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Commons Chamber

Volume 470: debated on Tuesday 22 January 2008

House of Commons

Tuesday 22 January 2008

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Private Business

Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Manchester City Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Tuesday 29 January.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Concessionary Travel

1. What discussions she has had with the Scottish Executive on the reciprocity of national pensioners’ bus schemes in England and Scotland. (180535)

In 2006, discussions were held with the Scottish Executive about reciprocal arrangements for concessionary travel. These identified technical and financial implications that would need to be resolved before there could be further extensions to national schemes. However, that does not prevent local authorities from making arrangements for cross-border travel, should they wish to do so.

The Minister has just conceded that these difficulties have been known about since 2006. There has therefore been ample time to resolve them before the national bus pass is introduced in April this year. Why should pensioners in border areas, who are now seeing notices on their buses saying that they will not be able to use their national bus passes across the border, not be able to benefit from this scheme, which is intended to enable pensioners to go to the doctor or the hospital, or to see their relations? Why do the Government not just get on with it?

Perhaps I can explain how the system would work if there were fully reciprocal arrangements. It would mean that anyone in England could use their pass to go anywhere in Scotland, and anyone in Scotland could do the same in England. Obviously, there would be financial implications, which the Scottish Executive and this Parliament would wish to address. There are particular arrangements in Berwick-upon-Tweed, however. I think that one small concession has been offered to enable people to get to the Borders general hospital. If local authorities wish to make cross-border arrangements, they may certainly do so, but they would need to do that as part of their local decision-making processes. There is nothing to prevent them from doing that if they want to.

The Minister has correctly described how such a scheme would work, and most of us—except perhaps the nationalists—do not see anything wrong with the scheme being applied so that pensioners could benefit in England and in Scotland. At the moment, pensioners from my constituency can travel free on the bus in Orkney but not in Carlisle, and pensioners from Newcastle can travel free in Penzance but not in Edinburgh. The Minister should treat this matter with more urgency, and I hope that we shall soon be able to establish a truly UK-wide scheme that will benefit all pensioners.

I certainly take on board my hon. Friend’s point. As I have said, there are obviously financial implications. At the moment, we are spending about £1 billion a year on concessionary travel for pensioners. This year, for example, in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), there will be an increase in spending of 126 per cent. compared with the last financial year. The local authority might wish to put some of that towards cross-border travel. However, to make the scheme entirely nationwide between Scotland and England would have severe financial implications, on top of the extra £212 million that we have allocated this year for the concessionary fares scheme.

In relation to the scheme in England, I welcome the recognition that the funding has given to areas such as Brighton and Hove, which have done much to increase bus use and the take-up of passes over the past 12 years. Will the Minister liaise with colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government, however, to consider the representations that my local authority—Brighton and Hove city council—continues to make on the issue of funding?

Of course I will continue to liaise with the Department for Communities and Local Government on this issue. I should also point out, however, that my hon. Friend’s local council will see an increase of 33 per cent. in the amount allocated for the concessionary fares scheme, compared with the last financial year. The extra £350 million that was allocated in 2006 and the extra £212 million that is going in this year constitute a generous settlement as we try to make this extremely popular policy a success.

Is the Minister not aware that some of us believe that England and Scotland—and Wales and Northern Ireland, for that matter—are constituent parts of one United Kingdom, and that what the citizens of one country enjoy should be enjoyed by all?

I have said that we have opened discussions with the devolved Administrations about whether to extend the scheme further. Again, however, the hon. Gentleman might like to ask his own Front Benchers whether they would be prepared to make further financial commitments. What we are doing is concentrating on implementing the current scheme. In Staffordshire, this year’s increase over the previous financial year will be 30 per cent.—a massive increase in the amount devoted to the concessionary fares scheme, which, as the hon. Gentleman says, is extremely popular and widely welcomed by older people. It is important to fulfil the commitment in our manifesto to introduce the scheme as we have, but we can continue to discuss the financial and technical implications of extending it further.

Rail Timetables

3. What plans she has to hold discussions on the frequency of weekend train services on the east coast main line with National Express East Coast. (180537)

The responsibility for the setting of timetables rests not with the Department for Transport but with Network Rail, which is responsible for the national rail timetable. Individual train operating companies can agree changes to their timetables in co-operation with Network Rail.

If we are to encourage people, including my constituents, who want to travel to London away from congested roads such as the A14 and the M11, we need a rail service that is safe, clean and affordable but, above all, convenient. Notwithstanding the Minister’s answer, will he use his charm to persuade National Express East Coast to look again at providing a more comprehensive service on Saturdays, particularly Saturday evenings, because at the moment the last fast train from King’s Cross to Peterborough leaves at 8.30 pm?

Unfortunately, the rail industry has no alternative but to close some routes to enable time for maintenance of the infrastructure, which is what happens on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings on the east coast main line. I understand that that is frustrating for the hon. Gentleman and his constituents. However, First Capital Connect runs a service from London King’s Cross to Peterborough at 10 minutes to midnight on a Saturday evening. If it is the hon. Gentleman’s view that this particular franchise was underspecified, I am sure that his Front-Bench colleagues would be interested to hear about it.

There are frequency and capacity problems with commuter services from Milton Keynes to London on the west coast main line as well. Will the Minister speak to Network Rail and ask it to look again at the 2008 timetable to see if it could make a bit more room to cope with those commuter services and make them faster?

Of course, the £8 billion that the Government are spending on upgrading the west coast main line will have major beneficial effects for all communities along that particular line. It is understandable that communities that believe they should be benefiting more from the new timetable to December 2008 feel that they might be losing out, but I have to tell my hon. Friend that the vast majority of stations and services along the west coast main line will benefit from a markedly improved service, which will justify the Government’s record investment in this project.

But bearing in mind the fact that passengers who use the trains at weekends are treated in an appalling fashion, why do people end up having to pay the same amount at weekends as they have to pay for mid-week services? If trains are scheduled for long delays, should it not be taken into account in the fares that passengers are charged?

Then he will know that at weekends, wholly off-peak services are run so many fares are cheaper. I hope he will understand that it is simply impossible to maintain the safety of the infrastructure unless we close large sections of the railway to allow it to happen. Of course I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s frustration and that of many Members on both sides of the House, but I hope that people will understand that if we are to have a safe and efficient railway service there must be maintenance, which cannot be done while trains are running on the lines.

I am not going to embarrass the Minister by referring again to his charm, but I want to reinforce the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson). Weekend services are always late, journeys are unduly protracted and the carriages are always overcrowded. That is bad news and the Minister should do something about it.

If you will forgive me Mr. Speaker, I will not refer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s charm either.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that all weekend services were late. That is clearly not the case. Of course there are more challenges at weekends than during the week, because it is at weekends, particularly on Sundays, that maintenance takes place. As I told the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), services depend on a safe and efficient railway, and that can be achieved only if we allow maintenance to be carried out. Yes, we must ensure that it does not overrun, as happened in Rugby over the new year, but it is a crucial part of running the railways.

I am afraid the right hon. and learned Gentleman will simply have to accept that safety must come before all other considerations. If he is seriously asking me to intervene and micromanage the railways, I have to tell him “No”.

New Roads and Rail

Between 2001 and December 2007, the Highways Agency built approximately 227 miles of motorway and trunk road. The Department does not retain a central record of the mileage of new roads constructed on the local highway network.

In England and Wales, 70 miles of new heavy rail route were opened between 2003 and 2007 on the channel tunnel rail link. There have also been examples of the reopening of disused heavy rail lines, and lines formerly used only by freight traffic.

I fail to discern from that answer exactly how much new passenger, as opposed to heavy rail, network has been introduced, but it appears to be a pathetically small amount given the total of some 15,000 km of passenger railway track. Given that domestic transport is responsible for 21 per cent. of United Kingdom carbon emissions, is it not about time to reverse the historic shift from rail to roads initiated by Dr. Beeching? When lines such as those in Gloucestershire can be brought back into use, should that not happen?

The hon. Gentleman has made an important point It is time that more people had the opportunity to use the railway service, which is one reason why I am delighted that there are 40 per cent. more passengers on the railway than there were in 1997. At the same time, we are making the biggest investment in capacity for a generation. Far from managing the decline of Britain’s railways, as has been done in the past, we find that our problem now is managing growth.

The midlands, like every other area, deserves a transport network that is fit for the future. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has just approved the black country study and the designation of Brierley Hill as a strategic centre. The missing part of the jigsaw is the extension to the midland metro. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport undertake to visit the black country to see not only what has already been achieved but what can be achieved once approval is gained, in terms of job creation, regeneration and congestion busting?

I know that my hon. Friend has raised this issue with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, who has agreed to visit the black country to view the proposed projects. I understand that this could be a priority for a regional allocation. I think it right for us to devolve money to the regions, so that they can choose between the various competing priorities and invest in those that best meet the needs of local people. However, I shall take a close interest in my right hon. Friend’s visit, and look forward to hearing what she has to say.

Is the Secretary of State aware that only 6 per cent. of passenger journeys are undertaken by rail, and that 84 per cent. are undertaken by road? The Government are currently spending £6.5 billion on rail subsidies, almost as much as the total roads budget. Is it not time to redress that ridiculous imbalance, and should the Secretary of State not start by building more roads?

It is useful, once in a while, to hear the opposite case being put by a Conservative Member. I know that the right hon. Gentleman’s party is not keen on rail subsidy, and would like fare payers to pay more. I look forward to the response of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) in due course, but the fact is that it is not a choice between rail and road. We must have a good road network and we must also invest in rail services, so that people have a real choice in relation to how they travel.

Lord Eddington, who reported to my Department last year, examined the issue and suggested that we consider not just building new roads but investing in rail capacity. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that that is precisely what we are doing.

Leaving aside the Conservatives’ new green policy, may I say that the Secretary of State is right to refer to the problem of growth? She has said that she wants the industry to produce 22.5 per cent. more capacity by 2014, but a parliamentary answer that I received earlier this month indicated that the Government expected a 54 per cent. increase in the number of railway passengers by 2020. Is the Secretary of State going to allow more of the overcrowding that we are seeing now, is she going to allow people to be priced off the railway, which is also now happening, or is she going to grasp the nettle and expand the network? It cannot wait until 2014 for an assessment.

We are of course expanding the network, which is why the cross-channel rail link was such an important project. It is also why we have committed to look in future at whether disused rail lines such as the one between Birmingham and London might be brought back into use. The fact is that we have set out real money—the biggest investment in rail capacity for a generation—to take us up to 2014. Beyond that, we are planning for a doubling of rail capacity over the next 30 years. What we want to do is not, as it were, look into a crystal ball and predict how many people might be using the rail network in 2020 or 2030, but make the decisions at the right point in time. If more investment is needed, more will be forthcoming over the following years.

The Government have undoubtedly invested in the rail network in recent years, but is my right hon. Friend aware of the congestion problems in the Manchester rail hub, which is causing particular problems for services going through Manchester Piccadilly, especially from the south of the city where we need to increase capacity? This is a major hindrance to the future growth of the rail network in and around not only Greater Manchester but the north of England.

I agree with my hon. Friend, which is why before Christmas I asked Network Rail whether it might carry out a full feasibility study to find out whether a radical project around Manchester would enhance rail services. I know that the Northern Way has looked at that and specifically singled it out as its utmost priority in the plan for the region. I think that in the future a sensibly costed plan for Manchester, perhaps including linking Manchester Victoria and Piccadilly, could lead to far more commuters being able to travel in greater comfort in and out of Manchester every day.

The Secretary of State will know that Network Rail has been carrying out feasibility studies into two dual-tracking schemes—those between Swindon and Kemble and between Oxford and Worcester. Last week, there were disturbing rumours that those schemes had been postponed, so I e-mailed the chief executive of Network Rail and received a reply from his PA saying he would give me a substantive reply in the near future. Can the Secretary of State update me on those schemes this afternoon? If not, will she write to me to do so?

I will of course do that, but the fact of the matter is that these issues are for Network Rail to deal with. We have committed the funding for a five-year period up to 2014. Network Rail has put forward a business plan which is now being scrutinised by the Office of Rail Regulation, and which involves investment in 1,300 new carriages, platform lengthening and increasing capacity by, as the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) said, more than 20 per cent. over that period. However, I will certainly ask the chief executive to let me, and hence the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), know of his specific intentions for those lines.

