Previous Section Index Home Page

27 May 2010 : Column 347

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which is by far the biggest departmental financial responsibility of the Secretary of State, undertakes remarkable and unique work. Its establishment was necessary and a real success of the last Government. I shall deal with NDA issues in more depth shortly, but let me say now that the NDA sustains the UK's nuclear work force and the skills base that is necessary if our new nuclear programme is to succeed. Public money is required. Is that a subsidy?

I thank the Secretary of State and the Minister of State for visiting the Sellafield site in my constituency yesterday to apprise themselves of issues associated with it and with the NDA. It was a welcome portent, and I am grateful for them for visiting the site at such an early stage. However, it is important for those who pursue policies in this sphere to recognise not just the successes but the failures of the past. I do not think that we should look to the United States for examples of what to do; it is probably better to look to it for what not to do. It is imperative, however, that funding for the NDA and for nuclear decommissioning, particularly at Sellafield, is not only ring-fenced but increased. The decommissioning mission, and the credibility of the nuclear industry and the nuclear renaissance, depend on our ability to undertake those tasks.

Albert Owen: Once again, my hon. Friend is showing great expertise. Would not one way of helping the NDA to obtain resources be to extend current nuclear power station generation? Nuclear power stations are safer now than they have ever been. Such action would not only help the NDA, but meet our future energy requirements.

Mr Reed: My hon. Friend is entirely right. I hope that he and I can lend our expertise to the new Government so that the issues can be examined in a considered, grown-up way, and solutions found that will benefit not just the NDA but our communities. The commercial missions for which the NDA is responsible, particularly reprocessing and fuel manufacture at Sellafield, must surely continue. THORP, the thermal oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield, is still the largest single yen earner in the United Kingdom economy.

The Sellafield MOX plant has had its problems-they are well detailed and we know them-but it has just secured some new contracts. Together, they represent potentially billions of pounds of investment into the UK economy and the local economy. Increasing commercial revenues is also the single most effective way of reducing the decommissioning burden upon the taxpayer. I look forward to working not only with the Minister of State and Secretary of State, but with everybody who has an interest in these issues across the House to make sure that that takes place.

I will always work with anyone on either side of the House who understands the needs of my constituents and recognises and supports the ambitions of my community in the way that the last Labour Government did. So far, however, there are a number of weaknesses that I am duty bound to point out in the approach towards nuclear that the coalition Government have expressed. I want to help the Government to remove these weaknesses, but it will require change on their part.

27 May 2010 : Column 348

The notion of no new nuclear without any public subsidy should be abandoned. Public money inevitably will be used in the way in which I have outlined. Funding for the NDA must not only be maintained, but increased. The NDA, a vital and uniquely important body, must itself be maintained and unequivocally supported. Above all, the energy coast programme, enthusiastically supported by two previous Prime Ministers and the last Government, must be supported and funded. The programme of works within the plan is entirely within the national interest. Let me be clear; if the funding pledged by the last Government to the new West Cumberland hospital, to our cottage hospitals in Keswick and Milham, to our new health centres, to our new schools and to higher education investment and more is cut by the Government, the consequences of that for my constituents, and for the Government, will be profound.

We must continue to secure new reprocessing contracts and fuel manufacturing contracts at Sellafield. Refusal to do this would be to work against the best interests of this country. As an Opposition Member, I am paid to scrutinise but I will not oppose for the sake of it. Where I believe the new Government get energy policy right, I will support them. Where I believe they get it wrong, I will not. I wish them well. Let us quickly remove these potentially very serious weaknesses and work together.

2.12 pm

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Mr Speaker, congratulations on your re-election and thank you for giving me the privilege of speaking in the Queen's Speech debate.

I have had the privilege of being elected for the same part of my borough for the eighth time and I say to colleagues elected for the first time, to whom I pay tribute, the excitement does not pale just because we have gone through the democratic process again. The honour is always as great and the sheer equality of the democratic process, which means that everybody's vote counts the same, reminds us to be humble about the privilege we have of being here.

I am seeking to speak in this debate because, in the last Parliament, I was responsible in our party for these issues. I enjoyed that task immensely and have taken a long interest in environmental and energy issues. I wish the two Secretaries of State and their ministerial team all the best in what is one of the most important areas of public policy for us to get right.

