Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The BIA has over 30 enforcement officers across the UK, so one-third of that must be 10. Perhaps I may come back to your Lordships with this in writing, because I am not sure myself, to give a precise figure.

I do not know the position for Scotland and I will come back in writing on that. If I have not answered any questions from the noble Baroness I will be happy to talk afterwards or to come back in writing.

2.38 pm

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Opposition in this case and so many others are being wise after the event? Has not the situation that we are now considering moved with extreme swiftness? Have the Government received any earlier representations from the Conservative Opposition in particular, expressing concern about the matter?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his valid point. As I mentioned, the establishment of the SIA was a good thing. As I understand it, although it was long before I came into any political arena, it was opposed strongly by the Conservative Party on the grounds that it was not required. Thank goodness it is there and has bowled these things out. We now have to sort it out, but because the SIA was there we discovered that there was this problem.

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I declare an interest; my company provides insurance for the security industry and we feel that the screening of staff is very important. I have two questions for the noble Lord. First, what action is recommended to employers to ensure that the documents submitted by the prospective employee are genuine, because I am told that the documents are sometimes forged? Secondly, what action is taken to ensure that employers carry out the checks, and if they do not, are there any penalties?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for those points. We are introducing a new list of documents in the context of the work being carried out in relation to this change to Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act. These have been picked particularly because the way that they lock together gives a clear indication and makes it much easier to ascertain whether prospective employees have a right to work in this country and to spot forgeries. Because we also have the double-lock system, an added security is the fact that the SIA goes to the BIA, which has very expert people who check these documents. We are also giving guidance to the industry to show it what to look for. So there is a double check which will make it much more certain that we get this right.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, while I have no particular difficulty with the explanation from the government Front Bench, can I explore a wider connection? Is there any possibility of a link between these unfortunate events that are being corrected and the disasters in the sub-prime loans business, in which there seems to have been a parallel failure in the regulatory process? There might conceivably be a link between the two.

13 Dec 2007 : Column 375

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his interjection. I have to say that I am not aware of any link, but if I become aware of one, I will make sure that I write to let him know.

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. The Government make much of the fact that they put this system in place and that it is working well. However, that does not make it a good system. The difficulty is that the system is faulty, as it stands. It would help the House to hear in due course from the Minister on how the system will be strengthened to function better.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the Statement made it quite clear what steps have been taken and what happens now. The double lock makes the system far, far better and it will be very sound indeed. It is unfortunate that all this has happened in the way that it has; it is great that the SIA actually discovered it. Now we will have a good answer with the double-lock system, which will be secure and robust. There are a number of areas which we have to focus on, and we have been made to look at them because they are important in the context of our overall security and managing our borders. They fit together and interlock with a number of other things that are taking place.

Severn Barrage

2.43 pm

Lord Livsey of Talgarth rose to call attention to the case for the construction of a Severn barrage, its environmental impact, and other options for electricity generation in the Severn estuary; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this debate is to attempt to move forward with greater urgency the need to capture electricity from the Severn estuary. The fact that this site has the second-highest tides in the world is a huge incentive. I have no luddite tendencies in securing this debate. I do not say no to electricity generation in the Severn estuary and the Bristol Channel, but I seek answers to questions of how best this is to be achieved. The reduction of fossil fuel use and carbon emissions remains paramount in driving this issue forward.

At the start, it is best to summarise how tidal energy can be classified and captured from the Severn estuary as follows: first, tidal range, which is the normal ebb and flow of the tide and, secondly, tidal streams—flows of water at different depths and geographical locations. On tidal range, there are two methods of tidal energy capture from turbines in the Severn estuary: first, the Severn barrage—an obvious one—and the construction of tidal lagoons is the second option. The capture of energy by tidal stream turbines occurs at varying depths. The big question is: what is the best method to generate electricity?

This question gives rise to a range of additional questions for which it is highly desirable to have accurate answers. What are the relative capital costs of construction of different tidal electricity plants? What

13 Dec 2007 : Column 376

is the return on capital invested on different electricity generation systems? What additional rates of return will be achieved on more rapidly built systems? What will be the comparative lead-in time before electricity is generated from different systems? What impact will this have on increasing production of renewable energy sooner to reduce carbon emissions? What will be the relative cost per unit of electricity produced from different methods of generating electricity from tidal power? What are the relative environmental impact differences between systems of producing tidal electricity? Regrettably, we do not yet have the answers to all these questions.

Because work has been done on the concept of a Severn barrage for many years, we know that at current prices it will cost some £15 billion and produce up to 5 per cent of UK energy, and that the build-time is variously estimated to take from eight to 12 years. We know also that there are two possible sites for the barrage. The most canvassed site is the Cardiff Lavernock Point to Weston-Super-Mare barrage, or there is the Shoots barrage, just downstream of the second Severn crossing. A vast amount has been published on the barrage, but the main Sustainable Development Commission report, Turning the TideTidal Power in the UK, published on 1 October 2007, contains what purports to be a more independent assessment of a proposed Severn barrage than some other assessments. In particular, this study looks at alternatives to the barrage, with tidal stream and tidal lagoon technology.

