Energy Supply

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Mr. Wilson: The hon. Gentleman's point is valid. My figures are 5 per cent. below and above. However, he will remember that privatisation in Scotland, where the two existing companies were privatised on a vertical basis, differed significantly from privatisation in the rest of the UK. He is talking about the legacy of that privatisation. I can assure him that examining how Scottish consumers can receive the same benefits of competition as consumers elsewhere is high on Ofgem's list of priorities and on mine.

Mr. Key: I am grateful for that explanation. I will quickly conclude, because others want to have their say. We welcome the conversion of the Labour party to the benefits of market liberalisation in energy. We applaud the progress that they have made. We urge them to try much harder, particularly in Europe with France and Germany, in the interest not only of consumers in those countries but of the whole of the European Union.

We believe strongly in a balanced energy policy. It is certainly my wish to see this country greener than the greenest dreams. We must take every opportunity to use sensible and sustainable renewables, because they have a huge contribution to make to our nation's quality of life. Above all, I hope that a real interest in energy issues will develop in this country, because such an interest has been lacking for a long time. Almost every debate on television and in the newspapers is about the negative aspects of energy in the UK, such as whether or not we should use nuclear power or some aspect of pollution. It is all negative, and that is very sad.

Mr. Swire: Does my hon. Friend agree that nowhere does the document discuss in sufficient detail the European attitude and policy towards offshore wind farms, which we have briefly discussed this morning? There does not seem to be a coherent European strategy towards one of the cleanest available sources of energy.

Mr. Key: My hon. Friend is right, but as the Minister said earlier, there is always an objection to everything when it comes to energy. I happen to be strongly in favour of offshore wind farms, in that I am strongly opposed to onshore ones. If we can have offshore ones, which cause less grief, that would seem desirable. However, I have received representations from the Fleetwood inshore fishermen, who are upset about the prospect of an offshore wind farm south of Barrow.

When I was a boy fishing on the west coast of Scotland, I always found that a man-made structure such as a ship or a wreck was wonderful for inshore fishing, but I digress—the debate is very serious. We need to take energy more seriously in this country. We have progressed beyond the sandal and beard era of discussing alternative energy. We must have a hard-headed, scientifically based, politically led energy policy, not only for the United Kingdom but for all the nations of the European Union. I hope that we will be able to proceed with the motion in that spirit and agree to it.

12.4 pm

Richard Younger-Ross: I shall be brief and give other hon. Members the opportunity to speak. There are two principal issues. First, there is the document, which is fairly worthy. The liberalisation of European markets is a necessity. We are sometimes at a disadvantage and it would be to our benefit to deliver the changes contained in the document across the European market. It has always concerned me, however, that when we meet in Committee to discuss European matters, we end up making agreements that disadvantage British industry. There are dangers and pitfalls that could put us at a disadvantage and we have strayed into those because of the way in which NETA has been introduced and the way it is working. I hope that those will be dealt with in due course.

I agree about the need to cut energy requirements. We are very poor at that. I have spent most of my life working in architecture and building. I have worked on building sites and on the design of homes. I appreciate that there is much good intent. There is an idea that, by changing the building regulations several times, insulation can be increased. If it is increased in poorly designed houses and everyone shuts the doors and windows, there is condensation and the first response to that is to open the doors and windows, thus undermining the efficiency of the 2 in of loft insulation. We need to be a little more sophisticated in our house design.

A crucial point that has not been made is the need to cut energy requirements as a part of transport policy. We waste and pollute a lot. Probably quite a few hon. Members in this Room do so by rushing up and down motorways—not too fast, I hope. We could rely on public transport policy to help reduce that sort of behaviour.

We talked about the nuclear option and I was pleased that the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) saw fit to draw widely on the document, which finds that there are advantages in that option. However, it warns of a difficulty in decommissioning and ways of dealing with waste products. The document also warns that some European countries have moratoriums, which lead it to conclude that there will be difficulties in expanding nuclear options in Europe. We must deal with the waste issues if we want to expand the nuclear industry.

Mr. Jack: The hon. Gentleman mentioned the expansion of nuclear facilities. Is that the policy of his party?

Richard Younger-Ross: The line is very clear. It will be possible to expand the industry only if the waste problem is dealt with. Until we have dealt with it I, and my party, do not believe that we should expand the industry. That is fairly consistent.

Mr. Wilson: Everyone recognises that we need to tackle the problem of waste. Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that an inquiry is under way, under the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which will have taken five years to draw conclusions? Does the hon. Gentleman think that all development work on nuclear projects should stop in the meantime? Should we keep the nuclear option open pending the outcome of the inquiry?

Richard Younger-Ross: I would have favoured a moratorium on nuclear power some time ago while we sorted out the problems. We are storing up potential problems to which we do not know the answers.

Mr. Swire: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Richard Younger-Ross: No, I have given way twice already and shall not do so again. There are concerns to be dealt with and I think that I have made my party's position clear.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Salisbury wants to come to Teignbridge to explain my party's position and distribute his torch leaflets. That will double his party's delivery network and I am sure that it will be welcomed. However, if he is so much in favour of explaining the nuclear option, and as the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) is so eloquently in favour of nuclear power, perhaps he should move the nuclear power station to East Devon rather than Teignbridge. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Salisbury says that there is not one in Teignbridge; I want to protect against his policies ever putting one there. However, it would not need to be that close. The dangers of nuclear waste and the problems of radiation spread far, as we learned from Chernobyl a few years ago, and as we nearly learned from Three Mile Island.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a potential for growth in coal, but there is always the danger that a growth in coal will mean that we must import it, rather than being able to use what has always been a natural product in the UK. It has been irresponsible Government policy to allow the disposal and seizing up of the supply of a potential resource that should have been kept open. I certainly hope that coal options, including clean coal, will be explored and that those options will promote the British coal industry rather than allowing its wholesale destruction.

I generally welcome the document. There is a need for liberalisation, which, I hope, will lead to lower prices and to the security of the UK energy supply. We are benefiting from the fact that OPEC is unable to increase oil prices, partly because of the Russian market. That cannot always be guaranteed and may present dangers in, not the medium, but the near future, so we need secure power sources.

12.10 pm

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): On the comments of the hon. Member for Teignbridge, the energy policy of the Liberal Democrats, like Liberal Democrat policy on so many things, panders to what they perceive to be the public wish without addressing any of the real problems. When a party has no prospect of getting into power, it can easily cop out.

Richard Younger-Ross: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Ladyman: Let me comment before I give way.

It is easy for Liberal Democrats to say what they will not do if they will never have to say what they will do. It is easy for them to talk about their commitment to renewable sources because they will never be in a position to deliver on that commitment. I know of no engineer, scientist or person who has worked in the industry generating renewable electricity who believes, in his wildest dreams, that the Liberal Democrat target for energy production from renewables—50 per cent.—is even remotely achievable. Such people would be delighted if we could achieve half that target. To base energy policy on a complete pipedream is irresponsible in the extreme. If the hon. Gentleman will tell me which engineers, companies or scientists think that that target is remotely achievable, I will gladly follow up any references he can give me to find out what those people have said.

Richard Younger-Ross: I shall not quote a list of people trading in the different sectors, but many people feel that there is a greater need—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that the Liberal Democrats are pandering to the public but our policy on renewable options is long standing. We expressed doubts about the nuclear option at a time when it was favoured by the public, so our policy goes back somewhat further than his memory.

 
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Prepared 28 November 2001