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Control of Offshore Wind Turbines Bill

Second Reading

12.11 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is the first opportunity I have had in my time in this place to introduce a balloted Bill as a private Member’s Bill. I was lucky enough to come 17th in the ballot and I took a punt on whether it was likely to find time to debate the issue if I put my Bill forward for this day. I am delighted that the stars have been so aligned that I have the opportunity to speak at greater length on the subject than I was able to do last year, when a similar Bill called the Control of Offshore Wind Turbines Bill 2013-14 had its Second Reading debate on 17 January. Unfortunately, on that occasion the debate started at 2.25 pm and lasted for only five minutes, although even during that short debate my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), the present Secretary of State for Defence, who was then the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, was able to say that he could not support the Bill.

In the hope that I will be able to persuade the Government of the merits of my Bill, I have expanded its scope slightly for this Session. I also have some heavyweight supporters—my hon. Friends the Members for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), and for South Dorset (Richard Drax), the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), my hon. Friends the Members for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), for Poole (Mr Syms) and for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans)—a formidable collection. I am delighted to see my hon. Friends the Members for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) and for Shipley (Philip Davies) in the Chamber today.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether any of those right hon. and hon. Members have ever visited north Wales, where we have a £3 billion-plus economy based on offshore wind, which would be destroyed by his Bill?

Mr Chope: I am not sure that it would be destroyed by the Bill. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we had a debate about that in Westminster Hall a few weeks ago, and I heard then the case for north Wales. The point I put to him is that if that great development in north Wales is so good, why can it not be sustained without taxpayers’ subsidy?

Mr Hanson: The issue is not just the taxpayers’ subsidy. Clause 1(1) states:

“No wind turbine shall be constructed or erected within fifteen miles of the coast of England and Wales”.

Clause 1(3) states:

“No wind turbine shall be constructed . . . if it would form part of a group of wind turbines which totals more than one hundred”.

In my constituency area we depend on a large amount of investment, which would be destroyed by both aspects of clause 1.

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Mr Chope: The right hon. Gentleman is wrong about that. The provisions do not apply retrospectively, so as the wind turbines are already there, nothing in the Bill requires that they be removed.

Mr Hanson: We are halfway through the development of wind turbines in the north Wales area, and there are more opportunities that would be destroyed by the hon. Gentleman’s Bill. Perhaps we can discuss that later.

Mr Chope: That is just the sort of point of detail that it would be worth discussing in Committee, so I hope the right hon. Gentleman will allow the Bill to proceed.

Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): It is disappointing for me to hear that the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) supports the Bill, which would be very damaging to East Yorkshire and my region, Hull. We have just attracted a £310 million joint investment from Siemens and Associated British Ports—an investment in my area which will transform the prospects for people in the city and the wider region. The Bill would clearly damage something that has not quite started yet.

Mr Chope: I hear the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but surely it is important that we should have an industrial policy which does not require indiscriminate taxpayer subsidy. What the hon. Gentleman describes is a situation where, because the Government are intent on the manic proposal to develop so many offshore wind farms, and because most of the technology is from overseas and almost all the profits from those wind farms go back overseas, the Government have decided that the only way they could try to mitigate the situation—and it is only a small amount of mitigation—would be by putting additional subsidies into supporting the manufacturing industry in places such as the hon. Gentleman’s area.

Karl Turner: Clearly, the hon. Gentleman does not support his party’s manifesto, but that is a side issue. The issue for me is that in Hull, Siemens will manufacture wind turbines to be exported around the world. It is a fantastic opportunity for people to get into good quality employment in my area. It is terribly disappointing that the hon. Gentleman’s colleague who has a seat in the region is attacking that idea.

Mr Chope: The hon. Gentleman says that the wind turbines are to be exported around the world. In fact, we are being used as a test bed for developing offshore wind activity at a time when many other countries are reining back on it. Ironically, Denmark, from where much of the technology emanated and where there are already many offshore wind farms, has decided that enough is enough and it is not going to build any more, because of the ludicrous waste of taxpayers’ money in subsidising them. Similarly, Germany has decided to rein back on offshore wind. We are on our own in this. The hon. Gentleman is suffering from a delusion if he thinks the development in his constituency will be on the back of an enormous global export business. The Government have decided that in order to make a presentational case, they will subsidise the manufacture of the turbines in the United Kingdom.

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Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Has my hon. Friend noticed the remarkable situation in that it was not long ago that the Labour party claimed to be the champion of low energy bills, yet now Labour Members in the Chamber are arguing vociferously for a form of energy that does more to put up energy bills than anything else? Has my hon. Friend noticed the great contradiction in the points made by Opposition Members?

Mr Chope: As so often, my hon. Friend is spot on.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman talks about subsidy. Nuclear power, which I support, needs a subsidy, and we have security of supply, which is very important, as a result. Is he opposed to nuclear power on the same grounds?

Mr Chope: This Bill is about offshore wind turbines, and the subsidies going to those are twice as much as any subsidy going into the nuclear industry. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman what was said in an article in The Economist on 4 January 2014:

“Unfortunately, offshore wind power is staggeringly expensive. Dieter Helm, an economist at Oxford University, describes it as ‘among the most expensive ways of marginally reducing carbon emissions known to man’. Under a subsidy system unveiled late in 2013, the government guarantees farms at sea £155…per megawatt hour for their juice. That is three times the current wholesale price of electricity and about 60% more than is promised to onshore turbines. It is also more than the £92.50 which Britain’s new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point will get—though that deal is for 35 years, not 15.”

That is the situation succinctly expressed, showing beyond doubt that the taxpayer subsidies going into offshore wind are obscene. The only people who support offshore wind are those whom I must describe as subsidy junkies.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): My constituents already face the extension of an existing wind farm, Scout Moor. Can my hon. Friend assure them that this Bill would not increase the pressure to have more onshore wind turbines? That would be a cause of great concern for my constituents, who are of course completely landlocked.

Mr Chope: I agree with my hon. Friend. One of the ironies of the situation is that because of pressure from people such as my hon. Friend and members of the public concerned about onshore wind turbines, the Government reduced the subsidies for onshore wind turbines, but in so doing chose to increase the subsidies for offshore wind turbines. I am sure he will be pleased to know that one of our hon. Friends is to have a Bill on the Order Paper to remove subsidies from onshore wind turbines as well, and that will have my support in due course. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

On that buoyant note, let me go on to describe the provisions of this Bill. As is implicit in the fact that support for it is largely centred on Members of Parliament in the area around Christchurch bay and Poole bay, a developer is intent on constructing there a wind farm that would be the largest in the world and would have an enormous environmental impact on the local community. It is a joint venture between Eneco Wind UK Ltd and EDF Energy Renewables. The developer wants to construct and operate what it calls Navitus Bay wind park, which would be bigger than any other wind farm currently in

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operation and the first to be proposed adjacent to a vibrant leisure economy, adjoining a coast of outstanding natural beauty, and bordering a world heritage site. It would comprise up to 194 industrial-scale 200-metre-tall wind turbines; each one would be 15% taller than the Spinnaker tower. They would dominate Poole bay, occupying 153 sq km—an area similar in size to Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole combined. At their nearest points, they would be 9.1 miles from Swanage, 10.9 miles from the Isle of Wight, and 13.3 miles from Bournemouth. The Government guidelines say that no wind turbine should be constructed offshore within a 12 nautical mile limit, and these proposals do not comply with that.

The wind farm is controversial and contentious. As evidence of that, the plans for the development have received almost 2,700 interested representations—the highest number for any proposed offshore wind farm that the Planning Inspectorate has handled. I have not been able to bring along the filing cabinet containing all the representations that I have received from outraged constituents, but I know that I am speaking not just for my constituents, but for those of my hon. Friends along the south coast, in expressing our concern and outrage at what is being planned.

Bournemouth borough council believes that the wind farm

“will cause serious harm to the intrinsic appeal and beauty of Poole Bay’s natural seascape. The industrialisation of our beautiful coastal setting will have an unprecedented and damaging effect on the local economy.”

Surveys carried out by the developer in 2012 and 2013 show that over 1 million visitors a year will stop coming to the area, taking more than £100 million of income from the local economy. As a result of taxpayer subsidy going into developments in Hull, the economy there may receive a temporary boost, but as a direct consequence, on the admission of the developer, there will be a loss of £100 million a year to the local economy, mainly the tourist economy, in the area that I have the privilege to represent. That loss of real spending in our area would negatively affect local businesses and potentially result in business failures, with an estimated loss of some 2,000 jobs. For that reason, the local councils have joined together to spend a lot of money on campaigning against this wind farm development.

I think it is a useful exercise to reinforce those concerns by introducing this Bill. Clause 1 covers the location and height of wind turbines. Subsection (1) says:

“No wind turbine shall be constructed or erected within fifteen miles of the coast”.

That is a necessary minimum requirement that has particular regard to the Government’s guidelines.

Subsection (2) says:

“No wind turbine shall be constructed or erected within twenty miles of the coast…to a height exceeding 100m as measured by the highest point of the turbine blade above sea level from the date of commencement of this Act.”

That means, in effect, that if there are going to be very tall wind turbines that will be more visible, they need to be situated further offshore than those that are not so tall. The article in The Economist referred to the situation in Edinburgh, where a wind turbine under construction was nudging 200 metres in height—and what a monstrosity

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it was. We are talking about not just one such turbine, but getting on for 200, off the coast of Dorset. Subsection (3) says:

“No wind turbine shall be constructed or erected off shore if it would form part of a group of wind turbines which totals more than one hundred and no group of wind turbines shall be constructed or erected off shore within fifteen miles of any other such group.”

That is designed to reduce the visual and other impacts of such developments, and to stop them appearing like an industrial landscape out at sea.

We now come to a very sensitive matter. Subsection (4) states:

“No wind turbine shall be constructed or erected offshore within twenty miles of any World Heritage site.”

I would have thought that that was a fundamental point and I am amazed and extremely disappointed that the Government have been so laid back in their response to UNESCO’s concerns about the impact of the Navitus Bay wind park on the world heritage site known as the Jurassic coast. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is supposed to be the guardian of the Jurassic coast. It is promoted as a great tourist centre and we are trying to attract visitors to admire the coast.

UNESCO says that the project’s potential impacts on the natural property of the Jurassic coast

“are in contradiction to the overarching principle of the World Heritage Convention as stipulated in its Article 4, as the completion of the Project would result in the property being presented and transmitted to future generations in a form that is significantly different from what was there at the time of inscription and until today. Specifically, the property will change from being located in a natural setting that is largely free from human-made structures to one where its setting is dominated by human-made structures.”

That is slightly flowery language, but what UNESCO is saying, in essence, is that putting 200 wind turbines so close the Jurassic coast would turn it from being a natural landscape into an industrial landscape. UNESCO wrote in its letter to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on 4 May 2014 that it wanted its comments to be taken into account in deciding whether the matter should even go to a public inquiry. Instead of responding to that request, DCMS Ministers simply shuffled off UNESCO’s representations to the public inquiry itself, which was a completely wrong-headed way of dealing with such major concerns.

