Energy Supply

– in the House of Lords at 5:07 pm on 30 June 2004.

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Photo of Lord Jenkin of Roding Lord Jenkin of Roding Conservative 5:07, 30 June 2004

rose to call attention to the future energy supply of the United Kingdom; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, energy supply is an extremely complex subject. I am gratified by the number of noble Lords who have expressed a wish to speak in the debate. In my speech, I intend to concentrate on just three issues; namely, to discuss what is undoubtedly the deepening anxiety about the security of the United Kingdom's future energy supplies.

I want then to explore what I see as a very big hole in the Government's policies; namely, the conflict between the White Paper's professed pursuit of security of supply and that same White Paper's targets for cutting greenhouse gases. Finally, I shall draw attention to the growing awareness that a major part of the solution to both those problems lies with the nuclear industry. Of course, that is not the only part, and I strongly commend an article in today's Financial Times by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Madingley. It is not so much, as the White Paper says at paragraph 4.68, that,

"future new nuclear build might be necessary".

The real question for today's debate is whether and when the Government will recognise that it will be necessary.

I turn now to a couple of fundamental facts. First, for the first time in our history the UK will, in a very few years, cease to be self-sufficient in overall energy. As our own continental shelf runs down, as our elderly coal-fired power stations are faced with stringent new EU emissions targets, as existing nuclear reactors reach the end of their lives and are closed, it is the Government's policy to fill the gap with a combination of renewables, energy efficiency and a rapidly increasing supply of imported gas.

By 2020, it is reckoned that 90 per cent of our gas will come from abroad—much of it over great distances—from unstable regions and through vulnerable pipelines. We will also need to import more and more oil. Recent events in Saudi Arabia must give grounds for anxiety on that score.

Secondly, few now seriously challenge the case for fighting global warming by cutting greenhouse gases. One only needs to see the recent pictures of meltwater cascading off the vast Arctic ice sheet to understand that that dramatically underlines that this is an imperative. On that, the White Paper seems to get it right. It is against that background of a rising energy gap, to be met by imports and the imperative of cutting greenhouse gases, that policy must be judged.

With regard to security of supply, I shall start by looking at the short term; say, the next two to three years. It seems to be the accepted wisdom of the DTI, Ofgem and National Grid Transco that, given any but the most extreme winter conditions, there would be sufficient margins for gas and electricity supply and transmission to meet likely demand. I have spoken to a great number of people and for many of them that has appeared to be unduly complacent.

In relation to gas, last week's EU Select Committee report—at paragraphs 105 and 106, page 38—states:

"It is clear, therefore, that the demand/supply balance required to meet . . . winter demand over the next two years . . . will be tight . . . A severe winter could cause serious concern".

When we expressed concern to the Minister about coverage for the next two winters, Mr Timms replied:

"My answer would be that the capacity we need is not yet in the bag but I am confident it will be in the bag in time for those demands arising over the next two winters".

I see the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer of Leeds, in his place. It is not surprising that, on introducing his report to the press, he said that his committee was "unconvinced".

More alarming still was the disclosure that a terrorist attack on either of the two terminals at St Fergus in Scotland or at Bacton in Norfolk,

"could produce a national emergency for which the Government would have to assume immediate responsibility".

Ministers have only just received this report. I shall therefore leave it there, except to add that complacency in the face of that judgment seems to be singularly out of place.

In the longer term, electricity generating capacity gives the real cause for concern. Renewables will make a small contribution. Energy efficiency may help over time, but there will have to be a substantial investment in new generating capacity to replace power stations that are closed. The Government's response is that,

"markets will fill the gap".

But what is that market? It is the essentially short-term market that is regulated by Ofgem under NETA—new electricity trading arrangements—which, soon, under the Energy Bill, is to become BETTA.

Here, I must refer back to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, in a very important debate that we had in January. He expressed great apologies for being unable to take part in today's debate. In a powerful critique of this policy, he said:

"Ofgem seeks to devise market controls that are essentially short-term, and DTI, through a wealth of advisory bodies, seeks to peer into the future.

"In a long-term and capital-intensive industry, that does not provide a satisfactory framework for development".—[Hansard, 7/1/04; col. 212.]

The noble Lord continued by describing the situation as a "worrying one". But to many of those who have studied the problem that is a considerable understatement.

Yes, a market based on short-term prices and short-term costs can influence and, indeed, has influenced short-term investment decisions. For instance, rising prices led to de-mothballing plant in order to bring it back into service. But that takes only six to nine months. This system of short-term regulation cannot promote long-term investment decisions. The timescale for those decisions may well be 10 or 15 years before reaching production.

So I would argue that the present system of regulation is deeply flawed. Unless decisions are taken soon to change it, I have a real fear that in the medium term, and still more in the longer term, we may find ourselves—in the current phrase—unable to keep the lights on. I have spoken to a number of those who invest and who finance investment in major projects such as new generating capacity, and they tell me that the uncertainties inherent in the present short-term regulatory system make it very difficult to embark on long-term investment projects. I look forward to hearing an answer from the Minister addressing this problem—as we did not get one on 7 January—because it is very acute.

I turn next to greenhouse gases. Ministers make much of the policy of investment in renewables to achieve their White Paper CO2 targets. But even if those targets are met—and there are many both inside and outside the industry who seriously doubt that—they will do no more than replace the loss of CO2-free generation over the same period, especially, of course, from the retirement of carbon-free nuclear reactors. In other words, the CO2 targets are a sham; they cannot possibly be met, at least during the first quarter of this century.

Ministers seem determined to ignore this, as instanced by the exchanges at Question Time two weeks ago on 15 June. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, is not in his place to defend himself, because there was an extraordinary exchange. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, asked whether the Minister agreed with the statement from the report, Tilting at Windmills, that,

"because of the cost of providing additional stand-by generating capacity, it is unlikely that wind power will ever account for more than 20% of electricity generation through the National Grid. That being the case, its development can make no substantial contribution to a reduction in carbon emissions from power generation".

In answering, the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, said:

"My Lords, I thought that that was one of the more useless statements. A little mathematics applied to that will tell us that if it provides 20 per cent of the generating capacity it will deal with 20 per cent of the generating capacity problem".—[Hansard, 15/6/04; col. 617–18.]

That was nonsense. The noble Lord made no attempt to answer the question put by his noble friend Lord Williams. The Minister totally confused the targets for CO2 reduction with the targets for renewables. During the passage of the Energy Bill, we have seen that over and over again. These are two separate issues and they need to be addressed separately.

Perhaps I may say that the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, used the occasion yet again to rubbish a well respected report by an acknowledged expert, and I have to say that one of the least attractive characteristics of this present Government is their open contempt for any views which do not happen to fit their own.

I come to my last point: how can the UK achieve its double objectives—keeping the lights on while at the same time cutting greenhouse gases? Over the past two years there have been a number of well researched and authoritative reports from respected sources arguing that the only way to do this will be to build new nuclear power stations. They include the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institution of Civil Engineers, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Wood Mackenzie and, most recently, the David Hume Institute. They are supported by acknowledged experts such as Professor Ian Fells, Professor Sir Alec Broers, Professor M A Laughton, and, let it be said, by the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir David King. All those reports have been ignored by the Government.

But there must be one recent comment that the Government cannot ignore. I come to Professor James Lovelock, the well known and highly respected Green campaigner. Writing in the Independent five weeks ago, he stated uncompromisingly that,

"only one immediately available source [of electricity] does not cause global warming and that is nuclear energy".

He went on to say:

"Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media".

Further on in the article he said:

"I find it sad and ironic that the UK, which leads the world in the quality of its Earth and climate scientists, rejects their warnings and advice, and prefers to listen to the Greens. But I am a Green and I entreat my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy".

James Lovelock is not just a straw in the wind, he is a mighty gust of realism and common sense, bravely articulating what more and more people are coming to recognise: climate change is the enemy, not nuclear power.

It is now apparent that in this country opinion is moving in this direction, but it is also moving in many other countries. Nuclear plants are now being built in China, Korea, Taiwan and India. Nearer home, Finland and France have ordered new nuclear plants, and Sweden is expected to announce something soon. Even in anti-nuclear Canada, there are reports of moves to commission new nuclear plant. So what is preventing us doing the same over here?

There is the argument about radioactive waste, although I have to say at this point that the real waste has been the waste of time on the part of the Government. They have wasted seven years in shilly-shallying, and only just under a year ago did they finally get around to appointing the Advisory Committee on Radioactive Waste Management. I have a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who recognised that this has been a very long-delayed process. However, he went on to say that,

"The committee is not expected to produce its report until towards the end of 2006".

That is over two years from now. This further delay is wholly unacceptable. The House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology is to conduct a swift inquiry into this matter, and I hope that we will question this extremely dilatory timetable.

Then there is the argument about cost. This entirely ignores all the latest information on both the costs of new build and what have been dramatic improvements in the outputs from nuclear plant. As it happens, only yesterday the All-Party Group on Nuclear Energy met and we were given the figures. The eight most recent nuclear plants were built to schedule and within cost estimates. World efficiencies have increased from below 60 per cent to over 90 per cent, and that includes Sizewell B. The figures from the Royal Academy of Engineering show that nuclear power, including decommissioning costs, were comparable with those of gas-fired combined cycle turbines.

So we are left with the Government's doctrinaire opposition to nuclear power, and at the moment that is the real obstacle. But if we are to keep the lights on and, at the same time, make a genuine attack on global warming, Ministers must swallow their outdated prejudices. In quoting from the Government White Paper, it is no longer the case that,

"future new nuclear build might be necessary".

It has to be that new nuclear build "will" be necessary, and it is not a moment too soon to start. I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, the Motion this afternoon calls attention to the future energy supply of the United Kingdom but, whatever choice we make, it will not affect only this country. This is now a worldwide issue. We have come to understand that climate change is a global matter and we need worldwide solutions to ensure that the change in our climate is minimal.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said that there is an irrational fear of the development of nuclear power. I hope to address in my remarks the fact that it is not an irrational fear, but a rational one. Were the noble Lord to be right—that nuclear power could be generated entirely free of radioactive waste that we could not address; free from accidents that would not happen; and free from terrorism, which is a new threat—I would agree that the future might indeed be nuclear. But I believe that we are far from reaching that happy state, if it were ever to be reached.

The noble Lord listed the countries in which nuclear plants are currently being built. Unless we solve the three issues of waste, accident and terrorism, this country will have an even more fundamental duty to show clearly what alternatives there are to nuclear power and how they may be achieved.

