I beg to move,
That this House
notes that planning consents for nuclear and other power stations over 50 MW require consent under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989, and that in Scotland section 36 powers are the responsibility of Scottish ministers accountable to the Scottish Parliament;
further notes the confusion in Government policy on this matter in light of the reported remarks by the Hon Member for Carrick, Cumnock &
Doon Valley on Wednesday 27th February, suggesting that Westminster would have the final say over approving nuclear power stations in Scotland;
reaffirms that in all circumstances Scottish ministers accountable to the Scottish Parliament should have full planning powers over the siting of nuclear and other new power stations above 50 MW in Scotland;
believes that planning decisions on nuclear power in Wales should be taken in accordance with the views of the National Assembly for Wales;
and calls for the development of energy strategies in Scotland and Wales which make full use of indigenous energy resources, including gas, clean coal technology, and the enormous potential for renewable supply.
In the previous debate, my colleagues from Plaid Cymru pressed for clarity on the Government's response to the accusations and information that they were bringing before the House, but clarity came there none. I hope that we have better luck in getting clarity on Government thinking on the development of power stations, especially nuclear power stations, in Scotland.
For those hon. Members who are not familiar with the story as it has developed over the past week, the chaos and confusion at the heart of the Government became evident in an interview that the Minister of State, Scotland Office gave to the BBC "Reporting Scotland" programme last week. On the development of energy, especially nuclear power, the hon. Gentleman said:
"Anyone looking at it logically would think it wouldn't be for a legislature which has powers devolved from Westminster to then thwart the policy of a UK Government on areas which are clearly reserved to Westminster, such as energy . . . It would look a wee bit daft if, in reserved areas, decisions were being made north of the border which had a very significant impact south of the border."
The hon. Gentleman may think that daft, but many Members of the Scottish Parliament and people in Scotland would think it daft to give powers to the Scottish Parliament in 1997, as confirmed by the people in a referendum, only to take them back a few years later.
The hon. Gentleman set out Government policy but, to be fair, it lasted only 12 hours. The following morning, again on the BBC—the recipient of so much information from the Government—the Minister for Industry and Energy responded by saying:
"The position is unambiguous. If anyone wants to build a power station of any kind in Scotland, it will be a matter for the Scottish Executive to determine. End of story."
We want the Government to clarify their policy. Where is the final decision to be made on the development of new power stations, including, more controversially, of nuclear power stations? Does the power lie with the Scottish Executive—responsible to the Scottish Parliament, "end of story", as the Minister for Industry and Energy said—or does it not behove the Scottish Parliament to thwart the United Kingdom's energy policy, as the Minister of State, Scotland Office said? They cannot both be right. One must represent Government policy.
We know what is in the Scotland Act 1998. The Minister for Industry and Energy has been specific on the powers. In a letter to my hon. Friend Mr. Llwyd and me in November, he made it clear that the powers rightly lie with the Scottish Executive. Incidentally, I know that the letter is important because the Prime Minister's office phoned my office on Thursday to request a copy. I have no idea why the right hon. Gentleman's office did not just ask the Minister. However, the letter confirmed the planning policy guidelines as set out in section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989, under which the power of consent for a power station of more than 50 MW lies with the Scottish Executive, responsible to the Scottish Parliament.
The power is not narrowly drawn. The guidelines for planning policy set out the criteria against which a decision should be judged. They include the policy of the Scottish Executive and the Government's policy on reserved matters, national planning policy guidelines, European policy, the draft structure or local plan, the environmental impact of a proposal, the design of a proposed development, access, the provision of infrastructure, the planning history of a site, the views of statutory bodies and other consultees, and legitimate public concern or support expressed on the relevant planning matters.
Until the intervention of the Minister of State, Scotland Office on the BBC last week, it was widely assumed that the power lay with the Scottish Executive. Our suggestion that there might be a reserve grab-back power that the Westminster Government would want to exert over the Scottish Parliament was described by the former First Minister of Scotland, Henry McLeish, in a letter to John Swinney on
The hon. Gentleman refers to the accusation that his suggestion was a sensationalist view. Unfortunately, that view has come true in Wales: section 36 agreements were not devolved to Wales. In addition, the Government in London are increasingly attempting to take back the devolved powers that the National Assembly for Wales has over power stations between 1 MW and 50 MW. They are trying that policy out in Wales. It is surely the Government's intention to introduce it in Scotland as well.
No doubt my hon. Friend will consider the Welsh position in detail if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is worth pointing out, however, that the letter from the Minister for Industry and Energy to my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and me also dealt with the Welsh situation. Although it confirmed what my hon. Friend Mr. Thomas says, the Minister for Industry and Energy also said that the views of the Welsh people will be taken into account when any decision is made. We are beginning to wonder whether the views of the Welsh and Scottish people will be listened to, taken into account and then disregarded if they are seen as thwarting Government policy.
I am interested in the role reversal—the political cross-dressing—that is taking place. The Minister of State, Scotland Office is a lifelong professed devolutionist. He once described himself as an ultra-devolutionist—a "dog of war"—as he harried the Tory Government in the early 1990s, but he now seems to be adopting the position that Westminster should have reserved powers over such matters. The Minister for Industry and Energy, however, whose record on devolution and the Scottish Parliament is chequered, seems to be emerging as the champion of the Scots Parliament by saying that the powers should reside in Scotland—"end of story". What is going on? Have they swapped their positions? Only last week, someone told me that it was like "Alice Through the Looking Glass", with the Minister of State, Scotland Office arguing the pure Unionist position and the Minister for Industry and Energy arguing from the Scottish perspective. Stranger things have seldom happened in politics.
Although the issue is important for energy development in Scotland, especially as nuclear power might be foisted on an unwilling Scottish Executive, Parliament and population, I want to determine whether a theme is developing in the attitude of the Scotland Office to the powers that are being exercised in the Scottish Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman talks about nuclear power stations being foisted on the Scottish people. Does he therefore support Bruce Crawford MSP in calling for civil disobedience?
I am not familiar with that, but I remember taking part in peaceful civil disobedience against nuclear dumping in Scotland with many members of the Labour party. The right hon. Lady's views may develop on such matters, but mine do not.
The hon. Gentleman need not worry: I shall have plenty of opportunities to make those points. Even if he has not heard statements from Mr. Crawford about civil disobedience, will he clarify his own view and tell us whether he supports its use in trying to stop the building of nuclear power stations—yes or no?
It depends on the circumstances that might arise. Let me take the point further. Let us imagine the circumstances in which a majority—[Interruption.]
I do not think that Labour Members are necessarily going to like the reply. If the Secretary of State can envisage circumstances in which a majority in the Scottish Parliament want it to exercise its powers to stop the building of a nuclear power station, and if we can envisage a position à la gauleiter from Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, the Minister of State, Scotland Office, who wants to impose a Westminster veto on such democratic decisions, many people in Scotland may say that peaceful civil disobedience is appropriate.
If the right hon. Lady is confirming that she and her Government intend to override a democratic view of the Scottish Parliament—[Interruption.] She nods; is she agreeing with the argument that Westminster is going to override that process? She nods again. If that is what is happening, I can assure her that many people in Scotland will think that the sort of response that I have described is appropriate. She will not join us on the barricades, but that is no surprise whatever.
I have just given way three times to the Secretary of State. I hope that the Minister for Industry and Energy, the other hon. Member for Cunninghame, shares his near neighbour's enthusiasm for the rights of the Scottish Parliament. I hope also that I shall be given a chance to develop my speech and that we will hear more about exactly that matter.
I was asking whether what is happening is part of a pattern or a one-off blunder by the Minister of State. [Hon. Members: "It is a pattern."] My colleagues say that it is a pattern in which the Scotland Office is arguing for taking back the powers of the Scottish Parliament and Executive. I think that such a pattern is evident in current issues, such as free personal care—[Interruption.] I say to the parliamentary Labour party that that is an important policy for many people in Scotland. It was pursued by the Scottish Parliament, but there was subsequently a dispute with the Department of Health and the then Department of Social Security about the payment of £22 million that was held back. No doubt, the Scottish Executive looked to the Scotland Office for some support and wanted it to advance the argument as the custodian of the Scotland Act—after all, that is what the Secretary of State recently called herself. Instead, it seemed to adopt a policy of arguing in favour of the UK Departments, but against the Scottish Executive and the spirit of devolution.
The position on Sewel motions is extraordinary. Some 31 such motions have been passed from the Scottish Parliament to Westminster. The SNP agreed with many of them, but last week we saw the procedure that is now being adopted, whereby such a motion goes through the Scots Parliament and is subsequently transformed and amended by this place, but does not go back to the Scots Parliament for confirmation. I think that we can see a pattern developing. People have asked about the role of the Scotland Office in the post-devolution environment. [Interruption.] I think that we are identifying that role now—it is to argue against Scotland and the Scottish Parliament and to thwart the Scottish Executive. [Interruption.] If hon. Members do not agree, they will have to cite examples. On free personal care, Sewel motions, nuclear power stations—[Interruption.]
The sedentary interventions would not get a lot better if Labour Members got to their feet, so I do not think that we should complain too much.
The second issue that I want to explore relates to the circumstances in which any reasonable Scottish Executive will envisage a configuration of power and energy development in Scotland that is different from what is envisaged in Westminster. We had a good debate in the Scottish Grand Committee a couple of weeks ago—
Before the hon. Gentleman moves away from nuclear power, does he agree that although it is certainly right for the whole United Kingdom to be involved in decisions about nuclear power—a nuclear accident would affect an area of its size—the crucial point is that the Government should not ride roughshod over the concerns of people in Scotland and Wales? One gets the feeling that there is a significant danger of that happening under the current policy arrangements.
Yes, perhaps he has a cunning plan and is the Baldrick of Scottish politics. As a lifelong, heartfelt devolutionist, perhaps the only way he could see of raising the issue about the Scottish Parliament—this point of view has been suggested to me—was to give that apparently careless interview to the BBC last week. Some people think that he was being much more cunning and was merely starting the argument running because he wants the position of Scotland and Wales to be defended. [Interruption.] It is clear that some of his colleagues think that that suggestion is a bit far-fetched, but I still have faith in him, even if they do not.
