HC Deb 25 February 1986 vol 92 cc829-924 4.40 pm
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

I beg to move, that leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish an independent commission responsible directly to Parliament for the research, development and demonstration of clean renewable alternative sources of energy.

This is not an attempt to further the interests of what my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) once called eco-freaks and the friends of the foxgloves". Rather, it is a genuine attempt to promote a much more flexible approach to the energy future in which the essential ingredients are diversity of energy supply, economy of energy supply and efficiency of energy use. Those are not my words but the words of the Under-Secretary of State for Energy when he addressed the House on 25 October last year, the only time that a full-length debate has been dedicated to the issue. The Under-Secretary's first requirement forms the basis of the first paragraph of my proposed preamble to the Bill, which refers to the need for diversity and flexibility of operable energy supplies, leading into a fully integrated system of distribution being clearly recognised and universally accepted.

My second paragraph refers to the known reserves of fossil fuels and hydrocarbons being finite, with a predictable point of exhaustion in time. It is generally thought that North sea gas will be effectively worked out by the mid-1990s, and that North sea oil will be exhausted not long after that. Known reserves of coal will last much longer, but the prospect of its wasteful application is covered by the third paragraph of the preamble, which says that such fossil fuels can be put to much better use as foodstock, for fertilisers, plastics, chemicals, aviation fuel and the like rather than for wasteful combustion as a mere source of heat.

That view is supported by the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) who said in the debate: hydrocarbon fuels … are far too precious to burn. They have premium uses …they must be conserved. That view was further confirmed by my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) who reminded the House of Mick McGahey's assertion: the last thing that we should want to do with coal is burn it.

The fourth paragraph of my preamble is about the operation of establishments using nuclear sources and servicing the nuclear power industry, which is currently giving rise to ever-increasing anxiety and concern over possible adverse effects on adjacent communities. I do not have to remind the House about Sellafield, but I add the names of Trawfynydd, Burghfield, Harwell, Rosyth, Faslane, and Aldermaston and media speculation linked with these establishments.

The fifth paragraph refers to unforeseen incidents at nuclear establishments, which have also been the cause of jusifiable speculation about the possible health and safety consequences for workers at such plants and their families. Recent reports bear witness to the validity of this paragraph.

The sixth paragraph refers to the disposal of irradiated waste created by the operation of plants handling nuclear elements, which has created grievous problems for the industry in terms of public response and levels of acceptability as some communities perceive them. The response to today's statement on the disposal. of radioactive waste is a simple testimony to this concern.

Paragraph 7 refers to the fact that nations other than the United Kingdom are already making gainful applications of British research and technological developments in inquiry into renewable sources to add to the total energy supply. My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) quoted David Ross, an eminent commentator on these matters, who reported that Norwegian authorities, applying the multiresonant oscillating water column technique developed in this country, claimed that electricity had been generated at a cost per kw hour of 3.4p on an appliance made for demonstration purposes only and not scaled for the most cost-effective operation. This is less than 20 per cent. of the original target figure of 20p per kw hour set by the Department of Energy when the wave research programme first began.

Paragraph 8 refers to the potential benefits to the economy issuing from the successful development of renewable sources, which would be enormous in terms of job creation and training needed to provide adequately for such new employment. In today's employment climate, one need hardly say more.

Paragraph 9 refers to the potential economic, ecological, social and political benefits made avilable for Third-world development, which would be immediate and accelerating. No caring politicain can afford to ignore that potential gain.

Paragraph 10 refers to previous efforts to further progress in the research and development of renewables being deprived of impetus and starved of incentive by the attitudes of parties with interests vested in already established and traditional fuel sources. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) drew attention to the report of the Select Committee on Energy in the 1983–84 Session and in the debate last year. The report, in referring to the energy technology support unit, the agency responsible for fostering research and development of "renewables", said that the spread of experience would have to be widened to include more specialists with non-nuclear backgrounds. My hon. Friend had been told that most if not all of the people involved in the ETSU have had careers in the atomic industry.

The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) posed an interesting question in that debate. He asked: What is the role of the Central Electricity Generating Board? I suspect that it, not the Government, gives the thumbs down to alternative energy schemes.