It is in this area that the Government have made a large mistake. Although I support their drive to develop wind power, they seem to have put all their eggs into one basket and are not developing other forms of renewable energy, which would probably be far more productive in the long run. They seem to be concentrating on developing wind power, both offshore and on land.

Wind power has a part to play in relation to renewable energy, but I find it a depressing spectacle in your Lordships' House when Question Time descends into a low-level debate about wind power and its effect on the landscape. It is of course a serious issue but, with respect to noble Lords, I feel that we come down to the lowest common denominator when debating the subject. For that reason, I especially welcome today's debate; I hope that we will examine the issue in more depth. I look forward to hearing from noble Lords who have more experience in this field than I have. Certainly the energy question is worthy of far more serious and considered debate than we have given it.

If we believe that future energy production needs to be sustainable—I know that is a much over-used word and I shall try to define it—we must be clear where the solutions currently on offer fail. "Sustainability" includes environmental considerations. That means that we need energy which produces minimal climate change; so we are looking for something which produces low or no carbon emissions. The environmental considerations also include waste that cannot be dealt with. I do not believe that we have moved on very far from the Nirex report, which highlighted many of the reasons why waste cannot be dealt with. I shall return to this issue later.

There also has to be economic sustainability, so the energy must come at a price which is acceptable to society. However, I suggest that cheap electricity is not cheap when the cost of its production is offloaded in the form of environmental hazards, health hazards or an appalling, unsustainable imports bill.

It is interesting that energy is the area of life where—if your Lordships will excuse the pun—people feel most disempowered. They know that climate change is a threat but they feel that there is very little they can do about it at the moment apart from purchasing energy-saving light bulbs and possibly switching to suppliers of green electricity, some of which are good, some not so green.

The Government need to address much more fundamentally the way in which people can begin to change their lifestyles. Although the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, mentioned in passing that people might take advantage of energy-saving products, there has been no lead from the Government in encouraging investment in design and technology. To me, it seems quite simple. For example, televisions remain on standby; computers remain on standby. Such appliances could be designed to turn off entirely if they are not being used. We have all heard that the nation leaving its televisions on standby overnight is equal to the output of one of the power stations proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. If that is true, why is this kind of design initiative not a requirement? Lifestyle changes are more difficult but can be achieved.

The old-style solution to our desire for a temperate climate is to have air conditioning in summer and heating in winter. But there are innovative new systems—some of which the Government have had a hand in designing—that circulate air around a building, heating from ground pumps in winter and cooling from the same pumps in summer. So it is possible, but the information is not filtering through to the general population.

I do not believe that we can follow the bad example of Italy by building more and more power stations. I believe it was announced today that Italy is to build 24 new fossil fuel power stations, undermining EU efforts to cut carbon emissions. Can the Minister comment on how the Government feel about that?

There is a role for government in encouraging the harnessing of new technologies and design. In evidence recently given to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, the DTI official, Ms Durkin, said:

"I would like to say to the Committee that if we are to reach the 2020 aspiration"— of cutting carbon emissions—

"we really need to diversify. We will not be looking to reach the 2020 mark target aspiration just on wind. We will be seeking to diversify".

Seeking simply is not good enough. We need to be moving faster.

The academic world is certainly pulling its weight. There are very interesting studies being carried out at the moment. Sussex University is reviewing the technical, regulatory and institutional changes needed to enable the large-scale uptake of micro-generation and the implications for the relationships between energy consumers, energy companies and housing providers. That is exactly the kind of empowerment of the population to which I referred.

Stafford University is examining the development of community-oriented energy initiatives within national policy and the private sector. The failure to engage communities is the reason for the political exploitation of the wind power issue; communities are not attached to their wind turbines in the way they should be. I believe that that is a fundamental failure of the Government.

During the passage of the Energy Bill I called on the Government to do more to up their game on energy advice to households, but very little has happened. They have introduced the Clear Skies initiative, but the eligibility criteria that an applicant has to meet mean that so many people fall outside the net that it beggars belief. An applicant must be the owner of the property. So no one who rents a property—even if they will be renting it for their lifetime—can do anything about it. The applicant must not dwell in a mobile home. While we are upgrading the rights of mobile home owners in the forthcoming Housing Bill, I hope the DTI will consider including mobile home owners in the list of those eligible for grants.

Let me return to the nuclear issue. As I said, as far as I can see, we have not really moved on from the Nirex inquiry in 1996. That inquiry established that we do not have the science to keep nuclear waste isolated from human communities for the hundreds of thousands of years needed. We can expect a vast increase of 500,000 tonnes of radioactive nuclear waste to have accumulated by the end of this century from existing nuclear power stations alone. That is before the new stations mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, have been built.

The waste problem still has not been solved. We have only recently established—indeed, the Bill has not yet finished its passage through Parliament—the agency tasked with addressing the issue. So it is far too soon to talk of building new nuclear power stations.

As to the problem of accidents, the Environment Agency has been taking BNFL to task for various failures over time. There is a deadline of 31 July 2004 for BNFL to review its pipeline design. Can the Minister say whether that review is on track and whether it will be reported? It was an Environment Agency requirement that followed on from a number of failures that I shall not list now.

It is very hard to overcome human error. Those who met the party of schoolchildren from Chernobyl in your Lordships' House last week will have had a stark reminder of where error and design fault can lead. They lead to a much bigger catastrophe in the case of nuclear than in any other form of energy production.

Finally, the potential for nuclear, in all its forms, to be a target for terrorist attacks hardly bears thinking about, but thought about it must be if noble Lords are talking about building new nuclear power stations.

I do not support the noble Lord's proposition that we must have new nuclear power stations. I task the Government with thinking about how to use design and innovation to bring about the sort of change we need.

Photo of Lord Gray of Contin Lord Gray of Contin Conservative

My Lords, I join with others in thanking my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding for providing us with the opportunity to discuss the very important question of energy supply and also for giving us such a comprehensive and interesting review of events leading up to the present situation.

In the past, we have been fortunate in having an abundance of fossil fuels, but as they become depleted it is necessary to find alternatives to coal and gas, which have played such an important part in providing our power generation. However, importing oil and gas is a very different matter. As we discovered before we had access to North Sea oil and gas, interruption of supplies in the past were numerous—the Suez crisis, the Iranian revolution, the Arab oil embargo. In the future, we are liable to have problems in Iraq and in Saudi Arabia, and one hopes they will be minor. Who knows? Certainly there can be no guarantee of an uninterrupted supply.

Electricity is of paramount importance to our future prosperity—indeed, to our very existence—given that practically every aspect of daily life is dominated by the ability to switch on power. Without that facility, everything stops. Up until now, a highly efficient and satisfactory system has evolved, first through the use of coal and, more recently, with increasing use of oil, gas and nuclear power—the cleanest of all power generators, which provides approximately 25 per cent of our requirements.

Since privatisation, £15 billion has been invested in our gas network, which has provided almost 30 per cent of all its consumption, to generate electricity. A further £16 billion has been invested in the distribution and transmission networks of the electricity industry. But by 2020 we shall depend to a very large extent on imported gas. In the opinion of Professor Gittus, of Lloyds of London Insurance Market, another three-day week would be more likely in the United Kingdom than in any of the other G8 countries.

All in all, we have evolved a highly efficient system of power generation which it is imperative that we maintain. Therefore, a new satisfactory system must be devised to ensure that there is an easy transfer from one source of generation to another. Professor Gittus suggests a security of supply obligation, analogous to the renewables obligation, to ensure that our electricity is generated by reliable means.

The Government have elected to replace the shortfall caused by the phasing out of coal, the depletion of our own resources of oil and gas and the approach of the end of the life of our existing nuclear reactors by a huge increase in the use of renewables—that is, wind, wave and solar power, with the main emphasis on wind power—along with dependence on imported oil and gas, a combination which is vulnerable to a host of problems and imponderables. The Government have stated that they have not ruled out the use of nuclear power at some future time, but they appear to put every conceivable obstacle in the way of such a route being followed.

I shall return to the advantages of the nuclear solution shortly, but first let us look at the folly of the course on which the Government have embarked. I make no apology if I reiterate some of the points that have already been made by my noble friend Lord Jenkin. In the political world in which we live, we all know that you have to say things over and over again before anybody really takes notice.

By 2020, only 16 years from now, we shall have depleted our oil and gas reserves. Long before then, we shall be dependent on large quantities of gas and oil imported from eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, any one of which could be cut off for political reasons or terrorist activities. Norway may provide temporary relief, but at what price, and at the mercy of whatever depletion policy the Norwegians favour at that time? The Government have completely overlooked the fact that renewables are wholly dependent on weather conditions being favourable to enable them to produce power. Here I come to the association with the environment.

In order to meet our Kyoto commitment, we must reduce our CO2 emissions. The penalties of not doing so are alarming in the extreme. In a most interesting article in the Independent newspaper of 24 May this year, Michael McCarthy quotes Professor James Lovelock—my noble friend has already referred to this—the celebrated green guru, to the effect that there is simply not enough time for renewable energy to take the place of coal, gas and oil-fired power stations, whose waste carbon dioxide is causing the atmosphere to warm. He is particularly concerned about the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which will raise global sea levels substantially, and the episode of extreme heat in western central Europe last August, accepted by many scientists as unprecedented and a direct result of global warming. These, he says, are ominous global warnings that climate change is speeding, but many people are still in ignorance of this. He is rightly critical of the United States Government for having failed to give their climate scientists the support they needed.

Furthermore, Professor Lovelock says that only a massive expansion of nuclear power which produces no CO2 can now check a runaway warming which would raise sea levels disastrously around the world, cause climatic turbulence and make agriculture unviable over large areas.

In an interesting talk that I attended recently, Mr John Ritch, the director general of the World Nuclear Association, said that nuclear power was not just an option but an imperative. Some of his arguments were similar to those used by Professor Lovelock. He felt that no energy strategy was realistic without nuclear, and he said that in the next 50 years, more energy will be required by the world than all that has been used to date in order to avoid a global crisis of monumental proportions. This cannot be delivered without nuclear power.

Of course, Professor Lovelock and Mr Ritch are by no means alone in their belief in nuclear power. We have only to cast our eyes across the Channel to see what has been achieved in France, where the Prime Minister has already announced the Government's intention to commence the building of a new European pressurised water reactor later this year. This is part of a 30-year energy plan that will ensure the future of the French nuclear industry which already provides more than 70 per cent of France's electricity. Electricité de France wants to press ahead because more than half of its nuclear stations are due to retire by 2020. France is keen to follow Finland's example in building the first EPR.

