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Standing Committee Debates
Energy Bill [Lords]

Energy Bill [Lords]

Column Number: 361

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 15 June 2004


[Mr. Bill O'Brien in the Chair]

Energy Bill [Lords]

Clause 96

Safety zones around renewable energy installations

2.30 pm

The Chairman: Before I call the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), I point out that the usual rules apply: all mobile phones in the Room must be switched off.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 163, in

    clause 96, page 75, line 17, at end add—

    '(11) Before issuing a notice, the Secretary of State must consult with the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 165, in

    clause 102, page 78, line 15, at end insert

    ', following consultation with the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.'.

No. 166, in

    clause 103, page 80, line 20, at end insert—

    '(f) consult with the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.'.

Miss McIntosh: I am delighted to be here this afternoon to see you in your place, Mr. O'Brien. [Interruption.] Labour Members may laugh, but I was requested to show an interest in a debate on the Floor of the House.

The Chairman: Order. More voice, please.

Miss McIntosh: I am getting there. Would the Minister make a little less noise in pouring the water? I am getting more used to the Government's tactics during proceedings.

The Minister has made way for his colleague, the Under-Secretary, and it is nice to see him in his place. The Minister said that he believes it sufficient to make a commitment in the Committee, as I am sure his hon. Friend will echo this afternoon, to assure us that the Government are at one and that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will meet and consult the Secretary of State for Transport and the chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

I do not wish to pre-empt the Minister's response, but we believe it prudent to specify in the Bill that consultations should take place in relation to the safety zones around renewable energy installations. Although you are no longer a member of the Transport Committee, Mr. O'Brien, I know that you

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continue to take an interest in the work of that august body. You will have been impressed by the conclusions reached from the evidence, given that, regrettably, those consultations did not take place. Why did they not happen before round 1 and 2 sites were considered? What steps have the Government taken to ensure that consultations will take place in future?

Amendment No. 165 would insert a similar requirement for consultation in clause 102. It is regrettable that there was a failure to consult with the official Government agency—the MCA—which is responsible for the markings, the buoys and ensuring that public rights of navigation are insisted on. It is important that a balance is struck among the traditional public rights of navigation enjoyed by a wide variety of interests—particularly commercial shipping, but to a lesser extent recreational shipping, fishing and other maritime activities—and that marine life should not be endangered.

I am sure the Minister will tell the Committee why—during the initial stages of consultation on part 3, chapter 1—his Department was persuaded that there was no need to consult the relevant Department, or, through that Department, the relevant maritime, navigation and shipping interests and the relevant agency, the MCA. Amendment No. 166 relates to clause 103, which covers further provision relating to the public right of navigation. The same arguments persist there.

If the Government are serious about making a success of their renewable energy commitments, the Committee and the interest groups to which I referred must be satisfied that the Bill will strike a balance in exercising the various interests. The Department clearly got off to a regrettably poor start by failing to consult the interest groups concerned. I would not want to conclude from that that the Government are seeking to extinguish public rights of navigation in every way, but that was certainly the impression left in certain quarters of the shipping industry. That leads me neatly to the conclusion that this is an opportunity for the Government to eat a bit of humble pie. That is a highly recommended diet: it is fairly light in calories, has a low cholesterol and fat content, and does not lead to any excess of weight that might cause distress.

I invite the Committee to support our humble amendments, and the Minister to explain why the Committee should be persuaded that, in view of the failure to take any account of, or to consult, the relevant Department, agency and interests, this will not happen again.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths): I could say that it is a great pleasure to be here again this afternoon, Mr. O'Brien, but I might be fibbing. However, it is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your wise chairmanship.

I agree with the hon. Member for Vale of York that consultation between the Secretary of State for Transport and the MCA is essential before the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry considers whether to issue a notice declaring a safety zone around a renewable energy installation, or, as the hon.

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Lady put it, to extinguish the public right of navigation. I am informed, however, that she has been misinformed about the degree of consultation and co-operation that there has been so far.

