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Lord Whitty: My Lords, in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, consultation would be on individuals under the normal rules and consultation with Scotland would be appropriately covered. However, I am not sure that I can draw an exact precedent and I shall write to the noble Baroness. Of course, in setting up new bodies, ways of moving to their full establishment via transitional arrangements have been adopted in various Acts of Parliament, including the way in which we appoint chief executives prior to the full board being operational. Although it may not be precisely the same as the case here, I am sure that there are broadly similar precedents. I shall draw those to her attention.

In relation to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, it may be true that our ambitious target in making the appointment of the chairman and chief executive presents a tight and challenging time-scale. Some people who might be the most appropriate candidates may not be appointable within that time, in which case the timetable might slip a little. But that is all the more reason for starting the process as early as

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possible. That is why we want to include these provisions. Even if we lose a week or two during the summer, the most appropriate candidate can be appointed as soon as possible.

I am grateful for the acceptance of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that the provisions are helpful and different from the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, in Committee and on Report and in his correspondence with the commissioner and the chair of the Public Accounts Committee. The correspondence will go back to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and may affect that situation. However, that relates to appointments prior to Royal Assent and these proposed amendments do not affect that position one way or the other. Clearly, we would need to take note of anything the chair of the Public Accounts Committee or the commissioner said about the procedure, but the amendments do not affect it. They affect the procedure post Royal Assent and I commend them to the House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

5.30 p.m.

Clause 5 [Designated responsibilities]:

Lord Peyton of Yeovil moved Amendment No. 3:

    Page 4, line 15, at end insert "; and

(g) the commissioning, planning and developing of nuclear power stations."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I tabled the amendment partly as a hopeful nudge in moving the Government in a sensible direction and partly as a continuing protest against their lack of an energy policy, which is characterised by their White Paper and by this Bill. It is a feature of that policy that hopes are taken as facts and aspirations as achievements. As even Ministers should appreciate, there is a difference between the two. The Government have ill-founded confidence in what they have said. That confidence tends to blot out any apprehension that they may have got things wrong.

With North Sea oil diminishing, the Government are apparently content on dependence for three-quarters of the raw material needed for a generation from overseas sources a long way away through a pipeline that has not been built. It seems that scant attention has been paid to the inconvenience—I put it no higher than that—of being at the end of a line. This country's needs will necessarily come last, not only in the minds of producers but in the minds of all the consumers on the way.

The Government seem to have made the almost endemic error of disregarding the possibility—perhaps I should have said "probability"—of the cost being seriously underestimated. I think that they have also disregarded the possible, or certain, interruptions that will result from disputes, accidents and terrorist activities. I find it very odd that the Government are consumed with the notion of terror and the activities of terrorists in many contexts but not at all in this one.

The second limb of the Government's energy policy is their entertainment of high hopes in relation to renewables. They seem altogether to have overlooked the fact that wind

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is rather an irregular affair and that it will not be amenable to control by them. They seem to be blissfully confident that, because they come from natural sources, renewables will not cost too much. However, I believe I am right in saying that recent studies suggest that they have that wrong and that, in fact, it may be a very expensive business to bring electric power from the windmills which they are to erect. I believe that the Government have also neglected to recognise the increasing hostility to their proposals. People in the countryside, in particular, will come to dislike the prospect of their whole environment being populated by these awful windmills.

I do not propose to elaborate at length on all the arguments which were repeated endlessly by very skilled people during the Committee stage of the Bill. Personally, I am very sorry—I never lose an opportunity to say this—that the Committee stage was banished to the appalling, toothless procedure in the Moses Room with no Divisions and no teeth at all but just an endless mass of talk with those involved getting nowhere.

In the circumstances, I think it is amazing that we should be going in a reverse direction to that followed by almost every other country. In my view, in turning away from nuclear, which has provided a reliable base load over many years and creates no emissions, the Government are making a cardinal error. It has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, today and by many others throughout these debates that there are no emissions from nuclear power stations and therefore they lend a degree of much-needed credibility to the Government's Kyoto commitments.

Perhaps the Government will cast their minds back to 1973 when the French realised that it was dangerous to rely to any very large extent on imported supplies. Rather than continue a dependence on Middle East oil, the French showed themselves to be decisive and determined. They then went nuclear in a big way. People talk about the long time taken to move into nuclear, but I think that the example of the French is forgotten. With a real will, in 12 years the French achieved 61 per cent nuclear generation, and that proportion has now risen to three-quarters.

I appreciate that the Minister must be extremely pleased that this is the last chapter of debates, which have gone on almost endlessly. He must be bored to tears with repetition and he must feel like giving me a fairly chilly welcome today when I verge on repetition myself. I do not intend to go on for long but, having paid the noble Lord's patience—and, if I may say so, his good manners—a tribute, I want to say that his speech at Second Reading disappointed me profoundly. It had all the sound and atmosphere of a funeral oration, saying goodbye to our nuclear capacity.

