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As was referenced in the debate on Amendment No. 90B, these determinations are made rarely and are generally in response to a providers request. Where a provider wishes to use recycled funds for a scheme that is broadly in line with the general determination but is not precisely the same, it will have to apply to the corporation for a special determination to use the recycled funds. Current practice is, as I said before, for that to be signed off by the corporation's board.
The reassurance that I offer the noble Lord is that subsection (7)(b) is not a charter or a blank cheque for setting aside the principles governing determinations made under Clause 36; it is a means of providing for flexibility to be exercised in relation to specific determinations that are few and far between. I hope that the noble Lord will find that arrangement and the way in which it operates to his satisfaction.
Lord Greaves: I thank the Minister for that reply. I think that I am satisfied, although his last point took us back to the it will happen only rarely and we are all reasonable people argument. However, I am suitably worn down on that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: Although Amendment No. 95A is in my name, at this time of the evening the next group of amendments about magnetic fields might be more stimulating and I shall not move Amendments Nos. 95A to 95E.
( ) The Secretary of State may give guidance to the HCA to ensure that, in exercising its powers, the HCA does not expose any person to any risk to their health arising from exposure to electric and magnetic fields with a frequency of between 30 and 300 Hertz.
The noble Baroness said: Most of the amendments in this group are in my name and the name of my noble friend Lord Best and have been supported by the charity Children with Leukaemia. The amendments deal with minimising the health risks associated with living in close proximity to high-voltage power lines.
I apologise to the Committee that I was not able to contribute at Second Reading and I am grateful to the Minister for having discussed this with me prior to Committee stage. Therefore, I shall not give a Second
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However, the biological mechanisms by which electromagnetic fields actually cause leukaemia are not clearly understood. It may be that the fields attract particles or viruses into that range. It is not certain. So the amendments seek to apply a precautionary approach, in line with the cross-party inquiry into childhood leukaemia, whose main recommendation was that there should be a moratorium on building new homes and schools within at least 60 metres of existing high-voltage overhead electricity lines. These amendments aim to ensure that the Government issues guidance on this, so that planning decisions are not made that may put children at risk or that may need later to be revised.
Given the estimates in the SAGE report, 25,000 new homes are likely to be built in close proximity to high-voltage power lines on top of the 25,000 existing homes situated near such power lines. Yet expansion of the National Grid through the Planning Bill and the Energy Bill will increase even further the number of households near high-voltage power lines.
The purpose of Amendment No. 95F is to supplement the power given to the Secretary of State by Clause 48 to issue guidance to the Homes and Communities Agency on the exercise of its powers. It does not oblige the Secretary of State to give such guidance but instead seeks to impose a duty on the HCA to consider public health. Amendment No. 96A is similar to the previous amendment. It would ensure that a direction from the Secretary of State was complied with by the HCA.
Amendment No. 103A deals with the functions of the social housing regulator, whose responsibility it is to regulate the provision of social housing and ensure a supply of good-quality housing. Objective 2 in Clause 88 is widely drafted. Without the amendment, it would not encompass any measures to address risks to public health arising from electromagnetic fields. My amendment would put the issue in the Bill and is specific to the protection of children from extended exposure to those fields as a result of being housed in zones of electric and magnetic field exposure. It is worth noting that the dangers relate to children, so there is nothing to prevent high-quality retirement homes and retirement community facilities being built in those areas because there is no evidence of a danger to people as they grow older.
Linked to the amendment is Amendment No. 110B to Clause 191, which relates to the standards which may be set by the regulator for registered providers of social housing. It gives scope to the regulator to restrict building of social housing within 60 metres of overhead transmission lines, consistent with the recommendation of the cross-party inquiry. Amendment No. 111ZA adds the definition of overhead transmission line referred to in the amendments.
The intention of Amendment No. 104A is to enable if necessary the regulators objective to be widened to encompass measures which the Government may bring forward in future; for example, any recommendations from the Health Protection Agency. It would avoid the need for primary legislation to amend the objectives. It is a general amendment which goes far beyond the issue of EMF exposure.
Amendment No. 104B would widen the scope of the annual report, which is intended to relate mainly to financial performance, required by Clause 94. It reflects the recommendation of the cross-party inquiry that new housing and schools should not be built within 60 metres of high-voltage transmission lines and vice versa.
