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Nuclear Industry

Volume 405: debated on Tuesday 20 May 2003

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What assessment she has made of the effects of the policies set out in the Energy White Paper on jobs in the nuclear industry in Scotland. [113323]

The White Paper sets out a framework for energy policy that will significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, with increased priority given to energy efficiency measures and to generation from renewable sources. The White Paper has no immediate implications for jobs in the nuclear industry in Scotland. Nuclear generation continues to play an important part in supplying the UK's energy needs.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but I wonder whether she will expand on what is meant by the word "immediate". Although the White Paper makes a laudable case for renewables, we have decimated the coal industry in Scotland, thereby wiping out an energy source, and we are in danger of wiping out another energy source that supplies 50 per cent. of electricity in Scotland. That will eventually have an impact on jobs and an effect on communities and workers. What does my hon. Friend have to say about that?

My hon. Friend is a doughty fighter on behalf of her constituents, particularly those who are employed at Torness, but may I just correct one inaccuracy? I know that she did not mean it, but it was not this Government who decimated the coal industry. Looking across the Chamber at the Conservative Benches, we can see who decimated the coal industry in Scotland and the UK. My hon. Friend is correct in that our renewable objectives are ambitious, but we also recognise that nuclear generation is still an important source of carbon-free electricity. However, at the moment, new nuclear build is commercially unattractive, and the disposal of nuclear wastes is obviously an important issue.

The Minister must accept that this chaotic energy White Paper will regrettably lead to a run-down in employment at existing stations in Scotland and, in our view, to a mistaken delay in commissioning replacements, not least at Chapelcross, where some of my constituents are employed. When will her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State earn her place at the Cabinet table and fight for new-build power stations on existing licensed sites in Scotland to give energy policy credibility there? Or is her right hon. Friend just bored with the subject?

The hon. Gentleman is very clever, isn't he? [HON. MEMBERS: "He hides it well."] Yes, as my hon. Friends say, he hides it very well. My right hon. Friend is a strong advocate for all Scottish issues at the Cabinet table, and we certainly do not need to take lessons from Conservative Members about how to fight for Scotland, since they palpably never did. The reality is that, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware, no one is asking for new nuclear build at the moment. The energy White Paper holds to the position as it is at the moment, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to be accurate about jobs, he should realise that decommissioning itself creates many jobs.

Regarding jobs, obviously, if we see the demise of nuclear power or new nuclear build, yes, we will support sustainables, but we will not meet our targets on CO2 emissions unless we include nuclear build in the policy. Will my hon. Friend push the facts in the White Paper, so that we have a discussion and debate on new nuclear build as soon as possible, as it is an important element for the nuclear industry and workers in Scotland?

:I agree with my hon. Friend that, at the appropriate time, we ought to have a wide-ranging discussion on nuclear energy and whether or not nuclear power will be needed to support our energy supply industry in the United Kingdom. The energy White Paper is very clear about the fact that we will have to begin consultations as and when appropriate.

If we are to meet the aspirations for CO2 emissions and renewables, rather than talking about new nuclear energy build, should we not be considering public investment in the infrastructure of the national grid to ensure that it is strengthened in those areas that can provide renewable energy and much-needed jobs?

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, that is already being looked at and is part of the wider discussion that arises from the energy White Paper, and I assume that the hon. Gentleman and his party will participate in that consultation.

Given the vast subsidies that the Government have recently had to pay out to the failing nuclear industry, may I assure my hon. Friend that very many people in Scotland will welcome both the Government's commitment not to put any more money down that drain and their decision not to go ahead with any new nuclear power stations at this stage? Will she join me in welcoming the decision of the new partnership in Scotland, led by Labour, to aim for a 40 per cent. renewables target by 2020? Will she give the Government's commitment now to give their full backing to that ambitious but important target for increasing renewable energy, thereby providing many more jobs in the energy industry in Scotland?

My hon. Friend is correct that the new Labour-led partnership in Scotland has identified very clear targets, and as part of the development of the energy White Paper we were in constant discussion with the then Scottish Executive. This is a matter for the Scottish Executive within the overall framework of energy policy in the United Kingdom. I want to highlight one issue, however, in relation to British Energy. It was important for the Government to secure the supply element of British Energy and to support its restructuring, which was the reason why the Electricity (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2003 was given Royal Assent earlier this month.