Social Inclusion

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Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): To amplify the hon. Gentleman's point, on the eve of the visit to the station that I made a couple of months ago, there was a double trip at Torness. It was Chapelcross that supplied the guarantor in Scotland, so it was a significant event.

Mr. Brown: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He is quite right. Although Chapelcross is regarded as a small station in the wider scheme of things, generating just under 200 MW, the reality is that it still plays a vital role. In Scotland, where as well as the Magnox Station at Chapelcross, there are two AGR stations at Hunterston and Torness, nuclear power provides 50 per cent. of our supply.

Nuclear energy also makes a significant contribution to the economy. The nuclear sector contributes well over £3 billion to the GDP, employs more than 30,000 people and contributes positively to the balance of payments, with £600 million a year. We also know that nuclear power, as the only major energy source that does not involve discharging massive quantities of carbon dioxide, contributes significantly to Britain's commitment to cut carbon dioxide emissions to 10 per cent. of 1990 levels by 2010. Indeed, nuclear generation reduces United Kingdom carbon emissions by between 11 and 22 per

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cent. or 12 and 24 million tonnes of carbon, depending on whether we assume it would otherwise be replaced by gas or coal generation. Every one of the workers who has contributed to the nuclear industry at Chapelcross, at the other nuclear power stations throughout Scotland and in the whole of the United Kingdom has much to be proud of.

The current licence for the Chapelcross site was due to expire around 2008–10, which would have gone well beyond the 25 to 30 years originally expected. However, on 21 June, BNFL announced that the site would cease generation by March 2005 at the latest, and we now have a major task to try and fill the gap that will be left both in employment and energy production.

The local area has, over recent years, regrettably been on the receiving end of some serious job losses. Nestlé, Elopak and ICI, where I was previously employed, are companies that no longer exist in my constituency. I single out those companies because, like BNFL, they offered jobs in the local economy that were recognised as being well paid, offering their employees a standard of living that was almost impossible to match in many rural areas.

Despite these major job losses, unemployment continues to fall, but unemployment figures alone do not give a true picture, as we have heard. Dumfries and Galloway, despite the introduction of the national minimum wage and the working families tax credit, still remains one of the lowest paid areas, if not the lowest, in Scotland. We have heard a lot about soaring house prices across the United Kingdom, but a study reported in one of the national Scottish Sunday newspapers recently suggested that house prices in Dumfries and Galloway had actually fallen, although they now appear to be on the rise again. That shows that, despite low unemployment, major economic problems exist in some rural areas.

It is estimated that BNFL, as an employer, contributes anywhere between £15 million to £20 million per annum towards the local economy, and that will not be easily replaced. Scottish Enterprise in Dumfries and Galloway has commissioned DTZ Pieda to carry out an economic impact study into the closure of the site. Although some work remains to be carried out on the study, there are already indications that the closure of Chapelcross will have an impact on more than just the local area.

What options are likely to exist for employees at the Chapelcross site? It has a work force of around 430 people who, with an average age of 45, are still economically active. They are highly skilled, with transferable skills, and would be a real asset to any future employer. After generation ceases, there will be the matter of decommissioning, which will meet the needs of a fair percentage of the work force for a number of years. Some, after having worked 20, 30 or more years will settle into retirement or will look for a little part-time job to enhance their pension, and to allow them to remain economically active. However, it would be a tragedy if the only option open to those who are left, and the many young people in the community who might have wished to seek quality,

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well-paid employment locally in the nuclear industry was a local economy plagued by low pay.

As well as a the gap in the local economy that will be left by the ending of electricity generation at the site in 2005, there will also be the gap left in our energy production. As most hon. Members will know, not only will Chapelcross soon begin decommissioning, but, over the next two decades, so will all the current nuclear reactors in Britain. By 2023, only one of Britain's existing nuclear power stations will be functioning; Sizewell B in Suffolk.