Therefore, I do not argue that renewables do not have a place in the generation of power, but I do argue that the Government are being extremely unwise in the task that they have set for them. It is an impossible task. Furthermore, there is considerable doubt whether there are not cheaper and more effective methods of achieving that target. There are nearly 450 nuclear reactors either in operation or under construction in the world. Fifty years ago, Britain was at the forefront of nuclear development; today, France and Japan have taken over that role.

Today, many of our most successful reactors are coming to the end of their lives. One such is the Chapelcross Magnox reactor, which has operated reliably and safely for 46 years. The local trade unions are lobbying the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and the United Kingdom Government here to replace the reactor with Nuclear-Chapelcross 2. They say that it could be covered by the existing site licence and that it would enjoy the support of the whole of the local community. Indeed, sites are not a problem. The existing site licences could easily be continued if the Government indicated that they would consider the replacement of nuclear with nuclear if applications were made for new reactors.

A recent assessment by the Royal Academy of Engineering on the cost of generating electricity showed that after taking account of probable increases in the price of gas and the effects of carbon trading, nuclear would be the lowest cost option, but it is doubtful if this Government have the bottle to follow that course. The Government must rethink their overall nuclear policy and reconsider the huge potential of new nuclear reactors of modern design if the most serious energy crisis of all time is to be avoided.

Photo of Lord Taverne Lord Taverne Shadow Minister, Treasury

My Lords, I shall speak about one narrow but important issue: radiation and safety. The advantages of nuclear power are clear and have been powerfully expounded by the noble Lords, Lord Jenkin of Roding and Lord Gray. It is a clean source of energy and does not emit greenhouse gases. The main opposition to nuclear power, as my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer has articulated, is based on fears about its safety. People are frightened about the risk of accidents and the dangers of radiation emanating from nuclear power stations and from nuclear waste. Those fears are profoundly misplaced. I am sorry to say that I very much disagree with my noble friend, for whose views I normally have the greatest respect.

Present-day policies for radiation safety are based on the so-called "linear no-threshold" assumption. That is the assumption that any amount of radiation is harmful; that any dose, even the lowest, may cause cancer and genetic harm; and that the risk of harm increases proportionately with the dose. On that basis, it follows that we should avoid any exposure at all. As a result, the standards for radiation protection have become ever tighter and the maximum exposure dose declared to be safe by the International Commission for Radiological Protection has been constantly lowered.

The standard measurement of radiation levels, as all of your Lordships are no doubt keenly aware, is set in millisieverts per year. In the 1920s, the maximum dose that was regarded as safe was 700 millisieverts; by 1941, it was reduced to 70 millisieverts; by the 1990s, it became 20 millisieverts for occupationally exposed people and one millisievert for the general population. The maximum dose now proposed is between 0.3 and 0.01 millisieverts.

Unfortunately, those standards are not based on evidence. The evidence shows that the effect of radiation on human health is not linear but a J-curve when dose is plotted against effect. Exposure starts by being beneficial at low doses and becomes harmful only at higher doses. That effect is known as hormesis. A low dose of ionising radiation seems to stimulate DNA repair and appears to enhance the immune system, thereby providing a measure of protection against cancer. In fact, the beneficial effects of low doses of radiation in treating cancer have been known for some time and are confirmed by a mass of evidence, particularly in Japan. All the evidence contradicts the linear no-threshold assumption.

A similar hormesis effect is found in many other cases and some of the examples will be well known to your Lordships. A bit of sunshine does you good; too much may cause cancer. Small doses of aspirin have a variety of beneficial effects, but too much will kill you. The same is said to be true of red wine and it also appears to apply to arsenic, cadmium, dioxins and pesticide residues, but that is another story.

Epidemiological evidence strongly confirms hormesis. Your Lordships will recall the prediction that there would be terrible after-effects from the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the survivors and their children. That was universally believed. Similarly, it was widely predicted that the incidence of cancer would greatly increase and that there would be massive genetic damage to future generations as a result of the Chernobyl disaster. The latter changed people's perception of the danger of nuclear energy all over the world. It is constantly cited as an illustration of the unparalleled threat to health from nuclear disasters.

Yet those doom-laden predictions have been proved false. What are the facts? Extensive Japanese studies of the life expectancy of survivors of the atom bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who suffered relatively low amounts of radiation, show that their life expectancy turned out to be higher than those of the control group. No unusual genetic defects have been found in their children.

The horrific accident at Chernobyl was about as bad an accident to a nuclear power station as it is possible to imagine. Tragically, it led to 28 deaths among rescue workers, who were exposed to very high doses of radiation. However, in areas near Chernobyl, the extra amount of radiation to which people were exposed in the nine years following the accident was slight: an increase of 0.8 to 1.4 millisieverts per year. In the Ukrainian town of Pripyat, which is now a ghost town after its complete evacuation, the average amount of persistent radiation found in May 2001 was five times lower than the level in Grand Central Station in New York.

Similarly, a follow-up study of Japanese fishermen who suffered from contamination of plutonium after the nuclear tests at Bikini found, 25 years later, that none of them had died of cancer. In fact, there is very strong evidence that people exposed to low doses of radiation by amounts which are still 100 times or more greater than the minimum recommended actually benefit. The incidence of thyroid cancer among children under 15 exposed to fall-out from Chernobyl was many times lower than the normal incidence of thyroid cancer among Finnish children. The death rate from leukaemia of nuclear industry workers in Canada is 68 per cent lower than the average. Workers in nuclear shipyards and other nuclear establishments in the United States and other countries have been found to have substantially lower death rates from cancer in general than the average and very much lower ones from leukaemia. Further, a mass of evidence shows that people who live in areas which are unusually high in natural radiation—in Japan, China, India and the United States—have significantly lower death rates from cancer than the average.

My sources, I should mention, are an article from Dr Jaworowski, a former chairman of the United Nations scientific committee on the effects of atomic radiation, in a recent book of essays entitled Environment and Health; a paper on radiation hormesis by Professor Mortazavi from Kyoto University, which comprehensively reviews the scientific literature; and another comprehensive Canadian study by Jerry Cuttler on the beneficial effects of ionising radiation. There is a mass of papers that confirm that evidence.

Those facts—and I challenge anyone to cite evidence that contradicts them—destroy many of the conventional objections to nuclear power. They also show that the regulations seeking to enforce present, let alone proposed, minimum standards not only cost billions of pounds but actually do more harm than good. But it is deemed politically incorrect to point out that the linear no-threshold thesis is not based on evidence.

Perhaps it is time that we looked more closely at the phenomenon of hormesis and, in particular, at the successful Japanese experience of using low-dose radiation in the treatment of cancer patients. Above all, in approaching the question of nuclear power, we must be intellectually rigorous. We should have regard to evidence, evidence and evidence, and not allow evidence to be brushed aside by political correctness, ignorance or prejudice, nor allow policy to be dictated by pressure groups influenced by dogma instead of evidence.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot challenge or analyse in detail the contribution just made by my noble friend as he is clearly an expert in these matters and I am not. I would merely say that, while I do not share his enthusiasm for nuclear power, I nevertheless have great respect for his contributions on these matters, which certainly made us all think.

I shall address a fairly narrow but increasingly important aspect of energy—the question of wind power and wind farms. I start by stating my own prejudices on this matter. As someone who spends a lot of time in the uplands of this country, partly because I live in the Pennines and partly because I go to other uplands in the United Kingdom as often as I can for recreational purposes, I do not like wind farms. I believe that they are an intrusion in our upland landscapes and that we should accept them only when there is really no alternative.

It is a classic case of us all wanting to be as green as possible and as environmentally aware and committed as possible but of there being no easy answers. If the only way in which to tackle global warming, climate change and the enormous global as well as local environmental problems that climate change will no doubt cause is to cover areas of wilderness in Wales, northern England, the Lake District and Scotland with power stations and new industrial landscapes, some of us will find ourselves with very difficult issues and choices.

I do not believe that the environmental lobby and the green lobby have really got to grips with the implications of such choices. It is all too easy to stand up and be a green campaigner; it is much more difficult to have to decide exactly what one is going to do.

I am provided with some information by the British Mountaineering Council, which is working with the Mountaineering Council of Scotland. It tells me that there are currently 419 applications for new wind farms in Scotland, for obvious reasons. Some are small scale, and some are for up to 500 individual units or windmills, some of which are very large indeed—up to 500 feet high. There are clearly huge conflicts in wilderness areas such as those between the future of those areas as conservation areas, ecological areas or environmental areas and their future as tourism areas. Their economies will increasingly depend on tourism—on people such as myself going there for a weekend or a week—but we may be destroying the very landscapes that people go there to enjoy.

The president of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, John Mackenzie—the Earl of Cromartie—believes that that is the single biggest threat to the Scottish mountain environment. We clearly have a conflict in this regard. In both Scotland, under different legislation and with devolved powers, and in England and Wales under the CROW Act, we are as societies opening up our wilderness areas and encouraging and allowing people to use them as walkers, climbers, and people interested in wildlife. Some people just want to go and look at it. There is clearly a conflict between taking that direction on the one hand, which is clearly a key government policy, and building wind farms all over the place on the other. How do we resolve that matter? That is one of the major problems that we have to face.

I live in the heart of the Pennines, and I can sit in my house and look at Pendle Hill across the valley. It may well be that because I live in an area like that, surrounded by moors, people will turn round and say that I am just a nimby. Well, I am not just a nimby, because what I want in terms of preservation of our wild places, open landscapes, moorlands and hills for the area in which I live in the Pennines I want also for mid-Wales. Nearly half—I believe it is 45 per cent—of existing wind farm developments or the existing number of wind turbines are in the area of mid-Wales, which some years ago was being considered as a possible fourth national park. For various reasons, it was turned down and, because it is not a national park and does not have that protection, it is open to that kind of development.

I am very conscious in the part of the world where I live that we have industrial valleys, which because they contained coal measures under the ground were subject to Victorian industrialisation. That created what I consider to be some delightful towns and industrial villages, but it also created huge numbers of environmental problems. Until the clean air legislation, the air was not fit to breathe in those valleys. There were huge amounts of industrial pollution, poor housing conditions, and areas of wasteland and dereliction caused by the old industry.

