HC Deb 30 October 1987 vol 121 cc564-623

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Garel-Jones.]

9.40 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Michael Spicer)

It is clearly right that as a nation we should produce as much of our energy as possible from resources which are renewable and whose use does not deplete the earth's total resources, so long as it is economic to do so and so long as in the process we do not seriously damage the environment.

For that reason this Government have for a number of years actively encouraged and participated in a very wide range of research programmes into new forms of energy. The effect of these efforts has been that this country maintains a leading position in the development of renewable energy sources, despite the fact that as a nation we are richly endowed with fossil fuels and have one of the world's most advanced nuclear industries.

Since 1979 we have spent over £110 million in research into renewable technology. Programmes have ranged from studies of solar power to projects involving wind, wave and tidal power, to assessments of photovoltaics, biofuels and geothermal sources of energy. It is fair to say that we have looked at the fullest possible range of new and renewable sources of energy. The current renewables programme includes 218 projects worth over £77 million. Of this total, some £13.3 million has been contributed by the generating boards and the private sector. This national programme has been supplemented by learning from programmes carried out in other countries and by participating in them.

The question to which the House may want answers today are, what have we found out, where do we go from here, what are the principles by which we determine future research, and what in effect is the Government's strategy with respect to renewable sources of energy.

Our basic principles can be easily stated. They are to ensure the maximum commercial take-up of the results of the Government's research efforts. We want to ensure that, where possible, renewable sources of energy are developed to the point where they can compete fairly with traditional energy sources. To do that we must necessarily be hard-headed. We must scrap those projects which research has clearly shown do not have a commercial future, work further on those areas which are promising, and transfer to industry those programmes where a market is beginning to develop and industry should lead in the future. At all stages and in all cases we should release the maximum of information about what we are doing to industry.

It was in this context that on 16 September this year I announced a new series of technical and other publications aimed at opening the windows as wide as possible on our research efforts into renewable energy.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I sympathise with the problems of scrapping projects that have no future. Could the Minister say a little about how this is done in the Department? Is there a departmental committee that examines mechanisms of shrinkage? I recognise that this is a difficult problem.

Mr. Spicer

It is a difficult problem. There were always arguments in favour of continuing programmes. Without casting any aspersions, I must say that when scientists get interested in their projects they produce strong arguments. There is a committee called ACORD—the advisory committee on research and development—which advises us. I will give some examples of projects that we have dropped. I would be interested to hear any arguments in favour of continuing with them.

Among the projects that we have dropped because they do not seem to have a significant commercial future in this country are deep-sea wave power, on which a considerable amount of research and money has been spent during the past five or six years, active solar power—because, the House may be surprised to learn, we do not have much sun in this country—and geothermal aquifers, because of the absence of appropriate water levels in the earth.

Those which we are in the process of handing over to industry include the extraction of methane from refuse tips, combustion of industrial and domestic wastes, and passive solar design in buildings to capture sunlight. On some projects, such as the hot dry rocks programme in Cornwall, we have yet to assess the situation very carefully as there are strong arguments on both sides. We have not yet formed a decision whether to proceed. I would be happy to discuss any details with hon. Members, either privately or later in this debate if I have the leave of the House to do so.

Those programmes we have defined as particularly promising and as justifying further Government involvement in research and development include some biofuels, such as forestry and straw, small-scale inshore wave power, wind power and tidal programmes. Wind power and tidal programmes are especially interesting. In the case of tidal power in particular, the contribution to electricity generated could be substantial; the Severn barrage scheme could, for example, generate up to 6 per cent. of all electricity used in Britain.

There is, however, a great deal of controversy—we may hear about some during this debate—and differences of opinion about the effects on the environment of the proposals for tidal energy and for wind power. There is a certain irony in this. It was in part environmental considerations which motivated people to bring the tidal and wind technologies to their present state of development. They were each no doubt seen as clean, quiet and safe compared with, for instance, coal mining and nuclear power.

It is a little ironic that environmental groups here and abroad are the most vociferous in questioning those technologies. The Severn and Mersey barrage proposals are said to have potentially serious impacts on bird and marine life, and some people are suddenly seeing windmills as being noisy and obstrusive, at least on the scale that would be required to provide significant amounts of electricity.

On a recent visit to Denmark, which has a large number of windmills producing electricity, I found tremendous controversy among environmental groups, some of which were vociferously for and some of which were equally vociferously against wind power as an energy source. That environmental uncertainty is one of the strongest reasons for the Government's continued involvement in research into this area.

Mr. Dalyell

Are we not right in thinking that the Danes, for all their efforts and skills, have found that windmills provide very little electricity? It is a tiny amount—about 0.8 per cent.—of what they need. Is it not very disappointing for them?

Mr. Spicer

The hon. Gentleman is right. There are about 1,200 windmills in Denmark, and the figure that he gave for the amount of electricity going into the main grid was about right. It is certainly less than 1 per cent. The Danes argue that the electricity is used locally in individual houses, and that it therefore does not affect the national grid. Tremendous effort has been put into the programme, but not much electricity has gone into the grid.

There is a strong argument, which the Government support, that we should make continued efforts in that area. We must try to develop large and efficient windmills. We are about to commission a 3 MW windmill, which will be one of the largest in the world, in the Orkneys. It is open to question whether a collection of such windmills would provide some electricity for the national grid at economic rates. The Government believe that such a programme might be feasible, but environmental as well as efficiency factors will have to be considered when we decide whether to develop experimental wind farms. The environmental issues are one of the reasons why, this summer, I launched a series of major studies into the potential effects of tidal power on the bird and fish life of the Severn and the Mersey.

We must assess the full environmental effects before we give the Government's blessing, or otherwise, especially to the large wind and tidal schemes. But I am aware that some of the large projects have been on the drawing board for many years. I intend to remove the uncertainty as quickly as possible and to make a decision, especially on the Severn and Mersey schemes, within the next year or so.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff. West)

About time too.

Mr. Spicer

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The uncertainty has caused anxiety to many people and, in some cases, cost them a great deal of money. It is time to make a decision on those big projects.

Whether or not those two projects go ahead will depend on factors additional to technical and environmental considerations. Financial questions are likely to be every bit as important. We have already made it clear that the projects will have to operate competitively with other forms of energy. That is likely to mean that they will need to raise their finance on the open market, outside the protection of Government guarantees. Therefore. their future will depend on the nature of the contracts that they can strike within a privatised electricity industry.

I have spoken of the need for the Government to spell out as far as possible the details of their strategy for the development of renewable energy. In that context, I shall listen carefully to the debate to collect the assembled wisdom of hon. Members on this matter. I wish especially to get a feel for the House's view on whether, in the new year, we should publish a substantive document laying out our considered thinking in this area.

9.55 am
Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)

The House greatly appreciated the way in which the Minister, who is making his debut on this subject, introduced the debate. He opened a wide debate and his contribution will assist the House. Later, if I have time, I shall ask him some questions about the interesting matters that he mentioned.

It is two years and five days since the House last had a full debate on renewable sources of energy. That debate, on Friday 25 October 1985, when I also spoke for the Opposition, provoked enormous interest. I welcome this debate, and it is safe to predict that, whatever its outcome, it will provoke similar interest. The days are long past when people interested in renewable sources of energy—or benign sources, as I like to call them—were scathingly libelled as belonging to the beard-and-sandals brigade. The simple fact which the House must consider is that fossil fuels, which are finite, are becoming a reducing asset.

The backcloth to the debate has changed during those two years, which I believe—I hope that I shall find some support in the House—has increased the importance of renewables as a source of energy. Thermonuclear power is no longer seen as such a certainty in energy provision. Chernobyl changed that. There is a bigger public lobby against thermonuclear power than ever before, and Lord Marshall's burst of candour in a television interview about its cost-effectiveness flings another dimension into the argument. A disaster like Chernobyl anywhere in Europe would just about halt our energy expectations from thermonuclear power.

There has been a massive depletion of our coal reserves. It is nothing short of vandalism. With British Coal's policy of taking the best seams first and sterilising the rest, those reserves will never be recaptured. More than ever before, pits are being closed on the basis of cost, not because the seams are exhausted.

That is part of the backcloth to the debate on renewable, or benign, sources of energy. Frank Frazer of The Scotsman—one of Britain's most knowledgeable journalists on oil and gas—wrote this month in the latest North sea oil commentary published by the Royal Bank of Scotland: One of the factors influencing future markets will be the fact that UK oil output now seems to have peaked. The bank's monthly index shows that September output, worth an estimated £27 million a day, was four per cent. below the corresponding figure last year. The bank comments: 'In year-on-year terms, this is the thirteenth month in succession in which the index has been lower than 12 months earlier. It is now well established that the peak production level of North sea output was reached in 1985 and from now onwards oil flow will gradually slow down. The privatisation of gas provision will not resolve our problems. We know that the relatively cheap supply of natural gas from the southern basin of the continental shelf will decline rapidly. Britain has never been self-sufficient in gas. Some 20 to 25 per cent. of our supplies have come from the Norwegian sector. These supplies are likely to decline even more rapidly. Gas is available in other parts of the world, but it will not he cheap, and we shall be confronted with import bills of billions of pounds.

Will the Minister tell us what is happening in Westfield in Fife about the demonstration experiement concerning the making of synthetic North sea gas from coal? That experiment is well advanced—we know that we can make gas from coal—but some people are worried that, as a result of privatisation, there will be repercussions for research and development.

I am racing through various aspects of alternative renewable sources of energy to provide a backcloth to this subject over the last two years. I am interested in examining the part that these energy sources can play in providing an indigenous source of energy and thus security of supply. I should have liked to deal with this matter, but I do not have time. It is important for an industrial nation—or an aspiring industrial nation—to have safe, secure energy supplies.

Quite frankly, I find some of the discussions about energy today extremely depressing. I have heard it said that the Secretary of State for Energy believes that his terms of reference are to abolish the Department of Energy. If that is true, it will be disastrous. I remind the House that the Department of Energy was set up by a Conservative Government. At a conference of oil executives and panellists this month the Secretary of State said: Our policy is founded on the simple proposition that economies grow best where markets operate freely and where business decisions are taken by business people and not by politicians. Today we shall no doubt wish to defend politicians in this House but, if the Secretary of State practises that philosophy, there will be neither energy sense nor common sense in policy and energy provision.

Even President Reagan's Deputy Secretary of Energy, Mr. William Martin, gave a contrasting view at the same conference, when he said: Energy issues cannot be approached on the basis of free market principles alone, for international energy markets are often not free. Our Secretary of State is getting off to a bad start in his new job and he appears to want to emphasise our negative attitude towards energy policy, even compared with that of the United States. The House of Commons is the only forum in this country for energy debates. That is one of the reasons why this debate is doubly welcome.

One of the issues raised in the debate on 25 October 1985 was our investment in research into and the development of renewable sources of energy. We were given yah-boo replies, such as, "We spent more than you". That was a fundamental issue in the allocation of resources to research. It was proved beyond doubt that nuclear power was grabbing most of the allocation. Figures given by Dr. Jonathan Stern of the Policy Studies Institute show that the allocations for research and development have changed little. Eighty per cent. of the Government's allocation goes to nuclear energy, and one third of the allocation provided by public corporations—the nationalised industries—goes to nuclear-related activities.

I wish to deal with the Government's expenditure on research and development in solar, geothermal and wave energy. The Minister made some interesting comments about wave energy when he mentioned in-shore wave energy. It is a weak argument to compare this Government's expenditure on such research with that of previous Governments, in view of this Government's receipts from energy revenues, particularly oil.

The Government became the beneficiaries of the largest unearned fiscal and energy windfall in British economic history, which was derived from the developments promoted in the 1970s. Between 1970 and 1979, Governments collected £884 million in direct taxes. Between 1979 and 1986 the Government collected a staggering £52.4 billion from oil revenues. In the 1970s the Labour Government bore the burden of an annual £5 billion oil import bill. Since 1979 the Government have enjoyed an export surplus amounting to £8 billion in 1985–86. Their expenditure on alternative renewable sources of energy, in view of those figures, is nothing to shout about. As in many other aspects of our national life, their expenditure on research and development has dubbed them an anti-research and anti-development Government.

I repeat what I have said many times, that the idea that one can have a policy of backing winners in research and development does not work, despite the Minister's measured comments. It is in the nature of R and D that there will be losers, and then it is back to the drawing hoard.

The Minister told us that the Government had invested about £110 million since 1979. I shall look at the table that deals with all the aspects of R and D that the Minister mentioned—biofuels, geothermal aquifers, geothermal hot rocks, solar—active and passive—tidal, wave wind and others. I have all the figures since 1975. Investment was £8.2 million in 1979. That is the year when we were battling against the big oil imports bill. The figure rose in 1980 to £11.2 million. In 1981 we seemed to be racing on a bit-it increased to £17.3 million. In 1982 we dropped back to £14.2 million. In 1983 we dropped back again to £11.3 million. In 1984 the figure increased to £14 million. The most recent figure that I have is for 1985, when we dropped to £12.7 million.

The serious point in the debate is that the Government's record is neither good nor impressive when they tell the House their spend on R and D on renewable sources of energy. I could quote the figures given by Dr. Jonathan Stern, which are even more startling, but I do not have time because I wish to refer to some other aspects.

If we are to have a debate on energy provision and renewable sources of energy, we must consider energy conservation because, strangely enough, there is a correlation. Energy conservation has been described as our fifth fuel. Andrew Warren, that tireless campaigner on energy conservation, wrote to me and kindly sent me his association's new report entitled: Regenerating the Inner City: The Energy Dimension". Mr. Warren makes a point with which I am sure every hon. Member will agree: As you will know, never mind how we generate it, it is widely accepted that we are extraordinarily profligate in the way we use our fuel. The Government itself suggests we are squandering at least 20 per cent. of it at a cost to all of us of at least £7 billion a year. It has also set itself the objective of moving us from the bottom to the top of the international energy efficiency league by 1990. With the Government's current spend, we do not have a chance in hell of getting near that, but Andrew Warren's point is well made. In his new report Andrew Warren says that he has six objectives. The report demonstrates how energy efficiency could create new jobs—110,000 new jobs could be created over the next decade. It could stimulate new enterprises. The report demonstrates how installation activities require limited capital to succeed. It talks about assisting local work forces to acquire new skills. The report states: Commission and the new City Technology Colleges to develop more vigorously courses and work experience directly concerned with the needs of the energy efficiency industry. The report shows how energy efficiency can improve the quality of the built environment and improve the efficiency and competitiveness of existing activities. It also shows how energy efficiency can reduce social deprivation, which will interest every one of us who has had the experience of inner-city deprivation.

I cannot do the report justice, but I should like to ask the Minister whether he proposes to respond to the document, or has he responded yet? Perhaps he can tell us today whether the Government have considered how to respond. Will they respond positively?

Another aspect associated with research, development and demonstration, and renewable sources of energy, is combined heat and power. A press release issued by the National CHP Liaison Group through its chairman on 31 March this year had the eye-catching caption, "Whose orphan is CHP", and stated: Britain's approach to the development of energy saving Combined Heat and Power Schemes has already been likened to the creation of an orphan, according to the House of Commons Energy Committee. Now, the National CHP Liaison Group of local authorities, in response to the Energy Committee's CHI? Report, is calling on the Government to give CHP the status of legitimacy it deserves. 'I welcome the Energy Committee's keen commitment to the development of CHP in Britain.' states Councillor Les Russell, Chairman of the CHP Liaison Group. Having now seen the Government's response to the Committee's report, I am struck by the remarkable complacency of their official viewpoint. Major local authorities in Britain are pioneering the adoption of CHP, virtually unaided in many cases, and, willing as we are to enter into wide-ranging partnerships to secure progress, the pace of the Government's efforts to resolve key problems leaves much to be desired. For the information of the House, the National CHP Liaison Group includes members of the councils of Edinburgh—I have been associated with the Edinburgh CHP scheme—Belfast, Sheffield, Leeds, Hull, Newcastle, Leicester and others. Will the Minister give the Government's view on the matter?

Mr. Peter Rost (Erewash)

The hon. Gentleman will know that I am much in sympathy with his remarks about CHP and the lack of progress, but does he accept that the main handicap over the years with the development of CHP and city district heating has been the nationalised electricity industry and the unfair electricity buy-back tariffs that the industry has been prepared to offer private producers or city consortiums? Does the hon. Gentleman further accept that the monopoly of the electricity industry has not been interested in participating, investing in or cooperating with CHP?

Mr. Eadie

The hon. Gentleman has made that speech before. It is a good point, but the argument is one-sided. If he had been in the Opposition, he would have asked, "What are the Government doing about it?" We have had meeting after meeting with Ministers and we have been given great promises. I do not think that many hon. Members will agree with the hon. Gentleman's argument.

I should like to deal with funding and implementation. I remind the House that in the debate in 1985 I recommended a minimum of £150 million per annum for research. That was proposed, not by my political party, but by an organisation that is not associated with it, the Network for Alternative Technology and Technology Assessment. It was a minimum programme. I do not want to refer to it again because I am rushed for time. Although I made that proposition in 1985, I should still settle for it this year, in 1987. It would be a tremendous step forward in research, development and demonstration associated with renewable sources of energy.

We are all aware that Government sinners are always welcome. They have come back to wave energy. There was almost a funeral pyre during the 1985 debate on wave energy. David Ross, who is interested in the matter, would say that the Government have come back to wave energy because Norwegian research and development has made them look foolish.

The Minister described inshore wave energy. We always hear about the Loch Ness business. When I was a Minister we carried out experiments on Loch Ness. Do I take it that the Government's volte-face on wave energy means that we may discuss Scottish loch wave energy and, rather than look for the Loch Ness monster, have Loch Ness energy projects? The Minister should clarify what he means when he talks about inshore wave energy. Many people are interested in it, and I know that they do not agree with him. I hope that the Minister will seriously consider the programme advocated by NATTA. We would have to set up a renewable energy agency to distribute funds and co-ordinate research. It could be along the lines of the United States Energy Research and Development Agency. I hope that the Government will respond positively to the suggestion.

