|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The questions that we need to ask ourselves are: does onshore wind have a role to play? If so, is it cost-effective? If that is the case, how do we achieve it, and how can we minimise the concerns that have been raised and best address those issues of location and infrastructure that cause such concern? Compared with other European countries we are not maximising our potential, despite government commitments. The population of Denmark is 10 per cent of that of the UK, yet it has 84 per cent of the amount of onshore wind. Twenty per cent of Danish energy is supplied by wind, with electricity costs about 14 per cent lower than the UK, and in Germany they are about 7 per cent lower.
The greatest concerns we have heard on costs are the capital costs. It would be helpful to know whether the Government have made any assessment of how those costs could be reduced, using the European examples of economies of scale, for example, or of any plans to do some kind of assessment of how the capital costs-the initial costs-could be reduced.
9 Nov 2011 : Column 324
The other issue on wind power is the consequential effect of job creation. A survey in Wales indicated that the average wage in the wind energy sector was around £44,000 a year. There is an opportunity for the Government here, and it was articulated just two weeks ago by 100 leading economists in their Plan B: A Good Economy for a Good Society, when they identified that a green new deal would create thousands of jobs, stimulating growth through investing in SMEs and new technologies and, in particular, nurturing the UK renewables sector. It is clear that there are benefits to be gained, but very important issues have been raised tonight about location and infrastructure. The noble Lords, Lord Thomas and Lord Williams of Elvel, both referred to the planning process, and I agree that there is a lack of clarity since the Localism Bill about transitional arrangements. That is an issue that would have benefited from discussion during proceedings on the Localism Bill in your Lordships' House.
The point that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, makes, is a very important one. There is plenty of evidence that, although the public as a whole support wind farms and renewable energy in principle, in practice they also have very genuine concerns about where they are to be sited. It is wrong to dismiss those concerns when they are genuinely felt, but it would also be wrong to fail to proceed with the contribution that onshore wind can make if those fears can be addressed.
We have heard today about the very specific issues in Wales, and the concerns that decisions will be taken in London-in Westminster-rather than locally, where Ministers can hear local concerns and address problems themselves. There are issues, as we have heard, about the national grid, the infrastructure and pylons. I see the noble Baroness the Whip on her feet-I am winding up very quickly. In regard to the questions put by the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Williams of Elvel, what discussions have the Government had with Welsh Ministers on the scale and routing of the national grid to TAN 8 areas? Along the lines that have been discussed by many noble Lords this evening, are the Government minded to devolve the consenting rights for larger projects to the Wales Government?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, if you do not mind me interrupting, already the Minister has not got the 12 minutes she was allocated, so if we could allow her to reply it would be very helpful.
The introduction of wind farms is a significant matter and, like any significant matter that brings about change, it will always attract comment and some concern. On matters such as this, it is important that people have a chance to voice their opinions and that Ministers listen. I am certainly grateful for the opportunity to listen tonight and to respond to some of the points that have been raised.
With something of this significance, it is usual for people in their communities to want to understand what the overall objective is and what we are trying to achieve. People will want to know about and understand the process. They will want to know how decisions are made, what criteria determine those decisions, whether all issues that are of concern to them are being taken into account, and whether they can have a say. People also, quite rightly, want to know what the gains are from these decisions and whether they are gains from which they, too, can benefit.
Perhaps I should start by reminding your Lordships that the Government have three strategic aims in relation to energy and climate change: to secure the supply of energy-what we often talk about as keeping the lights on; to minimise costs to consumers; and to cut fossil fuel emissions so that we play our part in taking care of the planet for the sake of future generations. Renewable energy is vital to delivering our strategic aims and we are committed to it. Appropriately sited onshore wind needs to be part of our energy mix because it is one of the most cost-effective and established renewable technologies.