In summary, the SDC report details and reviews the options: Severn barrage, tidal stream and tidal lagoon. The report does not attempt to calculate the extent of the carbon footprint of the construction of the barrage, nor does it solve the economic problems of the closure of Bristol, Newport and Cardiff docks, or those of Gloucester. Nor does it address the considerable cost of establishing large new wildlife sites. The European directives concerning habitats on the Severn estuary state that it has an important number of international conservation sites. It is designated as a special protection area for avian features under the EU bird directive and as a possible special area of conservation. SAC status also applies to the River Usk, the River Wye and the Mendip limestone grasslands. There are local conservation sites too, including 26 SSSIs, one national nature reserve, eight local nature reserves, one historic landscape and four wildlife trusts. There are many local biodiversity action plans for habitats and species. This is especially important for Severn fish species and many water birds. According to the SDC report, allis and twaite shad, river and sea lampreys and Atlantic salmon face the prospect of extinction. That applies particularly to the winter and spring run of Atlantic salmon.

The SDC concludes:

The report also states that there is tidal stream and tidal range. It defines that and says that it,

and that—I speak as a Welsh Member—

and of course there are some in the Severn estuary as well. The report states that:

The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, who is unable to be here today, made these points in his speech on the Queen’s Speech. The report goes on:

These are the main relevant conclusions of the SDC in relation to this topic. However, some criticisms can be made of the SDC report. It used five desk-based research reports rather than carrying out any new work. More new work would be needed, as much of the evidence used dates from the 1980s. Further, the report devotes more than half its pages to the Severn barrage; the report may be about tidal power but the focus is certainly on the Severn barrage. In addition, financing the project needs further explanation—that is very true indeed.

Several other points need to be made in relation to the SDC report. First, the estuary is at risk from fluvial flooding and a barrage would have a significant impact on the rivers and watercourses that discharge into the estuary. The levels on both sides of the estuary rely on drainage systems storing fluvial water during high tide periods, which is quite a good point. Also, it is not exactly clear who would own the plan for the Severn barrage and thus be responsible for the appropriate assessment under the habitats regulations. The £15 billion cost, which I previously mentioned, relates to construction. There would clearly be considerable additional costs relating to feasibility studies, environmental impact, strategic environmental assessment and habitats compensations. Those are all points which could have been made clearer in the SDC report.

13 Dec 2007 : Column 378

However, others have made some points which concern them. The Severn Tidal Power Group represents the main contractors who would be involved in the construction of the Severn barrage. It understandably welcomes the SDC report—a large project like the barrage would of course benefit it, and one suspects that the report’s indication that either tidal lagoons or tidal stream turbines are a little way off in development terms will encourage it in its view. However, it indicates that the coming study should examine all options and views.

Another body that is contributing to the debate and has an interest in the outcome is Tidal Electric Ltd, which has drawn up a number of points that are worth repeating—in its favour, I hasten to add. It has drawn up a table with the Severn barrage on the left hand side and tidal lagoons on the right. It says that the Severn barrage will be publicly funded, which it estimates at £15 billion to £25 billion capital costs, versus private funding. Its estimate for the production of electricity is 3.5p per kilowatt hour. It further suggests zero costs to HMG, plus taxed revenue, because tidal lagoons would be privately financed and carried out. It says that one would be environmentally damaging and the other environmentally benign; that one would destroy wildlife habitats while the other would create wildlife habitats; that one is opposed by environmental groups while the other is supported by them; that one would give flood protection upstream while the other would mean flood damage downstream; that there is a 10 to 15-year rollout for the barrage versus a two-year rollout, although I suspect it might be more than that; that further HMG-funded studies are proposed versus being ready to build on receipt of consent; and so on. Those are the benefits that it says that its system of lagoons would have over the barrage.

Tidal stream technology is going ahead and being assessed at present. That has large potential. Both tidal lagoons and tidal streams are estimated to be able to produce the same amount of electricity—some claim more—than would the Severn barrage itself. Capital costs of the Cardiff-Weston barrage would be £15 billion; to produce the same amount of electricity with tidal lagoons would be £5 billion. Tidal stream would be £6 billion plus a necessary grid connection costing £4 billion, taking the total to £10 billion. There are very varying estimates as to how much the electricity would cost from the output of these different systems. Cardiff-Weston is 3.6p per kilowatt hour, depending on which discount rates were used—it goes up to as high as 22p per kilowatt hour, with a mean of about 12p. Tidal lagoons would be 3.3p per kilowatt hour according to Tidal Electric, but 17.2p per kilowatt hour according to DBERR, so there is a big difference there. Tidal stream has been estimated to be at 2.5p per unit.