Rail Freight

We provide grants to encourage the transfer of freight from road to rail, and more than £44 million has been awarded for the next three years. In addition, we are providing more than £150 million from the transport innovation fund for rail infrastructure improvements that particularly benefit rail freight by improving services to and from the major ports, and a further £200 million for the development of a strategic freight network to provide a core network of trunk freight routes.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that encouraging answer. She will be aware of the impending upgrading of the railway track between Southampton and the midlands, which will enable Southampton to develop much greater freight services from the port, but is she also aware that freight services on rail, upgraded or not, generally stop at weekends? Might she seek to talk to the freight transport companies and Network Rail to find out whether methods could be employed that would enable seven-day working, subject to the maintenance of the railway track?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is important for the region and the nation’s economy that we have rail services that can work for freight not only during the week but at weekends, but it is also important for passengers that freight services can be accommodated outside the ordinary working day. That is why the strategic freight network is so important. We have allocated £200 million to unlock pinch points for freight services, some of which will help to alleviate the specific problem to which my hon. Friend refers. It is extremely important that over time we try to encourage freight services at weekends as well as during the week.

Why did the nationalised Post Office transfer so much of its activity from rail freight to the roads? Does the Secretary of State have any plans that might encourage the railways to win that business back?

The answer is a very simple one: it was a commercial decision for the Post Office. The fact of the matter is that rail freight is growing incredibly quickly; it has increased by about 49.5 per cent. over the past 10 years. We can do more—I would like more goods to be shifted by rail freight over the coming years—but ultimately these are decisions that commercial companies have to take for themselves.

I am glad to hear that my right hon. Friend is committed to developing the use of rail for freight. She will be aware that many Members of this House share the ambition of the Northern Way to reopen the Woodhead line, not least because doing so would offer us the opportunity to carry more freight by rail in the north. Will she therefore commit to ensuring that the National Grid Company does not use the 1953 Woodhead tunnel for its recabling work, because doing so would dash completely any hope that we have of reopening that line for freight?

My hon. Friend makes her point in her own way, but it is important that we keep as many options open as possible. I have had contact with the National Grid Company about this, and I think that two points are true. First, it owns the tunnel and can invest in its own cabling in the tunnel. Secondly, it has assured us that even if it did that, it would not preclude reopening the tunnel for freight traffic were the growth of freight traffic to warrant it. I am committed to ensuring that we work with the National Grid Company to keep all options on the table.

The east of England had accepted the need for one strategic rail freight interchange. Since that decision was taken, the Bexley and Shellhaven developments—two in the east of England—have been approved. Will the Secretary of State bear that in mind when the Planning Inspectorate’s decision comes before her in respect of granting or not granting such a development in Radlett in my constituency? We do not need it accessed from our busy roads. We have more than sufficient capacity, given the two decisions that have been made since the application was made.

The hon. Lady is one of the few Members in this House who speaks out against the desirability of increasing rail freight in the future. Rail freight has much potential—it is good for the environment and the economy. It is important that we invest in such a way as to unlock potential pinch points on the network and enable more goods to be delivered by freight. Clearly the Planning Inspectorate needs to examine some issues, and if her claims are right the matter will come before me in due course. It would not be right for me to comment on any possible outcome of that process.

My right hon. Friend realises that an important part of the development of the rail freight system is the four-tracking of the west coast main line north of Tamworth, and her Department is aware that a bridge across a road in Tamworth, which was due for completion in July 2007, is yet to be completed. Without greater control over these projects, does she have plans for the development or merely hopes?

My hon. Friend will know that this is Network Rail’s responsibility, so I urge him to take the matter up with Network Rail and encourage it to make faster progress on that part of the route. I will of course mention the issue when I next meet Network Rail.

The Secretary of State will know that one of the conditions for approving Felixstowe docks’ plans for expansion was that they invest some £50 million in improvements to the rail network, some of the locations being as much as 100 miles away from the docks. Will she explain why it is impossible for Railtrack to give them any long-term guarantees of access for rail freight for their purposes? How does that square with joined-up government?

It is clearly important that any commitments are fulfilled. In future, we intend to look right across modes to ensure that when we think about investment in ports we think about the need to carry goods by rail as well as by road, where it makes sense to do so. That is why we commissioned the Eddington study, which will allow us to look right across the network to see what can be delivered in different ways. I shall examine the specific points that the hon. Gentleman raised and get back to him.

Inter-city Express Programme

6. Whether the next generation of inter-city express rolling stock will be available for services on the midland main line from St. Pancras to Nottingham; and if she will make a statement. (180540)

Trains for the new inter-city express programme have been developed to be capable of operating on all of the UK’s main inter-city routes, including, potentially, the midland main line.

I am grateful to the Minister for that response. There is concern in my constituency that the midland main line area was excluded in the tender for applications for the current tranche of inter-city rolling stock. While I appreciate the need to look for a sensible business case in every tender, it is important that we also have a fair and equitable distribution across the regions. In the same way as we find ourselves at the back of the queue for electrification, we are concerned that we will find ourselves at the back of the queue for rolling stock for the inter-city express programme.

The Department is leading the programme to specify and procure the next generation of inter-city trains, providing greater capacity, performance, flexibility, environmental credentials, passenger facilities and value for money. My hon. Friend will be interested to know that the Department has been working on a business case for the use of the new trains on the midland main line. That could not happen during their first phase of deployment owing to the infrastructure changes that would be necessary, and it would be subject to securing best value for the taxpayer. I can reassure him, however, that his case will be treated with absolute fairness.

Does the Minister accept that, given the rise in energy prices, it makes sense to consider ensuring that the midland main line, along with other lines, is electrified? The cost of the capital investment will be more than recouped by the savings in energy costs.

The prospect of further electrification has to be considered on a case-by-case basis. It is naive to assume that electrification of the whole network is a good thing, while not to electrify it is a bad thing. In our statement of July last year, we made it clear we had decided that our priority would be to increase capacity. In the next control period, between 2009 and 2014, £10 billion will be spent on increasing capacity. I understand and accept that there will occasionally be strong cases for the electrification of certain lines and of certain segments of lines. However, to claim that money should be diverted from the creation of capacity to electrification would be a mistake.

May I put the question slightly differently? My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware of Network Rail’s view that £80 million needs to be spent on the midland main line to try to bring about some time savings in the future. In the longer term, Network Rail says that the only way to improve the service, because of the complications posed by the track, is to bring in the new generation of light-weight electrified trains. Obviously, that is a longer-term decision, but will my hon. Friend keep open the possibility that his officials will sit down with Network Rail and consider the potential for electrification to try to bring about the long-term significant improvements that the line needs?

My hon. Friend makes some valid points, but I remind him that the inter-city express programme will result in trains that are run by electric energy or by diesel. They will be flexible enough to run throughout the rail network, whether it is electrified or not. The use of the new IEP trains will not depend on whether a line has been electrified.

We have heard a little about green credentials this afternoon. Of course, we know that the Department for Transport’s main green initiative is recycling announcements.

When the Government announced the provision of 1,300 new carriages in July, most commentators assumed that they were part of the IEP. For the sake of clarity, will the Minister confirm whether they were delivered? When and where will we see the IEP finally introduced?

I know that the announcement about those 1,300 carriages led to quite a lot of confusion on the Conservative Front Bench, but there is no confusion on this side of the House that those 1,300 carriages represented a commitment and that they will be delivered to the rail network during the next control period. As for the allocation of the IEP, those trains will be employed, as a priority, on the great western and the east coast main lines.

The allocation of rolling stock is very important. The expansion and the move forward into a new era is to be welcomed, but the distribution of carriages in some parts of the rail system needs to be looked at. I hope that the Minister will bear in mind the fact that the congested areas in the south are not the only ones that need more carriages.

My hon. Friend makes an absolutely valid point. It is for the industry, and not the Department, to identify the areas where the new carriages will be best used. I know she accepts that 70 per cent. of all train journeys begin and end in London and the south-east, but she is right to say that a significant number of the carriages will go to routes and companies operating outside the capital.


7. If she will take steps to reduce the gap between the per capita spend on transport in London and the rest of the English regions. (180541)

Transport spending per person for the English regions outside London increased by 78 per cent. between 2001-02 and 2006-07. Spending for London is higher per resident but that is because it is generally more expensive to provide services in London, and millions of people throughout the country benefit from investment in projects such as the new St. Pancras station.

Five years ago, spending in London was 80 per cent. higher than in the English regions, but that gap has widened to 150 per cent. How can England’s great regional cities compete and contribute to the UK economy if they are relatively starved of investment?

Funding for local transport in the north-west has increased from £95 million in 2001 to £213 million in 2007. I would not call that starvation. Moreover, the Department has plans for 36 major road and transport schemes by 2015-16, at a total cost of £1.27 billion. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned the feasibility study that has been commissioned on increasing rail capacity in the wider Manchester area, and more than £8 billion has been invested in the west coast main line between London and the north-west in the past eight years. I do not call that starving the north-west of funds; it is good investment that is leading to real improvements for the north-west.

Will the Minister accept that the per capita investment in London’s rail network must ensure value for money for passengers? Will she look at the disgraceful muck-up that happened the day after new year’s day, when Liverpool Street station failed to open despite the commitments that had been given? That caused massive disruption for constituents of mine who were trying to get to work in the capital.

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, and I appreciate how incredibly irritating the problem must have been for people trying to use the station and the lines into it. The matter is being investigated by the rail regulator, and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), will take note of the findings and report back to the House.

I appreciate that per capita spending is not the only measure of what is going on, but serious problems of overcrowding on the rail system into Manchester affects the whole of the Greater Manchester region, and the economy of the entire north-west. It is therefore imperative that parts of the country other than London get their fair share when the new rolling stock becomes available. May I take it that the answer that my right hon. Friend gave earlier was a green light on this matter, and that there will be equity in how the rolling stock is distributed?

I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. Further announcements about the allocation of rolling stock will be made later this year, and I am sure that what he has said will be taken into account.

Some £3 million was wasted when the Government binned the Leeds super tram. The Yorkshire Post’s “Road to Ruin” campaign has highlighted the chaos that is this Government’s regional transport policy. What meetings has the Minister had with the new regional Ministers to discuss infrastructure issues—or have they been too busy in marginal seats to engage with that important matter?

The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South, recently met the regional Ministers to discuss rail issues. The hon. Gentleman needs to take on board the fact that we believe a lot of these schemes can help but, obviously, not at any price. It is vital that we get value for money. When the prices of such schemes escalate, there sometimes comes a point at which a decision must be made on whether they are still the best thing for the people in the local area. If he does not understand that point, he will find it difficult to say what he thinks the priorities for his region are.

When the north-east remains cut off from the nation’s motorway system; when it is more than 22 years since the last major improvement to the Gateshead western bypass, which is our region’s most congested road; and when the Department continues to pour cold water on the idea of a high-speed rail link, does the Minister understand why there is more than just a raising of eyebrows when we see billions of pounds being invested in transport infrastructure in London?

I am well aware of the strength of feeling in the north-east. When I met my hon. Friend and colleagues up there, they put their points very well. However, I think my hon. Friend also recognises that the system for deciding priorities in the region through the regional funding allocations, which have been vastly increased in recent years, is the right way to go. Overall, departmental spending in the north-east has increased by more than 80 per cent. in the past six years. Some £457 million has been provisionally allocated to fund major schemes in the north-east. We recently announced £245 million of funding over the next three years for local authorities throughout the north-east region. We are illustrating a commitment to the people of the north-east through increased investment and modernisation.

Is the Minister aware of the absurd revisions that were recently published to the so-called regional spatial strategy for the south-west? They remove entirely any reference to what we have known as the second strategic route, which most people refer to as the A303, in favour of amorphous improvements in city areas. If the south-west had the same sort of investment as the London area, would we have at least some improvements to our infrastructure?

The hon. Gentleman will be meeting my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary fairly shortly to discuss that specific issue. Through things such as the spatial strategy, it is important that regions themselves decide how they want to plan for the future and what schemes they wish to include in it. Spending on road and rail in the south-west has more than doubled over the past six years. Some 35 major road and public transport schemes are planned to be funded, and £951 million has been provisionally allocated to the region from 2005 to 2015. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that there has been massive investment in the area.