I was about to consider circumstances in which any reasonable Scottish Executive might determine that Scotland's energy configuration was different from that south of the border. Currently, if all the power stations in Scotland are running at full strength, we have a capacity of 12,499 MW. The normal running capacity is 9,000 MW and peak demand in Scotland is 5,000 MW. There is currently huge overcapacity in Scotland.
We have a huge opportunity in relation to two significant developments. In that context, the absence of the Minister for Industry and Energy from this debate is extraordinary, given that he represents half the story. He sat through the previous debate, but is not speaking in this one, despite the fact that his position is interesting and important in relation to it. I understand that he has an alternative diary engagement; obviously, that has not kept the Scotland Office away, although I accept that there can be pressures on the ministerial diary. None the less, he expressed his view that there is huge potential for development of renewable resources in Scotland, and it was backed by the Scottish Executive, which said that the proportion of Scottish electricity capacity provided by renewables could increase from its current level of 10 per cent. to 30 per cent.
Furthermore, as the Minister of State knows from visiting Peterhead power station in my constituency, we have not only the most efficient combined cycle gas reactor in the world, but 800 MW of spare capacity that cannot currently be used because the connecting lines on the east coast are inadequate for advancing the major opportunity to use gas power that is currently sitting unused. Scotland has under-invested in gas power in comparison with the rest of the United Kingdom and perhaps has more potential in terms of renewables than anywhere in Europe, to echo the comments of the Minister for Industry and Energy. I welcome his initiative and the establishment of the renewables unit; even though there are initially only six jobs, an important signpost for the future has none the less been given in Aberdeen this week.
Those are all important developments, but no one who considers the situation from a reasonable position—and certainly not the Government's energy policy review—in terms of a Scottish perspective of renewing the existing stations or establishing new ones after the old ones have reached the end of their economic or technical life could suggest other than that our nuclear option will be controversial, given the significance and prominence of clean technology coal and the potential for expansion of gas power, as well as the huge potential for renewables. I can well foresee—
The hon. Gentleman has been on his feet for 20 minutes, much of which he has spent nitpicking about who said what and on what radio programme. When will he deal with SNP policy? Once a year he gets the opportunity to initiate a major debate in the House of Commons, but he is navel-gazing.
The SNP's policy is set out in the motion, which calls for the
"full use of indigenous energy resources, including gas, clean coal technology, and the enormous potential of renewable supply", but the amendment on the Order Paper does not clarify the Government's position. The Government say that they have full confidence in the planning processes in Scotland, which the Minister seemed to undermine last week, but they do not tell us what those planning processes are. The SNP approach to these matters is crystal clear: the Government's policy is masked in total confusion. I have dealt with clean coal technology, the potential expansion of gas and the enormous potential of renewable supplies.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene on this important section of his impressive speech.
The hon. Gentleman is detailing his concerns about the anticipated decline in nuclear power and saying that he and his party will oppose it here, in the Scottish Parliament and, if necessary, on the picket lines outside planning offices. How does he plan to replace that power with renewable power, given that the political reality is that SNP activists the length and breadth of Scotland oppose each and every renewable energy proposal that I have come across?
The hon. Gentleman is being foolish. He is repeating something that was said in the Scottish Grand Committee. I have looked through some of the cuttings to find out who is supporting wind energy projects in Scotland. In Galloway, as the hon. Gentleman should know, Alasdair Morgan MSP is very much in favour of them. In Fenwick Moor in east Ayrshire, the two local SNP councillors, Katie Hall and Annie Hay, are leading the campaign in favour. Adam Ingram, the MSP for South of Scotland, is supporting the Eaglesham Moor project in that area.
I came across one MSP who has spoken up against a renewable project in Scotland—Jamie McGrigor, the Conservative MSP for Highlands and Islands, who spoke against it in the constituency of my hon. Friend Angus Robertson, who, like Margaret Ewing, the former MP, supports it. So the only person of political significance who has actively opposed the development of wind energy is the Conservative MSP for the Highlands. [Interruption.] Mr. Duncan says, "Not guilty." He is disavowing Mr. McGrigor's activities.
The hon. Gentleman is right, however, that there is an organisation that opposes wind energy projects the length and breadth of Scotland. During the past year, it has singlehandedly stopped 14 wind energy projects in the south of Scotland, which have been detailed by Alasdair Morgan, the MSP for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale. The Ministry of Defence, controlled by the Government, has scuppered every one of those projects because it thinks that they are a danger—[Interruption.] Conservative Front-Benchers say, "Quite right, too." I can see that there is unity there. The MOD thinks that such projects are a danger to low-flying aircraft.
I am happy to acknowledge that people in every one of the Scottish parties may object to one scheme or another. In the course of my extensive research, I came across a Member of Parliament who stood out against a key development in the electricity infrastructure—the interconnector linking Scotland and Ireland. He conducted that campaign as an Opposition party spokesman against the Conservative Government, continued it even after the late Donald Dewar gave the interconnector planning consent, and revived it when the Scottish Parliament was established, on the basis that he was no longer bound by collective responsibility: that Member is now the Minister of State, Scotland Office.
The Minister may have thought that he had good reason to oppose the interconnector because there was strong local feeling against it, and that he was doing no more than representing his constituents, but it ill behoves someone who takes that position to start to complain about Mrs. Jones or Mrs. Smith objecting to a wind policy planning application somewhere in Scotland. Before he starts to pick on ordinary people around Scotland, he should look at his own track record of trying to thwart political developments.
I am in favour of the target announced by the Scottish Executive, which is supported by the Minister for Industry and Energy. It should be possible to raise the contribution of renewables from 10 per cent. to 30 per cent. over the next 20 years, albeit that it will be a tough target to meet. It will require investment and infrastructure in the west of Scotland, where many people have huge enthusiasm for renewables projects. Securing the gas expansion that goes with it will require a huge investment in infrastructure—not only electricity lines, but of the gas network on the east coast of Scotland.
A few days ago the Minister sent me a courteous letter about a matter that I raised in the Scottish Grand Committee—entry charges for the gas system at St. Fergus compared with other landfill terminals such as Bacton. Entry charges south of the border are much lower. The Minister gave me a comprehensive answer in which he says that that is the result not of Government policy, but of the auction system; that the price that is determined in the auction for entry is determined by the capacity in the system. For the past 10 years, the price of entry at St. Fergus has been many times higher than that at southern terminals because capacity has been inadequate. Although St. Fergus is the most economic place for companies to use, they cannot get into the system.
Has not the hon. Gentleman kept up with the science? Sheerwater and others now carry out gas cleaning on the field. They do not put it through St. Fergus, but straight into the gas grid, so St. Fergus is no longer the bottleneck that he describes.
The hon. Gentleman is not in command of the subject. Expansion is under way at St. Fergus. In the past few days, Marathon announced a 675 km pipeline from the north-east of Scotland to Bacton. The pipeline, which goes an enormous distance at enormous expense, is required because Marathon cannot get through the network at St. Fergus owing to undercapacity in the system.
The hon. Gentleman may not be familiar with the science. If the system is reinforced on land, gas can be exported anywhere through the gas system. It is not necessary to use an expensive offshore pipeline if the pipeline on land has sufficient capacity to take the gas. That is elementary. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of Parliament for the north-east of Scotland; I suggest that he familiarise himself with the oil and gas industry that he is meant to represent.
I am listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for renewables. Will he and his party give a commitment to support hydro-generating projects that are at the planning stage in Scotland? Experience has shown that it takes years to reach such decisions, which is damaging employment opportunities in my constituency.
For the first time in 40 years there is a new hydro project in Scotland, for which the SNP has expressed support. It will be a test of whether people are prepared to accept the further development of that enormous resource, which was originally developed because of the vision of a group of people after the second world war. The straight answer to the hon. Gentleman is yes, we would.
So far, I have considered whether there is a pattern of the Scotland Office grabbing back powers from the Scottish Parliament and Executive. We will be interested to find out whether the position that holds is that of the Minister for Industry and Energy or that of the Minister of State, Scotland Office. I have considered Scotland's potential across a range of electricity-generating options, which, by common consent, is enormous.
I have given way once to the hon. Gentleman; I have given way 10 times in total so far—perhaps more—which is reasonable, so I shall now make some progress. The hon. Gentleman might strike it lucky before the end of my contribution, which is slightly longer than I originally intended.
We know that the Conservative party has been the only party unambiguously in favour of nuclear power. The Labour party went into the 1997 election with the same policy as that which the SNP and the Liberal Democrats now have: that the current nuclear power stations should be phased out when they reach the end of their technical or economic life. The most recent Labour manifesto made no mention of that policy. No doubt, the policy might emerge as this debate continues, but it has a lot of support in the Scots Parliament, so it is entirely reasonable to suppose that a majority of its Members may well not want to give section 36 permission to develop a new nuclear power station in Scotland.
That brings us to the crux of the debate. If such a majority exists and the Scottish Parliament and the Executive, who are responsible to it, decide to say no to a new nuclear power station in Scotland, will that decision prevail, as the Minister for Industry and Energy has said; or will there be a reserved power, such as that alluded to by the Minister of State, Scotland Office? The Minister for Industry and Energy said that that decision would prevail—"end of story." We want the Government to tell us whether they and the Scotland Office share his view; whether they are willing to argue and fight for Scotland and the Scottish Parliament; or whether they want to thwart the democratic will of the Scottish people.
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
has confidence in the process of granting planning consent for new nuclear power stations in Scotland and Wales;
notes the benefits of addressing issues relating to energy policy within a UK framework;
welcomes the contribution of the recent PIU Energy Review to the debate on energy policy;
and welcomes the intention of HM Government and the devolved administrations to work in partnership in implementing an energy policy to ensure energy supplies are secure, competitively priced and sustainable.
Mr. Salmond spoke for 32 minutes, and we got to the crux of the issue 31 minutes into his speech, but the Government welcome debate about the future energy needs of our country. We are addressing those issues, as any responsible Government should, and we are in the midst of a fundamental review of energy needs. That is why the Cabinet Office has recently published the performance and innovation unit's energy review, why we will consult on it and why we are planning to publish a White Paper later this year.