All that has been subject to huge efforts to clear it up, and to turn those communities into places which are fit to live in, in the modern world. Yet what the people in those towns always had were the surrounding hills. They could escape from the pollution in the valleys, the squalid housing conditions and even from their jobs and go out on to the hills, where they were free. I am reminded of the famous words of "The Manchester Rambler" song:

"I may be a wage slave on Monday, But I am a free man on Sunday".

The moors on to which the people of Manchester escaped, the adjacent Pennines and the area around Oldham and Saddleworth, which the Minister may know, are not in national parks and are therefore under considerable threat of very substantial wind farm development. That may involve turbines that are much larger than the ones that exist at the moment, and in much larger quantity. It is no surprise that an organisation called the Saddleworth Moors Action Group was one of the bodies that recently convened a national conference. The first national wind farm protest group conference took place in Saddleworth, in the Lancashire or Yorkshire Pennines—whichever we think it is.

The wind farms that are being proposed are not farms by any reasonable stretch of the imagination. They are industrial areas. They are power stations. It is the industrialisation of wilderness areas. Of course, it may be that some of the areas proposed for wind farms are not this kind of upland wilderness but are coastal areas or areas that have landscape benefits in other ways. But the areas I am particularly concerned about are on the hills.

A huge wind farm development—27 turbines up to 370 feet high—has been proposed near Tebay, which noble Lords will know if they drive up the M6 through the Lune Gorge. The Shap Fells and the Howgill Fells, which are some of my favourite hills, simply do not possess the protection that they would have if they were somewhere else. If those hills were in the Yorkshire Dales or in the south of England, they would have protection because of the quality of their landscapes. The reason that they do not have protection is because they are next to the Lake District and the boundary of the Lake District National Park had to be drawn somewhere.

These areas were thought to be not quite as grand as the fells of the Lake District, so they were missed out. Yet, if this wind farm were to be built in that area, it would be visible from the summits of a large number of the lakeland fells. We are talking of building wind turbines that are higher than Blackpool Tower. When I stand on the summit of Pendle Hill—a place I go to, unlike Blackpool Tower—on a fine day I can see Blackpool Tower, which is 50 miles away. What is being proposed for many of these areas is not just a Blackpool Tower but a forest of Blackpool Towers. We must be very careful indeed about where we site them, if we must have them, and about the processes by which that is agreed.

It would be very easy to say, "Here are the national parks, here are the areas of outstanding natural beauty, let's build large forests of wind farms in circles around these protected landscapes". But what is the purpose of a protected landscape on one side of the border if the landscape on the other side of the border has been destroyed?

I have a quote from the Observer of 6 October 2003. Sir Martin Holdgate was formerly head of the Swiss-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature and chairman of the Renewable Energy Advisory Group, which the Government set up in 1992. He seems to encapsulate the situation:

"The trouble with wind farms is that they have a huge spatial footprint for a piddling little bit of electricity. You would need 800 turbines to replace the output of a coal-fired power station".

I think that these statistics are fairly well known.

We have a real problem. We have a problem of conflicts between different aims and environmental objectives and a serious conflict of government policy. I believe that the opposition to wind farms is now developing a critical mass and that the Government will find it very difficult indeed to achieve the targets that they are putting forward on the basis of wind energy. I wish them the very best of luck in their targets for renewable energy. I do not believe that they will achieve them through onshore wind farms.

Photo of Viscount Ullswater Viscount Ullswater Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding should be congratulated on introducing this important debate this afternoon as the future supply of energy is likely to affect us all. The energy supply of the UK is changing rapidly from being based mainly on coal, nuclear and home-sourced gas, as my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding has reminded us, to a future of reliance on mainly imported gas, with the aspiration of 20 per cent provided by renewables by the year 2020. Professor David Simpson, in a paper recently published by the David Hume Institute based in Edinburgh, identified the problems for the future. He stated that gas is projected to fuel,

"some 68–75% of all electricity generated by 2020, of which . . . 90% is expected to be imported . . . Gas import requirements will exceed current pipeline capacity before 2010: major investment in gas interconnectors will therefore be needed simply to satisfy the present level of demand. At least six major connectors would be needed by 2020 to handle imports of gas at the levels projected by the DTI".

So uncertainty as to whether there will be the capacity to import so much of our requirements is added to the unreliability of importing the gas from Russia, Libya, and Kazakhstan.

At present there are no plans to build more nuclear stations, although the Government maintain that they are keeping the nuclear option open, whatever that might mean. It is a fact that by 2020 almost all of the nuclear plants, which today produce about 23 per cent of our electricity needs, will have shut down. Without steps taken now to ensure that new nuclear capacity is commissioned, we are looking at the end of the nuclear age in this country. My noble friend Lord Gray of Contin pointed out that the UK used to be in the lead in the nuclear industry. Now we are, sadly, lagging way behind.

The rundown of nuclear energy also means that even if 20 per cent of our electricity needs are met by renewables in 2020 there will be no saving in CO2 emissions. The one will just replace the other. If that is repeating what my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding has said, then it deserves to be repeated until the lesson is learnt. Savings will have to be made elsewhere in the generating sector and will more likely have to be made in the transport sector if we are to adhere to our Kyoto commitment. Will the Minister give us his estimate of how long it would take, if the studies were started today, to commission a new nuclear power station?

So what about renewables? Are the Government serious in their belief that renewable technologies of hydro, wind, biomass and solar energy can achieve the targets of 10 per cent by 2010 and 15 per cent by 2015 and the aspiration target of 20 per cent by 2020? At the present time, only 2.8 per cent of electricity production is accounted for by renewable energy. The gap between that figure and 10 per cent would require the installation of about 8 gigawatts of wind power capacity in the next six years, half of which might be onshore and half offshore. By the end of last year, just 640 megawatts of wind power capacity had been installed, of which less than 50 megawatts are offshore. I would be surprised if half that wind power capacity will be installed by 2010.

We also have to ask the question whether we want all these wind farms, with their wind turbines, over our countryside. Whereas a group of wind turbines off the coast, some kilometres out to sea, might be a source of some fascination, the situation is much more controversial onshore. It is an inescapable fact that wind energy is inefficient. Even the latest Government figures admit that it is only 26 per cent efficient and is available only at certain times of the day or week. We are replacing the reliability of the base load nuclear stations with intermittent supply from wind energy.

The Government also make a great play on sustainable development and handing on to our children a better world than the one we inherited. Are they seriously telling us that covering some of the more remote areas of the countryside with spinning windmills will enhance our appreciation of the countryside? No; the damage will be permanent. Not only will there be the wind turbines themselves; there will also be the infrastructure of pylons connecting to the grid which will further despoil our mountains and valleys. The unpredictability or fickleness of wind does not qualify as a sustainable energy.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that the effect on tourism will be adverse. People tend to seek out the wilderness areas to get away from the stress of city life and to get closer to the natural world. It is the scale of the structures which makes them so out of place with the natural features of the countryside. The Scottish Executive has recently reconfirmed its commitment to renewable energy and now gives a target of 40 per cent generation in Scotland by 2020. There is an outstanding proposal for a 600 megawatt wind farm on the Island of Lewis—poor Lewis, with its remote and wild landscape.

So what should be done? Offshore wind energy, although much more expensive to produce, could help the Government with their green credentials, and there are some remote areas and applications, remote from the grid, that could be served by wind turbines. Nuclear power is the only available emission-free alternative energy source that could to any significant extent substitute for carbon fuels. Unlike wind power, it does not need large tracts of land and can be expanded to meet almost any conceivable demand. Even the Swiss have accepted nuclear generation following a public referendum, and there are studies for new stations to come on line by 2025, to replace older stations which generate some 36 per cent of Swiss electricity. We need that enlightened approach here and for the Government to listen to the people.

I would say that everyone I meet is most concerned about wind energy. It is not right that the ODPM should ride roughshod over local opinion with planning guidelines or statements that pursue a technology that is at best questionable and, in the eyes of many, downright wrong. What we require is a strategic approach to the production of electricity for the future, which cannot be achieved by importing gas. Nuclear energy should form the base load of 25 per cent to 30 per cent of our energy requirements, which would satisfy our Kyoto commitment and provide safe clean energy for the next generation.

Photo of The Earl of Mar and Kellie The Earl of Mar and Kellie Shadow Minister, Scotland, Other Whip

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, for giving us yet another opportunity to discuss the delivery of energy in the future ere the lights go out. I must declare an interest. I sell firewood and I receive grants through the Scottish forestry grants scheme. I should also say that I have no connection with Shetland and the company called Biopower, about which I will be speaking. I should also say that I am in favour of nuclear, but I am not going to speak about it.

I should like to talk about two subjects, on both of which the Minister may be able to respond positively. As I know he will be reluctant to sign a blank cheque, I will try to make my case now. I continue to be interested in remote areas policy and in biofuels.

The first subject is the provision of sub-sea interconnector cables to the Scottish mainland. I was interested to read recently that our north Atlantic neighbours in Iceland are considering the construction of an interconnector cable from Iceland to the British mainland, to enable them to sell us their surplus electricity. Their geothermal power stations are harnessing a very renewable energy. The cost of the Iceland-to-Scotland interconnector would apparently be around £500 million; that is, half a billion.

There is another proposal, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, referred, for large-scale onshore wind generation on the Island of Lewis, on Arnish Moor, an oceanic location. That would have considerable economic and social benefits, in my view, for the Outer Hebrides, in terms of both construction and long-term operation and maintenance. Clearly, there is a need for an interconnector cable to the mainland. It might be wise for the Icelanders to bring their proposed interconnector ashore on Lewis.

I was most interested to read in this week's House Magazine an advertisement from the Shetland Islands Council with the banner headline,

"Viking's Energy can Light up the Nation".

We know that, 1,200 years ago, such a headline would have been a report of destructive activity. But now, looking forward, Shetlanders are planning to become the UK's renewable powerhouse—harnessing first their world class wind resource, and then their wave and tidal energy, the wet renewables.

Shetland is already planning for a 250 megawatt wind farm to be constructed by Scottish and Southern Energy. Now, Viking Energy Ltd, a community business, is planning a 300 megawatt wind farm. The site, at Burradale, above Lerwick, has a capacity/load factor of 51 per cent plus, a significant reading in world terms. The Islands council claims that 600 megawatts of installed capacity in Shetland will have the same output as 1,000 megawatts of installed capacity off the English coast, but with the ease of onshore maintenance.

