Ensuring security in the civil nuclear industry is one of the Government’s highest priorities. We keep security arrangements in the industry under constant review. This extension of the powers will enable the Government to make regulations to require owners of civil nuclear sites, including new nuclear power stations, to put in place security measures while those sites are under construction. That change is needed, because a new generation of nuclear power stations is now a realistic prospect in the United Kingdom. Energy companies have announced plans to build up to 16 GW of new nuclear capacity by 2025. The draft nuclear national policy statement, which the Government consulted on in October, contained eight sites that had been identified as being potentially suitable for nuclear new builds. All those sites are adjacent to existing civil nuclear facilities. These amendments and the new clause will permit the regulation of security at civil nuclear construction sites from the start of construction. That will ensure that any potential security implications for existing facilities, as a result of this construction activity taking place in a vicinity, are addressed.
Current regulation is only permitted once nuclear material or other radioactive material is brought on site, which is approximately five years into the construction timeline of a new nuclear power station. Bringing in this change will ensure that the United Kingdom continues to have a robust regulatory regime in place to ensure effective and proportionate security in the civil nuclear industry. There will be a comprehensive regulation of security at nuclear new build construction sites. On that matter, as on other matters relating more generally to security in the civil nuclear industry, the Government have been closely advised by the Office for Nuclear Regulation, the security regulator for the civil nuclear industry.
I welcome the amendments, which enhance the security of our nuclear sites by bringing forward the security arrangements to include the period when construction works commence. I want to ask the Minister some questions on the clause. In advance of that, I thank him for affording both me and noble Friends in the other place the opportunity to discuss the issue of security at nuclear sites. We have sought and received reassurance from both him and his officials.
First, can the Minister give us an update on how this may feed into the wider governmental review of critical infrastructure and how security generally at nuclear sites is figuring within these discussions? Secondly, can we seek his assurance that in any discussions that take place, while the No. 1 priority must be the enduring robustness of the security of our nuclear sites, the views of the existing work force and organisations are taken into account? Finally, what are his thoughts on how he will report to Parliament in future on nuclear security, either in response to the outcome of specific cross-Government initiatives, such as those on critical infrastructure, or simply on a periodic basis, recognising the limitations on the Minister for disclosing full details of security arrangements? I ask the Minister for his thoughts on that.
I am grateful to the Opposition spokesman for his support for the principles behind the amendments. As he rightly said, there is an ongoing review of the security of critical infrastructure. Work with nuclear sites is clearly part of that critical nuclear infrastructure, but separate work is related to the unique nature of nuclear sites.
The amendment recognises that, as the Bill is framed, it is not sufficiently comprehensive. It had originally been drafted when nuclear new build was not especially on the agenda. Now that it is, it is appropriate from the earliest time in the construction process for security issues to be formally addressed. Yes, of course, if there is evidence from the work force about issues of concern, we are also keen to look into them. We have said that if people consider that they will be criticised for whistleblowing, protection will be afforded to those who draw attention to security and safety issues, and that applies throughout the energy infrastructure, oil and gas, nuclear and other parts of the critical national infrastructure.
The energy companies are liable for the costs of security. They understand that, as part of the process of building new nuclear plants, they have to take account of the security costs involved in that process. There are no taxpayer implications in the proposals. As for how the measure will be reported to Parliament, we respond to parliamentary questions but, as members of the Committee will be aware, by definition sometimes our answers cannot be as comprehensive as we would wish. The very nature of security issues means that they have to be carefully protected, and we have to be cautious about the way in which we discuss them in public. As far as we are able, under the freedom of information request information system, we share information with the Whip and other authorities.
Will the Minister clarify whether the provision will make any material difference to the protests that I imagine we will be seeing throughout the country as the start of nuclear construction gets under way? The hon. Gentleman will know that it is a controversial subject. I am sure that many legitimate peaceful protests will take place at construction sites, and I wish to know whether anything will be different as a result of the provision in how protesters might be treated.