In conclusion, varying information is coming from divergent sources as to the final electricity costs with different modes of electricity generation. The basis of the proposed Severn barrage is the La Rance barrage in Brittany, looking at design, construction, costs and calculations and the electricity output at sale. At 40 years of age, it is old technology but that is the basis, because it is a tested system. But we must ask

13 Dec 2007 : Column 379

ourselves why the French have not put in another La Rance barrage and why the Canadians rejected a barrage for their new tidal electricity initiative. Undoubtedly, tidal stream technology could produce as much, if not more, electricity than the Severn barrage and the results of running this plant are emerging from work taking place in the Orkneys at present.

Tidal lagoons have considerable potential and could at least equal the Severn barrage in their electricity output. However, it is vital that the Government grant a licence to commence the construction of a working lagoon model in Swansea Bay which would produce accurate data for comparison. Generating electricity from tidal power in the Severn estuary is a massive opportunity. Will the Government meet the challenge and have the wisdom to see that there is an alternative vision to a barrage, one which has the potential to produce just as much electricity and eventually more? The rewards for this are the creation of an entirely new and innovative tidal power industry in tune with carbon reduction objectives, a green industry with worldwide multi-billion pound export opportunities for British-built technology, and the creation of real, high-value, long-term jobs here in Britain. All that is required is for the Government to kick-start it. In doing so, they would also be saving for future generations one of the most important environmental sites in these islands. I beg to move for Papers.

3 pm

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord has had the will and the luck to secure this debate. When I was in another place, our constituency boundary to the west was the middle of the Severn, from Sharpness to Avonmouth. During my time as an MP, great studies were done on the possibility of a barrage, and I followed them closely and met many of the people involved. Since then, of course, global warming has added considerably to the case for trying to exploit the tides.

The exceptional tidal range on the Severn should not surprise anyone. If you look at the map of south-west Britain, you can see the huge funnel into the estuary between South Wales and Devon and Cornwall. That funnel faces directly out into the Atlantic Ocean, and the huge volume of water in the ocean is pulled backwards and forwards, primarily by the Moon’s gravity, to produce the tides. That huge volume swirls up the estuary and is then sucked out again twice daily. The ebb tide is reinforced by the fresh water coming down from the Severn and its tributaries—it is after all the longest river system in the country.

The highest tide this year was in March, when the difference in height between the high and low tides at Avonmouth was 14.3 metres, which is about a foot higher than the ceiling of your Lordships’ Chamber. If noble Lords imagine a wall of water as high as your Lordships’ Chamber and several miles across coming and going twice a day, they will have an idea of the power which a barrage or the other facilities would be designed to tame. Of course, the height of the tide varies during the month and during the year, but the

13 Dec 2007 : Column 380

mean range between high and low tide at Avonmouth is 8.2 metres. Even on that basis, the Magna Carta Lords depicted above us would get their feet wet twice a day.

It is clear that we must, as I am sure we will, harness that awesome natural power. There are various ways of doing so, as the noble Lord made clear, some of which could be pursued simultaneously, as they are not all mutually exclusive by any means. The barrage is only one way, albeit the biggest and most powerful, but it would involve some very large problems. I believe that we need to assess those problems once again and then decide—and the sooner we do so, the better. The problems that would be entailed are well documented in studies over many decades. They need updating but it would by no means be wholly new work.

First, there is the enormous scale of what we are considering. The front-runner among the various barrage configurations—the Cardiff to Weston barrage—would be 16 kilometres long and would cost nearly £1 billion a kilometre, according to one estimate, which is half of the whole defence budget. The actual technology is not that complicated or advanced but the problems of construction in such a harsh environment are considerable: imagine holding back that amount of water when the barrage is half-built and you are trying to close the gap. I watched the building of the second Severn bridge. It is one of the greatest engineering marvels of recent years and should, incidentally, be much more widely appreciated than it is, but it gives an idea of the challenge. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, mentioned the French barrage at La Rance. It is true that it is currently the largest tidal barrage in the world, but the Severn barrage, by capacity, would be 36 times its size. It is on a quite different scale.

The habitat problem is well known and will clearly loom large in any decision. However, I want to draw attention to two of the other important factors. One is the problem of the timing mismatch between the generation of electricity by a barrage and the peak demand for electricity. On some days, generation and demand will coincide but on many they will not. The barrage would be expected to generate during most of the time that the tide was ebbing, but the output would vary even during the times of generation. The times when the barrage would be generating are calculable with precision well in advance but they cannot be chosen. The barrage will produce electricity when it wants to, when the tide allows.

The SDC says that that is not a technical problem for the grid—it is less of a problem, for example, than fluctuations in wind power—but it is an economic problem. It means that electricity produced by the barrage must comparatively be so cheap that the other sources can be rested with advantage when the barrage is working. For a project of this scale, that is a high hurdle to overcome.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page