Energy needs must—I repeat, must—be looked at in a United Kingdom context, in the interests of all our people and of the entire United Kingdom economy and environment. It has taken a visionary Labour Government to see the need to look 50 years into the future and assess what the United Kingdom-wide demand for energy throughout that period will be and how it might best be met. It has taken a visionary Labour Government to develop a strategy that ensures current policy commitments are consistent with longer-term goals.
Ensuring security of supply, tackling climate change and maintaining low prices are key issues. However, tonight's debate is not about the vital issue of energy but about the Scottish National party's distorted priorities. Its motion is based on the false assumption that the Government have a master plan to build more nuclear power plants and are determined to foist them on an unwilling Scotland. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are no such proposals. The Government have looked at all the options for energy supply for the next half a century and refused to rule anything out.
I urge the hon. Gentleman to be patient. I will get to that point, and to a number of other issues that he raised. I suggest that he relax and hauds his wheesht for a wee while longer. This Government will keep open all our energy options so that we can do what is in the best interests of the people of the United Kingdom.
If we cannot find out whether the Secretary of State supports the position of the Minister for Industry and Energy, will she say whether she supports that of her own Minister of State, who said that reserved area decisions made north of the border should not have a significant impact south of the border?
Again, the hon. Gentleman should be patient. He is wasting more time, having called an unnecessary vote at 7.15 pm to delay the start of this debate, spoken for 32 minutes without saying anything and sought to delay the progress of the debate. What is he frightened about? I will come to what my hon. Friends said on BBC radio, but his motion raises several other issues, and I intend to take them into account as well.
I shall now return to the fundamental assumption behind the PIU energy review: the need for a balanced energy policy. That is essential not just for our continued economic strength, but for our strategic security. The specific and very narrow issue that the SNP wants to discuss tonight is hypothetical and light-years away from the priorities of the Scottish people. The SNP has used its one chance in the year to have the Floor of the House to discuss not how we can advance Scotland's competitiveness or secure an environmentally balanced energy policy, but how planning consents work and who says what when—and even that is based on a false premise.
Is my right hon. Friend surprised that the leader of the Scottish National party has taken that view? He is sitting next to the man whom his party seems to be spending so much time promoting as the hardest working Member of Parliament, and next to him is the sleaze-buster general, who seems to be making it his job to root out sleaze wherever he finds it. None of them has a policy of any interest to the Scottish people.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I shall deal with those points later. The people of Scotland want to know how we can secure for our children a place at the centre of the knowledge economy, with a robust and competitive economic environment, but the SNP wants to talk about a mythical company producing a proposal at some point in the distant future to build a nuclear power station that the Scottish Executive then reject on planning grounds. So what? That is their right. Planning is devolved, and the fact that executive devolution was granted to the Scottish Executive by the Government in relation to the Electricity Act 1989 as well is a sign of the close partnership between the Government and the Scottish Executive. I did not hear the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan refer to that Act during his speech; he obviously did not get round to that in his research.
Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 is part of what we are debating. The right hon. Lady seems to be saying that that power lies with the Scottish Executive, who are responsible to the Scottish Parliament. Is that the end of the story? If so, what on earth was the Minister of State talking about last week, when he said that the policy in Scotland should not
"thwart the policy of a UK Government"?
Who will take the final decision—Westminster or the Scottish Parliament?
I know that the hon. Gentleman likes the sound of his own voice, but if he will keep quiet a little longer, he will be told the definitive position.
The SNP always sees these issues in terms of confrontation, tension and failure. Its argument, like that of the hon. Gentleman, is ill informed and has been inadequately researched. It falters precisely because of the partnership that exists between the Scottish Executive and the Government. I have no doubt that the SNP wishes that there were no such partnership. Its only hope of carving out a future for its separatist ambitions is to seek to foster such conflict. It is out of touch and out of tune with the growth of a modern Scotland.
No, I am going to make some progress. The hon. Lady may be lucky in catching the eye of the Deputy Speaker later.
Let me explain the position, as set out in the Scotland Act 1998, on planning consents in general, not just for nuclear power stations. Planning law is devolved. It is clear that the intention behind the Scotland Act was that the Scottish Parliament would have legislative competence for the planning regime in general, and that would include its application to airports and nuclear power stations, just as much as it has competence for the planning regime for any other type of development.
Nuclear energy, however, is reserved by dint of section D4 of part II of schedule 5 to the Scotland Act. The provisions of schedule 4 also make it plain that the Scottish Parliament has legislative competence for planning in reserved areas to maintain consistency of approach throughout devolved and reserved areas. That deals with the point that we are discussing tonight.
I ask the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan to listen carefully to my next point because it concerns the area that he did not see fit to research. Scotland Office Ministers have been involved in discussions on two recent policy reviews in which consent procedures for major projects have come up: the performance and innovation unit energy review and the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions Green Paper on new procedures for dealing with major infrastructure projects of national importance.
In both instances, the Scottish Executive were involved in consultations with the PIU and the DTLR. Both reviews drew attention to the UK dimension of some major infrastructure projects. One such dimension is the extent to which reserved law continues to apply to the development of such major projects—law that is a matter for this Parliament, and law that this Parliament must make with regard not just to England and Wales but to Scotland.
For example, some of the infrastructure projects referred to in annexe C of the DTLR consultation paper require separate authorisations under specific legislation relevant to those developments, quite apart from planning development permissions. In particular, the construction of power stations or overhead power lines needs authorisation under part I of the Electricity Act, as well as needing planning permission. There are similar specific authorisation procedures for pipeline developments.
That means that both Parliaments may have legislative competence to make law relating to controls governing such infrastructure developments. But there are other ways in which UK responsibility may apply. In the context of energy developments such as power stations, it remains the responsibility of the Government and of this Parliament to ensure that there are sustainable and secure supplies of energy for industry and for domestic consumers throughout the UK. We have to have regard to this country's need for energy supplies.
Will the Secretary of State take into account the forecasts that after 10 years we may have to depend on Soviet and middle east supplies for up to 70 or 90 per cent. of our needs? In light of her remark about secure supplies, that is a daunting prospect. Can some of us be forgiven for being in favour of Hunterston C as well as new nuclear power stations at Sizewell and, probably, at Hinkley?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. That is a daunting prospect. The motion in the name of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan commits the SNP only to the use of indigenous energy supplies. One of the jobs of the Energy Minister is to keep the lights on; SNP policy would not get anywhere near that.
Does the right hon. Lady recognise that the prospect may not be as daunting as it first seems? First, the premise of the energy review was an over-pessimistic view of the growth in energy demand that is not matched by any previous projections. Secondly, the forecasts underestimate the potential for the North sea to continue to provide the country with considerable gas reserves. Finally, we must recognise that the European Union is supplied from many diverse gas sources.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not be diverted down that route. We discussed that in the Scottish Grand Committee, and a consultation exercise will follow the PIU report. The successor to the oil and gas industry taskforce looked at all those issues, and they are not as clear-cut as the hon. Gentleman suggests.
No, I want to make progress.
"Westminster would have the final say over approving nuclear power stations in Scotland".
Let me be absolutely clear: he said no such thing. I have the transcript here in front of me. In his interview with the BBC, my hon. Friend said:
"the decision might ultimately rest with the Westminster Government".
He went on to say:
"I think it is very important to establish the position absolutely clearly at an early stage so that we know who has the ultimate responsibility."
That is the statement of a sensible Minister addressing significant issues.
Naturally, as always, the SNP wants to turn this debate from a matter of common sense into a constitutional wrangle. It sees conspiracy in everything because, as it emphasised again this weekend, it lacks vision and, indeed, the commitment to devolution that allows mature reflection on issues that require further analysis. SNP Members need to learn to leave their paranoia in the cloakroom if they wish to be taken seriously.
What is more, the United Kingdom has international treaty obligations on energy and the environment, and as a responsible Government, working with a responsible Scottish Executive, we need to ensure that we do not build in obstacles to meeting those obligations, which are not devolved. These are complex matters requiring mature consideration. Responsible Ministers have to seek clarity in these complex areas before specific issues arise. There must be no question of the United Kingdom being restricted in meeting our international obligations, for example, in relation to Kyoto and the liberalisation of European energy markets.
As part of the DTLR review, we must be prepared to look at all the issues that are raised. That is what makes us a competent Government, and indeed a Government committed to ensuring that the devolution settlement works—something that the SNP is fundamentally opposed to. That is exactly the position to which my hon. Friend the Minister of State was alluding. He made it explicitly clear that Scottish Ministers have full planning powers on the siting of nuclear and other power stations. As an experienced and senior Minister, he made it clear that there are broader issues that it would be remiss of the Government to ignore.
I am conscious that the motion refers to Wales as well as Scotland, and I turn now to Wales, although I do not profess to have great expertise on Welsh planning matters.
Before she turns to Wales, will the right hon. Lady answer a simple question? If a planning application for a nuclear power station in Scotland were submitted, who would have the final say over whether it should be built—a Scottish Minister or a UK Minister?
The hon. Gentleman plainly has not listened to what I have said. Planning consents are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Areas of executive devolution under the Electricity Act 1989 have been passed to the Scottish Executive. However, legislative responsibility for nuclear energy rests with Westminster.
Existing procedures for certain projects in Wales are a matter for the National Assembly. They involve a planning decision committee receiving an inspector's report following a public inquiry. The report brings together the relevant issues, including environmental concerns, and an environmental statement produced by the developer where necessary to meet environmental impact assessment requirements.
Cross-border infrastructure projects involving Wales are normally the subject of an application under the Transport and Works Act 1992. Decisions are normally taken by Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, and the Assembly must approve a draft order before a final order confirming a project can be made.
Planning responsibilities for major projects, such as power stations over 50 MW, are reserved to the United Kingdom Government and are not subject to the Transport and Works Act. Planning procedures for major projects are, of course, subject to the current DTLR consultation exercise, and I am sure that the National Assembly will make its views known to my colleagues at the DTLR.
The Secretary of State has addressed Wales, but, for example, the Cefn Croes application for a large wind farm in Ceredigion was determined by a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry. The Minister had the option of holding a public inquiry and there was considerable concern in Wales about the effect of the proposal on the landscape. He decided not to do that and issued permission. Should not the Government respond to the views of the people of Wales and hold public inquiries for contentious applications of that sort?
The hon. Gentleman may ask for that, and I shall undertake to ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales replies to him.
