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Lord Higgins: My Lords, the Explanatory Note says that the regulations were referred to the Social Security Advisory Committee on 3 December 2004.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I shall check the misprint.

The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked me whether the changes would be particularly disadvantageous to people living in rural areas, where public transport is less available than in cities. The average travel-to-work times in the UK in autumn 2002 were 35 minutes by bus, and 64 minutes by rail. The time taken is less in rural areas than in big cities, oddly enough. In the east of England, travel times by bus and rail were shorter than in central London. So, one cannot extrapolate too easily.

In 1993, 22 per cent of households had no car; now the figure is just under 10 per cent. Eighty-seven per cent of people now live within six minutes' walk of a

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bus-stop. That reflects substantial investment in public transport, particularly in rural areas, by the Government since 1997. Obviously, there will still be problems, in which case the jobseeker can raise them with Jobcentre Plus staff and their adviser. If appropriate, such problems could be regarded as a good reason not to accept a job, particularly if, for example, there was also a health problem.

I will write to the noble Baroness with a fuller description of the additional steps. It would take too long to do it now. I hope that noble Lords will accept the regulations.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Employment Zones (Allocation to Contractors) Pilot Regulations 2004

2.34 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 16 March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall not speak formally to the regulations. I have had an indication that Members on the Benches opposite are happy with that. If noble Lords are content with the regulations, we need not trouble the House with further discussion at this point. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 16 March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Energy Bill [HL]

2.35 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report.

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 1:

    Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—

"Part A1

The Secretary of State shall have a duty to ensure the integrity and security of electricity and gas supply."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a totally new amendment. It is a simple amendment that I, my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, tabled because of our disappointment at the lack of any assurance in the White Paper, in our debates in Grand Committee or anywhere in the Bill that there is a clear government policy on the security of the future supply of electricity. Over the past year or more, there have been numerous debates and questions on the subject in your Lordships' House and in the other place. There has never been a clear answer.

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Many of your Lordships will have seen the television programme last week. I sincerely hope that the Minister watched it carefully. In it, participants repeatedly asked who was responsible for the security and continuity of the electricity supply—in other words, "Who is responsible, if the lights go out?". Answer came there none from the Government, either in the programme itself or in the discussion that followed, in which the Government declined to participate.

I entirely agree that the Government are not at the beck and call of any TV producer who asks them to appear on a programme. Secondly, the scenario set out in the programme could have been described as a little hyperbolic. However, the fact is that nobody seems to accept responsibility for ensuring that there is no breakdown in one of the three most basic of the essential services required in a civilised and advanced country: fuel, especially electricity.

I remind your Lordships that 37 per cent of our electricity is generated from gas. By 2020, we will generate 57 per cent of our supply from that fuel. At the same time as our dependency on that source rises by a third, the amount of power generated by coal will have dropped from 35 per cent to 16 per cent. Nuclear power will have fallen from 24 per cent to 16 per cent. On the other hand, the Government hope that generation from renewable sources in particular will rise from 3 per cent to 10 per cent. We hope that that will be the case, but, even assuming and hoping that that optimistic target is met, one need not be a mathematician to realise that renewables cannot fill the gap caused by the loss of nuclear and coal-fired power stations.

Is it wise for the Government to rely mainly on gas imported from unstable sources such as Russia, Iran and Algeria, along delivery systems that are possible targets for terrorists or are subject to the political whim of governments, as we saw in 1973, when a huge rise in prices was imposed by Middle East oil suppliers? Closer to home, we need only consider what happened when the electricity interconnector between Northern Ireland and the Republic was cut by the IRA in the 1970s. I heard Mr Jeremy Nicholson of the Energy Intensive Users Group claiming that we could rely on Norway and Holland as sources for gas. In doing so, we would, in due course, be competing for supplies with other major users such as Germany.

Then there is the Government's almost evangelical belief that wind power alone might save the situation. Even the most fervent supporters of wind power, which undoubtedly has an extremely important part to play in reducing CO2 emissions, concede that it is erratic and cannot always produce what we hope. At best, a windmill will produce only 30 per cent of its notional capacity, for no reason other than that the wind does not blow continuously. Sometimes, it blows in the middle of the night, when the demand is simply not there.

While tinkering around with marginal solutions, the Government ignore the fact that new power stations are needed to replace the worn-out ones that will go

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out of service or will become increasingly unreliable over the next 10 to 15 years. That is a significant timescale. It is almost the same as the lead time to build new power stations, what with planning applications and the inevitable public inquiries.

In that case, who is responsible for keeping the security of supply? "Not us", says Ofgem. In the discussion following the television programme it was made abundantly clear on behalf of the regulator that Ofgem's role is to oversee the market on behalf of consumers and Ofgem cannot make the industry build new power plants. It was also conceded that Ofgem's policy of forcing down prices to the current benefit of consumers and the Government's policy of trying to reduce inflation, was nevertheless making it uneconomical for generators to build new power stations whatever fuel they wanted to use.

The law of unintended consequences applies to this policy because not only are no new power stations planned, much less built, but uneconomic ones are being mothballed with the consequent loss of spare capacity to meet a sudden emergency such as those which happened in North America, Italy and London last summer.

As I said before, if it is not Ofgem's responsibility and if for the reason I have just given it is not the responsibility of the generators to build uneconomic plant, then who is left? Only the Government.

We cannot have a policy predicated mainly on imported gas. Unlike France and Germany who have six to eight weeks' supply constantly in reserve and we have none—which is another matter which the Government should be looking into—we cannot rely only on windmills. As I pointed out before, apart from their unreliability, as the Royal Academy of Engineering in its recent report The Cost of Generating Electricity stated, the cost of generating electricity by offshore wind farms is substantially above the cost of either gas turbines or nuclear sources. That cost is 2.3 pence per kilowatt compared with 3.7 pence per kilowatt for onshore wind and 3.7 pence for offshore wind.

Anticipating a possible query, the academy's study group confirmed that their costing included both the cost of new, modern, simplified nuclear power stations and their eventual de-commissioning. Nowhere in the debate have we discussed the cost of the fuel we will have to import. That is extremely important. Where is the money to come from? If the cost of lighting and heating every home and factory is to come from our national income, we will eventually finish up like a third world country. We will be unable to afford what we currently consider as the normal basic requirements for the standard of life which our citizens quite rightly demand.

I do not want to take up more of our very restricted time in covering all the arguments about requiring the Government to take a clear and active line on a subject on which our whole future as a leading world economy depends. The truth is that somewhere along the line we have to say who is responsible for sorting this matter out.

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We have a Government who, whenever anything seems to go wrong, blame everybody except themselves—sometimes even the secretaries in their private offices. "Not my fault, guv" is the slogan over the door, I believe, of every Secretary of State. Nobody ever resigns unlike the fictional Ministers in the television programme. I do not deny that we have a Government with plenty of energy policies, but energy strategy is very much in short supply due entirely to ministerial dithering.

The purpose of this simple amendment is to concentrate the Government's mind exactly on what responsibilities they have to this country, with no ifs and buts, to see that the lights continue and that we have security of supply. I beg to move.

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