As someone who sat for 27 years on the Opposition side of the House, haranguing Government to be greener-[Hon. Members: "Come back."] No, I am certainly not coming back. I plan to stay on this side of the House for the rest of my career. It is encouraging to hear the Government say-I believe them-that this will be the greenest Government ever, which will be in everybody's interest. It was great that one of the first things the Government did was to sign up, as a Government, to the 10:10 campaign, which I endorsed on behalf of my party on the day it was launched last September at Tate Modern.

I draw the attention of the House, and those outside, to the huge number of policy commitments made in the areas of energy and climate change and environment, food and rural affairs; 24 specific commitments of policy made under the Department of Energy and
27 May 2010 : Column 349
Climate Change, and 18 made under the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. That shows the seriousness of intent of both coalition partners to the enterprise of changing the way in which we do business in Britain.

It would be remiss of me to fail to pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). He knows that I hold him in high regard and had a very good working relationship with him. I applauded him when I thought he was doing the right thing and encouraged him in the work he did at Copenhagen. I thanked him for that and I do so again. He also talks a good talk as well as having real convictions in policy terms. I wish him well in his leadership election and I say to him that we were glad to have him as the first Secretary of State for the Department. He set a high standard to be followed; I am sure it will be. We had disagreements on certain issues, but I would not want that to undermine the value of what he did. The Government did not always meet their targets-on biodiversity, fuel poverty or renewables, for example-although one would not normally have known that to hear the then Secretary of State. I hope that the new Government will do better.

I want to select a couple of subject areas that I think are important and to encourage the Government to be strong. I will then deal with two things of huge importance. First, it is important that the Government have made the commitment to the green investment bank. If we are to have a sustainable economy, we need the mechanism to fund the initiatives that come with it. That relates to the future of apprenticeships and sustainable jobs in the manufacturing industries of the future. We have missed many tricks over the past 25 years by not being ahead of the game. Other countries have overtaken us and we must now catch up and go forward. Colleagues who are warning that the review of investment decisions made by the previous Government means the end of that should bide their time. This Government will not want, as a matter of policy, to pull the plug on good green investment decisions made by the last Government.

Secondly, as I indicated in an intervention on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, it is a real challenge, but a real opportunity, to make every home in Britain that is practicably able to be a warm home. More than 25% of the emissions in our country come from the domestic sector, or badly insulated homes. The programme that the Liberal Democrats put in their manifesto was ambitious; it granted people up to £10,000 to be spent in a home that passes the test and worked that through the devolved Administrations and local government in England. I hope that the new programme will allow a programme to start in 2012 for 10 years. That would make a fantastic contribution, not just to reducing fuel bills for people, to preventing untimely deaths of the old and vulnerable and to reducing our emissions, but it would produce huge numbers of jobs and apprenticeships in the building and construction industries. It is a win, win, win, win agenda item. As a postscript, let us not forget the homes that are off the mains, because they need assistance too.

Thirdly it is important that the Government continue to build and support small rural communities that have suffered too much from the loss of primary schools,
27 May 2010 : Column 350
post offices and, sometimes, pubs, as well as the loss of cheap housing for people who work on the land. That must remain a focus of Government across the UK and I know that Ministers are aware of the importance of them as the lifeblood of rural communities.

Lastly, it is great that we have had so quickly the decision that there will not be a third runway at Heathrow and that we will not have expansion at Gatwick and Stansted. We must understand that it is not necessary to go on building more airports and airport capacity in the south-east. If we go ahead, as we will, with a high speed rail network-not just in Britain, but across Europe-people will begin to understand the environmentally better ways of travelling. That requires other things; my friends in the Department for Transport know that it requires fare structures that work better and encourage people to use trains by making travelling across Europe something one can do as easily by train as one has in the past by plane.

