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Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con):
I am in no doubt that todays statement from the right hon. Gentleman represents a very big step forward and a
welcome one in progress towards building a new generation of nuclear power stations. In that context, I am particularly glad about the response of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan), which underlines the fact that there is now broad cross-party support for the issue in the House, which is genuinely welcome. Another key test that the Trade and Industry Committee laid down in its report 18 months ago related to a carbon price. The Secretary of State referred to that in his response. There is not much in his statement about that, and there is not much in the documentation. Will he repeat to the House his assurance that if the second phase proposals to the Commission are not strong enough, he will take unilateral steps in the United Kingdom to provide a firm price for carbon?
Mr. Hutton: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the work that he and his colleagues on the Select Committee are doing. I agree that if there is cross-party consensus on these matters, that would be a tremendously good thing for the long-term future of our country. In relation to carbon markets, the most sensible thing for us all to do is to wait and see what the Commission proposes. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will look carefully at those proposals. We do not rule out any option, as I said, but it is important that the carbon price is strengthened in subsequent phases of the emissions trading scheme. That will be important for the economics of nuclear, and will be the right signal for our approach to climate change.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): My right hon. Friend draws attention to the fact that we will have to replace one third of our power plants by 2020 or so. Bearing in mind the existing published material, including that from the Health and Safety Executive, his Department and various other agencies, on the timetable for justification for site search, planning permission and so on, does he accept that it is unlikely that there will be any new nuclear power plant on stream by the time we have to replace that one third of our energy plant? Does he therefore accept that our concentration now should be on replacing that one third of energy with renewable energy, to make sure that that new one third of power plant is indeed low-carbon?
Mr. Hutton: We need to do all those things. I tried to make it clear in my response to the hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, that our argument today is not that nuclear can fix all the problems. That would clearly be the wrong argument, but we should not rule nuclear out because on its own it cannot meet all the challenges. My argument today is that it has a role to play. I do not believe that it is unlikely that there will be new nuclear power stations operating in the UK by the middle of the 2020s. It is likely that there will be several nuclear power stations operating by that stage. We should also remember that it is not just the 2020 target towards which we must aim our sightsit is 2050. Between 2020 and 2050 the challenge of responding to the science of climate change will intensify, not become easier to deal with. That is why it would be wrong in principle to rule out now one proven form of low- carbon technology.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I welcome the statement from the Minister and from our Front-Bench spokesman, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan), and I look forward to being able to work on the progress of a Sizewell C. Does the Minister recognise that it will be much more difficult to do that if the second half of the Planning Bill is not changed? My constituents accept that the decision on the safety of nuclear power should be made here centrally, but when it comes to a discussion about the much needed road changes and so on for such a large construction, they want to have an inspector locally to whom they can put their case. If they do not, we will hold up the proposals to a degree that the right hon. Gentleman will find unimaginable. He must give local people direct influence, not hand the matter over to a quango. They want an inspector.
Mr. Hutton: I welcome the first part of the right hon. Gentlemans comments. I had the good fortune to be in his constituency yesterday to look at Sizewell B, which is a phenomenal success storyprobably the most successful pressurised water reactor in the world. It is coming towards the end of 445 days of full load capacity without a break. That is an extraordinary achievement, and I congratulate his constituents on it. His comments in relation to the Planning Bill will have been heard. The Bill is in Committee, and there will be an opportunity to consider the detail of that. As a point of information, which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not need but others might, the Sizewell B inquiry took 340 days. It dealt with local planning issues for only 30 of those 340 days, so anyone who argues that the current system is defensible does not live in the real world.
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): Bearing in mind, first, that taxpayers will pay more for nuclear electricity to cover decommissioning costs and will still have to pay for any shortfall, which could run into billions; secondly, that taxpayers will have to pay the massive construction costs for storing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of highly radioactive waste; thirdly, that taxpayers will also be called on, if necessary, to guarantee a minimum price of carbon; and, fourthly, that the last round of nuclear build led to the country and taxpayers having to pay £5 billion to bail the nuclear industry out of bankruptcy, as well as £70 billion to deal with the waste, is not the whole nuclear project the mother of all white elephants?