As a consequence, the Department of Trade and Industry's published energy projections, which take into account these closures and assume no new nuclear builds, state that the share of UK nuclear will decline to just 17 per cent. or 18 per cent. of total electricity production by 2010, and to just 7 per cent. or 8 per cent by 2020.

The UK will become increasingly reliant on gas. Government predictions estimate that it will provide 70 per cent. of electricity generation by around 2020. That puts too many energy eggs in one basket and there is some doubt as to how secure that gas supply will be, as it will come largely from the middle east and Russia.

So what are the alternatives? The same Government predictions that foresee a dash for gas suggest that renewables can contribute at least 10 per cent. of total electricity supplies by 2010. I very much support the many initiatives being taken by the Government to increase renewable energy. However, we are starting from a low base and I do not believe that renewable energy alone can fill the gap that will be left by the decommissioning of existing nuclear power stations such as Chapelcross.

The gap left by the closure of nuclear power stations will put at risk any chance of realistically securing real and lasting reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. Only yesterday, the Financial Times reported my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Construction as having said that, last year, emissions actually rose; the direct opposite of what we are trying to achieve. Professor David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, commented on the ''Today'' programme on 7 March:

    ''Our dependence on fossil fuels would be unchanged unless there is a new nuclear power build at least to replace existing nuclear power stations.''

The Government need to think the previously unthinkable and grasp the nettle of new nuclear builds. There have already been some welcome positive first steps; for example, the realisation that ''nuclear power, no thanks'' is no longer acceptable. In particular, the PIU report concluded that the nuclear option should remain open. That alone is not enough. I know that Governments do not build nuclear power stations, but they can create the environment that will allow them to be built. More detailed and urgent action is therefore required from the Government.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): Does my hon. Friend agree that a decision to build or rebuild nuclear power stations must be taken as a matter of urgency if we are not going to find ourselves in a position in

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which we will be dependent on gas and other sources of energy?

Mr. Brown: Yes, I wholeheartedly agree. There is a definite case for that and we need to make progress now. We need to have the debate; that is why it is important that we have discussed the matter recently and are doing so now. We need to have many more debates on it.

It is unfortunate that my neighbour, the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) has left, because I now come to a point that has been made locally. At the beginning of last week, he visited the site along with the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), a local Tory councillor and a Tory list Member of the Scottish Parliament. My thought when they suddenly appeared on the scene was, ''Oh how the vultures gather when life is ebbing away''.

Following that visit, the list Member of the Scottish Parliament—no doubt with on eye on the forthcoming election—proclaimed that he was confident that the Chapelcross site would win the argument on the location of any new or replacement nuclear build. The statement contradicted both the submission to the PIU energy review by Conservative MSPs and the comments by the hon. Member for Beckenham in the debate on 5 March, to which I referred earlier. Both argued that Hunterston and Torness, not Chapelcross, should be the preferred locations for any new nuclear builds in Scotland.

Whatever the Conservative party's position, the reality is that BNFL, the owners of Chapelcross, has stated that it will not build any new power stations. On Monday, I met a representative of British Energy, who made it clear that, given that British Energy has its own sites, Chapelcross does not figure in the company's plans for any new nuclear builds.

A campaign is up and running, led by the unions on the site. The work force are more interested in other issues and in finding out what their future holds in the next two or three years; especially where they fit into the Liabilities Management Agency. That is an important aspect with regard to people's terms, conditions and pensions. However, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary should know that if the campaign for ''Chapelcross Two'' is likely to be fruitless, the work force have the right to know. Supportive as I am of the nuclear industry and the need for new nuclear builds, I am not prepared to sit back and allow the Chapelcross work force to be used as no more than lobby fodder for nuclear reactors to be built elsewhere.

The recent announcement of the end of electricity generation at Chapelcross brings home to us all that nuclear power is at a crossroads. More immediately, we face the urgent need to bring alternative high quality employment to replace the jobs that will be lost at Chapelcross. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will outline the action that the UK Government and Scottish Executive will take to achieve that and minimise the impact of the closure of Chapelcross nuclear power station in my constituency.

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Prepared 10 July 2002