The Minister talked about how well thought of we are in Europe, and so on, and said that we were one of the leaders. That is not entirely true. However, I think that I have probably been unfair to him. This week, we had a meeting at which the hon. Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) was present. Also present was the chief of the European Economic Community, who chastised us because it was discovered that we are tardy in submitting renewable sources of energy research and development projects to the EEC. We do not get our share of the allocation of resources. The Government should be indicted for allowing that to happen. Why are the Government so tardy in submitting renewable sources of energy projects to the EEC? Is the Department incompetent? Does the Department need to be stiffened up by people who are more concerned about the matter? Are too many people in the Department more concerned about nuclear power than about renewable sources of energy? We are entitled to ask such questions.

It has been drawn to my attention that a paper is to go before the European Council of Energy Ministers at a meeting on 13 November. That paper proposes a far more positive line on alternative sources of energy. In advance of that meeting, there has been a meeting of high-level civil servants from member nations. I used to take part in such meetings. I am told that already, before we even get to discuss the matter, there is some Department of Energy hostility to the proposals. We have a proposition to accelerate the provision of renewable sources of energy. If hostility has been engendered before the meeting has even taken place, it demonstrates a strange attitude. As the Minister told us that there must be a new drive in research, development and demonstration associated with renewable sources of energy, he should comment on that matter, in defence, not only of his own Department, but of the Government's policy on renewable energy sources.

I congratulate the Minister on the way in which he opened the debate. I am convinced that the debate will be productive.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. Fifteen hon. Members hope to speak in the debate. I appeal for speeches not to be overlong, so that they may all have an opportunity to make their contributions.

10.24 am
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

I welcome the debate. It refers to a matter about which there is considerable public interest. I have seen many enthusiastic people who have been setting up plants to provide energy from renewable sources. For instance, only a few months ago, I saw a massive windmill on the top of the Pennines. It supplies a large dairy factory whose products are sold in many shops in the north of England and, indeed, all over the world. The owners of that business were enormously enthusiastic about their successful investment of a considerable amount of money in the project. Today, I shall concentrate on the possibility of encouraging the generation of electricity from water power.

I enjoyed hearing my hon. Friend the Minister's first few words in opening the debate. He said that it is clearly right that we should produce as much energy as possible from renewable sources, provided that it is economic and does not spoil the environment. I warmly applaud that statement and his later remark to the effect that such undertakings must be allowed to compete fairly. I shall devote my remarks to that point.

I was rather disappointed that my hon. Friend said little about the possibility of harnessing water power for the generation of electricity. I have had a long interest in the matter. My constituency is in the Lake District, where there are many mountains and a great deal of water. There is also a well-known and successful turbine manufacturer in my constituency. The House may recall that I have for long been associated with the National Association of Water Power Users. I certainly welcome the Government's moves over the past year or two to encourage private electricity suppliers to feed power into the grid. It is absolutely essential that tariff evaluations are fair.

I cannot see why the arrangement for tariff evaluations should not be the equivalent of avoided costs incurred by the electricity board to produce power. I fear that the current legislation is somewhat vague on that point. The rates that are offered to developers appear to be significantly lower than the avoided costs. I hope that the Minister will examine that matter.

The Minister will recall the work of the Watt committee which, between 1984 and 1985, examined the opportunities for harnessing water power in Britain. It estimated that there is a significant economically exploitable potential in the United Kingdom. According to the committee, the amount was about 117 MW. Of that total, it estimated that Scotland could produce 16 MW, Wales 25 MW, England 14 MW, and Northern Ireland 18 MW. I am told that it is believed that, the estimate for England was considerably underrated and that it should have been nearer 60 MW. That means that relatively small undertakings have the potential to produce 160 MW. With that potential, one might have expected to find several hundreds of small schemes producing electricity in this country. But, sadly, we have only a few dozen small schemes compared with France, which has a drier climate, where there are 7,000. We must ask why that should be; the Government should do something about it.

The first reason why small water power users are inhibited is as a consequence of the abstraction charges that were introduced in the Water Resources Act 1963. This is not the first time that I have addressed the House over the past 23 years on the unfortunate effect of that Act. It was a body blow to some small water power users. They are charged an abstraction charge, but they do not abstract water; thay put it back into the water course. It caused many generators unnecessarily to be put out of use. To give the Government credit, they took a major step forward in the Energy Conservation Act 1981. The law was changed so that water authorities must in future have regard to the need to conserve sources of energy (other than water) and the consequent desirability of preventing the charges in question from inhibiting the use of water as a source of energy". While all water authorities were prepared to consider those new arrangements under the 1981 Act and to allow reduced charges in certain circumstances, those powers are discretionary and are interpreted very differently. The small developer is often left uncertain as to what charges will be levied and cannot calculate his running costs in advance. For instance, if a developer has a proposed plant in the south-west water authority area, in Scotland or in Northern Ireland, no charges are levied, but elsewhere it is a lottery. The Severn-Trent water authority, which seems particularly bovine in this regard, bases its charges on the volume of abstraction, which effectively kills off enterprise of this sort. Water abstraction charges must be based on a small standard licensing fee that is graduated on the basis of energy production, and charges that are based on the quantities being passed through the turbine should be abolished. If any other charge were levied, it would simply inhibit the development of this resource, which would be a great pity.

The second reason why small water power users are inhibited—this is the most important point that I want to make; it is central to these matters—is the effect of the rating system on operators. It has a much greater deterrent effect on water power users than any other matter. Energy producers are currently rated by one of two means. First, they can be rated under the formula rating system. At the moment that applies to the CEGB, the electricity boards, and British Gas, and I understand that it would apply to the proposed combined heat and power stations. The effect of that formula is that it increases the cost of a unit of energy by 0.2p per unit.

The second system of rating is the so-called contractor's principle, where the assessment is based on capital costs. In other cases it seems to be based on the first figure that comes into the rating officer's head. The effect of the second system is that it increases the cost of production of a unit of energy by no less than 2p per unit. The rub is that most small energy producers fall into that second category. They are confronted with the problem that the rating system means that they will pay 10 times the costs of some of the bigger state enterprises.

I have received a letter from Commander Chapman, who is honorary secretary of the National Association of Water Power Users, in which he says: To quote a particular instance, a member in Scotland has, at some expense, had a feasibility study made and has concluded that the could have built a 500 kW hydro-electric plant to supply the South of Scotland Electricity Board. However, on consulting the Valuation Officer he found that the rateable value would be assessed on a percentage of the capital cost of the building and plant, and would render the scheme uneconomic. I do not understand why such a situation is allowed to persist. If we are to encourage small private energy producers to produce electricity from water power, which seemed to be exactly what the Minister was saying earlier in his speech, and to sell that energy into the national grid, this gross discrimination should be removed. It is totally unjustified and wholly indefensible, and I understand that it could be changed by laying an order before the House. I should have thought that such an order would he very uncontentious; I would be very surprised if it was.

I hope that the Minister will give a green light to the water power users when he replies to the debate. Their activities are admirable and in the national interest. They harness a natural, renewable resource, they cause no pollution and do not take part in activities that are unsympathetic to the environment.

I remember my own efforts over the past few years to encourage farmers and others in the countryside to diversify their economic activities. Many farmers and landowners in certain parts of the country, and many other people, are interested in significantly diversifying the economic activities of the countryside by installing small turbine generator units to harness existing water power in their areas.

Mr. Tony Speller (Devon, North)

My right hon. Friend may be interested to learn that precisely the same problem of rating applies to wind turbines. In my constituency the wind energy group's Ilfracombe wind turbine has, under the present rating law, confirmed by local appeal, found that it requires half the potential income of that generator to be paid in rates alone. Thus, the facility pays about 12 times as much in rates per kilowatt hour generated as the CEGB under the agreed formula. That proves my right hon. Friend's point about the total unfairness of the rating proposals for anyone who is seeking to diversify and use renewable sources of energy.

Mr. Jopling

My hon. Friend's intervention is extraordinarily helpful. With regard to water power, I did not give an example that I have where the rating cost could well have been 30 per cent. of the revenue of the plant. My hon. Friend has given an example of 50 per cent., which is even more horrific, and I am grateful to him for bringing those figures to the attention of the House.

I turn briefly to the efficient and successful industry in this country that has built up a considerable export market in generating and turbine equipment. In my constituency there is a very successful company in this regard, Gilbert Gilkes and Gordon. But it must be remembered that successful producers in the United Kingdom are handicapped by the lack of a home market in comparison with their foreign competitors. They urgently need these artificial and unnecessary barriers to be removed. I cannot understand why those barriers should be allowed to persist.

I hope that the Minister will look seriously at what I have said and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) has made much the same point. I hope that the Minister will also look at the experience of the United States, where in the past few years there has been a massive expansion in the use of water power. Legislation in the United States has been framed to help the industry to develop. While that is not an epoch-making change in the national energy supply, it is a small, highly useful and possibly highly effective source of energy in the form for which everyone is looking.

10.40 am
Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech this morning. I am told that it is courtly to praise one's predecessor, but I regret that on this occasion I shall have to give that a miss. The only good thing that I can say about my predecessor is that he likes dogs. I went back in history and tried to find a former Member that I could praise, but unfortunately the three previous Members for my constituency all turned their backs on the Labour movement that put them in their positions.

I had to go a very long way back to find anyone worthy of note. Many years ago, Blyth Valley was represented by none other than Bob Smillie, then Eddie Edwards, who was the mining federation's secretary, and then Bob Taylor, another miner. There was, for a brief period, a Tory Member of Parliament during the national Government of 1934—Sir Godfrey Nicholson. I understand that he is still alive and well today, and is well liked in the constituency.

Listening to this energy debate made me think of the Beatrice colliery in my constituency. Few hon. Members are probably aware of what happened there. It was the first colliery after the miners' strike to have the so-called independent review. Its chairman listened to the arguments from both sides and concluded that the colliery should continue to operate for two years to determine whether it would be viable to mine its 29 million tonnes of coal. Unfortunately, others higher up decided to ignore the findings of the independent review and closed the colliery, with the consequent loss of 29 million tonnes of coal to the nation. That was unfortunate. Blyth has some of the best low-seam miners in the world, and they have broken record after record. When I walk around my constituency, it distresses me to see those same miners brushing the streets, carrying black plastic bags to pick up rubbish or cutting hedges for old ladies—something that might be desirable, but not for miners. That is what the Government have done to my constituency and that is why it returned me to this House.

Renewable sources of energy is a subject regularly discussed in my constituency, and we agree that the possibilities of wind and water should be pursued. However, there is coal to be mined and it should be mined. It should also be subsidised. "Subsidised" may be a dirty word to Conservative Members, as they do not like subsidies, but their competitors like them and subsidise foreign coal up to the hilt. I warn the Government against once again relying heavily on foreign energy. Every year we import foreign coal, and are therefore repeating the mistakes of the 1960s when we relied on oil from the middle east. When the middle east first found oil, Joe Gormley said that the Arabs would not live in tents. I tell the Government that the South Africans will not live in tin huts and Colombia will not allow its kids to mine the coal that is coming into this country. The Government should note that and not rely on foreign coal. They must not destroy our coal industry and rely on foreign industry. Once we rely on a foreign supplier, up will go the price and there will be an energy crisis, just as we had with oil in the 1960s.

As many hon. Members wish to speak in this debate, I shall bring my remarks to a close. I wish simply to make a plea to the Government to go ahead with the Amble seam, up the coast from my constituency. There are 40 million tonnes of coal to be mined there, but there are doubts in certain quarters whether that should be mined. Northumberland is a mining area, the coal is there to be mined and we have the miners to do that. I plead with the Government to go ahead with that proposal. I also plead with them to build a new coal-fired power station in Northumberland which, together with mining that 40 million tonnes, would take us back to somewhere near the position that we were in when the Labour party was in office.

10.46 am
Mr. Malcolm Moss (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

I am grateful for this opportunity to make my maiden speech in this important debate. When I say that I am the new representative for Cambridgeshire, North-East, there is perplexion on people's faces, but when I remind them that it was the historic Isle of Ely constituency, there is instant recognition. I am most encouraged that my constituency has a tradition of staying loyal to its Members of Parliament. From 1929 it was represented by the Liberal Jimmy Rothschild for 16 years, from 1945 by the Conservative Sir Harry Legge-Bourke for 28 years and from 1973 by the Liberal Sir Clement Freud for 14 years. Over 58 years, the constituency has had only three Members of Parliament, two of whom became knights of the shires. One could say that my future looks propitious.

Sir Clement Freud will be greatly missed by his many supporters in the constituency. He enjoyed a widespread reputation as a diligent and dedicated constituency Member and his stewardship of first the Isle of Ely and later Cambridgeshire, North-East was both distinguished and effective. His career in Parliament was equally distinguished with a unique record as spokesman for the Liberal party on education—twice—the arts, broadcasting, social services, sport and Northern Ireland. That may be a difficult, if not impossible, act to follow. It would be an understatement to say that there was some surprise at the result in the election last June. However, the story that recently appeared in The Sunday Times that I was so dumbstruck with the victory that I had totally lost my voice in Parliament was, as the House will note, grossly exaggerated. I am glad to say that the affliction has soon passed.

I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without paying tribute to the. outstanding contribution made to politics in this House by the late Sir Harry Legge-Bourke. He was much loved in the Isle of Ely and will long remain in the highest affected of fen people of all political persuasions.

I trust that the House will forgive me if I decline to take it on a geographical tourist trip around my constituency. With the highest point only 35 m above sea level and about 85 per cent. at or around sea level, the House will appreciate my difficulties. Most of the land area is grade I or grade II agricultural land, which depends entirely for its existence on the intricate and extensive network of drainage channels developed by Vermuyden, the Dutch engineer, in the 17th century. While the fens would not claim to be first in renewable energy, for more than a century wind power was used to work the pumps to raise the water through the drainage system. Many of those windmills remained well into the 19th century, although their duties were replaced by the steam engine during the industrial revolution.

Without an efficient, well maintained and improved drainage system, my constituency would literally cease to exist. In winter we would be paddling around in about 2 ft of water, and in summer—it would have to be a better summer than we enjoyed this year—we would be squelching around in thick, glutinous mud.

The position of the internal drainage boards in the proposed national river authorities post-water privatisation is vital to the continued prosperity of my region—and I am happy to say that there is broad agreement between all parties to discussions on the best way forward.

Cambridgeshire is the county with the fastest growing population in the United Kingdom. That is putting great pressure on resources, notably for housing and social services. The county has a reputation for sound finanical management and the education department has long enjoyed a reputation for innovation, creativity and flexibility—no more so than during the past few years with the introduction of local financial management in our schools. Following the successful pilot scheme, the system has now been extended to all secondary and most primary schools. One of the most significant outcomes of local financial management has been the tighter control of heating and energy costs. Some schools have achieved remarkable savings. The lesson is well learnt—that once one is responsible for costs, one adopts an entirely different attitude to the way in which those costs are incurred.

I agree with the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), who stressed the need for energy conservation measures. I applaud the developments that have been made and the money that has been spent by the Government in seeking further conservation measures for the future. Extrapolated to the national level, the energy savings that have been made in Cambridgeshire schools purely in education would save us millions of pounds. The same lessons applied to other local government departments and to commerce and industry would save us billions of pounds. Indeed, the hon. Member for Midlothian mentioned that £7 billion of energy is wasted in this country. I believe that that was the figure in 1985. I wonder what it is today, following the Energy Efficiency Year promotion of 1986.

Just as our schools have found it difficult to plan energy supplies and to budget for costs, the task is nigh impossible at national level. Centralised energy planning is, if anything, a qualified art rather than an exact science. The key is flexibility in scale, diversity, efficiency and economy of supply. I hope that privatisation will free still further the provision of energy, especially the supply of electricity. In some areas, small may yet return to being beautiful. My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) made that point when he discussed small schemes in rural areas. The smaller the scale the greater the tilt towards renewable energy sources.

We need diversity if we are to have a strong energy economy. It is folly not to have circumspect contingency sources of energy in case of activities and events outside a Government's control. We need insurance against disruption in our coal industry and against a possible flare-up in the Gulf war. Economy is best achieved by introducing the element of competition into the production and supply of energy. We look forward to the Secretary of State's proposals for privatising the electricity industry. Despite the events of the past few weeks, market forces are still the best and only sure way to deliver to customers services of the right quality, in the right quantity and at the right price.

No doubt hon. Members will use the debate to argue the pros and cons of nuclear power, fossil fuel power provision and every pet scheme from combined heat and power to coal gasification and liquefaction. However, we should concentrate our attention on renewable sources of energy. Putting aside the "long shots", in departmental parlance, of geothermal aquifers, solar voltaic cells, ocean thermal energy, and, despite the Norwegian project, wave energy, we are still left with an interesting list of potential winners.

I should like to comment on three of these, beginning with biofuels because it is of particular interest to an agricultural constituency such as mine. The main contributor in that sector is considered to be the direct combustion of organic wastes. Over the next 20 to 30 years it is deemed possible to extract about 20 per cent. of the total energy potential in that area alone.

In my constituency, as in others that are high producers of cereal crops, we have just gone through the annual problem of straw burning. It was especially bad this year because of the inclement weather. Most farmers follow the strict code that is laid down in the byelaws, but they, and we, cannot ignore or deny the obvious pollution aspect of that practice.

I plead for greater urgency into the research and development of an economic marketable dry biomass combustible system to help solve the pollution problem, provide much-needed income for our hard-pressed farmers, and establish a viable alternative energy source. Small-scale localised generating companies may well be in a position to take up the new technology, post-privatisation.