Let me return to the motion and examine energy policy. The whole House should thank the SNP for the information that we can glean from the motion. It provides rather more information about SNP energy policy than has hitherto existed. We can contrast its approach with the Government's approach to energy policy, which has been thoughtful, considered and mature. The SNP has nothing more to say about its energy policy than that it is an avowedly anti-nuclear party. Its decision to depend only on indigenous sources of supply puts in jeopardy the certainty of energy supplies.
The motion fails to take account of the maturity of the North sea and the certainty that we will soon be dependent on imports of gas. There is only one deep mine in Scotland, and it is experiencing geological difficulties. The SNP pays lip service to renewables, but in virtually every constituency where renewables issues arise, SNP activists campaign against them. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State pointed out at the Scottish Grand Committee that the proposal for Dailly in his own constituency is opposed by SNP activists on the not in my backyard principle once so loved by the Tories. The SNP's position is illogical, ill thought out and incompetent.
The new SNP leader John Swinney has said that he would
"not approve plans for any new nuclear power stations in Scotland—not now, not ever".
Tonight, we have heard the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan admit that he would be prepared to use civil disobedience to stop nuclear power stations being built. The SNP is gambling with the energy needs of Scotland.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the programme proposed in the SNP's indigenous resource strategy? I recently received a letter from the chief executive of Shell regarding the petrochemical plant at Mossmorran. Does my right hon. Friend agree with the chief executive that such a policy, and the loss of access to the rich Norwegian gas fields, would have a catastrophic impact on Mossmorran? Is not that another example of the loss of jobs that would result from an ill-considered policy?
My hon. Friend is correct and raises an issue of real concern to real people about real issues of policy. The SNP will long live to regret the sloppy drafting of the motion. SNP energy policy is a leap in the dark. Last weekend, it launched its "Talking Independence" campaign, and I wonder what its friends in Plaid Cymru have to say about that. We are told that SNP members will take presentations round the boardrooms of Scotland to persuade Scottish industry that its separatist policies will work.
Let us ignore for a moment the questions that the SNP will have to answer about how uncertainty, high taxation, insularity in the global marketplace and increased expenditure on defence, foreign embassies and re-fighting the cod war could possibly be good for Scottish business. Let us consider instead how its energy policy would radically hamper Scotland's competitiveness. While the rest of Europe seeks liberalised energy markets and the lower energy prices that would result from that, the SNP would take us back to tallow candles and gas lights.
Today's debate has exposed SNP energy and economic policy for the sham that it is. Rather than widen options for Scottish business, the SNP wants to narrow them. Rather than looking outward to seize the opportunities of energy liberalisation throughout Europe, the SNP wants to retrench, isolating the energy industry in Scotland, threatening security of supply, endangering the low energy prices enjoyed in this country and narrowing the range of energy suppliers available.
The SNP's energy policy is also—surprise, surprise—uncosted. The SNP has failed to spell out how it would pay for its policy on Dounreay and on the decommissioning of other nuclear facilities in Scotland if it were to lead Scotland to separation. In spite of the pledge in its 2001 manifesto that Dounreay would be
"supported as an international centre of decommissioning" the SNP has not explained where the money would come from to cover the multi-billion pound price tag that UK taxpayers are currently picking up.
In a separate Scotland, the SNP would not only have to take on decommissioning costs for Dounreay, but pay for the closure and clean-up of other facilities at Rosyth and Faslane. Neither has the SNP given us the bottom line on unemployment. Not once have SNP Members talked about the consequences of their policies for ordinary people. They prefer to avoid concentrating on issues concerning the real people of Scotland, and revert, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan is proving as I speak, to the school debating chamber.
The SNP has blown this opportunity to try to play a constructive part in building a modern Scotland. It has set out for all to see the poverty of its ideas, the shallowness of its policies and its outdated obsession with constitutional wrangling. It is easy to see why the SNP was rejected by the people of Scotland. It will continue to languish on the fringes of the body politic.
The Government's amendment recognises the strength of the partnership between the Government and the Scottish Executive—a partnership endorsed by the people of Scotland and one that is making devolution work. I commend the Government's amendment to the House. 8.29 pm
When I was first appointed as shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, a Labour Member, after a Westminster Hall debate, said, "Welcome back to the bearpit of Scottish politics." I have to say that listening to what has gone on this evening reminds me more of a family quarrel, because most family quarrels are characterised by long-standing lines of argument that everyone knows, everyone has heard before, and everyone thoroughly enjoys, even though no one outside has the first clue what they are about. That certainly characterised the exchanges that we have just heard.
I congratulate the Scottish National party on securing this debate, although I slightly agree with the Secretary of State that it is a great shame that its annual outing should come down to the equivalent of a spat between two Ministers. I congratulate the SNP none the less. We were told that the terms of the debate were set in such a way that the Conservatives would be able to support them. Some hon. Members may have noticed the absence of the word "nuclear" from the motion, yet the first subject to be brought up was nuclear power, followed swiftly by an admission from Mr. Salmond that he believed in civil disobedience. I cannot think of a quicker way of ensuring that the Conservatives would be unlikely to support the motion.
I am puzzled as to why the hon. Lady thinks that this subject is not of sufficient importance. Only last Thursday, the sole Conservative Member of Parliament representing a Scottish constituency described this as a developing crisis at the heart of government. Was it a developing crisis last Thursday? Is it still a developing crisis? Has the hon. Lady changed her mind? She cannot disagree with her only Scottish representative.
If the hon. Gentleman had possessed his soul in a little more patience, he would have recognised that I was going on to say, having listened carefully to the Secretary of State's explanation of the situation, that it raised more questions in my mind than the original alleged disagreement between the two Ministers. That is what I would like to explore tonight.
If I understand the right hon. Lady correctly, I do not think that there is any disagreement that section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 is devolved, and that the Scottish Executive would have the authority under the current planning structure to make a decision on a nuclear power station entirely on planning grounds.
There is a fundamental misunderstanding at the heart of what the hon. Lady is saying. The section 36 power is executive devolution; power to legislate remains with this Parliament.
Yes, I accept that entirely. I am glad to have had clarification on the matter. I do not want this speech to turn into a dialogue, but it may well do so, because I am trying to extract the precise details of the situation.
As I understand it, under executive devolution, the Scottish Executive would have the power—entirely on planning grounds and no others—to agree or disagree on a new nuclear power station. If that is so—I accept the Secretary of State's point about the other part of the Electricity Act stating that the DTI would also have responsibility for related consents—and the UK Government had a strategic need for a new nuclear power station in Scotland, given that it would be a good thing for the Scottish Economy and the Scottish energy production industry to renew its nuclear power stations, and if the Scottish Executive were to turn down the consent for such a power station entirely on planning grounds, would there then be a continuing stream of applications from British Energy or any other company that wished to build a nuclear power station, based on the UK Government's strategic need for a nuclear power station in Scotland, or would Westminster insist on overriding the Scottish Executive?
I have heard of polyparenthetical sentences, but that one should probably take its place in "The Guinness Book of Records". The point to which the hon. Lady is referring is the very point that my hon. Friend, the Minister of State, Scotland Office, raised. There are issues, particularly in relation to large infrastructure projects, which are the subject of discussion at the moment.
Right. Discussions—consultation exercises, whatever—are going on at this very moment between a Labour Government and a Labour-led Scottish Executive. What would happen if different political parties were running the UK Government and the Scottish Parliament? If there were a fundamental disagreement in those circumstances, which Government would take precedence? My understanding of what the Secretary of State has said is that, when push comes to shove, the UK Government would make the overriding decision. If that is the case, the fears expressed by the Scottish National party have some substance, because the final decision-making power right at the end of the system would rest with the UK Government.
Schedule 9 of the Scotland Act 1998 implies that there is a legal recourse only if Scottish Executive Ministers exceed their powers. There would be no legal recourse if the UK Government Ministers exceeded their powers. This brings into play the new planning review and the role of the UK Government in deciding on planning issues through the House of Commons. The statutory instrument procedure, which appears to be the procedure referred to in the consultation document, takes an hour and a half, as we all know. If the planning procedure comes into effect, how would it affect strategic decisions in relation to the Scottish Executive? It seems to me that it would override the Scottish Executive's planning powers under the Scotland Act 1988 and the executive devolution of the Electricity Act 1989.
I come inescapably to the conclusion that, however friendly the current UK Government are with the current Scottish Executive, should there ever be a conflict between the two Governments—we look forward to that happening sooner rather than later—there would be no legal recourse to a solution to such a conflict. That is precisely the point that came out of the debate between the Minister of State, Scotland Office and the Minister for Industry and Energy. That is why this debate is crucial; it goes way beyond the triviality of the motion tabled by the SNP and straight to the heart of the devolution settlement.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way again, and I shall certainly not seek to interrupt her further. The best way that I can answer her point is to quote my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Scotland Office in a recent BBC interview, which has been the subject of discussion this evening. He said:
"Well this is why we have to look at it to make sure that it is absolutely clear now in the context, not of a specific application but in the general context of public policy, important to determine what the position is."—
His syntax was not terribly good.
"Because if it came up in the context of a specific application then clearly other factors would be brought in to bear and wouldn't necessarily be considered in an objective way. I think it is very important to establish the position absolutely clearly at an early stage so that we know who had the ultimate responsibility, and that obviously has to take account of the responsibility of Westminster for reserved areas."
It is specifically that that my hon. Friend seeks to clear up.
That is as clear as mud. The right hon. Lady is wriggling on the reality that Westminster retains control over the final decision on new nuclear power stations in Scotland. It is useful to have that clarification. It will be fascinating to see how the Government's consultation develops and what the reaction will be not just in the Scottish Executive but throughout the Scottish Parliament.
Scottish Executive Ministers could be overridden unless they set up a planning procedure similar to the one that the Government are suggesting for England and Wales, in which case there may be even more confrontation. The Government have yet again dodged some of the issues raised during the passage of the Scotland Bill in this House when we pointed out its inherent difficulties.
It will be interesting if the right hon. Lady does as it is rumoured she will and seeks to amend the Scotland Act with regard to the number of MSPs. That will require primary legislation, which might be a good opportunity to consider the responsibilities of the UK Government with regard to overriding the Scottish Executive on planning issues such as those relating to nuclear power stations.
