My Department is sponsoring a £5·5 million research programme into United Kingdom tidal resources. It includes £4·2 million of advanced investigations and site explorations on the Severn, jointly funded by the Central Electricity Generating Board and the Severn Tidal Power Group; a £400,000 contribution towards studies of a Mersey barrage; and a programme of supporting studies on environmental issues, construction techniques and the resource available from small sites.
I welcome my hon. Friend's comments about what is being done. Is he aware that when I visited Norway last month with a number of colleagues we observed the Norwegians using British inventions—in this case the oscillating water tower system, which produces extremely economic electricity—which we have rejected? Will the Minister assure the House that if a scheme that was initially overlooked or passed over appeared to be efficient and suitable for our waters he would reconsider it?
I welcome this opportunity to clarify the position. The Department of Energy's wave energy programme was closed because the unanimous advice of the Department's scientists was that that energy source was unlikely to make a large-scale economic contribution to the United Kingdom electricity supply. The Norwegian experiments do not affect that decision as they are aimed at small-scale supply to remote or isolated communities with favourable coastal conditions. Studies of a similar system have been carried out at Queen's university, Belfast, and further work may be carried out there if it appears to be technically and economically promising.
My hon. Friend referred to the Severn barrage project, which is currently under consideration, but he did not refer to the time scale. Can he tell us what the time scale is and whether he has had any initial information about the success of those studies?
There is no doubt that the Severn estuary is one of the largest and most favourable tidal energy sites in the world. Details of the Severn work programme, related studies and procedures for consultation are presently being discussed by the Central Electricity Generating Board, the Severn Tidal Power Group and my Department. I hope that details of those studies will be announced shortly. I have already made it clear that as soon as the programme of works has been clarified I shall place copies in the Library.