There are a lot of examples around Europe and the rest of the world of UNESCO withdrawing world heritage status from sites that have been adversely affected by development. Only yesterday, a colleague from elsewhere in Europe drew my attention to the fact that, because of an insistence on building an unsightly bridge, part of the city of Dresden lost its world heritage status. We cannot be complacent. We need to look at the substance of the issue. Surely it does not make sense to build such monstrosities so close to a world heritage site, and that is what clause 1(4) covers. Subsection (5) sets out the way in which the

“distance between a wind turbine and the coast shall be measured”.

Clause 2 covers the operation of wind turbines and states:

“No wind turbine situated in or within five miles of an established area used by migrating birds shall be operated during the season for bird migration.”

This is a very big issue. Unlike perhaps the coast of north Wales, the coast of Dorset, Hampshire and the

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Isle of Wight is frequented by migrating birds. It is extraordinary that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has not been more active in campaigning against the development, because it could have an enormous adverse impact on the migrating bird population.

In the summer months, almost all of the 4,500 nightjars in this country are located in and around New Forest and the Dorset heathland. People cannot develop within 400 metres of the heathland because their dogs or cats might attack the habitat of nightjars, Dartford warblers and so on. We are at great pains to protect the habitat of the nightjar on the Dorset heathlands, but when those nightjars wish to migrate in August they will have to go through a mass of enormous wind turbines extending to 200 metres in height. As their name suggests, nightjars travel at night and the impact of the turbines on their migratory pattern will be immense.

One of the main reasons there has been a significant decline in the number of migrating birds coming into the United Kingdom—this has been witnessed by lots of bird watchers—is the impact of wind turbines, not just off our shore, but off the shores of other countries through which those birds migrate during spring or autumn.

Mark Tami: What evidence does the hon. Gentleman have that the birds seem to know that the wind farms are there and therefore do not come? That seems to be what he is saying. Is there any evidence to show that wind farms have that effect?

Mr Chope: There is actually a mass of evidence. I have a great volume of material, largely from America, because that is where most of the data come from—

Mark Tami: America?

Mr Chope: Yes, the United States—the hon. Gentleman may not have heard of it. The material shows clearly the impact of wind farms on migrating birds. Obviously, given that these wind turbines are stuck out in the middle of the ocean, it is very difficult to show that so many birds have been killed by their rotating blades at night. We should, however, give the benefit of the doubt to the migrating birds, and one way of doing that would be to ensure that the wind turbines do not operate during the migrating season. That should not be a great burden, because whenever there is a patch of really cold weather, they do not operate anyway, so when we really need that energy and have high pressure, if there is no wind and the turbines do not rotate, they do not generate any electricity or make a contribution to the national grid. Clause 2, therefore, states that we should extend the non-operation of wind turbines to the period when birds migrate, rather than confine it to those times when there is no wind. If we were talking about just one or two wind turbines, it would be possible to argue that the birds can go round them, but we are talking about wind turbines that are close together and that each has a 200-metre wide reach—there is also vortex that they generate—and birds in their vicinity almost certain to fall foul of them and die as a result.

Mark Tami: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that, certainly from the evidence I have seen, bird numbers as a whole are suffering as a result of pesticides and

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other pollutants? Many of them come from coal-fired power stations, of which, after getting rid of wind turbines, he would no doubt want to see more?

Mr Chope: I am a great bird lover, and I do not want any decline in the bird population, but we are talking about particular species that migrate to the south of England after travelling hundreds of miles. We already have restricted numbers of them, and certain species of migrating birds will probably be in effect wiped out at a time when we are saying that we want to look after heathland habitats, which I support.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman is pursuing an interesting line of inquiry. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), may I ask what data the hon. Gentleman has about the impact of catastrophic climate change on migrating bird numbers and patterns?

Mr Chope: I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman means by “catastrophic climate change”. The Chinese have said that they will continue to increase their carbon emissions until at least 2030. If we are trying to counter that by putting our migrating bird population into such jeopardy, we have a completely distorted sense of priorities.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman must know only too well that the Chinese have in fact said that their emissions will peak no later than 2030, with the expectation that they may well peak earlier. In relation to the carbon footprint of China, they are operating at a far lower per capita level than we are.

Mr Chope: All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that I am sure that that will be a great consolation to the bird population. We in our country are responsible for less than 2% of global emissions, and the idea that we have to invest—if that is the right use of the word—or put subsidies into the most uneconomic form of renewable energy seems to me to be absolutely senseless. We do not have to do that; we could invest more in nuclear power or other renewables that do not have such an adverse impact on migrating birds.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is talking eloquently about the effect of wind turbines on the bird population. One thing missing from his Bill, which he may seek to correct at some point, is the impact of wind turbines on aviation, and particularly on radar. Is he aware of the aviation industry’s concerns?

Mr Chope: I am aware of that, not least because Bournemouth international airport is in my constituency. One irony in relation to the developers’ proposals is that such issues have been left to bilateral discussions after the public inquiry, with people being told, “Oh, don’t worry about that. We’ll sort that out between ourselves and the airport after the inquiry.” Our hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth), a private pilot, is concerned about the strong vortex that wind turbines can generate and its impact on those engaged in private recreational aviation. We know that if wind turbines are more than 100 metres high, they must be illuminated so that they can be seen from aircraft, which makes them look even more unsightly on the horizon. That is an issue, as the developers accept, but

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instead of being dealt with in a public inquiry, it is being kicked into touch to be dealt with later, which is thoroughly unsatisfactory.

Clause 3 covers the length, location and environmental impact of the connecting cables. One would have thought that the cables from an offshore wind farm would be connected to the national grid at the closest possible point on the shore, thereby minimising the need for disruption on land. In my representation 1713 to the Navitus Bay wind park inquiry, dated 19 June 2014, I referred to such an impact, among others:

“The off shore cables should be connected to the national grid at the closest point to the sea which is Fawley Power Station. This would avoid the need for twenty two miles of connecting cables over ground across sensitive habitats.”

Members of Hurn parish council, particularly Councillor Margaret Phipps, have produced a really compelling case against laying the cables across Hurn forest, which includes an area of special scientific interest. They are concerned that there is an unnecessary additional adverse impact on the environment just from the cabling. There is no reason why the developers should not link up to the national grid at Fawley power station if they so wish. The Bill would require them to do so, rather than to create further adverse environmental impacts with cables crossing the New Forest national park, areas of special scientific interest and special areas of conservation.

Under clause 3, rather than having cables in cut-and-cover connections or left on the surface, cables would be placed in a tunnel under the ground. The main pipelines from the on-land oil development at Wytch Farm in Dorset were put underground, which minimised the impact on nature and the environment. Clause 4 is about subsidies.

The Bill is not confined to the Navitus Bay wind park development, but it would ensure that such an obscenity could not be proposed again, with all the uncertainty and opposition that such developments generate among local people. Surely we are mad as a country to invest tens of millions of pounds in subsidising a development that will have an adverse impact on one world heritage site at the same time as we are quite rightly proposing to protect another, Stonehenge, by building an enormous tunnel nearby to reduce the impact on it. We are prepared to put subsidies into saving one world heritage site, while at the same time using taxpayer subsidies to wreck another. That seems mad to me, and I am sorry if it is Government policy—I fear that it is not so much Government policy as Liberal Democrat policy.

Last week I said that the Bills I was promoting were in a sense a contribution to the development of the Conservative party manifesto. If Ministers are not free to adopt the Bill today because of the constraints of coalition with the Liberal Democrats, I hope that they will be free to do so when we have a majority Conservative Government after 7 May.

12.50 pm

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): I intended to participate in the debate on the next Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), but he has so enlivened the debate on this Bill that I feel it offers me an opportunity to put on the record the fact that his

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view is not universally shared among Members of the House. I take the view—as, I am sure, does my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds)—that offshore and onshore wind energy plays a valuable role in helping us meet our environmental targets in energy production. It is also key to the future of manufacturing industry in the United Kingdom.

The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed this matter on a number of occasions. He will know that my part of the world in north Wales is a significant contributor to the UK offshore wind economy. Over many years the former Labour Government, and indeed the current Government, were supportive of the development of offshore wind energy in my constituency and its adjacent areas. I recognise that the Bill is not retrospective, but it is important that we recognise the contribution made by the wind farm and energy industry in places such as north Wales in meeting our carbon commitments, and in stimulating and creating jobs and employment in an area such as mine, which was reliant on the coal industry but now has an alternative energy source that is second to none.

The hon. Gentleman’s list of supporters did not include anybody from north Wales, but Burbo Bank on the north Wales and Liverpool bay coast is a significant contributor to the industry, as is the Gwynt y Môr offshore wind farm and—I do not think you are related, Mr Deputy Speaker—the North Hoyle development off north Wales and Liverpool bay. All those developments are between four and eight miles off the north Wales, Wirral and Liverpool bay coast, and they would not have been approved if clause 1(1) of the Bill had been enacted. The Gwynt y Môr wind farm and other large developments would not have been permitted if clause 1(3) had been enacted, because that prevents the development of a group of wind turbines from numbering more than 100.

The Gwynt y Môr wind farm off the coast of my constituency will comprise 160 turbines although it currently has around 80. In due course it will provide enough energy to meet the needs of 400,000 homes. That project is worth £2 billion. Let me say that again: £2 billion for that one wind farm project. I think that we could and should be—and indeed are—world leaders in offshore wind, and £2 billion for that one offshore site at Gwynt y Môr is valuable investment that helps generate the energy needed for 400,000 homes. Had the Bill been enacted, that development would not have been allowed to progress. There are many examples off the coast of East Anglia, Scotland, north-west England and north Wales where there is potential for further development. If this Bill is enacted, that will not happen.

In 2007 under the Labour Government, 27 nations in Europe agreed to a legally binding target of 20% of all energy to be supplied by renewable sources by 2020. How does the hon. Gentleman think that will be done if we put a stop to offshore wind?

Importantly, I considered a moment ago the knock-on effects of this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) said that Siemens has announced that it wants to build an onshore wind development of offshore blades in the great city of Hull, and that is investment in manufacturing industry. At the moment, the hon. Gentleman will know that much of the technology and hard core infrastructure is imported from Scandinavian countries and elsewhere in

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Europe, but we now have a manufacturing opportunity in the city of Hull—indeed, I am surprised that the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) has sponsored the Bill.

In my constituency, Vestas is working out of Mostyn docks and providing support for new offshore turbines. It is manufacturing those turbines on the Isle of Wight—not un-adjacent to the area represented by the hon. Member for Christchurch. Is he saying that the manufacturing industry on the Isle of Wight should cease because of his ill-thought-out proposals for the future?

I do not wish to delay the House, but although the hon. Gentleman’s view is legitimate, it is not the sole view on this issue. There is real scope to develop offshore wind, and it contributes to our energy needs and supports manufacturing industry. It has also regenerated places such as Mostyn docks in my constituency, which would not exist in their current state were it not for the relationship between the offshore wind industry and employment onshore.

