Let me spend a few moments explaining why nuclear fusion is so important and useful. It is the fusion of hydrogen atoms to form helium, and an awful lot of energy. It is a safe process whereby there are no nasty by-products. Of course, hydrogen is found in water, so fusion power is a potentially limitless source of energy. In fact, it is recognised that in 100 years' time nuclear fission will be in the past, and everything will be powered by nuclear fusion. That may sound scatty, too advanced
or too romantic, but it is the case. However, I am afraid that we will slow down that harnessing of power unless we are able to ensure that we join with other countries to guarantee that money is not wasted or taken away to be spent on other important related products, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) passionately said.
The main focus of my speech is not nuclear fusion or carbon capture and storage, but the subject of my intervention at the beginning of the debate. It is about a very simple way of reducing carbon emissions, saving the Government money, and creating a feel-good factor-that is, moving our clocks one hour forward.
Mr Ellwood: If the hon. Gentleman could hold on for a second and let me make a bit of progress, I will be delighted to give way. I have not even begun the argument yet-I have only announced the subject matter-and he is already having a pop.
Let me take hon. Members back to last March and how people felt on the day before the clocks changed and on the day after. There is a natural feel-good factor for people when that lighter evening comes in, but it goes beyond that: there is also a financial benefit and an effect on the environment. Electricity prices would go down because we would be naturally aligning the time spent at our workplace during the day with the time when the sun, the last form of free energy, is in the sky. There is a natural recognition of how we could better use that time. When the sun is in the sky and we are all in bed, that is wasted energy.
Thomas Docherty: Let me gently point out to the hon. Gentleman that slightly north of Bournemouth there is great opposition to the idea of changing the clock. In Scotland and elsewhere, there are serious and genuine safety concerns about what that would mean. His own colleagues in Government have made it absolutely clear that they will not support that proposal for that very reason.
Mr Ellwood: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's final point, as I spent much of last year doing a study on this very subject. The point he raises about the far north of England and Scotland is relevant, however, and I will come to it in due course, when, no doubt, he will want to jump up and have another go.
According to Cambridge university, this change to our clocks would mean that electricity prices for the whole of the United Kingdom would reduce by about 5%. Moreover, the UK's carbon footprint would be reduced by about 500,000 tonnes of CO2. People should wake up and see that that figure is relevant. That was not even a consideration in the 1970s, when, as hon. Members might recall, there was a three-year pilot project to test this idea; some people enjoyed it, and others did not. It turned out that the voices who spoke most strongly against it were those of the farmers-and rightly, because the business that they operated meant that they had to make best use of the daylight, and it conflicted with their routine. However, the National
Farmers Union, and indeed NFU Scotland, no longer object to the idea. When NFU Scotland is asked if it is the first thing it wants, of course it says no-it is not on its agenda at all-but it has withdrawn its objections to it, and that makes sense, because farming is now a 24-hour industry.
The experiment was very positive, and it saw a reduction in fatalities and injuries across the UK. You might be interested to learn, Mr Deputy Speaker, however, that the reason why the experiment was flipped back was that farmers told all the Conservative MPs who were in power at the time that they would be denied the poster sites that are so important during a general election were it to continue. That was why they said, "Okay, fine, we will get rid of this". However, reading the Hansard makes it clear that the argument for dropping it was weak.
I have mentioned the reduction in the UK's carbon footprint, but there would also be an important boost to British tourism, an industry that Parliament almost neglects. It is our fifth-biggest industry and brings in more than £90 billion a year. According to the Tourism Alliance, daylight saving would boost the industry by about £2 billion, which is worth considering. We are the sixth most visited place in the world, and if we can find other means to encourage people to come here and take advantage of British tourist attractions, particularly those outdoors, it is worth looking into.
Safer roads, which I believe have been mentioned, are another aspect of daylight saving. As I have said, when the experiment last took place there was a reduction in deaths. I agree that more deaths took place in the morning, but the net change was a decrease. That was because in the morning, people tend to make a journey from A to B, with A being their home and B being somewhere they know, such as work or school. In the evenings they tend to make a journey from A to C, with C being somewhere they have not been before. That means that they are not so familiar with the roads, which leads to accidents. Shifting the time so that it is lighter in the evenings rather than the mornings reduces the number of accidents that take place.
Mr Ellwood: I will take your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker, and focus on how daylight saving is very energy-efficient. I will not cover the reduction in crime or the increase in international trade that it would bring, although they are important, or health and well-being, although they are also worth considering.
