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Energy: Nuclear Power

Volume 719: debated on Thursday 3 June 2010


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have for the development of nuclear-powered generation in the United Kingdom.

I thank the noble Lord for his Question. The Government are committed to allowing the construction of new nuclear power stations, provided that they are subject to the normal planning process for major projects and receive no public subsidy. The Government will continue to work through the Office for Nuclear Development to drive progress in all areas needed to bring this about.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his Answer. I congratulate him on his appointment and wish him every success in the future. Given that the loan that the previous Government proposed for Sheffield Forgemasters, a critical part of the nuclear supply industry, is now in jeopardy; and given that the coalition agreement sets out that a Conservative Minister will propose the energy national policy statement to Parliament, a Liberal Democrat spokesman will oppose and Liberal Democrat MPs will abstain, can the Minister give the necessary assurance to an industry that is now uncertain about the Government’s intentions?

I thank the noble Lord for that question. At this point, I will draw the attention away from me for a moment and pay tribute to him as a former Minister. His work in the Department of Energy and Climate Change was fantastic, and he gave us a lot of time in this House to debate issues, for which we are very grateful. By the way, he is rightly held in great affection and respect by the department, so I thank him for that. I am not sure that I want to thank him for his questions, because there were two or three of them.

On the first question, the loan was made to Sheffield Forgemasters in the run-up to a general election and in the midst of a recession when many businesses were being forced out of business by their banks and some businesses were pushed to the brink. I am sure all noble Lords would agree that this loan needs to be considered and reviewed in the commercial light of day and the recession that we now face and that we need to consider whether it is the best use of taxpayers’ money. I assure noble Lords that this will be done in consultation with our department.

The noble Lord’s second question—I thought he had asked only one question at the time—relates to the wonderful coalition that we have with our excellent friends from the Liberal Democrat Benches. I pay tribute to them, as we are in that season—the early stage of our Parliament when we are being nice to everyone—for their support for the nuclear commitment.

My Lords, in view of the fact that our future energy resources are in a dire state, will my noble friend please explain precisely why nothing has happened over the past 13 years?

Perhaps the former Minister ought to answer that question. There needs to be a huge amount of catch-up. The lights are meant to be going out in 2017, and there is a big task ahead of us to get this country prepared to supply electricity. I assure noble Lords that this Government are fully committed to that process.

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his appointment, but must immediately tell him that he must produce better replies to Parliament than his first reply to my noble friend Lord Hunt. To congratulate the Liberal Democrat members of the coalition on their commitment to nuclear generation is turning reality on its head in the light of what my noble friend Lord Hunt said and what we have all read in the coalition programme. Will the Minister now answer the question and assure this House that the statement that the Liberal Democrats are free to oppose and to abstain in votes on this is not a process of benign neglect of the imperative of nuclear generation for this country?

As the noble Lord knows, the Conservative commitment to nuclear is very strong, and before the end of the month we will be putting to the House a coalition Statement on our plans. I will leave it at that, because I think that enough has been said.

I, too, congratulate the Minister on his appointment and his response to the House so far. I can bring him some consolation that division of opinion on the nuclear industry is not confined to the coalition in the United Kingdom: it also applies to the coalition in Cardiff. Does he accept that there is a huge reservoir of workforce in the north-west of Wales who are highly skilled in the nuclear industry, both in Ynys Mon, at Wylfa, and in my Assembly constituency of Meirionnydd, at Trawsfynydd; and that these people deserve a clear answer—that there is a future for them in the nuclear industry generating in that region?

The very short answer is: yes, there is. The great thing about the development of nuclear power stations is that it will create much-needed jobs in these difficult times.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that there are several of us on these Benches in this House who do support the nuclear programme and who have no regrets about the concessions made by the Liberal Democrats’ negotiators in the coalition agreement?

Will the Minister be a little more specific in his answer to my noble friend’s question relating to Sheffield Forgemasters? As chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association I should tell him that there is widespread concern across the industry not so much about the lack of government commitment but about the fact that they are not sending out the positive signals quickly enough. Evidence of that would be an early statement on the Sheffield Forgemasters’ loan. Will he give us a time by which such a statement will be given? Will it be at the end of this month, will it be before the Summer Recess, or will it be in this grand Statement that he has promised us? This is a specific issue on which action is required very early in order to enhance and reinforce the UK supply chain.

I am very grateful to such an eminent expert in these areas for his question—which I felt was a little harsh. I thought that I was very clear in what I said about Sheffield Forgemasters. It is a matter for the Treasury, which is giving it due consideration and consultation. No doubt it will opine on the matter in the very near future. It is important that the matter is deliberately debated and that a decision of some consequence is made. This is not something to be frittered in the wind.