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'(1) For the avoidance of doubt, the repeal in section 18(7) of the Electoral Administration Act 2006 (c. 22) of the entry in Schedule 7 to the British Nationality Act 1981 (c. 61) (entry which modified certain disqualifications imposed by section 3 of the Act of Settlement (1700 c. 2)) applied only so far as the modification made by that entry related to-
That the draft Enactment of Extra-Statutory Concessions (No. 2) Order 2009, which was laid before this House on 10 November, in the previous Session of Parliament, be approved. -(Mr. Watts.)
That this House takes note of an unnumbered explanatory memorandum dated 2 November 2009 from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the Council Joint Action amending Joint Action 2007/369/CFSP on the establishment of the European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan; and agrees with the Government that the mission is now making an important contribution to the international effort to reform the Afghan National Police. -(Mr. Watts.)
That, at the sitting on Thursday 21 January, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 20 (Time for taking private business) the Private Business set down by the Chairman of Ways and Means may be entered upon at any hour, and may then be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours, after which the Speaker shall interrupt the business. -(Mr. Watts.)
That, for the purposes of its approval under section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, the Government's assessment as set out in the Pre-Budget Report 2009 shall be treated as if it were an instrument subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 118 (Delegated Legislation Committees). -(Mr. Watts.)
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): For those who are unfamiliar with this issue, let me briefly explain the background. In preparation for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station coming on stream later this decade, National Grid plc intends to introduce new 400 kV overhead cables to connect Hinkley C with Avonmouth. The intent is to link two coastal points by a land-based pylon system. The new pylons will be about 46 metres tall-each the height of Nelson's column-and will cut through the countryside of north Somerset.
This debate is about the villages and towns, such as Nailsea, Yatton, Backwell, Wraxall and my own village of Tickenham, the Gordano valley and other places that will be affected. It is about a consultation that is not really a consultation at all and about a definition of cost that includes only short-term financial measurements and not wider measurements of public interest such as the environment, safety, the green belt or the impact on property values. It is also about a decision-making process that has at its core a democratic deficit where decisions are made by unelected quango chiefs who are unaccountable to ordinary citizens.
We all understand the need for more electricity, and that it has to have a transmission network. The public meeting that we held with National Grid in my constituency, in Nailsea, was an object lesson in reason and good manners despite the anger felt by so many in our area. I am deeply proud of local pressure groups and local residents for the dignity and self-restraint with which they have handled themselves. The consultation process that we have been given has offered the choice between two different land corridors with overhead cables. It is not much of a consultation-the choice between being hanged and being beheaded does not boil down to much of a choice at all.
Furthermore, there is a strong suspicion that the second option-corridor two-clearly represents environmental vandalism of such a degree that it was bound to be objected to violently. That always had the potential to allow the false conclusion to be drawn that corridor one was supported, and to leave local residents split. We want to see a genuine consultation that compares the wider costs and benefits of overhead cables with undersea and underground cables.
John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that option two is not just environmental vandalism, leaving option one as a false choice? Option one would cause environmental damage and vandalism, too, particularly as it goes through the area of outstanding natural beauty in my constituency, where there is no provision, as the option stands, to put the cables underground-a possibility that he has just mentioned.
The optioneering report shows that National Grid discarded a number of undersea options before the public consultation started. Despite asking for further
information about the technical, environmental and cost considerations of placing the cables undersea, we still have not been given answers that explain clearly why two coastal points should be linked by overland power lines.
We understand that there are technical issues, but if these can be overcome elsewhere, why not here too? National Grid's depreciation policy states that assets such as cables and pylons are depreciated over a period of up to 50 years, so investment needs to be assessed not simply as initial cost, but spread over all consumers who benefit, and over 50 years.
One overground option that has been trailed is to follow the M5 route. That, to me, is no solution at all and simply moves the problem on to the residents of the Gordano valley and Portishead, who would have their local environment permanently damaged. Likewise, I cannot support the addition of a 400 kV line parallel to the two existing 132 kV lines.
For a decision of such importance and magnitude, we do not believe that National Grid has carried out as thorough and adequate a consultation with the public as it should have done. If an inappropriate decision is reached as a result, we believe that National Grid's approach would be challengeable. I would like the Minister to set out the Government's views on the matter tonight. What would be the process of judicial review, at what point could it be triggered, how and by whom?
We expect Government to ensure that the rights of small communities are not steamrollered by the short-term interests of large utilities. No one questions the right or even the duty of National Grid to find the best deal for its shareholders, but the short-term benefit of shareholders cannot be bought at the long-term cost to individuals, communities and the environment that the proposal brings. A Severn estuary route or a route underground cannot be ruled out purely on cost grounds. Those options need to be properly explored and communicated.
Another issue is the unknown quantity of safety. The height of the proposed pylons is 46 metres. We all recognise that the issues concerning the impact of electric and magnetic fields are complicated and potentially open to a range of interpretations. Given the confused nature of the advice currently available, we believe that it would be sensible for National Grid to approach the matter with caution-to adopt the precautionary principle. This would avoid the positioning of pylons and power lines in close proximity to homes, public rights of way, community routes, schools and colleges where land-based lines are in use. We welcome National Grid's assurances on this, but that should not be interpreted in any way as an acceptance in principle of the proposed routes.
Finally, we come to the democratic deficit. I am extremely grateful to Mr. Speaker for granting time for the debate tonight. Under current legislation, no Minister is responsible for these decisions. It is left to the unelected chairman of a quango to take the environmental, safety and economic decisions that will affect the well-being of our constituents. What sort of democracy do we live in? If there is a change of Government at the election, a future Conservative Government will restore the democratic link and ensure that such decisions are taken by a Secretary of State accountable to the people through Parliament.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an extremely powerful case, which applies just as much to other parts of the route, such as the Somerset levels. He referred to the need for further studies. Should there not be an attempt to find a monetary value to attribute to the preservation of the environment and the avoidance of the health effects that he described? If that were done, the submarine option might well be found to be not the most expensive, but the cheapest option.
Dr. Fox: My right hon. Friend makes a valid point, because much of the argument boils down to cost, and I am afraid that the values and the units of cost that are being used simply do not take account of the cost in other terms-in environmental terms, in safety and in terms of the impact upon the area in which we live. It will be changed beyond recognition for many years to come, and that very important issue lies at the heart of the matter.
We need a better explanation, because we simply do not understand the logic of a project that seeks automatically to connect two coastal points by a land-based route, especially when National Grid's own chief executive has described the proposed western undersea grid, linking Merseyside and Scotland, as a "no-brainer". The feasibility of an undersea route along the Severn channel has to be properly explored. Money should not be the critical factor in determining this matter, particularly when costs can ultimately be shared among the consumers who will benefit from the grid connection over a longer period.
Those of us who are in the Chamber tonight simply cannot and will not stand by and watch our countryside ravaged by the 46-metre-high graffiti of that pylon scheme, or the property values of our constituents threatened. All Members should take note of this debate. Today, north Somerset is in the firing line. Other areas will follow.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): I have not been asked at all, but I certainly would not object if the hon. Gentleman wanted a minute or two to speak.
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