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Nuclear Power

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:42 pm on 22nd October 2002.

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Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry) 8:42 pm, 22nd October 2002

I am delighted that we have this chance to debate nuclear policy and related issues, and I congratulate the Liberal Democrats on choosing it for the second half of their Supply day, although after hearing the Minister's entertaining tour of Liberal Democrat seats and councils where proposals for renewable energy schemes have been turned down, I wonder whether the Liberals may now slightly regret their choice of subject, in view of the fascinating insights into the way in which their policy on energy, particularly renewables, is working out in practice.

I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box and I congratulate him on an entertaining speech. It was not as informative as some of us had hoped, but I shall come back to that in a moment. I regret the fact that the Government did not consider that a statement on this subject was necessary last week, given the fact that during the recess #650 million of taxpayer's money was committed to supporting British Energy. It is a matter of widespread concern not only that no such statement was made, but that the Secretary of State chose not to attend tonight's debate on an important and urgent subject. I hope that the Minister will pass on that concern.

Conservative Members take these issues seriously. That is why I have chosen to speak at the first available opportunity that the House has had to debate the subject since I took on the DTI portfolio at the end of July. The fact that the Secretary of State is not here and the delay in deciding what to do about British Energy suggests uncertainty at least, or perhaps some confusion, about the crisis and how to resolve it—perhaps about energy policy generally, but certainly about nuclear policy in particular. It may be that it is more than confusion. Perhaps the reason for the delay is a conflict between Ministers. Mr. Wilson is known as someone who supports the nuclear industry, but his view does not seem to be universally shared by his ministerial colleagues. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that either the Government do not really know what to do, or that they do know, but are afraid to do it. Whichever of those explanations is true, the outcome is bad for the industry, bad for consumers and bad for taxpayers.

This industry, almost more than any other, needs clarity and stability if it is to have the confidence required to make long-term investment decisions. Those decisions are very long term, and some of them have to be taken quite soon. Indeed, Britain's ability to meet our climate change commitments could be compromised without an early resolution of the conflicts that appear to exist inside the Government. The current crisis—