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Lord Willoughby de Broke: I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to speak in the gap. Very briefly, I wanted to move to some of the central points where the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said there was a bit of flabbiness in this document, or words to that effect. On page 16 it says that, to meet our EU targets, wind will be required but also increasingly biomass and waste. Only last week, as I am sure the Minister will be aware, the chief executive of Drax power station, which is the biggest processor of biomass, said that the biomass plant was going to be closed down because it is so hopelessly uneconomical. I know it is a little bit unfair, but could the Minister say something about how that is going to be replaced and whether there is a future for biomass, given the chief executive's comments?
My understanding is-and I would like the Minister to correct me if I am wrong-that you cannot switch fossil fuel power stations on and off whenever you want them. In order to run them economically, you have to run them full-time. My noble friend Lord Reay referred to the vast costs of wind power. Not only is fossil fuel power hugely expensive but it provides no savings in carbon emissions whatsoever.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred to the massive cost of carbon capture and storage. On page 43, the Government refer to the four pilot plants that they are subsidising-or demonstration plants. Could the Minister say where they are, what stage they have reached and when they will produce any measurable results, so that we can judge whether carbon capture and storage is a starter or whether it is simply too expensive?
Lord Teverson: My Lords, this has been a long debate. Having heard the Planning Bill mentioned, I am pleased that I was not involved when it went through the House-but some of this area is new to me. What I particularly liked in the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, was his description of this all being a little too late. While not wanting to go through the history, that is an important point. The report shows that through the present management and structures in the industry, we have a 60-gigawatt gap that we have to replace by 2025, which is not that far away in terms of the investment timescales that this industry operates by. It is a short timescale when we think that one of the issues we have is declining gas supplies.
We have got through a resource that took some 30 million years to create in about 30 years. What have we got to show for that? If you are a Norwegian, you have a sovereign wealth fund that is worth about £260 billion, or £56,000 per person, which is more
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As a Liberal Democrat, my position in this debate is quite simple because I do not believe in the Infrastructure Planning Commission, so I could say that this document is completely irrelevant. One of the things that I find interesting is that in local government, which I have become more involved in recently, we thought we were clever because we used to delegate all the not very important planning decisions to appointed people-officers-and they used to decide most of them. However, we thought it important that elected people looked at the important ones. Somehow, we have nationally got ourselves into a position where MPs and Members of this House delegate really important decisions to appointed people. We do not let elected people get involved in them any more.
The noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, said that the creation of the IPC is a little strange, given some of the manifestos about localism, as it is rather a move in the opposite direction. However, if we have an IPC, we should have an overarching policy for it to look at. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, that we could probably have such a policy statement without the IPC. We need to have certain things agreed and, even if local government takes decisions, there are certain areas that may be off limits for local decision. We can have one without the other.
There are some parts of this document that I particularly like. For instance, on carbon capture and storage, it lays down that new energy stations need to be able to be retrofitted. However, there is surely a much easier way of achieving that through the Energy Bill that is about to come to this House, which may even get to its Second Reading before it goes into the procedures before the general election. This document is a good guide. If you want to understand what the government policy is-and a lot of that policy is good-you may get that from reading this document, which brings out the triangular relationship, the trade-off between energy security, climate change and carbon and the cost of energy to the consumer. Coming new to this, and having read the document all the way through and not disagreed with much of it-only here and there, perhaps-I ask what it actually adds. What does this policy statement actually do? Does it mean that the IPC says yes to everything? If it is not a national park and a planning proposal does not wreck biodiversity, does it say yes? I would be interested to hear from the Minister under what circumstances the IPC, under this document, could say no, apart from those very restricted areas of national parks.
I take the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool that the one thing that seems to be completely missing is the idea of energy mix. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, that that can be
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With energy security, a big issue, alongside declining gas supplies and diversifying supplies, would be port facilities, which I do not see here. Should that be included in our energy strategy overarching document? It seems to me that it should be.