The idea of Viking Energy Ltd as a community business is derived from the success that the people of Shetland have enjoyed in hosting Europe's largest oil and gas terminal at Sullum Voe over the past 25 years and the building up of an oil and gas endowment fund that is in many ways similar to the petroleum fund gathered together by the Norwegian Government which currently stands at £60 billion. The Shetlanders have learnt how to trade off negative impacts, visual and social, for long-lasting prosperity and well-being.

So my question for the Minister has to be this. Shetland is planning to help the United Kingdom with renewable power supplies. Will the United Kingdom Government assist Shetland by helping to provide the essential sub-sea interconnector? Perhaps I can ask the same question about the Lewis interconnector.

There is no doubt that the Shetland approach is unusual. The leadership is doing something for all the residents. I can only muse on the not too far-fetched analogy with the Viking era. When Hjaltland—that is, Viking Shetland—was mortgaged to the Scottish Crown and annexed by the Scots in 1469, the system of udal tenure provided that the skattold—the common grazing—was maintained by the larger landowners for the benefit of all the residents. The House will be disappointed to learn that the Scots quickly set about dismantling udal tenure and replacing it with their own feudal tenure. I suppose that I should declare the interest that I am a soon to be abolished feudal superior in central Scotland.

Leaving that aside, I turn to my second subject about which the House has heard from me before. I am in correspondence with Biopower, an umbrella organisation based in north Wales that makes diesel from used cooking oil. This biodiesel is more powerful than fossil diesel and, indeed, has excellent upper cylinder lubricant properties, and in the event of a diesel spill is biodegradable. It is an ironic fact that the product, diesel, is better and more easily produced after use in a chip shop than before such use. The oil is filtered and even the 0.1 per cent which is filtered off the remnants of the chips and so on can be used as a heating fuel.

I want to raise the fact that some of the Biopower businesses are being treated rather strangely and unfairly by officers of the Environment Agency. Their biodiesel is being treated as a waste product despite the fact that the cooking oil which they collect has a second use, and a valuable one at that. What is more, this second use attracts an excise duty. The Environment Agency is demanding that Biopower businesses must register themselves as waste management sites—an expensive procedure and an unnecessary one in my view—as the used cooking oil is a commodity and is not hazardous to human health or the environment. Biopower is content to register as a waste carrier as this will satisfy the need for the chip shop owners etcetera to demonstrate that they are acting responsibly in disposing of their cooking oil by selling it to Biopower businesses as a commodity.

It seems that the Environment Agency is unable to see the difference between the traditional collectors of used cooking oil and the new collectors—Biopower. The old use of the used fat comprised collecting it and storing it for resale to animal feed companies as an additive. This has now been found to be hazardous to human health and a ban on this activity will come into effect in November 2004. The used vegetable oil was distinctly collected as a waste product and needed to be stored in a registered waste management site before onward disposal to the animal feed companies. So, I must ask the Minister this: the people who are creating biodiesel from used cooking oil are contributing to the acute need to find sustainable road fuels. Why is the Environment Agency working against that? Is the Minister content with the Environment Agency appearing to be working against the Government's stated aim of reducing the use of fossil fuels? Will the Minister please ask the Environment Agency to review its attitude towards this beneficial product?

In conclusion, the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, is as relevant and urgent as ever.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in paying the warmest possible tribute to my noble friend Lord Jenkin for the speech that he made in opening this debate.

As I rose to my feet it occurred to me that it is 25 years since I made a speech on energy when I had the honour to be the shadow spokesman for energy along with my noble friend Lord Gray. At that time we had the valued support of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, who tried to educate us regarding a better understanding of the minutiae or the intricacies of the coal industry.

I wish to speak because I profoundly agree with the analysis given by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and with the importance of this debate. My noble friend Lord Gray referred to a possible global crisis of monumental proportions. Whether or not that is an exaggeration at this stage, I am in no doubt that we face an extremely serious situation. At the moment I see little evidence that the Government appreciate that or intend to act. This matter will not be resolved by a quick change of government or by a government introducing a new policy to put the matter right. Unless there is a bipartisan approach and an understanding of the gravity of the situation, the whole economy of our country is threatened with very serious consequences indeed. We are in a quite different and very serious situation. The lead times as regards putting it right are not in our favour.

I turn first to electricity generation. We know that the nuclear plants are ageing. We have an idea of the cost of the environmental protection that will be required regarding the coal plants. There is an urgent need to take decisions that can help to meet the very real risk that the lights will go out, to repeat the short and simple phrase used by my noble friend Lord Jenkin. The Government have been warned. I say with great respect to the noble Lord who will reply to the debate, who I believe does not have direct ministerial responsibility for this matter, that I hope he will do the House the courtesy of forwarding a copy of Hansard—the speeches that have already been made were of high quality although I make no comment on my own—to the Minister with responsibility for the matter that we are discussing. This is a matter of the gravest concern.

As regards electricity generation, I was impressed to note at a meeting yesterday concerning a nuclear plant the huge improvement that has occurred regarding reliability in budgeting for and delivery of new nuclear plants. I speak as a former Member of Parliament who represented the constituency in which Hinckley, Magnox A plant and Hinckley B, an AGR plant, were situated. I witnessed the tragedy of the lapsed planning permission regarding Hinckley C. I also witnessed the problems, difficulties and delays that occurred during the construction process and the inability to keep within budget. Most recent figures show—admittedly not in this country as we are not building any—that people in other countries seem to have identified ways in which nuclear plants can be built much quicker than formerly, to budget and on time. Those plants are delivering significantly enhanced performance that enables them to be much more competitive vis-à-vis alternative methods of generation.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, will recall that the energy policy to which we subscribed 25 years ago was called coconuke; that is, conservation, coal and nuclear. The dash for gas initiative arose at a time when the United Kingdom appeared to be so abundantly blessed with gas supplies that we did not have to worry. It seems to me that while problems obviously exist on the coal side, conservation and nuclear must be important elements in any energy mix. Established types of reactor now exist that can virtually be bought off the shelf. They should constitute the short-term solution. In the medium to longer term the high temperature reactors that are now being developed could be of considerable interest.

I turn to the wider issue of security of supply. First, I mention gas in that connection. In the amiable days when we had our own gas and imported a little from a friendly country such as Norway, we did not face anything like the kind of strategic concerns that are now emerging very rapidly. I refer to countries that 25 years ago we had never heard of as possible sources of gas, for example, Russia, Libya and Kazakhstan—all countries which might face political pressures.

Wearing my other hat as a former defence Minister I remember sitting in President Havel's office when he was president of Czechoslovakia. He was handed a note to advise him that due to pipeline problems in Russia, the gas supply to Czechoslovakia would be turned down. It was a rather cold November evening and you could feel the chill in the room. That was a clear warning to me regarding this country depending entirely on distant regions for a secure supply which is transported through pipelines of enormous length, the contents of which are shared with many other countries. In such circumstances you have to be jolly sure that you have assessed the situation correctly. Also, we want to be jolly sure that we have a variety of sources against the risk that some might let us down.

On gas, we have the challenge that, incredibly in the reality of the timescale of government decision-making and implementation, in a short time we will be 90 per cent dependent. That is a really serious worry. On the oil side, we can look at the present situation, with the Norwegian strike, the problems in Venezuela, the issues in Saudi Arabia and the challenges in Iraq. The stability of world oil supplies and the failure of the major oil companies to replenish their reserves at the present rate of consumption are warning signals that the Government, and the world, need to recognise.

There is also the issue about competition of demand. The Select Committee made the point very clearly. Anyone watching the developments in China will know, as the committee's report states, that China has,

"a seemingly inexhaustible demand for energy and will be competing for piped Russian and central Asian gas as well as for global LNG supplies . . . While the Committee was conducting this inquiry, the International Energy Agency announced a considerable upward revision of its estimates for global gas demand. This was largely the result of the extraordinary sustained rates of economic growth achieved by China and India".

The interesting report on energy in Euromonitor International states:

"China is expected to surpass Japan as the second largest world oil consumer within the next decade and reach a consumption level of 10.5 million bbl/d by 2020, making it a major factor in the world oil market . . . Beijing must also find efficient suppliers to keep costs down. This means that China cannot do without Middle East production".

We will face competition. Car numbers in China went up from 6 million to 12 million in four years, with the latest forecasts saying that they are likely to quadruple within the next 15 years. That is a warning. I was at the Shell AGM two days ago, at which the group chief executive proudly announced Shell's present capital investment programme for China downstream. Its programme is for petrol stations in China equivalent to half the total number of Shell petrol stations in this country. That is Shell's short-term investment programme. All those are indications of the growth in demand and the threats that we face.

We run another risk, which has been referred to by other noble Lords. It is the issue of terrorism. We have had attempted attacks—no one should have been surprised—on refineries in Iraq and pipelines in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia spends 8 billion dollars a year on security to try to protect its present oil installations. There are risks around the world. Shell has difficulties in Nigeria. My noble friend Lord Jenkin referred to the obvious risks that we could face to domestic installations. I do not want to rehearse them again; they are all too real and could be a major threat.

In that dangerous world, what can the Government do? They cannot guarantee the prevention of any terrorist attack, of course. However, in that circumstance, the one thing that seems absolutely essential is that there be some margin of safety in the provisions that are made for our country. That is why running close to the wire, whether in terms of electricity generation and sources of supply of oil or gas, is so serious. If there is too little safety margin, we make it a reality that the terrorist has the greatest possible chance to do serious damage to our economy, of perhaps a fundamental and distressing kind.

My purpose in breaking my 25-year silence is simply to say that the crisis is the gravest that we have faced. We have had an easy time on energy supply. We were able to tear up some of the old predictions on which way we should go about electricity generation, the availability of gas, and the seeming luxury of our own oil supplies. We are now moving into a much tougher world at a much more difficult time, with increasing world competition, demand, and risk of terrorism. I would like some evidence—I hope that we might get the first instance of it today—that the Government have woken up to the fact that the situation is not normal.

I end with the words of the Prime Minister, who said:

"It is a challenge of a different nature from anything the world has faced before".

He was talking about terrorism, but it applies to energy supplies and our energy situation as well.

Photo of Lord Chorley Lord Chorley Crossbench

My Lords, it has been both a well informed and rather sombre debate on a very big subject. I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, on the masterly way in which he introduced it. I agreed with everything that he had to say. Interestingly, almost all the speeches have been about either wind, the general impression on which is thumbs down, or nuclear, for which the thumbs are up. I regret to say that I shall be no exception, as I shall talk mostly about wind and nuclear.

