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6.49 pm

Mr. Wilson: With permission, I should like to respond to the debate.

I know that it is a cliché to say how good the debate has been, but today it is true, and that is a tribute to all hon. Members who participated. If we compare it with an energy debate at probably any time in the post-war years, it is striking how non-ideological it has been. As an old-fashioned ideological guy, I am not sure how comfortable I am with that. I like to know where the enemy is, and it should be on the Opposition Benches—[Interruption.] Well, so long as it is not on the Benches behind me.

It is a tribute to the way in which the debate has been conducted that there has been great openness of mind and diversity of view in all corners of the House. Labour Members talked about liberalisation and competitiveness, and the Tories, in the person of the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), correctly acknowledged the primacy of the Government's role in maintaining security of supply. Members on both sides acknowledged the environmental imperatives that were barely recognised a decade ago. The policy objectives are pretty clear, and the debate is about means, rather than ends.

The challenge that I set, for myself and my colleagues in government as well as for others, is for intellectual consistency within the parameters of that debate. In other words, the policies for objectives to which we pay lip service should be consistent, and not merely a series of contradictory aspirations or headline-catchers. Each of us has a responsibility to ensure that the bits of our thinking join up. The Government create more initiatives and policies and have more Departments than anyone else, so the responsibility on us is commensurately greater to make sure that there is consistency and intellectual honesty.

That is why I am wary—perhaps more than someone in this position would normally be—of setting targets that will not be tested against reality until we have all moved on, and maybe even passed on. It is infinitely more important to make sure that existing targets are compatible with what is happening on the ground. The usefulness of the debate lies in the fact that Members have tested consistencies and inconsistencies in a very helpful and considered way. It is a good model for the wider debate about energy policy until 2050 that should be taking place in the country, although I am not optimistic that it will be discussed in the pubs and clubs and on the highways and byways of Britain. The conclusions of that wider debate will come together in a White Paper.

Turning to the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) and others, it is

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important to look at these matters from the perspective imposed on us by the climate change imperative. This is not an academic abstraction. It is about flooding, and the submersion of people and the places in which they live and work. Globally, it is about wholesale loss of life and the means of subsistence. It must be taken seriously, and, faced with that prognosis, we have to be very sceptical about special pleading. Everything that we do in energy policy has to reflect that environmental imperative.

I shall try to tackle some of the specific matters that have been raised, but obviously I will not get to them all, and where appropriate I will write to the Member concerned. The debate about gas supplies is interesting, and this has been a good forum to air both sides of the argument. I have certainly listened carefully to the concerns about the security of gas supply expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I take them very seriously. Equally important, there was support for the PIU conclusions from the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard). This is not a one-sided argument.

It is easy to exaggerate these matters and to suggest that all the pipelines will be vulnerable to threats that for some reason have not manifested themselves in all the years that countries have been supplying us safely. However, security is clearly a source of concern. Perception and acceptability to public opinion are very important, so we must be clear that the gas supplies that we will be relying on, possibly to a large extent, are secure and are seen to be secure. From the tone of today's debate, I am in no doubt that that is an important part of the consultation in which we are involved, and it is an aspect of the PIU report that will be tested in an exchange of views as robust as the one we have heard today.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) about the liabilities management Bill. I can confirm that a liabilities management unit has been set up in the DTI as a forerunner for the agency that will emerge. The parliamentary programme for the next Session is still the subject of discussion, so I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a definitive answer.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) incorrectly said that the renewables obligation plateaus in 2010. As I pointed out, anyone entering into renewables now has the unprecedented security of 25 years of the renewables obligation. It is true that the present target is set for 2010, but I revert to my previous point. It is not due to some inherent caution or lack of commitment that we do not set targets of 10 per cent. a time for 2020, 2030 and so on. Let us hope that that is attainable, but it is far more important to get everyone satisfied that 10 per cent. by 2010 is attainable.

There is no party in government or prospectively in government—hopefully not before 2030, 2040 or 2050—that is not signed up to the renewables obligation and that agenda. Any City financier who is sitting in his tent worrying about the length of the Government's commitment to the renewables obligation is raising a spectre that does not exist, and possibly an alibi for non-investment and non-support, rather than any rational reason.

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The hon. Member for Hazel Grove made clear his support for wind power. I look forward to the leader of his party coming out clearly in support of the wind farm developments on the Isle of Skye, on which I note he has been conspicuously silent.

On nuclear power, I am not sure that I would go to the length of reading the two booklets written by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, but I note his views.

On my earlier comments about intellectual consistency, anyone who suggests that we should not replace nuclear with nuclear must say how our environmental obligations are to be met if nuclear is not replaced with nuclear. The debate will move on. The world should not be divided into fan clubs—pro-nuclear or anti-nuclear. People must consider all the arguments, see the advantages that nuclear undoubtedly provides in a low-carbon economy, and balance that against any doubts that they might have. There is the potential for a much more rational debate. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) have been pleasantly surprised that the nuclear argument in the Chamber today has been so balanced. There is certainly not the blanket hostility to nuclear that some vested interests would like to pretend exists, both politically and in the country as a whole.

I was asked about photovoltaics. I agree that more money is needed in the longer term. We have launched three pilot projects—domestic trials, public building pilots, and the first phase of a large demonstration programme worth £20 million over the next three years. Progress is being made in photovoltaics. As in so many such projects, the tragedy is the low point from which we are starting.

I was pleased to be asked about tidal and wave power—two of my particular favourites. Earlier this week at Wallsend I was pleased to launch the Stingray device, which has been developed in the north-east of England and will be tested in the Sound of Yell in Shetland over the summer. I have been hearing about wave and tidal devices for 25 years, but at present the total industry in wave power, not only in this country but worldwide, is half a megawatt in Islay.

That is great, but it is not conclusive proof that those technologies can make a serious contribution. I desperately want them to make a serious contribution. However, as far as I know, no research and development project has been proposed that does not have the support of Government. I give my personal commitment to try to push those two technologies. I cannot emphasise strongly

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enough that at some point R and D must be turned into a manufacturing industry if those technologies are to be serious contributors, rather than long-term dreams, as they have been for the past 25 years.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway), who told me that he would have to leave before the end of the debate, spoke about market liberalisation. I agree entirely with what he said. We must create a level playing field throughout Europe. We are working hard and we did make progress in Barcelona, contrary to what the hon. Gentleman said—

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

PETITION

Road Traffic Accidents

7 pm

Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford): The presentation of this petition arises from the death of my constituent, Stephen Williams, aged 24, and his fiancee, Sheila Ryan. They were both killed instantly when their car collided with a lorry whose driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. The driver, Paul Couldridge, knew that he suffered from a condition that sent him to sleep uncontrollably. For that reason, he did not have a licence to drive a heavy goods vehicle.

Stephen's parents have campaigned with the relatives of those killed and injured as a result of similar negligence through the organisation RoadPeace. I have the highest respect for the bravery of Mr. and Mrs. Williams in overcoming their own grief and campaigning to avoid other parents and loved ones having to go through the misery that they have experienced.

The petition, which has been signed by 6,458 people, states:


To lie upon the Table.

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