Infrastructure (Lancashire)

8. What assistance her Department will provide to enable the transport infrastructure in central Lancashire to cope with the impact of local housing growth. (180542)

The Department for Transport encourages local authorities, through their local transport plans, to plan for housing growth and the accompanying transport needs. It provides funding through each authority’s annual LTP allocations to assist them in delivering their plans.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Central Lancashire is one of the most buoyant parts of the north-west. It has the potential for considerable economic and housing growth, but that can take place only if the transport infrastructure south of Preston is dealt with properly. Will she ensure that Lancashire county council gives that adequate consideration? When the regional priorities for the north-west are drawn up, will she ensure that proper care and consideration are given to the needs of central Lancashire?

I certainly expect that the regional transport board will take my hon. Friend’s points into account. He raises issues specific to his area which he thinks give rise to particular problems. I would be more than happy to meet him to discuss some of them and to ensure that the board is aware of his comments.

Severn Crossings

9. What recent discussions her Department has had with the operator of the M48 Severn bridge and the second Severn crossing. (180543)

The Highways Agency has regular contact with the operator of the Severn crossings. The most recent quarterly meeting was held on 21 November 2007. Other meetings are held to discuss ongoing issues.

Tolls on the Severn bridges increased again in the new year. It is now £5.30 for a car, which is a large burden for many of my constituents, particularly commuters. Added to that is the problem of not being able to pay by any modern electronic payment method; people can pay only by cash or cheque. Will the Minister meet me to discuss reviewing the charges with the operator, so that we can offer better discounts for those who live locally, and to discuss the ongoing issue of the method of payment of the tolls?

I would be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend, who I know is extremely concerned about the issue. The Severn Bridges Act 1992 set the tolls for the two bridges, and set out the process for increases. The Act requires the tolls to be increased by inflation and rounded to the nearest 10p. That increase is applied every December. I certainly take on board the point about the use of methods such as credit cards to make payment easier. A working group has been set up to consider the financial and technical barriers to that. When we meet, I shall be more than happy to update her on the progress that is being made.

The Minister may have seen media reports suggesting that the suspension wires on the old Severn bridge are fracturing at a precipitous rate as a result of corrosion. Have the Government made any assessment of the implications for the durability of the bridge and for public safety?

I was not aware of those media reports. I am certainly prepared to look into the issue and write to the hon. Gentleman about the assessment made.

Topical Questions

Yesterday I announced a £140 million investment to support cycling. Helping people to make low-carbon choices is an important element of my Department’s wider sustainable transport strategy. In addition, my Department has been working closely with the investigators of the incident at Heathrow. An initial report on the incident was released last week. In the same week, Network Rail announced the initial results of its investigation into the engineering overruns during the Christmas period. The chairman of Network Rail briefed me on the initial findings on their release, and I look forward to seeing the conclusions. Later this week, my Department will launch a consultation on a range of proposals for modernising the blue badge scheme.

The recent Government publication on noise contours around the busiest English airports showed vividly the impact of night flights at East Midlands airport on communities in North-West Leicestershire, South Derbyshire and Rushcliffe in south Nottinghamshire. When will the Government impose on regional airports with high noise levels the same limits on air traffic movements that they impose on London airports, requiring them all to deliver on the requirements of the stringent environmental framework promised by the 2003 aviation White Paper 1,500 long, sleep-interrupted nights ago?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the air transport White Paper imposed stringent local environmental conditions on the extension at Heathrow and on other places. He is right, too, to have concerns on behalf of local residents about the impact of any changes on the environment, particularly as regards noise. However, it is not right to suggest that there is a one-size-fits-all solution on airport expansion. For instance, the impact of noise will vary enormously depending on how close the airport is to local residents, and on the type and number of flights. That is why we think that a local response is the right way forward. I understand that East Midlands airport will publish its local plan to manage noise later this year. I urge my hon. Friend to get involved in that consultation on behalf of his local community, and to make his views known.

T2. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United Nations, the Royal Society, the chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Chancellor’s adviser—Professor King—and the Environmental Audit Committee are all urging caution about the environmental and social impacts of biofuels, so will the Government think again about whether a £500-million biofuels subsidy is the wisest, most cost-effective way to cut transport emissions? (180526)

As a result of the renewable transport fuel obligation, which we passed only a few months ago, biofuels are expected to save 2.6 million to 3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum. The UK pioneered a world-leading reporting strategy to determine the accuracy of carbon reductions and sustainability considerations. We are trying to press the European Commission to make sure that that is mirrored at European level. We recognise the concerns, but science is moving forward, and we are convinced that that is the right way to proceed.

An arcane rule prevents us from ascertaining how much Metronet owes in taxes. Likewise, Transport Ministers are secretive about deals done and the cost to taxpayers, council tax payers and fare payers. They are secretive, too, about the lack of maintenance that will result from Metronet going into administration. Will Ministers now come clean and provide that information?

I assure my hon. Friend that there is no intention to conceal any information. It is, however, difficult to know what the impact of Metronet’s failure will be on the taxpayer, although I do not doubt there will be such an impact, particularly in the short term. When Metronet leaves administration in, I hope, the not-too-distant future and its detailed financial accounts are published, that information will be put into the public domain. However, I will update the House if there are developments that I can report.

T3. Is the Secretary of State aware of the huge increase in the cost of the statutory bus concessionary travel scheme, which has far outstripped the additional grant given to local authorities and has caused serious difficulty for many councils, including Maldon district council? Will she meet a delegation from affected local authorities in Essex to see what can be done to help? (180527)

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present for our wide-ranging discussion on Question 1 about the national concessionary fares scheme. We spend about £1 billion a year on the scheme, and most regions received an increase of about 30 per cent. over the last financial year. His area is treated exactly the same. That is a generous settlement, and if local authorities wish to build on it with their own local concessions, that is up to them. However, the £212 million that has been allocated over and above the amount that local authorities already receive is adequate to cover the increased costs.

T5. In 1997, the former Deputy Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), said that he would “have failed” if there were not far fewer journeys by car after five years. After 10 years, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) revealed that traffic has increased across England by 12 per cent. and in Gloucestershire by 17 per cent., increasing public risk, congestion and carbon emissions. Will the Government now admit that they have failed? (180529)

Well, it is certainly true that as countries become wealthier and more people want to buy cars, congestion is an issue faced by all developed nations. The fact of the matter is that here in the United Kingdom we are leading the fight against congestion through sustained investment in public transport. Indeed, our investment in the railways, as I have just discussed with the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), is the biggest investment in capacity for a generation. In addition, for the first time, we have broken the link between economic growth and increased traffic. I call that success, even though I recognise that there is a lot more to do.

T4. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), wrote to hon. Members on 31 October last year, acknowledging that “for some time” First Great Western services had been “unsatisfactory”. He said he would“continue to keep a close interest in performance…to ensure”that First Great Western lived up to its promises. Passengers have had to endure continued overcrowding, poor services and unreliability, only to be rewarded for their loyalty with an above-inflation price hike. Can the Under-Secretary not do anything to step in and hold back those ticket price rises until quality thresholds are met, and what will he do to put those matters right? (180528)

The hon. Gentleman is certainly correct, in that the performance of First Great Western has been a concern to me and to the Department for some time. There is little good news, although there is some. The December 2007 timetable has proved to be more robust and more workable than had been predicted. However, he is correct to say that performance is still a major cause of concern. I continue to meet representatives of First Great Western on a regular basis, but I would not try to mislead the House by pretending that it does not give me very serious cause for concern about its future performance.

Four-year-old Finlay Martin was tragically killed last July when he was hit by a trailer that broke free from a car while he was walking in the village of Heage with his mother. The deputy coroner at the inquest just held said that she would write to the Department for Transport to ensure that lessons were learned. Will my hon. Friend investigate seriously the introduction of an annual mandatory test of road worthiness and an MOT for trailers that are pulled by road vehicles, and for such vehicles to have mandatory brake systems, which did not happen in this case? That has been requested by Finlay’s grandparents and many of my constituents.

We are aware of this tragic accident, which occurred last summer. We extend our deepest sympathies to the parents and family of Finlay, who lost his life as a result of what happened. We want to make sure that when we introduce new regulations, they can be applied and they are appropriate. Introducing MOT-style tests for such trailers is a possibility that we have considered before, and it is a matter that we keep under review. There have been several such accidents in recent months, and I will certainly consider the matter with officials in the Department to see whether we need to move on that.

The UN believes that palm oil production could destroy 90 per cent. of Indonesia’s rain forest within the next 12 years. When will binding rules be introduced into the Government’s renewable transport fuel obligation to ensure that the biofuels that it promotes come from sustainable sources and not from ripping up the rain forest?

The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) raised the matter a moment ago, and I could refer the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) to the answer that I gave a few moments ago. However, that would be wholly inappropriate as this is a serious subject. When we discussed the RTFO in Committee and the setting up of the Renewable Fuels Agency, that was keenly tested by hon. Friends as well as by Opposition Members. We are setting up, as I outlined, the most robust reporting mechanism we can, which starts in April 2008. We are trying to impress on the European Commission that we need to do the same thing Europe-wide, because sustainability and carbon reduction appear achievable through biofuels, and we are determined to make sure that that works.

We are pleased to hear that the Government are starting to take the issue much more seriously, but we are still worried that that date is not soon enough. Valuable habitats and carbon sinks are under threat right now. Friends of the Earth has said:

“The Government’s dash for biofuels is ill thought out . . . and could be creating more problems than it solves”.

As a matter of urgency, will the Government suspend the operation of the RTFO until guaranteed safeguards are in place to remove the very real risk that the unintended effect of their policy could be to encourage people to use biofuels that are produced in ways that are unsustainable and could actively damage the environment?

The hon. Gentleman is obviously a keen supporter of that line. We are clear that we recognise the genuine sustainability questions that are at stake, and we are determined to ensure that biofuels are not brought forward at the expense of the planet and at a cost of additional climate change. I refer the hon. Lady to a comment from the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who said:

“Five per cent. of all fuel sold in the UK to come from biofuels is a start, but it is a minimum step: we will need to go further in the future.”

There is clearly potential for carbon reduction, but it must not be at the price of sustainability and of exposing developing countries to further exploitation. We intend to get the balance right. We hope the Opposition parties will support us.

Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to the crew of BA flight 38 last Thursday who, along with the emergency services, ensured that, with the crash-landing of the aeroplane, a catastrophe was avoided? I call upon her to instigate an immediate risk assessment of the safety of the doubling the size of Heathrow airport, which would be the effect of building a third runway and a sixth terminal there.

I certainly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the emergency services that dealt so well with the incident, and to the crew for the professional and calm way in which they dealt with it and their evident care and concern for the passengers. I am relieved that there were so few injuries.

My hon. Friend raised the issue of safety and the expansion proposals for Heathrow airport. I assure him that the Civil Aviation Authority has examined the White Paper proposals for additional airport capacity and believes that the necessary airspace capacity can be provided safely through the redesign of airspace and the introduction of enhanced air traffic techniques and systems. However, safety must always be our foremost priority.

T6. Is the Secretary of State aware that 40 per cent. of bikers are evading vehicle licensing duty? What is she going to do about it? (180530)

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency successfully collects £5 billion—or 95 per cent.—of vehicle excise duty annually. As the hon. Gentleman has highlighted, motorcycles are an enforcement challenge because of their size, the position of their number plates and their manoeuvrability. However, we have developed a dedicated enforcement strategy targeting motorcyclists. We have run focused, hard-hitting awareness campaigns and invested in improved automatic number plate recognition systems. We are coming forward with additional material and initiatives to make sure that motorcyclists, who have increasingly been evading, will no longer be able to do so.

T7. When will Network Rail, a publicly owned company, get to grips with problems such as a very tatty and run down station in Wokingham that could be rebuilt from the proceeds of planning gain on its very valuable site? (180531)

The right hon. Gentleman has been misinformed. Network Rail is a private company over whose operations I have no direct control. He takes a close interest in these matters, so he will know that in the White Paper published in July we announced £150 million to act as leverage money for the 150 medium-sized stations. We expect major improvements to be carried out by Network Rail and its partners during the next control period between 2009 and 2014.

