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Lord Turnbull: My Lords, as I speak in this House for the first time, I too am grateful for the help I have been given by its staff, for the wise advice given to me by the Convener of the Cross Benches—the noble Lord, Lord Williamson—and for the welcome offered by many noble Lords, many of whom I have encountered in an earlier incarnation. I worry, however, that this fund of good will might not survive a detailed scrutiny of my record working deep within the executive branch.

It is a great privilege to enter this House at a time when a number of issues which were previously in the tray marked "politically too difficult" are surfacing on to the agenda, foremost among which is the subject of this debate—energy policy and the role of nuclear power within it. I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for giving us the opportunity to debate it. There will be some, in responding to the DTI's consultation document, who will want to make powerful pleas for or against nuclear power, renewables or coal. My plea today is different. The biggest mistake a detective can make in an investigation is to jump too quickly to conclusions. I have seen this mistake made many times in policy reviews.
 
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At this stage, whether in this House or outside, we do not need competing advocacy of one source of energy or another, or worse still, an attempt to strike something off the agenda. What is needed is an open mind plus the best understanding of all the relevant evidence—the likely demand for energy here and abroad; the best scientific view of the impact on the environment; the prospects for supply, including a realistic assessment of the contribution from renewables and their true cost; and the prospect for scientific advances in energy production and the use of energy. How far, for example, will fuel cells have developed? How much will nuclear reactor design have advanced in the quarter of a century since we last commissioned one? What are the real prospects for clean coal technology or carbon capture? What economic incentives, taxes, subsidies or tradable permits are needed to provide the right incentives to produce and save energy? This work needs to recognise that a coherent energy strategy is not just about adding up the sources of supply and then comparing them with total demand. It is about how an overall energy market interacts as a system, when prices are high or low, when the wind blows and when it does not, and how robust it is to unexpected shocks.

There are many conflicting policy objectives to be reconciled—energy which is cheap, to improve our competitiveness; energy which is affordable to all; energy which is correctly priced and taxed to give the right incentives; a pattern of energy supply which is secure politically and which hedges our bets against different outcomes. I too endorse the view that the different options should be assessed against a level playing field. First, the full carbon footprint of each option needs to be calculated, including not just carbon emitted in operation, but that generated in construction and in acquiring the fuel. My hunch is that when that calculation is done it will do less damage to the nuclear option than some people are hoping.

Secondly, it is correctly pointed out that, before reopening a nuclear programme, we need to find a solution to the problem of nuclear waste that does not impose unreasonable liabilities on future generations. But what we demand of nuclear power we should also demand of fossil fuels. It is fine to draw attention to the hazards of nuclear waste and how long it lasts, as long as we remember that the principal waste of fossil fuels, CO2, may have consequences for mankind that last well beyond the 10,000-year life of nuclear waste.

The work I am seeking is intellectually very taxing. There have recently been two attempts at an energy review by the Strategy Unit and the DTI, neither of which have cracked the problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, noted. By starting with the kind of analysis I have suggested, I hope that we can eliminate many of the wilder claims and counterclaims and come to an informed assessment of the options. I wish those involved in that review every success, particularly the DTI team who will have to draw together the responses to the consultation exercise. I hope that on this occasion they will be given the time, space and absence of preconditions to make a good job of it.
 
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3.06 pm

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, it is a great privilege to thank the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, for a first-class maiden speech. The official biography of Andrew Turnbull is, as one would expect, of stellar proportions. Educated at Enfield Grammar School and Christ's College, Cambridge, he became an economist—a member of that illustrious group, like many of us here, a "dismal scientist". There is nothing dismal about the noble Lord, however. He has a wonderful sense of fun, as witnessed by several of us at the Bloomsday celebrations in the Irish Embassy last June, when he made the Irish-born in the gathering feel totally inadequate by his amazing rendition of Joyce. I do not think that I should go any further. Another humorous occasion was when he was asked by a journalist about club membership—was it Pratt's, Boodle's or White's? No, it was Tottenham Hotspur.

The first steps in the career of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, were as an economist in the service of the government of Zambia, shortly after independence. A close friend of mine told me that he played a significant part in the economic development in that country at a seminal time in its history. He has kept up his links there. I feel that it is not out of order to quote my friend's assessment of him:

My friend has never yet been proved wrong.

His career in the Civil Service in HM Treasury seemed to be marked by major promotion every two to three years, but I am afraid that his promotion here will not be as advanced. His career culminated in the role of Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service from 2002 to 2005. Throughout his career in the Civil Service he was regarded as an administrative reformer. Perhaps he can come to our help here, too. To the honours of CB, CVO and KCB is now added the peerage—he is a great addition to our House. We welcome him and truly hope that he will continue to contribute at such a high level, as he did today, for many years to come.

I also thank my noble friend Lord Jenkin for being lucky in securing the ballot for this debate, and for being perspicacious in choosing such a topical issue.

