Following the right hon. Gentleman’s alleged answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), will he arrange a seminar for all Ministers to explain the precise meaning of the word “question”, the precise meaning of the word “answer”, and the need for a link between the two?
I will not organise such a seminar because I think that that is understood by Ministers.
This week the British company Centrica withdrew, along with RWE and E.ON, from investments in nuclear power following its investment of £1 billion. That proves that nuclear electricity is now unaffordable unless the Government invest £20 billion of subsidy in a French company. Will the Secretary of State follow his commendable initiative on Greencoat UK by investing in what is Britain’s greatest unused source of power, which is tidal power—clean, green, British and eternal.
We are certainly promoting research on new generations of renewable energy, and the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the new centre in Glasgow established specifically to look at tidal and wave power. I do not recognise his figure of £20 billion of subsidy for the nuclear industry. I am sure we are not going there.
I agree with every word said by the hon. Members for Hove (Mike Weatherley) and for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). We are in an extraordinary situation in relation to our nuclear policy, charging ahead to a certain financial train crash. Huge sums will be spent and Parliament is to be kept in ignorance of the details of what is going on. That must be changed. We have heard the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee say that her Committee has no responsibility until the contract has been signed. By then, it will be too late and we will have committed ourselves to a period of probably 30 years at least to pay an enormous cost to a company that is not British, that is in France and that is already subsidised. It is crazy.
We have seen the stampede of all the companies—E.ON, RWE and now Centrica—away from investing in nuclear power, and for very good reason: it is a financial basket case. I will not repeat the figures relating to the two new nuclear stations, in Finland and at Flamanville. They are the future, but one is four years late, and the other is six years late; one is €3 billion over budget, and the other is €5 billion over budget.
My hon. Friend and I will never agree on nuclear power, but to set the record straight, there are nuclear power stations that were built on time and on budget in Taiwan and many other places by Hitachi with Japanese technology. My hon. Friend identifies one technology in one country.
My hon. Friend, like my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), has a point of view. They have nuclear power stations and nuclear jobs in their constituencies, and naturally they have to fight for their constituents. One can understand the distortions of view that inevitably result from that.
The history of nuclear power has been a story of false dawns all my life. I can remember as a schoolboy going to an exhibition in Cardiff called “Atoms for Peace”. I remember ZETA, a fusion reactor that was going to produce electricity that was too cheap to warrant a meter. We had the steam-generating heavy water reactor, one of the worst civil investment decisions since the building of the pyramids—huge investment that produced nothing of value. Margaret Thatcher had plans to build 10 nuclear power stations, but only one was actually built. My party was seduced by the pied piper of nuclear power fairly recently.
Let me put it on record that I do not have a nuclear power station in my area. Is it not the logic of my hon. Friend’s argument that instead of building a great new green generation of stations, this country will import electricity from abroad, probably from French nuclear power stations?
That is a very limited view of the history of the matter, which I will come to. As recently as 2007, however, my party took the view that nuclear was economically unattractive. That was in one of our manifestos. But an event took place in Downing street where there was a PowerPoint presentation to the then Prime Minister that said, “Mr Blair, there’s going to be a gap in our electricity supply because the advanced gas-cooled reactors are going to become obsolete and that will create a problem in a number of years that will have to be solved.” Within a year of the Labour Government changing their policy on nuclear power, having decided that what had been economically unattractive was okay, the life of the AGRs was lengthened and the gap had disappeared. The spin had taken place, and we were seduced into the view that nuclear was inevitable.
All parties, I believe, went into the last election with the promise that nuclear was acceptable if there were no subsidies, but where are we now? There are enormous subsidies. In 2008, I heard a debate in this House about the insurance costs for the Government of nuclear power. The most recent figure that we have for the cost of a nuclear accident is £200 billion for Chernobyl, and the taxpayer would have to pay that.
I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says, but I must correct him on one thing. He said that all the parties went into the last election supporting nuclear power. The Liberal Democrats did not—we were opposed.
I am delighted to be reminded of that. However, I could spend the rest of my speech quoting what the Secretary of State and many other Liberal Democrat Members have said about this. Why has their position changed? As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, they were not in favour of nuclear power; I was suggesting that they went into the election promising no subsidies. The Secretary of State has been attracted by the red boxes or by other considerations, and he has had some kind of ministerial lobotomy whereby he can no longer see what is obvious—that nuclear power, which he never believed in until only two years ago, is a false trail.
Obviously I cannot speak on behalf of the Secretary of State, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that when the national policy statement passed through this Chamber, not even Liberal Democrat Ministers voted for it. Under the terms of the coalition agreement—I think we might have had to strike a similar deal with his party—we abstained at that time.
I have some hope that the Liberal Democrat party will return to the paths of virtue.
A few hours ago in this Chamber, I asked the Business Secretary a question in which I praised him for what he has done with Greencoat UK by investing money in wind power and urged him to do the same in relation to tidal power. Let me say a few words about tidal power, because it is ignored.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I cannot do so any more because I have run out of injury time.