T8. Will the Minister kindly agree to meet a delegation from the Kettering Rail Users group and Kettering borough council to discuss the severe train cuts to and from Kettering coming this December and how completely incompatible the proposals are with the Government-backed housing expansion plans? We are set to see an increase of one third in the number of homes in Kettering borough by 2021. (180532)

I am always happy to meet colleagues and delegations from rail user groups. No doubt the issue will be discussed at the relevant time. However, I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s fundamental assertion that there have been major service cuts at Kettering.

Point of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I recently attended a meeting with a Minister in the Department for Transport on the proposed upgrade of the A120 in my constituency. The departmental minutes of that meeting were subsequently leaked before I had seen or corrected them. Unfortunately, as the Minister is aware, they misrepresented the position that I have always taken on the issue: to oppose the preferred southern route. Indeed, the minutes implied that locally there was a broad consensus in support of the route, although the opposite is true.

Can you, Mr. Speaker, advise me on how I can hold the Department to account for that misrepresentation, given that my views on the scheme, and those of local people likely to be affected by it, have been a matter of parliamentary record since I raised them in an Adjournment debate on 20 January 2006?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has raised an entirely legitimate concern. He has not been well served by the internal processes at the Department for Transport and at the Highways Agency. As the Minister to whom the agency is accountable, I offer him a full apology. I accept full responsibility for what has happened. I assure him that the record to which he has referred will be corrected as a matter of urgency.

The Minister has been kind enough to clarify the matter. I hope that all future meetings between hon. Members and Ministers will be kept confidential; only with the consent of both parties should anything about such meetings be made public].


Football Spectators and Sports Grounds

Mr. Russell Brown, supported by Alan Keen, John McFall, Mr. John Leech, Bob Russell, Joan Walley, Mr. Iain Duncan Smith, Mr. John Greenway, Christine Russell and Jim Sheridan, presented a Bill to amend the law relating to football banning orders and their enforcement; to confer further powers on the Football Licensing Authority and to amend its name; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 22 February, and to be printed. [Bill 59].

Climate Change (Sectoral Targets)

Colin Challen, supported by Mr. Tim Yeo, Mr. Michael Meacher, Andrew Stunell, Joan Walley, Peter Bottomley, David Howarth, John Battle, Paddy Tipping, Chris Huhne, Dr. Desmond Turner and Dr. Doug Naysmith, presented a Bill to set sectoral targets relating to energy generation and consumption; to make provision for the sectoral targets to be met; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 22 February, and to be printed. [Bill 62].

Online Purchasing of Goods and Services (Age Verification)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make it a requirement for the providers of goods and services and the providers of specified facilities enabling the purchase of such goods and services to take reasonable steps, in certain circumstances, to establish the age of customers making such purchases remotely; and for connected purposes.

In simple terms, my Bill would require online retailers and those who facilitate the sale of goods and services online to abide by the laws of the land in respect of age-restricted goods and services.

In days of old, when knights were bold and I was young, and the internet had not been invented, retailers had a comparatively easy job when it came to the sale of age-restricted goods and services such as alcohol, tobacco, gambling, solvents and so on. If there was any doubt about a person’s age, they could ask for identification and, if necessary, decline to sell the goods or services. The consequences of getting it wrong could be dire. A bookie or a landlord could be fined, lose their licence or worse; a cinema or nightclub could be closed down.

The growth of the internet and e-commerce, however, has meant that the same goods and services can now be bought online, and we are increasingly a nation of online buyers. With that has come a loophole that urgently needs to be addressed—namely, that there are most often no checks online, thus enabling children to buy age-restricted goods. This is at a time when we are all rightly concerned about the increasing availability of knives and alcohol to under-age youngsters. The Bill would require online retailers and those who facilitate such purchases—for instance, via pre-payment cards—to take positive steps to ensure age compliance. We cannot have a wild west scenario whereby anything is sold to anyone and no one takes responsibility. Children can now get hold of some very disturbing items—things that they would never be able to buy if they walked into a shop. That has to stop.

It is clear that very few online retailers have procedures or software in place to prevent the sale of age-restricted goods to children. Sadly, self-regulation is not working. I believe that online retailers caught selling alcohol, knives or pornography to under-age children should face a hefty fine or even imprisonment if they fail to put in place procedures to check the age of their customers. No one is seeking to hold back the tide of e-commerce, even if we could, or to place more onerous requirements on online retailers, or to prevent people from using pre-payment cards, but an increasing number of cases have exposed the ease with which children under 18 can buy alcohol, watch pornographic films, or worse.

Only a small number of goods and services are subject to any kind of age restriction, but they are in sensitive areas where society and the law have said some limits need to be applied. They are there for a reason, but there is a real risk that the internet could make them redundant. Many online retailers simply ask customers to confirm their age by ticking a box and take no other measures to verify whether the person meets the age criteria. “Of course”, cry the online retailers, “retailing on the internet relies on systems that are very highly automated and work at very high speeds with little direct human intervention.” They are right to say that the life of the vendor is so much harder online nowadays because banks routinely provide legal minors, in some cases children as young as 11, with the sort of plastic cards—for example, Solo or Visa Electron cards—that can be used to make payments on the internet and are widely accepted on every kind of website. Many members of the public associate the logos of these cards with credit cards, and everybody thinks that credit cards are available only to legal adults, not least because contracts cannot be enforced against legal minors, other than for “necessities”, which very few online sales are.

These brands are becoming associated with a range of other financial products, particularly pre-paid, or stored value cards, which can be bought as gifts and given to people of any age, or even bought over the counter for cash. One company in particular sells cards that use these logos and it advertises them as being available for use by persons of any age. The cards are accepted anywhere the logos appear, which includes millions of websites. I understand that the financial services industry sees the development of these stored value cards as a major new market that will grow exponentially over the next few years. However, such cards can allow children to get to places on the internet or buy goods and services online that they would never be able to access in real life.

We all know that children like to push the boundaries and, indeed, one online company survey found that of 300 18 to 30-year-olds, 57 per cent. admitted lying about their age to gain access to, or buy, age-restricted goods before their 18th birthday. Nobody compels anyone to sell age-restricted goods or services over the internet; they choose to do so. Therefore, unless companies can be sure they are selling goods legally, they should stop selling them online altogether.

The evidence that children are obtaining age-restricted goods and services online is becoming compelling. For example, last summer The People newspaper worked with a 14-year-old called Zach. He got a pre-paid card at a local store; he paid cash and walked out the door with it. The card retailers say that their cards can be sold only to people over the age of 18, but Zach had no trouble getting his—there was no check whatsoever—and since there is no law that says it is illegal to sell the cards to persons under the age of 18, one is bound to wonder how carefully many retailers monitor it. Using the card, Zach was able to order XXX porn videos from Amazon, and knives from Tesco that were delivered to his home where he signed for them personally. Oddbins delivered some Vodka to his house, and apparently William Hill let him bet £10 on a football match. Some other children in Glasgow were also able to get alcohol delivered to their door, to join online bingo sites and to get X-rated horror movies sent to them.

Asking people simply to tick a box to confirm that they are a certain age is not acceptable in the internet age. The Gambling Act 2006, which came into force last September, specifically requires online gambling companies to implement an age verification service that is in no way dependent on the method of payment being used. In relation to gambling, the House has said it is not acceptable simply to ask people to confirm their age. We require companies to verify that their customers are over 18, for themselves, separately. We did that specifically and solely to protect children.

There are technological solutions, and companies are providing online age and ID check solutions in order to screen minors One who contacted me is currently working with online gaming vendors. It says that it supports the introduction of an age verification mandate to online retailers selling age-restricted goods, and adds that

“the online gaming industry has already proved that they can enable an instant customer age verification during the online transaction without incurring significant additional costs and without harming the customers experience”.

What is illegal in the real world is illegal in the virtual world. The evidence is clear that the laws restricting access to a limited number of goods and services on the basis of age are being circumvented online. That is a risk to our children and the community as a whole. The Bill would enable us to get rid of this loophole and provide the protection to our children that we intended to be there for them.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Margaret Moran, Ms Sally Keeble, Kali Mountford, Judy Mallaber, Barbara Keeley, Fiona Mactaggart, Ian Stewart, Martin Salter, Lynda Waltho and Linda Gilroy.

Online purchasing of goods and services (age verification)

Margaret Moran accordingly presented a Bill to make it a requirement for the providers of goods and services and the providers of specified facilities enabling the purchase of such goods and services to take reasonable steps, in certain circumstances, to establish the age of customers making such purchases remotely; and for connected purposes. And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 16 May, and to be printed [Bill 57].

Orders of the Day

Energy Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
(Mr. John Hutton)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I believe that the Energy Bill, with the measures on planning and climate change, has an important role to play in implementing our strategy for tackling climate change and ensuring secure energy supplies. We are all aware of the scale of the energy challenges that the UK and other countries face.

First, we need to take decisive and effective action to tackle climate change. The Climate Change Bill will establish legally binding targets for cutting UK emissions.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way so early in his speech. On decisive action, will he confirm that there have been at least 22 Green Papers, five White Papers and more than 100 consultations on individual energy issues since 1997?

I am not sure what point the hon. Gentleman is trying to make. I do not regard his comments as criticism of the Government—in a modern democracy, it is good to consult. Consultation has strengthened, not undermined, the Government’s energy policies. It is not true that the Government have been inactive in introducing policies to tackle climate change and deal with the problems of energy security.

The hon. Gentleman said that he had interrupted my speech—I do not think that, technically, I had started to make it. Let me carry on from where I had reached—a little after the second line.

Changing the way in which we produce and use energy will have an important role to play in meeting targets that we have set ourselves. We must ensure that we have the widest possible range of cleaner, low-carbon energy sources and technologies. The Bill will help with that.

Secondly, we must maintain the security of our energy supplies as the UK makes the transition from being a net exporter to a net importer of energy. The transition requires new forms of energy infrastructure in the UK. For example, the UK requires more gas storage by 2020. We need to increase our gas import capacity by between 15 and 30 per cent. and we must ensure that we support investment in such important infrastructure projects. Again, the Bill will make a positive contribution.

Thirdly, beyond import and storage infrastructure, the UK needs investment in new generating capacity of between 30 GW to 35 GW in the next 12 years or so. We must create the right environment to encourage investment, which will not only maintain the UK’s diverse energy mix, but—most important—make it increasingly low carbon. Again, the Bill tackles those concerns. A key part of delivering the new investment is giving the private sector confidence in our planning system. That is why we have introduced the Planning Bill, which will deliver a timelier and more efficient decision-making process for consenting to large-scale energy projects.

The policies that we introduce now will determine over the long term the investment decisions that the energy markets make and the new technologies that they develop. They will also enable our successful transition to a truly low-carbon economy, while helping to ensure continued energy security. There is no single answer to the multi-faceted problems that we face. No single technology is capable of solving all our problems. However, the solutions to the challenges go hand in hand with each other.

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. It is not like me to interrupt him so early in his speech, but will he explain to the people of this country exactly why we need a balanced energy mix, as he has just outlined?

Yes, I intend to make that point, which my hon. Friend is anxious for me to make, in a few moments. However, may I now thank him personally for the support that he has given Ministers as we have set about finding some of the answers to the highly complicated questions that we face?

It is for all the reasons that I have set out that the Energy Bill incorporates wide-ranging but complementary measures for cutting carbon emissions and improving security of supply. It will therefore help us to meet the energy challenges that we face.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. He may know that an application for a wind farm in my constituency has just been turned down on appeal, to great local rejoicing. Now that the Government have finally found the courage to restart the civil nuclear programme, will he abandon the pretence that inefficient, expensive and ugly wind farms are any part of the solution in what is, after all, supposed to be an environmental policy?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that intervention. I have a strong feeling, however, that his comments would have been better addressed to his Front Benchers than to ours. I strongly believe that we need a balanced energy policy, which will include onshore and offshore wind as an essential component of dealing with the challenge of climate change and energy security. I am afraid that I will not jump on the bandwagon that the right hon. Gentleman has laid before me—

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way—he is obviously in a benign and helpful mood. Is he aware, however, that at least 500 wind turbines either are under construction or have permission for sites in the Wash or off the Norfolk coast? Bearing that in mind, does he agree that there is now no justification for small clusters of onshore wind farms, which do great damage to the environment and are highly unpopular? Surely they should now all be offshore.