No, it is not. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend takes that view. He raised a number of specific points about decommissioning and waste disposal. We all accept that the responsibility for dealing with the legacy waste from the Magnox and advanced gas-cooled reactors will occur on the balance sheet of Governments for some considerable time. That is right, and there is no point pretending otherwise. Clearly, taxpayers will be involved to that extent. My statement was about the future of nuclear power. In a nutshell, we should learn from what has happened, and we can do so. There is a different way of doing it. We should be open-minded about the future. I know that my right hon. Friend follows these arguments closely. For me, the science of climate change is changing my understanding of these matters. It is imperative in our national interest that we do not take a decision now
that we would rue in future. To deny future generations the benefits of nuclear power would be entirely the wrong thing to do.
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I, too, welcome the Secretary of States statement and the response from my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan). Is the Secretary of State aware that British Energy has recently objected to proposals to expand Lydd airport in my constituency, because of the effect that that might have on the existing nuclear power station at Dungeness and a possible future station on that site? In view of his statement today, will the right hon. Gentleman make representations to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to call in the airport application and hold a public inquiry, so that the effects of the airport proposals on the nuclear power station and on the local environment more generally can be subjected to independent public scrutiny?
Mr. Hutton: I welcome the support from the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what we are trying to do. On his specific point about Lydd and the planning application, I am completely unaware of those issues, but as we say in the trade, I will cause inquiries to be made.
Paul Flynn: I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. Why on earth are we repeating the nuclear folly of the last years, when one power station was 14 years late, there were vast cost overruns, and £75 billion was required to manage the waste? The new thinking on waste is to bury it in a hole in the ground, which was the answer 40 years ago. I appeal to the Government to turn away from this atrocious decision and turn to the renewables, which are practical and cheap, especially marine power, which has long been neglected, tidal powers and the other marine powers, which are clean, non-carbon, practical, British and eternal?
Mr. Hutton: We are making significant support available so that the renewable sources of energy that my hon. Friend mentioned can come to fruition. Through the renewables obligation, all of us are subsidising renewable power. It is the right thing to do. We are not subsidising nuclear. So I do not believe that what I said today will in any way crowd out from the energy mix of the UK in the future a proper and growing role for renewable power.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): The Government seem to have rejected the idea of the feed-in tariff for the UK, but in Germany it has massively increased the amount of renewables. Will the Government at least stop lobbying within the EU to stop feed-in tariffs?
Mr. Hutton: The renewables obligation is a genuine market mechanism and that is why it has been successful. It has overseen a rapid increase in renewable energy in the UK and we should stick with what works. The feed-in tariff in Germany has undoubtedly incentivised microgeneration in particular, but a significant extra cost has been borne by consumers as a result.
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the effect of his statement today on future waste streams is quite small because of the historical legacy and the inefficiency of previous systems and waste from the weapons programme? Will he also ensure that as part of the ongoing work that is undertaken, work is done through Sellafield Ltd and the university sector to ensure that improvements are made in the exploitation of those waste streams for future power sources?
Mr. Hutton: Yes, it would be right and proper for us to look at all those options. Primarily, that will be the responsibility of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and others, but it is worth making it clear that the new generation of reactors is likely to produce significantly less waste than Magnox and AGR, and that has to be a good thing.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): The Minister may know that recently I initiated a debate in Westminster Hall on clean coal technology. Given the UKs vast coal reserves and the fact that he has said that he has an open mind about these matters, will he be a little more specific today with respect to the opportunities that could be made available for clean coal technology, perhaps with regard also to the question of Medway and the opportunities for exporting our technology to China?
Mr. Hutton: With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, the Kingsnorth Medway application is a current application and at some point it will come to me to be approved, so it would be improper for me to say anything about that today.
