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Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, would not the situation be improved or rectified if assessment for disabilities was made at the earliest opportunity after disablement occurs?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Yes, my Lords, there is no dispute about that. At present, a student who becomes disabled while at university can qualify for funding from disability living allowance, disabled student allowances and so forth. Perhaps one half of all disabled students are able to benefit from additional funding, which is about 20,000 a year beyond student educational loan support.

The difference between disability and sickness is that there is a longer period of dependency on forms of support, whether financial, physical or personal help. That is why, inevitably, there is—in my view, properly—a period of assessment in order to make that distinction.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, as I understand the problem, disabled full-time students can claim income support only if they qualify for disability premium or severe disability premium when they have been incapable of working for 28 weeks, as the noble

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Baroness said; or—this is odd—they qualify for disabled student allowance because they are deaf. Why are the deaf especially singled out? I repeat, deaf.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the noble Lord has made his point well. Students generally look to the educational system, not the social security system, for financial support while at university. However, in addition, there is a range of financial allowances for disabled students, which include DLA at 100 a week, disabled student allowances that can go up to 15,000 per year, as well as travel funds and additional hardship funds. The point about deafness is that an immediate assessment can be made, particularly if it is a permanent disability.

The problem remains that students meet the same criteria for assessment for disability as all other disabled people. Students are discriminated against neither positively nor negatively, whether before or after university, or within or outside university. All are asked to meet the same rules of eligibility for disability living allowance and income support.

Lord Addington: My Lords, is it true that students who are over the age of 25 who become disabled have no rights to incapacity benefit if they have not paid two full years of National Insurance contributions? That must be very difficult for those late entrants who move straight on from undergraduate to postgraduate studies.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, to be eligible for incapacity benefit, a person must have the appropriate National Insurance credits. When your Lordships discussed these issues a couple of years ago, we decided—encouraged by the noble Lord, Lord Rix—to ensure that people starting university with a long-standing disability would receive youth incapacity benefit rather than the old SDA; that is, if the disability was incurred before the ages of 16 or 18. That was regarded as very helpful for young people.

If someone has never qualified for incapacity benefit by virtue of having no National Insurance credits, he or she would be entitled to income support in the usual way.

Nuclear Energy

2.48 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What they mean by "keeping the nuclear energy option open" and what is the cost of so doing.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government recognise that nuclear power is an important source of carbon-free electricity. The possibility of new nuclear build at some point in the future is not ruled out. The costs of new nuclear generation were examined during the analysis for the energy White Paper.

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Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, that Answer is a bit thin. On the next occasion that he visits the Department of Trade and Industry, will the noble Lord try to catch someone's attention and explain that time is not on their side, that it is a valuable commodity and that at present it is being wasted? If the words quoted in my Question, spoken in your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, are to mean anything, then both security of supply and the retention of skills which are fast disappearing require that plans should be made as a matter of urgency for building one or more nuclear power stations before the existing ones come to the end of their useful lives.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it will be a considerable time before our current nuclear power stations come to the end of their useful lives. However, the noble Lord has a point: it is important that we pursue a strategy—as we are doing—which guarantees that skills continue to be developed in the nuclear industry. It is also important to support further research, and resources are being diverted towards that effort. Of course in the circumstance where the Government quite rightly say that the issue of new nuclear build is not ruled out, these kinds of support must be maintained and we intend to do that.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords—

Lord Marsh: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, there is sufficient time for both questions.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, since the influence of public opinion plays such an important part in determining the Government's approach to energy provision, in particular as regards concerns about the environmental impact of nuclear power, what steps are the Government taking to test public opinion and to inform it about the extent of the blanket coverage that would be required if we had to rely on windmills to supplant the energy currently being generated by nuclear power?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the public are well informed on the question of wind farms because public inquiries preceding planning permission frequently take place when extensive farms are proposed. Of course there is lively debate both here and in the other place about the Government's energy policy and the way in which it is intended to meet the targets set out in the White Paper.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the lead time before any new nuclear capacity could come on stream is very long indeed? We are talking of periods of 15 to 20 years. To hear the Government say that at some time in the future, if they think it really

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important, they will get down to thinking seriously about what will be done as a contingency does not engender confidence.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to point out that the lead time for a new-build nuclear power station is long, but under the present proposals the last of our current nuclear power stations will not cease energy production until 2035, so we are still discussing these issues within a realistic time-frame.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, would my noble friend note that this is one of the rare occasions when I substantially agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, who has spoken with great wisdom this afternoon? Can he inform the House how many windmills we would need to replace our nuclear industry? Further, does he agree that it is important that nothing is done to reduce our capacity for nuclear fuel unless and until the alternatives are actually producing the requisite amount of electricity, including that which is needed for economic growth?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, wise Ministers quake in the face of an alliance such as that between my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. I cannot give my noble friend a figure for the actual number of windmills, as he refers to them. However, I can indicate clearly that the Government have a target for the contribution of renewable energy resources to the National Grid, in which wind farms are to play their part. By the same token, the contribution of nuclear energy up to 2020 and beyond is also identified.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, will the noble Lord ask those responsible to inform themselves about what happened in the state of California when it completely ran out of power supplies because it had not in fact made any plans for new resources? The old sources were dying out and the state reached a crisis point. That situation came about because the planning that is being asked for had not been done.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it is music to my ears to hear the other side advocate the merits of planning. Many noble Lords on this side of the House will have looked at the Californian situation and would agree that there were indeed issues to be learned from that experience. We have taken careful note of the crucial role that planning plays in guaranteeing our energy supplies. That is why the Government are identifying exactly the sources from which we expect to derive energy for the foreseeable future and why we have indicated that nuclear energy has its part to play.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords—

Lord Ezra: My Lords—

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords—

Noble Lords: The Cross Benches.

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