HL Deb 22 October 2001 vol 627 cc813-5

3.5 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

What measures they are taking to provide security for energy supplies.

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

My Lords, this Government are taking both short and long-term measures to secure UK energy supplies. We and our energy companies are working with the security services to ensure that the risk of terrorist attack is properly assessed and that appropriate measures are in place to reduce the risk of disruption.

For the long term, the Department of Trade and Industry and Ofgem have established a joint working group to monitor security of supply and assess any risks, looking at least seven years ahead. In addition, the current Performance and Innovation Unit review of energy policy will identify longer-term strategic objectives of UK energy policy and will consider security issues.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that informative Answer. As regards the short term, will he indicate the Government's policy on the level of stocks, particularly oil and gas? In the case of oil, there are IEA regulations and, in the case of gas, stocks are fairly low.

As regards the long term, will he assure us that the PIU energy review study will put increased emphasis on reducing import dependence and in particular pay regard to the contribution of the coal industry and the part which clean-coal technologies could play; to renewables, in respect of which there are still some obstacles; and to a greater drive for energy efficiency and new technologies?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, in accordance with the EC oil stocking directive and the International Energy Agency emergency plans, the UK holds strategic oil stocks to guard against the disruption of international oil flows. During the past 25 years, including during the Iran/Iraq war and the Gulf war, world oil supplies have not fallen by more than 6 per cent. The UK has sufficient stocks such that if the supply of crude oil should decline by, say, 10 per cent, we could cover that shortfall for almost two years. In that regard, therefore, we are well positioned.

Furthermore, the new gas trading arrangements have provided market-related incentives to construct new storage. The issue of gas storage will be a matter for the PIU report and the DTI/Ofgem working group.

As regards the long-term future, we are taking a range of measures, including most of those mentioned by the noble Lord. In particular, we are promoting properly functioning and competitive energy markets, maximising existing energy resources, encouraging energy renewables and combined heat and power, also promoting and rewarding energy efficiency.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, given the present threat of terrorism, are the Government satisfied with the precautions being taken against possible sabotage in the UK of installations and of our network of pipes and powerlines?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, as the Prime Minister said on 4th October, we have ensured as far as possible that every reasonable measure of internal security is being undertaken. The Civil Contingencies Committee, which is chaired by the Home Secretary, is working to ensure the protection of key facilities and utilities, not only high-profile targets but also essential services. However, as I am sure your Lordships will appreciate, we do not want to comment on operational security matters in detail.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the best way to ensure the security of our long-term energy supplies is rapidly to expand the development of renewable energy which can, at the same time, provide thousands of extra jobs and technology to help us earn a living around the world?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I believe that the best way to ensure security of energy supplies is to take the whole of the measures that I have set out. It is important to ensure that we have competitive markets, encourage renewables and CHP and take action on energy efficiency. All these measures should be taken and we should not rely on just one, important as renewables are.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, in view of the very long-term nature of the terrorist threat, is there not a case for reviewing the potentialities of nuclear energy?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I believe that the most critical factor is not the possibility of terrorist attack, important though that is, but that around 2005 the UK will again become a net importer of natural gas. Further, around 2006 the UK is again likely to become a net importer of energy for the first time since 1981 and North Sea oil. In view of that I believe that it is a very good moment to review the whole question of energy security over the whole breadth of the technologies involved. For that reason, I very much welcome the inquiry by the House of Commons Select Committee on Trade and Industry into the security of energy supply and the inquiry by a Select Committee of the House of Lords into the European Commission's Green Paper on the security of energy supplies.

The Earl of Selborne

My Lords, while one is concerned about the UK's energy security, can the Minister confirm that there are approximately 1 billion people in the world who have no access to energy sources of any kind and that perhaps our long-term security would best be achieved by also addressing that issue?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, as far as concerns terrorism, clearly the sense of injustice felt by the poor of the world is a long-term matter which must also be addressed, but I do not believe that that should distract us from the short-term issue of security against terrorism or the medium-term issue of security of supply.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, following on from the previous question, can the Minister say what support the Government are providing to oil extractors who are working with the Government of Angola to ensure that Britain benefits from the immense reserves of oil in that country, which, as the noble Lord will be aware, has very few Muslims in its population?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the noble Earl asks an extremely interesting question which, if I may, I shall answer in writing.