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Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 2nd February 2012.

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Photo of Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan Labour 4:30 pm, 2nd February 2012

I should like to follow my colleagues on this issue because for some time I was chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association. My connection with that organisation has now been terminated, so I do not have to declare an interest but I still have great affection and respect for the industry.

It is certainly fair to say that an amendment of this kind has to be probing in character because, to be realistic, we do not really want to face the prospect of a planning challenge at this time on nuclear matters. I do not think it would be reasonable to say that there is fantastic demand in Scotland for Hunterston C and D being constructed at this time. However, by 2015 or 2016, we will have the large plant directive in place and, therefore, Cockenzie power station, which is relative small, will probably be closed and we will also have the prospect of Longannet, which is the massive linchpin of Scottish power generation, operating under severe constraints as a consequence of the large plant directive.

Torness will probably carry on until 2025, given likely extensions if the safety codes are met. Within the next eight years investment decisions will have to be taken as far as replacement base load generation is concerned. It ought to be made as clear as possible what restraints there are on the possibility of the planning powers of the Scottish devolved Parliament being constrained or changed or being ignored, if that were possible. If energy is a reserved power, does the power to frustrate through the planning process necessarily enable a Scottish Parliament to deny the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom the contribution that a power station on the scale of Torness could offer?

It is suggested that the nuclear industry is somehow alien to Scotland, that we do not have anything to do with it, and the plutonophobes, in their separatist windmills, forget that probably as much credit has to go to James Clerk Maxwell as anyone for the development of nuclear power. Through companies like the Weir Group and through a variety of other groups like Renfrew-based Doosan Babcock, the nuclear power industry is very vibrant and strong in a lot of areas of Scotland. Although it does not enjoy the weekend press releases that we get for the somewhat immature, renewable technologies-immature in the sense that they are barely proven and barely out of the laboratory-in its hands will lie the economic success of Scotland.

It is true that we will still have gas-fired power stations, but it is quite likely that, if the carbon capture and storage technologies are developed, they will try to apply them to that form of generation as well. If that happens, it will severely restrict even the capability of the gas-fired power stations to make a proper contribution to our energy needs. I make the point that, although today it is not an important issue, we still have some time to go before a Torness replacement has to be considered. There will be uncertainties about the continuing generating capability of our main stations by 2015. Not all of us are quite as optimistic about the contribution, 24/7, base load in character, that can be made at present by renewable power stations.

Therefore, it is important that an issue of this nature is afforded some clarity. That is why I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Sewel for raising it. We are not asking for the earth to move or anything like that; we are merely asking for some clarity from the Advocate-General on this question.