We have been around this course many times—probably too frequently—but at least that shows that we are persistent and consistent. We have raised the issue of nuclear time and again, but, to give credit where it is due, the Government have listened and acknowledged that nuclear will almost certainly be part of the solution to the two big problems facing us—the security of our energy supplies and the issue of clean energy, which of course means a reduction in carbon emissions to counter their terrifying effects on the climate.

The consultation document, Our Energy Challenge, is a step forward; but time is of the essence and that sense of urgency does not seem to have permeated the conscience of the Government. Why not? Is the subject in the "all too difficult" basket, or is it a case of, "It
 
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won't be our problem and we can muddle along for a few more years before we are forced to take a decision"?

Lest this is regarded as unfair, just let me list the evidence. In 2003, there was an energy review. In 2006, there has been a consultation document with, I grant, a cut-off time of April for submissions. But a promise on page 15 of the document says:

How long will that take? We have publication, then consultation, then review of responses on projections and assumptions, on top of the consultation on the whole document. More worrying than all this is the fact that this excellent background data publication nowhere mentions any date at which a decision will be taken to put an energy policy, as opposed to an energy review, in place and to take action to start proper provision for secure and clean energy for our country in the long term.

Many years ago, as a very junior young economist in business, I was told that above all one should avoid "paralysis by analysis". I suggest with some trepidation that the Government should give some thought to that quotation. This is not in any way to decry the document. There is a brilliant analysis of the past, entitled "Progress So Far", but what about the future? The graphs showing future trends are based on, as the document says, "current measures only". The details of emissions by sector are just an attempt to decide what is likely to happen, although the document states:

yet another review and yet more delay before even an attempt is made to formulate policy.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, said in his wonderful maiden speech that we should not rush this thing too much, but, as the right reverend Prelate said, the lights will go out. It is no excuse to state, as the document does, that:

We will never know. What we do know is that new technologies will always be developing.

The impression is—I hope that it is only an impression—that the Government want to keep all their options open until technological development stands still. That will not happen. The document goes on in this vein, analysing the past and current state and making feeble attempts to forecast trends, but always with the caveat that another review or piece of work will clarify the situation. Where is the courage to be upfront and propose policy, and when will that happen?

The window of opportunity to take firm decisions on the nuclear issue is closing fast. Electricity generation from nuclear will have reduced from its current level by a third by 2012, which is only six years
 
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hence, and will continue to decline inexorably from there. Even if a decision to give the go-ahead for new nuclear installations was announced today, it would be at least 2016 before such installations could be adding to electricity generation. In the interim, we will have to rely more and more on methods of electricity that will add to carbon emissions overall. Is this a situation of which the Government, or any of us, can be proud? Can we even regard it as progress?

An additional concern is that the gap is not just in nuclear. A similar situation pertains in generation from coal-fired power stations, where the gap is likely to be a 40 per cent reduction by 2020. Yes, I know that such a gap will not have a deleterious effect on carbon emissions, but it will be filled by other carbon emission generation—namely from gas. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, reminded us that gas has 50 times greater emissions than nuclear over the lifespan of the operation. I am highlighting these facts to draw attention to the reality that the new technologies of wind and wave power and all the other renewables, very worthy though they are—and I believe that we must have a mix of generation types—will in no way fill the gaps that are now known to us.

It is irresponsible to delay. The future economic prosperity of this country depends on policies being proposed now. The current inability to devise a nuclear policy was described to me yesterday in this way: "We have stopped drinking in the last chance saloon and closed the shutters". We cannot rely on over 80 per cent of our electricity being generated by gas. Recent events in Ukraine and only this week in Italy are a stark reminder of the unstable nature of contracts and actions in the gas-supplying countries of the globe. And why are we being like Janus, looking in both directions—committed to clean energy yet banking on gas, which has an inherent carbon emissions problem, while delaying a commitment to nuclear, which does not?

Although our current nuclear capacity has had extensions to reactor lives, I am told that we cannot plan any more life extensions. We were the first in the world to use nuclear for domestic electricity generation—50 years ago, as the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, said in a great maiden speech—but the nature of the facilities now is such that they are not capable of further life extensions. The new nuclear technology, however, would be much more efficient and would have great possibilities for life extensions.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers, in its response to the consultation document, states:

The cost of nuclear has been a continuing concern but the Institution of Mechanical Engineers believes that, if the financial community regained its past confidence in the sector, there should be sufficient funds to finance nuclear projects, as well as projects in fossil fuel—of a low or no-carbon emission kind—and renewables. That is surely a policy option that should be investigated, actively, by the Government.
 
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For confidence-building, we need a strong commitment from the Government that a comprehensive energy policy will be forthcoming in the very near future—at the latest, by the end of this calendar year. My noble friend Lord Jenkin has given us a great opportunity to push this seriously and now.

3.16 pm


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