Energy Supply

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Dr. Ladyman: The hon. Gentleman makes my point. The Liberal Democrats never offer references for the sources of their policies or even any evidence that they are remotely deliverable. They pander to the fears that they have helped to generate in the public mind and they do a disservice to the public by reducing debate to that level.

As the hon. Member for Salisbury said, we must get the debate going again and engage people in the real issues about energy supply and the options that face us. I was going to say how eloquent and well-structured the hon. Gentleman's comments were and what a helpful contribution he had made to the debate, but then he began to wobble. The last time that I saw such a wobble was when I watched a unicyclist at Covent Garden—I think that a bee was trying to sting him. The hon. Gentleman's wobble included him saying that there was no need for a European energy policy. I shall return to that issue in a moment because I believe that there is a need for such a policy. He talked about knowing that we could rely on the supply of gas from Russia. He is right to the extent that the Russians have made it clear that they intend to sell the west and the European Union large amounts of oil and gas well into the future. There will, therefore, be continuity of supply.

I recently discussed the issue with the first secretary at the Russian embassy. The Russians might have been communists once upon a time, but they are no longer. They intend not to give us the gas or sell it to us at subsidised prices, but to keep it until they dominate the marketplace and control the price. They will then sell it to us at a price that we shall have to pay. We shall have consumed all the gas and oil to which we have access and which we control and our economy will be in their hands. That is the Russian perception of the course of the energy debate during this century, and I mean this century. I have had discussions with representatives of other countries, but only the Russians have a 100-year energy policy. They are engaged in long-term thinking, while we never move beyond the middle of the century and sometimes not even beyond the next five or 10 years.

Mr. Key: Of course, the Russians would have us over the proverbial barrel if we did not have a policy to ensure diverse energy supply. I hope that we shall not depend on gas for 80 per cent. of our supplies, but even if we do depend on it to a greater extent, the development of liquid petroleum gas markets in Nigeria, northern South America and perhaps the Caribbean will alleviate the problem. We must have a balanced policy and rule nothing out at this stage.

Dr. Ladyman: I entirely agree. The hon. Gentleman suggests why we need a European energy policy. We may take a balanced view of energy issues and of the need not to rely on gas, and a responsible view of investing in renewables and energy conservation. However, if other European Union nations are allowed to make decisions that pander to the feelings to which the Liberal Democrat party panders and decide to build their energy policy entirely around gas, they could undo all that we are trying to do. It is, therefore, important that the EU takes a Union-wide view of energy policy and has a way of controlling what each nation does.

It is unacceptable that some nations can declare for ever a moratorium on certain types of energy production. They should at least keep an open mind and engage their European partners in debate. The policy of the Irish Government is extremely unwise and, one could even argue, dishonest. They attack the development of nuclear power in this country while engaging in energy production practices that contribute grossly to global warming. We must consider all the aspects of energy production, not just one. The European Commission should be involved in that.

Richard Younger-Ross: The hon. Gentleman referred to countries with a moratorium. He asked earlier for a list of people in the industry and perhaps he should write to them, because their advice clearly advocates a moratorium.

Dr. Ladyman: That is untrue. Some countries have moratoriums on nuclear power, but their energy production is not necessarily based on renewables and certainly not on the level of renewables that the Liberal Democrats propose. Such countries increasingly base their production on gas, thereby undoing all that we are trying to achieve as regards the geopolitical situation and climate change. That is entirely inappropriate.

The other reason for a European policy on such issues brings us back to the documents. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, many decisions on energy production and nuclear power in particular are down to economics. At present, short-term economics would lead us to build only gas-fired power stations and I would entirely agree with such a conclusion. If I were to invest my money in energy production, I would do so in gas at the moment, given how we have structured the marketplace and how prices work. I would not invest in renewables, energy conservation, nuclear power or anything other than gas. At the moment, our energy policy seems as though it will be to use all our gas and worry about what comes after when it is gone.

The only way we can make people take alternative long-term decisions on the way in which they invest in energy—to encourage them to invest in renewables and, if we go down the suggested route, new nuclear capacity—is to change some of the rules that govern the economics. One change that we and the European Union, with its eye on the single market, should make is for every company involved in energy production to internalise the entire costs involved, including the environmental consequences and the cost of decommissioning. The nuclear industry does so now and there is no reason why the gas, coal and renewables industries should not do so. Every means of energy production has environmental costs, which should be part of the equation so that we can make sensible decisions. We could make that change straight away.