Is there a need for an independent commission? The hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) said in the debate that previously the allocation of funds for energy research and development: had been weighted heavily in favour of conventional fuels. He continued: Is it not more logical to supply rather more funding for these clean and renewable alternatives instead of continuing only with the vast amount of funding:hat is directed … to fission and fusion technologies? Unfortunately, we leave so very little finance available for the very alternatives that may in future become necessary."—[Official Report, 25 October 1985; Vol. 84, cols. 577-625.]

This month, David Ross told me that the Sizewell inquiry revealed that in 1978 the CEGB circulated an internal memorandum that said: The use of renewable energy sources for electricity generation is likely to be less economic than nuclear power. Nevertheless, it is important to explore these alternatives, in order both to satisfy ourselves that nuclear expansion is fully justified, and to demonstrate this to others, since groups opposing nuclear expansion have made substantial progress in the past few years.

Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. There are no interventions in a ten-minute Bill speech.

Mr. Cook

The nuclear industry and the CEGB stand condemned by their comments. They find the answer in the back of the book and invent the work to suit. Only this week, the Secretary of State for Energy is quoted in The Observer as saying: One of the problems of the nuclear industry is that it is very inbred. We need a generation change from the people who built it up in the 1950s. On previous occasions when I have made the accusation of the incestuousness of the industry, the Minister for the Environment, Countryside and Local Government has taken me to task for it. It is interesting to see that the Secretary of State for Energy seems to be agreeing with me, because I fail to distinguish between inbreeding and incest.

The Under-Secretary of State told the House: As a nation we waste £7 billion per year on energy. We must cut out that appalling waste. He went on to say that it is not a case of dusting down the older technologies and constructing wooden windmills … We are talking here of `state of the art' technology … working on the frontiers of science. It consequently takes time and much effort to evaluate the individual technologies and to identify those which can make a … contribution to United Kingdom energy supply. He continued: The Government's attitude towards alternative sources of energy is responsible and imaginative."—[Official Report, 25 October 1985; Vol. 84, c. 577-625.] That may be so; I will not take issue, but I will say that the attitude also needs to be unbiased and without prejudice. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields on the same occasion expressed his feelings.

For these and for many other reasons, I seek leave to introduce a Bill to establish an independent commission responsible directly to Parliament for the research, development and demonstration of clean, renewable alternative sources of energy.

4.51 pm
Mr. Michael Fallon (Darlington)

I oppose the Bill. The Bill is not about permission to set up windmills; it is not even a thinly disguised attack on the nuclear industry —it is a quite open attack on the nuclear industry. It has nothing to do with energy flexibility and everything to do with consistency with the Labour party's policy to halt the nuclear power programme and to phase out all existing nuclear plants.

It should be clear to us today how much we all depend on nuclear power for everything from street lighting to medical treatment. If leave is given to the hon. Gentleman to introduce the Bill, we shall in effect be encouraging yet another attack on the nuclear industry and all those who work in it. They work in it in a spotlight. They work to exacting standards. It is precisely because those standards are so tight that the slightest deviation or error in meeting them is so widely reported and so openly publicised.

That said, how many died in the nuclear industry last year as a result of radiation? Nobody died in the nuclear industry. How many have died in the coal industry in the last ten years? The total is 443, an average of 44 people a year. An average of 28 people a year die in the engineering industry.

The Bill, if enacted, will undermine a major British industry which directly employees some 40,000 people and expects to employ another 55,000 people over the next 10 years if the Sizewell and PWR programme is approved. It is a major source of jobs in areas of high unemployment, in Tyneside, Teesside, Cumbria and Northumberland. It is a major export business for the country. Companies such as David McKee, NEI and Whessoe in the north-east are three major export earners.

It is clear from the presentation of the Bill that on energy matters the Opposition are the enemy of jobs. The Bill, if enacted, will destroy jobs and put people out of work in Tyneside and Teeside. It will certainly demonstrate to all those who work in the nuclear power industry that the biggest threat to the industry is not safety standards which they can meet but the policy of the Opposition to end the entire programme and wipe out the jobs which depend on it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Frank Cook, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Alex Eadie, Mr. Michael Foot, Mr. Jack Dormand, Mr. Peter Hardy, Mr. Ernie Ross, Dr. David Clark, Mr. Tony Speller, Mr. James Wallace and Mr. Paddy Ashdown.

  2. cc833-908
  3. Rates 41,662 words, 1 division
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  5. Local Government Reorganisation (Pensions) 3,668 words
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  7. Systime plc 5,065 words