The first of the two big issues that I want to flag up is biodiversity, alluded to by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. This is the international year of biodiversity but the EU target to halt the loss of biodiversity by this year has been missed. I ask all Ministers to look at the report issued last week by the United Nations and the international committee set up to deal with these matters. The report makes it clear how badly we are doing and how serious the issue is. It says:

I hope the Government will take this issue seriously in all their Departments, and not only at home in the four countries of the UK, but across Europe and internationally. Unless we save the land of which we are the stewards, we may not have a land worth saving, and there may be greater risks as well.

It would be surprising if the second matter I commented on was not the nuclear industry, especially as I am following the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr Reed), who stands up vigorously, and very coherently, for his constituency, which is what I would expect. My party and I do not agree with nuclear power. I have not changed my view as a result of the election. We think that it would produce too little in terms of energy, that it would be too late and too expensive, that it would need public subsidy-in effect, the hon. Gentleman accepted that-and that it would be too dangerous. The process that has been negotiated and agreed has been arrived at as a result of an acceptance by my colleagues in government that there is majority support in the Government and across the House for nuclear power, but it does not seek to change the mind of those of us who think it is the wrong way to go.

I hope that that approach will be coupled with one other thing. I have made this request to both the previous and current Secretary of State. The Government are
27 May 2010 : Column 351
required formally to justify proceeding to nuclear power. That is called the process of justification. It is required under European Union law, and it looks at the cost-benefit analysis and the health risks. A draft justification has been written, but the Secretary of State is entitled to call for a public inquiry on the justification for nuclear power. It need not be a long inquiry-it could last for a year-but I believe that if we are to have science and evidence-led policy, the right way to proceed towards making the decisions on these matters, coupled with the view that there should be no subsidy, is for the Government to announce in the near future that there will be a public inquiry into the justification. I might add that I do not believe that we in this country will ever have a future generation of nuclear power if the private sector has to pick up the pieces, but we will wait and see.

Albert Owen: Although the hon. Gentleman and I hold diametrically opposed views on nuclear power, I respect the firm stance he takes on the matter. What he has just said about kicking things even further into the long grass will dismay those people who want to invest in the industry now, and are prepared to do so. Will he explain his party's policy-not the coalition's-on the extension of current nuclear power stations, which are generating safely as we speak now? Will they have the opportunity to extend their generating life and thus maintain high-skill jobs in this sector?

Simon Hughes: First, let me say that, in the context of the hon. Gentleman's beautiful island, I understand why he holds to his position on this matter. I understand, of course, that Wylfa has produced jobs in the nuclear industry, as Trawsfynydd did before it, and that the people in north Wales need jobs. We hold different views, and that is the result of all sorts of factors working on us. My party's policy is that we would continue to use the existing fleet of nuclear power stations, but we would not artificially continue them and we would not want to build new ones. That has been the Liberal Democrat policy over the years. We are obviously in new territory now, and there will be new processes, and the hon. Gentleman and I will, no doubt, continue to participate in the debates on the matter.

The fact that part of my constituency, which is just over the bridge, has had MPs continuously since 1285-or, perhaps, 1295-reminds us that we are all just passing creatures in this place. There are two big issues that my constituents would expect me to mention. We still need affordable housing in large measure, and that must be a Government priority. Of course tackling this is difficult, but things need to be improved and we need many new properties to be built. I do not think there is a single constituency in the country that does not have an affordable housing need, and Bermondsey and Old Southwark certainly has that need. We will also continue to need apprenticeships and jobs in lasting industries, and I will take every opportunity to encourage the Government to address that.

I want to end in a slightly unusual, personal way. For my family, 27 May is a difficult day, as it is the anniversary of both our grandmother's death and my dad's; he died on 27 May a long time ago-in 1976. He would have been very excited, as any parent would, at his son sitting in Parliament, although he never lived to see that, but he would have also wanted me to be here to do something,
27 May 2010 : Column 352
because that is what he was all about. His agenda would have been, "Make sure you support manufacturing industry." He was a brewer and understood that unless we make things, we do not earn to pay our way. He would also have said, "Make sure that young people have the chance of going on to college even if they cannot afford it." He would have encouraged me to oppose tuition fees, which I do. Lastly, he would have said, "Make sure we continue to look after our troops in the front line, when they go and fight for our country," which we must do. I will say one other thing in his honour. He died of cancer, and we must continue the research and development to ensure that fewer people die of cancer and that diagnosis happens quickly so that people have the best chance of being treated, for all our families and all our constituents.

