Energy paper 55 "Renewable Energy in the UK: The Way Forward" set out my Department's strategy for the development of renewable energy sources. My Department's provision for research and development into renewable energy for this financial year is £20·3 million. This is due to increase by 20 per cent. in the next financial year.
May I thank my hon. Friend for that answer? Would I be right in saying that, rather than simply mouthing platitudes about the need for renewable energy, his Department has provided the expenditure, which has doubled during the past 12 years, to ensure that we meet that challenge?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. More than simply highlighting the importance of research and development, in which we have invested, my hon. Friend will be aware that we achieved a first by establishing a marketplace, through the non-fossil fuel obligation, to allow renewable projects which are both environmentally acceptable and economically competitive to come on stream. I am sure that, like me, my hon. Friend welcomes the fact that 75 such projects were eligible in the first NFFO tranche and we hope that many more will be successful in the years to come in future tranches.
Is not the truth that, historically, the hon. Gentleman's Department has been as deeply in hock to the nuclear industry as the Department of Transport has been in hock to the road lobby? Will the Minister give us an assurance that he has now established with civil servants that they should take a serious and long-term interest in alternative sources of energy, and not sit around working out ways to sabotage research on the subject?
I reject the hon. Gentleman's last comment, but I welcome the fact that he recognises that the Government have a clear commitment to ensure that renewable energy sources come on stream and that they must be environmentally acceptable, as well as economically competitive.
From a sedentary position the hon. Gentleman refers to Salter's ducks. I am sure that, like me, he will welcome the fact that both parties have accepted that an independent review should be undertaken. Its findings will be carefully considered. The Government do not wish to put any hindrance in the way of renewable technology that can come on stream and is commercially competitive, as well as environmentally beneficial.
Can my hon. Friend confirm that the best way that he can further help renewables is by increasing the number of power generation projects that he sanctions in the second tranche of the non-fossil fuel obligation, especially waste incineration into energy projects, which will also help the environment?
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. I very much hope that, across the range of renewable energy technologies, many projects will come forward in the second tranche of the NFFO and that they can meet the criteria. The more projects that come forward, the more they will be welcomed by the Government.
Does the Minister agree that if we wasted less energy in Britain we would depend less on imported fuel from the Gulf and other insecure sources of supply? Will he make it a top priority to save energy, to develop alternative sources and to use coal, oil and gas produced here in Britain? To that end, will he instruct the generating companies to abandon their preposterous plans to import more oil, gas and coal and will he make them concentrate instead on energy saving rather than energy sales?
I am always pleased to agree with the hon. Gentleman when it comes to energy matters, especially on energy efficiency and energy-saving policies, and to that end I agree with the thrust of his remarks. As regards oil and gas, of course we should like increased production and we should like to ensure that we do not need to become an importer. However the reality, which I know that he accepts, is that in recent months production has had to be restrained, despite world demand for increased production before the Gulf crisis, because of the importance of safety and of ensuring that topside emergency shutdown valves are in place. Safety has been the top priority and that is the reason why production has not been at the highest possible level, as we should have liked.
The Mersey Barrage Company reported to me last week. That report explained further the extensive discussions in which the company had engaged to analyse cost-benefit assessments in each Government Department as a result of meetings that it had held with those Departments. A further meeting will take place before Easter. We shall then assess the economic feasibility of the project, as well as the detailed scientific research that has accompanied it. Our aim is to give it as much support as possible, as long as it is commercially viable and meets all the important environmental criteria.