Energy Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 4:44 pm on 20 April 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords) 4:44, 20 April 2004

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Energy Bill, have consented to place their prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time.

Photo of Lord Ezra Lord Ezra Shadow Minister, Trade & Industry

moved Amendment No. 1:

After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—

Annual report on energy efficiency

The Secretary of State shall publish in such form as he sees fit an annual report setting out what steps he has taken and proposes to take to secure carbon savings from domestic energy efficiency of 5MtC per annum by 2010 and a further 4MtC per annum by 2020."

Photo of Lord Ezra Lord Ezra Shadow Minister, Trade & Industry

My Lords, this amendment raises an important aspect of the Government's energy policy, where it is made quite clear that energy efficiency must play a very large part in securing the reduced carbon emissions to which the Government are committed under the Kyoto objectives and in other ways. I realise that the Government are shortly to produce a report on domestic energy efficiency and, no doubt, that will contain a lot of positive proposals, which we shall be interested to read. Unfortunately, this is our last opportunity to introduce a provision on this subject into the Bill. Therefore, in anticipation of that report, and on the assumption that it will stick to the indications given in the Energy White Paper, we feel that this should be an opportunity for stating quite clearly that these are the objectives.

The fact is that these were not clearly stated as objectives in the White Paper but it was subsequently made quite clear in statements by Ministers that the Government considered themselves committed to it. For example, I remind the Minister that, in answer to a Question from my noble friend Lady Maddock in October of last year he said that the Government regarded it as a commitment to save 5 million tonnes of carbon emissions by the year 2010. In his consultative document on ways in which fiscal measures could be introduced to stimulate energy savings, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated these objectives at the beginning of that report. As this issue was in the Energy White Paper, and as Ministers have repeatedly stated their commitment to these objectives, we feel that this is an opportunity to give this important issue statutory backing. It goes no further than the White Paper, no further than has been reiterated by Ministers on a number of occasions and I therefore beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Hendon Baroness Miller of Hendon Conservative

My Lords, I owe the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, an apology for not having put my name down to this very important amendment, which we most certainly support. Indeed, it is an apology to the rest of the House, who did not realise that we support this amendment. Why should they have realised that?

During the passage of the Sustainable Energy Bill, which is now an Act, on 12 September last year, I said that:

"We want . . . to ensure that the annual report is about real progress on real, firm, binding and achievable targets and not about vague and woolly 'policy goals'".—[Official Report, 12/9/03; col. 616]

But the Government would not accept such a clause and, regrettably, in another place they were able to force those who wanted such a clause to back down rather than lose the Bill.

The proposed new clause, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has just spoken, is very similar. It would require the Government to report on real progress and specific measures taken, and proposed, to achieve the savings from domestic energy efficiency announced in their own White Paper of 5 million tonnes of carbon (MtC) per annum by 2010 and a further 4 million tonnes of carbon per annum by 2020. The case for such a measure, which was strong enough last year, has become even more overwhelming and unanswerable in the light of recent developments, of which I shall mention just a few.

The Government's own sustainable energy policy website now lists the CO2 savings specified in the proposed new clause of 5MtC per annum by 2010 and a further 4MtC per annum by 2020 as "commitments" and "objectives". The proposed new clause requires the Government only to tell the public how they are getting on in achieving their own policy. Do the Government really object to that?

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, confirmed that that was the commitment in a Written Answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, on 27 October 2003. Some 335 Members of the House of Commons—more than half the House—signed Early Day Motion No. 96 in support of the target, so we know the views of the elected representatives. By passing the proposed new clause today we in this House would respond to the views freely held, without pressure from their Whips, by Members of Parliament.

In the past year CO2 emissions have increased by nearly 2 per cent, making domestic energy efficiency all the more important. As the energy White Paper calls energy efficiency the cheapest, cleanest and safest way of achieving energy policy objectives, the public are entitled to know what the Government are doing, and propose to do, to reach the savings that are required by 2010 and the further savings that are required by 2020. While no one doubts that sustainable energy may cost money, we are all entitled to know that the cheapest viable option is being given due priority year in and year out.

The Fuel Poverty Advisory Group has reported that at least 50 per cent more resources are needed if the Government's duty to end fuel poverty, established under the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, which was successfully promoted by my honourable friend David Amess, is to be met. Those organisations involved with combating fuel poverty have all written to the Secretary of State calling for a 20 per cent increase in domestic energy efficiency by 2010. The Government have already agreed that that 20 per cent is equivalent to savings of 5MtC, as specified in the proposed new clause. We need the new clause to ensure that we receive proper reports to show that the Government are on course to comply with the law.

In addition to the letter to the Secretary of State from all those involved in combating fuel poverty, just about every large industry and trade association concerned with producing energy saving materials has written in a similar vein stating that,

"if we are to secure the necessary funding (i.e. investment by the industry) then absolute and unambiguous quantified carbon saving commitments will be needed from government".

Today I have seen a document containing the highlighted words, "Policy in Confidence". It is a draft of the Government's energy efficiency implementation plan written on 2 March 2004. Paragraph 96 of the document states:

"However, the most recent update of the United Kingdom's energy projections has highlighted the fact that changes to our baseline projections mean that the existing package of measures may no longer be sufficient to keep us on track to deliver the expected absolute"— the word "absolute" is underlined—

"emission levels. The current climate change programme is likely to under deliver by up to 7.5 MtC per annum in 2010".

The proposed new clause is all about commitments. It is about clear annual reporting on what the Government have done and what they propose to do. I refer to public accountability, the environment, combating fuel poverty, enabling British industry to invest and, indeed, public honesty.

I urge the Government to accept the very important new clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. If they do not, my colleagues will raise it in another place. My Front Bench team has also signed Early Day Motion No. 96, which I mentioned earlier. If the Government really do not want the measure and wish to defeat it, they will have to bully more than 200 Labour Members of Parliament who have repeatedly signed up to support these commitments, more than 100 of whom have issued press releases to their local papers committing themselves to supporting the commitments.

A final reason why the Government should accept the proposed new clause is contained in paragraph 3.49 of the energy White Paper. In that paragraph the Government promised that,

"we will report annually, as part of the follow up to this white paper, on progress towards achieving the savings we have set out".

Now is the time for the Government to show that they really meant those words.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, I accept what both the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, said about the importance of energy efficiency and I do not resile at all from the objectives set out in that respect in the White Paper. However, the Government cannot accept that this amendment is necessary. The amendment would duplicate what is already in the Sustainable Energy Act 2003. It would also duplicate the energy efficiency aim which is to be published in fulfilment of the provisions of that Act, and to which the noble Lord and the noble Baroness referred.

The 2003 Act obliges the Secretary of State to publish annually a sustainable energy report on progress towards the four goals of energy policy as set out in the energy White Paper. That clearly includes progress on all the main contributors towards that goal, which include energy efficiency. Therefore, we are already obliged to do that. We shall shortly publish a first annual report and the energy efficiency implementation plan of which the noble Baroness appears to have had sight of an early draft. We are doing that in pursuit not only of our commitments but also of the obligations under the Sustainable Energy Act. The principle in the measure that we are discussing would duplicate that. The figures in the proposed new clause are contained in the energy White Paper and are the figures on which we shall have to report progress.

Improving energy efficiency is particularly important in achieving the absolute carbon goals and in achieving the fuel poverty targets. Therefore, that matter will be covered in considerable detail in the annual report and the related papers. The proposed new clause would constitute a new energy efficiency aim which is already an obligation on the Secretary of State under the Sustainable Energy Act. As I say, we intend to fulfil that obligation shortly in the energy efficiency implementation plan. If accepted, the proposed new clause would duplicate a requirement that already exists. Therefore, the amendment is not necessary.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative 5:00, 20 April 2004

My Lords, the Minister mentioned that some of the points were covered in the energy White Paper. Will he not accept that what is in an energy White Paper is obviously not part of a Bill anyway? Might he slightly reconsider the answer that he has given to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, because the two simply do not add up?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, the Sustainable Energy Act obliges the Secretary of State to report annually—that is the report that will be coming shortly—on progress towards the objectives of the White Paper. Therefore that aspect of the White Paper, as others, will be covered in that report and associated documents. We are already obliged to do that. No one is changing the nature of the energy White Paper's objectives, and nor are we resiling from the obligation to report just that under the Sustainable Energy Act.