The purpose of all the amendments is to ensure that the Government have the tools they need to put in place precautionary measures to protect children from the risk of leukaemia at the earliest opportunity. I beg to move.
Lord Best: My name is on the amendment in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I had to negotiate with Northern Electric for the removal of pylons and the undergrounding of cables to create a site suitable for family housing on the edge of York. I discovered to my astonishment that is perfectly possible to build right underneath power lines despite the risks that the medical evidence has shown. It means that any other developernot a social landlord such as Joseph Rowntree Housing Trustis able to pay a higher price than we in the trust might be able to pay for the same piece of land. We need to create a level playing field in which everyone understands that risks are involved, even if the science does not absolutely prove the connection between those overhead lines and childhood leukaemia. It is an anomaly in the system that it is extremely important to remedy at this stage of the Bill. I appreciate that it is possible that either the Planning Bill or the Energy Bill will take this matter on board, but, wherever it appears, I think that there will be considerable support for an amendment to this effect.
Baroness Andrews: As the noble Lord concluded, there is indeed scope for this sort of amendment to other Bills, but I am glad that we have an opportunity to address the matter now. It is a change from what we have been discussing so far in this Committee and it is none the worse for that. It is a pleasure to see the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, dignifying the Committees proceedings, even on an occasional basis.
We take this matter very seriously, and I cannot possibly improve on the summary that the noble Baroness gave of the Draper report and the research. She was clear that the biological mechanisms are not understood but that nevertheless there is sufficient evidence to give pause for thought about what exposure implies. As the noble Baroness knows, guidelines are already in place in this country to protect people from exposure to ELF EMF, and they are based on the established effects of exposure in these fields. In addition, we are currently considering the need for additional practical precautionary measures to reduce exposure to ELF EMF. I shall say a little more about that but, first, I shall set out the background to this issue.
As noble Lords know, we take our advice from the Health Protection Agency, including on the matter of limiting exposure to ELF EMF. In 2004, following a comprehensive review of the available scientific evidence, the National Radiological Protection Boardthe NRPB, now part of the Health Protection Agency recommended the adoption of guidelines set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, known as the ICNIRP guidelines. They are based on the established health effects of exposure to ELF EMF and set values for workers, building in a significant level of protection. The guidelines for public exposure to power frequency magnetic fields incorporate a further fivefold safety margin from those for workers in recognition of the fact that the general population includes individuals who may be more sensitive to adverse health effects than the working population.
In addition to the established health effects of exposure to ELF EMF, there is also some scientific evidence to suggest a link between childhood leukaemia and EMF exposure below the guideline levels, although, as the noble Baroness said, there is no accepted consensus on a plausible biological mechanism to explain the association. In view of those uncertainties, the Health Protection Agency also recommended that the Government should consider the need for further precautionary measures in respect of peoples exposure to ELF EMFs.
We have a stakeholder advisory group, known as SAGE, which includes academics, people from the electricity industry and pressure groups. It reported in April 2007, setting out what it thought were practical precautionary measures to reduce exposure to ELF EMF. One option was to introduce a moratorium on the building of new homes and schools within at least 60 metres of high-voltage overhead lines and on the building of new high-voltage lines within 60 metres of existing homes and schools. That is known as the corridor approach.
The HPA responded to the SAGE report, noting that the corridor option that SAGE considered for separating new dwellings from high-voltage power lines and vice versa was not supported by the cost-benefit analysis, even assuming a causal link between exposure to ELF EMFs and childhood leukaemia. Therefore, it is sensible that a decision to implement this precautionary option should be weighed against other health benefits obtainable from the same resources. Nevertheless, the HPA recommends that, within the existing government planning framework, the attention of local authority planning departments and electricity companies be drawn to the evidence for a possible small increase in childhood leukaemia which may result from siting new buildings very close to power lines or new power lines very close to existing buildings. I am referring to the report there.