Although in theory a range of liquid and gaseous fuels can be produced by the thermal processing of crops and organic wastes at high temperature, we are told that methanol and pipeline methane will not make any real impact on the United Kingdom's fuel requirements until 2010. In the light of the current situation in agriculture, I urge the Minister to seek a quicker way forward on this issue by closer liaison with his colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The same could also be said of those systems of anaerobic digestion which produce biogas from the biological processing acting on animal slurries, sewage sludge, and industrial effluents from food processing plants—raw materials which are in great supply in communities that are dependent on agriculture and its allied industries.

I was delighted to hear disquiet expressed about wind-generated energy. I, too, have reservations about peppering our countryside with 75-ft high monster windmills. The prospect for the fens landscape is positively horrendous. I suspect that my fenland constituents would much prefer the methane route. Windmills would perhaps be more suitable for the Third world and for those areas of our globe that are sparsely populated. There are obviously possibilities for British technology, well advanced in this area, to make further advances and to add to our exports.

I should like to say a few words about tidal energy generation. One analysis has suggested that the United Kingdom's tides could yield up to 20 per cent. of the electricity requirement of England and Wales. Nine tenths of that would come from our major estuaries, the Severn, Morecambe bay, the Solway Firth, the Dee, the Humber, the Mersey, the Thames and the Wash. The Wash is about 10 miles to the north of the northern boundary of my constituency and any feasibility studies would have an impact on the constituency. I suspect that the Wash will be rejected as a possibility because the barrage would have to be enormous—20 km in length—and on present early studies, generation costs at 7p per kilowatt hour would make the project completely untenable.

However, the Severn and Mersey estuaries are different. Both have had much work done on them. The Government's recent announcement of additional money for studies into the environmental impact of the Severn barrage is welcome. One is struck by the sheer size of the Severn scheme. It would cost £5.5 billion and have a barrage about 10 miles long that would produce 6 per cent. of our electricity and take 20 years to construct. It has been said on many occasions that barrage schemes will stand or fall on their energy economics. However, in more recent promotional material one detects a move away from that to an emphasis on the peripheral and complementary advantages of amenity value, tourism, employment and possibly transport improvements. At this stage, that project looks so big that it calls into question the ability to attract the necessary finance, and if that has to come from abroad we may well have to take a foreign contractor. I question whether that would be acceptable.

The Mersey project gives us the greatest cause for optimism. However, it would be too easy to fall into the trap of promoting the scheme just to alleviate the problems of unemployment and deprivation in the Mersey region. The expected 5,000 construction jobs must seem like manna from heaven to those seriously concerned with the situation on Merseyside. Those factors aside, the scheme has much to commend it. It is on a smaller scale and will involve considerably lower costs. I am told that it could be started by 1989, and I suspect that a boost could be given to it by the proposed privatisation.

The hon. Member for Midlothian castigated the Government for lack of investment in renewable energy sources, but surely the priorities for the present are nuclear energy and the more efficient use of coal-fired production, and it is right that those areas should receive the greater proportion of research and developmeent funding. The Government are right to channel more resources to projects which have a real chance of contributing to alternative energy by the turn of the century. Tilting at windmills is just not in the Government's nature.

11 am

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)

I am grateful for the opportunity to congratulate not just one but two hon. Members on their maiden speeches. I am extremely happy to do so, especially as it is not long since I made my own maiden speech in March and I know how intimidating it can be.

The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) made an excellent and pungent speech, showing that he will bring renewed, if not infinitely renewable, energy to the representation of his constituency. I was interested to hear about the hon. Gentleman's constituency and the difficulties experienced there. I am sure that he will do his best to defend the interests of all those whom he now represents.

The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss) made a detailed speech describing not just his constituency but many of the issues in the debate. I congratulate him particularly on his gracious references to his predecessor, Sir Clement Freud, as he now is. Those comments were well deserved, and the hon. Gentleman was right to say that that would be a difficult act to follow, although I am sure that he will do his best. He has certainly started with every appearance of having that intention.

An American researcher who is carrying out a study on energy, who has no party political axe to grind and is not a campaigner in relation to renewable energy, commented on the material put out by the Government: This is not a debate on renewable energy resources, instead it is a debate on the single area in which this Government have a firm policy. The policy is not greater diversification and encouragement of increased research into renewable resources of energy. The single policy is to spend a little money on research for appearances' sake and a great deal of money on self publicity. That is the sole reason for this debate". I hope that that is not the case.

Mr. Speller

Can the hon. Gentleman provide any basis for that comment? He may not realise that this is only the second debate ever on alternative energy. No other Government even provided an opportunity for such a debate. Why should the motive be self-gratification rather than something more useful and sensible?

Mr. Taylor

I shall go into that in some detail later in my speech. Last year, in the period between the two debates, the former Secretary of State expressed a remarkable condemnation of renewable sources of energy. That was in a speech outside the House, so there seems to be a difference between what is said here and what is said elsewhere.

In the Department's glossy pamphlet entitled "Review" the word "risk" is used so many times that it should be paid overtime. I wish to suggest some areas which the Government should consider, and I welcome earlier contributions to the debate in this respect. What could be less of a risk than a well thought out conservation programme? George Manteatis, executive vice-president of Pacific Gas and Electric, the world's largest private sector utility, said: Conservation programmes are considerably less expensive than the cost of adding new capacity, and are clearly less risky from an investment perspective. The British Government continue to attempt to cater for a projected increase in demand by increasing emphasis on the nuclear programme while our European neighbours have shown up our conservation programme by improving energy efficiency by 72.2 and 84.4 per cent. in France and West Germany. It is almost ludicrous to debate the subject of renewable energy sources and energy use until we have increased our ability to conserve the energy that we have.

In that remarkable speech last year the Secretary of State suggested that without the development of nuclear power we could face a crisis. He based that prediction on a 2 per cent. growth in energy use. In the United Kingdom, demand in 1985 was identical with demand in 1968, while in the United States demand has been falling and, by and large, it continues to fall throughout the developed world. The CEGB currently predicts that to serve the growing demand in England and Wales it will need nine new power stations within the next dozen years, at a cost of £17 billion. Why do we have consistent projections of growth when in the EEC demand has fallen by 8 per cent. since 1974, while gross domestic product has risen by 18 per cent. since 1974, while gross domestic product has risen by 18 per cent.? That is not the kind of parallel between economic growth and energy demand consistently projected by the CEGB.

The Goverment talk about job creation. A conservation programme would provide the perfect opportunity. If Monergy '86 is to be regarded as a failure in view of the increase in net consumption that year, we must seek new means of reducing consumption. A study commissioned by the Association for the Conservation of Energy found that a major programme to improve energy efficiency in the United Kingdom could create up to 155,000 new jobs, two thirds in the manufacture and installation of energy conservation equipment and the rest through increased economic activity as costs are reduced.

It is ironic to note the shock and devastation caused by the recent hurricane in the south-east and the alarm at the destruction of the environment when the greatest threat to that environment and to the world is not the occasional freak storm but the continued abuse of the environment and the waste of resources that are not indefinite. Successive Governments have been unwilling to make the investment required to ensure that renewable sources of energy replace those currently laying waste to our environment and to the ability of future generations to consider a wide range of options. That is why I welcome this debate, but it is vital that the Minister should take from the debate the clear message that nothing can be done until the consumption of energy has been taken in hand and there is a redirection of effort towards conservation. I welcome the debate as a change of heart by the Government and a change from the previous Secretary of State's attitude towards alternative sources of energy. Perhaps in the future the Government will not do as the Secretary of State did on 26 June in his speech to the Engineering Employers Federation and dismiss wind, solar and tidal energy as insufficient to replace nuclear power's current contribution. I trust that the Government will instead increase research and development funding for them.

In March 1983 the United States Congress science policy research division showed a very different outlook, producing a detailed document on the use of alternative energy technology development and policy. It is fascinating to note that, with limited federal support for research and development into renewables such as solar heating, wind energy and wave energy, that document predicted a "moderate return" from 1990 onwards.

We can contrast that with the predictions for power provided by breeder and fusion, which Congress suggested would need extensive federal support, with only a "limited return", even after the year 2000. The report suggested no energy source that could provide a real return after the 1990s without federal support. It is interesting to note that, in the economy that is often described as being the nearest that we have to a free market economy, Congress says that the development of alternative energy will require substantial federal support if it is to see a real return and that the best return is from renewables. The report states that the prospects for imported oil and natural gas are in long-term decline. That comes as no surprise. Nuclear power supplies only a little over 3 per cent. of total United States energy demand, only 1 per cent. more than that supplied by renewables. That excludes hydro and geothermal power, which, if added to the figure, would almost double the proportion supplied by renewable sources to that supplied by nuclear sources in the United States.

What support do renewables receive in this country? In 1984 they received just £14 million, while fission received £200 million in research and development support. and £30 million was invested in research and development into fusion. Since then the amount supplied for renewables has declined. In 1985–86, £12.7 million was made available for renewables—only 6 per cent. of the money spent on nuclear research and development. We should contrast that with the projections of Congress about the source that is most likely to see a return and the likely size of that return.

Debates such as this cost nothing. Support for research and development costs a great deal and requires commitment and long-term vision. I ask the Minister to cease to concentrate on the glossy pamphlets and advertising, and instead to put his money on the table and to make real, significant long-term investment. In the previous Parliament the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) proposed an Energy Bill, which, unfortunately, fell as a result of the general election. The Bill was aimed at promoting the generation of electricity by means of wind power generators by encouraging appropriate research and development and by reforming the rating valuation base for private wind generators. All those aims have been referred to in the debate.

It is said that up to 20 per cent. of our current demand for electricity could be met by onshore wind turbines, and if offshore machines became cost effective there would be even greater potential. Friends of the Earth predict that by the year 2025 about one fifth of our current annual demand could come from wind power providing 54 billion units of electricity through 6,000 medium and large wind turbines.

Mr. Dalyell

What scientific evidence, if any, does Friends of the Earth have for such a statement? Is there any basis for the prediction? In the light of the Danish experience, of which we all know, it is utterly unfeasible.

Mr. Taylor

I understand that the CEGB itself has said that the potential is there for up to 20 per cent. of demand to be supplied by wind energy.

Mr. Dalyell

When has the CEGB said any such thing? I cannot imagine that Walter Marshall or anyone else has made such a claim.

Mr. Taylor

I do not suggest that the CEGB said that 20 per cent. would be provided; it has said that the potential is there. However, I shall check my facts and let the hon. Gentleman know.

I should like to examine some of the other opportunities available—in particular the possibility of producing power through a series of barrages such as the Severn and Mersey barrages. The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East doubted whether the Severn barrage could be constructed without bringing in foreign contractors. I believe that it could. In my constituency, English China Clays Ltd. would be more than delighted to have the opportunity to provide the resources for the building of that barrage. That would be of great advantage to my constituents, not only in terms of jobs, but because good use would be made of the current China clay waste, which is simply tipped across the landscape in the St. Austell area. Friends of the Earth estimates that while considerable investment would be involved in, for example, the Severn barrage, some 6 per cent. of our energy needs could be provided by a construction that would last 100 years.

Let us compare that with the cost of building two nuclear power stations, which would provide equivalent power and which would have an expected life of only about 25 years. We must study with care the environmental impact of such barrages. However, there is the potential for the generation of long-lasting and renewable power that is of no danger to those who live nearby. I would welcome the Minister's comments on that.

Mr. Michael Spicer

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman in response to the intervention of the hon. Member for Linlithgow, (Mr. Dalyell) and his reply to it. One gigawatt of installed wind generated capacity, sufficient to meet about 1 per cent. of current United Kingdom demand, would require about 100 square miles of windmills.

Mr. Taylor

I thank the Minister for making that point.

Another project has immediate relevance to my county. It is the geothermal project —the hot dry rocks project—based in Cornwall. Will the Minister give us some information on the possibility of further funding for that? We should advance to the next stage in its development. The Minister offered to expand the point further, and I hope that he will take the opportunity to do so. When my predecessor raised the subject in an Adjournment debate in June last year he asked the Minister for a commitment that the next stage in the development of that project would proceed. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that his Department now hopes to go ahead with the next stage.

The project is especially valuable. Unlike many other forms of renewable energy, if the geothermal project succeeded it would provide a constant source of power rather than one that varies with tides and winds. The project's potential is vast and it should receive the encouragement and financial backing from the Government that it needs to make it work. I am glad that when it seemed that the project might be taken over by a private concern, with no guarantee of continued long-term funding, the Government decided to put the money in themselves. I hope that that will continue.

That brings me to what will happen in the privatisation process. If electricity generation is privatised, what will be the future of investment in the further development of different energy sources? I have two major worries. Can we really expect private industry to take the long-term financial risks that should properly be taken by the Government in projects such as these? It is not simply a question of whether we can make a financial return. We have to look to the future and recognise that we must make such developments and invest in renewables. We must recognise that we need a variety of energy sources to which to look, not just in 20 or 30 years' time, but in hundreds of years' time. We should ensure that investment is made, and that is clearly the Government's role.

It is appalling that, when vast revenues have been generated through North sea oil and gas production and those resources have peaked and are being reduced, more has not been invested and more has not been taken of the opportunities. It is not right, and future generations will not forgive this country — whatever party is in goverment — if all our efforts are directed towards nuclear power, towards unproven and unsafe technology and vast sums which bear no relation to evident possibilities are spent. I hope that the message will go out loudly and clearly from the Chamber that this is not adequate, that the British people will not put up with it and that the Government will not be forgiven if they do not start to match investment in renewables with the investment being made in the sexy pet project of nuclear power.

11.20 am
Mr. Tony Speller (Devon, North)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell), who made a short pungent speech and gave the Government due warning that he would be a good representative of Blyth Valley and, I suspect, a thorn in the flesh of my hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It was good to hear the hon. Gentleman's strong speaking, without notes, which is a good sign. I wish him well in a long and prosperous career here.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss) has followed a famous name. I trust that he will make his name as famous. He has clearly studied the alternative energy brief hard, although I warn him that he has made two tremendous blunders by not preferring windmills to rows of pylons and by mentioning the Severn barrage while within sniping distance of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern), who has strong feelings on that subject. We very much welcome the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East in energy and welcome him as a colleague.

As the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) said, the parliamentary road towards alternative energy started two years and five days ago when the Conservative Government — the first Government ever to do so —provided time for a full debate on alternative renewable energy. I was as grateful then as I am now for the change that has come over Governments, whatever their persuasion. For years they were dedicated only to either fossil or nuclear fuels. The present Government are the only one to have shown more than a passing interest in the renewables. The book that has been produced on this subject may be a "glossy", with a handsome picture on the front of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, but I welcome it. It is good to have professional literature that extols the virtues of the alternatives, as opposed to what happened in the past when too much money relatively was spent on other forms of energy.

Recently my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that, when electricity was privatised, this would meet increased competition within the industry. Increased competition must be good news for the alternatives and renewables, which have been frozen out for far too long. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for State has spoken of the need to use all resources that would not reduce the world's energy stocks. He has spoken the language that my own group, the alternative energy group, has promoted in the House for a number of years.

The parliamentary developments started when my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt) held the ministerial portfolio and brought forward the first alternative energy debate. I have no hesitation in saying, as a strong supporter of alternative energy, that we are grateful to this Government for at last taking an interest in alternative energy and for promoting that interest. Long may that view continue, but it will not necessarily do so if the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) has his way. He quoted the view of his American researcher. I presume that that was the hon. Gentleman's view, as he did not say that it was not. The hon. Gentleman gave many statistics, then rubbished the Government's work and ungraciously thanked them for helping the hot rocks project near his constituency. I advise the hon. Gentleman that, if the Government give him some cash, he should be grateful, because they may give more. I suspect that if one is not grateful one may get even less, or such is my sad experience.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

I should point out that the project is not in my constituency, although it is in Cornwall. I do not yet have the honour to represent all Cornwall. I congratulate the Government on what they have put in, although they came in late in the day. The EEC was involved before the Government. I hope that the Minister will come forward with further funds. It is a shame that there is not yet the long-term commitment that the project needs if it is to succeed.

Mr. Speller

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I do not think that any reply is needed.

We must accept that the Government's position, both past and present, has been ambiguous when it comes to putting up cash, while there is no secret that a vast amount of research money has been spent on nuclear development. The general impression has always been that nuclear was the only hope for the future. There is no sense, in a debate on alternative energy, to talk down or criticise other power sources. It is feasible to increase the use of coal in electricity generation. Coal generation can he cleaned to provide clean energy, and we all welcome such an approach. The CEGB has an unparalleled record of success and for not having the type of disasters that one would sometimes think happened every day in the nuclear industry. Chernobyl is used as a bogy man. As the House may know, I am no great supporter of the extension of nuclear power, but it would be wrong not to accept that British engineering and the nuclear installations inspectorate are of the highest quality. I always wonder, when people assume that disaster must always strike, whether they hope that disaster will strike someone or somewhere so that they can promote their own case.

Cost is an important consideration. It has always been assumed that the cost of nuclear power generation is lower than that of any other cost-effective power. The hon. Member for Midlothian correctly pointed out that a fortnight ago the chairman of the CEGB, Lord Marshall, revealed honourably and honestly that the CEGB had in a sense misled the public by claiming that nuclear power was the cheapest option. Evidence is emerging that the reverse is true. Lord Marshall said: the British public have never had the cheap electricity that we have always promised from nuclear power. It has been, and continues to be, a case of 'jam tomorrow but never today.' I respect him greatly for making that public comment.

Mr. Eadie

I do not want to become involved in the argument about thermonuclear power. The hon. Gentleman made a fair point. There are many views on the matter, and I have mine. Surely the hon. Gentleman agrees that that important statement on cost has transformed the debate to some extent. During the 16 years in which I have taken part in these debates it has been argued that nuclear power is cheap. I have tried to make the point that, whatever one's views on nuclear power—whether or not one is concerned about the environment or worried about whether there will be a disaster — there has been an unfair allocation of resources for renewable sources of energy provision. That is a reasonable point.