Photo of Lord Ezra Lord Ezra Shadow Minister, Trade & Industry

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, for her powerful support for the amendment, and I thank the Minister for his considered response. However, I must say that the Bill provides us with an opportunity to emphasise the importance that we attach to restating the specific commitments mentioned in the energy White Paper. That White Paper has no statutory significance, and the amendment would give it statutory significance. That is all the more important in the light of the figures cited by the noble Baroness about the fact that, in the past two years, carbon emissions have actually increased.

We must restate very clearly the objective of achieving the 5 million tonnes' reduction in carbon emissions in the domestic market by 2010. The figure is actually 4 million to 6 million tonnes in the White Paper in the succeeding 10 years. I cannot see why the Government should object to that restatement, to which they have repeatedly committed themselves. I would therefore like to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 141; Not-Contents, 116.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Energy Bill [HL]

Aye: 139 Members of the House of Lords

No: 114 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

Clause 4 [Constitution of NDA]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 2 I shall also speak to Amendment No. 30. These amendments are designed to smooth the creation of the NDA. All sides of the House have in principle supported the establishment of the NDA. Nuclear clean up is important and pressing and we want the NDA to get on with the job as fast as possible.

While there are certain advantages in introducing a Bill in the House of Lords, there are some disadvantages. One of them, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has said, relates to the rules on the commitment of public resources in advance of Second Reading in another place. When a Bill starts here there are certain constraints which have a knock-on effect. It has meant that appointments to the NDA Board cannot be made as soon after Royal Assent as we had originally intended. That will have a knock-on effect on the appointment of the chief executive, who, under Clause 4(3), is to be appointed by the non-executive members. Our target date for the NDA to take on its responsibilities for nuclear clean-up is 1 April next year. It is a challenging, but achievable, target. There is much to do if the NDA is to be set up and provided with the necessary infrastructure so that it is able to prepare and secure approval for its first annual plan in time to start on 1 April.

In the light of that, it is essential that work on establishing the NDA can start as soon as possible after Royal Assent. The chief executive will have a key role in driving the start-up work that is necessary for the NDA to function. Decisions on people, buildings, IT systems and support services are all needed before the NDA can begin its preparatory work. But, as the Bill is currently drafted, the NDA could not start operating until four members are appointed. That would push the appointment of a chief executive until well into the autumn of this year and would slow down the development of a fully functional NDA.

We propose to change the transitional arrangements for the creation of the NDA so that it is established on the appointment of the chairman and for that person to be joined swiftly by the chief executive officer. That will enable the practical work on creating the NDA to start, as we had originally envisaged, soon after Royal Assent which, final approval of the Bill permitting, should mean that we do not lose precious weeks in August and September.

The amendments also put in place arrangements to reflect our determination to ensure the non-executive control that the Bill requires for the NDA board to go forward. During that initial period, the chairman's approval is required for any decision taken by the chief executive until there are sufficient non-executive members to meet the quorum test, as set out in paragraph 9 of Schedule 1.

The initial period would come to an end when the NDA board reached its required minimum complement of seven members, or at the discretion of the Secretary of State. That option is provided so that any unexpected delay in the appointment of the chief executive does not itself become a block to establishing the NDA through the appointment of non-executives. Amendment No. 2 specifically provides for Scottish Ministers to be consulted on the appointments during the transitional period and before Clause 4 on the constitution of the NDA comes into force.

The Government intend to appoint the chairman and then chief executive as soon after Royal Assent as possible—hopefully in late July or early August this year. Non-executive appointments could realistically follow around September, following a recruitment process begun after Second Reading in another place. That explains the timetable.

These amendments seek to facilitate the early development of a functioning NDA in the period after Royal Assent. I stress that, because a previous debate here and a question to my noble friend Lord Triesman from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, dealt with appointments procedures prior to Royal Assent. The Department of Trade and Industry has taken steps to recruit a chairman and chief executive officer designate as senior policy advisers in advance of Second Reading in another place. These provisions do not relate to that. Nothing that is in the Bill can affect the situation prior to Royal Assent. The advertisements for those posts make it clear that the appointments would not be confirmed as chief executive and chair unless the Bill was passed.

The two debates need to be separated. These provisions should allow us to have a relatively speedy and smooth transition to the establishment of the NDA—which would not happen under the Bill as currently drafted. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

My Lords, I have a short question in relation to the amendment. Does it still mean that, in spite of the wording, there will be consultation over the specific individuals who will be appointed, not just over the general idea of the type of people who will be required? It is important that those people are acceptable north of the Border, because the role of the NDA impacts so much on devolved matters, such as planning, roads, health and so on.

Also, is there a precedent for the sort of arrangements that are outlined in Amendment No. 30? Have there been similar interim arrangements on the face of any previous Bill?

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, I wish to raise a small point. Is the Government's hope to have the provisional agency in place so quickly somewhat over-ambitious? It seems to me that anyone who is likely to be suitable to be, first, the Government's adviser, then, in effect, chairman designate and then chairman, must already be in employment. If he is not on three months' notice, then he is probably not doing a job that would make him suitable for a post of this significance. The same would apply to a chief executive appointment, which cannot be made until after the chairman is in post to appoint him. That seems to me to indicate at least a six-month timetable from Royal Assent. That is when the Minister appeared to indicate that the process would seriously get going. I believe that the Government would be wiser to look at the end of the year rather than at September.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Hendon Baroness Miller of Hendon Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for writing to me prior to today to explain his amendments in detail. I also thank his team for giving a week's notice of their tabling. I thought it appropriate to say that in view of the complaints I made when amendments were tabled only on the previous day. We are not always critical; sometimes we are most appreciative.

We also appreciate the Government's comment that they want to get on with setting up the NDA during the passage of the Bill. Unlike suggestions made in an article in the Financial Times, delaying the Bill's implementation is most certainly not the intention of these Benches. We merely want to do our job properly and carefully and to scrutinise the details of the Bill before it reaches the other place where, unfortunately, Members will not have the time to do so to the extent that we do in this House.

We therefore welcome Amendment No. 2 with the proviso that the Minister will be able to give a satisfactory, comforting answer to my noble friends Lady Carnegy and Lord Dixon-Smith. However, as I have spoken to the Minister previously, he will know that there were reasons why we were glad that he did not move the amendment on Report. Certain matters about which my noble friend Lord Jenkin was particularly concerned had not been sorted out to our satisfaction.

Noble Lords might remember that in Committee, my noble friend Lord Jenkin said a little about the advertisement that the DTI had placed for a policy adviser who would then de facto become the chairman of the NDA. It was noted that the DTI wished to appoint a policy adviser to advise on the preparations required for the establishment of the NDA who would be appointed as a non-executive chairman.

Our concern was that this advert not only missed out on possible applicants for the chairman's post by dressing it up as a policy adviser, but we also believed that it may well have broken Treasury rules—the Minister mentioned those—that money should not be allocated for use in conjunction with the Bill until it has received a Second Reading in the other place.

The Minister will also know that my noble friend Lord Jenkin pursued the matter with both the Public Accounts Committee and the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Regrettably, we are not today in a position to give a definitive answer on either of the two matters. With regard to the Commissioner for Public Appointments, the gentleman dealing with the matter has not been in his office for a few days. Furthermore, he is not answering his mobile phone, so it may well be that he is on holiday.

With regard to the Public Accounts Committee, we may well receive an answer during the course of the afternoon. As I mentioned to the Minister, we were able to see a draft reply, which had not been seen by the chairman, simply indicating that the letter of the rules,

"may be said to be followed".

However, whether the spirit of them has been followed is much more debatable.

We do not want to delay matters. I am sure that in a moment the Minister will answer my two noble friends. I shall accept what he has said and the fact that our two problems do not present a reason for rejecting the amendment. They do not interfere with it. I hope that my noble friend Lord Jenkin will be satisfied by what I have done on his behalf, but it is clear that if the position is not correct we will be able to make a protest later. What I have said will be reported in Hansard today.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, consultation would be on individuals under the normal rules and consultation with Scotland would be appropriately covered. However, I am not sure that I can draw an exact precedent and I shall write to the noble Baroness. Of course, in setting up new bodies, ways of moving to their full establishment via transitional arrangements have been adopted in various Acts of Parliament, including the way in which we appoint chief executives prior to the full board being operational. Although it may not be precisely the same as the case here, I am sure that there are broadly similar precedents. I shall draw those to her attention.