It is worth my mentioning Scotland, though, and the possible efficiency savings there. With daylight saving, in the Glasgow-Edinburgh conurbation there would be 83 more daylight hours before 4 pm and 5 pm, 120 more between 4 pm and 6 pm and 165 more between 4 pm and 7 pm. The numbers would be larger for the rest of the UK. It is a very simple move that would not cost the Government a penny to implement, other than to put the necessary legislation through. It would align us with our European colleagues, which would mean that we would become more efficient from a business perspective as well, so I recommend it.
I understand that there is finally a private Member's Bill on the matter, so I am the warm-up act for my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), who I understand will introduce Second Reading on-
Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I begin by congratulating all Members who have made their maiden speeches today. They have been fantastic, and after hearing some of them, including that of my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon), I suspect that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury could soon simply scrap all the tourist boards in this country, such is the eloquence of the case that hon. Members have made for their constituencies.
This has been a fantastic debate. There has been some good knockabout, but hon. Members have also made some serious points. I am slightly curious when I hear coalition Members talk about fuel poverty and the fact that they will square the circle by voting to freeze child benefit and cut housing benefit. We have not really teased out exactly how that will tackle fuel poverty.
I should like to put the subject of energy efficiency into the context of the wider energy debate. As part of my leisure reading I often have a glance at DUKES-the digest of UK energy statistics-a thoroughly interesting document that I get from the Department's website. I had a glance at it this morning and it contains some interesting statistics about our consumption as a nation over the past 40 years-since 1970. We have seen a 60% increase in the amount of electricity we consume as a nation. However, manufacturing and industrial consumption has remained steady at some 14,000 GWh, and it has largely been domestic consumption that has driven up the figures, plus some transportation. One thing that brings a wry smile to my face is hon. Members talking of the need for more railways and electric cars. Those are admirable suggestions, and I support them, but it is never explained where we will get the energy to power those new electric trains and cars.
If we compare our consumption statistics with our supply statistics, the result is worrying. At its peak in 1998, the nuclear industry provided approximately 90,000 GWh. In 2008, the latest year for which figures are available, that had fallen to 48,000 GWh, although it has risen again slightly since then. At the same time, many of our coal-powered stations are coming to the end of their lives. By the end of the coming decade, all our Magnox nuclear power stations will have closed, as will almost all of the advanced gas-cooled reactor nuclear power stations and many of our coal-powered stations-either because of new European regulations on carbon emissions, which both sides of the House would support, or because they have simply come to the end of their lives. I suggest that we need to understand that, although the aim of being more efficient in our energy consumption is laudable, we face a massive energy gap that needs to be addressed. We have seen some consensus break out this afternoon on how we can achieve that.
I have a constituency interest in power generation, in Longannet power station-one of the two sites bidding for the Minister's money under the carbon capture and storage scheme. I notice that his colleague, when asked about carbon capture, gave us some warm words about the coalition's general support for it, but-I assume that it was an oversight on his part-did not give a guarantee that DECC will meet the previous Government's target of a decision by October. I would be delighted if the Minister could give the House that guarantee when he winds up.
The hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt) is unfortunately no longer in her place, but she made an excellent maiden speech. I suggest to her that, if we are to have a surge in the volume of renewables, especially those that come from offshore and elsewhere, we cannot simply say that we do not want improvements to the national grid. I suggest that the Liberal Democrats are in their usual situation of saying one thing in the House and doing something else outside. I look forward to seeing how the hon. Lady squares that circle with her constituents.
The wider issue is how we close the gap between our desire for a low carbon British economy and our need for energy. I suggest that we will do that through three forms of generation. I accept the role of renewables, although I am on the record as being slightly more sceptical than some of my colleagues about the size and scale of that. For example, biomass, which was seen until recently as the great white hope of renewable energy, has now, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) knows, run into serious difficulties with how quickly it is gobbling up forestry in the UK. It is now suggested that several schemes in Scotland proposed by Forth Ports will have to import wood from around the world.
Barry Gardiner: I would be delighted to expand on the question of imported biomass. It can play no sensible role in a model of energy efficiency; the transportation costs make it ludicrous to think we are being energy efficient in doing so. However, there are 4 million tonnes of biomass within not the forests but simply the under-managed broadleaf woodlands in England alone. That could be used to generate twice the amount of energy-
Thomas Docherty: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who, it is fair to say, is an expert on this issue. He is entirely right that biomass has a role to play, but it must be UK-produced fuel, and he is right to give examples. Stevens Croft in Dumfriesshire has been doing an excellent job of taking cast-off from the timber industry. That is an excellent example. As I mentioned, however, we should not be importing fuel from Europe or further afield.