I think that there will be an increasing move towards offshore wind generation, which would be a good thing. However, it would be quite wrong for me to prejudge individual planning applications, because that is not my role in the system. It does not help to create the balanced energy policy that the majority of people in the country want that every time a wind turbine application is shoved in, everyone opposes it but at the same time demands cleaner energy. Fundamentally, such nimbyism is not terribly constructive.

The previous two interventions illustrate exactly the problem that my right hon. Friend faces: everybody is against any alternative. What we need, however, is that balanced energy mix, which will give us security of supply. In cold winters, the old people in my constituency, for instance, will not be worried about the fine tuning; rather, they will want to know that they can turn the electricity on and that it will work.

I have a great deal of sympathy for my hon. Friend’s point. On the issue of nuclear, which I shall come to shortly, one of the important points that we all need to address is not just how to face the low-carbon and energy security challenges, but how to ensure that we satisfy the base load energy challenge. Fundamentally, none of our constituents will thank us if, when the temperature drops and it gets dark, adequate and affordable power is not in place at the right time to heat their homes and enable them to go about their daily lives.

If we are to meet any of the challenges that I have outlined, change will be required—and that means change in some of our constituencies. I have wind farms in my constituency, for instance, and there is a multiplicity of views about such matters, as the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) will know. What does not help is the idea either that there is one technology—the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) has made that argument in relation to nuclear power—or that we can successfully continue trying to delay, obstruct and, in the hon. Gentleman’s words, hopefully reject proposals for renewable sources onshore. I am afraid that there are no easy choices, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) pointed out, but making no choice at all is not one of them.

I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend that we must look at the whole range of alternative and renewable technologies. In that respect, will he give me an assurance that the Bill will provide encouragement for the expansion of new technologies such as micro-power, and for incentives such as feed-in tariffs? I know the arguments that he is rightly putting forward, but will the Bill provide for the introduction of a new sector such as micro-power, if that were considered acceptable?

We have announced proposals, of which my right hon. Friend will be aware, on microgeneration and on providing additional renewable obligation certificates—ROCs—for micro. We will need to come back to the whole issue of distributed energy and microgeneration as we respond to the proposals that are due tomorrow from the European Commission on how EU member states are to meet the new obligations that the Heads of Government agreed at the spring Council for a greater proportion of the EU’s energy to come from renewable sources. I am trying to reassure not only my right hon. Friend but Members on both sides of the House who want a balanced energy approach and reassurance that there is no belief on the part of Ministers in a single technological solution to our energy problems. I am giving my right hon. Friend that assurance. I believe strongly that, as he studies the Bill’s provisions—and, perhaps, serves on the Committee—he will see exactly the kind of balanced approach that eschews the false choice of a single technology and instead pursues the realistic choice of different technologies.

The Secretary of State referred to the challenge of the announcement tomorrow from the European Union about renewable energy in the round. Will he tell the House why the Bill does not contain a commitment to a renewable heat obligation?

These are matters that we are currently looking at very carefully. The Office of Climate Change is looking at these matters, and we are going to have to consider the issue of renewable heat sources as we respond to the challenge of the new European Union requirements. The Prime Minister has set out the broad timetable that we shall be following, and once we have the details of the Commission’s proposals tomorrow, there will be a consultation. The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) will probably be disappointed by that, but I believe strongly that that is the way to proceed. There will be a consultation in the spring, and we will announce further, more detailed measures that I hope will cover the issue that the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) has raised.

My right hon. Friend might have seen the National Audit Office report on energy consumption on the Government estate, which shows how difficult it is to reduce such consumption. That must be a common experience. In the light of that report, will he tell the House to what extent the Bill predicts and provides for a growth in energy consumption? Should we not perhaps pay more attention to the demand side?

There are no provisions in the Bill about the issue that my hon. Friend has raised. If he is asking me whether the Government could do more to promote energy efficiency on the Government estate, the answer is obviously yes. I am glad to say that my Department has quite a good record in that regard, and we will continue to try to improve on it.

The Secretary of State will know that the Prime Minister has committed the UK to meeting the EU target of obtaining 20 per cent. of our energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. Will he specify which parts of the Bill will deliver that 20 per cent. by 2020?

There are parts of the Bill that address that concern, but I simply have not been able yet to reach them in my speech. The parts that will make the greatest difference will be the provisions relating to the reforms to the renewables obligation, and in particular to banding, which will allow us to encourage and bring to fruition those technologies that, at the moment, are slightly further away from making a contribution than they should be. I am thinking of sources such as offshore wind and tidal power. In the UK, we should be considering utilising our natural resources more efficiently and intelligently. I shall say more in a minute that I hope my hon. Friend will find reassuring.

I should like to make a bit more progress with my speech before I give way again. I hope that the House will allow me to do that.

Measures in the Bill to reform the renewables obligation will increase the amount of electricity that we get from renewable sources. Other measures will help to support the deployment of new nuclear power and to enable investment in carbon capture and storage and in offshore gas infrastructure. All of those will help cut carbon emissions, increase the diversity of our energy mix and improve our energy security—important goals that I hope will gain the support of Members of all parties.

The Bill also implements key parts of our energy White Paper strategy. It will update the legislative framework to achieve three particular things: first, to reflect the availability of new low-carbon technologies; secondly, to meet our changing requirements for security of supply infrastructure; and, finally, to ensure suitable protection for the environment and the taxpayer as our energy markets change.

The Bill is divided into six parts. Part 1 relates to offshore gas importation and storage. As the UK increasingly relies on international energy markets, our strategy for ensuring secure energy supplies must also evolve. Competition for energy supplies is increasing. The International Energy Agency forecasts that inter-regional trade in gas will more than double by 2030. The UK currently imports about 20 per cent. of its gas requirements, but as many hon. Members will know, that is projected to increase to well above 50 per cent. by 2020 as supplies from the UK continental shelf decline. Part of our response to that challenge must be to ensure that companies have a clear regulatory framework for investing in the new offshore storage and import infrastructure that our country requires.

Current offshore legislation was designed principally for oil and gas production or extraction. As a result, there is no single piece of legislation that covers the new kind of offshore gas infrastructure that we in the UK need. The current regulatory process is therefore complex and fragmented. It must be improved and streamlined if new investment is to take place in the time scale that we are discussing.

Through clauses 1 to 15, the Bill creates a new regulatory and licensing framework specifically designed for offshore gas storage and offshore LNG—liquefied natural gas—unloading projects. That will simplify the regulatory process and will, I hope, create greater clarity and certainty for investors. The Planning Bill, which I have already mentioned, will streamline the consenting processes for onshore gas projects. The Energy Bill will create a fit-for-purpose regime for offshore gas projects.

This part of the Bill also creates a new regulatory framework for offshore carbon dioxide storage projects. Fossil fuels will continue to be part of the UK’s diverse energy mix for decades to come. On present policies, global energy demand could be more than 50 per cent. higher in 2030 than it is today. With a significant percentage of that being met by fossil fuels, energy-related greenhouse gas emissions could be around 55 per cent. higher than today. Finding a way to reduce the emissions from fossil fuel generation is therefore absolutely essential if we are to meet the challenge of climate change. That is why the Government are supporting a competition for the demonstration of carbon capture and storage. Clauses 16 to 34 will establish a licensing framework that allows storage of carbon dioxide under the sea bed. Without the new legislation, I do not believe that that demonstration project could proceed.

In addition to making provision on licensing, the Bill will also assert the UK’s rights to store carbon dioxide beneath the UK sea bed and extend relevant existing offshore legislation—on the decommissioning of offshore gas installations, for example—to future facilities that might be used for carbon dioxide storage. That is a key part of enabling the long-term development of carbon capture and storage. Once constructed, the demonstration project, which we hope will be operational by 2014, will be one of the world’s first commercial scale power stations with carbon capture and storage. Our aim is to drive forward the development of a technology that has the potential to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuel power stations by as much as 90 per cent.

On the issue of carbon capture and storage and the much vaunted competition, first announced in 2005, has not the Government’s dithering been so bad that not only has BP pulled out of the project to use Miller field, which was due to be decommissioned, but it was announced yesterday that the project is to go to Abu Dhabi rather than Peterhead? Referring to 2014 sounds great and the competition sounds wonderful, but has not the dithering lost BP’s investment and the opportunity to use the Miller field?

I consider that a thoroughly miserable intervention from a member of a party that has absolutely diddly-squat to say about the United Kingdom’s energy requirements. We will not take any lectures from the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends about how we meet the UK’s energy requirements, given the stance that he has taken. We are not interested in that kind of niggardly comment. The hon. Gentleman has a vested interest in talking down the United Kingdom. What we must recognise is that the UK is one of the world’s leading countries in the development of carbon capture and storage technology, although we would not have understood that from listening to the hon. Gentleman’s whingeing and sarcastic remarks.

The Secretary of State’s rather dismissive reply to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie) ignored the fact that the BP project at Peterhead might well have been on line by 2010, thus possibly beating the competing project’s time scale. Is there not a serious point to be made, namely that the Government’s single-minded and rather ham-fisted approach to carbon capture and storage has damaged the prospects of UK industry?

I do not accept that either. The whole point of what we are doing is organising proper competition. If we had proceeded with the time scale of the project that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, other equally promising technologies and solutions would have been automatically ruled out, and instead of hearing from him, we would have heard from many of my hon. Friends and other Members about why their particular projects had not been allowed to proceed. To be honest, I do not think we want to hear any more from the hon. Gentleman about these subjects. [Interruption.] The debate has taken rather a sour turn, has it not? I shall endeavour to be more cheerful on the subject of part 2.

Let me try to help my right hon. Friend in raising a key issue for Scotland. Under the levy requirements applying to the Scottish renewables obligation, there is a fund of £100 million waiting to be spent which has not been called on by the Scottish Executive. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Executive why they will not spend the money on renewables in Scotland?

I will gladly raise that question with Scottish Ministers, and I am sure that I will have my right hon. Friend’s support in doing so.

We all have reasons to be cheerful now, because we have reached part 2, which focuses on renewable electricity. The Government are committed to an increasing role for renewables in the UK’s energy mix, and part 2 makes a number of important changes to the renewables obligation.

First and foremost, it must be said that the renewables obligation has been highly successful. Since its introduction in 2002, renewable electricity has more than doubled, from about 2 per cent. to more than 4 per cent. of electricity generated in the United Kingdom. By 2020, alongside exemptions from the climate change levy, the renewables obligation will be worth about £1 billion a year in support of the renewables industry.

The changes in the renewables obligation include the introduction of a power to band the obligation to allow different levels of support for different technologies, and will help to promote a more rapid deployment of a wider range of renewable technologies. That will include more support for microgeneration—mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley)—and renewable combined heat and power, helping the UK’s electricity from distributed generation sources to grow over the long term.

I know that some people, in the House and outside, believe that the renewables obligation should be replaced. They cite the success of feed-in tariffs, particularly in Germany, as proof that they constitute a more effective means of developing renewables. I think that we should be clear about the economics. Whatever the merits of feed-in tariffs in the context of other countries’ energy systems, we need to consider what will work best here in the United Kingdom. Germany has benefited from a consistently supportive policy for renewables since the early 1990s, and it is paying dividends. That clarity and consistency of approach has been a big part of Germany’s success, which we celebrate with our German colleagues.

UK renewables investors have highlighted certainty and consistency as two of the factors that will be crucial to continued and rapid growth and development of renewables in the UK. That is why our measures will build on and strengthen the renewables obligation. Our reforms are the result of more than 18 months of working closely with renewables investors and others to ensure that we got them right.

The Secretary of State has rightly praised Government clarity and consistency as a way of raising renewables. Is that why the UK is so low on European league tables—because this Government have not provided clarity and consistency?

Oh dear, oh dear. I think we have returned to the mood created by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie). That is simply not the case. As I said a moment ago, the renewables obligation has allowed renewable electricity generation to double in the UK. The hon. Gentleman’s proposals would create a lack of the clarity, uniformity and confidence that investors want to see in the UK.