In relation to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, it may be true that our ambitious target in making the appointment of the chairman and chief executive presents a tight and challenging time-scale. Some people who might be the most appropriate candidates may not be appointable within that time, in which case the timetable might slip a little. But that is all the more reason for starting the process as early as possible. That is why we want to include these provisions. Even if we lose a week or two during the summer, the most appropriate candidate can be appointed as soon as possible.

I am grateful for the acceptance of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that the provisions are helpful and different from the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, in Committee and on Report and in his correspondence with the commissioner and the chair of the Public Accounts Committee. The correspondence will go back to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and may affect that situation. However, that relates to appointments prior to Royal Assent and these proposed amendments do not affect that position one way or the other. Clearly, we would need to take note of anything the chair of the Public Accounts Committee or the commissioner said about the procedure, but the amendments do not affect it. They affect the procedure post Royal Assent and I commend them to the House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 5 [Designated responsibilities]:

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative 5:30, 20 April 2004

moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 4, line 15, at end insert "; and

(g) the commissioning, planning and developing of nuclear power stations."

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

My Lords, I tabled the amendment partly as a hopeful nudge in moving the Government in a sensible direction and partly as a continuing protest against their lack of an energy policy, which is characterised by their White Paper and by this Bill. It is a feature of that policy that hopes are taken as facts and aspirations as achievements. As even Ministers should appreciate, there is a difference between the two. The Government have ill-founded confidence in what they have said. That confidence tends to blot out any apprehension that they may have got things wrong.

With North Sea oil diminishing, the Government are apparently content on dependence for three-quarters of the raw material needed for a generation from overseas sources a long way away through a pipeline that has not been built. It seems that scant attention has been paid to the inconvenience—I put it no higher than that—of being at the end of a line. This country's needs will necessarily come last, not only in the minds of producers but in the minds of all the consumers on the way.

The Government seem to have made the almost endemic error of disregarding the possibility—perhaps I should have said "probability"—of the cost being seriously underestimated. I think that they have also disregarded the possible, or certain, interruptions that will result from disputes, accidents and terrorist activities. I find it very odd that the Government are consumed with the notion of terror and the activities of terrorists in many contexts but not at all in this one.

The second limb of the Government's energy policy is their entertainment of high hopes in relation to renewables. They seem altogether to have overlooked the fact that wind is rather an irregular affair and that it will not be amenable to control by them. They seem to be blissfully confident that, because they come from natural sources, renewables will not cost too much. However, I believe I am right in saying that recent studies suggest that they have that wrong and that, in fact, it may be a very expensive business to bring electric power from the windmills which they are to erect. I believe that the Government have also neglected to recognise the increasing hostility to their proposals. People in the countryside, in particular, will come to dislike the prospect of their whole environment being populated by these awful windmills.

I do not propose to elaborate at length on all the arguments which were repeated endlessly by very skilled people during the Committee stage of the Bill. Personally, I am very sorry—I never lose an opportunity to say this—that the Committee stage was banished to the appalling, toothless procedure in the Moses Room with no Divisions and no teeth at all but just an endless mass of talk with those involved getting nowhere.

In the circumstances, I think it is amazing that we should be going in a reverse direction to that followed by almost every other country. In my view, in turning away from nuclear, which has provided a reliable base load over many years and creates no emissions, the Government are making a cardinal error. It has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, today and by many others throughout these debates that there are no emissions from nuclear power stations and therefore they lend a degree of much-needed credibility to the Government's Kyoto commitments.

Perhaps the Government will cast their minds back to 1973 when the French realised that it was dangerous to rely to any very large extent on imported supplies. Rather than continue a dependence on Middle East oil, the French showed themselves to be decisive and determined. They then went nuclear in a big way. People talk about the long time taken to move into nuclear, but I think that the example of the French is forgotten. With a real will, in 12 years the French achieved 61 per cent nuclear generation, and that proportion has now risen to three-quarters.

I appreciate that the Minister must be extremely pleased that this is the last chapter of debates, which have gone on almost endlessly. He must be bored to tears with repetition and he must feel like giving me a fairly chilly welcome today when I verge on repetition myself. I do not intend to go on for long but, having paid the noble Lord's patience—and, if I may say so, his good manners—a tribute, I want to say that his speech at Second Reading disappointed me profoundly. It had all the sound and atmosphere of a funeral oration, saying goodbye to our nuclear capacity.

Of course, I accept that from time to time the Government come out with the glib saying that they are "keeping the nuclear option open", but I think that they use that as a means of protecting themselves against a charge of blind and pig-headed complacency. I hope that the Minister will correct me if I am in any way wrong here, but—this is very sad—the Government seem to be totally silent on what they are doing to keep the nuclear option open. I should be very interested to know what thoughts they have on modern types of reactor. I should like to know what time or money they are spending on research into waste handling, which they rightly regard as a very serious problem. A third question is: to what extent are they concerned with the almost certain loss, if we continue in this way, of very valuable skills?

At this stage, I cannot resist the temptation to quote the noble Lord's words, which, by now, I think have become quite familiar. He said:

"One reason why the Government are not disposed to maintain a significant nuclear component over the long term is precisely because we have not worked out how to deal with long-term waste and do not have public confidence in our ability to do so".—[Official Report, 15/1/04; col. GC 164.]

I hope that the noble Lord will at least be moved to produce some kind of palliative comment to remove the rather depressing impression that those words gave, honest as they were.

In my view, it is no answer to say that an amendment such as this will not fit into the Bill. I have no particular regard for the Bill and, if the amendment made a bit of a mess of it, that would not bother me overmuch; nor would I be bothered too much by the argument that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority should not be given a duty which would involve it in making a mess when its primary duty will be clearing up a mess which has already been made. That is a two-edged argument. People who are familiar with the messes might be the best ones to limit the mess in the first place, as well as clearing it up afterwards. I just say that I am not particularly impressed by that argument.

I go back, not particularly interestingly, into my own past. A very long time ago I was a junior Minister in what was then called the Ministry of Power. I regret that there is now no single department responsible for the very important matter of energy. I was rather confused that it should be shared between the two departments of the DTI and Defra. What bothers me is that this crucial subject is being lost sight of and is in danger of almost being forgotten in what I would describe as the "visionless sprawl of the Department of Trade and Industry". I have begun to suspect that the right honourable lady who presides over that ghastly heap has bidden her myrmidons under no circumstances to mention the word "nuclear" in her hearing—at least until after the general election, when it is possible that the facts may render the subject decent enough to be mentioned.

I end simply by saying that I recognise that for the Government to say now that they will take a serious look at nuclear would involve another U-turn. However, such a U-turn would be most particularly welcomed and they would be congratulated—I would certainly be the first to do so—on their enlightenment. However, I suspect that that is too much to hope for.

I make it quite clear that if by any chance I were to be successful in nudging the Government towards accepting the need for nuclear—and saying so now—I should be very pleased that I had made some progress with the amendment. But, if they do not, I shall wish to divide the House, even at the risk of defacing the beauty of the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Gray of Contin Lord Gray of Contin Conservative 5:45, 20 April 2004

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment moved with such skill by my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil, who has been blessed with the gift of combining wisdom, wit and brevity in equal measure; something that is not always available in this House.

It is a matter of very great disappointment to those of us on both sides of the House who support the nuclear industry that the White Paper, on which so much of this Bill is based, makes no more than token mention of nuclear power. To say that the future of nuclear power will not be ruled out is poor reward for an industry that presently provides approximately 25 per cent of our power generation, and which can justifiably claim to be among the cleanest of all generation methods.

A wonderful opportunity has been missed to make a positive commitment to replace the nuclear power stations, which will be decommissioned over the next few years, with a proper new nuclear programme. While many other parts of the world are seizing the challenge, our Government, I am afraid, are fumbling and floundering and making unrealistic demands on the renewable energy industry, which is still in its infancy.

