the UK is better placed than in the past to get through the economic downturn with an economy that has produced three million more jobs over the past decade and enjoyed strong growth and low inflation; supports Government measures such as the Prime Ministers announcement to reduce to 10 days the payment period from central government to small businesses and to bring forward funding for small businesses available through the European Investment Bank; and believes that the Government should reject public spending cuts at this time and continue working with the banks to ensure the availability and competitive pricing of lending to the small and medium sized business sector.
That the Social Security (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 4) Regulations 2008 (S.I., 2008, No. 2424), dated 10th September 2008, be referred to a Delegated Legislation Committee. [ Mr. Roy .]
That the Value Added Tax (Finance) (No. 2) Order 2008 (S.I., 2008, No. 2547), dated 29th September 2008, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th September, be approved. [ Mr. Roy .]
That the Enterprise Act 2002 (Specification of Additional Section 58 Consideration) Order 2008 (S.I., 2008, No. 2645), dated 6th October, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th October, be approved. [Mr. Roy.]
That this House take note of European Union Documents No. 9656/08 and Addenda 1 and 2Draft Council Regulation establishing common rules for direct support schemes for farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy and establishing certain support schemes for farmers, and Draft Council Regulation on modifications to the Common Agricultural Policy by amending 320/2006, 1234/2007, 3/2008 and an unnumbered document relating to the Common Market Organisation for wine, and Draft Council Regulation 1698/2005 on support for rural development by the
European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), and Draft Council Decision amending Decision 2006/144/EC in the Community strategic guidelines for rural development (programming period 2007 to 2013) and European Union Document No. 9923/08, Commission CommunicationTackling the challenge of rising food pricesDirections for EU action; supports the Governments negotiating aims that the Health Check should cut further the trade and market distorting nature of the CAP, reduce regulatory burdens, give farmers greater control over their business decisions, and direct more public spending towards delivery of targeted public benefits; and considers that the separately proposed measures to tackle rising food prices are adequate and proportionate to the scale of the problem. [Mr. Roy.]
Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): A proposal to build 2,750 dwellingsa new town, in effectwas 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 of people living in the Mid-Dorset and North Poole Constituency,
Declares the Petitioners concerns that the proposal to build 2,750 homes in the vicinity of Lytchett Minster village in the green belt will result in one urban sprawl and threaten the loss of individual identity for their villages and communities, increase traffic on already inadequate roads, put pressures on hospitals and other health services and on schools and endanger heath lands. The Petitioners further declare that it is not an effective way to tackle the housing needs of local young people.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to respond to the views of Purbeck District Council, supported by Dorset County Council, local town and parish councils and many individual constituents, by removing the proposal for the 2,750 homes in the vicinity of Lytchett Minster village from the South West Regional Spatial strategy.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
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 Scotlands 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.
With power comes responsibility, and the First Ministers 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?
It will come as no surprise to my colleagues that I was somewhat bemused when the Scottish National party Administration welcomed Hunterstons life extension, but where there is life there is hopeand 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 SNPs 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.
So, the SNPs 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 years 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 byenergy is not a devolved areaas 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
in research and development for renewables is vital, but even if they can deliver the Edinburgh Executives 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 2006and 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 Ministers 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 Ministerand nobody else. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is new to the House, but he should bear that in mind.
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
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 Scotlands 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 populations 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 increasethe retail prices indexis 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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