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Nuclear Power

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:50 pm on 22nd October 2002.

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Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Minister of State (Industry and Energy), Department of Trade and Industry 9:50 pm, 22nd October 2002

I am delighted to hear that the Liberal Democrat spokesman enjoyed my opening remarks, so I shall give him just one more. We have had an excellent, if all-too-short, debate and contributions from both sides have served the important purpose of feeding serious views on serious subjects into the White Paper process. I would welcome more debates and more dialogue, because they would allow people who really know what they are talking about to contribute to the White Paper.

We have heard a great deal about renewables targets. This matter was summed up for me by a press release issued in Scotland. The Scottish Environment Minister, Ross Finnie, announced that the Scottish Executive were setting a new 40 per cent. target for renewables. Splendid! I have to say that I am slightly allergic to targets. If a target has been set for 20 years hence, for example, that can often be a substitute for the need to do anything for the next 10 years. Anyway, within milliseconds of that statement being made by Mr. Finnie—who, for the benefit of our external audience, is a Liberal Democrat—a press release was issued by the Scottish Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson, a Ms Nora Radcliffe MSP, under the inspiring—inspirational, indeed—headline

XSNP scunnered over green energy challenge".

[Interruption.] I am sorry. Is that word taught in public schools? Do we all know what Xscunnered" means?

Ms Radcliffe went on to say that the main point in support of this 40 per cent. target was that

XThe SNP have clearly been scunnered with this announcement as their own target stands at only 30 % of green energy supplies by 2020."

The comparison with wee boys—or, indeed, wee girls—in a playground making contrasts between their respective anatomies springs to mind here.

I do not want to labour the point, but setting targets achieves nothing. Delivery achieves something, and I hope that the Liberal Democrats will take my remarks to heart, because, instead of being regarded as the party of sustainable energy, as it would wish, it is in some danger of being regarded as the party of unsustainable hypocrisy.

The substance of this debate has been excellent. I fully respect the reasons why the Opposition spokesman has had to leave the House, but I want to answer some of the points that he raised on the nuclear issue. First, Project Blue is nothing sinister. That is not a name that I would have chosen myself, but the use of code words when discussing commercially sensitive information is perfectly normal, and there was no agenda there. The name describes a process of monitoring what was going on in British Energy.

That leads me to the answer to another of the hon. Gentleman's questions. Of course we knew that there were problems with British Energy, and we were monitoring them very closely. It is true that we did not know the full extent of British Energy's problems until the company approached us in early September. When the discussions between two commercial entities—BNFL and British Energy—concluded without delivering the solution that had been widely hoped for, the extent of the difficulties became apparent and the company approached the Government. There is absolute transparency about what we discussed and when we discussed it. I shall be happy to answer further questions if they are asked.