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House of Lords

Monday, 8 March 2004.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.

Coal-fired Power Stations

Lord Dixon-Smith asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it is appropriate to use export credit guarantees to support the export of carbon dioxide inefficient coal-fired power stations.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government believe that it is appropriate to use export credit guarantees to support coal-fired power stations, provided that such power stations are designed to meet international emissions standards and appropriate levels of carbon efficiency and that other environmental and social impacts are acceptable.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, while this country has worked hard and successfully to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 12 million tonnes per annum, the export credit guarantee system is being used to guarantee the export of 40 million tonnes per annum of carbon dioxide emissions. What assistance does the Minister think this is, particularly to maritime third world countries which are already susceptible to flooding, when we are likely to generate an increasingly fickle climate?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, affordable electricity is vital to the economic development of many poorer countries, and coal is their only viable fuel source. We are concerned that the support that we give—as I mentioned in my earlier Answer—is for power stations that meet international standards. We are reflecting the attitude of all other advanced countries, but in some parts of the world coal will still be burned. It is important that we improve the efficiency of such stations as best as we are able.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, would the noble Lord indicate what effort is being made to promote cleaner coal technology transfers, as envisaged on page 92 of the energy White Paper? In connection with that, what is being done to bring forward demonstration projects to showcase the relevant technology, so that potential purchasers can see what they are being offered? This was also envisaged in the White Paper.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we are concerned to develop a strategy to extend opportunities with regard to clean coal technology. The noble Lord will know from the White Paper that we indicated why there were certain problems in this area, given relative costs. He will also know—our debates in Committee on the Energy Bill are

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helping to advance this cause—that the Government are ever open to proposals that see cleaner fuel technologies making an advance.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, would it not be more cost effective if the Government were to use a lot more money promoting clean coal technology, rather than wasting a great deal of money on windmills, which are not only inefficient, but are also despoiling great tracts of our beautiful country?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord will know the relative costs between the development of wind turbines and aspects of clean coal technology. The White Paper makes it absolutely clear that the most economic way of hitting our targets for sustainable fuels by 2010 is to develop wind turbines, which is what we are doing.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, could the Minister confirm one thing about his first Answer? Is he saying that these coal-fired generators meet the international standards that they use the export control guarantees for? If that is so, could he confirm that that is not adding to CO2 emissions in these countries? We understand that it is. Further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, why have the Government not been supporting Drax, with its clean coal technology?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, there are no international standards at present for emissions from coal-fired power stations at an agreed international level. In my first Answer, I said that we give support when we are able to employ the best strategies available. The noble Baroness is right that coal-fired power stations add to the emission levels—that is why in Britain we have our own national standards. Within those national standards, we are seeking, through the strategy of the White Paper, to reduce dependence on coal and other fuels and increase dependence on those that are more benign with regard to renewables.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, I declare an interest as a director of Drax power station, one of the largest coal-fired power stations in Europe. Is my noble friend aware that his staff, who are very enlightened on the question of clean coal, have visited our power station and learned a lot from it, so that they can take the knowledge that they have received and pass it on to others throughout the world?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, indeed, that is so. We recognise the significance of Drax power station. The problem with the economics of Drax is that the company does not have other opportunities to help to bear the higher costs of power generation through the flue gas desulphurisation process at Drax. That is why that power station, as opposed to other power stations in this country, is in a uniquely difficult position with regard to costs.

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Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, in his reply, the Minister said that the Government were attempting to meet their renewable energy target through wind power. Can he explain why the Ministry of Defence and other government departments seem to oppose, certainly in south-west Scotland, all applications for either hill farmers or Scottish Power to put up wind generators?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Ministry of Defence has proper interests to defend with regard to the effectiveness of certain parts of its radar operations. The anxiety is that the development of the wind turbines in certain parts will interfere with that. We hope, of course, that we will be able to resolve these issues in planning where the wind farm turbines will be and by investigating fully what impact any development might have upon the Ministry of Defence radar concerns.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, would the Minister like to see Britain have a flourishing export industry in the design and construction of nuclear power stations and, if so, what will he do to encourage it?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Question was about coal technologies, but I hear what the noble Lord says about nuclear. The position, as he knows, is that the Government have an open mind about nuclear and are keeping open the nuclear position with regard to future build as our energy strategy develops. But he will know that nuclear production is very expensive and that there are other, lower cost opportunities for meeting our emissions targets and our clean fuels. It is that mixed strategy which the Government are pursuing.

Multiple Sclerosis

2.44 p.m.

Lord Colwyn: My Lords, with the permission of my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

    To ask Her Majesty's Government how the Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection will monitor progress made by the National Health Service in implementing the recently published recommendations in the National Institute for Clinical Excellence guidelines on the management of multiple sclerosis.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, the Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection will develop criteria for assessing the performance of NHS bodies, taking account of the Secretary of State's statement of healthcare standards, which are currently subject to public consultation.

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These draft standards currently propose that NHS treatment and care should be based on nationally agreed best practice and guidance, including that issued by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

Lord Colwyn: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend, I thank the Minister for that reply. I gather that she has a daughter who suffers from the disease. My noble friend is not well this afternoon, although I gather she may struggle in a little later.

Multiple sclerosis has unpleasant symptoms; it causes distress to both patients and relatives. In view of the fact that North Bristol NHS Trust recently abandoned plans for a new centre of excellence for financial reasons, can the Minister confirm that the Government realise the importance of the NICE recommendations, particularly the provision of more specialist nurses to enable seamless advice and treatment to patients with multiple sclerosis?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I am sure we all wish the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, a speedy recovery. We are committed, as a government, to improving services for patients with MS. NICE's guidance, together with the forthcoming national service framework for long-term conditions and the risk-sharing scheme for providing beta interferon for MS patients will help to ensure an improvement in services.

We have provided funding to increase the number of multiple sclerosis specialist nurses to help to support the implementation of the multiple sclerosis risk-sharing scheme. Some 800,000 was made available in 2003–04 and 2004–05, and 1.2 million will be provided in 2005–06 to help to meet the cost of employing extra nurses.

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