We might also have to manipulate the marketplace to allow certain long-term investments to be made now because we see a need for them in the future. One cannot build a nuclear power station overnight. It would take about 15 years, especially given the current planning process, which is rubbish. As has been said, we have a ridiculous planning process under which it takes seven years to build a windmill. I hope that the Government will change that in the near future, but it would still be a year or two before such legislation was in place. Then one would have to go through the new planning process, commission the power station and start building it.

Mr. Wilson: My hon. Friend will agree that it is disingenuous for anyone to say that they are in favour of keeping the door open on nuclear power, but also to say that nothing should be done until the issue of waste is resolved.

Dr. Ladyman: My hon. Friend is right. I am not declaring an interest, but I will tell him why I am interested in the subject. My research degree was on isotopes in the environment. By training and profession, I am a radiation biologist and environmentalist, and I am satisfied with current short-term strategies for handling waste. I have lived by and worked on reactors. I have lived, worked and brought up my family on sites that handle radio-isotopes. I have lived in a house that backed on to the railway line of which Greenpeace has been publishing pictures. I used to live next to the yard where the so-called nuclear train was marshalled, and I am perfectly satisfied with current protections in all such areas.

Let me criticise my hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Government. The time scale for making decisions on waste is far too protracted. A year spent consulting on how we consult before we start talking about options is nonsense. The period of time must be made extremely short.

Mr. Key: I am so glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say that. I suspect that the time scale for the DEFRA review is not five years, but seven. We can talk about kicking something into the long grass, but that time scale is nonsense. Two years might be acceptable.

Dr. Ladyman: The hon. Gentleman is right. The technical questions about waste handling and management are no-brainers that any scientist who works in the industry can answer. The important question—a different type of question—concerns where waste management will happen. We should recognise that and move much faster on it. The European Union and Commission can play a role and in so doing help the EU come to a common plan to guarantee our energy supply into the future. It must ensure that we are secure as a union, not overly dependent on those outside the EU, and have a robust and green energy strategy that we can be proud of, for which our children will be thankful and that leaves our country—and the European Union, if we take the collective view—stronger and more prosperous. I hope that Ministers will keep that in mind when negotiating on the future of the documents.

12.24 pm

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Thanet. He made some valuable points based on his own experience and it always good to find that there is still room in the Labour party for criticism of the Government if they are not moving forward as we believe they should be.

I would draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to his point about the Russians having our economy in their hands through their long-term plans. It is part of our responsibility, even while playing a full part in the European Union, to ensure that our economy is in the hands of our Government. I welcome his comment, particularly because of his training, concerning the Government of the Republic of Ireland. I must declare an interest, in that Professor Walton of my alma mater Trinity College Dublin was involved in atomic research in those early days. The tragedy has been that humans regularly misuse the best gifts that God could give us for our own selfish interests and for dastardly purposes. That is not to say that nuclear technology cannot be used to the advantage of the human community, both medically and in the power industry.

There is something strange about a Government who, over the years, have not been unduly worried about polluting the atmosphere and allowing lead poisoning to take place in Northern Ireland and the Republic and yet are concerned about the potential risk of emissions from Sellafield. In reality, the levels of radiation in the Irish sea are higher than anything that Sellafield might cause. It is ridiculous that, although we are all part of the European Union and are supposed to be trying to move forward together, the Government of the Irish Republic are challenging our Government in the courts to try to stop the development of something that the arguments in this case show is important.

I regret that the hon. Member for Teignbridge has gone. His statement was brisk, but he was developing the not-in-my-back-yard argument, which I, and I trust most of us, deplore completely. He did not want a nuclear power station in Teignbridge, but he did not mind it in East Devon. We must be more consistent in our arguments.

The hon. Member for Salisbury spoke about Transco. The Minister will remember that, although I have not yet spoken about it in this sitting, I raised the problem of Pheonix Gas at an early stage. It wants to continue to lay pipelines to parts of Northern Ireland. It has been discovered that when changes including the establishment of Ofgem took place and the different transporters of gas were divided up into different companies, part of the money that should have been divided up among them was not given to Pheonix. Yet private investors continue to pour in their money to develop that source of supply, which will help both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I trust that the Minister will go back to that issue and consider whether something more positive can be done.

I would also like to question the Minister on reserves. It is important that we maintain our reserves. I have been told that the geology of the north Antrim coast, right across to Rockall, is similar to that of Norway and the North sea. Have we not developed the oil fields there because we do not have the money to do so, or because we want to hold the oil in reserve so that when other places dry up we will have the necessary supplies for our industry?

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