My constituency, like that of several other Members on the English side of the Bristol channel, is washed by an enormous cliff of water that travels up and down the estuary twice a day. There is immense power there that is unused and wasted. This can be tackled, but not by a barrage, which has so many difficulties and objections that it would be impractical. It is not necessary to build a brick wall across a tidal flow to get energy from it. Water wheels work very simply: the water flows and they tap the energy. The best way in which we could get that energy cheaply and cleanly is through a series of small machines in the water to tap the energy that could then be linked with a pump storage scheme, possibly in the valleys of south Wales. That would provide demand-responsive energy—base load energy—that was entirely predictable and did not alter like wind or any other sources. It would be available, clean, British—
It is expensive.
My hon. Friend says that it is expensive, but it is very cheap. He should take a trip to La Rance in Brittany, where for more than 30 years there has been a tidal power station producing the cheapest electricity in France.
Thanks to the Public Accounts Committee, we now have a clear picture of the future. Let us look at the enormity of the sums involved. Professor Tom Burke, who was an adviser to a previous Government, has said:
“The scale of the proposed investment is very large. The contract will last for a very long time at a strike price of £100/MW and a 30 year contract like this would require a subsidy of £1 billion/year above today’s wholesale price for electricity. This would lead to a transfer of £30 billion to EDF”—
Électricité de France, a French company—from the pockets of British taxpayers. He continued:
“Should the whole of the 16GW of new nuclear anticipated by the Energy Minister be financed on similar terms it would cost householders and businesses £150 billion by 2050.”
Back in 2008, I tabled an early-day motion forecasting that any profits that might be made from nuclear power would be enjoyed by foreign companies. We have seen the stampede that is now going on with E.ON, RWE and Centrica, and that is all for business reasons. Any profits would be enjoyed in France, but the enormous cost would be paid by British taxpayers.
There are huge liabilities involved. We hear about £67.5 billion—an astonishing figure—for dealing with nuclear waste. The Flowers committee report said in 1976 that it was irresponsible to go on generating electricity from nuclear power without a solution to the waste problem.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I cannot give way any more.
The waste problem is continuing at a cost of £1.5 billion a year. We still do not have the solution and we are in the same position with the £67.5 billion. The answer used to be to dig a hole and bury it. Now, thanks to Cumbria council’s decision, quite rightly, not to build there is no hole.
On energy security, after Fukushima, every single one of the 52 reactors in Japan closed down and Germany turned against nuclear power. If there is another accident—we have one every decade—would not the danger when the lights go out be the public’s reaction and a refusal to allow the generation of nuclear power in this country, just as happened in Japan after Fukushima?
I believe that the public are reassured by the work of the Office for Nuclear Regulation, and Dr Weightman, a world-renowned specialist, went to Fukushima to help sort out some issues. I do not know exactly why Fukushima ended up as it did but, in addition to the tsunami, there were other issues definitely related to that. I think the situation in Germany is more of a political situation.
Can we anticipate another principled stand by the Liberal Democrats, like the one they took on boundaries, to oppose any subsidy on nuclear power?
The hon. Gentleman is being mischievous. He and I are on the same side in this argument, so he should love and care for his friends, and not seek to be rude. Indeed, the Welsh Labour party was desperately pleased that the new boundaries did not go through, so let us have a little less of the attack on us.
We havaul Flynn:
Does my right hon. Friend recall that Dr Weightman was expressly forbidden from considering the costs of Fukushima, which—it is quoted—could have been an extra £2 billion for one new reactor? Today’s debate has been about costs. Surely we cannot rely on Weightman for that.
I was talking about safety, but I will come to costs later. It was absolutely right for the Government to commission that report. Regardless of that report, however, I believe we should always be vigilant and not complacent. I feel assured that we in the UK can be justly proud of the regulatory system, the way it operates and our safety record.
The key point is that we recognise that CFDs significantly reduce risks to developers and incentivises investment in low carbon. It is right that new nuclear power will be entitled to benefit from Energy Bill measures such as contracts for difference and investment contracts.
In secret, without the House knowing.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, who is heckling from a sedentary position, because he is very informed on this subject, even though I disagree with him.
I have a simple question. Is the Secretary of State able to provide an assurance that there will be no subsidies to nuclear power without the full knowledge and consent of this House?
I am trying to explain our policy on no subsidy, but the hon. Gentleman interrupted me. If he will listen, the position is being put on the record in a way that I have never had a chance to do before.
Our aim is for a broadly standardised approach to contracts for difference that will allow for comparability between technologies and the introduction of competition for CFDs. I do not think that what is needed is a line-by-line comparison of the terms of each contract. That is not what our policy says or requires. In fact, there are likely to be variations in CFD designs between one technology and another, and perhaps also between different projects within the same technology. What is important is that the terms agreed deliver a similar result across technologies and projects, and that they result in a proper allocation of risk. In addition, each contract will need to deliver value for money for the consumer and be compatible with state-aid rules. A contract with a nuclear developer that does those things would be compatible with our no-subsidy policy.