In my view the Bill should be withdrawn—let us not say rejected—and given greater thought. I hope the hon. Gentleman does that so that we can get on to the other matters that I originally intended to discuss.

12.57 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I do not intend to delay the House for long, but I want to put on record my support for this Bill. I hope that all constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) have seen him in action today—I am sure they regularly watch the Parliament channel—and seen how effectively he represents their interests in Parliament. His speech, as ever, was a master class, and shows how lucky the people of Christchurch are to have him batting for them on this issue and many others.

Not many constituencies in the country are more landlocked than Shipley—that is one reason why I will not detain the House for long. We are about as far from the coast as one can get, so the problems that my hon. Friend describes are not ones that people in Shipley will easily recognise unless they have a particularly powerful pair of binoculars. We can sympathise, however, because we have the problem and blot on the landscape of onshore wind farms. It seems to me that if an onshore wind farm is a blot on the landscape locally, an offshore wind farm will equally be one for people who live on the coast. The two issues are connected.

Apart from representing the interests of his constituents, my hon. Friend has also shone a rather useful light on the muddled thinking of the Labour party. Two or three years ago Labour Members made big play at their party conference of the problem of energy prices—[Interruption.] I notice the deputy Chief Whip busily taking notes on the Front Bench, and I am not sure whether I will get another black mark in his book by saying this, but I think the Leader of the Opposition hit on a good point. Many of my constituents are very concerned about the price of energy. We very much welcome the reductions we have seen in recent weeks. They would not have happened if Labour party policy had been implemented, but that is by the by. The Leader of the Opposition was absolutely right to draw attention to, and shine a light on, the problem of energy prices.

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It is, however, bizarre that the party that makes a big thing about how problematic energy prices are to their constituents then decides to pursue a policy that can lead to only one outcome—even higher energy prices—by trying to cover the countryside and offshore with as many wind farms as possible. We all know that wind energy is the most inefficient and most expensive form of energy, so why on earth would a party that is so bothered about energy prices want to add as much of that energy as possible when it will only to add to prices?

Jonathan Reynolds: I am heartened to hear of the hon. Gentleman’s support for Labour’s price freeze, which I will pass on to the Leader of the Opposition. In all seriousness, does he not see the benefits of protecting his constituents from the volatility of fossil fuel prices? I am sure he is an avid follower of the work of the Energy and Climate Change Committee. It has modelled what it believes to be a lower bill scenario through a transition to a low-carbon economy and low-carbon generation.

Philip Davies: On a point of clarity, I did not say at all that I support Labour party policy on freezing energy prices. I just made it clear that, if we had followed that policy, we would not have had any of the reductions in energy prices that we are seeing at the moment. I am for low energy prices: I want them frozen at a lower level. The Labour party wants to freeze them at a high rate, which seems to me to be a nonsensical policy.

I do not want to get sidetracked. The fact of the matter—the hon. Gentleman could not deny it in his intervention—is that his party’s policy will lead to higher energy prices by supporting a huge expansion of wind energy. My constituency is landlocked, but it will be my constituents, just as much as those of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, who will be paying the price for extensive offshore wind farm developments. That is where my interest lies. I want my constituents to be able to have access to the cheapest energy. I do not want them to have access to the greenest energy, irrespective of the cost.

The right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), speaking on behalf of the north Wales economy, rather led with his chin when he mentioned how wonderful offshore wind farms are for manufacturing industry. There is a lot of manufacturing industry in my constituency. I am delighted that, under this Government, manufacturing is thriving again, unlike under the previous Government, but the one thing manufacturing is most concerned about is high energy bills. The fact is that wind energy does not help manufacturing industry. All it does is make it even more uncompetitive against businesses in China and America, which benefit from much cheaper energy bills. The extension of wind energy that the right hon. Gentleman wants to see is not helping manufacturing industry in this country; it is the death knell for manufacturing industry in this country. That is why it is so important that we stop this ridiculous expansion of wind energy.

I have a concern about my hon. Friend’s Bill. I might add that if clause 4, on subsidies, was passed it would make the rest of the Bill redundant. If subsidies were taken away from the offshore wind industry, all the measures on planning would be redundant because nobody would want to start a wind farm offshore. Clause 4 is therefore

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by far the most important clause, because we want to stop the subsidies to stop the higher energy bills for our constituents.

If my hon. Friend’s Bill goes through, I would not want to see an extension of onshore wind, which is just as nonsensical and has a big impact on my constituency. I am very pleased that I helped to object to the latest wind farm development in Denholme in my constituency. Clause 1(4) states:

“No wind turbine shall be constructed or erected offshore within twenty miles of any World Heritage site.”

I just wondered whether my hon. Friend thought it would be far better if it said that “No wind turbine shall be constructed or erected within 20 miles of any world heritage site anywhere.” My constituency has a world heritage site, Saltaire, which is well worth a visit for anybody who has not been. It is a marvellous tourist attraction. It was set up by Sir Titus Salt, a great industrial philanthropist. If no wind turbines were allowed within 20 miles of any world heritage site, it would neatly make sure that there could not be any wind turbines in my constituency at all. That would go down very well with me and with my constituents. What I do not really understand is why my hon. Friend thinks there should be no wind turbines within 20 miles of his constituency’s world heritage site, but that there should be within 20 miles of my constituency’s world heritage site. I hope that that is an anomaly that can be corrected at some future point. I would not want to see, as an unintended consequence of the Bill, more onshore wind farms.

I am against expensive forms of energy that add unnecessarily to the bills of my constituents. The Labour party’s vocal support for wind energy is bizarre. It is, in effect, taking money off poor householders, through their energy bills, and giving it, through huge subsidies, as the party has made clear throughout, to massive corporations and landowners. I have no idea under which part of Labour party socialist thinking that kind of redistribution of wealth was ever envisaged. I always thought that the premise of socialism was to take money from rich people and give it to poor people. The Labour party has stumbled on a policy that is all about taking money from poor people and giving it to big multinational corporations—no wonder it is leaking votes to UKIP at a record rate with that kind of muddled thinking.

I support my hon. Friend’s Bill. My constituents in Shipley, although landlocked and therefore not facing the problems of offshore wind farms, can sympathise, given their own experience of onshore wind turbines, with the issues he has brought before the House today.

I will end where I started by saying I very much hope all of his constituents have seen his speech today, because they can be sure that they are incredibly well represented by him in Parliament.

1.7 pm

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) for bringing forward the Bill, as it gives us the opportunity to discuss what I believe are the erroneous views on offshore wind energy that it seems are held by a significant number of Conservative MPs.

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As I begin my remarks, I thought it might be useful to the House to place on record the contribution that wind energy is making as the debate takes place. I have the figures with me here. As we conduct the debate, wind energy is currently providing 8.5% of the UK’s energy generation mix. In the past 24 hours, it has provided just under 13% of the UK’s new domestic generation. As so much onshore wind is embedded in the regional networks, a substantial part of that will come from offshore wind generation.

I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has a consistent record on this area of policy. He was one of just five Members who voted against the UK’s world-leading Climate Change Act 2008. As a result, I am not sure that we will find many areas of agreement on the specifics of the Bill, but I give credit to the hon. Gentleman in one regard: his Bill is, at least, brief. In little more than one page, he seeks to annihilate the UK’s world-leading offshore industry in its entirety—an industry with approximately 5 GW of capacity in operation or construction, with a further 3.2 GW awarded under early contracts for difference. The industry directly employs nearly 7,000 people and many more in its supply chain. It is fantastic to see in the Chamber today representatives from east Hull and from Delyn who have been able to articulate the benefits that the industry brings to their areas.

The hon. Member for Christchurch is a strong supporter of nuclear power, as am I. Labour supports the construction of new nuclear power stations at Hinkley and elsewhere. Where the hon. Gentleman and, I am afraid, too many of his Conservative colleagues get it so badly wrong is that they do not appreciate or understand the need for an energy mix. That means new nuclear, carbon capture and storage technology and, fundamentally, renewables such as onshore and offshore wind as well as solar, wave and tidal. That is what we mean by a mix. We cannot meet our carbon reduction commitments or avert catastrophic climate change unless we follow the route to such a mix.

The Bill, if brought into law, would kill the UK’s offshore wind industry. That, on the basis of the hon. Gentleman’s speech, is the Bill’s aim. As he has described, it would mandate that no offshore wind turbine could be situated within 15 miles of the shore or 20 miles for turbines exceeding 100 metres in height. For good measure, the fourth part of the Bill would strip offshore wind of any financial support, as is currently provided under the renewables obligation or contracts for difference. What does not come across from hon. Members who take this view is an appreciation that some form of subsidy is involved in nearly every form of new regeneration in the UK.

Opposition Members agree that, as with all clean energy technologies, the costs of offshore wind must continue to fall. The way to generate the clean energy we need at a price that consumers can afford is not by completely killing the offshore wind industry. It is by fostering innovation, economies of scale and crowding in investment.

Labour is committed to setting a 2030 power sector decarbonisation target—something that the industry has called for—in order to provide the long-term certainty that it needs. In that regard, the Bill is entirely contradictory. One of its clauses is, as we have heard, to limit the maximum height of wind turbines, yet the new generation of more efficient turbines coming on stream has been

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designed to maximise the energy yield in deeper waters. These turbines, such as the latest products from Vestas and Siemens, will certainly exceed the 100 metre height, with blades perhaps 75 to 80 metres long. These taller, more efficient turbines will help to drive down cost reduction, not to mention the benefit to the UK’s manufacturing investment. The Bill is pursuing two contradictory objectives in those two clauses.

I understand that the hon. Member for Christchurch was one of more than 100 Conservative MPs who wrote to the Prime Minister, demanding that the Government withdraw support for the UK’s onshore wind industry as well. In that regard, they were successful. The Conservatives have now proposed an effective moratorium for onshore wind, which is, of course, the cheapest large-scale form of renewable energy. Indeed, between June 2013 and September 2014, the Communities Secretary intervened in 50 onshore wind applications—projects that could have powered more than 250,000 homes.

Those Conservative Members thus appear to have been successful on that score. Clearly, the Conservative party does not like onshore wind. They also appear not to like solar power, which they have sought to suffocate through endless consultations. The Environment Secretary has managed to extract further cuts by insinuating that solar power was a threat to the security of our supply of apples! Now, almost inevitably, the Conservatives have turned their fire towards offshore wind. The Conservatives do not like onshore wind; they do not like solar; they do not like offshore wind. The question for us today, then, is whether there are any clean energy technologies that they do support.

Thankfully, the Conservatives’ irrational dislike of clean energy is not supported in public opinion. According to their very own figures, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has noted that 74% of people support offshore wind, two thirds support onshore wind and a whopping 80% support further solar development. The hostility to green energy runs counter not only to our energy security needs, but to public opinion.

One colleague who joined the hon. Member for Christchurch in the lonely No Lobby during the vote on the historic Climate Change Act 2008 was, of course, the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley), who made a final, desperate point of order just before the House divided. Although the House was passing the Climate Change Bill that evening—based, he said, on the supposition that the climate was getting warmer—he pointed out that it was snowing outside, even though it was October.