The theme underlying many of the speeches, and indeed my remarks, is the need to reduce significantly our CO2 emissions over time. However, I emphasise that the policies have to be efficient and cost-effective. As that is my theme, I shall not pick up the powerful points made by the noble Lord, Lord King, about gas, but I am sure that everything that he says is absolutely true. To allow ourselves to rely on gas from countries that we barely knew existed 20 years ago across the continent of Europe seems madness.

In the background is the overarching need at all times to have 100 per cent security of supply—that follows on from the points about gas pipelines—at competitive prices. That has to be the context against which we judge our policies and, in particular, the so-called renewables as against the alternatives. The energy White Paper, now 15 months old, was rather good in the chapter that dealt with security. It was comprehensive and wide-ranging, but it was only at the level of generalities. Its weakness was when it came down to specifics.

On the renewables front it seems that, so far as concerns the Government, the only show in town is wind power. Contrariwise, the nuclear option is effectively sidestepped. There is no discussion of the recent and important technical developments taking place. Other speakers have made the same points already. Indeed, the noble Lords, Lord Jenkin and Lord Gray, reminded us of the recent remarks of Professor Jim Lovelock on the matter, which give powerful support.

I want to make a few remarks about wind energy, but I do not want to go over the environmental objections of landscape and wildlife damage that were spoken about to great effect by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. However, I add an en passant note to the effect that those who say how pretty a cluster of wind turbines looks across the landscape have rarely ever seen modern 400-foot turbines, which are huge industrial structures. Even more so, they have not had to live with them or even near them. I agree that the climate in the green lobby, in organisations like the CPRE and the RSPB, is rapidly changing. That is a good thing, too.

I wish to talk about the economic objections to wind farms, which are various. The main objection is the high unit cost coupled with the lack of certainty of supply at the right time. Our usable winds are irregular and intermittent, which the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, told us about. It follows that the load factors are poor. I have a figure of 30 to 35 per cent, while some people put it lower. Hence, they need back-up, which is likely to be from a conventional CO2-emitting plant. The recent study by the Royal Academy of Engineering put the cost of back-up at a 65 per cent surcharge. There are also the difficulties of managing the grid when there is a wind supply of more than 10 per cent. I believe that the Danes are finding that this is becoming a problem.

The same study put the unit cost of modern onshore wind at 5.4 pence per kilowatt hour, including the back-up. For offshore wind their figure is 7.2 pence per kwh. I contrast that with the normal unit cost rate for a combined cycle gas turbine, or CCGT, of about 2.2 pence per kwh. Interestingly, they put the cost of modern coal plant with the CO2 sequestration at about 5 pence—and I underline that. In other words, we could adapt our coal-fired stations and that would be fractionally cheaper than the true cost of wind power.

In the nature of things, wind generated electricity by turbines is highly dispersed. It has to be collected and grids have to be constructed. This will be costly and there will be transmission losses. For a huge wind farm in the Hebrides—the island of Lewis has been mentioned—just imagine the costs and transmission losses of transporting the electricity to the main population centres. But those additional costs are never quoted. They do not seem to come into the equation.

So the popular view of wind energy is that it produces no emissions, but a modern wind turbine uses large quantities of concrete in the making of its tower, which means large quantities of CO2, because concrete is cement and the fuel used to make it emits CO2. Moreover, the conventional back-up—presently CCGTs, would have to be kept running on a spinning reserve basis which itself would generate inefficient levels of CO2. One does speculate about the overall carbon balance of a modern wind turbine. How much carbon does it save over its 20 year life? Has anyone worked that out, because it would be very illuminating?

I have said quite enough about wind power. In the natural environment field the other sources of energy that are usually mentioned are wave, tidal barrages, and tidal flow or stream. My impression is that few knowledgeable people believe that either wave or barrages would be economic—and barrages usually come with a huge environmental cost. But in the tidal stream field it is my understanding that exciting technical progress is now being made and it comes without the environmental costs of barrages. Is this a Cinderella that is coming good? Could the Minister tell us? I apologise for not giving him notice of that question.

Finally, I should say something about nuclear power. I must say that it is inescapable that we have to start embracing the nuclear solution. This afternoon and on numerous other occasions real concern has been expressed at what one can only describe as the Government's pusillanimous attitude to nuclear. We now have a situation in which over the next decade or so our remaining nuclear stations will be decommissioned. In those circumstances it is difficult to see how we can hold our CO2 emission levels down, let alone meet our Kyoto target—whatever that is worth.

The Government seem to take no interest in the technical progress that has been going on steadily in other parts of the world. I shall not go over the ground covered by many speakers, but it seems apparent now that technical progress has been made relentlessly over the past 10 years and other countries are now ordering nuclear power stations—including Finland, which has been mentioned, as has France and so on. One is aware of the work being carried out in the USA, in particular at MIT, and the interesting development by Eskom, the Government electricity organisation in South Africa, in what is known as pebble-bed technology. The Royal Academy of Engineering report puts the current cost of nuclear power including decommissioning at 2.3 pence per kwh. Although one might criticise the discount rate used on that and even if one adjusted for that nuclear is still the most economic source after gas.

I shall say no more, other than to express my regret and my real worry that unless we embrace modern technologies, including the issue of the disposal of high level waste, we will end up with the worst of all possible worlds. Would it not be better to make haste slowly and more thoughtfully? Would it not be better to use the implicit subsidy that we spend on wind power for real research and development? Whether that should, for example, be tidal stream, nuclear or photovoltaic for sparsely populated areas, I do not know. Or should that money be spent on research and development to tackle the more difficult problems of CO2 emissions for transport? What I am quite sure about is that wind is not the answer and nuclear, almost certainly, is—in the scale that will be necessary.

I conclude by quoting some wise words by a distinguished Danish writer. He said:

"We should remember that dealing with global warming is not about making expensive, symbolic efforts to cut emissions now. It should be about making sure that our children and grandchildren will stop using fossil fuels because we have provided them with better and cheaper alternatives".

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

My Lords, I should like to add my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, for introducing this debate with his customary vigour. I entirely agree with what he said about security of supply now being one of the major aspects of the energy scene, This has changed since the White Paper was published in February last year.

He pointed out that for the first time in its industrial history the UK will become dependent upon imports at a time when supply is under pressure and prices are rising. All the indications are that this situation could continue. That was referred to by many noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater—who reminded me of our earlier forays into energy policy—and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley.

I propose considering the implications of that situation for the supply of gas, oil and electricity respectively, bearing in mind our environmental objectives. I shall take gas first. We are likely to become net importers of gas from as soon as the end of next year. That is not some distance away; it will happen in about 18 months' time. As the noble Lord, Lord Gray, reminded us, by 2010 we could be importing 50 per cent of our gas requirements and 70 per cent by 2020.

The short-term problem was identified by the EU Select Committee, to which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, referred; that if we are going to start importing gas as quickly as that on such a substantial scale, we must have the means to do so. That involves new import schemes, with their linked infrastructure. These are indeed being planned, but the Select Committee doubted whether they would be sufficiently in place during the next two to three years to enable the whole operation to be conducted smoothly.

The committee was particularly worried about the relatively low level of gas stocks. We have held a low level because our main stocks of gas were in the North Sea, but they have been depleted and our stocks are at a lower level than in most countries on continental Europe. Therefore, we no longer have that buffer if anything should go wrong.

There are also longer term risks in the heavy dependence on imported gas. The noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, on the question of gas interconnectors referred to this being a long-term as well as a short-term problem and a very costly one. The real issue, as the noble Lord, Lord Gray, mentioned is that we are located at the end of the European pipeline, which means that we will be increasingly dependent on distant and some uncertain sources of supply and on gaining adequate access to pipeline connections—this is of great importance—which pass through a number of countries, any one of which could change its policy on the subject. So it follows that we ought to be putting much greater emphasis on diversification of supply, which the Government identified in the White Paper. At present, they place their main reliance on wind energy as the main diversification.

A number of noble Lords—my noble friend Lord Greaves and the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, in particular—referred to the problems encountered in particular by on-shore wind energy. My noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie referred to the interconnector cables which will have to be built to ensure that we have the full connections with offshore wind power. But even if the Government's targets for wind power are achieved, this will still represent a relatively small proportion of our future energy requirements. Therefore, a wider range of renewables needs to be developed more speedily; for example, biomass, photovoltaics and tidal power.

But that in itself would not be enough. This therefore leads to a subject which has perhaps dominated the debate; namely, nuclear power. I am of the opinion that we cannot have a coherent energy policy without settling the nuclear issue one way or the other. If we decide to go ahead with nuclear power, certain problems must be resolved. If we do not, we must clearly demonstrate how the resultant gap will be closed. One of the problems which must be resolved if we want to go ahead is the relatively high capital cost. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, made some interesting comments on that. Apparently, there are ways in which that cost can be substantially reduced.

Furthermore, most of us believe that the issue of the handling of nuclear waste has gone on for far too long and it needs to be resolved quickly. Finally, there is the issue of achieving public acceptability; probably the most difficult of the issues facing the nuclear industry. In that connection, the interesting contribution from my noble friend Lord Taverne on radiation and safety was particularly relevant.

I turn to an issue close to my heart, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater; namely, coal. I believe that coal has a part to play and I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, referred to it. As currently burnt, it has serious environmental disadvantages, which mean that the remaining coal-fired stations will have to be taken out of service before long. But clean coal technologies have been developed with carbon extraction.

It is urgent that some of these plants should be commissioned for two reasons. First, it could help to reduce the dependence on gas in the UK and, secondly and as importantly, it could pave the way for exporting these technologies to countries, especially in the Far East, which are substantial and growing users of coal. Last year, China alone increased its consumption of coal by 100 million tonnes. As a result of that, global carbon emissions, far from reducing in line with Kyoto objectives, actually rose by 3.8 per cent. That is likely to continue. We must seek to ensure that countries such as China and India can be enabled to use more coal without harming the atmosphere.

Oil has been discussed frequently in this House as a result of the recent perturbations and there is no doubt that there must be a greater emphasis on new technologies in the transport sector to reduce the usage of petroleum fuel. Technologies are readily available in the form of biofuels and hybrid vehicles and further along the line is the development of fuel cells, which are already being tried out in a limited number of vehicles.