Why is it that countries as far apart as China and Finland, and with needs as different as those of India and Eastern Europe, have been able to overcome the problems of waste disposal and to proceed with the construction of new reactors? My noble friend Lord Peyton made reference to that. I too wonder what the Government are doing in the way of research because building a nuclear reactor today is a very different exercise from 30 years ago. Things have moved on tremendously. I suggest that one of the first things that the Government should do is to set up a working group to study the types of reactors which are being used and are being built satisfactorily in other parts of the world. After all, most countries with nuclear reactors started off having reservations about them, but they have won the battle and are now building; before long they will leave us standing still.

There are now more than 400 nuclear reactors in operation with a substantial number under construction or on drawing boards. A report by the Institution of Civil Engineers entitled State of the Nation 2003 predicted,

"that by the year 2020 90 per cent of the gas needed to fuel British power stations would be imported".

Ironically, that is also the year in which our last remaining nuclear power station will be decommissioned—that is, unless we come to our senses and rejuvenate our nuclear industry. Only 16 years ahead is not long when one takes into account the lead-in time for the building of a nuclear reactor. Many of us may not be around to experience the folly of our present policy, but we shall not be forgiven by our successors.

We suffer from having had a wealth of riches in the energy field for so long—coal, oil, gas and hydro. The first three will soon be depleted altogether, and the gap they will leave behind is far beyond the capability of renewables alone.

We should look across the Channel to France, as my noble friend pointed out. The benefit of its development of nuclear power is now there for everyone to see. Time has been on our side, but we are fast squandering it.

So, for those and many other reasons, I strongly support my noble friend's amendment. In doing so, I must emphasise that the amendment in no way condemns or criticises other forms of power generation. They will all be needed but none more so than nuclear power.

Photo of Lord Monro of Langholm Lord Monro of Langholm Conservative

My Lords, I should like to add a word or two in support of my noble friends Lord Peyton and Lord Gray, who, between them, have put a very powerful case for continuing nuclear development. I have lived within two miles of Chapelcross Magnox Power Station all its life. One can see the huge disappointment among its 400 highly skilled workforce that it is to be decommissioned. Everything is logical in this world. As my noble friend Lord Gray has indicated, power stations will be needed by the year 2020. Surely, it would be sensible to keep these licensed nuclear sites ready and prepared for the next generation. As my noble friend said, to build a modern nuclear power station is much easier than it was in the 1950s and 1960s.

So, I believe that for that reason, and knowing that we will be short of power by 2020, it is foolish to go into reverse and to sit on the fence, as the Government are currently doing.

My second point is that the Government grossly overestimate the progress that will be made with wind power. I have sheaves of correspondence and newspaper cuttings demonstrating mounting opposition to wind farms, some of them 400 feet high and with transmission lines running through much beautiful countryside. The population will not stand for the spoilage of much of our attractive countryside by those ghastly wind farms and transmission lines.

I have another interesting cutting about Eskdalermuir Observatory, of which your Lordships have probably heard as the coldest and wettest place in Scotland. It is a seismographic observatory and it states that it does not want a wind farm within 50 miles, because it would upset its instruments. If we take out that area of the south of Scotland, that will remove an awful lot of projected wind farms immediately.

So the Government want to think again about their reliance on wind farms to provide the power that we have lost through nuclear energy. When they have thought about it, they will realise that it would be foolhardy to throw away the immense expertise that we have in the design and operation of nuclear power just because the Government do not like nuclear power.

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour

My Lords, I would not want my noble friend to feel that support for the continuation of nuclear power exists only on one side of the House. I do not propose to speak for long, but simply to make it clear to him, as I have previously, that I am not in favour of one form of energy at the expense of another. I have nothing against all the plans for renewables—I wish them well and hope that they succeed. But I prefer to have a guarantee available, lest the optimism with which they are viewed proves ill-founded.

One of the first responsibilities of a government towards their nation is to be able to fuel its economy. That means the provision of sufficient energy to meet the rising demands made on the system. Therefore, I support the broad view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that we would be foolhardy indeed to get rid of any existing form of supply of energy unless and until we have guaranteed certainty of the alternatives. I do not propose to join the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, in the Division Lobby tonight, because that is not where the issue will be determined. The issue will be determined by having a clear and frank discussion on the future supply of energy.

I am not sure that this is the appropriate place at which we can sort that out for all time. The noble Lord's amendment does nothing other than to send a clear signal to the Government about what needs to be done. There will be differences about the alternatives. I would not want to join in anything that appeared to be an attack on renewables, but I sound the warning to my noble friend that, when it comes to the guaranteed supply of energy, in my opinion, nuclear will continue to have a role until we have a proven and guaranteed alternative.

Photo of Lord Jopling Lord Jopling Conservative

My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, I shall be happy to join my noble friend Lord Peyton in the Lobby later because I agree with everything that he said, as well as with the comments of my noble friends Lord Gray and Lord Monro. I rise for only one purpose: to say how distressed I am at the Government's attitude to the whole matter of nuclear energy.

Their approach is totally flabby, compared with what I remember of a previous Labour government many years ago. One of the bravest speeches that I ever heard in my life was in another place, when the late, lamented Lord Shore of Stepney, whom many of us miss very much in this House, made a speech proposing the establishment of the nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield. There was a great deal of opposition from his own party to that, but the government of the day took a brave and strong line, realising that something had to be done because the future—or part of the future—for energy resources lay in the nuclear option.

Now we have a Government who appear to be hoping that the whole problem of energy resources will go away and that, when the decision finally has to be taken, as it will because it is inevitable, they will not be in office and will be able to sit and shout and oppose it. It is a sad reflection on the bravery of a previous Labour government that this Government are so utterly flabby in their approach.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

My Lords, those of us who are convinced of the need to move fast on some new nuclear commissioning can take some comfort from the fact that during the course of this long process of discussion of the Bill in Committee, on Report and, now, on Third Reading, what one might call the intellectual case has gone from strength to strength despite all the arguments advanced against the proposition that we need to move quickly to consider commissioning new stations.

The Government, having produced a White Paper only a year ago, are unable—so would be any Conservative, Liberal Democrat or any other government—to signal that in the Bill, as the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, suggests. But, having talked to many people about the matter, the debate itself has been the occasion for a marked change in the public perception of our energy needs. The Kyoto factor is involved; the question of security of supply from the Middle East, Russia, Central Asia and so on is also involved. As has correctly been pointed out, an enormous number of wind turbines—15,000, I think—of 3 megawatts would be needed to replace the nuclear industry.

I am sure that all of those speeches have been well noted across government and that it cannot be too long before there is a shift of policy by the Government. Along with my noble friend Lord Tomlinson, I will not be supporting the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, in the Division Lobby, for self-evident reasons, but the debate has marked a great step forward.

Photo of Lord Ezra Lord Ezra Shadow Minister, Trade & Industry

My Lords, I consider the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, to be of great importance. He has drawn attention to what was a major gap in the energy White Paper. We must resolve what we are going to do about the nuclear option. I also listened with great care to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin. He referred to recent developments in new forms of nuclear generation and the need to assess those developments with care. We need to know whether that is being done. As I understand it, there are about four new processes either actually achieved or on the drawing board. We need to know how they stand up to existing processes and how they meet the various reservations that many people have about nuclear power generation.

My one reservation about the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is that it does not fit in very well with the Bill. I know that he did not regard that as a serious reason for not including it, but I should have thought that his message was clear. I hope that in his response, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will take it seriously and tell us what the Government are doing to assess the various possibilities that now exist that did not previously exist for generating nuclear power, alongside all the other forms of energy generation. We could therefore make use of this interesting debate to obtain a firm statement from the Government about how they propose to develop their whole approach to nuclear power.

Photo of Lord Christopher Lord Christopher Labour 6:00, 20 April 2004

My Lords, I had no intention of speaking in this debate, mainly because every time that I do, I must declare the terrible interest that I have as having responsibility in British Nuclear Fuels. It has neither asked me to speak nor given me any brown envelopes, so I feel reasonably free to express my views.

