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House of Lords

Thursday, 19 January 2006.

The House met at eleven of the clock: the CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

Wind Energy: Offshore Sites

Lord Higgins asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, I obviously cannot comment on specific projects where an application for consent has been made, but wind farms that would be a danger to navigation will not be approved. The Secretary of State will also take into account any commercial impact on shipping in reaching a decision. None of the wind farms planned for the east Irish Sea is in a,

as defined by a recent DTI and Department for Transport paper on the subject.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is it not the case that the departments concerned are giving priority to the interests of wind farms and not taking sufficiently into account the dangers of vessels hitting wind farms, causing pollution and, consequently, an environmental disaster? On his specific answer on this point, is the department defining shipping lanes too narrowly? Some of these lanes are important and are in danger of being blocked by proposals now coming forward.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The department is carefully balancing the interests of the wind farms with those of navigation, which is as it should be. We are doing a lot of work on safety but we look to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to advise on a case-by-case basis. We drafted the definition,

on a clear and principled basis; it gives due weight to the undertakings to the international shipping community, our obligations to the International Maritime Organisation and our treaty obligations in respect of access to our ports.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, have there ever been any accidents where ships collide with offshore wind turbines? Would not the captain of any such ship be negligent, because such turbines are clearly marked and show up on radar?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am not aware of any accidents, but that is hardly surprising
 
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because there have not been many offshore wind farms for very long. We should approach safety in a rather more practical, forward-looking way. In the DTI, we have done a lot of work on developing a robust methodology for developers and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to use in assessing navigational risk. We have also provided funds for a database of vessel movements that feeds into the navigation risk assessment process, so we are doing the work properly to assess future risk.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, is the Minister fully aware of the vast extent of the proposals for wind farms in the east Irish Sea, as he calls it? It involves a positive infestation of wind farms, which will threaten the tourism industry along the North Wales coast and is causing a great deal of local concern.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I understand that there is concern. The word "infestation" probably over-dramatises the situation. Clearly one considers whether a large number of turbines has a greater impact on safety, the environment or commerce. The Secretary of State will take account of all those factors in making decisions.

Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that most of us living in Cumbria would prefer offshore wind farms to wind farms in the vicinity of a national park onshore?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it is a general principle of all energy sources that people would prefer them to be somewhere else and to be a different energy source.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, the Minister referred yesterday to the importance of having a proper mix of energy supplies. Will the Government therefore encourage and try to bring forward as soon as possible combined heat and power stations, especially those fuelled by roundwood, wood waste and biomass? I declare my interest as a woodland owner.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am delighted that someone is focusing on the point that a diversity of energy sources is absolutely key to dealing with energy issues. As noble Lords will know, combined heat and power is one of the sources which we see playing a significant part.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the proposal mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, for Llandudno Bay is for 236 wind turbines, each to be higher than the Blackpool Tower?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I did not realise that. But to have any significance, there needs to be a considerable number of wind turbines, which is what we are looking at.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, will the Minister clarify who will bear the financial consequences of any wind
 
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farms proving to be hazardous to shipping or fishing? What steps will the Government take to ensure that such hazards are minimised?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we will deal with safety by not giving permission where there are safety hazards. Commercial impact is obviously one of the considerations that has to be looked at in making decisions. Having looked at this, the commercial impact can be exaggerated. I looked at the route from Heysham to the Isle of Man and the extra distance that you would have to go to get round the wind farms. It would be 1.3 nautical miles, an increase of 2.2 per cent on the journey time. At 18 knots, the journey would take an extra four minutes. I cannot believe that that would cause serious commercial damage.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, will the Minister clarify the reply that he gave to the noble Lord, Lord Clark? Is it the Government's policy to concentrate on offshore wind farms, which obviously environmentally are much less offensive? If that concentration is serious, are they prepared to block further environmentally desecrating developments, such as the huge structures on Romney Marsh and other beauty spots, in the interests of concentrating on offshore wind farms? That would be very reassuring to many people who feel that onshore sites are environmentally very damaging.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we want to proceed with onshore and offshore sites. Each site will be judged on commercial viability, which obviously the developers are concerned with, and its environmental impact.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, if wind farms are to be onshore—I fully accept that offshore sites are environmentally better—why not line motorways with them, other than in national parks?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, this is a question of what developers want to do. When propositions are put forward we will consider their environmental impact.

Mental Health Bill: Race Equality Impact Assessment

11.13 am

Lord Ouseley asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Rosie Winterton, announced further consultation on the race equality impact assessment on 7 December. Officials met the National BME Mental Health Network before Christmas to
 
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discuss the next steps. In November, the Department of Health held three consultation events on the race equality impact assessment on the proposed mental health Bill and the Mental Health Act Commission carried out interviews with 109 detained patients from 12 trusts.

Lord Ouseley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. No doubt he is aware that the National Black and Minority Ethnic Mental Health Network is still very dissatisfied with the provisions in the draft Bill. Is it the Minister's clear intention to ensure that the Bill is not presented before it meets the concerns of the network? I am sure he is aware that one in five of all in-patients in mental health hospitals and facilities in England and Wales are from black and minority ethnic communities. It is of special concern that black males have higher admission rates, are disproportionately referred by the police and courts compared with other groups, are up to 44 per cent more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Acts when compared with the average for all other in-patients, are more often subjected to seclusion, control and restraint, and are more likely to be held in medium or high-security wards. Will the Minister please indicate how he intends to meet the concerns of the network?


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