I return to energy efficiency. I may be wrong, but I do not see energy efficiency mentioned anywhere in this document, and yet it has to be a major part of energy strategy. It might be the one reason why we say no, because you should be doing something other than increasing your energy capacity-maybe not immediately or not in the first 10 or 15 years, when we will definitely have this gap-but I do not see that as a reason for saying no to future power development. As a democrat, as we all are in this Committee, it always seems to me that there is an inverse relationship between climate crisis and the ability of democracy to work effectively. As we move towards not solving climate change, more and more decisions will have to be taken at the centre and away from our traditional democratic structures. That is one of the reasons why we need to tackle climate change before that crisis comes. If I am honest, I see the IPC as the first part of that greasy pole.
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the debate on this policy statement. He said that this is a unique time in our legislative history and I believe that it has been a debate of some moment and of some passion. I particularly thank my noble friend Lord Jenkin for his superb, informed tour de force of a speech. When he sat down I thought how much he cares for these sceptred isles. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool gave us a Canute moment in regard to the danger of siting nuclear power plants on the coast at a time of rising sea levels. That will give us all food for thought. I am sorry that he will not be here for the second part of our debates. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, also waxed lyrical on his part of this sceptred isle. The Minister had visited it, which, in the view of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, made him a civilised and sensitive man. As I face the Minister over the Dispatch Box almost daily, I would agree that he is certainly that, even to his enemies.
My farming friend Lord Dixon-Smith reminded us not to confuse weather and climate in our reading of what is taking place in our environment, unlike my noble friend Lord Reay who elegantly expressed his long-held view that nothing untoward is happening
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Baroness Wilcox: Yes, there were two speakers in the gap, but the noble Lord, Lord Broers, spoke as well. I did not include him as somebody who spoke in the gap. Hansard will get it right for both of us, with luck. To finish up, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for the Liberal Democrats said that he did not believe in the IPC anyway. So it has been rather an exciting afternoon, I think. I have thoroughly enjoyed it.
I hope that I can summarise the Conservative reaction to this policy statement, while the Minister tries to answer the many questions that he has already been given. This national policy statement has been a long time coming, we think. The high-level principles laid out in the overarching statement have been debated at length in this House and another place for several years now. Many of these policies were ones that the Conservatives had to fight very hard to have accepted by the Government. The commitment to roll out smart meters to every home by the end of 2020 is one example of where it took several months of concerted opposition to bring the Government around to a proper appreciation of the policy's importance.
Of course, reducing demand for energy is not a magic bullet that will solve the shortfall in capacity that we are facing, but it will help. The benefits to consumers, many of whom have struggled with high energy bills during this winter, are very real indeed. Smart meters, better information about energy efficient appliances, and an appropriate feed-in tariff for micro-generation are all necessary parts of a sustainable energy policy. I am also very happy to see a commitment to carbon capture and storage included. The Government's flip-flops on this technology have led to opportunities being wasted and at least one promising private venture has failed during that time. I hope that the four demonstration projects that this draft statement speaks of will be given the consistent support from the Government that was so lacking in past years.
We welcome many other parts of this statement: the consideration of CHP, the explicit acknowledgement of the role of nuclear power, and the need for better gas storage facilities will all be important parts of establishing a secure, diverse and green future. There are also important gaps, which some noble Lords touched on. I look forward to the later two days of debate, when we will be able to explore in more detail exactly what is and is not included. Today however, I shall concentrate on the development of these draft statements and the Government's plan for their implementation.
Getting to even this early stage has been a long and sometimes tortuous process, and we are not yet at the end of the tunnel. It has been over a year since the legislative framework for establishing the IPC was passed. Even when it is finally up and running-in March I believe-it will not have an approved national policy statement for energy upon which to base its decisions. The consultation on these draft statements has only just been completed, and there will not be a chance to debate them in another place until the next Parliament. When does the Minister expect the consultation and parliamentary requirements to be completed by?