Broadly speaking, I support the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. I hope that he does not push the matter to a vote, because that would defeat his own objective. Around the House, there is a view that nuclear power must re-enter the view of government. I do not wish to repeat what other noble Lords have said today and in Committee, but the Government's approach seems to lack any objective assessment of world energy needs in 20 or 25 years' time.

Almost every day one reads in a newspaper of increasing demands across the globe. Russia is now in the enviable position of having to decide whether to build its pipeline to service Japan or to service China. My guess is that it will decide on China, because that is the best long-term bet. Pakistan has now decided that it requires another nuclear power station. Who is building it? The Chinese. We need a very objective, realistic assessment of world energy needs. I would not have thought that any government, certainly not the one that I support, would take any comfort from somebody in 10 or 20 years' time, or perhaps sooner, looking back and saying, "They may have saved us from nuclear energy, but at least they produced the blackout". There is a real risk of that happening and an even more serious risk if it applies to an increasingly competitive global industry.

The challenge for all those who support that view is not so much to decide the matter today. I certainly do not support the view that it is cowardice on the part of the Government; that is a ridiculous observation. It is a challenge to both the Opposition and ourselves to ensure, if we can, that something sensible appears in our manifestos, because there will be no change before the next election and we have about 12 months to put that right.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I am in some difficulty in responding, for the simple reason that those who followed debates on the Bill over many hours on many days in Committee and on Report will know that we have spent hours on the issue. I have looked at the Hansard report of just one Committee sitting, when we discussed skills in the nuclear industry. My contribution at that stage was 15 minutes long—I make no apology, as it was Committee stage. The debate on just the narrow issue of how we preserve and intend to enhance nuclear skills lasted more than an hour. Yet today I am asked to respond on the whole question of the Government's nuclear energy policy.

In moving his amendment with his customary skill and charm, the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, made a Freudian slip: he could not quite recall what NDA stood for. It stands for Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, not "commissioning" or "build". We do not need legislation in order to carry out a programme of build, if that is decided upon in government policy. The Bill creates an authority to deal with clean-up. That is what we have debated for weeks on end. I fail to understand how I can respond to a proposal involving the exact opposite of what we are doing.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord. Before he goes too far with the point that I have forgotten what those wretched initials stand for, I hope that he will allow for the effects of old age, which cause a lapse of memory every now and again. Perhaps the noble Lord will reach that state before very long.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that I feel that I am already at that stage, so I am at one with him on that. I sought to make the more serious point that NDA stands for Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. The Bill is about how we deal with nuclear clean-up. It is about the nuclear industry's past and the inheritance that we need to address now, as everybody recognises; hence the creation of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

However, Amendment No. 3 is about the possibilities of nuclear build. I recognise the points that noble Lords who spoke in support of the amendment made on the crucial issue of nuclear power. Those speeches were well presented, and we recognise the nature of the problem. However, I ask noble Lords whether they propose that nuclear build and the solutions to the energy gap issues that they have identified should be the responsibility of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority—that is where the amendment would appear in the Bill. It seems to make an absolute travesty of our proposals. We pride ourselves on our legislative role, the amount of time that we are prepared to devote to legislation and the care that we take. Does anybody who supports the necessity to address the nuclear question in a different timescale from the one proposed by the Government, as do noble Lords in some parts of the House, think that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is the agency that should do it? That is what the amendment asks noble Lords to support.

If, by some ridiculous mischance, noble Lords are tempted to go near the Lobby in support of the amendment in those terms, it cannot be the action of those who are concerned properly about our energy difficulties and the obvious necessity to meet the energy gap identified.

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour

My Lords, I hope that when the Minister refers to noble Lords being tempted to go through the Lobbies, he is not talking to any of his noble friends behind him. His noble friends expressed very clear sympathy with the arguments and the view that this was not the appropriate place with which to deal with the matter. I hope that the Minister will not drive us into the arms of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, which I never find particularly appealing—I could find much more appealing arms to get driven into—and will address perhaps the seriousness of the issue, with which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, also dealt.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I was not addressing my remarks to any particular part of the House. I merely sought to identify that the amendment made the odd interpretation that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, established in the framework of the Bill to deal with nuclear clean-up, should be the focus of nuclear build to meet an energy gap and future provision that we all recognise is of surpassing importance to this country. That is why we have spent many hours in Committee. Noble Lords on the Front Benches have made significant contributions to this debate. The fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has not participated today is in no way a reflection, as I understand it, of her lack of concern about the issues of energy provision in the future—very far from it. I presume that in fact she has not participated in this debate because this amendment is not an appropriate amendment to address itself to these issues.

I could reiterate the arguments that we have had in Committee and on Report over all these issues, of the research positions that we are concerned about, of the questions of the research activity in which we participate, and of the issues that we have with regard to enhancement of skills in order to preserve the position for the nuclear future. I could enter into the debate of the whole issue of nuclear pricing and the relative costs of the nuclear industry at present. I have been invited to do exactly that, it seems to me, by the very nature and breadth of this debate. But there must come a time with a Bill, particularly at Third Reading, when we address ourselves to amendments that are realistic, and that give effect reasonably to what can be achieved in the Bill.

I maintain that it is perfectly obvious that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is not the authority to carry the burden of the points that have been made on the general energy policy. I have no doubt that we shall return to these debates on many occasions in the future. If one thing is certain about your Lordships' House, it is that there are manifest opportunities for debates on every issue, and I have no doubt that energy will feature over the course of the next few months and years.

I am merely making the point today that this amendment is grotesquely misplaced in asking the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to be responsible for nuclear build. It is on those grounds that I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that he has had a good debate, and he has made his case about nuclear issues, but it would not be right to ask noble Lords to participate in the Lobbies on an amendment that is so ill-construed.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, and before my noble friend comes back, I say to the Minister that he has slightly misjudged the occasion. The problem that we have had with this Bill throughout is that it is not a Bill about energy. The very issues that have been raised this afternoon can be addressed nowhere in the Bill, but we should be addressing them.

Later on—I suspect by then many noble Lords will no longer be in the Chamber—I will again attempt to get something to cover the issue of protecting the environment, while allowing development to take place on wind farms. Again, I shall be told that it is not relevant, and it is not appropriate. But this Bill is a wasted opportunity. This Government have wasted it. No wonder my noble friend is valiantly trying to raise an issue that is of great concern to all Members.

The noble Lord is well aware that we on the Front Bench—although I am sitting behind my noble friend on this occasion, I do not know if I feel freer or not; I do not think that I feel anything about it—feel that he has misjudged it. I found his response very disappointing—offensive is too strong a word.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the noble Baroness did catch me before I sat down, so I will respond. I regret that she thinks that my remarks were ill-judged to the occasion. I merely emphasised the obvious fact that we have been through all these issues. We have had debates at Second Reading, and we had endless debates in Committee. I just indicated one brief illustration of how lengthy our debates were in Committee. Noble Lords will recall that we had 13 days in Committee. We have had days on Report, and the issues have been articulated and aired there.

There has not been a point that has been made today—though they have all been made effectively and ably by noble Lords—that has not been articulated in the context of the Bill prior to today. It is not my role at this point to respond to a general debate. This is not Second Reading; this is an amendment to a Bill asking the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to be responsible, as I see it, for commissioning nuclear build—the exact opposite to the whole proposition of what the Bill stands for. It is on that basis that I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that he has had a fair run. Perhaps he will recognise that he could at this stage usefully withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative 6:15, 20 April 2004

My Lords, if the noble Lord had taken that sort of note earlier on, he might well have persuaded me. I am afraid that he has not. I am very grateful to everyone, to all noble Lords except one, for taking part in this debate. My noble friends on this side of the House will, I am sure, forgive me, if I say that I am particularly grateful to the three noble Lords who took part from the other side of the House.

I have always thought that it is particularly important in your Lordships' House that there should be some echo and some common ground between the parties. I am grateful to the three noble Lords who supported what I said, even though they do not accept my view that protests are usually louder if they are also expressed in the Lobbies. I am sure that our difference in that matter will not affect our relationship.

I am conscious that since my noble friend on the Front Bench has been unhappily silent, it occurs to me that there might be a possibility of her being under some constraints that do not affect me at all. I will not specify them, but only the direction is sufficient for me.