The hon. Lady raises an important issue. She refers to security and terrorism. We completely respect the right to peaceful protests and for people to express their worries about developments that they do not like. The provision will not give the police extra powers in dealing with such issues. Those protests can go ahead, as would have been the case beforehand. It is purely about counter-terrorism and security in that respect, and I hope that I have provided the hon. Lady with the assurance that she seeks.
The new clauses and associated amendments are intended to facilitate carbon capture and storage projects by removing obstacles to the reuse of existing capital intensive infrastructure. While they are relatively minor measures in legislative terms, they are nevertheless important to the demonstration of key carbon abatement technology as they will make it considerably more straightforward to reuse suitable existing infrastructure for CCS where it is suitable and no longer required for its original purpose.
New clause 13 would change the regime for decommissioning offshore pipelines and installations as set out in the Petroleum Act 1998 and would give the Secretary of State a discretionary power to designate offshore pipelines and installations that are intended to be used as part of a CCS demonstration project. The effect of designation would be to remove the possibility that the owners, operators and licensees of facilities for oil and gas purposes could be made liable for their decommissioning. The new clause would not change the obligations of the storage site operator to decommission the facilities once they are no longer required, nor would it change the guarantees the Government can require from the storage site operator to ensure that those obligations are fulfilled in a timely way.
Without the new clause, it would remain possible for a body that was responsible for decommissioning facilities, when used for oil and gas purposes, to be required to decommission them if they were subsequently used for carbon dioxide storage. We know from discussions with the industry that it is likely that owners of oil and gas facilities would choose to decommission them in such circumstances, rather than to allow them to be reused for carbon dioxide storage, which would involve uncertainty about the timing and cost of decommissioning. The new clause will remove that perverse incentive. Amendment 70 makes provision for the new clause’s commencement.
New clause 14 replicates existing powers for new pipelines in the Pipe-Lines Act 1962 to allow the compulsory acquisition of rights to transport carbon dioxide through a pipeline previously used for another purpose. It provides that, where an existing pipeline is intended to be converted to the transport of carbon dioxide, the owner of the pipeline may be authorised to acquire the rights over land that are necessary for the conversion and subsequent use of the pipeline. The procedures and rules applicable to this compulsory acquisition order will be the same as those provided by the 1962 Act for the construction of a new pipeline.
Without the new clause those seeking to reuse an existing pipeline to transport carbon dioxide would have to reach a voluntary agreement with each of the owners through whose land the pipeline passes. That might require many hundreds of agreements and failure to reach voluntary agreement with one of them could derail a project that would otherwise be in the public interest.
As the demonstration and deployment of CCS progresses, it is likely that developers will look for opportunities to convert existing pipelines where they are suitable and no longer required for their original purpose. The new clause is intended to facilitate that process, but it does not alter the basis on which the change of use would be authorised by the appropriate independent regulator to ensure the highest possible standards of safety and environmental protection. It will apply throughout Great Britain and the intention is to transfer the powers and functions in relation to pipelines that begin and end in Scotland to Scottish Ministers as soon as possible, in line with the compulsory acquisition functions that they already have.
Amendment 78 is consequential. It modifies the title of the Bill to include new clause 13 and 14.
Is the Minister able to add to what he has said about the new clauses and amendments, first, in relation to the effect that they will have on the approach of the Crown Estate to the decommissioning and recommissioning of existing pipelines? The existing practice, which I understand will continue, is for there to be a licence break: after decommissioning, a new licence is required for recommissioning, even if the circumstances are exactly the same except that something else is flowing through the pipeline. Giving continuous existence to facilities that can be reused for other purposes will presumably affect the approach in relation to licences.
Secondly, what effect does the Minister consider the compulsory purchase arrangements mentioned in new clause 14 will have on the existence of static national planning considerations in national planning documents as opposed to linear planning arrangements that do not exist in similar form in those documents? Linear compulsory purchase arrangements will affect the overall guidance given in relation to a linear planning arrangement that might otherwise concern many small individual planning applications and not be within national planning arrangements, notwithstanding compulsory purchase arrangements as they are currently constituted. Can the Minister shed any light on those matters?
