Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government are obviously doing their stuff in that regard, because, through expenditure on research and development and through the non-fossil fuel obligation. the Government and the Department of Energy are doing more than any other Government to help renewable energy? However, should not that be part of an overall strategy for energy encompassing all sources of energy? Is not that particularly important with the proposed privatisation of British Coal and the need for manufacturers in the industry to plan their R and D and commercial developments so that they can capitalise on the opportunities that will be offered in the future?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's contribution and I agree with him completely. More than £180 million has been invested to date in the R and D programme with a record budget allocation of about £24 million for 1991–92. Through that sum, 300 projects are currently supported under the Department's R and D programme.
I confirm the point that the hon. Gentleman has just made. With regard to the Mersey barrage, the Government are supporting, on a 50–50 basis, a third phase of feasibility studies and are contributing £1·5 million.
Is my hon. Friend aware that members of the Select Committee on Energy recently visited Scandinavia to look at alternative energy sources such as power from wind, from burning refuse and from the use of waste hot water? Is he aware of the fact that despite this Government having devoted more money to encouraging alternative energy than any previous Government, it still appears that we are behind some of our continental neighbours? Is he satisfied that the Department of Energy is doing all that it can to sponsor research and to encourage the creation of commercial alternative energy sources from those developments?
I can confirm that and not least through the non-fossil fuel obligation which permitted the creation of a market for exactly the type of projects mentioned by my hon. Friend. When my hon. Friend was travelling with his colleagues, I hope that he emphasised that the United Kingdom's wind energy R and D programme is second to none and is creating enviable expertise and a sound basis for exactly what my hon. Friend wants—the commercial exploitation of wind.
Will the Minister agree to set up a full inquiry into energy needs, paying particular attention to the demise of the British coal industry, because British coal will fall into the category of alternative energy sources? Does he agree that something needs to be done to ensure that future needs are met from within this country and not from abroad?
I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the question, which concentrates on alternative energy sources. He asked whether there would be an inquiry and then deviated to coal. However, I assure him that, with regard to alternative energy sources, we are setting up a major review to ensure that the environmental benefits of renewables are fully exploited.