I too want briefly to refer to Wales. Like the Secretary of State, I do not for a moment profess to any specific expertise in this area, but I want to draw her attention to the way in which, as far as we can make out, the Government overrode and took no account of the views of the National Assembly for Wales on wind farms. I simply ask whether that would be the approach to any nuclear power consents in Wales? Would the Minister for Industry and Energy override and ignore the National Assembly for Wales?
I believe that the wind farm to which the hon. Lady referred is Cefn Croes in my constituency, which was approved by the Department of Trade and Industry without reference to a public inquiry. I should say on the record that I supported that wind farm, but I felt strongly that there should be a public inquiry. The hon. Lady is right that that is a poor precedent for what might happen in terms of nuclear power development. I understand that the Conservative party supports nuclear power, but does the hon. Lady agree that it is vital that the people of Wales should decide what and where any such new energy development should be in Wales?
That is a point with which I could only agree. It is crucial that the voice of local people and the National Assembly for Wales is heard. I do not wish to become directly involved in a constituency issue of the hon. Gentleman's, but as I understand it no account whatever was taken of the views of local people on Cefn Croes and, if that is so, apart from anything else, that overrides the basic planning approvals, and probably all hon. Members would agree that that is not the best way to proceed.
Conservatives, as many have already said, want to see balanced energy provision. Scotland produces 50 per cent. of its energy from nuclear power and exports 25 per cent. of its total production to other parts of the UK, so bringing income into Scotland. But Dounreay and Hunterston A are being decommissioned, Chapelcross is due for decommissioning in 2008, Hunterston B in 2011, and Torness not until 2023. As I understand it, there is no way that the Government's ambitious hopes for renewable energy could meet the gap if all those power stations were decommissioned.
Therefore, there is a need to ensure continuity of supply, particularly—the point made by Mr. Dalyell—given our increasing reliance on imported gas, the price of which is increasing on the continent, which will inevitably mean a price increase in the UK sooner rather than later .
We welcome the initiatives and commitments by Scottish Power and British Energy to renewables, but we also welcome British Energy's recent agreements to look at the potential for new nuclear power plants. It would seem sensible—this is the point that my MSP colleagues made to the PIU review—for nuclear power plants in Scotland to be sited at Hunterston and Torness where there is already an understanding of the benefits of nuclear power and where the infrastructure is in place. That may save the Secretary of State's bacon because there may be more understanding of nuclear power issues in areas where nuclear power stations already exist.
What is the position of the hon. Lady's party on the development of further combined cycle gas stations in Scotland? Only 15 per cent. of our capacity derives from combined cycle gas, but—according to the Government's own energy review figures—it costs a quarter as much as nuclear power. Does the hon. Lady think that its use should be extended?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman heard me say that we believe in a balanced energy policy. If the private sector believes that that is the way forward and commercial reasons exist for pursuing it, the private sector should put forward proposals on ensuring the provision of sufficient energy at a reasonable price.
Is the hon. Lady saying that she is content to let the market decide? Will the market control people's choice of gas or nuclear power, or does she envisage an ongoing Government subsidy for nuclear power?
The problem is that the hon. Gentleman's argument is based on a very left-wing political stance that does not understand the market and the need to meet its requirements. [Interruption.] I do not want to get involved in a dialogue on this issue, but one must take account of the fact that science moves on. Some interesting developments are taking place in the provision of nuclear power and/or other forms of energy, which will transform the economics of power provision in the coming years.
We need to break free from parallel lines of thinking—whereby only one form of nuclear power provision exists—and develop new forms. We must look to those who are dedicated to providing decent energy for the UK at the lowest possible cost to offer suggestions on how to develop power provision. That is what we Conservatives support. Labour Members' support for privatisation and references to the market provision of energy is a major change in Labour's energy policy that we can only welcome. I want Scotland to continue to develop and produce energy, but I am concerned that the SNP's policy would limit Scotland's opportunities rather than enhance them.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in this vital debate on energy. A constructive debate is necessary, and it is a shame that our discussion has so far been based not on future energy requirements but on the SNP's anti-nuclear stance. The performance and innovation unit's report makes it clear that many questions need to be answered, and it is absolutely essential that the consultation process be based on that report. The consultation process should not be restricted by the dogma of a particular party, but should range as widely as possible. We must consider how best to deliver a balanced energy policy, whether in Scotland or in England.
It is true that, at the moment, Britain is self-sufficient in energy, but that is coming to an end. The fact is that, according to current predictions, we will be a net importer of natural gas within three or four years.
If our present policy remains unchanged, as my hon. Friend Mr. Dalyell said, gas will supply 70 per cent. of our electricity needs by 2025, and 90 per cent. of that will come from Russia, north Africa or the middle east. That is why we must seriously consider how we move forward, and recognise the social implications as well as addressing the economic and environmental issues.
Public consultation on the report must be wide-ranging. It will lead to the publication of a White Paper some time in the autumn, and I hope that the debate on it is comprehensive. Unfortunately, tonight's debate is based on the froth that we have come to expect from the Scottish National party.
The SNP says that there is an adverse reaction to nuclear energy in this country. Much has been said about Holyrood having the final say, but we could have avoided this debate if SNP Members had spoken to one another. Mr. Weir put a parliamentary question on nuclear reactors, and the reply from the Minister of State, Scotland Office said:
"Consent is required for new power station developments under the Electricity Act 1989. In Scotland, the power to grant consents is a devolved matter and the procedures are the responsibility of Scottish Ministers."
There is a danger that, if we try to perpetuate a lie, people may come to accept that as a truth. The position is quite clear. The reply to the hon. Gentleman from the Minister of State stated clearly that
SNP Members should have spoken to one another.
If an application to build a nuclear power station in Scotland was turned down by the Scottish Executive, but the Government promoted legislation in this House to overturn that decision and grant planning permission, would the hon. Gentleman support that legislation?
My position is quite clear: I do not expect that situation to arise, and I cannot answer a hypothetical question. The answer is the one that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave. The hon. Gentleman should accept it, as it suits his argument.
The SNP would rather be involved in splits and create division between the Scottish Parliament and Westminster than accept the fact that those two bodies work well with each other in the interests of the people of Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman rightly points out that the SNP is trying to create splits and division. I accept that, but as a Scottish Conservative who has a genuine interest in creating unity in the United Kingdom, I do not understand it. Before we began the debate, the confusion seemed to be whether this issue was the responsibility of Holyrood or Westminster. It now seems that either it is the responsibility of Holyrood or we do not know whose responsibility it is. That is my understanding, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman knows better.
I do not want to go down that road, because I have already made it clear that I do not intend to speculate on what might happen in the future. However, as the Minister of State said to the hon. Member for Angus, it is clear that the Scottish Executive are able to grant planning permission for a power station.
I want to examine the SNP's energy policy, which is a shambles. The sooner we acknowledge the need for a balanced, integrated energy policy including coal generation, wind and wave generation and nuclear power, the sooner we can consider how best to develop that policy.
I think every Member is in favour of renewable energy. That is why the Government have invested in research and development relating to sources of such energy. Not only are they exempting them from the climate change levy; under the renewables obligation, they are pumping some £260 million into alternative energy sources.
I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman has said about the money that the Government are spending on renewables. Will he tell us how much was spent on renewables in 1999-2000, and how much was spent on nuclear energy research?
As a Minister might say, I do not know the answer but I will write to the hon. Gentleman.
Even British Energy, a private company, is currently prepared to invest £600 million in wind farms off the Isle of Lewis that have the potential to produce 600 MW. But our position would be untenable if we ruled out nuclear power per se; if we did so, we would end up without a policy to meet the requirements of our people.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has been generous with his time.
The hon. Gentleman said that it would be dangerous to rule out the decommissioning of nuclear plants. Like me, he is interested in the pursuit of policies in other European countries. It may not be well known that, in Germany, our allies in Europe are in government along with the hon. Gentleman's allies in Europe. Both parties, the Social Democrats and the Greens, have passed policy in favour of decommissioning all Germany's nuclear power stations. If that is right for Germany, why is it so wrong for us in Scotland?
Whatever Opposition Members may think about the demise of nuclear power, 31 reactors are being constructed in 11 countries. Finland is on the verge of ordering a new nuclear power station. Moreover, 35 per cent. of the European Union's electricity comes from nuclear power stations, which makes nuclear power the largest single source of electricity in Europe. We must look again at nuclear power stations, and decide whether we are prepared to become dependent on other nations for our electricity.
I believe that the policy presented to us today would pose enormous problems. The Scottish National party needs to get its energy policy together, and I hope it will do so sooner rather than later.
When I first read the motion, I considered it rather light—a bit of a Woolton pie, lacking in meat. As the debate has progressed, however, it has become clear that far from being a Woolton pie, it is something of a Beef Wellington. SNP members certainly seem to have found something pretty interesting below the crust.
Initially I concluded that the motion posed a pretty simple question, and that there ought to be a pretty simple answer. The pretty simple question was "Who is responsible for saying yes or no to planning for a nuclear plant, or any other power generation plant, in Scotland?". Was it Holyrood, or was it Westminster? The simple answer, I thought—having consulted the Scotland Act 1998, and having heard what the Minister for Industry and Energy had to say—was that planning permission was a matter for Holyrood, and that that was where the decision would be made. Matters relating to generation and so forth would be dealt with at Westminster.
I have listened to this evening's debate, and believe that it amounts to the longest "don't know" in history. It is perfectly clear to me now that I do not have a clue whether it was a simple question with a simple answer.
"All of the relevant powers are devolved to Holyrood."
Certainly, that was my understanding, and I think that that probably is the position, but I suspect that the Government do not really know. I hope, therefore, that the consultation will sort out where we are going.
Of course, Westminster Governments are always able to revisit the Scotland Act 1998, and the devolution settlement. Clearly, the concept of devolution is based on this Parliament remaining sovereign, with certain powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament. It is possible for any Government to propose to go back on the powers that have been so devolved. However, all supporters of devolution and of the settlement finally enacted by this House would find it unacceptable if a Government were to go back on the current settlement.