This is not a debate about climate change, and nor would I wish unfairly to associate the words of the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden with those of the Member for Christchurch, but I think we can all agree that climate is different from weather. If we cannot, there is very little point in discussing the intricacies of how far turbines should be from land or what the right strike price is for offshore wind, nuclear or anything else.

The fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provided overwhelming and compelling scientific evidence that climate change is real, that it is caused by human activity and that it will have disastrous consequences if urgent action is not taken to cut our carbon emissions and invest in mitigation.

I am always willing to have a debate about offshore wind, about how we can get investment up and bring costs

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down. However, no debate centred on a Bill that would implement a de facto ban on offshore wind could, I think, be considered a serious one. Labour is focusing on how we can best navigate the energy trilemma that all economies face. Instead of a tax on clean energy, Labour is providing—through widely supported policies such as our 2030 power sector decarbonisation target—the certainty that is needed if we are to attract investment and bring costs down. Clean energy is crucial to our energy security. Labour is focusing on helping our clean energy industry to succeed, and ensuring that United Kingdom consumers are given a fair deal in respect of their secure, clean energy.

1.15 pm

The Minister for Business and Enterprise (Matthew Hancock): It is a great pleasure to respond on behalf of the Government. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) on what is not his first and surely will not be his last private Member’s Bill. I know that he has a long-standing interest in seeking to ensure that the United Kingdom has secure and economic energy, an aim that the Government fully support. However, having listened to the debate, I am not sure that I shall be able wholly to satisfy his demands.

The Government will oppose the Bill because of the impact that it would have on our policy of supporting appropriately sited offshore wind. Given that the vast majority of proposed offshore wind farms that could be built between now and 2020, and beyond, are either wholly or partially located within 20 miles of the coast, that impact would be wide ranging. In particular, there would be an impact on the agreed planning process for offshore wind farm projects—as Members will know, decisions about the impact of offshore wind are a matter for the planners—and a potential impact on our legally binding 2020 renewable energy target and longer-term decarbonisation targets.

I am aware that my hon. Friend has expressed concern about a proposed offshore wind farm which, if it went ahead, would be built close to his constituency. However, a decision about that project is still some way off. The consent application is still being examined by the Planning Inspectorate, which will ultimately make a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. I hope that my hon. Friend understands that it would not be appropriate for me to go into the details of that particular application, but I can say one thing to him. He said that UNESCO’s comments about the application were going to the Planning Inspectorate. That is exactly where they should be going, because the inspectorate can then take them into account in the report to the Secretary of State.

Mr Chope: May I press my right hon. Friend a little on the timing? The inspectorate has said that it will allow until 4 March for the receipt of further representations. Does that mean that it will not be possible for it to provide a recommendation, and for the Government to respond to that recommendation, before we enter the period of purdah, and does that, in turn, mean that this will be a live issue during the general election campaign?

Matthew Hancock: It is normal for the inspectorate, once it has received all the documentation and

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representations, to take some time to consider them, and then for the Secretary of State to take some time to consider the application. Given that there are only 26 days between the date that he mentioned and the expected date of the start of purdah—the end of March—it would be a rapid turnaround if the process were completed before the start of purdah, although I cannot rule out the possibility. If I can give any firmer information after looking into the matter in detail, I will write to my hon. Friend.

The Bill is not only about that constituency case, but about the broader impact of a change in the rules governing offshore wind. The House will know that the UK is blessed with a number of advantages for offshore wind. We have relatively shallow seas, we are a very windy country, and the wind is even more pronounced offshore, and it makes sense to seek to take advantage of this resource. We are the clear world leader in offshore wind, in terms of both installed capacity and investment. We worked hard and were proud to secure the investment of Siemens near Hull, which is an issue that I worked on, as did my predecessor as Minister of State at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon). Many others across the Government worked hard to bring that investment to Hull, too.

Karl Turner: This Bill could cause real damage to the prospect of creating much needed jobs in my constituency. Members of Parliament in Hull and the local authority worked very hard together for a very long time, and for a Member of this House from east Yorkshire to support this Bill, which I have described as a silly Bill, is actually pretty dangerous.

Matthew Hancock: The hon. Gentleman is getting a little ahead of himself. The Government’s support for the project at Siemens is rock-solid. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), sitting on the Front Bench next to me now, worked on the project securing the road investment that is critical to unlocking it.

Offshore wind is producing enough energy to provide the annual electricity requirements of about 2.8 million homes. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) read out the proportion, which people can easily read off their Energy UK app on their smartphone, and it is typically between 10% and 15% of the energy requirements of the UK. Then there are the jobs that are supported in the supply chain, although we should be direct about the reasons for supporting renewable energy.

To respond to a point made from the Opposition Front Bench, we are strong supporters of solar energy, especially as it closes in on being grid-comparable. There is a big opportunity for solar, not least because 1 million people now live in homes with solar panels on the roof. One of the exciting moments for the improvement in the mix of energy in the UK will be when solar becomes grid-comparable without subsidy, and it suddenly becomes cost effective without the involvement of the Government for millions more to put solar panels on their roofs.

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We always knew that the early offshore wind projects would cost more. The costs are now coming down, and we have tried to put in place a system that promotes certainty, but we are deeply mindful of the need to protect consumers, and ultimately the long-term goal is for low-carbon technologies to compete on price with other forms of generation.

I agree with much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) says, and certainly with a lot of what he said today, such as when he pointed out the utter inconsistency of the Opposition Front-Bench position, arguing without any caveat for renewables and without concern for the fact that there is a subsidy. We have introduced a cap on that subsidy through the levy control framework, and made sure that the subsidy that is available is auctioned and provided through a market process. In that way we get the best possible bang for the buck from the subsidy, instead of just laying it on without limit.

My hon. Friend also pointed to the utter inconsistency of calling for urgent action on a price freeze and then complaining that prices are not falling fast enough, when prices for consumers would be £100 higher if the Opposition had had their way a year and a half ago when they called for an immediate energy price freeze. Their squirming and wriggling this week, trying to say that in fact their policy was only ever a cap, while launching it next to an enormous block of ice, shows just how ridiculous and absurd it was in the first place. It has now been thoroughly exposed and we will relish the opportunity over the next three and a half months to point out to anybody who cares to listen that if someone calls for an energy price freeze and when energy prices start to fall complains that they are not falling fast enough, they do not have a shred of credibility left.

Jonathan Reynolds rose

Matthew Hancock: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if he will explain whether he is in favour of an energy price freeze.

Jonathan Reynolds: I do not believe that the Minister is as silly as his remarks might suggest. I think he is perfectly aware that it was always intended to be a freeze on rising prices, with the potential to deal with a fall. He has been gracious in letting me intervene on him, so may I ask him a specific question? He said that we were in favour of decarbonised electricity generation without having regard for the impact on consumers. It is the Conservative party, however, that is proposing a ban on onshore wind development, which is the cheapest form of renewable energy. If he is to stick to the legally binding commitments that this country already has, how will he square his lack of support for the onshore wind industry with his concern for consumers?

Matthew Hancock: We argued successfully in Europe for a decarbonisation target for 2030, to ensure that we could decarbonise at the lowest possible cost. The cheapest way to decarbonise our economy is to make it more efficient. That cuts not only carbon but bills, which is what the public are looking for. They want a policy that allows us to tackle the long-term threat of the risk of climate change at the lowest possible cost while providing certainty for investors.

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The hon. Gentleman has demonstrated the pickle that the Opposition are in by his use of convoluted language, which differed from that of other Opposition Front Benchers who this week tried to argue that they had always been in favour of a cap. Well, there was no mention of a cap in the motion that they put before Parliament six months ago when they called for a freeze on energy prices. That freeze has been exposed as an utter joke.

Jonathan Reynolds rose

Matthew Hancock: I will certainly give way, if the hon. Gentleman will come to the Dispatch Box and accept that the Opposition called for a freeze and that prices would have been higher now if we had listened to their proposal.

Jonathan Reynolds: The Minister is trying to dodge his previous statement by making points about efficiency, which he knows I agree with—hence our ambition for a much more successful energy efficiency policy than the one his Government have pursued, which has been in most aspects an outright disaster. I say to him again that he is talking about decarbonising at the lowest possible cost while simultaneously ruling out the most cost-effective form of renewable electricity generation. How does he square those two objectives?

Matthew Hancock: The focus is on decarbonisation, and renewables are one part of decarbonisation. We also need to look at low carbon emission energy, of which nuclear is an important part—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. Will the Minister pause for a moment? I am sure that he and the Opposition spokesman will accept that the argument that is going on between them, in which other Members are not taking part, is not completely essential to debate on the Control of Offshore Wind Turbines Bill. A general discussion on energy policy is perfectly acceptable, and I have let their argument continue this far, but I am sure that the Minister would not wish to stray much further from the subject of wind turbines.

Matthew Hancock: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. On exactly that subject of offshore wind turbines, which we were discussing—broadly—it is important to ensure that those turbines are part of the mix, but in a way that takes consumer costs into account. One of the reasons that we have introduced the contracts for difference is to ensure that the subsidy for offshore wind turbines gives the best possible value for money.

I have already mentioned a number of the benefits of offshore wind, but we must also take into account the wider economic benefit across the UK. The Siemens project near Hull is creating 1,000 direct jobs. The decision to locate the project there was based largely on the expected size of the UK market. Indeed, we have an industrial strategy for offshore wind because of the ability to take advantage of global offshore wind as a world leader in the supply chain. UK Trade & Investment is heavily engaged in enhancing our offshore wind capability, and leading offshore wind suppliers in Germany and Denmark have been attracted to the UK, making investments in Teesside, for instance. Many other UK businesses are also engaged.

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The Bill would also have an impact on the planning process and the consideration of applications for development consent for offshore wind farms. In high-level terms, the planning system has been designed to ensure that wind farms are built only where the impacts, including visual impacts, are acceptable on the basis of a thorough consideration of the benefits and impacts of the proposed schemes. The system requires wide-ranging consultation, and it is important that judgments on the acceptability or otherwise of particular projects are made on a case-by-case basis, not on the basis of a one-size-fits-all approach. The appropriateness of the height, location, number and operation of turbines is already considered on a case-by-case basis against the criteria set out in the national policy statements, and statutory restrictions on these factors would be inconsistent with the process described in the national policy statements. The Bill would also regulate the length, location and environmental impact of cables relating to the turbines and offshore wind farms within its purview. Those aspects are also covered by the planning process, and it is our position that it would be inappropriate to set restrictions that are inconsistent with that planning process.

Therefore, the Government remain committed to offshore wind, not unconditionally at any cost, but because it is an important part of the energy mix. Our policies have been specifically designed to achieve that. The potential benefits to the nation are significant and are beginning to materialise. We believe, therefore, that the policies we have in place are working and that the Bill would risk that and should be opposed.

1.31 pm

Mr Chope: With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, let me, in summing up this debate, thank everybody who has participated. The right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) has given me cause to wonder whether on the next occasion I bring forward this Bill it should apply just to England. That might remove one of the big objections.

