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Lord Triesman: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is right that no major power stations are currently under construction despite the fact that the consents I have described have been given. When the consents are taken up and construction work starts are commercial matters for the developer. The Government expect construction work of nearly two gigawatts of the consented capacity to start in the new year. We believe that Langage in Plymouth and Marchwood in Hampshire will come on track in the coming 12 months.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, the noble Lord is aware of how exceedingly grateful I am to him for his courtesy in passing on my warning to the two right honourable ladies who preside over those departments which have a passing interest in the security of electricity supply in this country? I wonder if he would be kind enough to say how they received my very well meant warning that if things go on like this they will write their names in history as being those who were primarily responsible for a decline in the available and sure supply of electricity, and all the consequences which would follow?
Lord Triesman: My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that they received it very well. I am not dissembling in any respect here. They were very pleased to hear from him. Indeed, so was I. It was not just Christmas spirit because, as the noble Lord knows, it occurred a little while before that. Certainly the Secretary of State, my right honourable friend Patricia Hewitt, is absolutely clear that it would be folly to close any of the options for power generation.
I have made the point several times from the Dispatch Box in your Lordships' House. I know that it is not always believed or perhaps noble Lords feel that I lack conviction about it, but I say it absolutely seriously: these options are not closed. I do not believe that any governmentI am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, also thinks thiscould afford to see the lights go out.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, the Minister may say that the nuclear option has not been ruled out, but has he read
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the excellent report of the Science and Technology Committee of your Lordships' House published last week on radioactive waste management which points out that the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management looking into this, which was set up in 2002, is not due to report until July 2006, and that CORWM has the wrong terms of reference and the wrong composition? Will the Minister at least ask that committee, instead of reporting in July 2006, to accelerate its proceedings and report by the end of 2005? I hope that he considers that to be a reasonable request.
Lord Triesman: My Lords, I certainly undertake to think about that very seriously and to consider whether it might be done. As regards nuclear decommissioning, there is understandably a good deal of public concern about the handling of materials which could be very dangerous for very long periods of time. Therefore, whatever we do, we have to get right. That I know is a view shared on all sides of this House. As some newspapers have reported, we are at the moment trying to substitute radiologically and environmentally neutral materials and to ensure that we are exporting the higher level and more dangerous materials. That might make a contribution to getting the final balances right, but I give the undertaking to think hard about the proposition the noble Lord has put.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, in returning more closely to the Question on the Order Paper, I congratulate Defra on creating a new biomass task force to generate, as it puts it, a green power surge. However, is it not a little curious that at the same time the DTI has closed its Bioenergy Capital Grants Scheme?
Lord Triesman: My Lords, I am convinced that the whole potential of biomass will not be underplayed. We believe that it can play a fundamental role in helping the United Kingdom to achieve its Kyoto climate change obligations and ensure that we reach renewable energy targets. To that end, there is a joint DTI/National Lottery Bioenergy Capital Grants Scheme which has offered £66 million of support to 21 projects of various scales throughout the United Kingdom. The New and Renewable Energy Programme has supported very important work in this area, expanding knowledge of crops. The department is currently reviewing how it can support this to a still greater extent. Biomass plainly has a future in renewables.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, the House will know that there will be an announcement in another place this
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afternoon on how the Army, including the Infantry, should be restructured to reflect the strategic priorities of today's world. Without intending any discourtesy at all to the noble Lord, he with his great parliamentary experience will know that I cannot pre-empt that announcement. I will, of course, repeat the Secretary of State's Statement and attempt to answer your Lordships' questions in a few hours' time.
Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, while I appreciate the noble Lord's difficulties, the Statement is long overdue. Does he realise that in the fine history of the British Infantry this is a very black day indeed? Does he realise that this matter is causing fury everywhere, and particularly in Scotland? If the rumours are right that we shall lose four battalions, and 19 others will be affected, how can the noble Lord possibly justify that at a time of gross over-commitment and the rise in terrorism?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I of course understand the noble Lord's strong feelings, and the strong feelings of other noble Lords, on this matter. I respect those greatly. However, the wider transformation of the Army that will be announced later today, and which I believe was mentioned by the Chief of the General Staff on the "Today" programme this morningthe noble Lord may have heard thatgoes much wider than the Infantry and much wider than the Scottish Infantry. While I absolutely understand and respect the noble Lord's concerns, I hope that he will be patient and wait until I repeat the Secretary of State's Statement in two hours' time.
Viscount Tenby: My Lords, without prejudging the Statement to be made later today, is the noble Lord in a position to tell the House in general terms what the recruitment record of the six Scottish regiments has been in recent years compared with the recruitment record of some regiments which are rumoured to be for the axe?
Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld: My Lords, does my noble friend accept from me that the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Monro of Langholm, have a great deal of validity and that there is a lot of concern in Scotland? However, does he further accept from me that there is respect in Scotland for the professionalism and the excellence with which the Armed Forces pursue their duties, and that what comes out of today's Statement must be an expression of the need to reinforce that professionalism in order that they may discharge the very difficult tasks which we as a nation set for them?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. He knows that the respect he feels for the
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British Armed Forces is shared unanimously in this House. I am sure that will come across when we discuss the Statement being made in another place.
Lord Garden: My Lords, when we discuss that Statement will the Minister help us by telling us what the gap between operational tours has been for the Scottish regimentssay over the past five yearsas compared with the desirable target of 24 months?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the Minister mentioned a recruitment problem in Scotland. Does he agree that part of that problem was caused by the MoD putting a freeze on recruitment earlier this year?
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, despite defence being a reserved matter, should not the United Kingdom Government have formally consulted the Scottish Parliament about the proposed changes to the Scottish natural heritage?
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