Energy Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Robertson: The hon. Gentleman says that we are exaggerating the problem. Is the Chamber of Shipping exaggerating it?

Mr. Blizzard: The Chamber of Shipping is trying to put its point in the melting pot, but it is not leading the argument. It regularly contacts me on all kinds of matters, but first out of the trap on the issue was not the Chamber of Shipping but people who seem to have a downer on offshore wind. The record of debates in the other place shows that people who are leading on

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the matter have strong views on nuclear energy. The Government have the right policy—creating a 10-year window to try to get renewable energy off the ground, while not ruling out nuclear energy because it might be needed later to keep the lights on—but some hon. Members appear to have such a strong belief in nuclear energy that they do not want to wait that long. They want to wreck renewables now. That is what amendment No. 170 and clauses 100 and 101 are all about, and I hope the Committee rejects them.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): May I direct the Committee's attention to amendment No. 186, which is to clause 100 and stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker)? I enjoyed the contribution by the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), but I point it out to him that renewable energy zones will be needed as much for tidal, tidal stream and wave energy as they are for offshore wind turbines. Although I share some of his views, he needs to recognise that we require a robust process to handle the different interests, not simply for a short-term fix on offshore wind, but for what could be a major source of energy for the United Kingdom, using other water technologies over the coming decades. It is important to get this right, and he should not be too dismissive of what clauses 100 and 101 are designed to do.

It is also important that there should be a proper balance between the different interests affected by such a development, and amendment No. 186 would be a small step towards rebalancing clause 100. It says that zones may not be established where interference ''may'' be caused. We simply want the clause to refer instead to where interference ''is likely to'' be caused, because the word ''may'' allows anyone to claim anything about anything and we need further modification.

If the Minister is inclined in principle to accept the need to balance the different interests that underpin the intentions behind clauses 100 and 101, he may well say that further modifications might be necessary, in which case we would consider them carefully.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes and I are strongly in favour of rapid development of offshore wind. We have no wish to obstruct or slow that down. However, it would be wrong for Government Members simply to dismiss that wish as nimbyism. It is necessary to ensure that shipping and trade are safeguarded, so it is necessary to ensure a proper balance between the establishment of the zones and the continuation of safe and secure sea routes to and from the UK. Those who are dismissive of the clauses need to take account of the Transport Committee's views. Of course, that Committee comes from a certain direction—I suppose a transport Committee would—and it brings a particular point of view to bear on this issue, but it is not a trivial one that should simply be dismissed because it does not suit the mood of the moment in this Committee.

I hope that serious consideration will be given to retaining clauses 100 and 101. We fully accept, however, that they need some modification so that there is a proper balance between the different

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interests. Amendment No. 186 represents a small attempt to achieve that by not making the criteria so open-ended that they could have the effect described by the hon. Member for Waveney. We need to produce a procedure that involves not simply fixing offshore wind as quickly as possible, but establishing a proper way to determine how to use our offshore resources for decades ahead. Clauses 100 and 101 and amendment No. 186 represent sincere attempts to achieve that.

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con) rose—

The Chairman: Mr. Robert Key.

Mr. Page: I must point out, Mr. Sayeed, that I am just slightly slimmer than my hon. Friend.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): But I am much younger.

Mr. Page: As far as I am concerned, everyone in the Room is much younger, which is why I shall not continue beyond the next election. [Hon. Members: ''Shame!''] Yes, but Government Members do not agree.

I was not intending to comment on this group, but two things have encouraged me to do so: first, the inaccurate and intemperate remarks of the hon. Member for Waveney and, secondly, the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York that the Government intend to remove clauses 100 and 101, which I found shocking. If the Minister is prepared to shake his head to indicate that the Government will not remove those clauses, I shall comment no further.

9.15 am

The Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services (Mr. Stephen Timms): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear on Second Reading that the Government accept the import of clauses 100 and 101. I shall ask the Committee to leave those clauses in the Bill, so that, on Report, I can bring back a revised form of words that will deal with some of the difficulties in the current wording to which the hon. Member for Hazel Grove referred. I hope, therefore, that I have spared the Committee what the hon. Gentleman might have said.

Mr. Page: I thank the Minister for his comments. However, he has left a degree of uncertainty because, as much as I trust the Government, we are not clear about how they will change the wording of clauses 100 and 101. I do not wish to cause the Minister offence, but I must ask why those alterations were not introduced much earlier. The clauses are not a huge surprise; they have not suddenly emerged today. The Bill emerged from the House of Lords on 24 April, and the clauses were passed before then, so the Government have had more than two months to table amendments to them. Why should such amendments be tabled on Report rather than in Committee? Such amendments should be considered in Committee; the amendments tabled on Report should be those that

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flow from the Committee. Such amendments should not be tabled at the far end of the process when we have a timetable that pushes us against the buffers.

I shall not comment on the marine safety aspects, because my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York has quoted quite extensively from a letter from the deputy director-general. However, it will not do any harm to repeat his statement that the clauses are

    ''essential to the protection of over 125,000 ships a year and their crews that will pass within close proximity.''

That is an awful lot of ships and people.

Has the Deputy Prime Minister approved any of the amendments? The Labour party is in uncertain waters at present; there could be some seismic leadership changes. Undoubtedly the Deputy Prime Minister will be a key figure in any changes, and I would hate to see the Minister get into difficulty. I want to see the Minister go from strength to strength, because he is a genuine and likeable chap. I wish to see him rise through the system. He brings some sense to what has been happening.

It is obvious that there has been a lack of consultation by the Government with groups such as the Chamber of Shipping, the Major Ports Group, Trinity House and even the Department for Transport's Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The Minister has said that the Government will table amendments to improve clauses 100 and 101, and we look forward to them. However, as I have said, they should have done that in Committee. The Government, with their huge majority, are in danger of treating various aspects of the democratic process with a degree of contempt. As the wheel turns—which it will—they must not be surprised if everything does not revert to what they want.

To touch on the amazing comments of the hon. Member for Waveney, I cannot see why support for nuclear and support for renewables should be mutually exclusive. Why cannot we have both? He tried to make out that it is one side against the other. Also, with his talk about land and sea, he seemed conveniently to forget that the installations at sea—which I want to see—will be considerably larger and more robust, and will generate much more electricity, than those on land. That is one reason for their going out to sea; they will be so big that it would be not practical to have them on land. The hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned the objections that people would have—whether one calls that nimbyism or not—but the prospect of wind farms being vastly increased in size and noise means that putting them out to sea is the logical step.

The hon. Member for Waveney also mentioned safety, and I point to the figure of 125,000 ships quoted by the shipping representatives. If we had a planning application, would we stick the development in the middle of the M1? Of course not. We would put it to the side, so that it would not be run over by cars and so we could have both the planned development and safe roads.

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Mr. Blizzard: Will the hon. Gentleman concede that the current drafting of clauses 100 and 101 and amendment No. 170 goes way beyond the interest of safety?

Mr. Page: That is the hon. Gentleman's interpretation, but I do not see it in those stark terms. If clauses 100 and 101 were to remain, I doubt if my hon. Friends would press any of the related new clauses or amendments to a vote. However, there must be a requirement in law concerning the impact of offshore energy installations on users of sea lanes essential to international navigation.

The explanatory notes make that point in paragraph 262:

    ''Article 60(7) of UNCLOS''—

the United Nations convention on the law of the sea—

    ''states that artificial islands, installations and structures and the safety zones around them may not be established where interference may be caused to the use of recognised sea lanes essential to international navigation.''

The hon. Gentleman would throw that convention out of the window; the Conservatives are saying that it should be recognised and respected. That is a considerable difference.

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