Mr Hanson indicated dissent.

Mr Chope: He is shaking his head, but I thought one of his big objections was that the Bill did not take account of the special situation in north Wales.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) for his generous comments and for his support. As has been pointed out, he and I were two of the five people who voted on Third Reading against the Bill that became the Climate Change Act 2008. I am sure we have no regrets about having taken that decision. Indeed, a lot of our colleagues who were in the House at the time come to us every now and again to say, “I wish I had been with you in the Lobby.” The more that time passes, and the greater the subsidies and the implications for the British taxpayer and energy user, the more that people realise that that Act was a very extreme measure. It is probably totally inconsistent with our long-term economic interests. The Minister is looking at me straight in the eye, and I hope that, in due course, when we have a real Conservative Government, we will take another look at whether or not it did set an example to the rest of the world and cause them to reduce their global CO2 emissions in the way we thought it would. I think that wearing the hair shirt we have

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potentially done more damage to our own manufacturing industry and our own economy, and benefited those in other countries who are less principled. I continue to be concerned about that Act.

On jobs, my right hon. Friend the Minister rightly says that because of the industrial policy, Siemens has come here with its technology. It has not transferred the technology; it has come here and is making money from offshore wind turbines. Let us not forget, however, that the projected impact in just the Christchurch bay area is the loss of some 2,000-plus jobs from the tourism industry as a direct result of putting up wind turbines, which we are subsidising. So let us keep those jobs in the equation before we say that any jobs generated as a result of turbine manufacture must be a good thing. Let us keep some perspective on that. It has been said that the Bill would effectively close down the industry, but it would not do so, as the industry should be able to develop wind turbines of more than 100 metres in height in deep water beyond the 20-mile limit. That may be available in the future, so the Bill is not quite as restrictive as some claim.

I take the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley made that just dealing with offshore wind turbines does not address the whole issue. Perhaps next time I will come back with a Bill that covers both onshore and offshore wind turbines.

We heard in the last debate on the control of horses that trying to get the Government to change their mind is an iterative process. Sometimes one cannot do it in one Session, and obviously I have failed so to do this time. But when the Minister comes back after the next general election, hopefully as a Secretary of State in a purely Conservative Government, I hope that he will be more sympathetic to the revised Bill that I hope to bring forward in that first Session.

In the meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and Bill, by leave, withdrawn.

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Asylum (Time Limit) Bill

Second Reading

1.36 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill is yet another personal contribution to the manifesto development of the Conservative party before the next general election. With only two clauses, including the short title and commencement provisions, it is a short Bill. It requires that asylum claims in the United Kingdom be lodged within three months of the claimant’s arrival in the United Kingdom, and that persons who have already entered the United Kingdom and wish to make an asylum claim must do so within three months of the passing of the Act.

The whole purpose of asylum is to provide help and a safe haven to people who are fleeing from persecution. Under the refugee convention, we quite rightly say that if somebody is fleeing for their life and they come to us, we should, all other things being equal, give them a safe haven. But what has happened is that, over a period of time, the whole concept of asylum has been distorted so that we now no longer talk about refugees—people who have been granted asylum—but asylum seekers. Often, people start off as economic migrants, but when they are brought to book, they try to translate themselves into asylum seekers, often with the advice of rather dubious firms of advisers and even lawyers.

If somebody comes to this country because they are seeking asylum—they want refuge because they come from a country where it has become impossible for them to continue to live—they should, at a reasonably early opportunity, perhaps as soon as they arrive, say, “I’m here and I wish to claim asylum.” Then they make their claim. What is happening at the moment is that people can stay here for months or years and then suddenly the authorities catch up with them and they say, “Oh, I forgot that I really wanted to claim asylum.” If someone wants to claim asylum and to fall upon the mercy and good will of the United Kingdom, they should do so in a timely fashion.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I very much agree with my hon. Friend. I just wondered where the three-month time limit came from. I am pretty sure that many constituents would say, “Why should it be three months?” Three days is more than enough. Surely it should be on the day that they arrive. Why should we be so tolerant as to give people three months to decide that they are fleeing persecution? Surely they must know that the moment they arrive in the United Kingdom.

Mr Chope: I am very sympathetic to my hon. Friend’s point, but I am trying to propose a Bill that will get the support of the Government and I thought that nobody could argue that three months was not a more than reasonable time. His point is that three months is a more than reasonable time in which to decide to apply for asylum, which is why I hope that he can accept the Bill.

Once the Bill is on the statute book, the limits could be tightened further but in the first instance we must alert all those people who are already in the country and who are here illegally—we know that there could be

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between 500,000 and 1 million of those people at least—that if they wish to claim asylum they have three months in which to do so. That would be a reasonable time during which the word could spread on the street that if they were going to make an asylum application, they would have to get it in before the given date. Having decided that we would give a reasonable period of time to people who are already here, it seemed to me that to fit in with that I should say that the same three-month limit should apply to people who arrived after the Bill became law. That was my thinking, but I am prepared to accept the implied criticism from my hon. Friend that I have been far too reasonable and understanding on this point.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I would never accuse the hon. Gentleman of being far too reasonable or understanding. I ask him to accept that many people who come to this country seeking asylum are severely traumatised and have often experienced torture. Many of them do not speak the language. That is a very good reason why he should not seek to tighten the limits in the way proposed by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). Many people are afraid of approaching the authorities because of the experiences they have had in their homeland. That trauma is deep and real and needs to be taken seriously by this House.

Mr Chope: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I take it that he supports the reasonableness of a three-month limit on this process, so I look forward to his support for the Bill.

Barry Gardiner indicated dissent.

Mr Chope: The hon. Gentleman is now shaking his head, so I do not know whether I can expect his support.

If somebody comes here who is heavily traumatised, there must come a time within which they must face up to whether they wish to claim asylum rather than waiting months or years before doing so. Quite often, people who have not suffered trauma come here and when the authorities catch up with them and realise that they are illegal migrants coming across as economic migrants, they try to buy time by falsely claiming asylum.

Barry Gardiner indicated assent.

Mr Chope: I am pleased to see that the hon. Gentleman agrees with that point.

This is a small issue, but if we put this measure on the statute book, it would generate support from the public and send out a clear message to people who wish to seek asylum and help from our country that they should do so in a timely fashion.

1.42 pm

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): It is a pleasure to contribute to another debate from the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope). The Opposition recognise strongly that Britain has a proud history of offering asylum to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people who have come to this great country over the years seeking refuge and asylum from horrors elsewhere. For example, it is to Britain's credit that we welcomed

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German Jews in the 1930s and ’40s, survivors from Rwanda in the ’90s and more recently those who have suffered the horrors and atrocity being committed in Syria.

At first glance, the hon. Gentleman’s proposal might seem to have some limited attractions, but when we consider it in detail I think that even he would accept that it has some real limitations. I do not wish to detain the House for long, but I think that it is important that we look at the Bill in detail. The hon. Gentleman seems to imply that someone who applies for asylum in country rather than at port is less likely to have a credible claim. I accept that it is important that people arriving at Heathrow airport, at Gatwick or at Dover who seek to claim asylum because they are fleeing persecution, seeking political asylum, fleeing domestic abuse or whatever else declare that wish at the first port of entry.

Let me expand the debate slightly, if I may. I have discussed this matter with members of the Refugee Council, acknowledged experts in the field. They have made it clear that figures on asylum acceptance do not bear out the suggestion that simply because an application is made in country, rather than at the port of first entry, there is no validity to the application. Neither does it need to have been made within the three-month window suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

Take as an example an individual studying at a university—it could be Southampton university, close to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. Someone else might be working at a factory on a legitimate work visa, helping develop the British economy. People could be visiting on a visitor or tourist visa and have been here for three, four, five or six months visiting relatives. There might then be a situation such as the ISIL uprising in the middle east that makes them feel that returning home would be personally dangerous to them.

Who would have predicted in December a few years ago that the following January there would be the Arab spring in Egypt, Libya or other parts of north Africa? Individuals might be in this country for legitimate reasons for longer than the three-month window suggested by the hon. Gentleman, and they might have to seek asylum for a range of genuine political and social pressures in their home countries. Those would be considered by the Home Office in a reasonable and practical way. If they had a legitimate claim, that would be accepted; if they did not, as now, the claim would be refused and other arrangements would be made—either visas or some form of deportation. The Bill would mean that nobody who had been in this country for more than three months could have recourse to political asylum. That would be wrong-headed.

Barry Gardiner: I absolutely agree with and endorse the remarks that my right hon. Friend has just made. Many asylum seekers are trafficked here; they may fall victim to the traffickers, be imprisoned or be engaged in the sex trade. There are all sorts of reasons, such as being restrained by their traffickers, why people may not be physically able to make the necessary arrangements.

Mr Hanson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend; I was going to come to that point.

Philip Davies rose—

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Mr Hanson: Before I do, I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Philip Davies: Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise the scenario, painted by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), of people coming in as economic migrants, being rumbled by the authorities and then, in effect, playing the asylum system to delay an inevitable removal from the country, often using human rights laws as well to effect further delay? If he does recognise it—and I think many around the country do—what is his solution?

Mr Hanson: The asylum system needs to have integrity. There are mechanisms, which I am sure the Minister will strongly outline, that show real integrity and that if an individual falsely claims asylum they will be removed in due course. It is important to recognise that robust systems are in place and that we try to enforce them. We must not let people play the system, but we must recognise that genuine asylum claims can be made later than the proposed three-month limit.

I turn to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner). It will not have escaped your notice, Madam Deputy Speaker, that we have been dealing with the Modern Slavery Bill in this House and another place, where it currently resides. That Bill tries to ensure that we deal with the slavery and trafficking that my hon. Friend mentioned. Individuals may have believed, because of language or cultural difficulties, that they came to this country for work or other reasons, but found themselves trafficked, imprisoned or abused. The Government have recognised the issue by introducing the Modern Slavery Bill, and we have supported them on that.

Under the Asylum (Time Limit) Bill, victims of such horrendous crimes—who may have been forced to come to the UK, who may have lived the life of slaves for many months or years but have been resident in the UK—would have no means of claiming asylum because they had been brought here by traffickers. Those are important circumstances that the Bill misses because of its cut-off date of three months.

The Bill is flawed and unworkable. There is a robust system in place. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments, which I am sure will reflect the fact that such a system exists. I would welcome the hon. Member for Christchurch reflecting on the fact that situations change outside the UK, affecting people who may have been here for more than three months, and that through no fault of their own they may need to apply for asylum after that date. As a stark example, if a German Jew were at university in the UK in March 1938 and suddenly realised that they could not return to Germany because of potential difficulties with the fascist regime there, and if they had been here for longer than three months and the hon. Gentleman’s Bill was in place, they would have to be sent back to Germany and ultimately to their death. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not wish such a situation to affect future asylum claims. He should also reflect on the security provided by the Modern Slavery Bill. Whatever the Minister says, I hope the hon. Member for Christchurch will think carefully about these matters and agree to withdraw his Bill.

