Energy: Research, Development and Training

– in the House of Lords at 2:55 pm on 27 June 2005.

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Photo of Lord Ezra Lord Ezra Liberal Democrat 2:55, 27 June 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are concerned about the collapse in research and development and training in energy alleged by the Council for Science and Technology in its report of 31 May 2005.

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, the Government are concerned about the decline in research, development and training in energy and have taken action to increase the amount of publicly funded R&D. DTI and research council expenditure on energy R&D increased from £34 million in 1998–99 to an estimated £60 million in 2004–05. That amount is projected to rise to at least £95 million by 2007–08. The Government are also supporting a range of demonstration activity worth more than £300 million between 2002 and 2008. A UK energy research partnership, bringing together public and private funders of energy research, is being set up and the Energy and Utility Sector Skills Council is working with industry to develop a strategy for training and development.

Photo of Lord Ezra Lord Ezra Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that response, but would he not agree that over the years there has been a continuing fall—until very recently—in the level of R&D and training in energy? It now represents a mere 5 per cent of what it was pre-privatisation, and only 10 per cent and 20 per cent respectively of what is being spent in France and Germany. Furthermore, would he not agree that the reduced level of expenditure in that area is itself too fragmented to have a major impact? What is now required is an urgent review of the whole area of investment in energy, in view of the importance attached to energy policy, with a view to increasing the quantum and concentrating the impact.

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, there has obviously been a very considerable fall over the years in spending on R&D. The major part of that has been the fall in nuclear R&D. I agree that, with regard to the international comparisons, we appear still out of line with what other countries are doing, even with the substantial increases that we have made in recent years. As part of the spending review for 2006 we shall revisit that area.

Photo of Lord Tanlaw Lord Tanlaw Crossbench

My Lords, can the Minister say what percentage of the expenditure on R&D covers hydrogen production and storage—in particular, hydrogen storage when linked to wind or water turbines?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, we have recently issued a report in answer to the independent report that came out on hydrogen energy, UK Strategic Framework. The package of measures in that will have funding of £50 million.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Spokesperson in the Lords (Energy), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Energy), Trade & Industry

My Lords, can the Minister say what efforts are being made to increase the numbers of graduate engineers, because there seems to be a reduction in that regard? Can he also say how much is being spent on R&D in tidal and wave power, because the sums seem to be dwarfed by those that are being ploughed into how to deal with the legacy of the nuclear industry?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, the situation with graduate numbers in engineering and technology is the one weak area in the number of young people doing science. The figure has gone down from 87,000 in 1997–98 to about 80,000, but has stabilised at that level in the past few years. Clearly there is an issue there, and we are taking steps to increase the number of graduate engineers.

The figure for R&D in tidal energy is about £50 million, but I shall check that figure and write to the noble Lord if it is not correct.

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Liberal Democrat

My Lords, further to that question, can the Minister give us some idea of the proportion of women engineers?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, I cannot, but I shall write to the noble Lord. It is interesting that a very high proportion—over 40 per cent, I think—of young people doing science and technology, the number of which has increased by 120,000 since 1997–98, are women. However, I shall look at the specific question of women engineers and let the noble Lord know.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Spokespersons In the Lords, Wales

My Lords, is the noble Lord not particularly concerned about the decline in expenditure in R&D and training in the nuclear energy field, particularly in view of the fact that it looks increasingly as though the Government may well be persuaded that nuclear energy and nuclear power stations must be revived in due course?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, that has been an area of concern in the context of keeping open the nuclear option. We have taken steps to improve the situation.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, is it not a fact that, before one builds new nuclear power stations, it would not be a bad idea to dispose safely of the nuclear waste that the existing ones have created? How much research is going into the safe disposal of nuclear waste, rather than storing it or finding places to dump it underground or wherever?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, there is a programme on dealing with nuclear waste. I shall write to the noble Lord and let him know exact figures.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, further to the question from my noble friend Lord Roberts about training and preparation for alternative energy sources to oil and gas, of which nuclear obviously is the chief one, has the Minister noticed that the President of the United States is committing his administration to open up the nuclear programme in America; that Finland is building five new stations; that China is building dozens of new stations; and that all over the world people are reaching decisions that this is the way forward, of course with proper control of nuclear waste? Does he not realise that the training for this programme, even if we open it in 15 years, has to begin now? That training is not taking place. Can he give us a more reassuring and confident answer that we really are gripping this problem?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

Yes, my Lords, we are aware that, in areas across the world, there has been a change and people are contemplating plans to build new nuclear power stations. The training of engineers is obviously important, and that is why the sector skills council in this area has been doing work on it. There are other sources of nuclear energy expertise in this country. The submarine programme and naval forces have considerable knowledge and expertise of training people in this area.

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour

My Lords, my noble friend frequently talks about keeping the nuclear option open. Does he have any idea, and can he inform noble Lords, of the date by which that option either has to be taken up or is closed down?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, the Prime Minister has made it quite clear that during this Parliament a decision will have to be reached on the whole nuclear question.