Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:30 pm on 21st February 2007.

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Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour 4:30 pm, 21st February 2007

It is a pleasure to listen to Rosie Kane, Richard Lochhead and other members kowtowing to rulings by higher authorities in London. The English court passed a judgment on a narrow point relating to detailed procedures for consultation. The problem in question can, should and must be corrected, but the judgment has absolutely nothing to do with the big issues of global warming, carbon emissions and energy supply. The nationalists are on to an entertaining debating point that concerns the ingenuity of London lawyers, but tatties cannot be cooked on consultation documents and carbon emissions cannot be cut by ruling out proven sources of low-carbon base-load electricity. That is the matter that we should be addressing.

As an old lag who is about to leave the Parliament—at last, members might say—I urge colleagues who will stand for election again to focus on the big issues that require serious consideration. It is simply not good enough to express opposition to difficult and controversial proposals such as the building of wind turbines, pylons and nuclear power plants when we know that our people need secure electricity supplies for industry, their households and their day-to-day lives. People expect politicians to take the necessary decisions to ensure that there are safe and secure supplies of electricity. They would not forgive us if we drifted into a situation in which power supplies could fail.

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions and providing secure electricity supplies for the future are the key issues. Secure electricity supplies are essential to keep the lights on. We must have reliable, modern generators and minimise our dependence on unreliable and expensive imported oil and gas. CO2 emissions cause global warming. Therefore, we must scale down the burning of oil, gas and coal in power stations, which means that we must do more than pay lip service to our desire to achieve the objective of supplying 40 per cent of power from renewables in Scotland. Renewable energy cannot be increased if people continue to block renewable projects. In that context, I strongly endorse everything Maureen Macmillan said about upgrading the grid that will carry power from Beauly to Denny.

The plan is for 40 per cent of our power to come from renewables, but what about the remaining 60 per cent that will have to come from conventional sources? People in my constituency know quite a lot about electricity. We have a big wind farm in the Lammermuirs and 1,100MW of coal-fired generation at Cockenzie, where vast quantities of Russian coal are burned and a hell of a lot of CO2 is emitted. That plant is due to be decommissioned in the very near future. We also have 1,200MW of nuclear power at Torness. The immediate question is what to do when Cockenzie power station has to close—500 jobs and more than 1,000MW of electricity cannot be replaced by magic. Increasing generation from renewables and better energy efficiency are extremely important, but such things will not be enough to meet peak demand once our older stations at Cockenzie and Hunterston B are closed.

It is time to get real. We must start planning for a new base-load power station to provide the electricity that Scotland will need in the very near future. Supply, cost and CO2 considerations mean that it is unlikely that there will be a new fossil fuel station. The inescapable logic, now that there is scientific agreement about the safe permanent storage of nuclear waste, is that there should be a new nuclear station. The only serious question is whether a new nuclear plant and the associated jobs will be located in Scotland or whether we will export those jobs and make Scotland depend on nuclear energy imported from England.

The time has come for politicians to catch up with the common sense that has been shown by people in East Lothian, Caithness, Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire, who know the nuclear industry well and would welcome new nuclear investment. The days of knee-jerk opposition to nuclear power have passed. I strongly support the minister's amendment.