2.25 pm

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech. I also thank the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) for laying the runway for me to take flight today, and for touching at the end of his speech on some very poignant issues, which are relevant to many Members of all parties. He talked about supporting our troops, supporting employment and job development, and supporting cancer patients. That last issue is personally relevant to me and my family, and I echo the hon. Gentleman's call that this Government must release funding to ensure certain cancer drugs are available for cancer sufferers, so they do not have to pay for them themselves. I support that call.

All new Members are awestruck when we enter the Chamber. There is anticipation about what lies before us as parliamentarians, and we are also fully aware of the history of this place. I was graciously mentioned by speakers in Tuesday's debate, including my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) and the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). They both encouraged me by saying, "Don't worry, it's okay to be talked about in this place. It's when you're not talked about that things are not so good." They gave me a very warm welcome: they said, "Welcome home."

Being welcomed home here is a bit more relevant to me than it might be to some other Members whose fathers have sat on these Benches for 40 years or so-I am thinking of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), although he beats me in one regard, as his father sat on these Benches for 50 years. Although it was said earlier that most people leave this House to spend more time with their family, I suppose it could be said that I come to this House to spend a little more time with my family members, who have sat in this House or sit in the other place now. It is therefore good to be here.

I have to follow in giant footsteps. My constituency boasts the Giant's Causeway and I have to follow, ever so lightly, in the footsteps of a giant public representative, who represented North Antrim for four decades and made the case on behalf of its people without fear or favour. He made an imprint on not only Ulster politics, the politics of this House and British politics, but on Irish politics, and I salute him for the stand that he made. I know that when making a maiden speech one has to say something complimentary about one's
27 May 2010 : Column 353
predecessors. One hon. Member advised me that I could use parliamentary privilege to say what I want about my father, but I must say that what you see is what you get with him; there is nothing else to tell hon. Members, and perhaps that will come as a relief to many.

I am very proud of the former Member of Parliament for North Antrim, my father, who represented the constituency so well. He set me a challenge before the election, saying, "If you don't get elected, you are no son of mine." I am glad that the 19,000-odd people who voted for me confirmed my parentage on election day and did not leave me with that scar. As I say, it is a privilege to follow someone who has been not just part of history, but a history maker. That greatly encourages me and I salute my father, the former Member, today.

Given the longevity of my father's service, I do not have many texts to look back through to read maiden speeches made by former Members for North Antrim. Mr Deputy Speaker, I have to warn you that the previous maiden speech made by a Member for the constituency was considered to have broken every rule in the book. By all accounts, it was far too long and was definitely controversial-the Member was called to order while making his speech-and I understand that, at times, it was even far too loud. I hope that you will indulge me today; I will not commit any of those misdemeanours. Perhaps on other occasions you will indulge us Ulster Members as we continue our controversies from time to time.

The contrast between the time when the former Member for North Antrim made his maiden speech in 1970 and the time when I do so could not be more stark. When he made his speech, Ulster was tearing itself apart; there was civil unrest, economic uncertainty and political instability. I am glad that today, when I have the privilege of making my maiden speech on behalf of the electors of North Antrim, we know that the helplessness has given way to hope and that the heartache has given way to heart rejoicing, and we see that terrorism has been turned on its head and that there has been a dramatic change in the situation in Northern Ireland. It has lead to hope and to economic opportunity, despite the cuts being threatened by the Government. It is an opportunity for all the people, and I welcome that. I look forward to working in this Parliament to make that hope become a reality for all my constituents and all the people of Northern Ireland, because that is incredibly important.

I also believe that instead of terror being the order of the day, criminality has, in many instances, taken over in Northern Ireland, as it has in any other part of this United Kingdom. The Independent Monitoring Commission reported on Northern Ireland yesterday, but by and large terrorism has been checked, although problems with dissident republicans remain. I am aware that combating crime is as relevant to dealing with the issues in my constituency and my country as it is to dealing with issues in the rest of this nation. I wish to concentrate my remarks and make an appeal to this Government on combating crime.

Next Section Index Home Page