I should like to finish by saying that what the noble Lords, Lord Christopher, Lord Lea and Lord Tomlinson, said to me was an effective plea, which I hope they will believe really did shift me. On the other hand, the speech of their noble friend the Minister, which was really more of a lecture and a homily, telling me rather sharply that I had made a bad mistake in intruding on the niceties of his Bill, put me back sharply to where I was before. To say no more, I should like to take the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 64; Not-Contents, 121.

Division number 2 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Energy Bill [HL]

Aye: 62 Members of the House of Lords

No: 119 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 11 [General duties when carrying out functions]:

Photo of Lord Jopling Lord Jopling Conservative 6:30, 20 April 2004

moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 9, line 23, at end insert ", including the desirability of optimising, through its employment arrangements and other NDA contracts, the social and economic life of the community and, during the period that it has responsibility under a direction under section 5 for securing the operation or decommissioning of any installation, of maintaining or enhancing so far as practicable the levels of support to that life that were made by the operator of the installation prior to the direction being made"

Photo of Lord Jopling Lord Jopling Conservative

My Lords, I understand that we are debating Amendment No. 4 and Amendment No. 6. The two amendments are tabled in my name and in that of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I should tell noble Lords that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, to whom I spoke this morning, fully supports the amendments but is not with us because he has to attend to a serious family crisis. I am sure that the House sends good wishes to him and to his family.

During the progress of this Bill, we have heard noble Lords speak from various parts of the House about the serious impact of plant closure and decommissioning on the social and economic well-being of local communities. I speak with particular feeling on this, having been for many years a Member in another place for a Cumbrian constituency close to Sellafield.

Assurances have been sought that affected communities will receive the necessary support to restructure their economies and on the extent to which the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has a role in providing support to benefit the social and economic life of those affected areas. I remind noble Lords that Clause 9(1)(e) gives the NDA the function of,

"giving encouragement and other support to activities that benefit the social and economic life of communities living near designated installations, designated sites or designated facilities or that produce other environmental benefits for such communities".

Noble Lords will recall that at the Report stage the Government clarified that this was a supplemental role for the NDA. It had the function because it had a role in providing "some" support. Responding on behalf of the Government on 18 March, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, made it clear that the Government did not see the NDA as the right body to take responsibility for addressing the social and economic impact of decommissioning. That responsibility resided with local or regional bodies. My aim this evening is to demonstrate that that is the wrong approach.

However, the noble Lord went on to explain (at col. 444 of Hansard) that the authority would have a role:

"Nor does it mean that the NDA will have no role to play in this regard. It clearly has a contribution to make. Like any significant employer—such as BNFL before it—the NDA will play an active role in encouraging and supporting activities and initiatives that bring social and economic benefit to local communities".

That is exactly our point. Further to this, the noble Lord went on to say:

"Where the NDA is the employer and where it is involved in taking responsibility for action, of course we must look at the way in which we can use its resources to support and buttress the local economies as best we can".—[Official Report, 18/3/04; col. 446.]

The amendment I now propose seeks to address and clarify in the legislation this important role, and to seek to turn the Government's fine words into positive action. Here I reflect the previous debate during which my noble friend Lord Peyton made exactly the same point about nuclear energy in seeking to turn the Government's fine words into positive action.

I recall years ago the example of BNFL which, in Cumbria in particular, contributed significantly over a long period to the economy and social well-being of the locality through its employment practices and the funding it has committed to the support of local communities. Many people in the areas where BNFL operated remember with great warmth the hard work of the late Sir Christopher Harding, the chairman of BNFL, on these endeavours.

The NDA will take over responsibility for decommissioning and clean-up and, with its substantial resources, will be a significant employer. It will have within its control the entering into large contracts for securing the decommissioning and clean-up work. Through those contracts there will be an opportunity to incentivise the successful operation of the contracts in terms of providing new employment opportunities, the commercialisation of technologies, encouraging local spend, and so forth. Opportunities will also arise for the NDA to release clean-up sites for development, thus helping to stimulate regeneration. Those are just some of the examples of how, during the course of its work, the NDA can benefit local communities. While seeking to secure value for money in its dealings, the NDA must have embedded in its culture the need to meet the social responsibilities that such major organisations should have.

In the previous debate the Minister, when refusing to have the NDA bear responsibility for nuclear matters, made a particular point when he said that its role was "decommissioning and clean-up". I ask the noble Lord: can there be any more important part of clean-up after decommissioning than to try to clean up the ravages which the decommissioning has caused to local communities? I would have thought that that was an essential part of "clean-up".

It is important to recognise that these measures to provide support can be carried out only by the NDA and not by development agencies. The incorporation of this amendment into legislation has two purposes. First, to help embed these values into the culture of the organisation in the way it operates in its dealings with others, it is important that these considerations are given proper weight in contractual negotiations. Secondly, to engender confidence in the NDA within the local communities affected by decommissioning that the support previously given by BNFL or other operators is maintained and enhanced. The support of local communities is crucial to the successful operation of the NDA.

Finally on Amendment No. 4, I refer also to the duty of the NDA set out in Clause 11(1),

"in carrying out its functions, to have particular regard to . . . Government policy".

Through its activities the NDA can provide benefits to local communities which, as I have said, are within its remit alone. It clearly must be relevant to government policy that every opportunity is taken to increase the economic self-sufficiency of an area and to reduce dependence on the state.

I turn now to Amendment No. 6. At Report stage the Government were asked about the level of funding the NDA will feel it is appropriate to commit to supporting local communities. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, stated in reply that the NDA would have a total budget initially in the order of £2 billion. While it was indicated that there may be margins of discretion and judgment, it was made clear that there was limited provision for the support of local communities.

I have to recognise that the Government have responded positively in setting up a strategic response task force at Dounreay and, more recently, a similar task force for west Cumbria. Those strategic task forces will prepare a long-term vision for those areas and oversee its implementation. While they welcome the setting-up of the task forces, local communities are concerned that the funding available to deliver the vision will not be forthcoming on the scale required or continue in the long term, as administrations and priorities change. Here we are back to the same problem of turning fine words into positive actions.

I cannot underestimate the size of the challenge affecting those areas. They will suffer large losses in employment for which there is no readily available alternative employment. Attracting new businesses into those relatively remote areas will be especially difficult. In those areas, and possibly in others, there is a special case for support to address serious social and economic problems which, without concentrated action, will result from the job losses. For example, major infrastructure investment and considerable support to help the diversification of these economies will be necessary.

It is recognised that the task force is a vehicle for getting access to spending from government departments, and that is welcome. However, there is no guarantee that sufficient funding will be forthcoming from government departments, or indeed from the Government through regional development agencies. Complementary to the establishment of the task force, a commitment is sought from the Government that the money will be forthcoming to deliver what the task forces agree is required.

While the NDA will not be a primary regeneration body, the proposed amendment allows for funds to be provided in the NDA's funding to facilitate regeneration activities through the task forces; otherwise I would ask the Government how their commitment to address the problems will be seen in the long term to give the communities confidence to help to rebuild their local economies. Perhaps the Minister can advise the House how the Government may otherwise demonstrate that the funding will be guaranteed to deliver the outcomes agreed to be necessary by the task force. Clearly, the Government have a vested financial interest as well as a moral duty to secure economic recovery in those areas. Encouraging self-sufficiency of the areas will reduce the reliance on government spending in the long term on economic and social problems.

Finally, what price can be put on the readiness of local people to co-operate in the future? The nuclear industry has not always been popular, but areas such as west Cumbria and Dounreay have stood by it loyally over the years. To ensure trust and co-operation, long-term and guaranteed commitment is absolutely essential. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Ezra Lord Ezra Shadow Minister, Trade & Industry

My Lords, I support the amendment so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. There is a social connotation to the work of the NDA. It reminds me of a problem that we had to face in the coal industry when I was directly involved in it. We started off by considering that it was our task to run the industry and that if we had to close pits for good and sufficient reason, the social implications would have to be borne by other agencies of government. However, we soon realised that that was an inadequate response. We had to set up our own body and with our knowledge of the localities involved we had to see whether we could find alternative employment for those who unfortunately were deprived of their livelihood through our actions, justified as they may have been.

I have great sympathy with the amendment, and I believe that the NDA should have a wider social responsibility which spells out more clearly what is implied in the Bill. The amendment spells it out in a way that I consider to be wholly desirable. Therefore, I hope that the Minister can accept the amendment.