I come finally to electricity. We have talked about the diversity of prime energy into electricity, the need to reduce gas and the nuclear issue, but I want to refer to two other aspects affecting electricity. The first is the adequacy and reliability of the electricity supply system. Capacity margins have been much reduced as a result of the introduction of the new electricity trading arrangements, (NETA). We now face the risk that under exceptional circumstances there may not be sufficient capacity to meet the demand. Such conditions could be due to the weather, unexpected outages or, as many noble Lords mentioned, terrorist action.

While obviously we cannot provide for all eventualities, there should be a greater measure of insurance than currently exists. Serious consideration should therefore be given to the reintroduction of capacity payments, which could increase the margin of reserve. I was interested in the reference by the noble Lord, Lord Gray, to the concept of a security of supply obligation. I regard that as a major issue which needs to be tackled urgently.

There should be a major shift from conventional power stations to more localised generation, right down to the domestic scale in which I declare an interest. My noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, who, I am glad to note, has just said, "Hear, hear", strongly supports that. Such a development would have the advantage of greater efficiency through the use of waste heat and the avoidance of transmission and distribution losses. The Government should be doing much more in that connection to support combined heat and power.

In conclusion, the publication of the White Paper in February 2003 certainly covered the ground fully. It made clear what the Government's energy objectives were but since then security of supply has become the prime energy consideration. We face new risks, in both the short and long term. Many noble Lords and I have set out some of the actions which should be taken. What seems to be clear to me is that a major reassessment of energy policy is now required.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding for the excellent way in which he comprehensively introduced this debate. I have heard it said more than once about your Lordships' House that we are interested in debating only hunting, shooting, fishing and sex—perhaps we should add "energy". There is a very good reason for that. All noble Lords who have spoken are extremely concerned about our ability, on the one hand, to meet the twin but conflicting demands of security of energy supplies in the widest sense and, on the other hand, to arrest the march of global warming and climate change. When I say "arrest", I mean arrest, not just the cosmetic attempts of the Kyoto treaty to hide the political embarrassment of global warming, as Professor Lovelock put it.

Almost all noble Lords seem to be singing from more or less the same song sheet, but I suspect that the Minister wishes that he could use now the Government's song sheet that will be written after the general election. Before getting to the substance of my speech, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding for the sterling support and advice that he has given me and my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon over recent months. Sadly, my noble friend cannot be here tonight.

It is unfortunate that, with the exception of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, there is little opposition to the general thrust of your Lordships' recent contributions on energy debates. Hence, we are unable to test our arguments against a contrary opinion apart from that of the Minister. Perhaps it might be good to have someone like Jonathon Porritt in your Lordships' House, even if we did not agree with him.

My noble friend Lord Jenkin painted the general scenario. Among other things, he talked about capacity. Sadly, the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, cannot be here tonight but he very clearly doubts that mothball plant can be quickly brought back on line. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, pointed out that we are dealing with a global problem. She is right, but as a highly developed post-industrial economy we should lead the way in solving the problem. The noble Baroness appears to be well briefed by the green lobby, but not by Professor Lovelock. She spoke briefly of some of the snags with nuclear power, for instance the possibility of a terrorist attack. But what about an attack on an LNG tanker delivering to an estuarine terminal? There is a vulnerability there, too.

The noble Baroness quite properly talked of reduction in demand by various means. She is right to say that there is scope. It will help but, of course, economic growth will mop up any savings in CO2 emissions. She has a point about a terrorist attack on nuclear power stations and nuclear installations. However, a new build can take into account that risk. Secondly, on those grounds would she advocate immediate decommissioning of all nuclear power stations because of the terrorist risk? I suspect not, because of the immediate huge increase in CO2 emissions.

The noble Baroness produced some alarming statistics on the weight of nuclear waste. She may or may not be right; I know not. However, nuclear waste is extremely dense. I must be honest: I understand that the infrastructure for a deep geological depository requires very considerable and expensive infrastructure below ground.

A more interesting and useful measure of nuclear waste is volume. If the noble Baroness visits BNFL at Sellafield she will see that in orders of magnitude the high-level waste store is not much bigger than the Royal Gallery. I think that she grossly exaggerates the scale of the problem. I helpfully suggest that she take another look at the 1999 report of the Select Committee on the management of nuclear waste.

I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. I agree with him that the risks of nuclear activities are overstated. But I have not heard the details of his arguments before and I will have to study Hansard very carefully.

My noble friend Lord Ullswater talked about the uncertainty of future gas supplies. I agree with him; our reliance on a single source of fuel for such a high proportion of our primary power is unwise. He also talked about despoiling our countryside, as did the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and others. That major difficulty with the Government's policy has been partially mitigated by opting for off-shore wind.

The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, talked about the difficulties with small-scale production of biofuel. I am always surprised by the regulatory difficulties put in the way of renewables.

My noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater talked about new nuclear build. I was at the same presentation that he attended. He also talked about strategic concerns and defence issues—something that, with my military connections, I am acutely aware of.

Since our last debate on energy, our thoughts have been informed by Professor James Lovelock's important contribution to the debate that appeared on the front page of the Independent on 24 January. His opinion was well covered by my noble friend Lord Jenkin and others. In a nutshell, Professor Lovelock points out that global warming could be the greatest danger faced by civilisation so far. He talks about the collapse of civilisation but not the end of human life and states that only nuclear power can meet the demand for energy and reduce emissions. Of course he understands that emissions control will help, but nowhere near fast enough.

Part of our problem is that a large proportion of our emissions arise from transport operations, as pointed out by my noble friend Lord Ullswater. Currently, our transport operations use almost exclusively hydrocarbon fuels. There is some electric traction, but of course that also has a carbon penalty.

We can make marginal improvements by reducing our waste and usage of transport, as pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. However, in order to make major reductions to power, energy and emissions relating to transport, a significant reduction in the size of the economy would be needed, because transport is inextricably linked to economic activity. Who is going to tell that to the Chancellor or, for that matter, the Americans, the Russians, the Indians, the Chinese or anyone else who wants to develop a modern industrial economy? Developments in hydrogen-related technology will become ever more important for transport, and that covers both the use and generation of hydrogen.

My noble friend Lord Jenkin referred to the recent report of the EU Select Committee on gas markets and supply. After my Starred Question today, I would not want to pre-empt any debate, but the Minister should not draw any comfort from the report, even though it was slightly more optimistic than I expected.

Two main concerns were identified in the report. The committee was unconvinced about the security of supply in the next two or three years. It was especially concerned about the possibility and the effect of extreme weather conditions and it reports that in the longer term, up to 2015, there should be ample supplies. But the difficulty is that this is within the lead time of new nuclear build, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater.

That is tight even for conventional fossil fuel power stations. But, with the advent of the Large Combustion Plant Directive, what alternatives are there? In any case, I fear that 75 to 85 per cent of our primary power from a single source—gas—that we cannot control is unwise.

We should also be informed by recent industrial difficulties in the Norwegian oil and gas industries. I have seen the absolute misery in city tower-block dwellings in Bosnia during the winter of 1993–94, when the inhabitants were deprived of both electricity and coal. My noble friend Lord King touched on the difficulties of maintaining gas supplies in eastern Europe. If we are not very careful about gas supplies, the same difficulties could occur in the UK—to our people in our cities.

Many noble Lords have touched on the attractions of nuclear power. It is clear that no political party will want to raise that issue before the general election. The general election will be fought on other matters. In fact, we do not need to make a decision about nuclear power new build right now. However, in order to keep the nuclear option open, with the shortest possible lead time, we need to make progress on the long-term disposal of nuclear waste, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra.

The public see that as an insurmountable objection to new nuclear build. During our most recent debate on energy, the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, agreed with me that the only viable long-term disposal option for high-level waste is a deep geological repository. All noble Lords will have noticed the welcome change in attitude from the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, will follow his lead, because it was much appreciated.

However, noble Lords will recognise how much will flow from the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, about high-level waste. It is unhelpful to push too hard on that point at the moment. However, I am surprised that no noble Lord mentioned the closure of the Chapelcross Magnox nuclear power station. I understand the reasons for its closure: it generated only 194 megawatts; but that represents quite a few wind farms. At some point, it may be necessary to change the terms of reference for Chorum. It is expending far too much time examining unviable disposal options, rather than following the admirable suggestion of your Lordships' Select Committee.

Outside Westminster and the industry, there is confusion about the role of the NDA. Of course, its role is nuclear decommissioning, not long-term waste management. I should like to take this opportunity to welcome the appointment of Sir Anthony Cleaver as, effectively, chairman designate of the NDA. The issue of waste management is important and the general public's acceptance of waste solution is a prerequisite for the public acceptance of any new nuclear build, if required at some time in the future—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra.

It may be that we decide not to exercise the nuclear option. If we do not, we shall have to look at tidal power. I am extremely disappointed by the Government's attitude to the possibility of a tidal barrage. I am running out of time, so I shall have to leave it there, but I wish that the Minister would be a little more positive about tidal power, so that industry will consider investing more in research on the Severn Barrage project.

Thanks in part to our debate, Ministers are beginning to recognise the weakness of their policy. That concerns medium-term security of supply and the fact that we may not be moving nearly fast enough on global warming and climate change.

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 join other noble Lords who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, on introducing the debate, which has raised fundamental issues about energy policy. I pay tribute to both his tenacity in repeatedly raising these issues in the House and the forceful way in which he introduced the debate. He will recognise that our views differ on certain aspects of energy policy, and I quibble with one remark that he made. That is his suggestion that the Government, far from listening to such debates, have nothing but contempt for other views expressed.

Let me say that, of course, we stand by the main propositions behind the White Paper. We are clear that that made an important statement, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, indicated, about the development of government policy. Of course, we recognised that within that there would be a necessity for evolution and development against changing circumstances. The Government do not have a closed mind about issues and rightly so. In areas where we have clear views, it will take some degree of persuasion for us to change our perspective.

I would be doing the House a disservice if I did not rebut the notion that the Government do not listen carefully to contrary views. I say to the noble Lord, Lord King, who emphasised that when such a person of limited influence in the department as me is replying to the debate, it behoves me to ensure that Ministers who do take crucial decisions are aware of the contours of the debate. I could not agree with him more, and the value of such a debate is exactly that. We have important and significant mechanisms for feeding these issues back to Ministers who take responsibility for decisions.