The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, for whose expertise in and knowledge of all matters engineering I have great respect, talked about the intermittency of wind energy. Wind power is not in and of itself the answer-no one is suggesting that it is a solution-but it is an important part of the mix. Other noble Lords talked about other renewable technologies that are out there. The noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, and my noble friend Lady Randerson mentioned the Severn barrage and asked what is happening with it. If a private company were to come forward with a new proposal for a Severn barrage, the Government would listen and would definitely want to hear what it had to say. However, it is worth my pointing out that even an option such as that would still require major grid reinforcements to connect it to the national grid.
Noble Lords also asked about other options. The noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, asked what other renewables we are considering and mentioned biomass fuel. I take this opportunity to remind noble Lords that in July this year the Government published their renewables road map, which set out the various renewable technologies that would form part of their plan for hitting the target of 20 per cent of renewables by 2010. The noble Baroness mentioned a figure of 30 per cent but the target is actually 20 per cent. Biomass plays an important part in that. Indeed, it is one of the leading contributors.
Returning to wind power, my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford and other noble Lords mentioned the recent KPMG report and its criticisms of wind power. It is important that I point out, as did my noble friend Lord Teverson, that, in focusing exclusively on the upfront capital costs of technologies, the report
9 Nov 2011 : Column 326
Affordability obviously figures in all our decisions. Nothing is more important to consumers today and that will continue into the future. That is why we are reshaping our renewable subsidies to get a better bang for the buck, targeting support where it is needed and driving costs down in the long run. For example, we are consulting on proposals to reduce the level of support to onshore wind by one-tenth in the renewables obligation banding review. I am talking about the subsidies to those who operate onshore wind farms. We are also consulting on the proposed introduction of new feed-in tariffs for solar panels based on the evidence of falling costs. Although some might question the reduction in subsidies, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, did, let us not forget that the cost of all these subsidies is paid for by bill payers. These subsidies are not met from general taxation. Overall, the long-term national interest lies in cutting carbon and keeping the lights on in the most cost-effective way possible and substantial amounts of renewable energy will be needed to do that.
If that is the what and the why of what we are trying to do, let me now turn to how we decide, which has been an important topic of today's debate. Clearly I recognise, as do the Government, that proposed onshore wind developments in Wales and their associated energy infrastructure have raised a lot of interest and debate in recent months. Your Lordships will understand that I cannot comment on specific applications, but let me say something about the process. First, the Welsh Government's TAN 8 policy has designated specific areas in mid-Wales as strategic search areas, sometimes known as SSAs, as potential locations for major wind farms. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, and my noble friend Lady Randerson questioned the validity of TAN 8, but that is a matter for the Welsh Assembly. It is not something for me to comment on. It is a devolved matter.
Local authorities in Wales are responsible for deciding planning applications within the devolved planning policy for smaller-less than 50 megawatt-farms. The Westminster Government are responsible for deciding on major energy infrastructure projects that affect Wales. Some may argue, as some of your Lordships have this evening, that it is not appropriate for UK Ministers to make decisions on major infrastructure applications in Wales, but UK Ministers are accountable to Welsh voters, as they are to English voters. We believe that it is appropriate for UK Ministers to take these decisions on major infrastructure of national importance and of relevance to the UK Government's wider strategic aims that I have already outlined.
I will not take up your Lordships' time by trying to describe the different processes and policies that are followed, because they are quite detailed, but the key thing for me to stress is that regardless of whether applications are dealt with nationally or locally,
9 Nov 2011 : Column 327
Mid-Wales is a beautiful part of the United Kingdom. It is important that wind farms are sited correctly and wind energy developers are guided away from the most sensitive landscapes, such as national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Moreover, protections are in place to ensure that detailed environmental assessments are made in the preparation of planning applications, including, most importantly-and I will stress this-an assessment of cumulative impact.