Our reforms will make the renewables obligation more efficient for renewables deployment from 2009 to 2015. As a result of our reforms, we expect the electricity generated by renewables obligation-eligible renewable sources to treble by 2015, and that will be only the first instalment of a major expansion in renewables over the years to 2020 and beyond.

Tomorrow we expect to hear the Commission’s proposals on how the new EU target will be implemented and shared among member states. We have made it clear that other measures will be required once the detail of the EU target has been finalised. As I have said, I plan a public consultation in the summer leading to the publication of our renewable energy strategy in the spring of next year, once the EU directive has been finalised. In the meantime, I am convinced that the right next step forward is through the clauses in this Bill to strengthen the renewables obligation, maximise its effectiveness and help drive greater deployment of renewable electricity in the UK. I strongly believe, as does the industry, that the principal barriers to renewables deployment in the UK are not financial, but are to do with the planning and the grid connection regimes. That is why the Government are taking steps to address those issues in the Bill.

Stories are circulating that the EU might announce tomorrow that there will be a renewables trading option, so that, for example, if we have a renewables target of 15 per cent. we may deliver less if we pay credits to over-achieving countries. Will my right hon. Friend set his face against such an arrangement? At present, our proportion of total renewable energy stands at 1.75 per cent. as against the EU average of 7 per cent. and we ought to have a better bottom line.

The principal focus is on getting to the point where the EU sources 20 per cent. of its energy from renewable sources. That is the whole thrust behind the Commission’s proposals and the decisions taken at the spring Council. I will not speculate today on the detail of the Commission’s proposals, because that would not serve any helpful purpose as none of us has seen those details. Our focus should be on the position in the EU and here in the UK.

I know that my right hon. Friend is aware that communities in my constituency are keen for changes to be made so that they can have energy from renewable sources; they want to have a sustainable community and then to sell energy back to the national grid. However, they feel that they are stymied by current regulations. What comfort can they be given that those obstacles can be removed and they can get on with being a sustainable community?

The banding proposals that I mentioned for microgeneration will help, and the reforms of the renewables obligation process will encourage and stimulate that. We are looking carefully—as we will certainly need to do—at microgeneration as part of our response to tomorrow’s proposals from the European Commission. Personally, I want us to see what more we can do on microgeneration, because I believe that it is an untapped resource and that we can do more to encourage it. We look forward to working with my hon. Friend and others to make sure that we do that.

I have referred on several occasions to the Planning Bill. The Energy Bill will help improve grid connection for offshore renewables by supplementing the current offshore transmission regime. The UK is now the world’s No. 1 location for investment in offshore wind, and I want to ensure it remains so. At the end of last year, I announced proposals for a potential major expansion of UK offshore wind, with a draft plan that could allow companies to develop up to a further 25 GW of offshore wind by 2020. Ensuring that we have the infrastructure in place to transmit offshore renewable electricity effectively to the onshore grid is therefore crucial.

To help enable that, it is important that we establish a cost-effective regulatory regime for offshore transmission. That will involve a wide range of activities over the longer term. In the shorter term, the Energy Bill will add to existing powers so that Ofgem can run cost-effective and efficient competitive tendering exercises for offshore transmission licences. Introducing competition in that area will help avoid unnecessary delays and costs to the development of offshore renewable projects, ultimately reducing risks and therefore supporting investment. We have estimated that the new approach could save between £230 million and £400 million in the overall cost of delivering this crucial new infrastructure.

Before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of offshore wind power, may I ask him something? He will know that the biggest of the planned wind farms—the London Array—will be located not far from my constituency and that we hope it will be constructed from the port of Ramsgate. If that comes to pass, east Kent, which is an area of high unemployment, could well become the leading centre of expertise in the construction of offshore wind projects. Will he undertake to do everything in his power to ensure that that wind farm is constructed from Ramsgate?

I shall certainly do that, and I am happy to work with my hon. Friend to bring that about. All the analysis and the discussion so far today has been about the energy implications of the things that we are talking about—security, climate change and so on—but we should not overlook the prospect that renewable technology and renewable energy sources hold out a good chance of bringing about the birth of a new generation of green-collar jobs in British manufacturing. We should focus on that, possibly not in this debate, but in the months and years ahead. I shall do all I can to work with him and hon. Members on both sides of the House to ensure that the UK extracts the maximum potential benefit from all such technology for our manufacturing base. We can, should and will do more.

I hope that this opportunity to restate the Government’s ambitions for renewables is also timely for another reason. Today, I am publishing the terms of reference for the Severn tidal power feasibility study, which I announced in September. The Severn estuary has the potential to generate up to 5 per cent. of the UK’s electricity, and the feasibility study is a hugely important project in ensuring that we understand all the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project of such size and scale. It is potentially another important strand of our efforts to increase renewables deployment. Earlier today, I laid a written statement before the House setting out the full details of the terms of reference, and we estimate that the study will cost about £9 million.

I shall give way first to the hon. Gentleman and then to the right hon. Gentleman.

The reason why we stood up is that my right hon. Friend represents Wells and I represent Bridgwater, and the project will affect our constituencies enormously. I cannot find reference in either the Planning Bill or the Energy Bill to the following point. This massive infrastructure project will cost billions, but have the Government given themselves enough leeway, through the Planning Bill or the Energy Bill, to help force it through to achieve their aims?

I certainly think that the Planning Bill will help. We must improve on the length of time it takes us to approve crucial national infrastructure projects, such as the Severn barrage—potentially. We simply cannot afford years and years of the sort of planning inquiries that we have endured recently. The science of climate change is changing rapidly and policy makers must respond to that. May I assure the hon. Gentleman, the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members whose constituencies could be affected if the project were given the go-ahead that it is important—this comes back to what the hon. Member for Shipley said—that the fullest possible consultation takes place? With the support of the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) and others affected by the project, I intend to convene a group of affected Members of Parliament, local authorities and others to ensure that the proper exchange of information takes place, so that we all know exactly what is happening and what progress is being made on the project.

The Secretary of State knows that if the Severn barrage goes ahead, it will start in my constituency. Will he therefore assure me that the study will assess the effects in the Severn estuary on not only the wildlife but the other species affected—homo sapiens, particularly those in the coastal area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) and me? It will be the biggest civil engineering project ever attempted in this country and it will have enormous effects on our constituencies. Will the study assess those impacts in detail, and not simply address the environment of the estuary and the marine environment?

I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that a decision has not yet been made about where the project will kick off or where precisely in the Severn estuary it will be located. Such decisions will be made later, so he does not need to worry so much about that right now. The whole point of doing the piece of work that I mentioned is to examine all the implications of such a project; it will include all the things to which he has referred.

I should apologise to the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) for confusing him with the hon. Member for Shipley. I am sorry for that, but he looks and sounds very much like the hon. Member for Shipley.

My right hon. Friend has given me a reason to be cheerful, as progress will be made on appraising the possibilities of Severn tidal power. Many local Members of Parliament—including me—Greenpeace, the Severn tidal power group and others will welcome the announcement. On two occasions, my right hon. Friend has referred to a Severn barrage. Will he reassure the House that all feasible technologies for using tidal power will be appraised? I suggest that there is no disagreement among sensible people that tidal power is critical, but the technologies need to be appraised.

I apologise to my hon. Friend and to other hon. Members for not making that point clear. The appraisal will consider, for example, the potential power that we can generate from lagoons. I know that many hon. Members have an interest in that.

If I do, I hope that it will be the last time that I shall be asked to give way. I know that many hon. Members want to speak in the debate, and I am taking too much time.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State. I have some form on this matter, as 20 years ago I was on the feasibility group that considered the Severn barrage. I still believe that it must be the right sort of thing to do. Can I take it from the Secretary of State’s comments that the precise location of the development—whether it will be in the upper or lower Severn estuary—and the technology to be employed are still to be decided? Can I take it that the feasibility study will consider not only the environmental and energy benefits and disbenefits but the possibility of providing some protection against flooding in the Somerset levels area through a barrage, or at least some form of barrier, in the lower Severn estuary?

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that no such decisions have yet been made. There would be no point in commissioning such a study if we had already made up our mind about all those issues. No decisions have been made and we need to consider all the issues that have been referred to. The study will be wide enough to consider the potential of other barrage schemes and other forms of tidal power around the UK, including in the Mersey and, closer to my constituency, in Morecombe bay. We should not rule out anything at this point. Our job is to maximise the potential contribution of renewable sources, from wherever they come.

Part 3 of the Bill covers the decommissioning of energy installations.

There could be reasons to be cheerful in part 3 if the Government can guarantee that the nuclear generators will take on the full costs of decommissioning and waste management. The nuclear White Paper, of course, honestly explains that in extreme circumstances the taxpayer will have to pay the bills for decommissioning and waste management. Will my right hon. Friend say whether the Bill defines those extreme circumstances? If not, will he give us an example of them?

I want to come on to that topic in a second. All Governments have a wider responsibility for public health and safety. If any threat to public health and safety should arise from storage or decommissioning it would be front and centre the responsibility of the Government to commit the resources of the emergency services, for example, to protect the public. I want to say something about how we will run the exercise and determine the costs of waste disposal and decommissioning. That is an important point. In such circumstances, Governments would have to intervene and commit public resources to safeguard public health and safety. We know of the toxicity of the materials that we are discussing and the overriding obligation must be on the Government to protect the public. It is our obligation under international law and treaty, anyway.

As I recently confirmed to the House, it is our view that new nuclear power has a role to play in the UK’s energy mix. New nuclear power will contribute to the diversity of our energy supplies and help to reduce carbon emissions. It will also reduce the costs of meeting our energy goals. In a world of carbon prices and high fossil fuel prices, we believe that it makes commercial sense. Ultimately, of course, companies will decide whether they wish to invest in new nuclear power, not Ministers.

We have listened to the concerns about new nuclear power, including those about the costs of decommissioning and waste. We have made it clear that the developers and operators, not the Government, will have to fund, build and operate new nuclear power stations. That includes meeting the full costs of decommissioning and each individual operator’s full share of waste management and disposal costs.

No, as I must make progress.

The new legislative framework in clauses 41 to 63 in part 3 will ensure that all operators have in place a robust financing arrangement, in the form of a funded decommissioning programme, before operation of a power station commences. The Bill will require every operator to have a fully costed technical plan for each new nuclear power station that sets out in detail how the station’s nuclear waste will be dealt with safely, and how the station will eventually be decommissioned. The Bill will also require all operators to have a financial plan that describes how they will provide the necessary funds to meet those costs. Both plans will form a funded decommissioning programme that will be subject to approval by the Secretary of State.

I shall make a little more progress and then give way to the hon. Gentleman and to my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice).

There will be powers to enforce compliance with the funded programme. The Bill will make it a criminal offence to operate new nuclear power stations without having an approved programme in place. Failure to comply with the programme will also be a criminal offence.

As a provision outside the clauses in the Bill, the Government will ensure investor confidence by establishing a fixed price for disposing of new nuclear waste. That will be based on expected costs, with a significant risk premium built in to safeguard the public purse. Further details of how the system will work will be available later this month, but it is wrong to suggest, as some have, that a system based on fixed costs will mean a taxpayer subsidy for new nuclear power. It will mean no such thing: as I have said, we will build a significant contingency into pricing proposals to guard against public subsidies, in a wide range of possible circumstances. The Bill will also ensure that, in a number of situations, including insolvency, the Government will have the power to seek additional funding from parent and other associated companies. In that way, we will be able to ensure that operators meet their financial obligations.

The regulatory structure that the Bill puts in place, combined with the work to determine waste and decommissioning costs and the other facilitating measures announced in the nuclear White Paper earlier this month, constitute an important package of measures. Those measures will ensure that nuclear power is available as an investment option to companies, alongside other low-carbon technologies. At the same time, however, they will, as I have said, ensure that the Government are free to act to discharge their international responsibilities.

This part of the Bill also strengthens the decommissioning regime for offshore renewables and for oil and gas installations. Developers already have an obligation to ensure that redundant offshore installations are decommissioned properly, to protect the marine environment and to ensure the safety of other industries, such as shipping. New provisions in the Bill will strengthen the regime and put in place suitable protections for the public purse and the environment. They will also ensure that funds put aside for decommissioning are expressly protected for that purpose, even in the event of insolvency.