The amendments are to be welcomed. They give the Secretary of State powers, by a compulsory rights order, to acquire rights over land to enable former oil and gas pipelines to be used for our anticipated growth in CCS. Without such powers, the expansion of CCS may be stymied and we might have to come back in future with primary legislation when an inevitable logjam holds up a CCS scheme. The Minister and his team are to be congratulated on spotting this opportunity and introducing the amendments.
The Minister would expect me to say, however, that although the amendments are welcome, they are as nothing until we know the Government’s firm proposals around CCS. The amendments lay the ground work, but we do not have the full programme of CCS to deliver it. There is no point in taking those powers if we have not made the investment in CCS, which has been regularly promised from the Dispatch Box, not only by the Minister, but by the Secretary of State, the Chancellor, old Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. I can use that phrase, because Uncle Tom Cobleigh is not a sitting Member.
Smiling down on us.
We know that the Government have decided to scrap the CCS levy, arguing that the burden was unfair. We note, however, that they seem to think it fair to spread the load across taxpayers generally by asking them to fund the scheme directly from the Exchequer. The promise to fund the CCS programme was made almost a year ago; it was made in the comprehensive spending review last autumn; and it was made again in the Budget. But—and it is a big but—we are still waiting.
In the light of the amendments, can the Minister reveal his progress with the Treasury team? Can he reveal the Chancellor’s full commitment to this vital programme? I am genuinely trying to help the Minister, because I know he intends to see the programme roll out, which is why the amendments were tabled in a timely way. Opposition Members and I are determined to give any support that we can to the Minister to say, “Mr Chancellor, please get on with it.”
I know that the Minister is committed to the CCS roll-out, and we applauded him and the Secretary of State for making good on Labour’s commitment to fund the first CCS project with £1 billion. However, one swallow does not a summer make; neither does one CCS project—yet to be signed off—a coherent CCS programme make. We wait for announcements on the funding; we wait for the time scale for future projects; and we wait for the sign-off on the first project, which, we understand, may be this autumn.
Meanwhile, in China, an expansion of energy generation the size of the UK’s total energy capacity takes place every year, a sizeable part of which is in unabated coal generation. At the same time, United States-China partnerships forge ahead to develop CCS at a pace. The CCS levy was intended to fund a CCS programme, not just one CCS project. We welcome the measures, but now that the levy has been scrapped, will the Minister assure us that we will not be left behind in the race to develop a leading edge in this new technology? Such technology will bring with it green jobs at home and economic potential in the worldwide export market. I politely and helpfully suggest to the Minister that we do not want a world that burns fossil fuels while the emperor—I mean the Chancellor—continues to play on his fiddle.
I echo my hon. Friend’s sentiments. We urgently need to progress CCS. Some months ago, we welcomed the Government’s agreement to fund £1 billion for the first demonstration plant in Longannet. I believe that those contracts will be signed, sealed and delivered, and the plant will begin in December, unless that situation has changed again.
We should never underestimate the role of CCS in relation not only to coal, but to gas, although the regulations are very different. We might disagree on minor aspects of the matter, but we would all agree that in the very near future there will be a heavier reliance on gas in any event. What happens to coal, whether it is produced in the UK or abroad, is a different matter. We will increase the amount of electricity that is produced from gas, so it is important that CCS is developed. I am sure, however, that the Minister will understand my concern, which is that if we do not get a move on with CCS, we will not have a British deep mine coal industry left.
The British deep mine coal industry, which produces coal for Drax and other major power stations within the UK, is at a critical level, and there needs to be some investment in CCS in the UK. In Europe, about four or five years ago, it was suggested that each European nation should look at CCS demonstration plants. In the apportioning out, it was said that the UK should take 13 or 14 such plants. We did not do that; some years ago, under the previous Government, it was agreed that there should be four demonstration plants. The money has been focused on the plant at Longannet, but what has happened to the other three? Has any progress been made? If not, we need to make progress on CCS, or we will suffer the consequences.
