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Lord Grocott: My Lords, I hope that what I shall say about timing will be helpful to the House. We could have agreed to put down on the Order Paper a Motion setting a specific time limit, but provided noble Lords keep within the rules of the Companionas we all do at all timesthere should be plenty of time. But it has been suggested to me that it would still be helpful if I gave an indication about how long noble Lords might speak in order to complete the debate in around five hours. The arithmetic is as followsand I need to be specific about this as I have been in trouble in the past for not being clear enough. If the opener takes a maximum of 20 minutes and the four winders take a maximum of 20 minutesit is not compulsory that they should take a maximumthere would be plenty of time for us to finish in around five hours if other contributors take 11 minutes. Is that helpful? I hope so because I do not have anything better to offer .
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, in rising to introduce the debate, I must say how truly delighted I am that so many of your Lordships have decided to take part. A Thursday morning debate is not all that appealing, as we are witnessing, but it is a measure of the deep concern about future energy supplies that has been expressed on all sides of the House over a very long period that so many heavyweights have put their names down to speak. Indeed, noble Lords will be aware that I use the word "heavyweights" in an intellectual sense, and I am not referring to obesity.
I also wish to say how much I am personally looking forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Goodlad, as I am certain all noble Lords are. My noble friend and I go back a long way. Together with other Members of both Houses and business colleagues
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we were marooned for a weekend in a pre-glasnost, pre-perestroika fairly unfriendly country. As I recall, we were there to improve relations. It was not the most successful mission of all time, but I do not think that it did much harm: four of us are now Members of this Housemy noble friend, myself, the noble Lord, Lord Radice, who is not with us today, and my noble friend Lady Hogg. My noble friend Lord Goodlad has had a stellar career since then, and I know that we shall all benefit from his contribution.
I am delighted to have the opportunity of opening, and introducing, the debate. For too long this House has skirted around the issue of the long-term security of energy supplies. The saga has had one beneficial effect, in that many Members have become experts on the subject, and yet again today I hope they will express their concerns by giving us all, government Ministers included, the benefit of their wisdom and understanding. I described the situation as a "saga"not a bad description. We have had so many debates. Question after question has been directed to the Government. Members on all sides have expressed their well-researched concerns on every possible angle of energy policy, or lack of such policy. With depressing regularity we have been fobbed off time and time again with complacent replies to our questions.
How many times have we been toldand, indeed, we were told again this weekthat the energy White Paper in 2003 was a good thing and set out the framework for a long-term energy policy? We were told again this week that the Prime Minister is going to come up with some proposals next yearthat is, proposals three years after the energy White Paper was published, and then only proposals. That is all right then. All I can say is that there is not much sense of urgency.
Members on all sides of your Lordships' House are very concerned about this issue. I suggest that our concern is wholly warranted and that the Government's complacency is not. That is why I worded the Motion in such a way as to concentrate on the imperative for early policy decisions to secure long-term energy supply, not just proposals some time next year, but policy decisions now.
I am sure that there is a very good collective noun for ostriches. If I knew it, I would apply it to the Government. That is not really a frivolous remark. We are facing a serious long-term situation, but it takes more than three years to respond to a strategy and consider making proposals, not even policy. Nero and violins spring to mind.
In this debate, we must attempt to get some indication of a sense of urgency from the Government. If there is no such sense of urgency, we must attempt to convince the Government that there should be. I really want to be helpful to the Governmentyes, I really do. I see myself as an unfulfilled optimist living in hope. My hope today is that by having this debate, we may hasten the formulation of sensible, forward-looking policy decisions to safeguard the security of supply of energy for our country.
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As I intimated before, one of the great strengths of this House is that we are fortunate in having colleagues with a wealth of experience and expertise in this field. I am sure that, by bringing some of them together in this debate, we can send a strong and forceful message to the Government that they cannot ignore the whole subject any longer and that we cannot be fobbed off any longer. We have the expertise partially because we have the relative luxury of time to research, time to think and time to go to energy seminars. We also benefit from the brilliant raft of Select Committees, which can and do choose subjects to investigate, often involved in thinking the unthinkable. They set their own agendas, they invite national and international experts and produce great reports. Select Committee reports frequently dwell on the longer term butsadly, in my viewthose reports are too often consigned to languish in the "all-too-difficult basket".
The work of this House is in marked contrast to that of the other place, where Members have to pay day-to-day attention to the wants and needs of their constituents. Their imperative is always to react to, "Events, dear boy, events". Understandably, they are often thrown off course by the unpredictable nature of so many issues that hit them: wars, terrorism and acts of God, to name but three. Bearing all that in mind, I go as far as to say that we in this House have the duty to concentrate on the longer term when we know that our country is facing the most serious situation of security of energy supply.