I am content that our civil servants at the DTI have worked very closely with the MCA to draft the Bill. That co-operation will continue as we implement and operate the Bill's provisions. It is not, however, appropriate to write into the Bill a requirement for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry formally to consult the Secretary of State for Transport in view of the fact that, as the Bill is phrased, both Secretaries of State are legally indivisible and act together.

I am advised that the reference to the Secretary of State includes all Secretaries of State. The Secretary of State for Transport is therefore covered where the matter falls within his or her functions, which, of course, include the protection of navigation. I understand that the hon. Lady has been e-mailing the MCA, so she will know that it is an executive agency of the Department for Transport. It exercises the functions of the Secretary of State for Transport, so again no separate reference to it is necessary or appropriate.

I would hope that a party that is trying to show a public face that is against more regulation and bureaucracy will not press to a vote an amendment that, if accepted, would write in a requirement to hold further formal consultation and that might create more paperwork, particularly when we are ensuring that the appropriate Secretaries of State are consulted and are continuing the dialogue and close work that I am advised is already taking place between them and the MCA in framing the Bill.

Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful to the Minister for his remarks, but the evidence that we on the Transport Committee took is quite powerful. I remind him and members of the Committee of the Transport Committee's conclusion No 7:

    ''It is the Government's task to balance the need of the country for clean renewable energy with its need for ready and safe access to its ports by the shipping through which we trade. In doing this, it must take account of the very real risks that off-shore installations pose for shipping.''

Throughout all the conclusions—I will not rehearse them again—the Government's knuckles are firmly rapped. Conclusion No. 2 states:

    ''With little or no maritime representation on the steering group, it is hardly surprising that the . . . strategic environmental assessment made very little reference to navigational matters.''

However, I accept the Minister's assurance that the Government have, in all probability, learned the error of their ways, and one would hope that they do not revert to such poor consultations. Based on that assurance and what the Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services said this morning, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): I beg to move amendment No. 185, in

Column Number: 364

    clause 96, page 75, line 17, at end add—

    '(11) The Secretary of State must ensure that all efforts are made also to make use of such areas for marine conservation purposes by designating, where practically possible, said areas as protected marine reserves.'.

It is a pleasure to serve with you again this afternoon, Mr. O'Brien. The amendment was tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), and it takes us in a different direction from that of our earlier discussions. Until now, the emphasis has been on the damage, difficulty and anxieties caused if safety zones are set up and renewable energy sources developed offshore. We seek a more positive approach to the opportunities that will be available if or when such zones are set up. The amendment would place a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that, where practical, areas set aside for renewable energy generation should also serve the purposes of marine conservation.

The reality is that an area of the sea floor and of the sea in which fishing, transient shipping and human intervention are reduced provides real opportunities for marine conservation. In fact, having additional structures on the sea floor can be positive rather than negative. I was struck by a small article I saw about the D-day landings, which stated that the remnants of the Mulberry harbours are still visible above water, but that below water they have become a small zoo of marine wildlife. Even in a circumstance such as that, the imposition of man-made apparatus on the beach and in the sea can be positive. We have all seen the underwater photographs, films and videos of the Titanic, which make that same point.

We say that there is an opportunity rather than just a problem, and that by using that opportunity and including a duty on the Secretary of State to take advantage of it, we could achieve some positive environmental advantages that go beyond the simple generation of renewable carbon-free electricity.

2.45 pm

I should say that English Nature supports the amendment. It has written to say:

    ''We urge that serious consideration is given to including provisions to allow the expansion of such zones''—

renewable energy zones—

    ''to create conservation zones around installations.''

We are moving the amendment with a view to that taking its first step forward.

Some 80 per cent. of life on earth is under the ocean surface, and a huge amount of the living space that can viably be occupied by organisms is in the ocean. We have an opportunity, which I hope the Government want to seize, to develop that aspect by agreeing to our amendment.


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