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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I recognise that my noble friend has deeply committed views on this issue. However, I do not go along with his suggestion that this is an environmental disaster of unprecedented magnitude. It is a state of affairs which must be dealt with. There is no point in wishing away the whole situation. The problem exists and must be dealt with. You cannot just throw the key into the sea and hope that the whole problem will disappear.
As regards other forms of energy, my noble friend will understand that we shall shortly be making a statement on the energy review. I hope that he will wait to hear what we must say about wind and wave in that context.
Lord Gray of Contin: My Lords, will the Minister accept that this is an occasion when great tribute should be paid to all those who have participated in the engineering feats of Dounreay over the past 40 years? The people of Caithness and the Highlands of Scotland
Will the Minister agree that it is a simple fact, proved over the years, that generation by nuclear power has been an enormous success? It now accounts for a very high percentage of generation in this country, particularly in Scotland. However successful alternative sources of energy may be, it will be a long time before they can come anywhere near producing the amount of electricity which nuclear energy is presently affording us.
Finally, will the Minister do everything possible to try to ensure that, after the year 2006, alternative arrangements are made to keep in the Highlands the high-tech personnel who have made their homes there? That is essential for them, as they are now in the middle of their careers and it may not be too easy for them to move. It is also important that such talents should be kept in an area such as the Highlands of Scotland.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I shall deal, first, with the noble Lord's last question. Only last Wednesday AEA Technology announced the construction of a lithium battery plant which will involve some 300 employees. That is good news. As I indicated, I do not believe that there is a serious problem of unemployment looming in the near future. Should that forecast be incorrect, I know that my right honourable friend would certainly turn his attention swiftly to it. However, I do not want to get into a position where people become over anxious about a situation which is unlikely to arise.
The noble Lord is right to talk about the engineering feats over the past 40 years and the contribution made. However, that lies somewhat uneasily with what his noble friend Lord Mackay said about the lack of openness with which the previous government were faced. Of course, mistakes have been made, but that does not adversely affect the contribution made by loyal employees operating with great skill and ability. It is right that I should pay that tribute to those concerned from this Dispatch Box.
Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, did my noble friend the Minister notice the uncharacteristic red herring which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, introduced to the debate when referring to the material brought from Georgia? Will my noble friend confirm that the amount of material brought from Georgia is not much bigger than the water jug which his noble friend on the Front Bench has just picked up? Indeed, such an insignificant quantity is of no danger to anyone, unless one were to eat it.
Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, I am sure my noble friend the Minister will appreciate that the assurance that he has just given and that given to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, are extremely welcome. Anyone who knows the area will be aware of what an exciting development Dounreay has been. It has transformed the whole social and cultural life in what would otherwise be a very remote and somewhat bleak area. Therefore, the assurances that my noble friend has given about there being no immediate job reductions should be emphasised.
Perhaps I may also point out to my noble friend the Minister that the Highlands and Islands Development Board exists in that part of the country with a specific remit to encourage new industry and diversify. Therefore, can my noble friend confirm that the HIDB will be fully consulted as regards any arrangements which are being made for diversification?
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I am grateful for the support that my noble friend has given. I can give him an assurance that the HIDB will be fully consulted and involved in the decisions which are being taken.
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, bearing in mind that the announcement of the closure of Dounreay was made towards the end of last week, perhaps my noble friend the Minister will give me the opportunity today to complete the historical picture of why Dounreay was there in the first place. Does my noble friend the Minister recall the movement called "Atoms for Peace", which was the forerunner to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament? The former campaign for peace was designed to harness atomic power for peaceful purposes to produce cheaper electricity for the benefit of the people. Is my noble friend aware that the "Atoms for Peace" campaign was particularly strong in Scotland because the Scottish people wanted to play a central role in the development of this new technology? Will my noble friend accept that it is only right and proper that we should place on the record of today's exchanges our tribute to those pioneers who gave the people of Scotland that opportunity, which they grasped with both hands?
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, my noble friend speaks with great authority on the matter and I accept the assertions that he makes. However, I take issue with him on one aspect; namely, the suggestion he made that there has been a decision to close Dounreay. That is not
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, as a footnote to what he has already said, will the Minister add the following point: the Highlands and Islands Development Board has been mentioned, but it ceased to exist a few years ago? Therefore, the body which ought to be referred to in this context is its successor; namely, Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for that information. Indeed, I gratefully receive it and plead total ignorance of the situation to which he alluded. As on many previous occasions, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his assistance. It is difficult to co-operate with and enjoin the support of an organisation which has ceased to exist.
Lord Desai: My Lords, not being a Scotsman, I shall not become involved in tributes concerning Dounreay. However, despite what my noble friend Lord Ewing said, does my noble friend the Minister agree that nuclear power has not proved to be economically viable; in other words, it has not met the market test? We must apply that test, apart from bearing in mind the other factors mentioned by my noble friend Lord Jenkins. Can the Government now publish an estimate of how much it has cost us in the search for cheaper power through nuclear energy, which was itself a novel idea? It would be most helpful if we could know the total cost involved to the nation. Indeed, we could learn from that and, when dealing with such technological miracles in the future--like biotechnology--we would know that going down that path is not always a solution to all problems.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, my noble friend has gone slightly too far. I am aware that he is not in fact Scottish; neither am I. As far as concerns the question regarding how much the whole enterprise of seeking to apply a nuclear power has cost, I suggest to my noble friend that he tables a Question in that respect. In that way, the whole House would benefit from such information rather than my writing to him, which would mean that only he and I would be privy to it. My noble friend is right to say that the market test is appropriate. However, I do not believe that I can add anything useful to what I have already said. I hope that my noble friend takes that piece of advice.
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