Labour's planning process is not only slow but also remarkably lacking in transparency. The high number of responses to the consultation that has just closed shows how much interest there is in these sorts of matters. Some 20,000 people, as the Minister told us in the document that he sent around, visited the consultation website; that is an extraordinarily high number, and I am very pleased to see this level of public engagement. Of course, I would be even more pleased if I felt that this public interest was able to properly influence planning decisions to the level it should. The system that Labour has implemented is still, in almost every sense, a top-down imposition. Conservatives would prefer to see far more engagement by the public in local planning decisions. Even at national level, there is scope for a great deal more public engagement and democratic accountability. In particular, decisions on nationally significant infrastructure should not be taken by a quango.
Issues such as building a new nuclear power station at Dungeness or the placement of large-scale wind farms will always be controversial. Any decision will be unavoidably unpopular with some people and the Government should not be seeking to avoid any responsibility for those decisions by hiding behind the IPC. Not only will this strategy not succeed in deflecting criticism away from the Government of the day, it will open such decisions up to judicial challenge and will make the process even murkier.
If the Conservatives win the election, we will address this democratic deficit by retaining the IPC's fast-track process and its expertise. But we will return responsibility for national policy decision-making to where it belongs-to the Secretary of State. We will also improve accountability by submitting a national planning framework to Parliament for approval. It will set out our priorities and establish a simple and consolidated framework for local planning authorities to follow.
As it stands, the Government have successfully avoided any tough decisions on energy for several years. As a result, we have wasted many years when we should have been encouraging the necessary investment into the energy generation and infrastructure that we so desperately need to keep the lights on over the next few decades. These draft statements are welcome as far as they go. But they are a very small step forward when we need to make giant strides to overcome the decade of delay.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, this has been a most interesting and lively debate. I am very grateful
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The noble Lords, Lord Jenkin, Lord Dixon-Smith and Lord Chorley, all raised concerns about the parliamentary process in terms of time. Suggestions have also been made that the approach of the House of Commons DECC Select Committee in allowing witnesses to come might mean that it would have been better to have a Joint Select Committee, instead of the two Houses having their own approach. We need to be guided by experience and I am sure that the Government will want to look at the processes, as will the other political parties and all parliamentarians. We will want to learn from that. I am sure that there will be an opportunity for further discussion of whether, in the light of our current experience, we need to make changes. It is important that Parliament has the time and that the procedures are right to allow these matters to be discussed and significant interventions made.
As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, he raised this matter with the Leader of the House. I am glad that we have been able to ensure that we will have these debates. Noble Lords have already intimated that they intend to put down Motions, which would lead to discussion and debate in the Chamber. There is opportunity for noble Lords to make their points heard. We will look carefully at all the comments that have been made in Parliament as well as at any Motions that are debated, alongside public scrutiny, the events that have taken place, and the discussions and input from stakeholders.
The question is whether all that can be done by 6 May, which is the date-of course, it cannot be. I want to reassure noble Lords that we will not seek to short-circuit the timetable that has been laid down. It is a crucial part of the validation of the national policy statements. My understanding-I will double-check this between now and our discussions in a fortnight's time-is that, post-election, it would be the responsibility of the incoming Secretary of State, whoever that might be, to reset the date for the end of the scrutiny period. I am sure, though, that whoever is in that position will want to ensure that we build on the work that has been undertaken in this Parliament, and see that both Houses have ample time to consider the national policy statements and ensure that all the procedures are gone through correctly.