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1.51 pm

The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Mike Penning): I fully understand why my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) brought his Bill before the House today. He did so with the right intentions, but like the shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), we feel that there are serious problems with its drafting. I understand that my hon. Friend is trying to address the abuse and misuse of the asylum system that this generous country has in place for those who need it.

I welcome any contributions to the forthcoming manifesto, which others will be looking for from these debates. As I said, the Bill seeks to address the abuse and misuse of our generous asylum system. The Government have already taken many steps to restore control of the asylum and immigration system that we inherited. Let me outline the situation that we inherited. Asylum applications peaked in this country in 2002 at 84,132. I fully accept on behalf of the Government that last year asylum claims went up by 2% to 24,257. If we look around the world, especially at events taking place in sub-Saharan Africa and the middle east, which the right hon. Member for Delyn mentioned, we can to some extent understand that rise.

The Government are determined, and legislated in the Immigration Act 2014, to tighten our borders and our immigration laws to make sure that asylum is not used as an excuse by someone against whom we are about to take enforcement action because they do not meet the requirements to stay in this country.

Two aspects of the comments from the right hon. Member for Delyn and the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) struck a chord with me. As a new MP in Hemel Hempstead, a seat that I was not exactly expecting to win, although I was immensely proud to do so and am immensely proud to represent, I met a Tamil man aged 24. He came here to study—a very clever man—and went on to become a very good doctor. He is progressing towards becoming a consultant now. While he was here, his whole family in Sri Lanka was wiped out. Death threats against him and his brothers were displayed across the media in Sri Lanka, just because of his parents’ beliefs and birth. He had been here for 18 months. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not have wanted that young man to be sent back to Sri Lanka under his Bill. That, personally, is why I cannot support it, and why the Government will not support it either.

We do understand the need for alternative measures. That is why, as the shadow Minister and the hon. Member for Brent North said, we introduced the Modern Slavery Bill. There are people in this country who perhaps never wanted to be here but were brought here under false pretences, bundled into the back of a lorry and abused in ways that we cannot imagine and perhaps prayed would never happen in this country in the 21st century— but the Government know that it has happened, as did the previous Administration. It was a difficult piece of legislation to bring forward, but it is the right legislation.

If someone had been forced to come to this country and, say, forced into prostitution, and we knew that if that person went back to their place of origin after three months they would not only be persecuted again but their lives would be under threat, not least if they

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gave evidence against the people who had committed those crimes against them, I do not think we would send them back.

I really do understand why my hon. Friend has introduced this Bill. I hear concerns about this in my constituency as well. We are right to be a generous nation, going back further than the events before and during the second world war and the persecution of the Jews—way back to times when we have assisted vulnerable people from around the world. Yes, we want people to declare that they are in a safe place long before they get to this country if that is possible. Yes, some of them are enormously vulnerable and very traumatised when they arrive. I have met such people—some, sadly, within our criminal justice system, where we have people with mental health issues, whether they are British nationals or non-British nationals who needed help long before they came here.

I accept that the Bill has every understandable intention in trying to stop bogus asylum seekers abusing our system and speed the process up, which is what the Government are trying to do as much as possible, as well as, wherever possible, encouraging asylum seekers to look elsewhere. The most recent figures show that in the rest of Europe asylum applications have reached the highest point since the peak of 2002, but our figures are still way below that. However, that is not because we are not a generous nation. I think the rest of the world is starting to realise that we are not a soft touch, but we do have a generous system. Sadly, we cannot support the Bill because it has anomalies that I personally, and the Government, find difficult.

1.57 pm

Mr Chope: I thank the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) and my right hon. Friend the Minister for

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their comments on the Bill. While I think they both accept that there is a problem with people abusing the asylum system, they identified certain cases that would potentially be caught by the Bill in its current form. However, this is precisely the sort of Bill that should go into Committee so that exceptions to the bald provisions of clause 1 can be defined.

We want to ensure that we can consider asylum claims from people who come to this country for whatever reason and whose circumstances back home change after their arrival—that is, in essence, what the right hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend were concerned about—irrespective of how long ago they arrived in this country. That is a specific category of exception. I think that any reasonable person will accept that such an exception should be incorporated within the Bill. I am disappointed that rather than looking at this in the context of accepting clause 1 and then saying, “Can we introduce some exceptions?”, the line seems to be, “Because it’s not perfect we’re not going to accept it and allow it to go further.”

I am also disappointed that, although my right hon. Friend the Minister accepts that there is a problem with people coming here as economic migrants and then, when they are confronted by the authorities, claiming asylum in order to play the system, irrespective of how long ago they arrived, he has not come up with a way of dealing with that. I think that my formula of placing a time limit—perhaps, following this debate, there could be some exceptions—would be a way of doing so.

The mood of the House seems to be that this Bill is not perfect—very few of my Bills ever are—so the best thing to do would be to withdraw it and build on it for a future occasion. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and Bill, by leave, withdrawn.

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Bat Habitats Regulation Bill

Second Reading

2 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill has attracted a lot of outside interest. Indeed, there was a letter in The Times earlier this week saying what a brilliant Bill it is and that it should command the support of hon. Members. It builds on the concerns that the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) has raised in debates in Westminster Hall and those expressed by church conservation authorities.

I hope it is not out of order to say that, in his Christmas card to me, the noble bishop whose diocese is situated in my constituency wished me good luck with my bats Bill. The reason for that is that this is a narrow but significant issue for churches up and down the country and for our built heritage, including the fabric of churches, whether it be their stone or marble structures, and the brasses and other artefacts inside them. It also applies to people: we may be able to tell those who worship at the church that they should keep wearing their hats if there is a problem with bat infestation, but that does not really work if a children’s day centre or nursery group meets there: we cannot expect all the children to wear bonnets to protect themselves against the bat infestation.

The Bill seeks to increase the number of bat habitats while at the same time introduce measures to prevent bats from being in what might be described as the wrong place. Clause 1 sets out provisions to enhance the protection available for bat habitats in the non-built environment. In that respect, I hope the Bill will find favour with organisations such as the Bat Conservation Trust, because by enhancing that protection we will be able to support our bat population.

Interestingly, a 2013 survey by Hurn parish councillors in my constituency identified eight different species of bats in Hurn parish and Hurn forest in particular. They are concerned about the adverse impact of the cabling for a proposed wind turbine development on that bat habitat. Such situations are covered by clause 1, which would ensure that when a problem in the non-built environment may affect bats adversely, developers should take remedial measures, such as providing a bat box or artificial roost for each bat species located in the vicinity. It would also prevent onshore wind turbines from being constructed unless a local bat survey had been conducted and had established that there was no bat habitat in the vicinity, because of the direct adverse effect of wind turbines on bats.

Clause 2 deals with the issues raised by the Churches Conservation Trust and others about the impact of bats on our churches and those who worship in them. Currently, the habitats regulations and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 work together basically to make it impossible for bats roosting and living in our churches to be controlled in any way whatever. In essence, they are above and beyond the law.

If the Second Church Estates Commissioner says that it is absurd that the EU habitats regulations should apply to our United Kingdom domestic bat population and that we should use our common sense, it seems to

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me that that should be reflected in legislation. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice)—I am delighted that he will reply to the debate—has Eurosceptic credentials second to none. I hope that he shares my concern about the European Union dictating to us what we can and cannot do with our domestic bat population. We are not talking about migrating mammals—bats are of course mammals, not birds—but our own domestic bats. Surely this is an issue for subsidiarity, to use that ghastly EU word, and an area on which we in the United Kingdom Parliament know what is best for our own bats.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I naturally agree with that sentiment. Why is my hon. Friend seeking to apply the clause only to places of public worship, because I am pretty sure that its provisions would equally apply to other buildings from time to time, and that that would be very much welcomed in different communities, depending on their circumstances? Why is the clause restricted to places of public worship?

Mr Chope: As the Bill is a private Member’s Bill, I was trying to restrict the degree of controversy that might develop about it. I know that the mere prospect of legislating on bats has already created an almost hysterical reaction among some members of bat conservation societies. I am therefore loth to make the Bill wider than is necessary to deal with the immediate problem, which has been drawn to my attention by the Churches Conservation Trust and the Countryside Alliance. They are concerned about the adverse impact of bats and bat roosts in buildings used for public worship. I recognise that other buildings could be similarly embraced by the Bill, and perhaps if it goes to Committee, an order-making power might extend the provisions to other areas in due course.

I am promoting this Bill because everybody recognises that there is a genuine problem. The Church Monuments Society is collectively tearing its hair out at its inability to do anything to address effectively the problem of bat damage that is affecting the conservation of furniture, liturgical objects, funerary and ensemble, works of art and so on, in buildings used for public worship and community functions. I hope the Minister will not say that having no control at all over bats in such places is reasonable. Surely we need some sensible control, and I hope the Bill finds favour with the House.

2.11 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I rise briefly to expand on why I support the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), and to say why it may be worthwhile extending its provisions.

Recently in my constituency, the great town of Bingley was desperate to see the old Bradford and Bingley headquarters demolished. The building was lying empty and is, I am delighted to say, currently being demolished, although that could have happened much earlier. The building was owned by Sainsbury’s, which decided that it did not want to build a supermarket but would demolish the site and move it on. However, it was told that it could not do that because a bat had been spotted in the building.

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We seem to have got ourselves into a bit of pickle. There are bat habitats nearby and I am all for taking measures to encourage bats to move to other habitats—I do not want to destroy wildlife or anything like that, but that seems perfectly reasonable. We seem to have got ourselves into a muddle with the current planning system, because the simple mention that a bat has been seen basically stops anything whatsoever happening. Some of us were rather cynical about Sainsbury’s motives, and suspected that it might want to hold on to the site until it became more valuable, but, as events have transpired, that was probably an overly cynical view. However, the situation was not helped by the fact that the whole process was stopped completely and the regeneration of Bingley was put on hold because of an alleged sighting of a bat.

When I asked Bradford council whether it could verify the sighting or whether it had seen a report to back up the fact that a bat had been seen—one bat, I might add—nothing was produced to show that there was indeed a bat. There was no report or verification. It was based simply on somebody’s word that a bat had been seen. That is what halted the essential regeneration of Bingley. There must be some alternative route and we should apply common sense. In effect, a whole town’s regeneration was held to ransom by the alleged viewing of a bat, even though it was never verified and there was no report of it before or since.

My hon. Friend’s Bill is an excellent first step, but why can it not be extended to help places such as Bingley? If the Bill had been enacted and extended in the way I suggest, it would have provided a perfect opportunity for that development to go ahead without unnecessary delays. As it transpired—I am sure the House will be interested to know this, for completeness—it seems that the bat had disappeared by the time anybody had bothered to go and do a proper report. The demolition could therefore go ahead, but I suspect it could have gone ahead a lot sooner had we had more appropriate laws in place.

I support my hon. Friend’s Bill. I hope the Minister will consider it seriously, because I think it would make a big difference. I would like to the Bill to be extended to other areas. There are many other common sense examples where an opt-out of current legislation would be sensible.

