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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. It is disappointing because it was anticipated that there would be many thousands of registrations by now. It is almost derisory if it is only five or six. Can the Minister confirm that commonhold was a Labour Party manifesto commitment and that the intention was to empower people to own and control their own homes on a permanent basis, rather than to have a lease which is a depreciating asset?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely correct. It was a Labour Party manifesto commitment, and it had the backing of the Opposition. In fact, it is a piece of legislation that has moved through several Parliaments. The noble Baroness is absolutely correct that it offers people, particularly flat owners, the possibility of permanent ownership of their properties. The Government are absolutely committed to commonhold. We shall investigate why progress is so slow and report back to the House early in the new year.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, does the Minister recall that when we were discussing the commonhold Bill there was a great deal of inquiry around the fact that the Government were insisting that there should be 100 per cent sign-up within a block before it could become a commonhold? Does he also recall that the strong recommendation from this side of the House was that it should not be more than 80 per cent? If the Government are going to consider a review—indeed, even if they are not—will they consider reviewing the 100 per cent requirement?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I think we will reconsider every aspect of it. The noble Baroness is absolutely correct to say—and I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, who suggested—that 80 per cent would be more sensible than 100 per cent. When the investigation takes place, we will look into all the reasons why this rather enlightened and central piece
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of legislation has not progressed as quickly as we hoped it would during the first year of its implementation.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it was inevitable under this system that developers of new properties would not bring properties forward under commonhold given that, by retaining the lease system, they keep for themselves ground rent, service charges and the option to sell the freehold later? Should that not have been foreseen from the outset?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I am not sure I can agree that it should have been foreseen from the outset. However, the noble Baroness has raised a number of issues which will have to be looked at as we investigate whether we need to review this. I shall put in the Library the transcript of the "Moneybox" programme which, although the Government do not agree with some of the conclusions, discusses all the possible impediments to what is, for us and I think for the Opposition, an important piece of legislation.

Lord Renton: My Lords, my noble friend's Question asks how many of these commonholds include social housing. Surely all housing is social.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, that is not so in our definition of social housing. I should have said at the outset that the Land Registry does not hold information to indicate whether these developments contain social housing.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, can the Minister tell me—if he does not know, perhaps he can let me know later—whether primary legislation will be required to change things? For example, if the department were able to encourage people building in the new Olympic village area to build some commonholds, that could be attached to the planning permission. Would that be a practical matter or would it require primary legislation? I am not sure. Sometimes these matters can be dealt with under secondary legislation; other times the entire matter has to be reopened.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I shall certainly look into the question of whether it will need primary legislation. As far as the government developments are concerned—the Olympic village and the Thames Gateway—I think that we should consider as part of the investigation using these huge developments in a way that would help the advancement of the commonhold idea.
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Nuclear Energy

2.49 pm

Lord Redesdale asked Her Majesty's Government:

On what basis they believe that nuclear energy is a renewable source of energy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, the Government recognise that nuclear power shares many of the same environmental benefits as renewable energy, particularly with regard to greenhouse gas emissions. The technical question of whether nuclear energy is or is not a renewable source of energy turns on how one defines "a renewable source of energy", and the view one takes on the supply of uranium, the use of other materials and the commercial prospects of nuclear fusion.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, having had discussions with other noble Lords, we believe that oil and even coal could be seen as renewable, because forests could be grown over a long period of time and crushed. However, nuclear power, moving from one elemental state to another, is perhaps not renewable—although the carbon use is important. Has a nuclear power station ever had a life cycle review of its use of carbon in construction, mining of the fuel, transport and decommissioning costs? If not, if it is to be declared renewable, why not?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the question is not whether a nuclear power station is renewable, it is whether nuclear power is renewable given that it makes use of a resource that arguably has a finite life. I thought that that was the central thrust of the Question. That is why I gave the Answer that I did, which I hope makes clear that, in most circumstances on any basis, that is unlikely to be the case. I do not know whether a life cycle review has been carried out, but I shall find out and let the noble Lord know.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Prime Minister's sudden conversion to the view that nuclear power is necessary and inevitable is very welcome? Of course, it would have been nicer had he been able to complete that before the election, rather than wait until after.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am not privy to whether the Prime Minister has or has not decided whether nuclear power should proceed. All that we are doing is having a review of energy policy that will consider whether civil nuclear power should be included.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, in assessing our future energy needs and performing a cost/benefit analysis, will the cost of decommissioning nuclear stations be taken into account?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, any proper costing of different sources of energy would have to include decommissioning costs.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, arising from that question, does my noble friend agree that a totally
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independent review of the relative costs of generation between different sorts of fuels would be very welcome, but that it would not get us very far if Greenpeace and so on refused to co-operate?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, one key issue to be decided in any review is what are the current costs. It would be very helpful if, as part of that review, we were able to establish some independent views as to what were the costs. From my experience, people always find that their favourite source of energy is the least expensive. It should be possible to have an intelligent debate about what are the actual figures.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, if I may rephrase the original Question in a different and perhaps slightly simpler way to get a simpler answer, is it not clear at the moment that nuclear power will not be a renewable energy source in Britain under present plans? As I understand it, every existing nuclear power plant will be decommissioned by 2020, at which stage we will have no more nuclear power under present plans. Given the worry of, in particular, the carbon climate-change effect of traditional power stations moving back to coal because of the increasing price of oil and gas, surely it is time for the Government to make an announcement about when and if they are going to build new nuclear power stations.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, no one has ever suggested that nuclear power being renewable means that nuclear power stations go on indefinitely. The question with all energy sources is whether, because they are or are not using a finite source of energy, they are renewable. The question often raised is: is nuclear power renewable, given that it makes use of uranium, which may have a limited amount of use? The answer I was giving was that other sources can be used and that, for the foreseeable future, they will supply us with all that we need.

On when we will make a decision, as we have said on numerous occasions, our review will produce proposals by the middle of the year and we will then have the answers.

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