HL Deb 25 June 2001 vol 626 cc126-8

3.2 p.m.

Lord Ezra

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are considering carrying out a review of energy policy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, an announcement about a review will be made this afternoon by the Prime Minister. I cannot say anything about that announcement until it has taken place.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I am sure that the House would have been interested to share a little of what the announcement might contain. Nevertheless, we shall have to wait until it comes before us. Will the review take full account of the need for the Government to achieve their carbon emissions reduction targets by 2010 and in particular of the role to be played therein by renewables and combined heat and power? Secondly, in the period after 2010, when the reduction in carbon emissions will be made more difficult by the withdrawal of nuclear stations, what priorities will be established?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, we are currently meeting our energy objectives in terms of security, diversity and sustainability. However, we cannot be complacent. In the future we shall become increasingly dependent on imports of fuel and particularly natural gas, which could eventually become a dominant source of supply. In the longer term, we need to reduce carbon emissions further to meet the challenge of global warming. In these circumstances, if a review were to take place it would need to be open-minded and to consider the contribution that all sources of energy can realistically make to our objectives. That includes combined heat and power, renewables and also the impact of the fact the we shall witness a rapid decline in nuclear energy in the period up to 2010.

Lord Lawson of Blaby

My Lords, why does the Minister seek to give more work to the Government than is necessary when they have plenty on their plate already? We need a sound economic policy, a sound environmental policy and a sound competition policy. But why, if and when those needs are satisfied, do we need an energy policy?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, it is appropriate that the noble Lord should ask that question. The current situation is a direct result of the work that he undertook to reduce all aspects of energy policy and. to make it market-based. Important as the question of prices is, the objectives of an energy policy involve other issues. They involve the important question of security; namely, whether we are happy to be largely dependent on other parts of the world for our energy supplies. Diversity of supply is also important. Equally, our objectives in relation to global warming are extremely important. Such questions cannot be determined solely on the basis of market forces. They involve other issues, important though it is to have a clear focus on market forces.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, will the Minister accept that biofuels have an important and environmental aspect to play in any future energy policy?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, there is no question that they have an important role. It is one which any review would need to take into account.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, in a week when the President of the United States—who has recently been dubbed "the toxic Texan"—is supposed to be visiting, will my noble friend confirm that the Government are still a hundred cent behind the important Kyoto initiative?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, there was universal dismay at the US rejection of the Kyoto agreement. The overwhelming majority of countries continue to support the agreement. It can come into force without the US, although clearly everyone would strongly prefer the US to be on board. We hope that the energy review that is currently being undertaken by the US will conclude that the US interest lies in working with the Kyoto agreement.

Earl Russell

My Lords, does the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, remind the Minister of those who made fun of Noah for building the Ark?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, that is an extremely good analogy.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, regarding one of the Government's flagship energy policies, I understand that briefing received by Ministers from DTI officials casts doubt on the Government's ability to deliver 10 per cent of power generation by renewables by the year 2010. Is that true?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

No, my Lords. So far as I am aware, the briefing received by DTI Ministers makes it clear that the task is challenging but that it is one to which we are committed; namely, to have 10 per cent of our energy supply in renewables.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned security of supply. Will he confirm that we have huge reserves of coal which would provide such security? Will the review therefore examine the possibility of redeveloping the coal industry, which can be a large and valuable source of energy for this country?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, if there is to be a review, the answers should not be prejudged; rather, certain questions should be put to the review. If such a review takes place, that will be done.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, have the Government had an opportunity of evaluating the evidence made public in the "Equinox" programme on Channel 4 last week, based on the research of Dr Santo Bains at the University of Oxford? It revealed that at two points in the world's history there have been catastrophic releases of methane hydrates from the ocean floors which came at a certain point in the warming of the oceans, raising the temperature of the Earth by some 8 degrees. Does the Minister take this seriously? If so, should there be a far more drastic programme for the reduction in carbon emissions than we have seen so far?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I refer to the great value of not announcing a review, which is what I am doing at this point. If such a fictional review takes place, it will deal with all the matters that are relevant to the Question on the Order Paper.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, I realise that it is difficult for the Minister to comment on a so-called "fictional" review. However, will the word "nuclear" appear in the review? Is it not about time that we all reconsidered the nuclear industry?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I hope I have made clear that if a review takes place it will only be sensible for it to cover the contribution that all sources of energy can realistically make. As I said, it is wrong to prejudge the results of such a review before one has even been announced.