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Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that he worries some of his friends when he talks about the nuclear industry and uses the word "rundown"? That does not imply an open mind towards the options—it indicates a closed mind and a strategy that is already determined. Some of his friends and other Members of this House are saying that there should be no closing of existing options unless and until alternative sources of energy are not only theoretically available but also actually in place.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I apologise if I have created anxieties for my noble friend. He has given voice to these anxieties on more than one occasion this week. Let me assure him that when I have referred to changes in the nuclear power industry, I am merely reflecting the natural life of nuclear installations. He will appreciate that the date for the closure of such installations runs from 2007 right through to 2035. Of course, within that framework, we

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must ensure that any gap which is left by the decommissioning of such stations is filled by alternative energy supplies. I have indicated a number of ways in which we intend to do this, not least our involvement in substantial negotiations for the supply of liquid natural gas from abroad. This country will not be self-sufficient in energy, as it has been for several decades, so we have to look to supplies from elsewhere.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, may I reciprocate what the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, said the other day? On this occasion I ask: is the Minister is aware that I warmly agree with everything his noble friend has said?

It would be very unfair for us to blame the Minister. He is, after all, merely the vehicle which carries the DTI's verbiage on a very difficult subject. Will the noble Lord convey to the DTI that it has failed? When I asked him the other day for details about what is called the "nuclear option" and the cost, he never referred to the cost in any numbered terms. I hope that he will do so.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, this is the second time this week that we have seen the emergence of that healthy alliance between the noble Lord and my noble friend on these issues. I can assure the noble Lord that I took back to the DTI the questions that were addressed to me earlier this week, and we examined any shortfall that there may be with regard to the answers.

I reiterate that we are conscious of the fact that a certain amount of electricity generation will of course come from the nuclear source. We are keeping the nuclear option open and investing in the necessary research and skills to guarantee that this option becomes viable.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, are there technological factors that make immutable the closure dates of 2007 to 2035 that the Minister mentioned in his reply? Alternatively, is one way of improving our security in the long term to extend the lifetimes of those stations? Are the Government working on that possibility?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the House will recognise the public anxiety and concern about aspects of nuclear generation. That is why the Government are not putting an enormous reliance on the nuclear option for the future. However, all strategies will be adopted against the background of the resources that are made available. All strategies will be pursued to extend the nuclear option if we fail to fill the necessary gap from other sources. Noble Lords will recognise that the Government are active in ensuring that there are incentives to alternative energy supplies to fulfil the broad objectives outlined in the White Paper.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, will the Minister say what progress is being made by the local

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energy agencies set up to encourage the generation locally of power from renewable sources? I declare an interest, having been asked to be a trustee of the Marches Energy Agency. What arrangements are in place and what price will be paid if there is surplus power from such local schemes to be fed into the National Grid?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate identifies an important consideration. Against a tough target of hitting 10 per cent of our energy supplies from renewable sources by 2010, we will consider all forms of energy generation, such as those that he has identified. We are concerned to give every incentive in that area. Of course, if there is an economic perspective as regards any surplus from such sources available to the National Grid, we shall seek to follow that.

Driving without Insurance/Road Fund Disc

11.22 a.m.

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their estimate of the number of motorists driving while (a) uninsured and (b) without a road fund disc; and how many convictions for each offence there were in the most recent 12-month period.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, estimates from the insurance industry are that there about 1.25 million motorists driving while uninsured. There were 266,750 convictions for driving while uninsured in 2001, the latest year for which figures are available. The Government estimate that 1.76 million vehicles evaded vehicle excise duty in 2002. In 2002–3, DVLA campaigns and other activity resulted in 265,000 convictions, 402,000 out-of-court settlements, and 152,000 induced relicensings.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that that is law breaking on a pretty massive scale? Have the Government any proposals to tackle the problem without necessarily over-burdening the police yet more—in other words, by using traffic wardens? Would it be helpful to consider making it obligatory for drivers to have on their motor cars evidence that they are properly insured, next to their road fund licence disc?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I have indicated, both by the figures that I quoted for convictions and prosecutions over the past year and by the regulations introduced last Friday as part of a package, that the Government are very serious about cracking down on the issue of law breaking. I emphasise to my noble friend that which would be widely appreciated. The attractive feature of the windscreen insurance disc is that it would be visible to any investigating authority. The disadvantage is obvious: it is the driver who is

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insured, not the vehicle. The problem is that we would not be able to establish a disc that could cover every conceivable driver of every car.

Viscount Tenby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that driving without insurance is particularly serious and could attract a custodial sentence—although, unfortunately, the Bench in my experience does not exercise that right often enough? Will the Minister tell me whether the Government have any plans for alternative sanctions—for example, the seizure of the car in question?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Viscount is right that an uninsured driver is committing a serious offence. The penalty for that offence is very serious, too. The wider public, including magistrates, are increasingly aware that the Government are determined to crack down on the offence. Therefore, we are seeing increased prosecution, which I have no doubt will lead to increased sentences more commensurate with the crime that the noble Viscount mentioned.

More generally, the Government are concerned about the question of detection. It will be the case that, via the motor industry database, which includes all insured drivers, the linkage with the police will give the opportunity for the police to be able to identify whether a car has insurance for the driver. The difficulty is obvious—that the insurance may cover only one or two drivers with regard to the vehicle.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords—

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords—

Lord Jacobs: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, there is plenty of time. I suggest that we hear from the Liberal Democrats, from the Conservative Benches, then from these Benches.

Lord Jacobs: My Lords, does the Minister agree that those cars without a road tax fund licence probably, in the main, also do not have garages, so they are easily observable in the street? Will he consider a scheme that would solve the problem—to have a national telephone line that members of the public could phone and could advise about cars that were on the street without exhibiting a road fund licence? If the cars were then to be towed away, I venture to suggest that, within a matter of months if not weeks, there would be few unlicensed cars on the road.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord ought not to underestimate the degree of activity that obtains along exactly those lines. Rightly, members of the public feel aggrieved when they see cars parked on the public highway without the appropriate tax disc and, therefore, make the appropriate complaints. Those are followed up to a degree and cars are on occasion towed away and penalties inflicted. However,

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as we shall emphasise in a major publicity campaign, we are rather more concerned to express to the overwhelmingly law-abiding public that we intend to crack down on that offence. That should have the effect of increasing the numbers who ensure that their cars are licensed.


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