To ask the Secretary of State for Energy if he has made any response to the first report of the Environment Select Committee, HC270–1 regarding air pollution; and if he will make a statement on his policy towards the sections relating to the electricity supply industry.
The Government received this report in the middle of last month and are considering it very carefully. A response will be made as soon as possible. However, the House will already be aware that the Government have recently agreed—subject to parliamentary reserve—to the European Communities' directive on the control of emissions from large combustion plant.
Does the Secretary of State accept the Committee's recommendations that one of the most important matters is energy conservation, especially in the context of sulphur emissions? In the light of the Government's recent decision to reduce the funding of the Energy Efficiency Office—from £24 million to £15 million—and last week's call from the Toronto climatological conference, which recommended a global cut in our energy consumption by one fifth in 17 years, can the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that the issue will be treated with the seriousness that it deserves? Does he agree that strong action needs to be taken by the Government before it is too late?
We accept the need to clean up the environment, and particularly to stop continued pollution. That is why we accepted a programme that will involve substantial expenditure on fitting FGD and other equipment to reduce SO2 emissions substantially—by 60 per cent. by the year 2003. Since 1970, we have reduced those emissions by 40 per cent. There is a big drive to achieve the result that the hon. Gentleman wants. As to energy efficiency, we recognise that there is still a huge waste, put at about £7 billion a year, of energy paid for and not properly used, and we are carefully targeting our work on that sector. We accept, as the hon. Gentleman does, the importance of the subject.
If, in due course, the scientists agree that the world's nations have to act to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide to prevent the global catastrophe of the greenhouse effect, do we not already have proven technology, adopted by many countries in Europe, to burn half the amount of fossil fuel to produce the same amount of useful energy, by using the heat from our electricity production instead of throwing it away?
As the question asks about the politicies e f the electrcity supply industry, will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), arising out of the National Consumer Council's report, which, I repeat, warns that the Government's proposals to force local distribution companies to buy a minimum percentage of electricity from non-fossil fuel generating stations—in practice, from nuclear power stations—will make electricity more expensive for the consumer? Will the right hon. Gentleman answer that question?
That has nothing to do with the original question. If the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) wants an answer, let me point out that the National Consumer Council's principal criticism of our proposals was that we did not break up the generating industry sufficiently and we did not therefore—[Interruption.] I am answering the question, which the hon. Gentleman did not understand. I am saying how the National Consumer Council criticised us. It said that we need more competition, not less, so there is no consolation for the hon. Gentleman in that. Secondly, I have explained to the House——
If the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) would maintain the Whips' tradition and shut up, we would get on more quickly. We believe that diversity of supply is a vital part of security of supply. We have put these proposals to the House, and the House has approved them. Very often the hon. Member for Midlothian gives the impression that he does not understand his questions, let alone the answers.
I return my right hon. Friend to the greenhouse effect. Is his Department conducting studies into the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which may well be leading to a general heating-up of the world's atmosphere, with consequential changes to the weather pattern, and possibly a rise in the sea level? As carbon dioxide is chiefly produced by the burning of fossil fuels, does this have implications for the way in which we generate our electrity in the future, and could my right hon. Friend conduct a study into the specific problem?
We are conducting studies into the cost of electricity from fossil fuels. It has become clear that huge costs arise from the production and burning of coal, costs which Labour Members consistently ignore when they argue the case against nuclear energy. The sooner they open their eyes and recognise those costs, the better.