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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 Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland) 4:30 pm, 2nd February 2012

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, who asked a legitimate question. If there are advocates for the policy, they should be heard in Scotland and the Scottish people should make their decision. Nobody could criticise my noble friend Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan for being a shrinking violet in this regard. He speaks with authority and obvious knowledge about the benefits of nuclear energy and the role that it should play in the mixed energy economy of Great Britain. I accept the noble Earl's challenge and thank my noble friend Lord Sewel for giving me the opportunity to outline, in a couple of minutes, some of the basic points about a single GB energy market in which nuclear energy will play a part.

The existence of a single GB energy market is manifestly to the benefit of Scotland and to the rest of our island. It allows the sharing of resources, risks and rewards. The development of renewable energy capacity in Scotland depends largely on substantial support from that market. As noble Lords said, energy is in the main a reserved matter under the Scotland Act. However, through the exercise of devolved power over the planning system, the current Scottish Government are able to prevent new nuclear plants being built in Scotland. They have said that it is a matter of ideology and that that is what they will do.

As noble Lords heard, Scotland produces a not insignificant proportion of its electricity through the nuclear power stations at Hunterston and Torness. I have noted in my short time in your Lordships' House the development of the concept of declaring an interest. I do not declare this as an interest, but it may be of interest to Members of the House that as a student I was involved, as a McAlpine fusilier, in building the Hunterston B power station. I remember being handsomely rewarded for my work and benefiting from the great advantage that in those days, students did not pay any tax on a substantial part of their income. Therefore, in a small way I contributed to the energy security of our country. Since Hunterston is a nuclear power station, it will be a lasting legacy-although perhaps not a legacy of which everyone would be proud.

At times of peak demand, Scotland, which produces a significant amount of energy, imports electricity generated by nuclear power stations in England. Under a separate Scottish energy policy-God forbid that there should ever be one-that would have to continue, in order to maintain base load power and to prevent the lights going out in Scotland. However, both Hunterston and Torness will come to the end of their operating life in the next few years, as we heard-although one or other may continue, depending on the safety case. The position of the SNP Scottish Government on nuclear energy appears contradictory. They seem happy to import the energy from England, but impose a policy of no nuclear energy in Scotland on ideological grounds. This does not seem to be a point of principle or ideology. It is a political issue in Scotland that works in their favour in the mean time, but will not in the longer term.

The noble and learned Minister is not here to answer for the Scottish Government, and I do not ask him to. However, perhaps in his closing remarks he will indicate what he understands the position to be in relation to the extension of the life of nuclear plants currently operating in Scotland. I have reason to believe that there will be a positive response from the Scottish Government to the life extension of these stations, for the obvious practical reason that there is no substitute for them in the offing. If that is the case, where does the ideology lie? Where is the point of principle if the life of these plants can be extended but new ones cannot be built?

I am conscious of the time, and I do not want to detain the Committee unnecessarily. I have made the points I want to make. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Sewel, who has provided the Committee with a good opportunity to remind itself of the one irrefutable fact: the benefit of a single GB energy market. The whole of Britain, including Scotland, benefits from this market. It makes no sense to break it up, and we should continue to try to protect that market.