It is not long since the Energy Bill left this House for the other place. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, would agree that during the debates on the Bill on a number of occasions we articulated many of the issues that have been raised again this evening. We had many stimulating discussions about the security of the UK's energy supply, which has been a significant theme of this evening's debate, and about issues of renewable energy. I recognise some of the anxieties that were expressed, although I take it with some concern that some of these criticisms are now coming from quarters that it was expected would be largely supportive. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, expressed in the most graphic terms that there is a necessity for a rethink among the Green movement on its stance with regard to renewables. Rethinking is always a good concept for any pressure group.

The noble Lord referred to the fact that I might know a little bit about Saddleworth, and therefore was aware of the important meeting that took place the other day about the possible construction of wind turbines there. I hope that he will recognise that it was not just the good folk of Saddleworth who participated in that debate, but people from other parts of the country. I hope that he also noticed that some of them were not very far removed from strong lobby groups on pro-nuclear. Therefore, the debate on wind turbines may not have been quite the innocent issue of protection of landscape against the necessary generation of electricity. It also had a strong element of ensuring that one potential competitor, an alternative strategy to nuclear, should in fact be challenged in those terms. That meeting gave some reflection of that.

We all recognise that there is no more fundamental issue of greater importance to our economy or our very way of life than the security and development of energy supplies. It will not be a surprise to anyone in this House if I first refer to the White Paper. I assure noble Lords that we have not changed our perspective on the White Paper. In our view, it expressed the absolute cardinal points that an energy policy for this country needs to be based on. Putting the United Kingdom on a path to reduced CO2 emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 is an international obligation. Noble Lords who have participated in this debate and have reflected on the environmental issues all recognise the salience of that objective in terms of the welfare of the wider world and not just our own citizens.

Maintaining the reliability of energy supplies, as I indicated before, was a point emphatically made in the debate tonight. Another factor is the promotion of competitive markets both in the UK and beyond, because it is through such structures that we get the best value for our people. Ensuring that each home is adequately and affordably heated is essential, because heat and light are crucial to all our fellow citizens for enjoyment of living. This is not a menu of options. These four points interlock and are part of the total objective that we must have for an energy policy. It is a package to be taken as a whole.

I will come to the points about particular technologies that noble Lords have advanced this evening, but I wanted first to produce a general response. We need flexibility to keep the UK on the right track to meet our international obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, and to meet our ambitious domestic goal to reduce carbon emissions by 2050. That is an important dimension of our objectives.

In terms of the broader picture, this means that we need a diverse mix of energy sources and supply routes. Of course noble Lords are right to emphasise—it came out in a number of the penetrating speeches made this evening—that in fact we were on the brink of a substantial change with regard to our energy, in terms of our movement to greater dependence on international supplies. In putting forward this position, our obligation is to meet the needs of our people, but it would be remiss if we did not recognise that all our neighbouring economies too will be dependent upon the securing of those supplies.

I recognise what is being said about the potential vulnerability of some of those supplies, because they are distant and they are from countries with which we have not in the past developed trade of a dependent kind in quite the way we will with regard to energy. Our job is to maximise the potential routes of supply of energy. When we do this, we are looking at Europe, we are looking at Russia, we are certainly looking at central Asia and of course we are looking at North Africa.

The Foreign Office's job, as is certainly emphasised in its objectives, is to create international negotiations, treaties, obligations, frameworks and understandings, which guarantee that we are able to maximise our access to energy supplies against a background where some of this will be done in co-operation with our European partners. This is because Europe itself is increasingly dependent on these flows of energy resources from locations outside Europe.

One ready solution to this particular position has been emphasised this evening; namely, the ready-made solution of increased development of nuclear power. There have been a number of weighty contributions, but also perhaps one or two less substantial points.

The noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, asked how long it took to build a nuclear power station from scratch. Well, from its whole planning, it takes 10 to 15 years. I did hear a remark that there might be some nuclear power stations which could be bought off the peg. I was not quite sure just what that represented—I suppose it indicated that there might be a faster route towards development of nuclear power, but I cannot quite envisage that.

What I am resisting, however, is the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Gray, that the Government are busy putting every obstacle in the way of the nuclear industry. That is not so. It is the case, as he has recognised, that we do not, at this stage, believe that building new nuclear power stations is likely. That is because it is not economically attractive. It is not the Government dictating that. It is just not true that the Government are putting every obstacle in the way.

The Government are concerned about keeping the nuclear option open. They are not putting barriers in the way in those terms. Of course, we are reflecting. I do not think that noble Lords can be dismissive of that point, which was ably emphasised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in her contribution; namely, that there is a whole range of real anxieties about nuclear power.

There are worries about nuclear accidents, which we cannot erase from public perception. They are certainly not erased from the perception of the Russian or American publics or that of many of our European partners. Nor can we underestimate the problem of terrorist attacks. Of course, all power supplies are potentially open to threat in those terms. But we all recognise the particular danger to the community of a terrorist attack affecting a nuclear power station.

As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, constantly reminds me, when will we be convinced that there is a solution to the issue of nuclear waste? In a recent contribution, my noble friend Lord Sainsbury regarded the deep geological approach as the one that is most likely to be effective. Of course, I would do nothing but support that position.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, the noble Lord agreed that it was the only viable option.

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 not decrying from that position. I am merely indicating that those issues are not easily overcome. We all know that the issues concerning nuclear waste are still a profound problem. They cannot be readily brushed aside, however enthusiastic several contributors to this debate may be about nuclear power.

With regard to renewable energy, of course the Government are concerned that there should be a range of options. I was enormously grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, for his advocacy of a range of potential options, including those with exciting potential for the future with regard to tidal power, but which currently may be very difficult, in commercial terms, to bring into the market place. But he is right that we need to encourage such developments and such research. The Government are doing exactly that.

There is no doubt that in the shorter term, it is not that the Government have a preoccupation with wind power. I assure noble Lords that that is not the issue. The issue is that wind power is proving to be the area of generation of power to which the market is responding and in which it is preparing to invest heavily. Of course, there are environmental considerations in that respect.

In round two, planning permission and development will see a greater number of wind turbines placed in coastal waters and not on some of our greatly cherished landscapes. But it will also be recognised that some wind turbines will be located on land. Of course, planning permission must be obtained. It will have to meet the strict requirements of not interfering aggressively with the landscape.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is right to point out that in our protection of areas of outstanding natural beauty we should not ignore those areas that are just immediately outside which, themselves, are treasured and valued by local people. Let me say that if anything came out of the meeting at Saddleworth, it is certainly the case that such procedures will not be followed without local people having their say.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, emphasised again his enthusiasm and commitment to combined heat and power. He berated the Government, as he has on many occasions in the past, for our more limited enthusiasm as regards the benefits of that strategy. It is not that the Government do not recognise the benefits of combined heat and power, but they do not take a supportive stance. The noble Lord will recognise that we have some reservations about putting undue emphasis on this solution to the issues. However, who better than the noble Lord, with his background, could stress the role that coal can play, in particular new clean coal technologies? Of course we are responsive to that. We are concerned to ensure that a situation does not develop within renewables in which we rob Peter to pay Paul. The major problem with combined heat and power may lie in that area.

I return to the theme with which I began my remarks. It has been suggested during the debate that the Government have closed minds and blocked ears on the development of our energy policy. We have a clearly identified strategy to which we are committed, and we have obligations that must be met which dictate that strategy. It is not the case that we are closing off options, nor is it that we are unmindful of the strength of positions which develop in the energy field against a background that all noble Lords would recognise; that of a significantly changing perspective on the security of and access to energy supplies. No one doubts the importance of that. It is why we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for initiating this debate. It helps to give prominence to issues that we all recognise.

In replying to the debate I recognise that I have fallen short in responding to every point. I have to confess that the one which floored me most was that introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. I shall need to look carefully at the research he quoted on the limited impact of nuclear disasters on the health of surrounding communities. He has set out his stall to challenge received opinion on these issues by quoting some very important sources. I am not in a position to respond to him at the level at which he presented his arguments, and I hope that he will forgive me. However, his arguments will be taken on board.

That leads me to a more general point. It was suggested during the passage of the Energy Bill that the issue of security of supply was such that it should be written on to the face of the Bill as a government requirement. That was done in this House. We indicated that we had some difficulty with the amendment and of course we resisted it. I indicated at the time that it would not find favour with the other place. However, what I want to reflect to noble Lords this evening is this. Discussions and negotiations have been conducted in the other place. It is recognised that there are serious concerns about this issue. I am able to reveal to noble Lords that negotiations are reaching a point where we would expect the Secretary of State to undertake to make an annual report to Parliament about the security of energy supplies. That would guarantee a significant debate in the other place once a year, and no doubt in your Lordships' House it will most likely merely add to the number of debates which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, would prompt in any case, together with several of his noble friends who are particularly active in this area.

It has been an interesting debate in which some very important and salient points have been made. The Government certainly are aware that this is an important and significant issue for our community. Far from seeking to choke off debate, it is our responsibility to encourage it in areas that we all recognise are not only exceedingly difficult but absolutely essential to the welfare of all the communities we hold dear.

Photo of Lord Jenkin of Roding Lord Jenkin of Roding Conservative

My Lords, before I beg leave to withdraw my Motion, I have ascertained that I have about 23 minutes before our time runs out. However, I have considerable sympathy for the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord McIntosh, and other Ministers, who are in their places. They have to conduct the business which follows this debate and I shall resist the temptation.

I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, who described this as a sombre debate. That is certainly what it has been.

I welcome the recognition by the Minister, in his customary amiable way, that events certainly have moved on since the White Paper of 15 months ago and that security of supply has now reached the top of public concern. It so happens that I opened a copy of a letter from the Minister for energy, Stephen Timms, addressed to one of my colleagues in the Commons, just before I introduced the debate. I have not had time to read the amendment that the Government are minded to table at Report stage in another place. It is a step forward and we shall want to look at it very carefully indeed.

The only other speech I would pick out from what has been a remarkable debate—I thank all noble Lords who took part most warmly for their contributions—is that of the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. I took part in a debate when the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, made his maiden speech, and he made exactly the same point. He made it in rather a different way and a different manner, but he raised the issue of whether radiation is to be regarded as linear or whether there is a threshold below which it can be beneficial.

I believe we shall hear more of this because, as the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, pointed out, the costs that have been imposed on the entire industry over the past 50 years of dealing with radiation on the assumption that it is a straight line and linear and therefore has to be kept to the absolute minimum—nil if possible—are enormous. This argument will have to be addressed. I sympathise with the Minister for being confronted with the argument, but it has been heard before and will be heard again. It is a very important issue.

With those very few remarks and reiterating my thanks to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.