As several colleagues have mentioned to me today, the timing of our debate coincided with a significant amount of media attention on radio and television this morning on the most serious situation of security of energy supply. I do not think that they actually paid much attention to the debate that we were about to have, but it would be nice to think that they might be listening to this and that at some time we might get some publicity for the serious issues that we discuss in this House.
There are a few stark facts that we must keep in mind when considering the need for an early policy decision to secure long-term energy supply. Domestic demand for electricity increases inexorably every year. Since 1990, demand has increased by 20 per cent. On the other hand, supply of domestic fuel sources for electricity generation is declining. This year, we become a net importer of gas; and gas and renewables are the Government's chosen fuel sources for electricity generation. By 2015, existing coal-fired and nuclear power stations, which currently supply more than 50 per cent of our electricity demand, will either be taken out of commission or be well along the way to being so. The resultant deficit in our energy supply will almost certainly be filled by natural gas supplied from the Middle East and Russia. Those are not exactly areas that produce a comfort-zone feeling.
In answer to a Written Question by my noble friend Lord Vinson on 21 June this year, the Minister stated that the most recent statistics of annual operational efficiency of onshore wind turbines was only 24.1 per cent. Yes, renewables are likely to be a very important component in the future energy supply mix but there is no quick fix from themat least not from the current categorisation of renewables as defined by the Government, who staunchly deny that nuclear is a renewable resource. I shall return to that in a minute.
Added to the basic problem of increasing demand and reducing supply is the most important issue of targets for carbon-emission reduction, which are essential if we are to play our part in combating the effects of climate change. As an aside, I am sure that noble Lords are all aware that the distinguished and noble Lord, Lord May, will introduce a debate on 10 November to call attention to climate change. In part, I regret that his debate did not come before this one. Both are of huge importance and both subjects are inextricably linkedI know that all contributors to this debate are mindful of that.
The doomsters are already foretelling that the lights will go out. Like many noble Lords, I have read that if the weather forecasters are correct this year we shall have electricity cuts, lights out and the return of the three-day week this winter. However, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of OldhamI am sorry that he is not in his placewas very reassuring this week when he said, "No, we do not have only three days' gas supply reserves; we have 11". How does all that look when we recall that the energy White Paper was published in 2003 and the Prime Minister will publish proposals, not policies, next year?
Noble Lords would be surprised if I did not mention nuclear power. I do not like being repetitive. We all pride ourselves on being able to get the message across succinctly and not having to drone on, flogging a dead horse. Sadly, flogging a dead horse seems the only course open to me. I used to think that I was reasonably persuasive, but on the subject of nuclear power I have long been disabused of that thought. I could find out how many times I have raised the subject in your Lordships' House, but I do not think I will go to the trouble, because it would be just too depressing.
To say that I despair of the Government ever taking nuclear power seriously is an understatement. I am afraid that I can come to only one conclusion: why should they go through the difficult exercise of formulating a policy to build new nuclear power stations when the results of such policy decisions will not come on stream for many years after this Government have disappeared? Is that responsible? Does it show anything but a cynical disregard for the long-term future of our country and our economy? Not only that, but the Government steadfastly try to hide the fact that nuclear power is a carbon-emission-free source of electricity generationin effect, a renewable. Will the Minister come clean on this today and reclassify nuclear as renewable? If he does, he has
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the opportunity, which seldom comes the way of Ministers, to be congratulated by the whole House. How can he resist that?
The outlook is not good, but it could be improved. The combination of global warming, resulting in catastrophic climate change, and the reliance on somewhat politically unstable countries for sourcing fuel for our future electricity supplies is not a prospect to be greeted with an expression of unalloyed joy. One thing is certain: the longer we delay producing policy decisions to combat the dubious nature of our future energy supplies and to respond to the imperative to cut carbon emissions even more drastically, the more precarious is our future. Our future standard of living and the comfort of our living conditions are at risk. Even more important, the future of our wealth-producing industry is at risk. The current decline in our productivity compared with that of other nations will continue, and our international competitiveness, which is also declining, will decline even further and even more sharply.
I am sure that all contributors to the debate will give us much to think about; I fear that they will also give us quite a lot to worry about. I am sure that there will be some seriously good policy suggestions. I look forward to all the speeches and thank the speakers in advance. I just hope that the Government will listen, understand and actsooner rather than later. I beg to move for Papers.
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