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): On the renewable obligations certificate in relation to biomass, the effect of the subsidy introduced by the previous Government is that a variety of companies are effectively being underwritten for the work they are doing. Consequently, the taxpayer is paying for energy companies to do biomass. That cannot be right. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree?
Thomas Docherty: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thoughtful intervention, but I do not agree with him. I believe that Government have an important role to play in supporting the market, although I suspect that he does not see it that way. One reason why the gap is going to grow over the next few years is that the Conservative Members and their predecessors over-liberalised the market, and there was no incentive for companies to make long-term financial commitments to building new generating sources, whether nuclear, coal, gas or other base load suppliers. Only through Government support will that go ahead; so I think the Government should play an important role in the marketplace.
There are, however, some flaws in how the market works, and I want to touch on one that concerns my constituency and other parts of Scotland: the way in which the transmission charges work. Obviously, if we have a vast expansion of offshore renewables, it will almost certainly be around the Scottish coastline. If we are to build a new carbon capture and storage plant in my constituency, and if we are to have these nuclear power stations, the new plants will be penalised under the current transmission charges scheme. I hope therefore that the Minister will find room in his diary to meet me and other colleagues to consider how we can build a cross-party consensus on making it a more equitable system, while retaining the principle that those who use the grid pay a sum of money.
I was slightly astonished by the comments of the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) about coal mining. I gently point out to him that, as my hon. Friends have said, there are 300 years of reserves within our borders. However, that too will require Government support, which the Government will have to consider, because if we are to have energy sources that are free from carbon emissions at generation, we need to have that mix.
Mr Ellwood: I am trying to recall what I said, but I went on a bit and I am not sure that I remember everything, but I do not recall saying that I do not support coal mining in the UK. I sat on the Committee that debated the Energy Bill, which dealt with carbon capture and storage. We had extra thoughts, tabling about 90 amendments-I am thinking about my hon. Friend the Minister-and, although not a single one was accepted, we did not vote against the Bill, because we very much support coal mining in the UK. However, it has to be clean. My concern was that we are importing one third of our coal from Russia-coal that is not clean and certainly not from a secure source of supply.
Thomas Docherty: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying his position, but his Ministers will have to come up with some cash to reopen those mines. It is simply not feasible for, say, Scottish Coal to go back in and take on a huge financial risk without some Government underwriting. I would agree that there are some things that it is best for the Government to stay out of, but our major utilities are not one of those.
Guy Opperman: The hon. Gentleman seems to be indicating that without Government intervention there will be no further coal mining, but that cannot be right. For example, there are open-cast mines aplenty throughout Northumberland and my constituency, but all that mining is done without any Government support whatever.
Thomas Docherty: Just so that we are absolutely clear, we are talking about deep coal mining. That is where vast reserves lie. Without going into the techie details, the point is that quite a lot of the coal from open-cast mining is not suitable for burning in our power stations without doing serious work to it. [ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman can shake his head all he wants, but the reality is that in mining communities we are familiar with the different types of coal.
The Government have a vital role to play in providing homes and businesses with secure, safe electricity. I suspect that one of the great tensions to emerge in the coalition will focus not just on the vexed question of nuclear fission, but on the role of state intervention. I would be curious to discover to what extent the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg)-the Deputy Prime Minister-bought into the idea of yanking £60 million away from Forgemasters, which seems to be a ludicrous and short-term decision.
Mr Ellwood: We hear almost daily about this money that was supposed to go to places such as Sheffield Forgemasters, but it did not exist. We are talking about election sweeteners, peddled by Labour just before the general election and designed to win seats. There was no money in the till and the previous Government knew it. Their promises could not be kept; they were just trying to win seats. So please let us stop peddling this myth.
Thomas Docherty: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that intervention, because it allows me yet again to remind him that we are talking about a loan that the Government were providing. It was not a gift or a bung; it was a loan. It is astonishing to hear Government Members- [ Interruption. ]
Damian Collins: The hon. Gentleman said that the money was a loan, but there was only an offer of a loan-an offer that the previous Government did not have the money to honour. That is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) was making.
Thomas Docherty: Perhaps we will just have to say that I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong on this one. The reality of the coalition is that there are lots of warm words, as we saw from the Minister's eloquent opening statement, but when it comes to the substance and the detail of how money will be levered in, they are doing things on a wing and a prayer, with their fingers crossed.