Photo of Lord Monro of Langholm Lord Monro of Langholm Conservative 6:45, 20 April 2004

My Lords, I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Jopling and the kind words of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. If, like me, one lives within sight of Chapelcross, one knows that such a closure after virtually 50 years' operation has a catastrophic impact on the local community. I know that that will equally be so in west Cumbria and at Sellafield, where I have often visited.

I would like clarification from the Government about where we stand on support for the community. At Second Reading, I raised the issue with the Government. In response the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said:

"I referred earlier specifically to west Cumbria, where there is a heavy dependence on the nuclear industry. However, that applies also to the north of Scotland and, as far as the noble Lord, Lord Monro, is concerned, to the economic area around Chapelcross".—[Official Report, 11/12/03; col. 920.]

I want to know who will be responsible for funding that support. Will it be done through the task force or, in respect of Dounreay and Chapelcross and later our other nuclear stations in Scotland, is it to be done through the Scottish Executive? It is notoriously true that co-operation between the Government at Westminster and the Scottish Executive is pretty fragile and often non-existent. What the Government here say will happen just does not happen in relation to Scotland, or they use the Sewel rules which allow them to put through a motion in the Scottish Executive without it being fully debated. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, can give the House an idea of how much support the community will receive from the NDA. Is it to be funded entirely from London, or will it be supported in Scotland by the Scottish Executive?

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is correct. In west Cumbria and in Dumfries, the nuclear industry has worked extremely well with the community—there is the very best of relationships. As the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said, they were fostered by the late Sir Christopher Harding most effectively. It would be tragic if the skilled workforce of 400-plus at Chapelcross were put out to grass with no jobs to go to. I know that there are bound to be jobs in the NDA and in the decommissioning procedure, but by and large the industry has been a source of employment for skilled people with university degrees, and such jobs have provided rare opportunities in rural areas such as Dumfries and Galloway.

I hope that the Minister can give the House some encouragement and support for the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Jopling. It has been tabled with the very best of intentions to help areas of high unemployment when the plants are decommissioned. The support that is to be provided at Dounreay and to west Cumbria will substantially be available to the other power station areas as well.

Photo of Lord Gray of Contin Lord Gray of Contin Conservative

My Lords, I want to associate myself with what my noble friends Lord Jopling and Lord Monro have said. To some extent, decommissioning has already started at Dounreay. The cleaning-up has taken place and many people who were previously employed there have been re-employed, which is all to the good. I hope that the same will be achieved in other parts of the country. It is no surprise that those who have not experienced any of this yet are a little apprehensive about what may lie ahead.

The amendment is a very good one. It spells out clearly what is expected. I reiterate what my noble friend Lord Monro said: the relationship between the present authority and the local communities in the various Scottish cases has been very good in every case, particularly at Dounreay, which is the one that I know best. The relationship there has been excellent and the progress made so far has been very encouraging indeed. I am not suggesting for one moment that these standards will not be continued, but it is essential that they are maintained and, where possible, even improved upon.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, covered the subject very adequately. I merely want to register my total support for what he said.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Hendon Baroness Miller of Hendon Conservative

My Lords, we, too, support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Jopling and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, who is unable for very serious reasons to be with us today. I know that my noble friend Lord Jenkin is sorry that he could not be here because he would have liked to have spoken in support of the amendment.

I have listened very carefully to what has been said. The truth is that my noble friend Lord Jopling made a wonderful introduction and covered most of the points that could be covered. I would have to dig deep to find another reason to support the amendment because he has covered them all. I was very impressed with the point that he raised in relation to the reply given to the earlier amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Davies. He pointed out that the Minister made great play of the fact that the role of the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency is first to decommission and then to clean up. Frankly, that says it all. It was the most attractive part, in a sense, of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, which I felt was very unattractive in parts.

I am also grateful to my noble friends Lord Monro and Lord Gray for the way in which they referred to their local interests. Again, I cannot add to anything they have said. They covered the issue of local knowledge and they know what is going on. It was interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, spoke about his experiences in the coal industry and how it had a duty to clean up and help the social fabric of an area when coal was no longer the predominant industry there.

With those few remarks, we strongly support these two most important amendments.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Jopling has fully explained the reasons for moving the amendment. I do not wish to repeat what he said—it was very clearly put—but perhaps I may ask one or two questions directly of the Minister.

I spoke at Report stage on this issue, where the answer I received from the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, was that it would be the responsibility of the regional development agencies. What progress has been made, if any? Have the regional development agencies accepted this responsibility and what plans do they have to discharge it?

I understand that the NDA has a limited provision of £2 billion, which it will obviously use for the whole of its work. How much of that, if any, does it anticipate setting aside to achieve the aims of my noble friend? Clearly there will not be a pot of money on which to draw at the last minute. I imagine that certain facilities will have to be made in advance; if so, what are those? My noble friend said that he is apprehensive that sufficient funding has been made available. Can the Minister clarify that point?

At Report stage, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said:

"I have not the slightest doubt that a great deal more needs to be done . . . But there we have an indication of work in progress with encouraging results. We will want to build on that experience as regards West Cumbria".

Perhaps the Minister can share his thoughts with us because I certainly have not had any response—I do not know whether other noble Lords have—since that time.

Later the Minister went on to say:

"This is in the early stages preparation, but it will be in place before the NDA takes up its responsibilities for sites in April 2005".—[Official Report, 18/3/04; col. 445.]

That is all well and good, but the amendment moved so ably by my noble friend seeks more than that. I hope that at this stage of the Bill—this is the last chance we have—the Minister will answer these direct questions.

From the feed-back that I have received of the demands that are made on the RDAs, they may be apprehensive that they will be charged with doing something for which they do not have a specific allocation of funds. I urge the Minister, if he can, to reply to that point when he responds to my noble friend.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, it is clear from our earlier discussions that the Government are conscious of the kind of problems that have been outlined, particularly in relation to the west Cumbria area, where BNFL has historically played a major role, and in the other areas of the UK to which reference has been made, including Dounreay and elsewhere. BFNL has played a significant role in the community and has done so without even the statutory provisions already in the Bill, let alone the wider-sweeping changes to the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. Unlike BNFL and the UKAEA, the NDA will continue to have an active role in supporting and encouraging activities and initiatives, bringing forward social and economic benefits to the communities in which they have operated.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, was good enough to recognise that there are significant powers within the Bill for the NDA to do so. Clause 9 refers to giving encouragement to social and economic benefits to local communities. That is not an optional extra; it is clearly part of its powers. It refers also to environmental benefits—which are less evident in these amendments—under Clause 12, which was inserted during an earlier stage of the Bill. It has responsibilities and requirements in relation to the skilled workforce under Clause 11. As to the driving forward of the clean-up operations, there is a requirement under Clause 14 that this must contain proposals for supporting local communities, maintaining a skilled workforce and so on.

The annual plan of the NDA will have to cover and report on these various areas. Certainly support for local communities will be a significant issue and will be subject to ministerial approval.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, referred, as did others, to the task force which has been set up in West Cumbria and the memorandum of understanding with the West Cumbrian authorities, led by the North West Development Agency. That agency is therefore a positive participant in this and the area is already a priority for the north-west regional strategy, bringing together regional stakeholders, public authorities and various companies, maximising the effect of the various relevant funding streams. Many millions of pounds have been made available through such measures.

Given that background and given the commitment of the NDA and its predecessor bodies to the communities, I am not convinced that we need any further amendments along the lines of those proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. There has been a significant partnership between the pre-existing organisations, the RDAs and the local authorities and there are very substantial powers within the Bill. But the way in which the amendments are phrased would take that significantly further and do not sit very well with the overall responsibilities of the NDA.

For example, Amendment No. 4 links government policies with the NDA's contracting arrangements. It implies that the social and economic benefits locally are more important than any other policies the Government may have in respect of nuclear clean-up. That is not a sensible approach. Clearly it is one of many responsibilities, but the environmental outcome, the speed and efficiency of clean-up, the way in which we deal with the workforce and so on must all be part of those responsibilities. That is part of the contract and it is the responsibility of the NDA rather than the Government, as Amendment No. 4 suggests.