Mr. Speller

I cannot disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Were it acceptable practice to pay private generators of electricity a reasonable rate — my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State referred to this— there is no doubt that other projects would have come forward to find improved ways of using coal and energy alternatives— for example, combined heat and power, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) may speak. The burden of the debate on the development of energy resources has been based on the fiction — as we now realise — that nuclear was less expensive. I am not arguing against nuclear, but the cost argument has now been clearly revealed. Now that the fact is known that the costing is not all on one side, the alternatives must be considered. That is why I am grateful to the Government for providing time for this debate and to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for saying openly that he wants to hear the views of the House. Clearly, there has been an unhealthy domination by nuclear of research in the electricity generating industry for years. The alternatives have been excluded.

Mr. Michael Spicer

I had not meant to intervene, but the cost of the nuclear industry is obviously crucial to the argument of my hon. Friend and others. My understanding of Lord Marshall's comments is that there have undoubtedly been great problems in the British nuclear industry, especially with the AGR series of power stations. That has created problems and extra costs for the nuclear industry. If one is comparing the costs of nuclear power with those of other forms of energy, one must go wider than the AGR projects and examine, for instance, the costs of electricity provided in France by the nuclear industry. The Germans have a great fear of 1992, which is the year in which the Common Market opens itself to the possibility of Germany importing cheap French nuclear-generated electricity. One must be clear exactly what Lord Marshall was talking about, and about the comparisons that are relevant.

Mr. Speller

I am grateful to the Minister, but it is fair to say that the French electricity industry is currently in debt to the French taxpayer to the tune of £20 billion—a figure that increases daily. At a conference not long ago a French energy correspondent informed me that the price of electricity to the French domestic user was approximately twice that at which France was selling it to Britain. I am not against cheap energy, but, to be fair, the French public are not getting the same deal as the British public.

Mr. Michael Spicer

If one is arguing about the costs of the French nuclear electricity industry, one must take into account the wider issue of the subsidies that are paid to other forms of energy in Germany and the United Kingdom—for example, coal. I have had discussions in Germany and in this country. In Germany they are keen to find some way in which the French nuclear industry is not economic. On a basis of fair comparison with the subsidies that are paid to other industries, it is a highly economic industry, which provides electricity cheaply.

Mr. Speller

I am sure that the Minister is right, but that correspondent objected strongly to paying more for his electricity than I have to pay for it from France.

It is not my job to talk down nuclear energy. My point is that there has been a general belief that nuclear energy is cheaper, and that may not now be the case. The parliamentary alternative energy group had the good fortune to be addressed by Dr. Michael Davis, the director of energy saving and alternative sources of energy in the European Community. His view agrees with that of the Government to a large extent in that renewables will provide a useful part of future energy, but will not by any means be a dominant factor. He read physics at university and, like many folk in the scientific establishment, may tend to lean towards the nuclear side. Dr. Davis spoke about the fact that renewable energy has so often been called new, but biomass is as old as life on earth. Prehistoric man discovered how to make use of wind and water currents. What we have done is to rediscover the wheel of alternative energy, and whether for conservation or cost reasons it is good that we should realise which alternatives are available.

What is the potential of these alternatives? According to Dr. Davis, there is no question but that while, theoretically, it exceeds our present needs, there is a general assumption in the European Community that alternatives could not provide more than a small part of total energy requirements. They may be costly, but we must re-examine how we have spent money on research and development during the past few years to see whether we should turn in that direction again. To bring renewables to a more mature state so that they can contribute to energy needs, a lot of work must be done first by the industrialised world.

It is interesting to note that, in the Third world, renewable energy is almost automatically used. Such countries cannot afford our more costly fuels and in many parts of Africa and Asia alternatives are the norm. In the Republic of China, 30 per cent. of energy is produced by alternative methods — largely, of course, through biomass. There is nothing new about that, either. The Chinese have relatively small per capita energy requirements at present, but 30 per cent. is a fair amount.

The main thrust of the European Community at present is in a different direction. In its view, there has been too much fragmented research and development, and not enough co-ordination and work as a community. There is a Community-wide market now, and what is needed most is an even-handed and reasonable way of paying those private generators who wish to sell electricity to the main networks. If we can find a way of linking the electricity producing renewable energy installations into the main grids we shall have done well, but there is no independent body to oversee this development. A year ago the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) brought in a Bill to promote renewable sources of energy. Many hon. Members sponsored it, but it fell early on in the parliamentary hurdles. It sought to establish an independent commission, directly responsible to Parliament, for research, development and demonstration of clean, renewable alternative forms of energy.

The European Commission is seeking to promote that, too, and has gone as far as producing a draft recommendation saying that we should, if so directed, produce some form of legislation to bring about an administrative procedure to overcome the obstacles to developing the exploitation of nuclear energy sources. Although many hon. Members may not be wholly in favour of the Community, it is interesting that the Community has got as far as a Council recommendation to the member states on developing renewable energy sources. That, too, gives hope for the future. Unless there is some form of body independent of the existing establishment we shall get nowhere. Perhaps there is nowhere to go other than nuclear fission or fusion. However, I do not accept that as yet the resources have been applied to discover whether this is so.

The European Community goes further. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East mentioned efficiency, water and light. I am thinking also of heads of water that can provide power. Interestingly, the Community is again rather ahead of us and suggests following the American example of energy conservation. If we saved energy, instead of being so profligate with it, every penny spent on insulation would be worth a pound spent on new generation.

The EC has an idea of putting an energy rating on every property at the time of sale which would tell the prospective purchaser what the energy rating of the house or flat was. Something similar is already done in the United States. If one buys a refrigerator it is marked in such a way as to inform one of its electricity consumption, and the Community is thinking along the lines of some way of rating a home at the time of sale to give an indication of fuel costs. In our climates they are a significant factor and the idea is good news for those of us with alternative energy interests.

I intend to quote now from all sorts of strange sources. Usually, when Friends of the Earth is mentioned the accuracy of its views is questioned. However, I have always found its research to be of a high order. It says simply that the sun is a massive nuclear furnace, radiating energy into space. It is so simple, yet most people do not realise that, whether we like it or not, we are a sun and nuclear-based world. Yes, the sun's energy is nuclear. The energy of wind and wave is also solar. The heat of the earth makes the air move and creates clouds, rain and so forth. Tidal energy seems to be put down these days.

When I intervened in the speech on water power made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) I mentioned wind turbines. At Ilfracombe in north Devon tides rise and fall some 30 ft twice a day, and the sheer vast power of all that water, completely predictable 100 years in advance, must make it an energy source that must surely have great potential. The hon. Member for Truro mentioned geothermal energy —the heat from the centre of the earth. All these are clean, renewable and eternal energies, and we should be unwise to neglect them.

I mentioned insulation and energy rating on properties. The state of play of the renewables is not good and if we were playing football I think that our team would be losing three to one. Most of us now have a solar calculator, or watch, or something gimmicky. But solar power does not have to be gimmicky. With proper storage organisation we could do a great deal with photovoltaic modules, but at present major markets are in the world's sun belts and their use is not much in evidence here.

Biomass is much used in the Third world, particularly by the Republic of China. It has a huge potential, but, again, although it is technically and economically attractive, nothing much seems to happen because the Government's commitment of £300,000 per annum is not enough for anything more than keeping a project simmering. If we are to promote biomass — a huge resource of the earth—we must put more cash in the kitty. Much biomass activity is considered to be extremely unpleasant. I think of straw burning and slurry leaks, or sewage leaking on to beaches and increasing pollution so that it oversteps EC standards. Some sort of environmental credit should be given to those concerned with making more use of such materials to create clean energy from a dirty product.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale talked about the potential of water. I want to discuss wind energy. Wind energy machines are not ugly and I do not find wind generators any less attractive than a row of pylons marching across Exmoor. It is amazing that things that have been part of the environment for years become invisible, like the postman in an Agatha Christie story or the butler "who did it?" However, if one wind generator is erected the world says, "How monstrous. How ugly."

The public require power at the flick of a switch, yet the grid will never reach some parts of Exmoor. A combination of daft rating and environmental folk who do not mind a line of pylons across the land but object strongly to a wind generator is holding back a logical, sensible and British-based industry.

I congratulate the CEGB on its good work in promoting wind energy at Carmarthen bay, but the wind machines erected in the United Kingdom are not commercial. They are experimental in number and in capacity. Some excellent firms are selling them to the United States and making money for Britain also in the Third world, but, because of our built-in objection to anything that we have not been used to all our lives, we do not develop them in this country.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

During my speech the potential of wind power was queried.The hon. Gentleman has just mentioned the general good sense of the Friends of the Earth projections. In their critique of the June 1986 speech the Secretary of State, Friends of the Earth state that the potential of wind power, even land based is 20 per cent., but that it would be 50 per cent. of our requirements including offshore potential. The CEGB argues that a limitation is caused by the variability of wind power, but that it could absorb within the national grid 20 per cent. of energy produced by wind supply.

Mr. Speller

The hon. Gentleman is correct. I speak partly in jest about the beauty of wind generators. The logical place for wind generators is offshore. Anyone who has seen the huge rows of wind generators at Palo Alto, California will find them no more attractive than the rows of pylons which I do not like. The technology exists to build the generators offshore, and that is where they should be. There is no technical problem, but there is an absence of will to support this form of energy. There is enormous scope. It would be good business for our northern heavy industries, which sadly have declined over the last few years.

When I visited Norway I saw two forms of wave energy exhibited. It is fascinating that the Norwegians are using those forms of energy while we invented them. Universities such as Queens, Belfast and Edinburgh have fantastic records for inventing things which others take up and use to make money. That is almost the story of British invention. It is illogical that we should fund enough for a university project in the early stage but then stop. One must then cross the world to find somebody else who is prepared to take the project further. It is not logical to say that when a point is proved the project will be closed and another project started.

All our resources are pushed in one direction. That is not the logic for the future. I pay tribute to the universities which have produced such sterling work. The Stirling pump invented in the last century by a Dr. Stirling from Scotland is now in production in Japan. The pump Burns unattractive fuel such as cow dung and produces low compression power. When the Select Committee was in Japan we saw these pumps being produced in quantity for the Third world.

I appeal to the Minister to accept that there are great proven possibilities in alternatives which have never been taken beyond the proving stage. That is the illogicality of our energy story.

I welcome the Government's attitude and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Truro put the Government down, because they are the first Government to take this stand. They are also the first Government to produce any literature—glossy or not—on the subject.

I congratulate also the CEGB, which is too often seen as the bogyman. I believe that it produces excellent economic power for our country. When we lose resources as we did after the storm recently, one can see how totally dependent we are on the CEGB, its engineers and contractors.

I think that we should consider also the question of rating property. The ultimate question concerns energy winners and losers. Almost all Government funding has been based on proven commercial winners or losers, but, on that basis, we would not have had the high expenditure on nuclear energy research because, on costing grounds, it has not proved to be a winner. In other words, we have backed and made a winner out of what would have been a loser under the old rules.

Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)

Does my hon. Friend agree that cost is not the only criterion that has to be considered when providing power, but that volume is also important? If there were a source of power generation which was very cheap but which could provide only 4 or 5 per cent. of the nation's needs, that would not be effective or desirable.

Mr. Speller

My hon. Friend draws me into an argument that I did not intend to enter. Security of supply is the key. One knows that the tide will come in twice a day. One can be pretty sure of the wind and of water storage. On security of supply grounds, one must consider what happened at Chernobyl.

Across the water on the Channel Islands, one can see three French nuclear power stations. Where would our own security of supply be if it were not for the coal-fired generating stations should the unthinkable accident happen here or there? That is what we must consider. I accept all the arguments for the efficiency of the nuclear industry. I accept all the arguments for the extensive and continuing use of clean coal. My final plea is only that we should consider also those other eternal, alternative renewable sources of energy. They have been around for as long as mankind, before mankind in fact, and, if we carry on as we sometimes do, they will be around long after mankind.

We are unwise not to devote a fair proportion of Government funding to renewable sources of energy. Those of us who come from rural areas are aware that one cannot rely on the piece of cable that stretches across the country. We should make sensible use of wind, water and tide if we want to be sure of a supply of electricity. In the last big freeze the happy farmers were those with their diesel plants and those with wind generators. The rest of us were jolly cold and in the dark. Let us accept that renewable sources of energy have a valuable and increasing part to play in the supply of energy, and let us not be mean in supporting them.

11.50 am
Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)

I am grateful for this opportunity to make my maiden speech.

First, may I congratulate the hon. Members for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) and for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss) on their maiden speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley spoke of the recent closure of a colliery in his constituency. In my constituency there used to be more than 20 collieries; now there is none.

My constituency has had a chequered electoral history. It has been a Liberal seat, a Labour seat and a Nationalist seat, but throughout this century it has never belonged to the Conservative party. If one looks at the electoral history of my constituency, one learns that we have recorded some remarkable swings against the trend. In 1945, with the Labour landslide, Carmarthen was the only seat that the Labour party lost. In 1966, in a by-election, Carmarthen returned the first Nationalist Member of Parliament. I take his opportunity to pay tribute to Mr. Gwynfor Evans for all his work for Carmarthen and for the Welsh people. I also pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Dr. Roger Thomas, who represented the seat for eight years and who was a hard worker for the constituency.

In 1979 the seat was won back for the Labour party. We held it in 1983, and I am pleased to say that we quadrupled our majority earlier this year. Thus, we have won and held the seat in three elections that have been extremely difficult for the Labour party. Within the constituency we feel every confidence that we can now build on our platform and turn Carmarthen into a safe Labour seat in common with about 20 out of the 38 seats in Wales. The Conservative Government do not have a mandate in Wales or Scotland. In fact, the Welsh people are a radical Socialist people.

Let us now consider the topic of this debate. Our generation is living through a very difficult time with regard to the supply of world energy. We are confronted with a major problem the like of which civilisation has never met before. Our prosperity in the 20th century, and especially in the post-war period, has depended upon oil and gas. As a society we have used enormous, prodigious quantities of oil and gas. However, in the past 15 years we have come to realise that the world's resources of those energy supplies are limited. Indeed, we are talking about surviving on hydrocarbons for just a few more decades. When we look to the year 2000 and beyond, we must look to alternative sources of energy.

Regrettably, the present Government do not spell out their energy —policy it is a vague area. Of course, we know that the Government have an obsessive hatred of miners and an obsession for nuclear power. That obsession for nuclear power is undiminished despite the events at Chernobyl last year. They intend to press ahead with the construction of pressurised water reactors.

Earlier this week I noticed in the 1987 British social attitudes survey that 78 per cent. of the British public believe that nuclear power will leave society with long-term environmental problems, and that 59 per cent. of the public believe that, in Britain, we will have a major nuclear accident some time in the next 10 years. Almost 90 per cent. of British people do not want the construction of more nuclear power stations. If we had a true democracy, nuclear power would be rejected out of sight by the people. I believe that our energy policy for the next century should be based on coal, conservation and renewable sources of energy.

In Britain and across the world there are coal resources that will last for centuries— at least for 300 years; indeed, more like 1,000 years at the present rates of extraction. I am aware that coal presents some environmental problems, especially that of acid rain. I am pleased that the Government have, belatedly, recognised that acid rain is a major threat to the environment, not just in Scandinavia and parts of Germany, but right across Europe and the advanced world. The problem of acid rain can be solved. We have the technologies to defeat that problem.

When we consider long-term energy policy, we should press ahead, at full speed, with fluidised bed combustion. With that technology it is possible to add to the coal while burning limestone that absorbs the sulphur. Combustion occurs at a lower temperature than it does at present in power stations and thus the oxides of nitrogen and sulphur are removed. It is a disgrace that the Government have more or less frozen fluidised bed combustion research at the level that it had reached in 1979. It is a vital technology for clean coal burning for the next century. Coal should be the bedrock of our energy policy.

As we heard earlier in the debate, conservation has a massive role to play. Indeed, someone called it our fifth energy source. If we consider the potential for conservation, I should like to quote the former Secretary of State for Energy, the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). In 1984 he gave figures that showed that we could save £7 billion a year on our energy bill of £35 billion if we simply adopted the energy conservation and saving measures that are used in other countries. Thus, within five years the capital cost of such measures could be recouped.

Conservation simply means insulating our houses and buildings to a higher standard than at present. It would generate tens of thousands of jobs up and down the country. Much of the housing that requires attic insulation or cavity wall insulation is older, and often old people live in such housing. Therefore, such insulation would be a good social service. The repayment period for such a programme would be between two and five years.

Another part of conservation policy is combined heat and power. In this country CHP schemes are few and far between. However, they are commonplace in Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Let me give one example of what is possible through combined heat and power. Recently, I read about the new headquarters for the Devon and Cornwall constabulary, which has a CHP scheme based on gas. The gas is used to generate electricity, the surplus heat is used to warm the building and surplus electricity is fed into the grid. The cost of electricity production in that building is a quarter of the cost of electricity from the national grid. Such CHP schemes could be built into offices, factories, hospitals and housing estates. They have enormous potential. They need not be based on gas. The economics of coal burning in combined heat and power schemes are almost as good.

There are so many renewable sources of energy but I shall comment briefly on only four or five. For the past 10 to 15 years in Wales we have read about the feasibility studies into a Severn barrage. It is the best site in Britain, and would he one of the best sites in the world for the construction of a barrage. It would be an enormous technical undertaking, costing about £5 billion to £6 billion, but it would produce far more electricity than the Government's prospective programme of pressurised water reactors. Unfortunately, all that we hear from the Government is that they intend to conduct more feasibility studies. They are willing to spend a few million pounds a year on feasibility studies, but we hear nothing stronger than that.

If the Government are afraid to take the plunge and go ahead with the Severn barrage, perhaps they should consider the Mersey barrage first. That would be a smaller project, with one tenth of the capacity of the Severn barrage. The barrages could be two major economic contributors to our energy supply in the next century. Although it may take between 10 and 15 years to build a barrage, it will supply energy for at least a century. Coal and oil-fired stations last for only 20 or 25 years. Like a hydro-electric power station, a barrage will have a life span of about 100 years.