If the country is to meet its emissions targets, it is extremely important that carbon capture and storage is part of the solution. That may take some financing, as will the nuclear industry, which we have already discussed this morning, but it is a matter of urgency, and the Minister should treat it as such. CCS is being delayed, and it might be kicked into the long grass.
I am grateful for that short debate on the issues. In response to the question of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, the Crown Estate has no rolling commissioning or decommissioning of offshore structures. The provisions have no impact in relation to the Crown Estate, nor do they an impact on national planning arrangements. I hope that that clarifies those points.
The hon. Member for Ogmore, who leads for the Opposition on these matters, was uncharacteristically churlish this morning. He congratulates us in most of his speeches, which we always like, but I was surprised by the extent to which he questioned the Government’s ambition for CCS. As the hon. Member for Wansbeck said, CCS is an integral part of this country’s energy future, and the Government have taken forward that work. Although the ambition is high, we are also focused on exactly what is necessary to deliver on it. At a time when other countries, such as Norway, Holland and the United States, are slipping back, Britain has continued with its ambitious programme.
The hon. Member for Ogmore talked about taking forward Labour’s £1 billion programme; Labour had a programme, but it was not a £1 billion programme. No money was allocated to it at all. There was an aspiration, but there was no money. We have come up with £1 billion, which is more money than any Government anywhere else in the world have allocated to a single project, so we have turned the previous Government’s ambition into reality.
In my opening remarks, I welcomed the fact that the Minister had turned our ambition and aspiration into reality. Well done—we would have done the same—but will he flesh out his ambitions for the remaining three projects, and can he put a figure on those?
If the hon. Gentleman had not interrupted me, I would have been doing exactly that already. As he will be aware, there is more interest in developing this technology in the United Kingdom than anywhere else in Europe. The new entrants’ reserve 300 scheme, run by the European Union, has had seven projects submitted from Britain, which amounts to almost half the projects across the EU. That reflects the technological, scientific and academic leadership that this country has, and the real scope for us to be a game changer in such matters.
We made a decision that the programme should not be funded by a levy, but through direct Government funding, because one condition of the levy was that it was paid per unit of output. There was no funding available for the plants until they were operational, so the companies would take on board all of the risk—every single aspect of it. If it did not work and they did not get any output, they would get no funding towards it whatever, which would clearly be a huge barrier to investment. Through direct Government funding, and through the NER where appropriate, we are looking at bringing forward funding support so that it can happen at an earlier stage. We think that will stimulate a more realistic prospect of developing the technology.
Does the Minister not agree that, rather than the use of public money, a more ambitious emissions performance standard would in itself act as a spur to innovation for these companies? I am deeply concerned about public money, whether from levies or direct taxation, going into CCS in Britain. I do not think we need CCS in Britain; I am happy to have a debate about whether it is needed in China. Right now we do not need to get more coal out of the earth, and we certainly do not need to put more taxpayers’ money into doing so.
We have committed to an emissions performance standard and we will discuss that later. New gas plant could only achieve the level of ambition that the hon. Lady sets out for an emissions performance standard by having a significant amount of biogas or CCS or greater heat capture than is sometimes possible.
One reason we are looking to extend CCS in the UK to include gas is the long-term role we think gas may need to play over the coming decades. An EPS is part of that process, but here is a technology on which we are in a uniquely strong position to lead globally, and for which we also have a need in the UK. That is not just for retrofitting of some of our old plant, but for new plant that may come forward.
We recognise the need to move the programme forward. We are finalising terms and conditions now with the operators of the £1 billion Longannet project and I hope we will get financial closure in the next few months. A tremendous amount of financial detail needs to be resolved, as well as legal technical details about liabilities. We intend in the remainder of this year to bring forward the competition for the remaining three projects, to be on stream by 2020, sooner if possible. We have in programme a realistic way of delivering the ambition, which we share, of the previous Government.