On countless happy evenings in another place, my noble Friends and I sat opposite Lord Sewel, trying to get the Government to accept a variety of amendments that would have widened the powers of the Scottish Parliament on a range of issues. In each case, the Minister knocked us back. We were told that we had to be careful and to ensure that what was put in place was right. We were told that the mechanism had to be workable, without ambiguity.
For many who took part in the debates in the other place—and I am sure that the same applies to those who took part in the debates in this House—the devolution settlement that we got was the minimum. It was really quite conservative, with a small "c". We were happy to get it, but we believed that, if anything, it was a settlement that could be taken further in the future. We did not think that the Government could go back on it, but there is a worrying undertone that the Government are considering bringing powers back to Westminster. I sincerely hope that the Government will not go down that road, and that the devolution settlement will be honoured.
The history of the past two and bit years has not been as the hon. Gentleman has described. The Government have introduced one executive order after another under section 63 of the Scotland Act, giving more devolution and power to the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament. Most recently, that has happened in relation to the ferries running between Rosyth and Zeebrugge, and between Campbeltown and Ballycastle. The picture is entirely different from the one that the hon. Gentleman has painted.
I welcome all that the Government have done in that regard. I did not accuse them of going back on the devolution settlement. I said that the worrying undertone to the debate causes me concern. My hope is that the process that the Minister described will continue, and that devolution will advance rather than retreat.
There are only so many ways in which a question can be asked and still secure a "don't know" for an answer, so I shall move on from a matter that I think has been done to death. I turn now to Wales, which my party believes would be better served with a devolution settlement that more closely resembles the settlement for Scotland. Such a settlement would give Wales a Parliament with the ability to enact primary legislation. People who believe in devolution, as I do, do not understand why it should not be right for the Welsh to have the same devolution settlement as the Scots. One day, the English may be able to have it too. We live in hope.
I hope that the Government will listen to the voice of the people of Wales—although, in that respect, the power clearly lies here in Westminster. I hope that the Government will accept the spirit of what is meant by the phrase "listening to the Assembly".
It seems to me that the real substance of what I had hoped would be debated this evening under the motion—I did not anticipate what was debated earlier, so I should learn to read Scottish National party motions more carefully—was energy policy generally for Scotland. To be perfectly honest, I thought that I would not find it too difficult to support the motion in the name of Mr. Salmond and his hon. Friends. However, I have read part of it reasonably carefully, and its defect is that it does not refer to the sustainability of energy. It refers to a strategy for developing indigenous sources of energy, and it refers to coal, gas and renewables. The key point missing, the inclusion of which would have made the motion perfect, was that the strategy should be one of sustainable energy.
Ultimately, sustainability is the key in terms of producing energy and—lying behind this whole debate—our commitment to Kyoto. We must reduce emissions—CO 2 emissions are one of the biggest dangers that we face.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the misconceptions of the debate is that to conform with Kyoto one would have to go down the nuclear route? Clearly, renewables conform with Kyoto, as does combined cycle gas if it moves to 60 per cent. efficiency as has been achieved at Peterhead. Clean technology coal also has a much more beneficial environmental impact. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is a fallacy to say that the only way to conform to Kyoto is to be forced down the nuclear route?
May I say to the hon. Gentleman what has been said before? I urge him to have a little patience, as I hope to deal with that point later.
A consideration of carbon dioxide emissions is crucial, so we must examine some of the facts. I am lucky that I have in my constituency a scientist, Dr. Eric Voice, who was formerly at Dounreay but who now works independently as a consultant on emissions. I asked him to consider a number of factors with regard to carbon emissions in Scotland. The information that he gave me is extremely interesting, and may be helpful in this debate.
The last year for which reliable figures are available was 1998, when Scotland produced 72,300,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. Of that, 17 million tonnes—or, roughly, 24 per cent.—were produced by electricity generation. We must recognise that only a quarter of emissions in Scotland are from that source. Of that generation, 19.7 terawatt hours are currently from nuclear power. If that were replaced by clean coal—medium sulphur bituminous coal—it would require 6,100,000 tonnes of coal, which would produce 20 million tonnes of CO 2 . That would double the CO 2 emissions currently produced by our electricity industry. If gas were to be used, the figure would be about 12 million tonnes of CO 2 .
No, I do not think that that follows. I am merely trying to set out the scale of the problem. I shall then consider what we should do to deal with it.
Given the scale of the carbon emissions problem, those of us who are in favour of renewables—the use of which has support on both sides of the House, and of which the Liberal Democrats have always been strong supporters—should pose exactly the same question. What are the problems in achieving, for example, those 19 terawatt hours? If we were to use a 3 MW turbine, which is probably slightly better than the best currently available, and to assume a load factor of installed capacity of about 25 per cent., which is better than any turbine is currently producing, that turbine would produce about 6,570 MW per annum. That broadly means that we would require 2,891 turbines to produce the same generating capacity that is currently produced by nuclear energy. It is all perfectly possible, but the disadvantage is that one would require 2,000 sq km for those turbines. Clearly, that would present equal problems of which those of us who support renewables must be aware. It is more honest to say that we support renewables knowing what we seek to achieve.
The figures quoted mean that if we are to have a genuinely balanced approach and a genuine reduction in carbon dioxide, it is vital to work on our hydro schemes; they are a great asset in Scotland, and we must have new ones. We have to invest in renewables and the level of investment in them must be similar to that which we put into other technologies. We must also look at the way in which we use our energy, which means thinking a little bit out of the box. Scotland, particularly my constituency, has an ability to generate an immense amount of renewable energy but there is a difficulty in transporting it to the jobs and factories in the deep south. Perhaps we should be thinking about moving the jobs and factories up to where the energy is. Perhaps that will be part of the new reality of the future.
Our policy on nuclear energy is perfectly straightforward—to decommission nuclear stations when they come to the end of their useful lives. The current nuclear capacity buys time to make the investment required in renewables so that that they can become a proper and sustainable part of our energy future.
What is the hon. Gentleman's response to the statistic that the entire wind capacity in Scotland comes to only 20 per cent. and that that capacity would be lost if Cockenzie power station closed and was not replaced?
I am not sure that I completely understand the hon. Gentleman's question. I have been careful to talk about renewable energy, which is not just about wind—it is onshore and offshore. The Pentland firth has a tidal race that is consistent, not constant. We have wave power and biomass—indeed, a whole range of renewables. We must work out which renewable works at which time in the best way so that we can put the information together.
When the energy review is accepted, or rejected, by the Government—from what I have seen, I hope that they will accept much of it—I hope that we will have an energy policy that is designed to make the necessary investment and create a future energy market using our renewables. Despite all the "don't knows", I hope that the Scottish Parliament will take decisions on planning matters in Scotland.
I notice from the clock that between my hon. Friend Mr. Tynan and myself, we will probably have had some 26 minutes of Back-Bench speeches in a three-hour debate. I appreciate that you endeavour, as best you can, to control the situation, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is somewhat disappointing that we may have only two Back-Bench speakers this evening.
I have been trying to determine whether the debate is about devolution issues such as the planning processes undertaken by local authorities, or whether it is no more than another opportunity for Scottish National party Members to state their views and their case against the nuclear industry and nuclear power generation.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland suggested earlier, section D4 of part II of schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998 makes it clear that nuclear energy is a reserved matter. Schedule 4 of the Act spells out that the Scottish Parliament is charged with the duty to legislate on planning and reserved matters. Why should that be? It is simply in order to ensure that there is consistency as regards devolved and reserved matters.
Whatever the nature of today's debate, I want to consider the issue that causes the SNP the most difficulty: nuclear power. The performance and innovation unit's energy review document issued in the middle of last month ruled nothing out. The longer-term role of nuclear power in energy policy was examined in the review, and the report merely recommended that the options for new nuclear investment need to be kept open.
What was the reaction to that? Regrettably, there was nothing but the usual SNP paranoia. The party saw that recommendation as a signal for new nuclear build. However, let us be clear: if new nuclear plants are to be constructed, the market will bring forward the proposals.
When the hon. Gentleman says that the market will bring forward proposals, does that mean that the huge nuclear subsidy currently in the legislation will be ended? Is he talking about the market or about the rigged market?
I am talking about the market, and it is not rigged, as the hon. Gentleman has claimed on many occasions.
The Government fully believe that the existing nuclear stations should continue and naturally they must operate at the current high safety and environmental standards that we expect.
Over the next 15 years or so, nuclear plants will continue to make significant contributions. During the next 20 years, we shall see the scheduled closure of the three Scottish stations—the two advanced gas-cooled reactors at Hunterston and Torness, and the British Nuclear Fuels Magnox facility at Chapelcross, in my constituency, which produces 196 MW of power. That amount may seem small and insignificant but it has some importance in our local area, although I shall not elaborate on that point.
It is important to remember the contribution made by nuclear power in the daily life of each one of us: 25 per cent. of the power generated in the UK is nuclear based and twice that amount—50 per cent. of electricity in Scotland—comes from a nuclear source. When those three stations close, a significant gap will have to be filled. Who can tell what replacement source will be found? I have to point out to Scottish and Welsh nationalist Members that it will not come just from renewables.
My hon. Friend may share my concerns about nuclear power. However, I am also concerned that if we do not consider all forms of energy we may be left with no energy at all in future.
My hon. Friend makes an important and interesting point. Secure energy sources will be vitally important.
I may not have searched hard enough, but I have yet to find anyone who is opposed to renewable sources of energy. None the less, despite the enthusiasm on all sides and the efforts that will be made in the years to come, I firmly believe that in no way can renewables replace our current levels of nuclear power generation.
Some of us in Praseg—the all-party group on renewable and sustainable energy—are concerned that in Denmark, for example, a major wind farm proposal has just been withdrawn, and it is now admitted that there are problems with intermittent supply from sources such as wind power. The wind power strategy in Denmark is backed up with a punitive energy tax, which no one ever mentions when they talk about renewables. Renewables are attractive if energy is so expensive that people have to turn to other sources, as they do in Denmark.
My hon. Friend has a great deal of experience in such matters. As we all know, there is a price to pay for renewables.
UK-wide we have 15 operational nuclear stations and the effect of those stations is to reduce carbon emissions by 11 to 22 per cent., or 12 to 24 million tonnes of carbon. The figures vary widely, depending on whether we would replace that form of generation by gas or coal.
