Energy and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Debate on the Address
Edward Miliband (Doncaster North, Labour)
My hon. Friend eloquently makes his point. I am afraid that the truth is that the right hon. Gentleman, in his first few days in the job, has obviously sold down the river his former Liberal Democrat colleagues, and they will take note.
Let us move on to the next part of delivering the low-carbon agenda: nuclear power, which was a very small feature of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He spoke one line through gritted teeth about nuclear power. I wonder why. I think that I know the reason. Let us be clear that our position on nuclear power is that the challenge of climate change is so great that we need nuclear as well as renewables and clean coal, because the challenge of climate change is so big. That is the position of the vast majority of Conservative Members--they are nodding away, which is great because we agree with them.
Of course, the Liberal Democrat position was against new nuclear power. The Liberal Democrats say in their manifesto that they
"reject a new generation of new nuclear power stations".
But I am in a generous mood, so let us not criticise them for that, because the judgment is one of whether they have managed to achieve a proper long-term agreement, with a clear position, or whether they have just papered over the cracks.
"Clarity is essential if new investment is to happen."
I agree with him, so let us apply his test to the new Government. The coalition agreement says that the Government will introduce a national planning statement and that the Liberal Democrats can continue to maintain their opposition to nuclear power, but it does not end there. It says that
"a Liberal Democrat spokesperson will speak against the Planning Statement...but...Liberal Democrat MPs will abstain".
Let us be clear that there is not one Government position on nuclear power, not two Government positions, but three positions: the Government are notionally in favour of it; a Liberal Democrat representative will speak against it-I do not know who that will be; it might be the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, or, presumably, the right hon. Gentleman-and the party itself will sit on the fence in any vote. We always knew that being a Liberal Democrat in opposition meant not having to choose, but old habits seem to die hard: they seem to think that being a Liberal Democrat in government means not having to choose either.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to have passed responsibility for new nuclear power to his deputy, the hon. Member for Wealden. The responsibilities of the Department of Energy and Climate Change have come out and the Secretary of State seems to have abdicated responsibility for this issue. Delivering on new nuclear power is a very big task that needs the personal role of the Secretary of State. I used to chair the Nuclear Development Forum, bringing together all the different partners in industry to drive things forward and ensure that we would deliver on time. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will think again about abdicating responsibility to the Minister of State, much as I admire him.