I thank the Minister for filling us in a little bit wider than the precise issue of pipelines. Are we likely to see any of the detail—either the time scale or the overarching plan—before the summer recess?
I would not expect to see the formal competition launched before the summer. July will be a big energy month with quite enough issues, such as market reform, for the hon. Gentleman to get his teeth into. The market reform process itself and the structure of the contracts for difference in the proposals we have made are all to be integral for bringing forward investment in low-carbon technologies. That is all part of the bigger picture gradually being put into place.
There is a competition for the three remaining demonstration plants. Could that be three coal, three gas or a mixture of both? Is it up to the people who want to participate in the demonstration plants?
We have said we would like at least one to be gas. The rest will be whatever makes the best technology mix. We were critical of the original competition, which was purely on retrofitted post-combustion. We felt it was a mistake to rule out pre-combustion technologies and new build. Nevertheless, we have recognised they have a role to play in the wider competition. Looking at the projects that have been submitted through the NER300, we have a good mix of pre and post-combustion, retrofit and new build. We have a good potential range of projects on which to draw.
The hon. Gentleman also talked about the importance to the deep mining industry. It is encouraging to note that last year we saw a drop in the volume of imported coal. That was partly due to de-stocking, which had been increased in the previous year. We see this as a chance to bring new opportunities to the British coal industry, which we think has a distinctly important viable future as part of the UK energy mix, but it can only do so as we take the CCS project forward. I hope the Committee will agree to the amendments.
In my previous comments, I sought clarification on the fact that an abandonment project, which is in new clause 13, appears to change to a continuous occupation of a pipe, and therefore the abandonment of an abandonment project. An abandonment project is part of a licensing arrangement with the Crown Estate. If an abandonment project is abandoned and the occupation of the pipeline becomes continuous, a different form of licensing would logically take place, possibly at a considerable advantage—which I understand is among the purposes of the new clause—to whoever is operating that pipeline as part of a CCS operation. Previously, they might have contemplated the prospect of an abandonment programme being completed and the pipeline being shut down and rendered unusable and then having to recreate it for the purpose of a CCS submarine operation.
I strongly support what the clause does, but I am concerned about what it does to the overall licensing arrangements at either end of the operation. It is true that the Crown Estate does not have anything central to do with commissioning and decommissioning, but it does have a lot to do with the licensing of both processes, as I have described.
I hope that I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. This is about the decommissioning responsibility and the CCS demonstration projects; it not about more general CCS projects. At this stage we do not know how long that will last for. It may be that, after a few years, it is decided that we have learned as much as we can from that project and that it would not be continued. There will be a change of use, but we do not know how long for.
The new clause determines who will hold the ultimate decommissioning responsibility. We are not necessarily looking at pipes that will be in continuous use for decades to come as part of a CO2 disposal programme; we are looking at ones that will be used for the duration of the trial projects, so they are likely to be finite. There is a distinct decommissioning liability that will be imposed on the new operators. I hope that that provides the clarification and comfort that the hon. Gentleman seeks.
Amendment made: 71, in clause 107, page 83, line 2, at end insert—
‘( ) sections [Renewable heat incentives in Northern Ireland] and [Power for Gas and Electricity Markets Authority to act on behalf of Northern Ireland authority in connection with scheme under section [Renewable heat incentives in Northern Ireland]] (renewable heat incentives in Northern Ireland).’.—(Charles Hendry.)
Early in 2010, we gave local authorities the power to sell electricity from renewable sources and we have been delighted with the response. We made the change for local authorities through secondary legislation, which amended the existing powers. National park authorities, including the Broads Authority, did not have the same existing powers, so it was not feasible to cover the national park authorities or the Broads Authority at that time.