I know that it is not just the wind farms that are causing concern. My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford and others have asked about the supporting infrastructure. As there is no existing high-voltage network in this part of Wales, the necessary infrastructure to make these connections will have to be built. Connection options are currently being developed by National Grid and ScottishPower Energy Networks. The applications for these connections will be decided by the appropriate planning authorities. Many people feel very strongly about pylons and the impact they can have on the landscape. Effective consultation with local communities and other interested parties is therefore a vital part of the planning process and this is ongoing. An important point I would like to stress is that National Grid has also recently announced that it will put greater emphasis on mitigating the visual impact of its new electricity lines, while balancing this with the obvious need to minimise household energy bills. People in areas potentially affected can therefore be reassured that alternatives to overhead lines are being actively explored.
I wanted to talk about the economic benefits of wind farms to us as a nation and to local communities. My noble friend Lord Teverson has covered some of these already. I would like to pick out a couple of points. The wind sector in Wales is creating high-value jobs. The average wage for those jobs is around £44,000 a year. The annual contribution to the Welsh economy is estimated at £158 million a year. We have consulted on a proposal for communities in England to retain the business rates generated by renewable energy developments. This matter would be devolved in Wales, but I would urge influential noble Lords with connections to the Welsh Assembly to highlight what is happening in England and the benefits that may be enjoyed in Wales if it was to follow that idea. A good example of a wind farm developer making sure that there are direct local benefits is the Cefn Croes Wind Farm Community Trust, funded by Cambrian Wind Energy.
Appropriately sited onshore wind farms make a vital contribution to our strategic aims. They are also important to our economic growth. This coalition Government support appropriately sited onshore wind. We will make decisions about where they are located with great care. We will make sure that communities can benefit directly from renewable energy developments in their area. I shall of course ensure that all the points made this evening are relayed accurately back to the department. I thank once more my noble friend for initiating this debate.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, Amendment 2 would enable students to become full members of school governing bodies, as was the case before 1986. Following government amendments, the Bill's requirements for governing bodies more accurately reflect the make-up of the school community. However, one significant absence is that of students.
I was not able to be in my place when this matter was last discussed in Committee on 20 July and I extend my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, for speaking to the relevant amendment in my absence. I understand that the Minister has today received a letter from members of the National Participation Forum, which includes the Schools Network, the British Youth Council, the Children's Rights Alliance for England, the National Children's Bureau and UNICEF, all of which support the proposal.
These organisations and many more support children's rights to be involved in decisions that affect them. Children spend a substantial part of their lives in school and it is only right that they should be able to sit on school governing bodies as full members. At present, students can become only associate members, with no voting rights for under-18s and limited voting rights for over-18s.
The existence of school councils and other mechanisms for student participation, useful as they are, should not rule out the possibility of student governors. No one would argue, for example, that teachers should be excluded from governing bodies, or given fewer voting rights, simply because they already benefit from union representation. The UN Committee on the Rights of
9 Nov 2011 : Column 329
With the right support, students of all ages can be involved effectively in governing bodies, as they already are on the boards of many charities. Isambard Brunel Junior School in Portsmouth, for example, has involved students as young as eight years old in governing body decisions relating to the school curriculum and budget. As long as the child understands the responsibilities they are taking on, there should be no barrier to them becoming full members. I can remember going around a school where the children of the school had been involved with the architects in consultation and deciding particular parts of the school that were important to them; the result was a much better building.
Enabling students to become full members of the school governing body would not put them at risk. Liability for decisions broadly rests with the governing body as a whole, and schools already have arrangements in place to cover potential liabilities. Regulations also establish that no governor should be involved in a decision where their personal interests conflict with those of the governing body. This would ensure that student governors would not be expected to make decisions regarding staff or student discipline where there was a conflict of interest.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, the Minister will know that I have always promoted the importance of young people having their say in issues relating to them-in particular, at schools. I have an Oral Question on exactly this subject on 23 November. I certainly support the principle of what the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, is asking for today.
When you are in a coalition, there has to be a bit of "give" and a bit of "take" on both sides. During the passage of this Bill, I think we have had that; we have had some "give" and "take" from both of the coalition partners. I thank my noble friend the Minister for that, and in particular for the fact that we managed to persuade the Government not to remove the schools' duty to co-operate and about when part-time students start to repay their loans. These are some of those very important things that are now in the Bill.