The former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), talked at length about hydroelectricity. Our potential for hydro-electricity is substantial, and I understand that the cheapest electricity produced in Britain comes from small hydro-electric power stations. It costs about one tenth of the electricity produced from coal or nuclear power. Hydro-electricity is extremely economic. Of course, there is a capital cost in constructing the power station, but the running costs are cheap. I live in and represent Carmarthen, which lies in mountainous country, at the mouth of the largest river in Wales, the Towy, but despite the fact that there is a large reservoir at the head of the river, no electricity is generated by the Towy.

We have heard about the potential for wind power. There are 5,000 windmills in California, generating 1,500 MW of electricity. They are run by private utilities, so there is little Government investment, but I gather that, within seven years, they can recoup their investment in constructing the wind turbine. The British wind power research programme is almost amateur. Earlier this year a Minister at the Department of Energy opened a vertical axis wind turbine in what used to be the Carmarthen bay power station. In view of the publicity, I visited the scheme, but I was severely disappointed by the number of people involved and the small size of the project. Yet the turbines used in California were designed in Britain. We can export the technology, but it is not good enough for us. The prevailing winds in Britain are from the west. We are ideally placed, and in view of the events in the south-east during the past couple of weeks, perhaps there is a potential for wind power there, too.

I should comment on biological wastes. In developing countries, biomass is an important part of the solution to the firewood problem. There are 7 million biomass units operating in China. We, too, have the potential to use biological wastes. In the annual straw burning exercise in August each year about 6 million tonnes of straw are burnt on our farms. The energy equivalent of those 6 million tonnes of straw is one half of what is generated by our nuclear power stations. These are not trivial matters. Straw burning could be a substantial contributor.

As for sugar cane, water hyacinths and fast-growing plants, perhaps in the long term photosynthesis will he the answer, as it always was. That is where the fossil fuels came from. These days it is possible to produce new varieties of plants that grow much more rapidly than timber. We know that in Brazil they use sugar cane to make alcohol to drive cars, and about 2 million cars run on alcohol produced from sugar cane. It is. possible to produce varieties of plants that can produce 300 tonnes of photosynthetic yield per hectare per year. The productivity is 20 times greater than that involved in growing timber. The product can either be burnt directly or fermented to produce alcohol or gas. They are all possibilities for the next 10, 20 or 50 years.

Alternative energy sources are not already contributing substantially to our energy supply because of a lack of investment. The Minister said that we had spent £110 million since 1979, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) said, since 1979 North sea oil has produced £52.4 billion in revenue. The Government have received 500 times more money than they are willing to devote to renewable sources of energy. If they will not invest in those alternative sources, they will be wasting a valuable resource.

If the matter was put to the British electorate, there is no question but that when they looked at the future beyond oil and gas they would utterly reject the Government's solution of nuclear power. What the British people want is an energy policy based on coal., conservation and renewable sources of energy.

12.8 pm

Mr. Peter Rost (Erewash)

It is a pleasure to be allowed to follow the hon. Member for Carmarthen ( Mr. Williams), whose excellent maiden speech, delivered with such confidence and assurance, contrasted so greatly with mine in 1970. It was a particular pleasure for me to hear him make his maiden speech in an energy debate because the Opposition sorely need a few more Members able to make such intelligent and informed contributions to our energy debates. Therefore, I congratulate him and expect him to be on the Opposition Front Bench before long.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on organising today's debate, and I welcome his statement that we should produce as much as possible of our energy from renewable sources if they are economic and as long as they do not damage the environment. I have been a supporter of that theme for many years and, of course, I support the so-called renewables — wind, wave, tidal, geothermal and solar—and believe that they can and will make an increasing contribution in the longer term as they become more economic, as the technology improves and as fossil fuels become scarcer and more expensive.

However, there are already two existing sources of renewable energy that are literally on our doorstep and have barely been mentioned so far. They could now make an enormous contribution to our energy sources. They are proved and tested technologies and are economic, which, I am afraid, one cannot say yet about all the other so-called renewables. Those two sources of energy that are here and waiting for us could, in the short term, within two or three years, provide the energy equivalent of at least 10 Sizewell nuclear power stations, of thousands of windmills, of hundreds of geothermal projects, or of two or three Severn estuary barrage schemes. All that equivalent energy could be provided in half the time that it now takes to build one major power station. It would be more economic as well, on the figures quoted for new power stations.

I shall refer to the first of the two major potentials for renewable energy as the municipal and industrial waste on our doorstep and the second of those enormous potential sources of energy as the waste heat from our electricity power stations. I regard both sources of energy as renewable because, while we continue to live in an industrial society with a high western standard of living, we shall always have enormous quantities of municipal waste and, of course, we shall always need electricity, so we shall continue to have these sources of energy —waste, municipal refuse and waste heat from power stations.

I declare an interest as an adviser to the WARMER — Recycling Warmth and Energy from Rubbish —campaign, a charitable organisation without any commercial interests with the industry, promoting the recycling of warmth and energy from rubbish. I also declare an interest as a consultant to Associated Heat Services, which is the UK's largest contractor energy management company. However, as the House knows, I do not have to declare an interest that is not commercial and that has been a long-standing one of mine in this area of improving energy efficiency.

It is estimated that every year in this country there are 55 million tonnes of municipal and industrial waste. What do we do with it? Half is disposed of in landfill and nearly all the rest is simply burnt in incinerators to get rid of it. Only about 15 million tonnes are recycled — in other words, converted into useful energy. The result is that we are dumping into holes or simply burning in incinerators the equivalent of £1 billion of fuel a year—fuel that is waiting to be used. We are virtually bottom of the European league in converting that huge source of fuel. Other countries do far more.

In his summer tours of the electricity industry, particularly in Scandinavia and Germany, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will have seen some of the towns and cities that are heated from municipal refuse and also obtain their electricity from local power stations that burn the local municipal refuse. It is time we did a bit more of that here.

The other so-called renewable source of energy which is on our doorstep but which we do not use extensively at the moment is the hot water that comes from electricity production. We shall always have a need for electricity. The law of thermodynamics makes it impossible for us to drive a turbine on a steam cycle without two thirds of the fuel having to be wasted in the form of water going out at the other end.

The amount of warmth in the hot water which is the by-product of electricity production in even the most efficient of our electricity power stations is two thirds of the fuel input. In total, that means that we are throwing away energy in the form of hot water; that is, about 60 million tonnes of coal equivalent. Enough water is being thrown away in our rivers and cooling towers to heat every building in the country. We even spend £5 million on constructing a cooling tower to get rid of that energy. If we used that hot water and piped it into buildings, the level of thermal efficiency of a power station would rise from about 35 per cent. to about 80 per cent.

The technology is not particularly far-sighted, advanced or in need of development. We need only to see what is happening in the rest of the world. About 3,000 towns and cities in Europe have combined heat and power; in other words, electricity production is combined with piped hot water to provide heat for districts. The result is that those towns and cities have no fuel poverty and their heating is far less expensive than ours. Of course, they are using their energy twice as efficiently as we are.

The alternative sources of energy that are available to us but which are not being properly used at the moment are not only economic and fully developed but pollution free. Nobody can be more conscious of pollution problems than the Swedes are. They burn municipal refuse literally in the centre of their cities—even plastics which produce dioxins — without producing any pollution. The technology exists in this country to burn refuse without producing pollution. We must compare that with the pollution problems to be derived from landfill. Such problems will become increasingly more severe as scientists become more anxious about polluted water seeping out from municipal refuse which is dumped in holes.

Of course, something is happening in this country, and it has been happening for some time. In Edmonton, about 10 per cent. of London's rubbish is being successfully used to produce electricity. Many plants exist in other parts of the country. For many years, there has been a scheme in Nottingham to burn local refuse and produce domestic hot water and electricity. I have referred to many schemes, but perhaps it would be more realistic to say a handful. Certainly only a fraction of the municipal refuse that is available to us at the moment is being converted into useful energy. The technology has been proved. Hardware companies are ready to go ahead. Indeed, they are anxious to get into export markets. I have seen companies and projects all around Europe. For example, some companies are members of the Process Plant Association. Companies that are members of the Combined Heat and Power Association and the many sectors of British industry that are members of the Council of Mechanical and Metal Trades Associations are prepared to show any of my colleagues in the House the technology and hardware that is available to convert rubbish into hot water and electricity for combined heat and power.

The other advantage, which my hon. Friend the Minister appreciates, is that the development of these energy resources could be achieved far more quickly than expanding our electricity capacity over the long term. It takes eight to ten years to build a major power station, yet perhaps six months to a year to build a smaller station that will convert municipal refuse. Many such stations could be and are being built. Projects are going ahead in Newcastle, Hastings, the Isle of Wight, Birmingham, Hampshire and larger schemes are now starting that use municipal refuse for district heating and electricity in Sheffield, Corby and so on.

A great deal more must be done if we intend to use this enormous energy resource, and some obstacles need to be removed. The major obstacle is the privatisation of the electricity industry, which is already under way. There is no doubt that if we privatise the electricity industry it will generate competition and give private producers an opportunity to sell their electricity. Local authorities that want to burn refuse to produce electricity and obtain a fair price for their electricity will be able to take advantage of schemes such as the one at Edmonton and others in the country. Such schemes would be far more economical and viable than current practice.

It is most important that my hon. Friend devises a formula for the privatisation of the electricity industry that will make the grid available to all at a fair price so that private producers can compete on a fair basis. At the moment they are unable to do so because the nationalised industry is not keen to have competition from private electricity production from combined heat and power schemes. That is the first and most important obstacle that the Government must remove. They must allow the investment that will exploit these huge energy resources of municipal refuse and hot water.

We need an even-handed opportunity to compete with the nationalised industry, which has not been allowed up until now. Nationalised industry is allowed to invest in new power stations at a lower artificial rate of interest. Unlike the private sector, it does not have to borrow its money at commercial rates in the market place. Once that obstacle has been removed and the combined heat and power private enterprise consortia are given an opportunity to show what they can do by being offered a fair price for their produce in a competitive market, I am sure that those schemes will benefit the national energy grid.

My hon. Friend is aware of other obstacles. There is a prejudice among local authorities and planning departments against the burning of municipal refuse. There is a prejudice, and some further obstacles, in the Department of the Environment. There is some unjustified ignorance and fear about pollution problems which are being overcome by the burning of municipal refuse in modern plants. The House must be aware that unless we move in that direction we will only pile up more problems for future years, quite literally in the form of rubbish.

Inn sites are becoming scarce and environmental constraints and the need to prevent pollution of the water table will force us to impose even stricter controls on where we dump our rubbish. Therefore, even if it were not economic, which it is, it would become increasingly necessary to convert this huge annual source of fuel into useful energy. That may be this island's only option because I am sure that we will be prevented from continuing to dump vast quantities of rubbish into the sea.

I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister replies he will confirm that he intends to consider how best we can progress with this important source of alternative energy. I know that, generally, Government Departments do not talk to each other, but I hope that he will make an exception and will knock together the heads of his Department and those at the Department of the Environment to ensure that they encourage local authorities to participate in finding the least-cost option for disposing of their rubbish.

There is evidence that many local authorities dispose of their rubbish by high-cost infilling, which is much more expensive than building combined heat and power or refuse incineration plants, and ratepayers suffer from that high cost. In areas where infilling is scarce and expensive, it has been proved that there is a cheaper alternative, and such a source should be pursued. The Department of the Environment or the Department of Trade and Industry should provide feasibility study finance to local authorities to assess the cost effectiveness of recycling their waste rather than dumping it in holes. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister agrees that the Energy Efficiency Office has a role to play with, perhaps, a strong and vigorous campaign to make those responsible for industrial and municipal refuse aware that there is a better alternative to burning and dumping, and one that provides useful energy.

The renewable energy available from using industrial and municipal waste and the hot water from power stations could, in the short term, make a far larger contribution than the other renewables that we have been discussing. Those sources would not only produce far greater amounts of energy, but would do so more economically than any of the existing renewable sources and also help to solve environmental and pollution problems.

If we move in that direction, we can make a major contribution to improving energy efficiency while conserving our non-renewable energy sources. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is sympathetic to my suggestions, and I hope that he will give a strong lead for which the whole country, especially the young generation, will be eternally grateful.

12.29 pm
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

I should like to congratulate those hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches this morning. Although I enjoyed his maiden speech, I advise the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss) not to read too much into what is printed in The Sunday Times. Many of my hon. Friends read little into the organs of its proprietor, Mr. Rupert Murdoch. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) and for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) on their very good maiden speeches. I hope that they will contribute to future energy debates because their comments will be welcome.

It is hoped that today's debate will set the scene for renewable energy in this country in the long-term. The United Kingdom's research and development programme on renewable forms of energy has never received anything like the financial support that is normally given to more conventional forms of energy. The funding of renewable energy started in 1975. The hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) may be right to say that on at least two occasions the Government have initiated debates in the Chamber on renewable energy. However, that is more likely to have happened because of debates on renewables outside the Chamber during the past few years.

It was a Labour Government that began funding such research and development directly from central Government. From 1975 to 1986 only £97.1 million has been spent on research and development in this area. That should be compared to the expenditure of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority on its nuclear research and development in 1985–86—more than £212 million.

I was interested in the Minister's comments in replying to the hon. Member for Devon, North when he discussed the remarks made recently by Lord Marshall about the cost of nuclear power. In the television programme "Taming the Dragon" on 15 October Lord Marshall said: You are correct to say on the Magnox stations as a whole, whether or not Magnox has been an economic bargain or not in the narrow sense does depend on their performance in the future and the price of coal in the future, so in that sense, it's jam tomorrow. When asked about the AGRs, which the Minister mentioned, the interviewer said: And that's also true of the AGRs? Lord Marshall replied: That's bound to be the case because we've only got some of them working in the last few years. In defence of Lord Marshall's comments, many of my hon. Friends have been speaking for a long time on the cost of nuclear generation in this country. The Minister decided to go across the Channel to France to try to defend his position on the economics of nuclear electricity generation. He was amply dealt with by the hon. Member for Devon, North who gave him some of the facts. I should like to give the House the facts of the cost as calculated by the Central Electricity Generating Board. Its analysis of generating costs in 1983–84, which is the latest available update, states that for major stations commissioned between 1965 and 1987 the Magnox generating cost in 1983–84 per kilowatt hour was 2.60, for coal-fired stations 2.38 and for oil-fired stations 2.77. Some of us have argued many times over many years and without support from the electricity generating industry that that has been the case. I am pleased that people at the highest level of the industry now accept exactly what that case is. That calls into question why there has been such a great difference in the amount invested on research and development into renewable energies as compared with other forms, especial]}( nuclear. The Government still spend only £14 million a year on renewables.

I know that other hon. Members want to take part in the debate and so shall mention only briefly two forms of renewables. One is geothermal energy. The Minister said that the aquifer programme was cancelled in 1985 because of the absent water levels in the earth where the drilling was taking place. I understand that that applied to four places in Great Britain at that time, or immediately prior to it. I should like to ask the Minister whether any feasibility study was carried out involving international comparisons. France is currently in the process of putting into effect its aquifer programmes at the rate of between 20 and 30 a year. I understand that Italy also has programmes going ahead in the Po valley.

Mr. Michael Spicer

On the relative cost of nuclear power, I have asked for specific figures. The CEGB's analysis of comparative generating costs shows that the average lifetime cost per kilowatt hour at 1987 prices for the most recently commissioned plant at Hinkley Point is 2.82p compared with 3.03p for the first stage of the coal-fired station at Drax.

Mr. Barron

The Minister is using an argument that was made in the late 1950s and 1960s about Magnox and AGRs. The estimates were wide of the mark then and I suspect that the same is true now. Perhaps the Minister will also tell us, though perhaps not today, whether and how the Government plan to proceed with privatisation of the Magnox stations.

With regard to the hot rocks geothermal project in Cornwall, that programme is regarded as the most likely to be economic when fully developed. The Government, however, have been wavering in their commitment to the project. I understand that the boreholes are currently about 2.8 km but everyone agrees that they need to be much deeper so that the heat of the water will be much greater than the present 70 to 90 degrees.

In 1986, the Energy Technology Support Unit confirmed the immense potential of this; scheme and stated that electricity generation by this means could be cheaper than with other fuels. In the Department's quarterly review, the Minister recognised that perhaps the most challenging prospect is the extraction of geothermal heat from hot dry rocks at depths of around 5 to 6 km for use in generating electricity … The UK is a world leader in exploring this technology, but there are still many questions to be answered at the Camborne School of Mines project in Cornwall before the construction of a prototype commercial scheme can be contemplated. In view of his comments on that occasion and today, I hope that the Minister will ensure the feasibilty of the project by maintaining long-term funding until the questions have been answered.

Mr. Spicer

I will deal with that point straightaway. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) also referred to the extra funding required. An enormous amount of additional drilling is required. We are down to about 2.5 km and we need to go down to between 6 and 8 km. We have already spent £25 million on the project, with a further commitment for the rest of this year. At this stage, it is perfectly legitimate to seek to take a clear view on whether it is correct to spend a very considerable additional sum to reach depths that have never been achieved before in a project of this type. It is thus quite reasonable that we should take a dispassionate view, and we shall be reaching a decision very soon.

Mr. Barron

In a world of new technology, some brave investments will clearly be needed in likely prospects. If the Minister comes to a negative decision, we shall have to review the criteria for deciding whether the project in Cornwall goes ahead. On other issues, one suspects some of the criteria used — particularly with regard to the massive investment in nuclear generation.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

I support the hon. Gentleman's point about the criteria that will be used. Will he agree with me on another point? Once before the project was on the verge of being disbanded and the highly skilled and trained staff involved were uncertain of their future. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in pressing the Minister to make the earliest possible decision on the future funding of the project so that the research team can be held together?

Mr. Barron

Coming as I do from a coal-mining background, I know that once such industries close and the skilled labour force moves elsewhere in search of wealth it is difficult to put a team back together.