2.15 pm

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The Bill may remind some hon. Members of episode 39 of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Unfortunately, the Bill does not, in the immortal words of Michael Palin:

“shine out like a shaft of gold when all around is dark.”

It seems more like the stuff that that phrase was describing. I will briefly address the three issues raised by the subject of the Bill: bat habitat in the non-built environment; bat habitat in the built environment; and the legal protection of bats.

First, on bat habitat in the non-built environment, during the 20th century bat numbers plummeted in parallel with dramatic changes in the countryside. Several species of bats were seriously threatened. In the past two decades, one species, the greater mouse-eared bat, became extinct as a UK breeding species. Although all the species monitored appear to be either stable or

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increasing according to 2014 records, those positive results should be considered in the context of historic severe declines in bat populations. That decline was particularly great in the second half of the 20th century. More sustained population increases will be needed to indicate recovery from that extended period of decline.

The increase in bat populations between 1999 and 2012 should be celebrated as a success of the current regulations. It was also a success for the Bat Conservation Trust and the public, private and voluntary organisations involved in bat conservation. However, it should not be an excuse to set aside the regulations that have precisely achieved that success. We should remember that one year of poor summer weather in 2012 caused a very sharp dip in the population.

The Bill seeks to prevent the occupation of a new building in an area where there is existing bat habitat unless a bat box or artificial roost for each species of bat located in the vicinity is put in place. In so far as that goes, that is welcome. However, it might be more logical to say that the building could not be occupied if it was taking the space where that bat habitat had previously been unless the new bat boxes and the artificial roosts that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to provide were also occupied. That might indicate that some translocation had taken place and provide a degree of comfort, but that is not in the Bill.

It also seems somewhat odd that the same provision, as contained in clause 1(2), has not been inserted into clause 1(3), because in it we find that

“No wind turbine for which planning permission is required shall be constructed unless prior to its construction a local bat survey has been conducted and it has been established that no bat habitat is located in the vicinity”.

It might be more logical, and certainly more in keeping with the first two subsections, if the hon. Gentleman had said that it should not be provided where bat habitat is found, unless, as he has proposed in subsection (2), that

“a bat box or artificial roost for each species of bat located in the vicinity”

has been provided. There is an internal inconsistency in the Bill, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recognise and seek to rectify and remedy.

The information currently available on bat behaviour in the UK is not sufficient to assess the threat that wind turbines may pose to populations. Anecdotal records of individual collisions exist, but no quantified data at the colony or population level are available. Natural England and Bat Conservation Trust guidance should be followed. That is all we can say based on the evidence we have, so the hon. Gentleman’s efforts go beyond what the evidence base suggests.

Let me turn to bats in the built environment. Bats and people have been sharing dwellings for thousands of years. In the UK, this is most notable, of course, in our churches and cathedrals, as natural roosting sites have become scarce due to development and land use change. The number of artificial roost sites has increased in the form of houses, bridges, mines and barns, but particularly churches and cathedrals.

Natural England, English Heritage, the National Churches Trust and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings all have excellent advice available on how to manage a building where bats are also present. If work is required on a property that has the potential to

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disturb a bat roost or if issues arise as a result of bats and humans living in close proximity, that advice is available for any dwelling or church.

Due to the good will and expertise of a very large number of licensed volunteers in the UK, there are many instances where such advice can be offered free of charge. It is offered in the form often of a phone call or an e-mail or sometimes in the form of a physical visit to the building to inspect. The visit will result in a letter detailing how to carry out the work with the least disturbance to the bats. This might mean that the work has to be carried out at a particular time of year, which might in some instances cause some of the delays to which the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) alluded. Bats are usually only seasonal visitors to roosts. Sometimes the particular materials that can be used might be affected, but it is neither possible nor desirable—nor, I believe, necessary—to take the actions set out in the Bill.

The suggestion that we should remove certain buildings from the habitats directive altogether is, frankly, absurd. It serves only as a superb example of how an obsession with Europe and a disregard for our natural environment can be combined with a dislike for wind turbines. There is no reason and no excuse for watering down legal protection for bats. We should let the work of Natural England—it is already engaged with this work—improve the regulation. It should run its course and we should revisit the issue when we have adequate evidence and viable alternatives on which to base a debate. The Bill is ill conceived, inconsistent and I urge the House to reject it.

2.22 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): In debates such as this one, we learn something new every day. I learned this morning that there are no fewer than 17 different bat species in the UK. Most evolved to live, breed and forage in or around trees and caves, but many have now adapted to roost in buildings, including barns, houses, churches, tunnels and bridges, because so many natural roosts have been lost through modern agriculture and forestry practices as well as urban growth.

Artificial roosts have thus become essential to the survival of many bat species, but with so many man-made roosts under threat from the demolition of old buildings, barn conversions, an increasing use of artificial lighting and the move towards airtight buildings, the remaining roost sites are of increasing importance. Decreasing the protection afforded to bats in these important sites is therefore likely to have an impact on the conservation status of bats in the UK.

In the light of their vulnerability, bats have been subject to national protection, most recently under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. At the European level, this was augmented by protection under the European habitats directive in 1994. In accordance with the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010, which transpose the habitats directive, it is a criminal offence deliberately to kill, injure, take or disturb bats. There is also a strict liability offence of damage or destruction to their breeding site or resting place. Additional Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 provisions protect bats from disturbance in their place of rest or from the obstruction of such locations.

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The Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) proposes that surveys must be undertaken before any new buildings are built to assess the presence of bats in the area, and that if there are any bats present, the building should proceed only if bat boxes are provided with the building. However, the requirement to be aware of the existence of bats, and to consider the impacts of any building on their numbers, already exists. Local planning authorities already have a duty to take biodiversity and the requirements of the habitats directive into account when considering developments. Mitigation of damage to bat roosts and resting places may be required, but bat boxes and artificial roosts are only two of the possible measures that can be implemented, and each case should be considered on its merits. Furthermore, bats require not just protected roost sites but suitable habitats in which to feed, and the Bill does not take account of that.

The Bill requires a bat survey to take place, and prohibits the placing of wind turbines in the vicinity of any bat habitat. However, bat surveys are already undertaken at potential wind turbine sites when bats are nearby. An interesting discussion is taking place about evidence of the impact of wind turbines on bats. That evidence is fairly mixed. Some studies in the United States and Canada suggested that there could be an impact, but, in order to clarify the position in the United Kingdom the Government are conducting their own research, which will be completed later this year. If that research establishes that the current approach to planning in respect of wind turbines is insufficient to protect bats, we will review our approach at that point.

The Bill proposes that bats should be excluded or removed from any place of worship unless it has been demonstrated that their presence would not have an adverse impact on the users of such a place. Apart from the fact that the Bill is rather loosely worded—for instance, it does not define an adverse impact or a place of worship—such a blanket prohibition does not take account of either the potential importance of some churches to vulnerable bat populations, or the work that the Government are doing to alleviate the impact in such places when bats are causing a nuisance or distress.

In a changing landscape, where hedgerows and other linear features that are so important to bats have been lost as roosting sites, churches can be important to, in particular, some of our rarer birds. However, the Government recognise, and are sympathetic to, the concern of parishioners who are suffering from the effects of bat droppings on pews, precious artefacts and equipment in the public and private areas of their churches. To address that concern, we have invested considerable resources in research and development to establish how we can reduce the impact of bats in churches.

A three-year research project was completed in March 2014, and a current project, led by English Heritage, is devolving a toolkit to assist churches with significant bat-related problems. That current project is also bringing benefits to some of the worst-affected churches. Natural England, as the Government’s licensing body, is producing a licensing framework as part of the toolkit, which will be the mechanism through which the research will be delivered. External funding is being sought to support the roll-out of the toolkit, and to create an effective national support network for churches with bat-related problems. Major strides are being made. For instance, at one church in Yorkshire, St Hilda’s, work instigated

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by Natural England has dealt with the problem comprehensively, while ensuring that bats are able to roost in the roof of the building.

My hon. Friend alluded to my Eurosceptic credentials, and asked me about the impact of the habitats directive in this country. He may be aware that the European Commission has committed itself to reviewing certain elements of the directive to establish whether they are proportionate. So, in addition to all the work that we are doing nationally, a European-level review is under way. However, I think that the work that we have done locally and nationally demonstrates that peaceful co-existence is possible, and that we can deal with the problem without necessarily removing bats.

2.29 pm

Mr Chope: In the light of what the Minister has just said, I hope that a review of the bat habitat regulations and the directive will be one of our main renegotiating points when we come to renegotiate our relationship with the European Union. While noting some of the measures that the Government have put in place, I also have to note that there is widespread dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs among people involved in church conservation. They believe something much more stringent and urgent needs to be undertaken, which is why I would like to continue this debate—

2.30 pm

The debate stood adjourned, (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 23 January.

Business without Debate

Energy (Buildings and reduction of Fuel use) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 23 January.

Houses in Multiple Occupation (Energy Performance Certificates and Minimum Energy Standards) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 23 January.

Sugar in Food and Drinks (Targets, Labelling and Advertising) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 23 January.

Defence Expenditure (nato Target) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 23 January.

16 Jan 2015 : Column 1200

Convicted prisoners Voting Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (5 December), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed onFriday 23 January.

Benefit Entitlement (Restriction) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 23 January.

Road Traffic Regulation (Temporary Closure for Filming) Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (7 November), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed onFriday 23 January.

Illegal Immigrants (Criminal Sanctions) Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (24 October), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed onFriday 23 January.

House of Lords (Maximum Membership) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 23 January.

EU Membership (Audit of Costs and Benefits) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 23 January.

Wild Animals in Circuses Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 23 January.

16 Jan 2015 : Column 1201

Adoption of Sewers (Home Improvement)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Anne Milton.)

2.34 pm

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): It is a great pleasure to see you, Madam Deputy Speaker, in the Chair this afternoon and to see the Minister for farming, food and the marine environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), at the Dispatch Box.

Many Members will be aware that new legislation was passed by this House in 2011 meaning that the ownership of private sewers and lateral drains was transferred to the 10 statutory water and sewerage companies. This welcome change, which had been sought over many years, came about in no small part as a result of the tireless work of my constituents, and particularly of Pam Brockway of the Woodlands Residents Association in Rugby. I drove through the estate this morning when I was dropping my daughter off at school, and I was reminded of the problems the estate had faced many years ago when the sewers, which had not been adopted by the water authority, failed. This resulted in great expense for many residents and led to the residents campaigning for many years for a change in the law.

The Water Industry (Schemes for Adoption of Private Sewers) Regulations 2011 were eventually introduced. This was a victory for home owners as they were no longer liable for unexpected and often large bills if anything went wrong with the private sewers on their land. They often did not know that they had responsibility for those sewers. When my constituent, Mrs Brockway, was faced with a £1,000 bill because her sewer collapsed, she decided to take action to bring about the much-needed change in the law.