There have been other examples of where we have considerably strengthened the guidance-for example, on searching and on same-day detentions-and we have made changes to Clause 13. My noble friends and I are still somewhat unhappy about both Clause 13 and Clause 43, but I accept that you cannot have everything in a coalition. In some cases, we have had excellent reassurances from the Dispatch Box, and I think this issue falls into that category. I hope the
9 Nov 2011 : Column 330
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch:My Lords, we have some sympathy with the aims behind this amendment, and understand, as I am sure many noble Lords do, the advantages that can flow from giving young people a practical demonstration of democracy and representation. As the noble Lord, Lord Hill, said in an earlier debate on this issue, the previous Government went some way towards expanding pupil representation and consultation with governing bodies. As I understand it, specific provision was made in the Education and Skills Act 2008 to require governing bodies to invite and consider pupils' views, but this has not yet been enacted. Perhaps the Minister could clarify whether the Government are now going to implement the provision in the previous Act.
In the mean time, I listened very carefully to the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, but would still sound a note of caution on the wording of her amendment. It would seem, as it stands, to apply equally to pupils of all ages, and we are not convinced at this stage that that is the right way to proceed. As the noble Baroness indicated, some primary school pupils might struggle to understand some of the issues on governing body agendas, and there is, as has been pointed out, the issue of whether it is appropriate for them to deal with teacher discipline and conduct issues. It is therefore perhaps more appropriate to find a level of involvement for young people in governance issues that is more age-specific. However, we very much support the idea of strengthening pupil engagement and hope that the Minister is able to suggest other ways in which this might be achieved.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for returning to this issue. As she said, unfortunately she was not able to be present at Committee stage, where some of the important points that she has raised tonight were debated, although she kindly gave us advance notice. I am glad that she has raised them again tonight.
The noble Baroness spoke eloquently of the importance of encouraging pupils to participate in decisions that affect them. I think that support for the principle that she is seeking to achieve is shared on all sides of the House, by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and by my noble friend Lady Walmsley. I would certainly agree with her that involving pupils in that way can help to make sure that decisions properly reflect the interests of pupils, contribute to their development and encourage them to feel a sense of involvement and pride in their school. It is also of course a fundamental principle of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which this Government are a signatory.
The evidence also shows that schools themselves share the views expressed by noble Lords today on this issue. We know that the vast majority of schools
9 Nov 2011 : Column 331
I share some of the reservations expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, as to the specific amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, in that it would add to our current arrangements a requirement on all governing bodies of all maintained schools to have an unspecified number of student governors. The amendment would apply to the governing bodies of all maintained schools, including nursery schools. It would force all governing bodies to change their instrument of governance and appoint pupil governors, even if they already had effective arrangements for pupil participation in decision-making.
I am keen to continue to talk to the noble Baroness about these issues and about governance more generally, as I think she and I have a shared interest in this issue. However, as she might expect from the conversations we have had on governance, she will know that placing this additional prescription on the constitution of governing bodies runs counter to the Government's broader policy on school governance, where we are trying to give governing bodies more freedom to recruit governors based on skills and to minimise prescription around the proportions of governors required from different categories.
I have reflected on the points that were made in Committee and again today, but I continue to believe that there are sufficient ways for governing bodies to take account of pupil views. I do not think it would be right to place a mandatory requirement on all maintained schools-including primary schools-to appoint pupil governors. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, mentioned the Education and Skills Act provisions on pupil consultation. There is a requirement on schools to have regard to guidance on pupil consultation, an issue which my noble friend Lady Walmsley raised. We will be talking about that further in response to her Oral Question.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, knows that I am always ready to talk to her about governance, and I am happy to talk further about this issue. While I agree with her on the importance of involving pupils and the benefits this can bring, I cannot support this specific amendment. I would therefore ask her to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I am most grateful to all those who said a few words, some in support and some not in support of my amendment. I am particularly grateful to the Minister because he has been extremely helpful in many respects as far as the role of governors is concerned. Wearing my NGA hat-I should perhaps have said earlier that I am president of that organisation-I know that it, too, is very grateful for the value that he and the Government place on the important role of governors.
