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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

If the hon. Gentleman is patient, I shall come to exactly that point. The current crisis is played out against the background of an industry that is undergoing fundamental change. After more than a quarter of a century of largely benign conditions in the energy markets in Britain, we face two very big challenges, the first of which is the move from self-sufficiency—we are one of only two G8 countries to enjoy the status of a net exporter—to heavy dependence on imports. Most of that will be gas, and much of it will come from countries that may be subject to some degree of political risk. Secondly, there is the growing international recognition of climate change as an urgent issue. Our obligations to meet our CO2 emissions reduction targets are already quite challenging, and they may well become much more so if future international negotiations set even more demanding targets. I want Britain to play its full part in responding to the problem of climate change, but I do not want us to get ahead of what other countries are doing. However, I certainly do not want us to lag behind them, either.

The Liberal Democrat motion reflects their underlying hostility to nuclear power, but despite 29 minutes from Dr. Cable, I am little the wiser about the actual substance of Liberal Democrat policy. He began by attacking the privatisation of British Energy not, the House will have noticed, on ground of principle, but apparently because the price that was charged at the time was too low. The Liberal Democrat position on privatisation appears to be, XIt's all right—if investors lose enough money."

The hon. Gentleman ducked a question about whether the Liberal Democrats support nuclear power, but their XFederal Policy Consultation Paper No. 61" is quite clear. Should he hold different views, I am glad to tell him that the consultation period ends on 25 October, so he has just enough time to make his own submission—if he can work out what his views actually are. The document states:

XCurrent party policy calls for nuclear power to be phased out".

He also agreed with an intervention from Mr. Chaytor, who said that nuclear power is intrinsically uneconomic. Despite not contradicting such views, the hon. Member for Twickenham did say that he wanted to commit more taxpayers' money to research on nuclear power. At the end of his speech, however, it was still not clear whether he would put in the #650 million of loans. [Interruption.] He would not—at least that is now clear.

The Liberal Democrat claim to support renewables gave the Minister the opportunity to entertain the House exceptionally well, I thought. As was suggested, I shall keep the relevant extract from Hansard with me when I visit the target seats that the Conservative party will regain at the next election. It is worth asking whether the Liberal Democrats have any commitment on the ground to the introduction of renewables. Are there any constituencies in which they would support the siting of wind farms?