Coal has an exciting role to play in future. The successful demonstration project in carbon capture and storage will be critical. If CCS does not work, we will have to work twice as hard on energy efficiency, renewables and other sorts of low-carbon technology to make good the deficit, but if we are prepared to back the right projectpost-combustion coal is the right way to take CCS forward, partly because it would suit the UKs requirements, but it also has significant global application, given what is happening in China and other emerging economiesthe UK could, rather unlike the hon. Gentleman, take an important global leadership role in supporting exciting new clean coal technology in the future, and I hope that he will support that.
Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friends clear leadership in terms of the two big issues of security of supply and climate change, but also in terms of my constituency and the engineering industry. Last night I was talking to Graham Honeyman at Forgemasters, and in the light of this decision it is giving serious consideration to an investment in a 15,000 tonne open die forging press, one of the largest in the world, and the associated melting and engineering capacity that goes with that, because there is a chronic lack of capacity globally for such programmes and many others. In the light of this statement it is important that consideration is now given to the supply chain of that so that we can capitalise for UK Ltd more fully than we have done before.
Mr. Hutton: I welcome my right hon. Friends comments. He is absolutely right in relation to the supply chain and the industrial matters that touch on the important issue of new nuclear in the UK. Forgemasters is an excellent company. I have had the benefit of seeing at first hand its extraordinary facilities and expertise. We will need to invest significantly in the nuclear skills industry and in engineering if the UK is to take advantage of this opportunity, and I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend in Sheffield and elsewhere to make that happen.
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): I too welcome the statements from both Front-Bench spokesmen on the reconsideration of nuclear power, but the Secretary of State mentioned the Planning Bill. May we take it as read that the White Paper is a draft national policy statement, and, if so, how does he plan to take forward consultation and what plans does he have for inviting the House to consider the White Paper as a national planning statement?
Mr. Hutton: We need to take forward the detailed work on a nuclear national policy statement and that work is under way. I do not think that the national policy statement will be the White Paper; we need to do more work on that. The NPS will need to be as site specific as it possibly can be in relation to possible future nuclear sites. I understand that there will be an opportunity for the House to approve nuclear national policy statements about all of the national policy statements, and that will enhance the democratic credibility around planning for major infrastructure projects in the future.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that although he may be right in his analysis, one of the reasons for scepticism is that the nuclear industry has a long history of misleading the public and previous Governments about the costs, safety and aspects of waste disposal? What makes him think that he has not been misled this time?
Mr. Hutton: There is no doubt that many people in the country have real concerns about nuclear going forward, and we have heard some of those expressed today and we heard them expressed during the nuclear consultation exercise. It is a subject of great emotion for many people. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept my assurance that we have looked carefullymy officials, Ministers, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and previous Ministers in this roleat these issues. We are in a different set of situations now. The science and the economics have changed, and the nuclear engineering capacity and capability have also changed significantly. The simple question for all of us today is not whether we should consent to an individual nuclear power station or mandate power companies to use nuclearthat is not what I am talking aboutbut whether we want to rule out for all time the possible contribution that a proven, and it is proven, form of low-carbon technology could make to tackling climate change and energy security problems in the UK. It would be entirely the wrong thing to do today to rule out this technology in perpetuity knowing that it could make a significant difference. That is not just my view but the view of many others in the scientific community and the Sustainable Development Commission and others.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of States statement and the reply of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan), but the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that my constituency is the home of the majority of nuclear fuel manufacture in the UK. What assurances can he give me today that the NDA will enter into meaningful discussions with Toshiba Westinghouse to ensure that a suitable business model can be developed to make sure that we can sustain the manufacture at that site of nuclear fuel for the benefit of the UK and to realise the benefits of fuel and energy security for the UK?