I am genuinely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I hesitate to intervene on the good relations between the Government and the Scottish National party, but what will happen if the Scottish Executive block proposals to build a nuclear power station in Scotland?

What will happen is that there will be no new nuclear power stations in Scotland. As the hon. Gentleman knows, planning is a devolved matter for Scottish Ministers to determine. I think that the Scottish Executive are making a huge mistake. As I have said before, I think that they are playing politics with the situation, and that is regrettable. In the UK context, it is really important that the various devolved Administrations work together constructively. I am happy to say that that is what happens with Wales and Northern Ireland; sadly, Scottish Ministers have not engaged with the matter sensibly or intelligently.

I will give way, for the final time, to my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle.

Only one nuclear power station in the world—at Three Mile Island in the US—has been decommissioned and also dismantled. What is the additional cost of dismantling a nuclear power station, as opposed to merely decommissioning it? Is a decommissioned nuclear power station hazardous in any way?

We set out in the White Paper a lot of the detailed arithmetic and economics in connection with decommissioning and waste disposal, and I am happy to refer my hon. Friend to that. If there is to be a renaissance for nuclear power in this country—and I very much hope that there will be—it is important that we establish new ground rules that comply with the existing energy market principles on which this country operates. That is why the provisions in this part of the Bill have been brought forward. This is a new and different era. The Central Electricity Generating Board is no more. We need a regime that is fit for an energy market that operates effectively in the United Kingdom, and that is why, if we are to go ahead with new nuclear, the clauses are essential.

I will not.

Given the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle about new nuclear, I would hope that he would engage constructively with at least this part of the Bill, which is designed to protect the public from any covert—or, indeed, overt—subsidy for new nuclear. I am sure that he and I share that aim.

Part 4 covers several issues relating to the oil and gas industry. A strong market-based approach to domestic energy production will help to ensure that we have diverse energy supplies. The UK still meets about two thirds of its energy needs from the UK continental shelf, but clearly our ability to continue to maximise domestic production economically will depend on the way in which we manage the regulatory framework to incentivise production. By working together with, for example, PILOT—the high-level oil and gas forum for Government and industry—we have successfully sustained interest in investment in the UK continental shelf through several initiatives, such as the fallow exercise and the promote licence. Last year, total expenditure on the UK continental shelf was more than £10 billion. We continue to work together on a range of projects, including that to examine the potential west of the Shetland isles.

The Bill will make minor amendments to the oil and gas regulatory framework to reflect the evolving commercial environment, including the growing number of smaller players on the UK continental shelf. The measures in the Bill—I am glad to say that they are supported by the industry—will help to ensure that we can continue to manage the UK continental shelf efficiently and effectively, and will remove some of the potential risks that are inherent in the existing system. To that end, we are making minor changes to the oil and gas licensing regime, including by taking the power to revoke a licence partially in the event of, for example, the insolvency of one but not all of the parties to that licence. That will be an important new flexibility in the regulation, and it will benefit consortiums of smaller companies when one party defaults but the others are perfectly able to continue. In addition, to enable fair access by all parties, we are extending the coverage of the upstream oil and gas infrastructure third party access regime.

The Secretary of State mentioned the west of Shetland. Does he believe that anything in the Bill will help to take forward the taskforce for the west of Shetland? How optimistic is he that we will unlock the gas and oil to the west of Shetland, given that the best thing for our security is to maximise the use of what we have in our own waters?

No legislation is inhibiting the development of west of Shetland resources in any way, so we do not need provisions in the Bill to tackle that problem. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the detailed discussions that are taking place. I have met the operators and the oil and gas companies in Aberdeen to discuss their concerns. I have also been offshore to see many of the people who will be critical in making the project come alive. I hope that a way forward can be found, but it is the economics, rather than legislation, that must be addressed. I do not believe that anything in legislation prevents the development of those resources.

Part 5 deals with several more minor aspects of legislation, including rationalising energy policy reporting requirements and aligning them with the new requirements that are being introduced through the Climate Change Bill.

The Bill updates the regulatory framework for nuclear security to ensure that we have stronger sanctions to prosecute people who attempt to steal the most sensitive information from specific designated sites. The recent restructuring of the industry means that sensitive information relating to uranium enrichment may be stored away from licensed sites, such as research facilities. The provisions in the Bill will mean that no matter where such sensitive information is held, it will be protected through the availability of appropriate sanctions.

We must all face another reality: as global energy demand increases and the competition for supplies intensifies, worldwide energy prices are likely to continue to be high. Of course, we cannot isolate ourselves from such global market trends, but we can adopt the right measures to ensure that the UK is as energy-independent as possible. The Bill will help us to ensure that that objective can be better realised. Of course recent price rises are a concern for all of us, but our competitive market works. For more than a decade, our market has consistently delivered prices to UK domestic consumers that are lower than those in the vast majority of other countries. A growing number of consumers are also actively using the market to their advantage, switching suppliers and saving money.

We have introduced a number of important measures to help people meet the costs of keeping their homes warm in winter, including the winter fuel allowance, and there has been growing support for home insulation. The energy companies are working closely with my Department to address the energy needs of consumers on low and fixed incomes. We will meet the companies again soon to discuss their continued commitment to assisting their customers through a range of activities.

Many people are interested in the issue of energy prices, which my right hon. Friend just mentioned. May I draw his attention to research by Cornwall Energy Associates suggesting that some companies, such as British Gas, are much more committed than others to making social tariffs work? Will he address that issue, and does he accept that when he deals with that matter, and with the scandal of energy prices, he will get a lot of support?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making that point. I hope that it is some comfort to him that we will continue to monitor closely the situation that he describes. We do not rule out the need for legislation on social tariffs at some point in future, but legislation should be a last resort and must not act to restrict the innovative practices that some energy companies have been developing, including on help with arrears, which could help consumers even more directly.

Taken together, the measures in the Bill will play an essential part in ensuring that our country has access to safe, secure and sustainable energy in the years ahead. I hope that the wide range of measures will ensure that our legislation plays an effective role as we work through the tensions and complexities of the challenges that we face. The Bill deserves the support of Members of all parties, and that is why I commend it to the House.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his introduction to the Bill, but what he outlined is not so much a complete energy policy as a set of technical amendments to existing rules and laws. Many of them are important measures, but the House will view it as a missed opportunity to tackle the full range of energy challenges that the country faces. Legislatively, there are elements on emissions relating to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, a Planning Bill that sets out a framework for infrastructure decisions, the Energy Bill that we are considering, which addresses a hotch-potch of issues such as gas storage, carbon capture, the renewables obligation and decommissioning, and a so-far elusive Bill on handling nuclear waste.

In addition, tomorrow the European Union will publish a package of measures designed to reduce carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency across the region. It includes a commitment to establishing an ambitious renewables target of about 15 per cent., not just for electricity but for all energy. The Government’s attempts to disguise their incoherence on renewables with targets set far ahead in a fantasy future are now unravelling.

Even today, in an answer to a written question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), the Minister for Energy has watered down the Government’s target of obtaining 10 per cent. of our electricity from renewables by 2010. He now says that the figure might be as low as 8 per cent. Now that the arithmetic is clear, we see that we have an almost insurmountable rock to climb. Given the way in which the Government have delayed for the past five years, the UK is not likely to meet the target by cleaning up; we will meet it only by buying our right to be dirty. That is like someone bribing a doctor for a sick note when they are too lazy to go to work.

The challenges that confront the United Kingdom are twofold. First, for our own environmental integrity, and to secure even a hint of global leadership on the issue of tackling climate change, we must cut our carbon emissions. Secondly, we must ensure that while we move to a low-carbon economy, we do not compromise our security of supply.

We must produce approximately 40 GW of power a year. We are likely to need more energy in future as our economy and population grow, yet over a third of our generating capacity will go out of service over the next 20 years. We therefore face two unpalatable options: a dash for foreign gas, tying us into the always unpredictable and often combustible state of international politics or, worse, an energy shortfall that will simply blow Britain’s fuse. Our response must be immediate, radical and realistic. Non-carbon-emitting technologies may well be the most effective and efficient way of powering domestic households, but in the management of peaks and troughs in the intensive use of a chemicals factory, for instance, renewables may not provide sufficient consistency and horsepower. This is a serious “get real” moment for the Government.

Underpinning all the policies in the Bill is the need for an effective carbon regime, which is the basic instrument with which to stimulate investment in the green market. The EU emissions trading scheme is not an effective system. We have seen wild fluctuations in the carbon price, from €30 to virtually nothing, and up again to €25. Under phase 1 of the EU ETS, which ends this year, only 5 per cent. of the initial allowance was auctioned. We face an almost obscene paradox: because oil prices are high, the most carbon-emitting companies have enjoyed a £9 billion windfall. We are rewarding the dirtiest, not the cleanest, producers. For phase 2, ending in 2012, the number of auctionable permits has increased to only 10 per cent. Very little is known about phase 3.

The system is in disarray yet, paradoxically, the Government want a proper carbon regime to underpin their carbon capture, renewables and nuclear policies. There are no measures in the Bill, however, to strengthen such a regime. We want the EU ETS to operate as effectively as possible, but we believe, too, that investors in green technologies do not have time to wait for reforms to the ETS, so we urge the Government to look into our proposal to underpin the system with a carbon tax.

The hon. Gentleman’s analysis is very interesting. The Environmental Audit Committee has looked at the EU ETS, and I agree that billions have been made in windfalls for electricity generators. Given the immediacy of the problem that we face, does he agree that a windfall tax on those generators is an ideal way of raising money, which could then be hypothecated for renewable generation?

That could destroy the investment climate for future energy investment. I do not want to make any precipitate comments about such taxation decisions, except to say that if we are to have a sensible energy policy, a constant climate for investment is required. One of the worst things that we can do is chop and change, and pounce on people who do well. We need a regime that does not have perverse outcomes, and I shall come on to that issue in a few minutes.

The challenges that we face are immense, and we have to set aside party political biffing. We must work together whenever we can to work towards an era of safe, clean, reliable energy.

The hon. Gentleman will know of two decisions made by the Conservative Government in 1992 and 1994 that created the crisis that we now face. In 1992, his Government decided to close the world-leading clean coal technology centre at Grimethorpe colliery, and in 1994, after butchering the coal industry, they privatised what was left, when it had gone beyond its critical mass, so its demise was built in. Had those two decisions not been made, security of supply in this country would be sound.

There may, for the hon. Gentleman, be a delicious historic point. In 1987 I was the Conservative candidate for Barnsley, West and Penistone, and I gloriously increased a 10,000 Labour majority to a 14,000 Labour majority and still made it look like a success. The real lesson, I would say to the hon. Gentleman and some of his parliamentary colleagues who sit on the same Bench, is that we must look forward and stop looking back. We cannot just look back and say what was. We have to look forward and work out what we can do for the good of the country in the future.

We recognise that companies are being asked to make investments that will last for a generation or more, and they need to know that their politicians are taking the issues seriously and, I would say again to the hon. Gentleman, are working together. We should acknowledge the great interest that the subject has generated outside the House, and we should thank those who have sent all of us the submissions that we need to study today in order to reach our conclusions on the Bill and on the issue as a whole.

Greenpeace, for instance, says that nuclear is a distraction from focusing our real energies on renewables. I do not entirely agree, but it is a legitimate view. WWF says that we should not build any more fossil fuel installations without carbon capture technology. Friends of the Earth champions our support of feed-in tariffs. Energywatch says that we need to ensure that energy companies offer social tariffs for those trapped in fuel poverty. The Energy Saving Trust and the Energy Retail Association both support our call for mandating smart meters to improve energy efficiency. The Renewable Energy Association makes a range of submissions to strengthen the Bill’s incentives for renewables, including developing a sustainability remit for Ofgem. No doubt all those will be debated in Committee in a sensible and open-minded way.