Mr. Michael Spicer

I assure the hon. Members for Truro (Mr. Taylor) and for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) that the present contract runs to the end of next year. Until then there will be stability in employment, although I am mindful of the fact that we must make a decision in the near future. I also take the points about criteria.

Mr. Barron

Perhaps the Minister's decision could be brought before the House so that we may comment on it, and on the criteria involved. With the experience of the past 10 to 12 years, everyone would say that renewable energy, in whatever form, is is here to stay.

Design studies have shown that passive solar energy can meet 30 per cent. or more of heating needs in both small and large houses, whether in areas of high or low density. The Minister will know that in 1985 Liverpool university announced the findings of its 20-year study, which showed that heating costs in Britain's first large solar-heated building, St. Mary's school in Wallasey, were about half those of other schools of the same size.

A London Business School study, published in 1984, concluded that passive solar design could be an attractive lead technology, saving 10 to 15 per cent. of energy. The Government have agreed that passive solar heating is already economically attractive, yet there has been little take-up by the building industry. In the Government's publication "Review" the constraints on the widespread deployment of passive solar heating are given as being the rate of new building and renovation and the slow take-up by the building industry.

Denmark, France, Japan and Sweden give generous tax credits and make available subsidised loans for the installation of such energy-saving systems. What plans do the Government have to encourage the incorporation of passive solar heating in new buildings?

The 1982 Energy Technology Support Unit review on renewable energy technologies did not consider solar heating to be cost-effective in any but the most extreme circumstances. It recommended that our programme should be terminated. In 1985, the review confirmed that view of active solar heating which it claimed would make only a tiny contribution to our energy needs.

The Minister said in his opening remarks that the active solar heating project had been terminated because there was not enough sun in this country. That may be true of Britain, but it certainly is not true of the rest of the world. Solar cells are currently in use in hot deserts to provide power for refrigeration and water pumping. Some are used for telecommunications equipment on cold mountain tops. In remote villages solar cells are used to recharge torch batteries and to provide television. On navigation buoys and aboard sailing vessels they keep lights burning. There is still an immense potential for using active solar cells throughout the world. That potential has been ignored in the decision not to go ahead with further development programmes.

Let me give a practical example of the use of active solar energy. I have a photograph of a solar-powered water pump that is being used in Mali in west Africa to irrigate food crops. Although there may be no market here because of this country's climate, there is no question but that Africa and Asia have a great potential for markets in active solar energy. But the aid flow to those nations is crazy. We send the food which we overproduce to nations such as Africa. Farmers in those countries find it difficult to farm in their climate, so they rely on our overproduction. It would be much more sensible if there were not this overproduction under the common agricultural policy and the money were used instead to finance active solar energy to give real help to the people of Africa and Asia to ensure that they become self-sufficient in food.

In 1983, about 60 million solar-powered calculators were sold throughout the world. World shipments of solar cells reached 25 MW in 1985 compared with nothing in 1975. Technical advances and mass production could reduce the cost in the next decade so that solar electricity competes directly with grid electricity. The potential market will be enormous. It is in these technologies that Britain should use its inventive skills to develop forms of energy that will do much more good and achieve larger markets in Third world countries than the investment in and promotion of nuclear technologies.

The Government are reviewing the criteria concerning all renewable energy and future prospects. They must examine what criteria were used in deciding not to go ahead with active solar cells, the development of which would be to the economic good of this country and the human good of other areas. I await with interest information on the criteria to be used in other socially useful projects.

Potential users of renewable energy systems are given no incentives to switch from conventional energy supplies. The low Government spending on renewables shows their complacency and is the major obstacle to further development. I make that point not just to this Conservative Government but to those of different political persuasions. The Under-Secretary of State says that work on renewables is moving from the science and engineering stages to more commercially based operations. We are told that there will be increased collaboration between the Government and manufacturers and other energy users. Will this involve real incentives, as are given in other countries, or will we just see the same kind of glossy promotional material issued by the Energy Efficiency Office when it began the campaign last year?

The only way in which this country will realise the employment and energy potential from renewable energy technologies will be through a real increase in Government expenditure and commitment. This goes further than just glossy pamphlets and breakfast meetings in hotels in different parts of the country for discussions on energy efficiency. If we mean what we say about renewables, much more must be done. When people go back from those meetings, incentives must be provided. We can debate whether to use the methods used in other countries in terms of tax concessions or subsidised loans. If we are to exploit renewable energies which will perhaps be economically productive, although perhaps not in the immediate future, the Government must take a much more serious approach.

My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) referred to the need to establish a renewable energy division in the Department of Energy—although rumour has it that that Department may not last long as a single Department in Whitehall—and a renewable energy agency which is separate from other energy agencies and has a proper budget. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will deal with some of our points.

12.50 pm
Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)

May I say what a pleasure it is to speak for the first time with you, Madam Deputy Speaker, in the Chair?

We have heard several maiden speeches today, and I want to comment on two of them. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss) on a significant and comprehensive maiden speech. I congratulate also the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) on his maiden speech, which was capable and able. Toward the end of my speech, I shall refer a great deal to his part of the country.

When we speak of renewable or alternative energy, we think of it as alternative to those energy sources that we have used for many centuries. We have used hydrocarbons—coal—for hundreds of years and wood for thousands of years; and, more recently, gas and oil for the past 40, 50 or 60 years. We are looking for something alternative to those fuels, knowing that they will run out in due course.

The word "renewable" means that we are looking for an energy source that appears to renew itself indefinitely. However, because we are using only a small amount of such an energy, compared with the vast amount of it on the planet, it appears to defy the laws of thermodynamics. We all know that one cannot create energy, but because we are taking only a small amount of the so-called renewable source, it looks infinite, whereas it is not.

The hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) advanced another definition of the energy sources that we are discussing today, using an expression that I like and have heard him use before—benign energy sources. I know what he means and sympathise with his definition, although the alternative, renewable energy sources that we are examining are not wholly benign in every sense. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that a barrage across a river is not wholly benign for the environment. He will also agree that windmills are not totally benign when it comes to noise. He will further agree—I am sure he has many hon. Friends with shipping and fishing interests—that wave machines are not completely benign for people who go to sea to earn a living.

Regarding the speech made by the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), one must say that even solar power in its largest forms is not wholly benign. Power stations, such as the one in Italy with 727 mirrors, which produce only about 1MW of power, are hardly benign for the landscape. However, I understand the theme behind the idea of the hon. Member for Midlothian of calling such forms of energy benign, and I accept its validity.

We should apply one or two criteria to alternative, renewable energy sources, so as to be able to judge whether they will give us what we want in this country and the rest of the world. First, are they convenient? Their location can often be very convenient. My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) pointed out that there are many parts of his constituency that the grid will never reach, and by using wind power he can have a convenient form of energy that can be brought to the user. In that sense, there can be convenience of location.

There are many other forms of renewable energy sources, such as wave power, or even tidal barrages. Barrages are perhaps the best example of a form of energy generation that is not conveniently located wherever it is required. By definition it must be at the mouth of a river, and the energy may be needed hundreds of miles away. What about the availability or security of supply from alternative energy? I raised that point in an intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North. Wind is sometimes, but not always, available. I shall always remember going to see the wind generator in the Orkneys and finding that it was not turning because there was no wind there. When we returned by aeroplane to Hatfield in Hertfordshire, we had to circle several times to wait for the wind to die down on the runway before we could land. We had wind at Hatfield where we did not want it, and no wind in the Orkneys where we did want it.

The same is true of waves. There will always be waves, but will they be of sufficient size to generate electricity when we want it? The barrage is a good idea. The tide will come in twice a day, and ebb twice a day, and it will give us security of supply. As to the sun, as the hon. Member for Rother Valley said, the sun is reliable in many places in the world, but seldom is it reliable in the United Kingdom.

We must also consider the convenience of energy produced from alternative sources. Almost all the alternative sources ultimately produce electricity. That contrasts with gas, which can provide heat at the point of supply, coal that can provide steam, and the hydrocarbon fuels—petrol in particular—that provide mechanical power at the point of use.

If we follow the alternative or renewable energy route, we move towards an all-electric society. By coincidence, that is the route that we shall follow if we go down the nuclear path. Nuclear energy produces only electricity, not motor power, although it can produce steam at the power station.

Mr. Rost

The French and the Swiss already have nuclear power stations specifically to provide hot water for their district heating schemes.

Dr. Clark

That is an interesting intervention. I was saying that one can use nuclear power stations to produce steam, because steam is an intermediary between nuclear power and the generation of electricity.

Knowing my hon. Friend's interest in combined heat and power, I am delighted that his interest has gone beyond conventional generation through the use of hydrocarbon fuels to generation by use of the nuclear source. My hon. Friend can combine his interest in combined heat and power with nuclear generation.

Another feature that we must consider is the cost of generation. Most alternative or renewable energy sources are expensive. For example, the return on investment in wave power machines will take 16 years. It is an expensive form of electricity generation. In contrast, the cost of wind-generated electricity can be recovered in two years.

The third criterion by which to judge alternative energy is the contribution that it can make to the national grid. It is thought that if we had 600 miles of wave machines, perhaps on the west coast of Scotland where the waves are strong, we might be able to generate half our electricity. If we had 10,000 windmills, one on the top of every beauty spot on these islands, we might be able to generate half our electricity. However, I wonder whether we want every beauty spot in the country turned into an electricity generating site with 100 m blades making a noise like that of a landing helicopter every minute of the day. We could have a barrage on the Severn or the Mersey. Indeed, we could get about 5 or 6 per cent. of our electricity from such barrages.

The message that we get from an analysis of the amount of electricity that can be generated from alternative or renewable sources is that it is wise and appropriate to choose a whole variety of energy generators and to put them together to make some significant contribution to the grid. No one particular source will provide enough electricity to change the electricity generating policy of the country. However, all the sources put together and used in appropriate places and in appropriate ways could make a significant contribution. Perhaps by the turn of the century we will be getting about 7 or 8 per cent. of our electricity from alternative sources. We must bear in mind that that amount will just about meet the increased demand for electricity and therefore it will not be additional electricity. However, it will prevent the need for as many nuclear power stations as might otherwise be necessary.

One other form of alternative energy that has not been touched upon is the source that exists in the constituency of the hon. Member for Carmarthen—a pump storage system. It is correct to say that a pump storage system is not a form of energy generation—it does not generate primary electricity. However, it is an alternative form of electricity and an alternative to building a new power station. If we can store electricity at night when the output from power stations is not required and use that electricity in the day time when there is peak demand, we are providing an alternative to the need to build a new coal-fired or nuclear power station.

The pump storage system could almost be called a renewable energy source, although that might be stretching the definition too wide. Such a system is renewable in the sense that the water from the bottom reservoir is pumped up at night, using cheap and plentiful electricity, to the top reservoir where the water is kept until such time as the electricity is needed. The water is then released down a series of pipeworks inside the mountain at Dinorwig. The water coming down the mountain turns turbines, which turn generators, which create electricity. When the water has flowed to the bottom reservoir, it can be pumped back up to the top reservoir the following night.

The size of this enterprise is not always realised. The Dinorwig pump storage station has a capacity to generate nearly 1,800 MW. That is equal to the output of the largest oil-fired station that we have, and equal to one and a half times the power generated from a nuclear power station. The pump storage station in north Wales, about which so few people know anything, is a magnificent example of British engineering and ingenuity. It is also a significant example of Welsh workmanship, because it was built by some 2,600 men, 90 per cent of whom were locally recruited. The station was built by local Welsh labour who were trained and skilled in such construction.

The Dinorwig pump storage station can make a. significant contribution to the grid, as it has a significant output. Not only can it be used to generate electricity in the day time, thus saving the cost of building another, possibly nuclear, power station, but it can be brought on at short notice to act as an additional electricity generator at times of peak demand. An example of how quickly it can be brought on occurred two weeks ago when we had the great storm in the south-east and we were all without: electricity for five to 10 hours or longer. The reason for that power cut was that it took the CEGB several hours to fire up its power stations, get them on line and generate the electricity that was needed locally because of the destruction of the national grid and the breakage of power lines in various parts of the country.

The Dinorwig pump station in north Wales can go from generating no electricity to generating 1,300 MW—which is about the capacity of the proposed Sizewell B power station—in 10 seconds. It is remarkable engineering. It opens its valves and allows the water to flow, thus turning the turbines and generating electricity. It goes from zero to 1,300 MW in 10 seconds; that sounds like a racing car pulling away from the start. Indeed, it is a racing power station.

The pump station is completely acceptable environmentally. All that can be seen are the top and bottom lakes, because all the mechanism of the power station is hidden inside the mountain. There are 11.4 kilometres of underground tunnels hidden inside the mountain, which are used not only for water flow but for maintenance and the installation of the massive machinery. To construct the station, 300 tonnes of shale and slate were blasted and removed. The machine hall, which looks like a James Bond film set, is 180 m long, 60 m high and 24 m wide.

Perhaps the Minister will say whether there are plans to construct more pump storage stations. I know that there is one at Ffestiniog, and two in Scotland, but the biggest of those three—the one at Ffestiniog—is only one fifth of the size of the Dinorwig pump station, and the other two are very modest in scale. Has thought been given to an alternative method of construction? Instead of having the high reservoir at the top of the mountain with the lower or sink reservoir at sea level, could we not have the top reservoir at ground level and the sink reservoir underground? We could use disused coal mines as the sink reservoirs into which the water would flow. It would also mean that the machine hall would have to be underground. We would have to find an area with the right geology, but I invite the Minister's comments on the possibility of creating more pump storage stations to ensure that we use our existing coal, oil and nuclear-fired stations to the best advantage by using cheap and plentiful electricity at night to store energy that can be used during the day.

I have tried to whet our appetites for pump storage stations because I believe that the Dinorwig station is a splendid achievement. I am ashamed to say that, before I visited it four years ago, I did not know it existed. Many other people—perhaps even some hon. Members—do not know of the existence of this splendid piece of British engineering. I invite the Minister to continue to publicise everything that we do in relation to energy, but especially the Dinorwig pump storage station.

1.8 pm

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

The debate has shown that there is widespread interest in renewable energy resources. I congratulate the Minister on the way in which he introduced the debate, and hon. Members' speeches have shown that there is a way forward in dealing with not only short-term energy needs but the long-term provision of energy. The Government spend £110 million on research and development of alternative forms of energy, but the problem is that the nuclear power industry absorbs too much of the money that is made available.

It is a matter of concern that in the Sizewell inquiry doubts were cast upon the economics of nuclear power. It was argued that the CEGB was exaggerating the savings from nuclear power. The Magnox stations are not as economical as the present coal-burning power stations. Therefore, we must look to the future.

I should like to sound a note of warning on research which has not been mentioned in the debate. It concerns the argument about tidal barrages. There is no doubt that they are an exciting form of renewable energy and that they must be considered. There is also no doubt that the construction of the barriers would bring a great many jobs to the areas concerned and would help the local economies, and indeed the national economy.

However, I am concerned about the long-term environmental consequences of barrage systems. I know that on the Severn research is being carried out on the possible consequences. Perhaps I am taking it out of context, but I was concerned when the Minister said that when considering things such as barrage schemes, the financial considerations were a major factor. I take it that by "the financial considerations" he meant what it would cost to construct them. If it was clear—it might well be—that barrage schemes were economically attractive, I hope that the financial arguments would not override the environmental arguments on the impact of those schemes on the eco-systems.

We have talked about the Mersey and the Severn, but in my part of the country there is much interest among the business community in a Humber tidal barrage. The same arguments about the environmental consequences for the Humber apply to that. We must remember that those estuaries are of not only national but international significance with regard to the wildlife that uses them, particularly in the winter months. For example, on the Mersey estuary, Stanlow point is one of the most important wintering areas for pintail in the whole of Europe. The Mersey, the Severn and the Humber contain a large proportion of most of Europe's wintering wading birds on the mud flats. Any scheme that would upset the delicate balance of those mud flats that provide a safe sanctuary for wildlife—

Mr. Michael Spicer

Perhaps I can assure the hon. Gentleman on the important point that he is making about whether environmental factors will be overridden. The answer is that they will not. From my study of environmental matters I know that, for instance, on the Severn, there is a great deal of controversy among environmentalists. It is a difficult situation. Some argue that on the vast expanses of mud flats on the Severn there is not sufficient bird life. It is argued that, by having the barrage, one might still the water and increase the marine life and bird life. I am not saying that one would accept that argument, but sometimes the environmental matters are more complex than even the environmentalists accept.

Mr. Morley

I accept that there has been argument about the environmental consequences, but that is all the more reason why there should be careful consideration before the scheme gets off the ground. In the past, power station schemes, including nuclear power stations, have begun and the environmental consequences have been discovered after the enormous investment has been made. We do not want that to happen with such major schemes as barrages. I accept that they have their attractions. I am not necessarily saying that we should oppose barrages in principle, but we should look carefully at the consequences.

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his point is underlined by the last barrage scheme built in this country? In real terms, it ended up costing nearly twice as much and taking nearly twice as long to construct than was estimated at the time it was agreed by the Government.

Mr. Morley

That is true. It may be argued that technology and barrage construction methods have advanced since then. I do not necessarily rule out the argument. As the hon. Gentleman implied, there is a counter argument that barrages can be a good thing for wildlife. I am not convinced by some of the arguments. Mud flats are important for wintering waders. They need to be covered and uncovered at regular intervals. The prototype designs that have been put forward mean that water levels cover many mud flats and, therefore, deny important wintering areas for wildlife during winter months. We must bear in mind that we are talking about not only our own country but the whole of Europe.

There is also the technical aspect. The Minister mentioned complicated arguments. During dredging for the Manchester ship canal at the mouth of the Mersey, industrial effluent sediments were disturbed and poisoned a great many waders, including the dunlin. We must bear that factor in mind when considering barrier construction.

It has been argued that wave energy can entail disadvantages, but there can also be spin-off benefits. The Minister is probably aware of erosion problems on the east coast of Britain, particularly the Holderness coast. To a certain extent, wave machines can have the dual function of stopping coastline erosion. The arguments are certainly worthy of research.