What does that mean with regard to when it is likely that the national policy statements can be designated? At this stage, it is difficult for me to be precise. If all the procedures of both Houses have been gone through by the time of the election-and it is by no means certain that the election will be on the first Thursday in May; in the end, the Prime Minister will decide that and it is his choice-then designation by the Summer Recess might be possible. However, if one steps past the election date and Parliament is still in the middle
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I cannot give a precise timetable at this stage. It is clear, though, that Parliament needs to complete the proper process of scrutiny and that the Government then need time to go through and understand what has been said, consider whether changes need to be made to the national policy statements and then move to designation. I assure the Committee that that will be done with great care.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said that today's debate has reinforced his view that he was fortunate not to take part in the many debates on the Planning Bill. I have to tell him that during the considerations on that Bill I was happily ensconced for six months in your Lordships' House on the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, and I ended up with the same view. With that Bill, the Energy Bill and the Climate Change Bill, we had four pieces of legislation going through Parliament at the same time, all of which had an impact in terms of both planning and energy and climate change policy. Although noble Lords are critical of the Government for delays-the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, always berates me for that-there is a coherent thread, if we put all this together.
The other question that has been debated with regard to the Planning Act was the role of Ministers and the role of an independent body. We will probably have to accept that there is disagreement on that matter, but the Government feel that there is strong benefit in Ministers making it clear, after appropriate scrutiny and consultation, that it is for them to set the national policy. Following that, though, we think that there are distinct advantages in an independent body making individual decisions about planning consents.
I suspect we are not going to agree on that, but it is certainly the basis on which we are presenting the national policy statement to Parliament. I would also say to my noble friend Lord Woolmer that I think he is right when he refers to the balance and importance of these national policy statements. We very much hope to avoid the endless delays there have been when major infrastructure applications have been made. He is also surely right to emphasise that often, when there have been local inquiries and local hearings, the debate has been not about whether a particular electricity generating plant should be given planning consent in a locality, but about whether it is right, for instance, that we have a nuclear power station. Actually, that has often prevented enough focus being given to really serious issues about local impacts, so I think this is a much better approach.
A classic example of that was the Sizewell B public inquiry, when days were spent on whether it was right to have nuclear power. The evidence is that debates on infrastructure issues to do with construction and transport around Sizewell were inevitably marginalised. This approach allows the Infrastructure Planning Commission to focus on those impacts and the impact they will have on local communities, albeit within the context of the national policy statement. I will come on to that balance in terms of the weight of decision that the IPC then has to make to it.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for her comments on the consultation process. I think it has been valuable. The noble Lord, Lord Reay, asked an interesting question about the emphasis given in these documents to consultation by the IPC. Of course, the documents that we are producing are energy-specific. The responsibility laid down in legislation on the IPC in relation to consultation is as relevant to the energy sector as to the other sectors covered by other national policy statements. I assure him that I see consultation as one of the real gains from the new system. For instance, before an application will be accepted by the IPC, the developer will have to have gone through an extensive pre-consultation process, in which the local authority will have had a major role to play. I assure him that, although he is disappointed about the lack of reference to consultation, we consider that to be an important part of the process. I will look at the wording to see whether we need to emphasise it more because he has raised an important point.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I hope the Minister can answer one particular question. Supposing there has been-as I know there has been in some cases-substantial consultation on proposals, particularly on nuclear stations where the localities are certain. Is it going to be open to the applicant to rely on those consultations as part of his process before he puts his application in, or does he have to start again when these are finally issued?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath:That is for the Infrastructure Planning Commission to decide. It has to accept the application, and one of the conditions for accepting the application is that the developer has gone through a proper pre-consultation process. I will look at that to decide whether we need to clarify it, but I am reluctant to give a ruling in relation to what consultation may or may not have taken place. It is clear that the IPC has to be satisfied that the developer has gone through a proper process before it goes through the stages. The noble Lord will know that local people will have every opportunity to make their views known at the likely open hearings of the IPC.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, took me to task when I suggested that the IPC is the sole consenter in this system. I should emphasise that that is in relation to planning consent. A number of other regulatory bodies, including the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Health and Safety Executive, have a very important and relevant role to play in sustainability. However, a range of consents, including Environment Agency consents, can be covered by a development consent order, with the agreement of the regulator. That suggests that the IPC is not taking over the role of other regulatory bodies that need to give consents. It can, however, work with other regulatory bodies to ensure that the process is as streamlined as possible.
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