Of course, I accept that from time to time the Government come out with the glib saying that they are "keeping the nuclear option open", but I think that they use that as a means of protecting themselves against a charge of blind and pig-headed complacency. I hope that the Minister will correct me if I am in any way wrong here, but—this is very sad—the Government seem to be totally silent on what they are doing to keep the nuclear

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option open. I should be very interested to know what thoughts they have on modern types of reactor. I should like to know what time or money they are spending on research into waste handling, which they rightly regard as a very serious problem. A third question is: to what extent are they concerned with the almost certain loss, if we continue in this way, of very valuable skills?

At this stage, I cannot resist the temptation to quote the noble Lord's words, which, by now, I think have become quite familiar. He said:

    "One reason why the Government are not disposed to maintain a significant nuclear component over the long term is precisely because we have not worked out how to deal with long-term waste and do not have public confidence in our ability to do so".—[Official Report, 15/1/04; col. GC 164.]

I hope that the noble Lord will at least be moved to produce some kind of palliative comment to remove the rather depressing impression that those words gave, honest as they were.

In my view, it is no answer to say that an amendment such as this will not fit into the Bill. I have no particular regard for the Bill and, if the amendment made a bit of a mess of it, that would not bother me overmuch; nor would I be bothered too much by the argument that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority should not be given a duty which would involve it in making a mess when its primary duty will be clearing up a mess which has already been made. That is a two-edged argument. People who are familiar with the messes might be the best ones to limit the mess in the first place, as well as clearing it up afterwards. I just say that I am not particularly impressed by that argument.

I go back, not particularly interestingly, into my own past. A very long time ago I was a junior Minister in what was then called the Ministry of Power. I regret that there is now no single department responsible for the very important matter of energy. I was rather confused that it should be shared between the two departments of the DTI and Defra. What bothers me is that this crucial subject is being lost sight of and is in danger of almost being forgotten in what I would describe as the "visionless sprawl of the Department of Trade and Industry". I have begun to suspect that the right honourable lady who presides over that ghastly heap has bidden her myrmidons under no circumstances to mention the word "nuclear" in her hearing—at least until after the general election, when it is possible that the facts may render the subject decent enough to be mentioned.

I end simply by saying that I recognise that for the Government to say now that they will take a serious look at nuclear would involve another U-turn. However, such a U-turn would be most particularly welcomed and they would be congratulated—I would certainly be the first to do so—on their enlightenment. However, I suspect that that is too much to hope for.

I make it quite clear that if by any chance I were to be successful in nudging the Government towards accepting the need for nuclear—and saying so now—I should be very pleased that I had made some progress with the amendment. But, if they do not, I shall wish to divide the House, even at the risk of defacing the beauty of the Bill. I beg to move.

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5.45 p.m.

Lord Gray of Contin: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment moved with such skill by my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil, who has been blessed with the gift of combining wisdom, wit and brevity in equal measure; something that is not always available in this House.

It is a matter of very great disappointment to those of us on both sides of the House who support the nuclear industry that the White Paper, on which so much of this Bill is based, makes no more than token mention of nuclear power. To say that the future of nuclear power will not be ruled out is poor reward for an industry that presently provides approximately 25 per cent of our power generation, and which can justifiably claim to be among the cleanest of all generation methods.

A wonderful opportunity has been missed to make a positive commitment to replace the nuclear power stations, which will be decommissioned over the next few years, with a proper new nuclear programme. While many other parts of the world are seizing the challenge, our Government, I am afraid, are fumbling and floundering and making unrealistic demands on the renewable energy industry, which is still in its infancy.

Why is it that countries as far apart as China and Finland, and with needs as different as those of India and Eastern Europe, have been able to overcome the problems of waste disposal and to proceed with the construction of new reactors? My noble friend Lord Peyton made reference to that. I too wonder what the Government are doing in the way of research because building a nuclear reactor today is a very different exercise from 30 years ago. Things have moved on tremendously. I suggest that one of the first things that the Government should do is to set up a working group to study the types of reactors which are being used and are being built satisfactorily in other parts of the world. After all, most countries with nuclear reactors started off having reservations about them, but they have won the battle and are now building; before long they will leave us standing still.

There are now more than 400 nuclear reactors in operation with a substantial number under construction or on drawing boards. A report by the Institution of Civil Engineers entitled State of the Nation 2003 predicted,

    "that by the year 2020 90 per cent of the gas needed to fuel British power stations would be imported".

Ironically, that is also the year in which our last remaining nuclear power station will be decommissioned—that is, unless we come to our senses and rejuvenate our nuclear industry. Only 16 years ahead is not long when one takes into account the lead-in time for the building of a nuclear reactor. Many of us may not be around to experience the folly of our present policy, but we shall not be forgiven by our successors.

We suffer from having had a wealth of riches in the energy field for so long—coal, oil, gas and hydro. The first three will soon be depleted altogether, and the gap they will leave behind is far beyond the capability of renewables alone.

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We should look across the Channel to France, as my noble friend pointed out. The benefit of its development of nuclear power is now there for everyone to see. Time has been on our side, but we are fast squandering it.

So, for those and many other reasons, I strongly support my noble friend's amendment. In doing so, I must emphasise that the amendment in no way condemns or criticises other forms of power generation. They will all be needed but none more so than nuclear power.

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