HC Deb 27 October 1986 vol 103 cc10-2
8. Mr. Speller

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will undertake to increase the percentage of research and development funding allocated to non-nuclear energy sources.

Mr. Hunt

I am delighted to report that my right hon. Friend's Department's provision for non-nuclear research and development in 1986–87 is £44.91 million, compared with the estimated expenditure in 1985–86 of £40.2 million, an increase of over 10 per cent.

Mr. Speller

First, I thank my hon. Friend for the increased expenditure on renewables. Having done that, may I suggest that the percentage, which I obtained by a previous question, of 17 per cent. for everything other than nuclear energy is illogical when it is remembered that the 17 per cent. includes the clean burning of coal and all the other items that my hon. Friend has mentioned, including the cost of the energy efficiency office. Does my hon. Friend accept that were there to be anywhere in the world another Chernobyl or Three Mile Island incident, we would find our research budget to have been hopelessly small, especially should it suddenly transpire that there was to be no further nuclear programme?

Mr. Hunt

My hon. Friend is well known for his advocacy of the renewables programme, and I hope he will accept from me that the Government have provided a record level of funding for research and development into renewables. My hon. Friend is right to stress constantly the need for further expenditure on clean coal, but I remind the House that current annual public sector expenditure on coal technology research and development is about £100 million, including about £50 million on the environmentally clean use of coal. I am sure that my hon. Friend will recognise that there is there a high level of spend on renewables. We should be proud that we have all four major sources of energy — oil, gas, coal and nuclear. Our energy policies should be to keep each option active and developing.

Mr. O'Brien

In view of the Minister's reply, does he agree that research and development into the four fuels should be equal, because there is as much interest in alternatives as in nuclear fuels and because the amount of money channelled into nuclear research and development is far in excess of that provided for non-nuclear R and D? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that research and development should be equalised?

Mr. Hunt

No. I do not believe that a valid comparison can be made. The hon. Gentleman should compare research and development in the oil, gas and coal industries. That is where a valid comparison may be made. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that over the past five years the Government have reached a record level of spending on renewables and fully intend that it should continue.

Sir Trevor Skeet

Does my hon. Friend agree that where large tranches of electricity are required, nuclear energy and coal energy are vital and that no form of renewables or non-nuclear fuels will suffice?

Mr. Hunt

I agree.

Mr. Eadie

Surely the most devastating question by the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) concerned the allocation of resources to nuclear energy and to renewable sources of energy. The Minister was trying to state the spend on renewable sources of energy compared to that on nuclear research, but, of course, they were not at the races—more was spent on nuclear. We should be specific when talking about research. Will the Minister give the House a guarantee that, as a result of the privatisation of British Gas, research into making synthetic North sea gas from coal at Westfield —incidentally, that has been very successful — will not suffer as a consequence of any spending cuts?

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Gentleman is trying to drag a collection of red herrings across the record of the Department when he was Minister. Over five years, that Department spent less than £17 million on renewables. This Government have so far spent £93 million. The hon. Gentleman should reflect on that.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I thank my hon. Friend for answering all these questions and for his continuing support for the Severn barrage study. Will he make it clear that there is no conceivable way in which tidal energy can ever replace nuclear energy? Will he confirm that electricity demand is increasing again and that the contribution from the Severn tidal scheme would be the equivalent of only two or three years total growth?

Mr. Hunt

My hon. Friend is right. He is right also to continue to reflect on the excellent speech on energy policy by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Although we are spending record amounts on renewables, and although this Government have done more for tidal energy than any previous Government, including the further inquiries and investigations into the Severn barrage and the possible Mersey barrage, it is right to reflect that the combination of all these energy sources will not have a significant impact, even on increased electricity demand, in the next 10 years.

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