I do not think the language of Amendment No. 4 is right either when it refers to the NDA having a responsibility to optimise the social and economic life of the community. I do not believe that, however dominant individual employers may be in an area, they can be given that kind of responsibility for the future of their communities. Indeed, in some ways, it would be very unhealthy for that to happen. That is why we have brought into the plan for west Cumbria and elsewhere not only a range of public authorities but also other private sector employers. I think that that is the right approach rather than placing a strategic obligation on the NDA, while recognising that the NDA will be a driving force and will provide resources to deliver those local benefits.

Amendment No. 6 is even more seriously wrong. It suggests that the Secretary of State might withhold a grant to the NDA should it be considered that the NDA is not doing enough to support local communities. Let us think about the balance: the essential task of the NDA is nuclear clean-up—a very delicate and difficult task. The NDA is under certain obligations and has certain powers beyond those obligations to deal with local and social issues, but should a future government decide that the NDA was wanting in one particular respect in delivering that, is it really sensible that the government should deprive it of funds in order to carry out its core task? Amendment No. 6 would provide a very substantial and unnecessary power which the combination of the NDA with regional and local authorities to deliver social, economic and environmental benefits will not need in carrying out the kind of objectives which noble Lords have urged on us.

The Bill as it stands provides significant obligations on the NDA to engage in that. The action of government in bringing what will be the NDA together with others to deliver support for those communities, together with the obligations in the Bill on the NDA, will deliver what people want.

As for who will be involved, in England the RDA will be a major partner, as will local authorities and others. In Scotland, the major partners will be the Scottish Development Agency and Scottish local authorities, with the general guidance of the Scottish Executive. They have responsibility for regeneration in Scotland and will partner the NDA in this regard.

The noble Lord, Lord Monro, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked what moneys will be available. It is not possible to say how much money would come from the NDA in this regard when we do not know with which sites it will be dealing in a period of operation that will last for many decades. Contributions would come from other funding streams as well as from the NDA by a combination of measures, probably led by the public sector, but also levering in other private sector moneys to create a healthy economic and social base for those communities. Therefore, with regret, I do not think it is possible for me to respond to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Monro, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, in terms of pounds, shillings and pence. Clearly, there will be a responsibility on the NDA to provide such resources as will be appropriate to the impact of its activities on particular communities over the years. It is not possible for me to say today how much money or what proportion of NDA funds will be available for that purpose.

We all recognise the importance of the relationship between the NDA and the local communities in which it operates and is, in some cases, the dominant employer, directly or indirectly. However, I think the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, has phrased his amendments goes too far. Amendment No. 6, in particular, provides a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Important though that nut is, such a provision would interfere with the central purpose of the NDA.

I therefore hope that with the commitment from the Government and the existing commitment in the Bill on the NDA's role in this regard, the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to press his amendment.

Photo of Lord Jopling Lord Jopling Conservative

My Lords, that was rather a strange reply. The Minister spent a good deal of his speech, particularly the early part, endorsing a good deal of what I and a number of my noble friends had said, but he came, unaccountably, to a totally different conclusion from the one to which we came. From what I heard, he did not appear to address my basic question about why clean-up should not cover dealing with the problems that are left behind by decommissioning. Minds do not seem to have met, so I wish to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 4) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 105; Not-Contents, 98.

Division number 3 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Energy Bill [HL]

Aye: 103 Members of the House of Lords

No: 96 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative 7:15, 20 April 2004

moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 10, line 7, leave out "a devolved administration" and insert "by a devolved administration in relation to its territory"

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, Clause 11 of the Bill states:

"It shall the duty of the NDA, in carrying out its functions, to have particular regard to each of the following—

(a) relevant Government policy".

If I can grace "relevant Government policy" with this, we are coming to what I call the gritty little parts of the Bill rather than the major issues of policy with which we have been dealing until now.

Over the page in subsection (4), Clause 11 continues:

"In this section 'relevant Government policy' means all current policies which—

(a) relate to the decommissioning of nuclear installations, the cleaning-up of nuclear sites or other activities in relation to which the NDA has functions; and

(b) have been published by or on behalf of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom or a devolved administration, have been notified to the NDA by the Secretary of State or have been notified both to the NDA and to the Secretary of State by a devolved administration".

No distinction is made, as far as the NDA is concerned, as to whether a policy is enunciated by the Secretary of State on behalf of the United Kingdom Government or indeed by one of the devolved authorities which simply have to notify their policy to the NDA and to the Secretary of State. It is then appropriate as a policy which the NDA has to follow.

No distinction is made between national policies and relevant government policies made by a United Kingdom Government and policies made by any devolved authority, so there is inadvertently an extension of the devolution settlement made in both the Scotland and Wales Acts. My amendment would put that right by limiting the actions of the devolved administrations to only those policies applying in their own particular territories.

This is important because when the Bill becomes an Act, we will have to deal with what is written in the Bill—not what we want it to mean or what we think it means, but what it actually says. It is not that I think that the Welsh Assembly will get particularly upset if some policy that it has enunciated for Wales is not applied in England—the same could apply to the Scottish Parliament. It is much more possible that somebody in England could think that a policy enunciated by the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament is attractive and take the NDA to court because it is not applying relevant government policies as defined in the Bill because no distinction is made. That is a very real possibility and we have an obligation to remove it. We should not allow an extension of the devolution settlement to happen through inadvertence. That is the reason behind this amendment. I do not need to take any more time. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Ezra Lord Ezra Shadow Minister, Trade & Industry

My Lords, the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is an important clarification, which I am sure the Government could accept without further debate. That is my feeling.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, it is true that at first sight I believed that the amendment was sensible and would clarify the situation in the Bill, but I have taken further legal advice on the matter. The powers of the devolved administration are clearly defined in the devolution settlement. Therefore, one could not require a public authority to take note of a document produced by a devolved administration which went beyond those powers.

If it was solely in the limited context of this Bill that we introduced the qualification that the noble Lord's amendment would provide, it might make sense. Because there is a whole range of legislation that refers to the powers and advice or consultation with the devolved administrations, all of which are presumed to be within the powers of the devolved administrations and not to breach the devolution settlement, we would muddy the waters if we wrote it into this legislation and not the other Acts. That is very strong legal advice so, despite my initial inclinations and despite encouragement from the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, I shall on this occasion stick with the advice and oppose the noble Lord's amendment. I hope that, in view of my explanation, he will withdraw it.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, the Minister will hardly be surprised that I find his response unsatisfactory. It appears to imply that what we put in the Bill cannot affect previous legislation, but that cannot be so. The Government themselves have tabled Amendment No. 26, which deliberately sets out to amend previous legislation. At a quick scan of the Bill, there are 31 clauses that amend previous legislation. This is an instance of doing it through inadvertence.

I am sorry that I have to take the time of the House on this, but we should not permit the extension of the devolutionary settlement through inadvertence. I am not entirely satisfied with the legal advice that the Minister has received. My view of legal advice when matters become technical is that one can get the opinion that one wants. I am not in the least surprised that the department's legal advisers have given the Minister the advice that they have; in a way, I should have been very surprised and disappointed if they had not. But that is the position that we are in: we have to secure the future.

If we put the amendment into the Bill tonight, it will not be the end of the matter. The Bill has to go to the Commons and be considered there, and the matter will undoubtedly be further debated. The fact that something has not been done in other legislation because an assumption has been made does not mean that it should not be done when the matter has been pointed out, as it now has. On those grounds, I wish to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 5) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 90; Not-Contents, 99.

Division number 4 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Energy Bill [HL]

Aye: 88 Members of the House of Lords

No: 97 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Photo of Lord Jopling Lord Jopling Conservative 7:34, 20 April 2004

moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 11, line 27, at end insert—

"( ) In determining whether to make a grant to the NDA under section 24, and the amount of any such grant, the Secretary of State shall have regard to the extent to which in his opinion the NDA should make grants and loans under subsection (2)(c) for the purposes of mitigating any adverse effect of the decommissioning of designated facilities on the social and economic life of communities living near installations."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Lords in Waiting (Whips)

My Lords, I beg to move that the proceedings on Third Reading be now adjourned until 8.35 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.