There has not been sufficient investment in research. I should like the Minister, if he has figures available to him, to compare the percentage of GDP that we put into such research with the amount spent by other major Western industrial nations. Some of our best wave research scientists have been attracted by the Norwegian Government. Unlike our Government, the Norwegian Government have put a great deal in resources into research. Does that mean that we are to lose the lead that we had because another country is far-sighted enough to invest money and to give researchers the necessary resources? The long-term implications are for the benefit of our country. Even though at this stage the schemes are more costly, in the long term we shall have not only cheaper forms of energy but considerable export potential.

1.17 pm
Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

I am grateful for being called, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall try to reciprocate by keeping my remarks brief and by deferring to the greater expertise that has been shown by many hon. Members. Once again, the debate has shown how the House of Commons comes into its own in terms of the thoughtfulness and intellectual level of debate on Fridays, and this subject is appropriate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on initiating the debate and thank the Government for deciding that this is a vital subject to debate. As an interested, enthusiastic amateur—unlike many of my colleagues and many Opposition hon. Members—I commend the various thoughts that have been expressed, which, despite the difficulties and problems, support the continuation and development of alternative and renewable forms of energy.

I am aware that the Department of Energy is doing a great deal. I commend the efforts of my hon. Friend the Minister and thank him for what he has done so far and what he undoubtedly plans to do in the future. Without sounding too critical, it is right to come to the sad conclusion that we are spending insufficient money on such projects, despite the problems and the fact that many will go into the sand—sometimes literally—and not come to anything.

I would not quarrel with the list of items that the Minister has said must he abandoned for obvious reasons, but, compared with other countries, we are spending inadequate amounts. That is a great pity, but, wearing my hat as a member of the EEC Select Committee, may I say that if more cannot be done by one country on its own—the Treasury always agonises about committing funds to speculative projects that may come to nothing, but the Department of Energy is a weaker Department that is trying to stand up to the Treasury for which I commend it—the logic must surely be that we will have to get together with our European partners to do more of these projects together. I shall not go into them now, but there is a long list of projects that could be considered in the EEC. All too infrequently in the Select Committee do we see either collaboration or co-operation projects, or indeed significant projects, other than half a dozen rather spectacular examples, one of them being the jet fusion project in Culham, in respect of which the Community could do so much more to reassure national treasuries, where the understandably dry-as-dust officials are worried about committing money nationally. We do not seem to demonstrate the will to do this, which is a great pity.

Much could be done together, but the EEC energy budget is inadequate, because once again the will of leading member states, not small countries, to commit more money to an EEC energy budget of sufficient size is woefully absent. I hope that that will change in the future, and that we will see not only co-operation on a European basis but with our United States friends in their Department of Energy and also with regard to the fascinating ideas that are coming out of Japan—a country that is beset by a shortage of raw materials and energy resources, especially for use in transportation. All these matters surely call for much more co-operation, not just high-fallutin seminars of the International Energy Agency.

I hope that I shall not embarrass my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) if I pay tribute to him. He has been relentless in his determination not to give up on these important matters. He has conducted a personal campaign that has been joined by many other people and it has earned him plaudits in the House. Perhaps he will forgive me for saying that many of the points that he made are already well known, but none the less they are valid. He concentrated on municipal and industrial waste and he mentioned hot water usage from existing installations.

I thought how right he was and reflected on the good work that has been done by the press in recent months. It is seemingly rather a marginal subject and people tend to switch off about it partly because of its technicalities and complexities. For instance, on 21 September The Independent said: The Government's decision to sell off the electricity industry has created a chance to end the most absurd waste of energy in Britain today. The energy is in the vast amount of surplus heat that coal and nuclear power stations produce. Only a fundamental change in the way we produce electricity will make it economic to put this waste heat to work. Two-thirds of all the energy that goes into thermal power stations disappears. This does not mean that the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB), which produces all of —our electricity— is deliberately profligate. Engineers simply have no economic way of using the vast amounts of low-grade heat' which remain in water emerging from steam condensers. The energy that escapes into rivers, the sea and up chimneys is enough to heat every home in Britain. A growing body of opinion believes that this waste, in a country where people die of cold, is totally absurd. The article continues in that vein, and the telling argument is that we must at long last reverse this almost idiotic policy and try to do something about it.

Mr. Rost

I hesitate to contradict or dispute The Independent's correspondent, but engineers have devised a way of recycling low-grade heat. In Sweden they have large-scale heat pumps attached to power stations that upgrade the low-grade heat and distribute it to homes as hot water. There is no reason why we should not do the same.

Mr. Dykes

I was seeking not to try the patience of the House, but the next sentence of the article stated: Scandinavian authorities, which take heat seriously, pipe surplus hot water into homes and offices. This practice, called community heating from combined heat and power … provides 40 per cent. of Denmark's domestic heat and 25 per cent. of Sweden's. If both the will and resources were available, the combined package of what could be done, together with the benefits to conservation, would, at long last, put this country in a significantly better position.

I want to refer to electicity privatisation, but not in any tangential way. Understandably, there is strong feeling among Conservative Members that privatisation will open the way for the development of other energy sources. Although alternative and renewable sources of energy are not central to the privatisation issue, either politically or economically, they will have a beneficial effect. I am aware that my hon. Friend the Minister is, together with the Secretary of State, responsible for the privatisation of electricity. In view of the complexity of the subject and the need carefully to examine it with a completely open mind —a welcome characteristic of the Department of Energy —the process may take a long time, but we really must get it right.

I have no wish to detract from previous privatizations — indeed, I am an enthusiastic supporter of them because, on balance, they will considerably benefit British society if properly managed and controlled. However, there may be political problems, because the privatisation programme is now a long way down its road. The electricity industry was not on the original list, although I accept that it was included in our last manifesto. It is a huge entity, against which even the British Gas Corporation, with its gigantic issue of £7 billion, pales into insignificance. The whole of the electricity industry — with its three segments of generation, transmission and distribution and with all the little details in between—could have a value of between £20 billion and £40 billion. If it were practical to privatise certain elements of the electricity industry, I would support that. Indeed, the final outcome might be that only certain elements are privatised.

I think that, especially on the Conservative side of the political debate, there would be most enthusiasm for saying that, if privatisation was limited, generation should be the first priority. However, I am inclined to take the contrary view and say that, subject to the future arrangements for generation, there are arguments—even on the Conservative side of the political spectrum—that generation could remain in the public sector and be broken into different entities. I am simply throwing out that suggestion as a putative, theoretical argument. The priority of a number of people might be the privatisation of distribution, especially the final part when the electricity industry comes into direct contact with the consumer—both as companies and individuals—through a whole host of showrooms and shops.

The British Gas Corporation was kept as one monolithic entity, for good or ill, and, in retrospect, that was the right decision. However, the electricity industry is much larger and more complex and there is an argument that it needs special treatment. There is not time to develop that argument today as it would not be strictly relevant to the debate and would tax the patience of the House. However, I thought the matter worth mentioning.

Earlier in the debate the Opposition suggested that the Department of Energy should be wound up. What a terrible thought. I should like it to be expanded in both its prowess and abilities. It is an excellent Department of Government and I am glad that there is a new team carrying out its various policies.

I should like to make a brief reference to a hugely complex subject. Therefore, I apologise for my brevity, but I am sure that other hon. Members will not mind. Unlike some of the assertions that have been made, I am enthusiastic about the Severn barrage. However, I appreciate that because it is so complicated it is easy to say that that agonising decision may go the wrong way. Like other hon. Members, I appreciated the Minister's reference to the need to make that decision fairly soon, to allay the uncertainty. I think that he said "over the next year or two," as the time period. In view of the uncertainties and the problems, that should be the time limit. I do not share the pessimism about its effects on the environment. It is difficult to guesstimate or assert anything and because, by definition, we are talking about something in the future, no one can prove anything. However, I think that the environment will benefit in net terms if sufficient years are allowed to elapse.

I was struck by an article by Richard Rolfe in the Financial Times on 4 April — once again the quality press has done a good job in its articles on the subject — which concluded: The passions aroused, and the importance of the issues involved, make it centain that the final decision on the Severn and Mersey schemes will be taken not a million miles from the cabinet room in 10 Downing Street. If barrages get the thumbs down, the government of the day will be accused of ignoring the potential for benign energy, job creation, regional development and work for the construction industry. On the other hand, if it gives the go-ahead it will be charged with destroying a vital link in the world's chain of wetlands, decimating bird species, ratting on international obligations, and trampling all over its own conservation policy. Pressure for a compromise solution"— I presume that that means accepting the Mersey scheme and not the Severn barrage— will be intense; but it is hard to see, at the moment, what it might be. I hope that despite those problems and agonies the Government will decide to go ahead with the Severn barrage which would be of enormous economic benefit to the area. It will take a long time to complete, although the 20-year estimate was a bit pessimistic, and will depend on the input of technology and construction technology. However, even if in the end it provided 6, 7 or 10 per cent. of our energy use requirements, it would be worth while. The future must be a blend of new technologies, the new exploration of renewables, our existing schemes and the development of the nuclear energy industry.

I agree with what my hon. Friend said about Electricity de France producing electricity at the right price. The right way forward must be for all those things to come together, because there is no simple magical system that is unique and special and, therefore, must be the only way. These things will need more political will and commitment, and psychological commitment, from our entire population. Although it is a reality, it may be more difficult for other Government Departments to accept the actual physical investment of the right amount of money in the quality schemes to get the right solutions for the future.

1.33 pm
Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

It will not surprise you, Madam Deputy Speaker, or the House if, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, West, I concentrate my remarks on the Severn tidal barrage project. Nor will it surprise you that another reason for doing so is that I was a member of the Department of Energy's Severn barrage committee, which investigated the topic in depth from 1978 to 1980. Twenty years ago I used to live in a caravan on the banks of the Severn estuary at Lavernock Point The colossal reserves of energy that exist there used to impress me, as they would anybody else who saw the Severn estuary every day. The Central Electricity Generating Board has been unable to see that.

One of the facts elicited by the committee investigating the Severn barrage was that some 5 cu. km. of water rush up and down the estuary twice a day—or almost twice a day, as it is a 25-hour rather than a 24-hour cycle. That is a colossal, almost unimaginable amount of water and its significance for this country in terms of energy could be enormous. To the CEGB, however, a large volume of water rushing up and down an estuary simply suggests cooling water for ordinary thermal power stations rather than a source of energy in itself.

As many hon. Members have pointed out, we realised how complex and massive a step it would be to capture that energy by means of a barrier. There might also be ecological consequences going beyond this country due to the overwintering of wading birds and the effects on fish life. Two of the finest game-fishing rivers— the Wye and the Severn—flow into the estuary and if salmon or sea trout could not penetrate the barrier to reach their breeding grounds there would be serious consequences for a valuable sport.

One might go further. I am told that any interference with a tidal regime ultimately interferes with the rotation of the earth. I am happy to assure the House, however, that a Severn barrage would not prevent that rotation altogether. Indeed, as the effect is in proportion to the amount of water impounded behind the barrier compared with the total amount on the earth which, as we know, is two thirds ocean and one third land, the effect would probably be unnoticeable. It might be nice to organise sufficient interference to ensure that debates of this kind did not occur on a Friday, but that is probably beyond the wit even of our finest engineers.

To deal briefly with the ecological problems, which may prove insoluble, the Severn estuary includes a very large area of wetland. The density of bird life is not especially notable, but the colossal areas of wetlands exposed twice a day offer winter feeding grounds for a very large number of wading birds. Two of the best known areas of real consequence to the ornithological world are upstream, around Slimbridge, home of the famous Wildfowl Trust, which would not be greatly affected, and Bridgwater bay, which would be outside the barrage and affected to some extent by a different tidal situation.

Between the Severn bridge and the likeliest line of a barrage, on the Cardiff to western line, lie large wetlands, not especially rich in feeding grounds, although I recognise their importance and defer to the ornithological knowledge of my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), who is not present in the Chamber, and his concern about the fulfilment of Britain's international obligation under the Ramsar convention to offer facilities for wading birds arriving from their summer breeding grounds in Siberia. There are other reasons, too, for satisfying the conservation interests before we take the ultimate step of committing ourselves to a scheme such as this.

As I said, the Central Electricity Generating Board has resolutely refused to see the Severn as an energy resource but has concentrated on it as a cooling water resource. Those hon. Members who do not live in my area or represent constituencies in it probably do not realise just how much of a cooling water resource for the CEGB the Severn estuary has become. It already has four nuclear power stations and, if present policies continue, there is a likelihood of a fifth being built. Berkeley, Oldbury, Hinkley A and Hinkley B have two nuclear reactors each, which makes eight nuclear reactors in all. No other estuary anywhere in the world has eight nuclear reactors built on it.

The Government have given every indication that they will soon approve a CEGB application for Hinkley Point C—a 1,320 MW station on the model already approved for Sizewell. We shall then have 10 nuclear reactors, with a total installed capacity of over 4,000 MW, on the banks of the Severn and lower down the estuary. The Severn estuary will be used — I suppose that this is not too crude a description — as the largest nuclear flush lavatory in the world. That is an inappropriate use of an energy resource. It is an extremely wasteful method of utilising the Severn, whose tidal action—if it could be captured —is an energy resource in itself.

I was pleased when the Minister said that he hoped to be able to give a decision before very long on whether to approve the Severn tidal power group's scheme. I think that he said that that decision would be made in a year or so. I hope that those words do not contain the seeds of further wavering.

In one of the excellent maiden speeches that we have heard today the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss) said that he understood that the Severn barrage, as currently proposed by the Severn tidal power group, would take 20 years to construct. I intervene retrospectively— to abide by the rules of the House regarding maiden speeches—to say that I think he is wrong. The figures in the latest report of the Severn tidal power group to be deposited in the Library show that the barrage will take nine years from the start of construction to completion and that it will be seven years before the first power is generated. The barrage would therefore become a generator of useful revenue from electricity much sooner than the hon. Gentleman believes.

The hon. Gentleman also said that the Mersey scheme was more desirable simply because it was smaller. I am not sure that that is especially significant. It is true that the Severn estuary is rather daunting. The waters rushing under the Severn bridge, 30 miles upstream, look daunting, and the thought of capturing the energy in the seven miles between Lavernock Point, where I used to have my caravan, and Brean Down in Weston is daunting indeed. However, it is by no means impossible. The barrage would be a seven-mile crossing or, in the zigzag formation recommended by the electrical engineers, a 10-mile crossing designed to accommodate 192 turbines. However, although it would be a long crossing, and the massive project would probably cost £7 billion at today's prices — it is almost four years since the cost was estimated at £5.5 billion—a proven technology would be used. There is nothing new in the Severn barrage technology. It will simply be a hydro scheme dropped into place in the waters of the Severn. It can reliably be assumed to work to the group's design and to produce the costs and benefits which it has estimated.

The time has come to cease to regard renewable resources, such as the Severn tidal power group's scheme, and the Severn barrage's energy potential as a subject for glossy pamphlets. The review pamphlet is welcome, but it tends to make the Opposition think that the Government's attitude towards alternative energy sources and renewable energy sources is like their contribution to the game of Trivial Pursuit. It is all very pretty. It produces nice ministerial visits. I welcome the ministerial visit two months ago to the Severn barrage when the Linder-Secretary of State took the hovercraft across the Severn and the mud flats. I did that 10 years ago. The time has come to cease wavering and to reach decisions.

The Government are caught in a cleft stick with the electricity industry because of their obsession with privatisation. They want nuclear power stations — Sizewell C and Hinkley Point—to be built, but they also want to privatise the electricity supply industry. They can probably have one of those developments, but not both. There is no record of a private electricity utility building a nuclear power station. It is nine years since any private electricity utility in the world has built a nuclear power station. Private electricity utilities do not go in for nuclear power because they cannot get the power stations insured, or so I understand. If the Minister has different views, I should be glad to hear them.

The alternative to Hinkley Point and Sizewell C is the Severn barrage scheme. That would have to be built by the public sector. I hope that the Minister will soon announce a decision which will mean a commitment to that scheme, which will produce jobs and clean, renewable and benign power. That will be far more welcome in south Wales than the Hinkley Point scheme.

1.47 pm
Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)

I am grateful for the opportunity to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), not least because I wish to speak about the same subject as he did, although that will be the extent to which I follow his remarks. I shall draw the opposite conclusion about the desirability of the Severn barrage.

It has been a privilege to listen to the three maiden speeches today, all of which had great merit. I especially praise my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss) for the generosity he showed his predecessor and his depth of thought on the benefits of so-called benign energy and its effects in his constituency. My studies on the Severn barrage, which, if I may be forgiven a small plug, will lead to the publication of a pamphlet within the next couple of months, were undertaken initially from the point of view of the effect on my constituency but they have led me to much wider conclusions about the damage of which the barrage is capable.

It has been mentioned several times in this debate that the principal worries about the barrage concern its effect on the environment. I want to concentrate not on the environment of birds, trees, flowers and fish but on the environment of people.

The Severn barrage has been compared to a large, inefficient, activated sewage treatment plant. It operates by aeration and agitation by wind and tidal coverage, and variation of that agitation from violent on stormy days and spring tides to relatively mild on neap tides and during calm weather. When the waters of the Severn estuary are quiescent, large pools of liquid mud with a high affinity for pollutants settle in the estuary.

One effect of the interposition of a barrage in the estuary will be greatly to increase the frequency and depth of those pools of liquid mud. That in itself may not be too much of a worry, but the pools have an affinity for pollutants, and if they remain anaerobic for 14 days or more because of the process of stratification— they will undoubtedly do so once the tidal range of the Severn is cut off— large amounts of toxic, evil-smelling gases such as hydrogen sulphide, methane and other reduced sulphur compounds will begin to be emitted. Imagine the extension of that process over a period of years, and having to live anywhere along the shores of the Severn estuary with the build-up of these vast smells which are an inevitable risk when the tide is cut off in an area that has been subject to one of the greatest tidal ranges in the world.