Noble Lords can be assured that we are giving careful consideration to the HPAs advice in conjunction with other government departments and the devolved Administrations. We expect to respond to the SAGE report, and later this year will set out any practical precautionary measures that we think are justified. We believe that any measures which are appropriate in limiting the exposure of the general public to ELF
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I hope that with those assurances regarding our intended response to the report and the inappropriate nature of the amendment in relation to the Bill and the agency, the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Hamwee: Before the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, responds, I would like to ask the Minister about the point she made about drawing the attention of local planning authorities to the issue. To put it bluntly, what good would that do? If a local planning authority turned down an application because it was concerned about it would that stand up on appeal? I assume not. Will the Minister explain what she meant?
Baroness Andrews: My understanding is that although to my knowledge there is no planning guidance per se, it would be a material factor in any planning application and it would be brought by the planning authority. I would like to pursue that because I am not sure in what form that advice has been taken forward. I will certainly write to the noble Baroness about it.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: I am most grateful to the Minister for her response and I recognise that other Bills may better fit this amendment. I am reassured that the precautionary measures as outlined are being considered seriously and that the corridor option is not being pursued because, as I said in my introductory remarks, that land could be used very well for other people. It is only in relation to children, schools and social housing into which families may be housed that there is a concern. Those who wished this amendment to be tabled will be reassured by the Minister's remarks, but I am sure that they will want us to take this further and we will probably do that on another Bill. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Viscount said: This is a probing amendment. I chose directions because people must comply with directions. I always understood that directions were either for administrative matters or moments of crisis when time is of the essence and things need to be put straight as quickly as possible. In Chapter 5 of the Bill, the heading to the section that includes Clause 49 is headed Certain supervisory powers of the Secretary of State. I may be wrong to be unfamiliar with that heading, but it does not strike a chord with me. I wonder about the precedent for such an encompassing heading.
We have been told that some of the powers in the Housing Association Act 1985, which introduced the Housing Corporation, and the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 were followed as a model for the Bill, but in neither of those Bills are the powers as extensive or phrased in the same way. To someone who has worked under Acts of Parliament, they read very differently.
We are also facing a circumstance in which Chapter 5 includes arrangements for the merger between the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships. Mergers can be, and often are, complicated and disruptive, particularly if they take place between unlike bodies. Indeed, the Housing Corporation, losing its powers of regulation to Oftenant, is left essentially as a facilitator, historically, with a great deal of money and the ability to make significant grants. It is also the larger body of the two. However, it does not have a balance sheet and is entirely dependent on cash flow, the incoming of public money and the provision of grants. English Partnerships, already itself the result of a merger, is a more executive agency, albeit much smaller. It has significant income and a significant balance sheet, with assets approaching £1 billion, I believe. It is used to dealing on both sides of an expenditure and an income account.
The HCA appears to be designed to achieve the best of both worldsthe world of the facilitator and the executive agencyand it is to be strong and independent. Everyone in the social housing sector will be watching to see whether the HCA will be able to become, and remain, strong and independent. That is even more relevant at a time of housing market difficulties. Yet the powersguidance in Clause 48, directions in Clause 49 and consents in Clause 50confer the power on the Secretary of State to exercise the closest form of control that any of us could imagine.
The question arising out of my amendment to leave out the words general or in front of directions and to retain, at least for the time being, specific, is: what is the Governments intention towards their supervision of the HCA? What is the historical evidence of their use, under the existing legislation, of powers of direction? Indeed, what directions have been given to the Housing Corporation? There is none in its latest reports and accounts other than the standard direction about the preparation of the accounts themselves. What directions have been given to English Partnerships in its annual report and accounts? There is none, other than the directions to do with the formal administrative matter of the preparation of accounts. Do the Government have any other circumstances in mind already that might require the use of the power of direction? If so, what might they be? In short, the general question that arises is: is the regime under which the HCA will be supervised intended to be light-touch or, right at the other end of the scale, heavy-handedor somewhere in between?
I have a strong preference for a light-touch regime, and I shall explain why. New townsindeed, the Commission for the New Towns is part of English Partnerships and is to disappearand eco-towns are the subject of much discussion. That discussion takes
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Now, the advance of technology is making it much less certain that there will be strong economic reasons for a town being in a particular place. In addition, much of the brown-land regeneration that followed the drastic change in the structure of our industrial economy, in particular, has been done. We have already had examples of that, such as Docklands, Teesside and Gateshead.
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