The Bill first addresses the storage of gas. The recent shift in the UK’s status from producer to net importer of gas means that our need for storage facilities has become a very high priority. Because gas is piped and not shipped, it is either on or off. Ships can be redirected, but pipelines cannot. Being exposed to this on/off decision leaves us vulnerable. If we can store gas, that represents a significant antidote to energy vulnerability. If the proposals enable energy companies to buy in the summer and sell in the winter, and pass on to consumers the financial advantages of doing so, it is a no-brainer.

Given that some people have a perfectly rational fear about the security of long-term import dependency, the Government should be committing themselves to developing more capacity for strategic reserves, ready to be called upon in a national or international emergency.

The Bill also establishes the regulatory framework to explore the potential of carbon capture and storage. We strongly welcome the fact that the Government are finally beginning to take real action on CCS in the UK. We are already seeing the exciting results of such experiments in Norway and the United States. With our large offshore oil and gas presence, the UK is uniquely equipped to take the lead with this technology and cut our own emissions while providing an industrial base for CCS manufacturing and design.

Regrettably, as the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie) said, the dithering over the past three years has set back our ability to deploy CCS in the UK by up to even a decade, I would argue. We were warning the Government for months that the lack of an adequate regulatory and financial framework risked derailing BP and Scottish and Southern’s joint venture at Peterhead. Only an hour after the 2007 White Paper was published, as we predicted, the project collapsed. Had CCS qualified for the renewables obligation, the plant would undoubtedly have been able to go ahead, but as the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, now the Chancellor, informed me after the publication of that White Paper, CCS is not included in the renewables obligation because it is not renewable. Perhaps not, but it does capture carbon, which fulfils the same objective.

We still have concerns. If, for instance, 90 per cent. of carbon is captured, will the emissions count as zero or is there a proper formula for making a calculation? Perhaps the Secretary of State or the Minister can point me towards a proper explanation, amid the Government’s various tranches of energy policy statements, of what would happen to the economics of the operating company if CCS were successful.

The hon. Gentleman has just made a point about whether carbon capture and storage should benefit from the renewables obligation. Of course CCS is low-carbon technology, but so is nuclear power. Does the hon. Gentleman propose that the renewables obligation should extend to nuclear technology as well?

There was a crucial moment when the development of CCS technology was very important to this country, and the Government goofed—big time. We were ahead and now we are behind; we were way ahead of the pack on CCS and now we are not. That brings me to my next point, which is about the climate change levy. As the Secretary of State has just said, nuclear power is not carbon-emitting—so why is it subject to the climate change levy, which is effectively a tax on carbon? That illogical taxation structure has to change if the Government are to give a proper structure to their energy policy.

In a press release that accompanied the Government’s competition on CCS, we were informed that the winner would be chosen by the end of June 2009. However, it is clear from the small print that the Government have already pretty well picked the winner by supporting one small post-combustion project rather than opening the competition to all the other CCS technologies. At the time, the Secretary of State noted that post-combustion was the most relevant technology, considering that, as he may well have seen for himself in the past week, China opens an average of one coal-fired plant every four days. However, that misses the point: a number of companies, including Centrica and Scottish and Southern Energy, have proposals for more advanced—and arguably, cleaner—pre-combustion CCS projects, which have now been put in jeopardy.

With so much of our current capacity due to be decommissioned, the UK should not be confined within the mindset of only retrofitting. China, India and other heavy coal addicts will look for retrofit CCS, but the real future and potential for CCS is in making it integral to the original power plant design. We must ensure that we can also use the technology at home to minimise the carbon impact of any new fossil fuel capacity planned for the future. Given that tomorrow the European Union will publish its proposals for expanding CCS technology in Europe, we have concerns that the Bill merely sets out a framework for its own CCS competition rather than attempting to stimulate wider investment across the market.

Moreover, it is not clear whether the Bill establishes provision for liabilities. The permanence and safety of the CO2 stored in geological reservoirs need to be independently monitored and verified by a competent third party to check for leakage. We have anxieties that such safeguards are not in the Bill. Like many of the Government’s proposals, the Bill leaves a lot to secondary legislation.

CCS is all well and good, but it is not a limitless solution—it is only as good as the capacity of the hole in the ground to take the CO2. We must turn to the renewables industry to find a safe, clean and reliable energy source.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that concerns are being expressed about the nature of the competition to see who will have monopoly ownership of the rights to put carbon dioxide in the ground? At this stage, the competition would include only those companies that have previously enjoyed monopoly ownership of the oil beneath the ground. British universities are working on carbon reclamation. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that it would be appropriate for the competition to consider all possible uses of carbon dioxide, including the prospect of separation so that oxygen and carbon were released to be reused?

That is an interesting comment. I am not so concerned by the ownership of the CCS technology as by the scope that the Government are giving for all such possible technologies to flourish. It is natural that a company that extracts oil and gas happens to own the porous rock into which the CO2 can then be put. I am worried that the Government have narrowed the options for CCS when they should have been widened to the maximum.

As the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) realised, I was turning to renewables. Let me first welcome the feasibility study on the Severn barrage, which we have been calling for. We might as well know the facts, know them properly and have a serious study of what the options are, given that the Severn barrage is potentially such an enormous contributor to our generated electricity. The issue of renewables is covered in part 2. Our understanding is that the Bill aims to improve the effectiveness of the renewables obligation by banding the technologies depending on the level of investment that each technology requires. At the moment, the RO requires electricity suppliers to source a specific and annually increasing percentage of the electricity that they supply from renewable sources. Generators can claim one renewables obligation certificate for every 1 MW per hour of renewable electricity generated. Suppliers present their certificates, pay into the central fund, or both.

The scheme has had some success—since it was introduced, there has been a definite upsurge in renewables development—but it also has some serious flaws. Over 50 per cent. of renewables electricity sourced under the RO has been from biofuels, while almost 30 per cent. has been from onshore wind. The RO would have had a much greater impact on UK renewables capacity if it did better in supporting technologies for which a great deal of public resistance did not exist and for systems with fewer perverse outcomes. We welcome the Government’s introduction of banding technologies, which we hope will remove that undue bias. We also acknowledge, given the recent report on biofuels by the Environmental Audit Committee, that the Bill appears to include proposals to ensure that the Government will keep a close eye on biomass operators to ensure that their activities are sustainable.

However, there is a central problem with this part of the Bill. Tomorrow’s announcement from Brussels is expected to set a renewables target for the UK of at least 15 per cent. by 2020. As we heard earlier, the current approach will not get us there. We will certainly not reach 15 per cent. even with the Government’s shiny new Bill. The whole country is looking for a step change, and on that step the Government have stumbled. We have consistently spoken in favour of feed-in tariffs—“familiar arguments”, the Secretary of State said when we last met him at the Dispatch Box and basically repeated today. It is familiar because we think that it is the right policy and that now is the right time to implement it. It was particularly promoted by the Prime Minister’s own climate change policy guru, Sir Nicholas Stern, in his report published in 2006, which stated:

“Comparisons between deployment support through tradable quotas and feed-in tariff price support suggest that feed-in mechanisms achieve larger deployment at lower costs.”

The economics of feed-in tariffs is proven; the ethics of feed-in tariffs is certain. We must begin to make that move towards decentralised energy and microgeneration, not only to help to address our energy challenges but to stoke people’s imaginations and to increase their awareness of energy consumption and generation. The current policy is not ambitious enough. The renewables obligation excludes microgeneration technologies and, crucially, excludes heat; it also excludes any reward of energy efficiency in the home. Feed-in tariffs provide a potent response to those challenges, so we will fight for their inclusion in the final version of the Bill.

On 10 January, we heard the Secretary of State’s statement to the House on nuclear power, which formally gave the Government’s approval for a third generation of reactors to be built in the UK. We welcomed that, but with the provisions that there should be absolutely no subsidies for the nuclear industry and that there must be a clear statement from the Government on radioactive waste. Responding to our concerns, the Secretary of State said that he thought the policy was clear—that energy companies must set aside funds to cover the full costs of decommissioning and their full share of waste management and disposal costs. He added that the economic modelling of new build had proceeded on a “prudent, conservative basis”.

I have looked through the Bill, the explanatory notes and the new White Paper, and I am disappointed to observe that there is still no clear statement on waste disposal. Such an approach is irresponsible. It risks jeopardising future investment and, just as importantly, it risks jeopardising public confidence.

The hon. Gentleman alludes to waste disposal. Many hon. Members and the population as a whole are looking at the wider issue, but also at the crucial matter of waste disposal. Is not that the matter that needs the most attention from the Government? It needs to be resolved in order to allow us all to come to a conclusion about the Energy Bill.

I say “Hear, hear” to that. We are doing our best to help to facilitate investment in nuclear, but I am afraid it is becoming clear that we cannot yet trust the Government to resolve the problem of waste disposal.

We all understand the distinction between legacy waste and new waste. There is a process to manage the former, overseen by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, but what concerns us is the Government’s approach to the latter. In late 2006, the Government decided to re-establish the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, commonly known as CoRWM, with new terms of reference, as a permanent independent body to provide advice and scrutiny on the Government’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely programme. The first meeting of this new body took place on 28 to 29 November last year. That is very strange because, as the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee points out, DEFRA’s MRWS consultation, called “A Framework for implementing Geological Disposal”, closed for submissions on 2 November 2007. How can the consultation on managing radioactive waste close before the Committee in charge of scrutinising the management of radioactive waste has even had a single meeting? Moreover, the Government are committed to respond to the consultation in a White Paper, which we have been promised this year. That makes me wonder why we are debating a Bill that claims to

“make provision about the management and disposal of waste”

when the Government are planning future legislation to deal with the disposal of waste.

It is our understanding that the Bill demands that each energy company wishing to invest in nuclear power will have to submit a funded decommissioning programme to the Secretary of State for approval, laying out how hazardous material will be treated, sorted, transported and disposed of, crucially,

“during the operation of a nuclear installation”.

That clause oddly appears to neglect to provide a strategy for waste after the plant is operational. The White Paper makes it clear that the Government intend to consult on what guidance such funded decommissioning programmes should contain. Again, the terms of the Bill are completely dependent on future consultations and actions. Moreover, given that the Government have still made little or no progress on establishing a lasting waste regime, it seems extraordinary to demand a thorough financial assessment from industry when a giant radioactive question mark continues to loom over the back-end costs. How can the Government invite companies to invest in nuclear power stations without giving them such certainty?

I concur with my hon. Friend’s observations about the lengthy process through which the Government have gone to determine a long-term solution to the question of nuclear waste storage, but does he agree that in new generation nuclear power stations it is feasible for waste materials to be dry-stored on site for a reasonable length of time while long-term problems are ultimately resolved?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that it is feasible, but if nuclear power companies are to guarantee knowingly that they will cover all the costs up front, they will not know what the costs of long-term disposal will be. My right hon. Friend is suggesting that that interim position is somehow okay for investment decisions, but the full picture needs to be known if investment decisions are to be made honestly. My concern is that all the documentation contains hidden suggestions that the interim status that my right hon. Friend identifies could last as long as 50 or 60 years. I do not believe that it is right to pass on to not only the next generation but perhaps the second or third generation responsibility for taking the ultimate decision. We are knowingly foisting that on them in the decisions that we make today.

I am confused by the hon. Gentleman’s position. He rightly argues that there are enormous problems with disposing of nuclear waste and that disposal of the previous generation has not yet been resolved. However, is it the Conservative party’s position that, if the economics can be made to work, it is prepared to support nuclear power? If so, where will it put the waste?

If the economics is totally known, the answer is yes. In that sense, our policy is similar to the Government’s: all the economics should be known; all the building blocks should be in place; and, within that regime, companies are entitled to build new nuclear power stations.

Let us have a free-for-all. The hon. Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed) has a special interest in the matter, so I shall instinctively go from right to left in taking hon. Members’ interventions.

Surely the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) is right. The costs of interim storage and disposal of radioactive waste are well understood by the sector, the Government and those who wish to invest in a new generation of nuclear power stations.

I take it for the moment that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me, but I did not quite understand his intervention. [Interruption.] The answer is yes.

I, too, have some reservations about what we do with waste. It is important to specify where it will be put, but that does not get away from the problem of energy security in future. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should perhaps take the reprocessing route and introduce MOX power stations, whereby we can get rid of 90 per cent. of the waste and spread it through the system? Reprocessing would tackle many of the problems that he envisages with the long life of high-level waste.