Members of Parliament often get involved in matters brought to their attention by their constituents, and Mrs Brockway took the matter to the then MP for Rugby. It took 12 years, but the new legislation was eventually passed thanks to her determination, her industry and her refusal to give up, and thanks to the support of other residents, including Roy Barnes of the Woodlands Residents Association, along with the help of my predecessors, the former MP for what was then Rugby and Kenilworth, Andy King, and his successor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright). I pay tribute to all of them for their hard work. It is only right that in my opening remarks I should acknowledge the efforts of my constituents to get the law changed, because every home owner in the country owes them and all the other people who campaigned on this issue an enormous debt of gratitude.

I raise this matter today not with the intention of bringing about any changes to that hard-fought-for and much-welcomed legislation but to draw attention to the issues now being faced by many home owners when they seek to improve or extend their homes. They have to contact the water companies in these circumstances, and conflicting information is often given out. Also, the water companies often levy excessive charges against them when their proposed improvements extend over, or within 3 metres of, a sewer on their land. This is owing to the requirement for the home owner to apply for a building-over agreement.

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Rugby is the fastest-growing town in the west midlands. It has double the rate of house building of that in the country as a whole, even before taking into account the sustainable urban extension of 6,200 new homes, whose development is just starting on the Rugby Radio site. I am very supportive of development; indeed, I am probably as pro-development as any MP in the House. I fully recognise the Government’s work to stimulate development through the adoption of the national planning policy framework, which has led to planning permission for 200,000 new homes being granted in the last 12 months. I also recognise the economic growth that arises from the building of new homes and the contribution to the economy that is made when people extend and improve existing homes.

I understand why the Government introduced legislation to simplify the planning system by allowing home owners to improve their properties, often without the need to apply for planning consent, although I do believe that there is a strong role for the planning system in preventing neighbour disputes. We are now in a situation in which the planning changes are making it simpler for home owners to extend their property, but the adoption of private sewers is pulling in the opposite direction. It is estimated that around 80% of home owners seeking to extend their property will need the consent of the relevant water authority, because the planned extension will go over or near what was formerly a private sewer.

There are important consequences of this situation. There have been examples of water companies refusing to give permission for home owners to extend their property owing to an expected repair to a sewer at some unknown point in the future. This has been known to happen after the planning application fees have been paid, which only adds to the great frustration of the home owners. In other instances home owners are being forced to absorb the cost of repairs to adopted sewers in order to gain permission from the water authorities, which can add significantly to the cost of improving their homes —conceivably, more than the cost of the improvements themselves. The additional costs may prevent the home owner from adding value to their property through improvements, as may the costs of the works, where they exceed the value of the improvements. The home owner may, thus, not benefit from any added value.

There are six key points to consider. The first relates to the concerns over the legal requirement to obtain a building-over agreement. Different information is available from different water companies. Some distribute information stating that building-over agreements are a legal requirement for home owners looking to build on or near to a sewer when in fact they are not. The second point relates to the excessive and divergent charges being levied by water companies—there is significant variation in those. The charges often include a map fee, which determines the presence of a sewer, an application fee and, in some instances, the cost of a CCTV examination of the sewer. Map fees can range from as little as £18 to as much as £60, and application fees can reach more than £500, adding to the significant bill for the home owner. I understand that in Wales the cost can prove even more excessive, as home owners are also required to amend the deeds of the property. Of course, the result of these little charges is that home owners may abandon their proposed works.

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The third issue relates to variations in the amount of time the approval process can take. Although there is a set period of eight weeks within the planning system for routine planning applications to be decided—there is a requirement on the local authority to adhere to that—there is no such obligation on the water companies. In the absence of an agreed time limit, home owners often have to wait weeks, even months, before they know whether their improvements can commence.

The fourth issue relates to the cost of possible future repairs. I have alluded to instances where water companies are refusing to give their permission. I have been made aware of a number of cases where home owners are being forced to absorb the cost of repairs to adopted sewers in order to gain permission—the additional costs incurred can total several thousand pounds. The fifth issue relates to the fact that approximately 50% of sewers are currently not mapped by water companies. In some instances the home owners are being required to pay for the map, which can cause additional costs. There are no clear guidelines in a situation where no map is available, which can jeopardise any improvement project. The sixth issue relates to the permitted development rights that the Government have brought forward with the objective of cutting red tape. However, the requirement for permission from the water authorities is acting in the opposite direction and adding red tape, and results in additional costs and delay.

What can be done to remedy this situation? Despite the home improvements industry receiving assurances from the water companies that guidance would be issued, there is no industry-wide set of procedures and cost guidelines. I understand that the Government have previously declared their support for such a solution in guidance issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, when it said it was doing work

“with a view to establishing a streamlined process for approval of building over (or close to) small, shallow sewers, which represent the majority of transferred sewers.”

I, like many home owners, would very much welcome a move by all the water authorities to work together to adopt a set of guidelines to ensure that the system is transparent and that home owners have more protection. That could form a national code of conduct governing the process of securing a building-over agreement, and setting consistent costs for the application, map and CCTV fees. That would go a long way towards rationalising the application process, and would give a degree of practical certainty for home improvement projects.

Nobody is arguing for a return to the pre-2011 situation, where householders were vulnerable to unexpected and often substantial bills to remedy faults in sewers they were not aware of or where potential liabilities would lead to the reduction in the value of properties and difficulties in achieving sales prices. My constituents have played such an important part in effecting change to that situation. This is a serious matter. The ability of a home owner to make improvements or extend is a key part of the aspiration of home ownership—an aspiration that this Government fully support. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments and the position of the Government in respect of reassuring home owners who are being subjected to uncertainty and additional costs when looking to improve their properties.

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2.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) for raising this important issue. As he said, before 2011, home owners were responsible for their sewers and pipes. Should anything have happened to those pipes, it was down to the home owners to cover the expense, and attempt to recover costs from those neighbours who shared the same pipes.

In October 2011, the Government implemented the water industry regulations transferring the ownership of, and responsibility for, private sewers and lateral drains to the water and sewerage companies. My hon. Friend rightly pays tribute to the sterling efforts of his constituent, Pam Brockway and others, in bringing this unfair practice of passing the cost on to individual home owners to the attention of Government, which resulted in those legislative changes.

I have also had experience of this matter in my own constituency. I remember meeting in one of my surgeries an elderly lady who was being bullied by a cowboy builder to sign on the dotted line to say that she would pay £10,000 towards the upkeep of a private sewer that was collectively owned. She resisted that, but I have heard of many other such practices, often involving vulnerable people.

In addition to preventing unexpected and substantial sewer repair bills going to individuals, the 2011 transfer has also meant that the sewer network can be systematically upgraded over time. The consequence has been a regularly maintained and more resilient sewer system.

The 2011 transfer has resulted in a greater focus on the 2010 building regulations. The regulations set out how buildings should be built or improved. Although no changes were made to the 2010 building regulations, the transfer regulations enabled building regulations more effectively to achieve their aim of ensuring that new buildings and extensions are constructed in a way that does not adversely affect the sewers. Given the general lack of awareness among home owners before the 2011 transfer, private sewers were at great risk of compromise or damage when construction took place—ultimately at the considerable expense of individual home owners.

The local authority, or approved private sector building control body, has the final say on whether any works comply with building regulations, although they must have regard to any views expressed by the sewerage undertaker, such as when a sewer is within 3 metres of the proposed works. Furthermore, even if the developer disagrees with the building control body, there is the option to apply to the Department for Communities and Local Government for an independent determination.

I wish now to address some of the points made by my hon. Friend. He pointed out that the 2011 transfer could not resolve all the issues. He has highlighted six important issues including: the legal requirement for a build-over agreement; charges levied by water companies for build-over agreements and works to be done; the time taken for the process of agreement; and the paucity of information about where the sewers are located.

First, there is no formal legal requirement to obtain a build-over agreement. However, it is considered good practice to obtain the permission of the water company

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responsible for a sewer or drain affected by any proposed building project, and that is also encouraged by the approved building regulations guidance. Water and sewerage companies are best placed to advise on suitable actions or possible risks to the sewerage network as a result of building work.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point regarding the variance in the charges levied by water companies for build-over agreements. We all want to see that any such costs are reasonable, proportionate, appropriate and consistent; otherwise we will have saved home owners one expense through the 2011 transfer only to expose them to new costs.

My hon. Friend highlights the importance of guidance. He is right that the solution to these and many of the other issues would be a joint industry-developed code of practice governing the processes of securing a build-over agreement and bringing transparency to the costs involved. A code of practice could also address any issues concerning timing and make it clear where responsibilities lie for repairs to sewers when the construction is being carried out or who retains liability for the quality of the construction and its potential impact on the sewer underneath in the long term.

The Glass and Glazing Federation has already taken the initiative in drawing up a draft. The Government have been talking to the water companies about working with the Glass and Glazing Federation to reach a common approach and I am told that we can expect positive developments soon. I welcome that, but I want to see even greater momentum behind the idea of the code of practice. In advance of the debate, I contacted the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), who is responsible for water, forestry, rural affairs and resource management. The Under-Secretary intends to write to Water UK, the organisation that represents the water companies, to encourage that development. I hope that from this debate we will see momentum behind the idea of a code of practice, because given that there is no formal legal requirement for the build-over agreements, which are only set out in guidance, home owners are in a strong position to get credible guidance that prevents water companies from charging excessively for these agreements.

Mark Pawsey: One or two water companies seem to be suggesting that the need for a build-over agreement is

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a legal requirement. Does the Minister agree that that information is inaccurate and should be withdrawn?

George Eustice: They are incorrect in that. There is no legal requirement for a build-over agreement, but it is set out in guidance. The legal requirement is that people should have regard for the views of water companies, so they should consult them. There is no statutory requirement for a build-over agreement, but it is set out in guidance that they should be encouraged. I hope that that clarifies the position.

My hon. Friend raised an additional concern that many sewers are, as yet, unmapped. Section 199 of the Water Industry Act 1991 places a requirement on sewerage undertakers to maintain an up-to-date map of their sewers. However, ownership of some 220,000 km of unmapped sewer and lateral drain pipework transferred overnight in 2011. The impact assessment for the 2011 transfer estimated that mapping all that pipework as part of a distinct project would cost more than £1.3 billion. I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand that to avoid unnecessary costs for water bill payers, water companies are updating their maps during the course of their normal activities. If the sewer or lateral drain does not appear on the sewer map, there is no requirement for the building control body to consult the water company.

My hon. Friend refers to the Government’s aim to cut red tape and the positive steps taken to streamline the planning regime and help stimulate the building industry. The building regulations set out requirements for construction and how structures are built. Fair and effective building regulations are vital to ensure that the public and the environment are suitably protected. None the less, I reiterate that there is no formal legal requirement to gain permission from water companies, although it is recognised as good practice in building regulations guidance.

In conclusion, my hon. Friend has raised an important point. I agree that the answer is to have a voluntary code of conduct supported by the industry and I believe that home owners are in a strong position given that there is no formal legal requirement for a build-over agreement. I encourage him to engage with the Under-Secretary and perhaps with Department for Communities and Local Government Ministers to make progress on the idea of a voluntary code.

Question put and agreed to.

2.54 pm

House adjourned.