We should consider what is being said elsewhere about energy supply and energy policy. The House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union, in its report on the security of energy supply, recommended that the EU should aim at least to retain its present proportion of nuclear power and, importantly, that it should examine what is necessary to achieve that. The Select Committee also stated that it should be recognised that nuclear power is a key component of energy security and environmental performance, and provides more than one third of Europe's electricity. It will reduce the EU's CO 2 emissions by more than 300 million tonnes in 2010.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the growing involvement of the EU, as evidenced by the Green Paper published a year ago, means that the issue of consent on a national and regional basis may be circumvented by the need for the European Union to take powers to ensure the security of energy supply in future for the whole of Europe, on an individual nation basis?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way so graciously. Does he not agree, then, with his hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Energy, who said:
"The position is unambiguous. If anyone wants to build a power station of any kind in Scotland it will be a matter for the Scottish Executive to determine. End of story"?
The murmurings from the Front Bench are a noise to reckon with.
In its report on energy policy, the Select Committee on Trade and Industry made it clear that nuclear has a significant role in maintaining the security and diversity of electricity supply. It recognised that nuclear makes a key contribution to environmental objectives such as the reduction of greenhouse gases, and it urged the Government to make a clear statement on the future of nuclear energy as quickly as possible. It is that security of supply which means so much to the public.
At a local level, the nuclear power station in my constituency, Chapelcross, was the location of an incident in July last year, as some hon. Members know. Mr. Weir saw fit to table an early-day motion on
"That this House . . . is extremely concerned that 12 fuel rods apparently remain unaccounted for and that there appear to have been attempts to cover up the incident."
Frankly, that is politics at the lowest level. Had the hon. Gentleman checked with the site, he would have been told that all 24 rods were accounted for the previous day. At no stage did that company attempt to cover up the incident. I do not suppose that the hon. Gentleman will apologise to the House but, more importantly, he should apologise to the work force at the site.
A number of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues visited the site. Before their arrival, there was great talk in the Scottish press of the need to shut down the plant which, during the visit, developed into a need to close it at the end of its lifetime. They walked away from that site visit stating that position clearly.
The hon. Gentleman knows that it has always been the policy of the Scottish National party to close the plant at the end of its technological or economic life. I am not responsible for what is said in the press, locally or nationally, but at no time have we called for the immediate closure of Chapelcross.
Although I do not believe everything I read in the press, I have some confidence in the trade unions at the site which picked up that message from the SNP.
At the time of the incident, British Nuclear Fuels began to shut down other reactors on the site so that it could concentrate its efforts on examining the problem in detail. However, that action caused Scottish Power considerable anxiety because it threatened its security of supply, and there was serious concern that there would be blackouts and power cuts.
At the end of last year, the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets issued a consultation document on access to the Scotland-England interconnector. That is so vital to the economic viability of the Chapelcross site that a local petition was organised within the community which collected more than 5,000 signatures in a weekend. In addition, a number of individuals made representations on the matter, including politicians at a local and national level. If the SNP supports stations operating until the end of their lifetime, why was no support offered by the two list SNP Members of the Scottish Parliament from the south of Scotland, Christine Graham and Mike Russell? Mr. Mike Russell had previously visited the site, but those MSPs showed no support for it or its work force.
The Ofgem consultation closed on
In last week's statement, Ofgem said:
"Ofgem has taken on board the concerns raised. It is prudent, in the light of these concerns, for Scottish Power Transmission Ltd. to review its criteria to address system security issues"— in other words, security of supply. A station that generates 196 MW may seem insignificant to many people, but it is fairly significant for the locality and greatly significant for Ofgem, the organisation that ensures that people receive a supply of electricity. Although the non-nuclear bandwagon sounds promising to those who want to climb aboard, once the lights are out it is not so easy to turn them on again.
The one thing that has become clear in this debate is why the Minister for Industry and Energy chose not to be present to hear it—he was here earlier, but has decided to make himself scarce. When we strip away all the obfuscation and unpeel the Secretary of State's excuses and dancing on pin heads, it is clear that he was incorrect and that he did not know who was responsible for planning permission for nuclear power stations in Scotland. Frankly, that is a deeply frightening thought.
It seems clear, as eventually emerged from the Secretary of State, that she believes that Westminster, not Scotland, will ultimately make the decision. That flies in the face of what the Minister for Industry and Energy said not only last week, but in his letter to my hon. Friend Mr. Salmond and Mr. Llwyd. He made clear time and time again his belief that the ultimate decision lay in Scotland. It appears, however, that the Scotland Office is now overriding the Department of Trade and Industry on these matters. Again, that is deeply worrying.
The debate was opened by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan, who set out, in a typically powerful speech, its context, which relates not only to nuclear aspects and energy resources but to the whole constitutional position. With regard to that context, the Minister of State said:
"It would look a wee bit daft if, in reserved areas, decisions were being made north of the border which had a very significant impact south of the border."
Will he tell us whether that means that, if the Scottish Parliament makes a decision that has an impact in England—I can think of several such decisions that might be on the way—Westminster will try to take back the powers from it? That is the subtext of what is happening, leaving aside the whole energy matter.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he agrees with his parliamentary leader on the use of civil disobedience?
The Secretary of State seems to be hung up on that issue. The question of what will happen if Westminster decides to overrule the democratically elected Scottish Parliament will be decided when that happens. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan said on the matter. He clearly answered the right hon. Lady's question and I have nothing to add. I say to her that there is a long history. I will make an admission in that regard: way back in the 1970s, I visited Torness, which did not have a nuclear power station at the time, but was being occupied as a protest against the building of such a power station. It is sad that, 20 years later, we are having to advance the same arguments yet again.
It was interesting that the Minister of State seemed quite happy to be described as the Baldrick of Scottish politics. I seem to recall that Baldrick's only friend was a turnip, so perhaps the description is fairly appropriate.
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that there may be a slight conflict in what he is saying? On the one hand he is talking about democracy, while on the other, he is talking about civil disobedience. Will he tell me how those ideas marry up, and perhaps give us some of the nationalist policies that seem to be missing from every contribution we have heard from those Benches?
Democracy also extends to the Scottish Parliament. We have a devolution settlement that has been overridden unilaterally from Westminster. That is the implication of what has been said, and that is why the Scottish people are prepared to protest. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who I believe has a long history in the trade union movement, is opposed to such use of civil disobedience, which has played a large part in the history of the labour movement and, indeed, in parliamentary democracy. I would therefore ask him to think again. [Interruption.] Unlike Labour Members, I am capable of writing my own speeches and I do not pass them around.
We must examine our position in view of, for example, our undertakings under the Kyoto protocols. The performance and innovation unit report lumps nuclear power together with renewables as low carbon producers. It treats nuclear power in the same way as renewable resources. John Thurso made a good point about sustainability, which we ultimately seek in energy supply. However, since the advent of the Kyoto protocols, the nuclear industry has absurdly pushed itself as environmentally friendly. It conveniently forgets that, although we might reduce carbon emissions, we would store up a huge problem of nuclear waste which would take generations to tackle. Perhaps we could never deal with it.
Mrs. Lait mentioned the market. We are considering a nuclear industry that will create a problem that will last not for years but for generations. We have witnessed all too clearly what can happen even to large energy companies.
The Government appear to have swallowed the nuclear argument hook, line and sinker. The latest spat between Ministers is simply another straw in the wind. The creation of the assets management agency was announced recently. It is an expensive excuse to make nuclear generators more acceptable to investors by removing their historical liabilities. However, they will continue to accrue if new stations are built.
The Scottish Parliament's planning powers present a substantial road block in the way of the nuclear industry in Scotland. I believe that the Government's attempt to remove it has led us to our current position. The SNP's policy is clear. We have consistently called for investment in renewables. I have done that in this Chamber and in Westminster Hall. Different forms of energy are available in Scotland.
An energy policy should be a British policy. Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the Department of Trade and Industry has invested between £40 million and £50 million of subsidy in Scottish Coal? Could the Scottish Parliament have done that? It would not have had the money; a British Government had to do it. Energy policy should be left not to Scotland but to Britain. We should discuss a British energy policy. I shall not mention nuclear power or civil disobedience, but I strongly believe that we should consider an energy policy that covers Britain and is devised by a British Government.
On money, it was announced last week that the Scottish Executive underspent by more than £200 million. That is interesting, because they also underspent last year.
We must invest in a basket of different sorts of energy. Nuclear power has no place in it. We have discussed the cost of nuclear power, but the Government's advisory group for the PIU's energy review mentioned the cost of different forms of energy. It stated that, without Government subsidy, the cost of nuclear power was approximately 6.5p per kW. The cost of current new-build designs was down to 3.9p per kW, but onshore wind costs less than 2p a kW and offshore wind, between 2p and 3p a kW.
Nuclear energy is much more expensive in the first instance than other forms of energy, especially renewable energy sources. That has been mentioned in the Select Committee on Trade and Industry report on the security of energy supply, but when the Committee took evidence from representatives of the nuclear industry, they clearly stated that financial assistance was required to bridge the gap—that is, to make nuclear power more acceptable economically. They talked about a subsidy of about 1p per kW. So going down the nuclear energy route is much more expensive than the renewable and sustainable route.
The hon. Member for Beckenham is correct to say that the nuclear power stations are due to come off stream in the next few years. As I have said on numerous occasions in this Parliament, if we are to bridge the gap that will be created, investment must be made now in all the renewable sources. Although the Government always talk about renewable energy sources, they have not made that significant investment.
Let us compare the investment in the nuclear industry with that in renewable sources. For example, in 1999 alone, £26 million was investment in research and development in the nuclear industry. Some £3.7 billion will be needed to cover the liability of the Magnox stations, which have been mentioned already, and United Kingdom electricity consumers have already paid some £2.6 billion to fund nuclear energy through the non-fossil fuel levy. So there has been massive investment in the nuclear industry over the years, and it will continue to need a subsidy if we are to go down the nuclear route.
Mr. Tynan clearly made a pro-nuclear intervention. He talked about an integrated coal, wind and wave system, but the point is that, to have an integrated system, investment is needed now, and we have been trying to make that point. There is nothing strange or hidden about the SNP policy on energy; it has been made clear, particularly by me, on many occasions.
