HL Deb 12 July 2004 vol 663 cc1012-4

3.12 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the remarks of the Prime Minister on 6 July concerning nuclear energy represent a change of policy.

Lord Davies of Oldham:

My Lords, the Prime Minister's remarks concerning nuclear energy were in line with the Government's policy as set out in their energy White Paper.

Lord Dixon-Smith:

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that remarkably brief and precise Answer. The Government have an ambitious, long-term aspiration to reduce carbon dioxide emissions because of climate change. Does the Minister agree with the acceptance by his right honourable friend the Prime Minister that the effect of global warming is the greatest threat faced by mankind? If so, will he accept that nuclear power has an essential role to play in the reduction of that threat?

Lord Davies of Oldham:

My Lords, my right honourable friend, when appearing before the Liaison Select Committee, certainly accepted global warming as a major issue confronting the world. The noble Lord will recognise that my right honourable friend identified the strategy by which the Government intended to hit the target and was confident that we would do so.

Lord Tomlinson:

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that as the remarks of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister sounded like a change of policy and as they read like a change of policy, we should welcome them as a change of policy? If we cannot do that, should we not welcome them as a more radical statement than the previous policy, which was platitudinous and masquerading as an energy policy?

Lord Davies of Oldham:

My Lords, my noble friend has been reading too many newspapers. He would be better off reading the transcript of last week's exchanges because he would recognise that my right honourable friend identified the strategies four-square with those outlined in the energy White Paper which, as he said, states that it is the Government's intention to keep the nuclear option open. That phrase actually appears in the White Paper and my right honourable friend reiterated that fact.

Lord Jenkin of Roding:

My Lords, I have read and I have in front of me the transcript of the Prime Minister's statement to the committee, in which he said: I have fought long and hard, both within my party and outside, to make sure that the nuclear option is not closed off". Why have DTI Ministers removed from the Energy Bill the only two words which would have made that a reality? The words "including nuclear" do not appear in the government amendments.

Lord Davies of Oldham:

My Lords, I am having difficulty in following the purport of that remark. My right honourable friend emphasised that he had made his contribution—a very significant one—to keeping the nuclear option open. He was stating that in the context of the drafting of the White Paper. The White Paper clearly states that. Ministers have been faithful to that objective since its publication and the Energy Bill preserves exactly that position. I do not understand why the noble Lord suggests that in introducing the Energy Bill we in any way close off the nuclear option. We do not.

Lord Tanlaw:

My Lords, in view of the fact that the Ministry of Defence has made it virtually impossible for wind generators to be applied for and set up in south-west Scotland—the best onshore site for wind— will the Government, in their nuclear option, reconsider the decommissioning of Chapelcross power station, or at least consider it as a possible site if they want to buy a new nuclear power station?

Lord Davies of Oldham:

My Lords, I recognise the noble Lord's interest in Chapelcross and the area and the points that he makes. However, he is exaggerating the issue in saying that the position of the Ministry of Defence is to block wind farm development. That is not the case. The Ministry of Defence has proper interests with regard to its coastline radar and it is important that we ensure that wind turbines do not interfere with those interests. I can assure the House that wind turbines will be constructed in Britain on land and at sea without interfering with those radar considerations. That is an important dimension of the technology which we intend to follow in order to reach our Kyoto targets.

Lord Ezra:

My Lords, does the Minister recall that the Prime Minister, in his remarks to the Liaison Select Committee also emphasised the importance of developing technologies to make carbon fuels cleaner. Does that mean that greater efforts will now be made on clean coal technology?

Lord Davies of Oldham:

My Lords, quite rightly, my right honourable friend, as well briefed as ever, was well briefed on this aspect of energy policy. He indicated that of course it has a role to play in the overall provision of future energy, as outlined in the White Paper. If the noble Lord derives encouragement from the positive way in which my right honourable friend addressed that question, I am glad.

Baroness Miller of Hendon:

My Lords, perhaps the Minister did not read the amendment that we won, which contained the words "keep the nuclear option open" and its Commons replacement which knocked out those words.

Did the Minister notice the words of his right honourable friend the Prime Minister, when speaking to my honourable friend the Member for Salisbury: I will do a deal with you, Robert, we will put one in your constituency first and you can lead and I will follow"? Have this Government really got into the position of asking for volunteers before taking the necessary lead and telling us what their policy will be?

Lord Davies of Oldham:

My Lords, I think the noble Baroness doth protest too much. My right honourable friend was subject to a barrage of questions before the Liaison Select Committee chair. He made the obvious point that if a Member of Parliament advocates very strongly the advancement of nuclear energy, he should be asked whether he would want a nuclear plant sited in his constituency. That question on the subject of the location of nuclear waste was addressed to two previous Conservative Chief Whips when they were in government, and the answer in both cases was "no".

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