For many years, the topic of conversation in my constituency has been the long, low and constant noise known as the Avonmouth hum, which no one can explain. In future years, if the barrage is built, conversation will no longer be about the hum but about the Severn-side stink.

The basic research being done on the barrage now will largely depend on the computer models of the tidal ranges and conditions in the Severn estuary. My hon. Friend the Minister will know from one of his previous incarnations that one factor of computer modelling is the acronym GIGO— garbage in, garbage out. So the accuracy of the researches into the future effects of the barrage will depend on the accuracy of the surveys that are fed into the computer.

I wonder whether my hon. Friend is worried, as I am, about the age of some of the surveys that are the only ones available from the Ministry of Defence for feeding into the computer. I have a map that shows that, for substantial parts of the Severn estuary, the latest available bathymetric surveys were produced in the years between 1878 and 1913. They may soon be approaching their 100th anniversary. Conditions on the bed of the river will undoubtedly have changed in that time, so unless we can quickly obtain more up-to-date bathymetric surveys there is a strong risk that the expensive and detailed research that is going on now will be largely negated by having been based on the wrong premises.

I turn now from the effects on the environment to the effects on jobs of building the proposed barrage. We have heard much today from hon. Members and from the Severn tidal power group about the jobs that will be created by the Severn tidal barrage. However, they have not mentioned the jobs that will be destroyed by the barrage. There is a great deal of doubt about whether the ports of the Severn estuary will still be able to operate once the barrage is in place. More important, those industries which are wholly or partly dependent on the port will, likewise, be affected by the barrage.

We hear of the jobs that might be created in the long term. I refer not to the jobs created directly by the barrage because they will he relatively small in number, but to those jobs created by the vast tourist and leisure industries that will grow from nothing in the Severn estuary once the barrage is built. We hear less about the jobs at risk. In my area alone job losses are variously estimated at between 5,000 and 38,000. I think that the 38,000 estimate is too high and that the chemical, oil and other industries on Severnside will survive, albeit at a reduced operational level. The 38,000 estimate comes from the local branch of the Transport and General Workers Union.

Any visionary project such as the Severn barrage goes through several stages. First, it is justified in terms of the jobs that it will create directly. When that begins to look shoddy the justification turns to the spin-off effects. I remember what happened with the proposed London airport at Maplin sands. It was initially said that it would be a job creator, but when the figures for jobs were questioned the arguments for Maplin turned to the spin-off effect which, it was said, would vastly outnumber the direct effects of the airport. We are seeing an identical process in relation to the Severn barrage. As the case for the barrage looks more and more shoddy the economic case for it turns increasingly on the industries of the future that might be generated if the barrage is allowed to go ahead.

One argument concerns whether renewable energy generation is safer than existing methods. I am indebted to Professor Sir Herman Bondi who, in a recent speech to the parliamentary group for energy studies, made the valid point that we are proposing, with the Severn barrage, the most dangerous technology of all. The technology of dams has created the most spectacular and most damaging accidents.

We are talking not of a technology relating to the dim and distant past. It is not just the technology of the Third world. The technology for the big dam proposed for the Severn estuary can be compared to the technology used at Carsington reservoir where embankment slippage only three years ago caused £12 million worth of damage. It can be compared to Megget dam in Scotland which suffered substantial damage to the protective metal lining of the underwater installations. It can be compared to the Sargozan clam in Soviet Tadzikistan which collapsed under mud flow pressure earlier this year.

Let us consider the density of population around the dam proposed for the Severn estuary. We cannot subject the population — the downstream population in particular — to such dangers unless there is an overwhelming environmental and economic case for the barrage. I hope to have a future opportunity to explore further why the case for the Severn barrage does not exist.

1.59 pm
Mrs. Rosie Barnes (Greenwich)

First, I should like to add my congratulations on the three excellent contributions from the maiden speakers in what I think is one of the most informative and constructive debates that it has been my privilege to hear in my few months in the House.

As a country we are well provided with renewable energy sources and that has been stressed this morning. We have one of the most favourable wind regimes in the world. We have a number of tidal estuaries— the subject of considerable discussion today — suitable for tidal power development, large geothermal potential, and much more besides. What has provoked me to be so keen to make a contribution to this debate is that we are lagging behind so many of our international competitors in the development and use of renewable energy sources. That is something that I should like to see rectified.

I welcome the fact that this debate has brought renewable energy into the mainstream of debate. I believe that, in the past, there was a tendency to regard such energy sources as a slightly eccentric fringe interest and not to give them the credibility that they rightly deserve. Official spokespeople have frequently failed to inform the British people of the potential that we have in renewable energy. Many people believe that we have to look to the traditional resources and that there are no others to which this country can turn in the future, but if we look at what is happening elsewhere in the world it is clear that that is not the case.

Hydro-electricity currently supplies a quarter of the world's electricity. Biomass in the form of wood pulp, crop residues and dung supplies 14 per cent. of the world's total energy consumption— three times the amount provided by nuclear power. About a fifth of the energy needed for space heating in Britain is already supplied directly by the sun as a result of passive gain through walls and windows. What options are available and what should we be considering today to ensure the greater use of renewable energy sources?

Solar power has already been discussed at some length. In spite of comments that solar power is not entirely feasible in this country because of our relative lack of sun, experience abroad has shown that, when combined with high insulation and heat storage, solar collectors can be an efficient means of providing space and water heating. Widely reported experience of solar homes in this country has shown that energy bills can be reduced by as much as twothirds.

The technical problems of using the sun for space and water heating have been largely resolved. What is now needed is assistance in achieving their rapid development and overcoming the institutional barriers to their widespread use. Later I shall discuss in more detail some of the institutions that are extremely powerful in directing thoughts and energy against alternative energy sources, especially renewable energy sources.

We have discussed wind regimes, hot rocks and a variety of alternative sources of renewable energy. Some speeches, including that of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams), gave me new information and I was vey pleased to be informed of so many possibilities, to which we are not giving the credibility they deserve. The energy content of the domestic and industrial waste that we currently throw away amounts to 10 per cent. of our primary energy use. Both direct combustion and biological digestion could make a substantial proportion of' that energy available for use at an economic cost. I believe that we have covered the tidal barriers in considerable detail, and we have also touched upon wave power.

I wish to pinpoint some other reasons for supporting the greater development of renewable energy resources. The first is the scope for developing new export markets for British technology. Although we make some limited exports in this area, most of the energy technology that we have exported has concentrated on large-scale, non-renewable energy sources which, in many instances, are suitable for the energy requirements of most countries. We should shift our attention to developing smaller-scale renewable technology which we could export to a much wider range of countries, in their interest and in ours. An important additional point is that such technology is well suited to our traditional skills and could be a valuable source of employment.

Developing renewable sources of energy would give us a good opportunity to increase the security of our energy supply. I endorse what has already been said, that the wider our variety of energy sources, the greater our security of supply and the better the nation will be served. In the past we have been ill-served by relying on one or two major sources of energy.

Another advantage of renewables is the opportunity that they give us to reduce the environmental impact of energy use. I accept that renewables are not without their environmental consequences and that we should always take them seriously into account, but we know what has happened with our coal-fired power stations, and although I welcome the Government's initiatives in recent months to reduce the problems, I believe that they came very late and not before considerable damage had been caused.

We know about the clear advantages of developing renewable energy sources. As with any emerging industry, Government support is essential, but the response of this and previous Governments has been less than fully committed. I hope that the debate will signal greater commitment in the future. The amount of money provided for research and development into other sources of energy is not yet good enough.

I conclude by mentioning the subject that may be uppermost in the mind of the Secretary of State for Energy —the privatisation of the electricity industry. It is no exaggeration to say that the hostility of the Central Electricity Generating Board to innovation played a key role in the lack of resources for renewables. The CEGB has suppressed innovative technology in pursuit of its corporate goals. I urge the Secretary of State to consider ways in which that hostility can be removed. We do not want the electricity supply industry changed from a public monopoly into a private monopoly. We want fair competition in energy generation.

2.8 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

The Minister asked the House whether we should have a substantive document on this issue in the new year. Certainly we should, if only to tackle the question of the soft option—which is not real —and the wishful thinking involved in supposing that renewable energy can be a substitute for nuclear power stations or for coal-fired power stations, which may create problems of acid rain.

The question about windmills is whether they are thermally efficient. Perhaps the Minister will write to me about the thermal efficiency of the windmill at Burgar hill in the Orkneys, which has been built by the Department of Energy. I echo the comment that it is in the interests of Taylor Woodrow, GEC and British Aerospace that something should be done to help the market abroad as well as the home market, and I endorse what the former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), said about the importance of the home market to markets abroad and about water power rating.

I used to be an enthusiast for barrages. My hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) and for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) made excellent speeches. All that I say to the Government is: for heaven's sake be careful about the ecology and look to Egypt, where the results of the Aswan dam on the Nile delta have turned out to be a catastrophe.

The Minister asked us for our priorities. In shorthand, one of mine is methane from refuse and the way in which it can help industry. Can he write to me about ACORN and the mechanism for scrapping projects? I agree that deep sea wave power, active solar and geothermal aquifers probably will not give a great yield or be very successful, but we must understand that when a project is brought to an end it can break the hearts of the scientists, who may have been working on it for years. That is cruel, and it is a difficult thing to do. The scientists are entitled to receive a good reason why their project should be scrapped and at least be able to defend themselves before any final decisions are taken. I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) said about Westfield in Fife.

One of the most important matters that the Minister's Department must consider is the problem of transmission. That was explained in a productive interview that my ASTMS hon. Friends the Members for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle), for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) and for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) and I had with the Secretary of State on Tuesday. I thank the Secretary of State for giving us an hour of his time.

There are two important areas for priority finance. First, there is high temperature superconductivity. The Government should look at what Georg Bednorz and Alex Muller did for their Nobel prize, which was justified. In the New Scientist, a description by Michael Kenward states: This year's physics prize marks a continuation of the trend whereby prizes come from large laboratories, many of them run by companies that see it as an essential part of their R&D to be active at the frontiers of science. Even in the United States, large corporations, concerned about the relative demise of academic institutions, have built up large research laboratories where scientists have access to facilities that are far more modern and expensive than those available in academia. That is a problem for our work on high temperature superconductivity, but it is the top priority.

Something must be done about research on the ozone hole and the depletion of the ozone layer. It was first observed by the British Antarctic Survey team. It raised serious problems of ultraviolet radiation — not only sunburn and skin cancer, but many other matters. The Department of the Environment must inquire into the release of chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals used in aerosols and refrigeration. The human race is in danger from the increase in the levels of chlorine monoxide in the lower stratosphere. I ask for a letter about the stratospheric ozone review group, which is considering the matter, and the Montreal protocol. I cannot emphasise enough that the top priority for some of us is work on the ozone hole.

2.14 pm
Mr. Eadie

By leave of the House, I shall speak again.

It is with much pleasure that I congratulate my two hon. Friends the Members for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) and for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams), and the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss), on their maiden speeches.

As the House knows, my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley is a miner. He is a worthwhile addition to the miners' parliamentary group. He demonstrated by his maiden speech that, with his knowledge through having worked in the industry, and because he has served on a local authority, he will make a useful contribution to the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen has been mentioned in the debate. He was generous to his predecessor and to one of his political opponents. That is a hallmark of stature, which the House of Commons will appreciate. My hon. Friend spoke with authority. He carefully thought out what he wanted to say. I am sure that we shall hear more from my hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East told us that there was concern about the time that had elapsed before he decided to make his maiden speech. We listened to what he had to say. He obviously did a bit of work on his speech. He could probably say to his critics —we would endorse anything that he said in this regard—that his wind is in very good nick indeed. I am certain that we shall often hear from him.

The Minister was anxious that the debate should be successful. I am sure that the House joins me in saying that it has been a good debate. It was the Minister's wish to open an earnest and constructive debate on the subject of renewable sources of energy, and he has succeeded. He will certainly face some problems in his reply. Questions have been put to him about visible pollution, invisible pollution and security of supply. On reflection, perhaps I should have advanced arguments on security of supply, as it was mentioned in the debate.

Pricing was mentioned. I did not try to bring antinuclear arguments into the debate. I have personal views about the matter. My worry is that, at this stage of its development, nuclear power is an unforgiving technology. That aside, I tried to make a point about the costing of nuclear power, whether one is in favour of it or against it. We have had demonstrations and information, particularly from Lord Marshall, who, incidentally, was my chief scientist. To some extent, he widened the argument.

If we are to discuss renewable sources of energy, there is a case for saying that we have not had our fair share of the allocation of resources for the development of renewable sources of energy. I do not wish to argue whether such renewable sources are satisfactory; my time is short. One cannot depend on windmills if the day is not windy. One cannot depend on waste power if there is no waste. Some day we may invent ways in which to store electricity. They say that the possible takes time, and the impossible take more time. If we were to invent ways in which to store electricity, we would open many avenues.

I congratulate the Minister on initiating the debate. We shall hear with interest what he has to say. The debate has been a success.

2.18 pm
Mr. Michael Spicer

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) said that the House of Commons often comes into its own on Fridays. I share that view. I thank the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) for what he said. There has been such a wealth of detailed knowledge and such a depth of discussion in the debate that, in 10 minutes, it is extremely difficult to answer all the questions that have been put to me. If I do not answer them all, I shall write to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and other hon. Members. It is not that I do not have the answers, as I have been showered with answers from my wonderful officials in the Box. They were delighted with what was said about increasing their empire. I saw them smiling when an hon. Member mentioned that there should be a division to deal specifically with renewable energy. I was so showered that at one point I considered setting up a waste combustion plant on the Floor of the House. I will not do that because I will use the information to answer hon. Members' questions.

I add my congratulations to the three hon. Members who have made maiden speeches. The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) made a powerful contribution. Sadly, he was unable to say anything nice about his predecessor, who was a lively Member of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss) said some nice things about Sir Clement Freud, who again was a lively Member of the House. As the hon. Member for Midlothian said, my hon. Friend left it quite late to make his maiden speech and some people have been questioning him about the reason for that. However, it was a good example of why one should make one's maiden speech in one's own time rather than under the duress from one's association or constituents. My hon. Friend made an extremely witty and well-informed speech and I am sure that we will hear many such speeches from him in the future.

The same comments apply to the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams), who, without notes, made a superlative speech and lived up to our expectations of coherence, fluency and knowledge from Members in the Principality. We look forward to many contributions from him in the future, although perhaps not late at night when we may want him to sit down. We certainly enjoyed what he had to say on this occasion.

There has been a considerable measure of agreement that renewable sources of energy should form part of a coherent, variable and secure pattern of energy sources. If there has been any argument—not necessarily across the Floor of the House, but between hon. Members—it has been between those who believe that renewable energy sources are so important that they should be encouraged at almost any expense—certainly encouraged in a way that discriminates in their favour — and those who believe they should compete fairly against other forms of energy. Many hon. Members have said that other countries have spent a great deal more than us on renewable energy sources. There is some evidence to support that view, but other countries—perhaps because they do not have indigenous sources of fuel—have spent large sums of money on very expensive field testing.

It is probably fair to say that some countries regret spending so much at an early stage of the development of these technologies and have since looked at our methods. Unusually in the British context, we have spent a lot of time and money researching the subject to determine whether there were particular profitable lines of development. As a result, certain types of renewable energy sources have proved worth pursuing seriously. I agree with those hon. Members who said that there are some large projects on which we must start to take a firm stance. The counter argument is that we must ensure that renewable energy sources are able to compete fairly in the market.

The hon. Member for Midlothian referred to papers about to go before the Council of Ministers. We should not try to arrange European directives that would virtually compel the development of renewable energy sources, or would so discriminate in favour of them that. by definition, we would be discriminating against other sources. We must create market conditions that allow the fair and competitive development of renewable sources.

A number of speeches have followed that line, including those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) and my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost). They both, in different ways, said that it was important not to create barriers to the development of other sources of energy. and I could not agree more. Whether combined heating and power, hydro-electricity or other suggested sources, it is important that there should be no barriers to their development. Hon. Members have cited several possible barriers from rating through to the way that the bulk supply tariff currently operates. If the 1983 Act is not working effectively in encouraging new forms and new suppliers of energy, when we consider the structure of the industry in the context of privatisation we will certainly bear that very much in mind. We shall be considering the future structure of generation and the future ownership and structure of the grid and distribution and, in that context, my hon. Friends were right to question the sponsoring of the development of renewable sources of energy. Many sources, because they have been so thoroughly researched, have a good market ahead of them. Indeed, it was remiss of me during my opening remarks not to have mentioned that hydro-electricity and combined heat and power both have a good future. Indeed, we have spent considerable sums of taxpayers' money supporting combined heat and power feasibility studies throughout the country.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) mentioned inshore wave energy, and the hon. Member for Midlothian questioned whether we were doing enough in that area and suggested that we had given our technology to the Norwegians. In fact, we have supported research, especially at the University of Belfast, into inshore wave technology. At the island of Islay we are running an inshore wave project which is technologically well in advance of much of what is happening in Norway and, indeed, is solving some of the problems being encountered by the Norwegians.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) made an interesting contribution and we would be glad to receive any further information that he has about silting. However, the original study of the Severn tidal power group found that silting at the English-Stones site was unacceptable. That is one reason why it suggested the Cardiff-Weston barrage site. However, we will certainly consider any further information that my hon. Friend might put to us. We are open-minded about that as we are on environmental factors, such as were raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) and others. Such factors will be extremely important, which is one reason why, a month or so ago, I announced that we would engage in detailed further studies of the environmental effects, especially on bird and marine life. I advise the hon. Member for Cardiff, West that we cannot rush completely headstrong into such things. I agree with him, however, that we need to come to some conclusions.

Finally, we shall produce a paper on our strategy for the House to consider, because I realise that that is the wish of the House.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.