The hon. Gentleman has not mentioned the policy on the present state of Scottish Coal. The last deep mine is in trouble; it needs £5 million to get through a major fault, but it has not been mentioned by the SNP. Is the SNP abandoning Scottish Coal and the last deep mine in Scotland?
Coal is mentioned in the motion, but not in the Government amendment. I responded to David Hamilton on the coal industry, and I have spoken about it previously, as well as the need for clean coal technology. The Government ultimately say that their policy is pro-nuclear. That is what we clearly hear from Labour Members, but I wonder whether that policy will be persuasive even to the current Scottish Executive.
"Scotland has an enormous resource of renewable sources . . . we already expect to exceed our initial target of generating 18 per cent. of our electricity by 2010 from renewables.
Today I want to signal our intention to increase that target . . . we will consult on it . . . but I hope we can work towards 30 per cent. of our electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020."
That figure is much higher than this Government have suggested, and it is a clear signal that even the current Scottish Executive—let alone the next—is more committed to renewable sources than the Government. I hope that, if they truly represent the views of the Scottish people, they will oppose any new nuclear stations that this Government try to foist on them.
I am sorry, but I am running out of time.
I remind hon. Members that the Scottish Executive commissioned a study by Hassan Consulting which pointed out that Scotland could supply its energy needs from renewables. It said:
"The scale of this potential is illustrated by one stunning statistic: there is enough potential energy from onshore wind power alone to meet Scotland's peak winter demand for electricity twice over. In all, the total resource amounts to 75 per cent. of the total UK existing generating capacity."
Scotland can meet its energy needs from renewable resources. It does not need nuclear; it does not want nuclear; and it will oppose nuclear.
I congratulate Mr. Weir on his enormous generosity in absolving anyone else of responsibility for his speech. I am sure that SNP researchers in particular will be deeply grateful that their reputation has been restored.
A number of hon. Members have made the point that one of the most astonishing things about today's debate is that, given the opportunity of a once-a-year, three-hour debate on the Floor of the House, the SNP chose to discuss an apparent difference between the Minister for Industry and Energy and me about a hypothetical decision that might be taken a number of years from now. Let us think of the topics that it might have chosen. It could have selected the whole energy review as it affects Scotland. We have drifted on to that subject, but it could have been the main focus of our discussion. It could have selected the implementation of the Proceeds of Crime Bill, which aims to crack down on drug dealers and money launderers—issues of real concern to my constituents and the rest of Scotland.
The SNP could have spoken about the Scottish economy, but we know now why it dodged that subject. Mr. Salmond has made dire predictions and accused my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of talking up Scotland, and he has fervently hoped and prayed for a downturn in the Scottish economy, but his predictions have been proved entirely wrong. Output has risen sharply in the service sector, according to the Bank of Scotland report published yesterday, and manufacturing output is at last on the turn.
Indeed. Given last week's seismic event in Perth, one would have thought that the SNP would jump at the opportunity to debate its now explicit commitment to independence and separation—but of course that represents the policy of the Swinney wing of the party, rather than the Salmond wing.
As we are on the subject of energy, let us examine the hon. Gentleman's credentials to talk on the subject. Where better to look than at his weekly column in the News of the World? The Register of Members' Interests shows that the hon. Gentleman receives between £10,000 and £15,000 per annum for the column, so it must be good, it must be accurate and it must be authoritative. He says:
"The problem for London Labour"— he always calls us London Labour, no matter that we come from Glasgow, Dundee and elsewhere—
"is that they are looking to create a new generation of nuclear power stations"— wait for it—
"when existing ones like Dounreay reach the end of their life."
Dounreay? An existing nuclear station? As my hon. Friend Mr. Brown pointed out, the existing power stations are Torness in East Lothian, Hunterston in Ayrshire and Chapelcross in Dumfriesshire. Dounreay is a prototype fast breeder reactor, as John Thurso knows only too well. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan referred to Dounreay reaching the end of its life. There is something else he should know: Dounreay is currently being decommissioned.
I may be one of the few Members to have visited every fast reactor in the world, with the sole exception of one in Russia. I am sure that the Minister has not done that.
Let us get to the nub of the matter. The quote from the Minister for Industry and Energy is important and has been well advertised. He said:
"The position is unambiguous. If anyone wants to build a power station of any kind in Scotland, it will be a matter for the Scottish Executive to determine. End of story."
Forget all the fluff and flannel: does the Minister support that? Is it correct, or is it not?
The hon. Gentleman's authoritative column in the News of the World includes a picture of Dounreay, next to which appears the caption, "Atomic dud". It is not Dounreay that is the atomic dud. I think we all know who that is.
If we had had a substantive debate on the energy review, we could have talked about the Prime Minister's vision in setting the PIU to consider energy policy for the next 50 years. That review was chaired by my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Energy. I was there to represent the interests of Scotland and closely consulted Ministers and officials in the Scottish Executive to ensure that Scotland's views were properly known. The review had the important remit of ensuring security and diversity of supply. Several Members have mentioned security of supply, particularly for gas imports. Diversity of supply means providing more than one, or one and a half, areas of supply.
Let me return to the central point of the debate. Does the Minister stick by what he said in answer to me at the Scottish Grand Committee on
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dealt with that point extremely well.
If we had discussed the energy review, we would have been able to discuss what the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross rightly called our important commitment to hitting our Kyoto targets. The review recommends a major expansion of energy efficiency.
No, no, no. The hon. Gentleman had 32 minutes, and he spent half of them attacking me. I have only eight minutes in which to reply, so he can sit down.
The energy review recommended hugely increased, challenging targets for renewables, which will not be easily achieved. SNP Members deceive people if they lead them to believe that the renewables obligation can be easily kept.
I love multiple choice questions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has explained the position. Since the hon. Gentleman represents the provisional wing of the Liberal Democrats and is an unreconstructed Luddite, perhaps he might come and talk to me afterwards.
Let us do the SNP the courtesy of examining its energy policy and taking it seriously, no matter how difficult that may be. Let us go back to the words of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, not this time in the Press and Journal, the house journal of the SNP, in a weekly column for which he also receives between £5,000 and £10,000, but from his column in the News of the World.
"Gas, clean coal technology and renewables—that would be a sensible, cheaper and Scottish energy policy", says the tabloid tipster. Let us be honest, as, to give her credit, Mrs. Lait has been on this point. Nuclear power stations will come to the end of their lives over the next few decades. Our coal power stations will also come to the end of their lives, as my hon. Friend David Hamilton knows only too well. Of course, coal is still an important energy source. One third of the UK's electricity needs were met by coal last year. Apart from Longannet, however, Scotland now has no indigenous deep-mined coal, yet the Scottish National party opposes all open-cast applications. That would mean that we would have to rely even more on imported coal, and that there would be more CO 2 emissions, even with the clean coal technology that this Government support.
Will my hon. Friend, unlike SNP Members, answer the question that Scottish Coal is asking at the moment? Will our Government look seriously at the problems involving the fault that Scottish Coal has found? It will require at least £5 million to tide it over until it gets back into production. Will we look at the matter seriously, unlike the SNP, which has refused to talk about it this evening?
Yes, we have already given Scottish Coal £41 million. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have had discussions with Scottish Coal's management and with the unions, and we are looking at the issue very seriously. This is an important matter.
As my right hon. Friend said, oil and gas reserves are being extended by the pilot initiative that she started, which is now under the stewardship of my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Energy.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan has had many opportunities to speak.
Oil and gas reserves are finite, even when we take into account all the work that we are doing with carbon sequestration. That leaves us with renewables, which the Government strongly support. The renewables obligation will mean that there will be a £1 billion market for renewables by 2010, which will represent a very significant part of our energy sources. There are problems of transmission, however. Power lines and under-sea cables are expensive, and they are not popular, as we know from the Northern Ireland interconnector.
Furthermore, all these developments need planning approval, and that is not a foregone conclusion. So, over the next few decades, we could be faced with having to decide between agreeing to an application for a new nuclear power station, and having increased electricity costs, more CO 2 emissions and seeing the lights go out all over Scotland at peak times. None of us would be very popular if that were to happen. That will not be an easy decision, and I am not sure that whoever has to make it will welcome the responsibility. Surely, however, it is right that we should attempt to clarify now exactly who will be making those decisions.
I confess to the House that I made one mistake. The mistake was to believe that, if I raised an important issue in public—open government at work, if you like—the SNP Opposition would be willing to have a sensible debate about it, instead of the Pavlovian reaction that we have seen today. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross has rightly pointed out that it was I who raised the issue. Every time an issue is raised, however—be it on energy policy, immigration policy or defence policy—the nationalists are never prepared to discuss its merits properly. Instead, they claim that everything would be better if it were decided in Scotland. That is the magic bullet that will solve every problem.
The nationalists are obsessed by the constitution, because their only political aim in life is to break up Britain—people, especially Conservative Members, should recognise that—to tear the United Kingdom apart, and to lead us into a constitutional confrontation. [Interruption.] I was just trying to wake the hon. Member for Beckenham up, Mr. Speaker. At the weekend, the nationalists had to admit that a separate Scotland would not automatically be a member of the European Union. It could reject policies such as the common fisheries policy, raising the spectre of a new cod war. This is only one of the many uncertainties we would face if Scotland were ever duped into a divorce from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Mr. Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House has confidence in the process of granting planning consent for new nuclear power stations in Scotland and Wales; notes the benefits of addressing issues relating to energy policy within a UK framework; welcomes the contribution of the recent PIU Energy Review to the debate on energy policy; and welcomes the intention of HM Government and the devolved administrations to work in partnership in implementing an energy policy to ensure energy supplies are secure, competitively priced and sustainable.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you had a request from the Secretary of State for Health to allow him to come to the House and apologise for letting 1,000 written questions go unanswered by his Department since the start of the Session? Written questions are one of the few ways in which hon. Members can hold the Government to account. How can we have confidence that Ministers who can preside over such a fiasco will deliver relevant and helpful answers on time?
Often, on behalf of the House, I have complained to Ministers from the Chair that they should always come to the House when any difficulty arises to do with their Departments. The Secretary of State for Health, to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, has come to the House and answered a parliamentary question. Therefore, I have absolutely no complaint about him.