Mr. Hutton: Again, I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman says. In relation to Springfields, these are matters for the NDA to resolve and work through. We have given it the executive responsibility to handle these matters and it should get on with it. I hope that he will be at least partly reassured to know that I want to see the UK gain the maximum that it can for its industrial sectors and manufacturing capacities from what we seek to do. I am sure that it is also the NDAs view, in managing the business and taking it forward, that it needs to maximise every opportunity for new business, growth and employment in the UK nuclear industry. That will be my priority and I will ensure that Ian Roxbrough and the NDA board are aware of that.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): On the question of investment in alternative low-carbon technologies, I welcome my right hon. Friends announcement during the recent recess, not repeated in todays statement, of a major expansion in offshore wind power. Does he agree that between now and 2020, that decision has much more significance for our secure energy supplies and cutting carbon emissions than his nuclear decision today? Will he confirm that the contracts for the interconnectors to bring the electricity from offshore to the coast and from the coast to the national grid will soon be in place, a matter of great importance to the power industries in Stafford?
Mr. Hutton: I can certainly confirm that work is under way to make sure that we can take full advantage of the extraordinary opportunity that offshore wind offers the UK. In the short term, my hon. Friend is also absolutely right that this is what we should be focusing on. Work is under way, particularly in relation to the point about transmission access. That is critical. There is precious little point in building offshore wind turbines if we cannot connect them to the grid, so we had better make sure that we have that issued sorted.
Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I do not suppose that it will come as a total surprise to the Secretary of State that the Scottish National party remains fully opposed to new nuclear power stations; fortunately, the SNP Government in Scotland will not allow new such stations in our country. I remind the Secretary of State that that stand is supported by many Labour MSPs.
May I press the Secretary of State further on the question of financing the containment and guarding of nuclear waste for a period in excess of recorded human history? In the White Paper, he talks about using an exercise in waste-cost modelling to set a fixed price or upper limit for nuclear operators. Can he tell us how
that price will be calculated and how he will ensure that it is paid? Will generators have to provide security for future costs at the outset, or is he talking about a one-off payment when they put the waste in the depository?
Mr. Hutton: On the hon. Gentlemans first point about the attitude of Scottish Parliament Ministers, I should say that that is obviously a matter for them. The Bill and the White Paper respect the devolution settlement. I think that those Ministers are making a mistake and that their stand has more to do with a political stunt than taking a responsible long-term decision in the best interests of Scottish electricity consumers and the wider UK perspective. I regret the stand that those Ministers have taken, and I believe that they will come to regret it too.
On the hon. Gentlemans point on financing, I should say that a lot of the detail is set out in the White Paper. I do not want to go through all the detail in this response, but the clauses will apply only to England, and not to Scotland, in respect of the technical plan and other issues; the hon. Gentleman should not be too worried about them. In February, there will be an extensive consultation setting out in more detail how the particulars of the provisions will work. As I said, I hope that that will be of assistance to the Select Committee.
Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): May I congratulate the Secretary of State, the Minister for Energy and the Prime Minister on their courage and wisdom in making todays decision, which is long overdue. I welcome it.
The Secretary of State knows that my constituency is home to the single largest concentration of British nuclear workers in the country. Following todays announcement, will he work with me to ensure that, although there will be multinational efforts in part, the delivery of new reactors in this country will be predicated on British workers, British nuclear expertise, British companies and British skills and experience?
Mr. Hutton: May I reciprocate my hon. Friends warm feelings? He is my constituency neighbour; I see locally and in this place the excellent work that he does as an advocate for his constituents, and I am aware of the arguments that he makes for the UK nuclear industry. He has done a great deal to help the decision that we have announced today. The UK and his constituents will be well placed to take full economic advantage of new nuclear technology, and what is good for the UK nuclear industry is certainly good for my hon. Friends constituency.
West Somerset and Sedgemoor district councils have been working on a framework document for local people to get planning gain over the life of the nuclear industry; Hinckley Point has been around since 1957. Will the Secretary of State consider forming some sort of framework agreement extending from central Government to local government, so that the benefits come straight to a community fund or some other form of organisation that could benefit local people directly in their areas?
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