HL Deb 28 July 1988 vol 500 cc377-80

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the integrated approach to pollution control described by the Earl of Caithness in a recent speech to the Tidy Britain Group includes reducing the need for new power stations by promoting energy efficiency investments.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy (Baroness Hooper)

My Lords, the Government promote energy efficiency because of the wide benefits it brings. Nevertheless, however close we get to the maximum feasible level of energy efficiency, there will still be a great need for energy in general and electricity in particular. Existing power stations will continue to reach the end of their economic lives and will have to be replaced.

As to an integrated approach to pollution control, I should point out to the House that my noble friend the Minister for the Environment, Countryside and Water will be making a statement later this afternoon in response to a Written Question from the noble Lord, Lord Cullen.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, perhaps I may first welcome the noble Baroness on her first appearance at the Dispatch Box in her new position. From these Benches we congratulate her on her new appointment.

I am most grateful for the Answer and I take it that the Government's intention is to continue with an energy conservation programme. May I therefore ask how it will be carried forward in the event of privatisation? Will it become a responsibility of the regulatory body and, if so, how strong will the instruction be for that body to ensure that energy conservation is carried out in a way that we would wish?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her welcome and her most kind remarks. I can assure the House that before too long I hope to be sparking on all plugs!

In response to the specific question raised, I think that I can do no better than reassure the noble Baroness on this front by quoting my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, who recently said in another place: We intend that the regulators should be responsible for the promotion of the advantages of energy efficiency. We are not prepared to go quite as far as some critics would wish. We do not seek to impose on people the obligation to save electricity in their homes and to impose on companies an obligation to make energy-saving arrangements. We are in the business. as will be the regulator, of encouraging the efficient use of energy".

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Baroness able to give an assurance, even at this stage of her career in the department, that in building any new power stations it will follow the American example and not build any further nuclear power stations?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, at this stage I cannot give the noble Lord that assurance. However, I can say, on the whole question of environmental control in this area, that we put a high priority on pollution control emissions.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, is it not a fact that nuclear energy production is the cleanest and safest of all the methods available?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I understand that to be the case.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether it will be possible, under the legislation which the Government now propose, after privatisation for a new power station, or indeed any other power station in this country, to be owned by a foreign company?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, no, not without notice. However, perhaps I can investigate the matter and respond to the noble Lord's question in a little more detail at another stage.

Lord Peston

My Lords, is the noble Baroness in a position to comment on some evidence given by the Council for the Protection of Rural England to the Energy Committee in another place on this very subject? The Council said: It is vital that environmental considerations should be reflected much more strongly in the fundamental corporate planning of a privatised industry". It then added the really important point: with clear sanctions for failure to comply".

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I can only answer the noble Lord's question by saying that the Government are fully aware that investment in energy efficiency can have a positive environmental impact and our promotions have always been undertaken on the basis that the investment should be both cost-effective and environmentally acceptable. I should add that obviously the Government are listening to remarks and advice on all fronts and from all places in relation to the proposals under discussion.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that as well as taking into account all these environmental factors she should also take account of the needs of the next century, especially our successors, for a supply of electricity?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, indeed, my Lords. As there are twin targets in this field, one of them being energy efficiency and the other being pollution emission controls, I think that we are taking all those factors into account.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, in view of the small amount of pollution by nuclear power stations compared with coal stations, can the Minister say to what extent NIREX is now able, or unable, to find somewhere to store the small amount of radioactive rubbish that it has?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I regret to have to say to my noble friend that I feel that is another question.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, without ruling out the use of nuclear power, have the Government properly costed the expense of closing down nuclear power stations when they come to the end of their lives?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I believe that too is another question.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, the Question refers to tidying up.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that her promotion to the Department of Energy comes as a great relief to many Members of this House who have been looking for a proper spokesman from that department? We wish her well and do not propose to bowl fast balls just now.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that the Government have listened to the comments which have been made from this House, perhaps especially by my noble friend, in this respect.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, in relation to the noble Baroness's statement that nuclear was the cleanest form of fuel, does that mean that the Government, or anyone else, have now solved the problem of the storage of long-term high-level radioactive waste?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we are of course taking that fully into consideration. However, I believe that in my earlier statement I did not say that it was the cleanest form, or the only clean form, of energy. In fact, my departmental responsibilities will include renewables; namely, wind, water and other sources of fuel which are also clean.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, will the noble Baroness accept that even if we were to go over 100 per cent. to nuclear energy, the lead time required to bring in the power stations that we need is so long that we need a most positive energy conservation programme now if we are to help to avoid the greenhouse effect which is already causing some damage throughout the world?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords. I believe that we have a good energy efficiency and conservation programme at present. It is for that reason that the Government are tackling the matter in this way.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, perhaps it would hearten the noble Baroness to know that, should we have one cold winter such as that of 1962–63, accompanied by power cuts, we shall not see the hedonistically-minded environmentalists for dust!

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his contribution.

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