The national park authorities have some scope under their general powers, as we made clear at an early stage of the Bill, but we have been in discussion with them on whether the existing position is adequate. We concluded that there was uncertainty on whether the current power would allow everything that they would reasonably want to do in this area. We have therefore proposed amendment 171 to clarify the position. The amendment unambiguously states that national park authorities may generate electricity within specified constraints and sell it. It also allows them to enter into joint ventures to do so and to grant-aid others to do so.
I have great pleasure in supporting the amendments, not least because of my former role as Minister with responsibility for national parks. I am happy to see the Government building on the extensive work done on sustainable development, over the last decade and more, in national parks in the north, south, east and west, including those in Wales—and especially my nearest and dearest, the Brecon Beacons national park. There are fantastic examples of park authorities, housing associations in national parks and private-sector transport initiatives in national parks and so on doing great work on sustainable development. This clause, which deals with energy renewables and energy generation, builds on that excellent work.
I once said of sustainable development and renewable energy that the national parks were like laboratories for the whole United Kingdom. In the most sympathetic way, given their special natural environment, we could trial some of the very best experiments in our national parks, particularly in respect of community generated and community owned investment in energy generation.
The amendments are to be welcomed. I hope that the Minister, in discussions with colleagues from DEFRA, will use the amendments and other provisions already in place to continue to encourage communities in national parks and the Broads Authority to do more to become living laboratories—not only for energy and renewables, but for wider sustainable development.
I shall respond briefly. Any development that takes place in a national park needs to be appropriate to that park. The national parks are already under a strong obligation to ensure that that is the case, and nothing changes in that respect. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we want greater community involvement. The changes that we have made on our website to encourage community schemes and the changes that we are making to encourage the community ownership of new renewable energy projects are an important part of the process. The statutory authorities, be they local authorities or parks authorities, should be encouraged to be part of that process. Liberating them to generate and sell their own electricity is important, and I am pleased to be able to make the change.
The Minister may have this knowledge to hand; if not, I would be happy for him to write to me. Does he know of any energy projects, particularly in solar renewables, that have been cancelled as a result of the readjustment of feed-in tariffs announced by the Minister, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker)? I have received reports that at least two projects in national parks are above 50kW, but that goes against the spirit of what is a very good amendment. Is the Minister aware of the cancellation of community and national park-inspired projects as a result of that announcement?
I do not have information on specific projects, but I can write to the hon. Gentleman. He brings together two separate issues, however. One is about encouraging the national park authorities and the Broads Authority to take part in renewable energy generation. The other is about funding decisions and the feed-in tariffs. We had to decide whether it was right for an above-average return to be made available to predominantly wealthy investors and paid for by less wealthy people in their electricity bills; that threatened to squeeze out smaller-scale projects.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle, the Minister, has worked with tremendous attention to detail to ensure that we support the smaller projects—that was always the intention with the feed-in tariff and the microgeneration programme—and to put right the miscalculation made by the previous Government, who assumed that there would be no schemes of more than 50kW before 2013. It is now clear that megawatts were coming through planning, but although that miscalculation was made for understandable reasons, we had to put it right.
Does the Minister agree that far from large, multi-megawatt schemes, if it comes to light that any community-owned, community-invested schemes of modest size—perhaps between 50 kW and 250 kW, with 50 kW being, as the Secretary of State described, two tennis courts—have been cancelled, that would be a terrible shame and run contrary to the stated ambitions of the Government to support community initiatives of that type? It would run contrary to the whole idea of localism as well.
Let me give the shadow Minister some reassurance. The original system made no allowance whatever for any scheme, of whatever type, of between 100 kW and 5 MW. We have now introduced a number of subsidiary levels, which gives greater support to the smaller schemes and therefore the ones that are more likely to be community led.
The original scheme, as envisaged by the previous Government, made no distinction whatever in terms of ownership. We have said that as part of the more general review of the feed-in tariff, we will also consider ownership issues. We are, of course, keen to encourage community projects, because of the community buy-in and the acceptance that that brings—the way in which it helps to change people’s attitudes more generally towards energy issues. We are examining those matters to put right the imperfections in the scheme that we inherited.