HC Deb 27 January 1993 vol 217 cc1029-31
6. Mr. Davidson

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the current level of sulphur dioxide emissions in the United Kingdom; and what the level was two years ago.

The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. David Maclean)

In 1990, the latest year for which the information is available, total United Kingdom emissions of sulphur dioxide were 3.77 million tonnes. Two years before, in 1988, the figure was 3.81 million tonnes.

Mr. Davidson

Does the Minister agree that while any move downwards is to be welcomed, that is not sufficient, given that German industry has installed desulphurisation plant in all its power stations, yet the United Kingdom has not? Will he confirm whether it is Government policy to move to desulphurisation by importing more low-sulphur coal from abroad to replace good British coal mined by British miners? Will he confirm that it is his intention to reduce the sulphur emissions of British manufacturing industry by continuing the Government's programme of destroying that industry?

Mr. Maclean

No, I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. Since 1970, our SO2, emissions have decreased by 40 per cent. and we have signed up to a further 60 per cent. reduction by the year 2003. The figures that I have just revealed show that we are well on target to meeting those reductions. All coal is high in sulphurs, but a mix of various energy sources will continue to be available to generators. I assure the House that we can adapt our plans and solutions to meet our targets, even if a slightly different mix of fuels is used.

Mr. Dickens

Does my hon. Friend agree that Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and EC directives have added a lot to the demise of the United Kingdom coal industry, because gas-fired power stations and nuclear power stations do not emit sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere? The environmentalists cannot have it both ways—one either has a clean atmosphere or not.

Mr. Maclean

I can certainly agree unequivocally with the last part of my hon. Friend's question. Every energy source has certain environmental benefits and disbenefits at different points in the use cycle. We have signed up to various international agreements on CO2, SO2, and NO2. I am confident that we shall be able to adjust our plans and make use of whatever technical solutions are necessary, so that we continue to honour our international commitments whatever decisions are made—but a cost is always involved.

Mr. Chris Smith

The Minister must accept that there was an increase in sulphur dioxide emissions in Britain in 1990, at a time of severe recession, when, in logic, such emissions should have been decreasing. He must also be aware that the most recent report shows that more than half Britain's trees have been damaged by acid rain. Is not it high time that the Government decided to have a proper programme of desulphurisation for our power stations and started arguing the case for clean coal, rather than doing down our domestic coal industry at every opportunity?

Mr. Maclean

There were some extraordinary assertions there. The hon. Gentleman cannot look at the emission figures for one year only. We have signed up to targets on sulphur dioxide emissions to the year 2003—that will mean a 60 per cent. reduction following a 40 per cent. reduction. That is considerable by any standards. There is a programme to fit flue gas desulphurisation to three of Britain's largest power stations. Those three stations, operated by National Power and PowerGen, account for about 600,000 tonnes of SO2. That is between one quarter and one fifth of SO2 emitted by all power stations generating more than 300 MW of electricity.

The programme is massive by any standards and it does not come cheaply—FGD costs £400 million a throw. Before the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends suggest that we should automatically fit FGD to every power station, they had better tell the public the cost and make it clear that we are meeting our target without that compulsory restriction.