I am obviously sorry that the Minister cannot move quite as far as I would like to move. However, I shall continue to hope that I shall live long enough to see my particular wish come true. With that, I am happy to withdraw my amendment.
"(ba) the members to include-
(i) staff and students at the institution, and
(ii) in the case of a sixth form college corporation, parents of students at the institution aged under 19,"
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I will speak briefly to government Amendment 3, which maintains a requirement for colleges to have staff, student and, in the case of sixth form colleges, parent governors. It addresses the commitment that I made on Report to return to the House with an amendment that would give effect to what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, sought to achieve in laying down her amendment on Report. I am glad that this amendment has her support, and I am grateful to her for raising this issue with my honourable friend Mr Hayes, the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning. We have stuck to her amendment as closely as we could. The only change that we have made is to add parent governors for sixth form colleges, which I am sure is what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, would have intended.
It was not our intention to encourage colleges to remove staff, student or parent governors. We merely wanted to ensure that any legislative requirements did not affect any case to the ONS for the reclassification of colleges back to the private sector. We believe, as I know the noble Baroness does, that it is possible to reconcile both those important objectives, and this amendment does that. I beg to move.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, I am grateful for the earlier discussions held with the Minister and his colleague, John Hayes. As the Minister said, he indicated on Report that the Government were prepared to reconsider the issue of staff and student representation. I am pleased to say that this commitment has now been honoured in both spirit and practice in the amendment before us.
It was, of course, the Government's own amendment that created the issue of representation being withdrawn and quite rightly caused consternation among students and staff. However, on this occasion the Government have been quick to acknowledge the error and put it right. In fact, I would go further and acknowledge that their amendment is indeed better than that tabled by those on our own Benches on this issue, so I am very pleased to support it and for our proceedings on this Bill to end on such a positive note.
Since this will be my last contribution on the Bill, perhaps I could say a few words, particularly on behalf of my noble friend Lady Hughes-who cannot be here this evening but is now the proud grandmother of a baby girl-and also my noble friends Lady Crawley, Lord Young and Lord Stevenson. I thank the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, for the courteous and good-natured way in which they have responded to the wide, varied and sometimes extremely controversial issues that noble Lords have chosen to raise on the Bill as we have progressed through it over the months. We started debating the Bill in May, and at times it has truly felt like a marathon. However, throughout the time the Minister has maintained an open door policy and has genuinely sought to answer and deal with our concerns, and for that we are very grateful.
I would also like to thank the Bill team for its hard work. At one stage I thought that I might have to employ a secretary just to keep track of its daily letters. When it started to send letters summarising the previous letters that it had sent, I realised that it was not just me who was having trouble keeping up. I appreciate that all that was intended to be helpful, and it certainly helped us to improve the scrutiny of the Bill.
At the end of the day, the Bill is a better Bill and the time was, in retrospect, well spent. However, I have no doubt that the Secretary of State is as we speak fervently brewing up his next grand plan and that it will not be long before we find ourselves back here again. But, for now, I thank the Minister and urge support for the amendment.
Baroness Brinton: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for this amendment. I am somewhat relieved, as is the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who cannot be here tonight, because it was our amendment about the ONS issue that really sparked the whole debate about student and staff representation in further education colleges. I am grateful for that. In conjunction with the other thanks, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for their contribution to the Bill on the higher education elements that we had earlier. I am extremely grateful to all the Ministers for the concessions that we had in guidance and in other helpful ways, which have happened during the passage of the Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has said, that has helped to improve the Bill from its original state.
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I am grateful for the support for this amendment, which strikes the right balance between raising the issues raised with respect to college classification while safeguarding staff, student and parent voices on the governing body of a college. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for the spirit in which she approached the issue, which summed up how noble
9 Nov 2011 : Column 334
As a result of the detailed scrutiny to which the Bill and I personally have been subjected, however painful at times, it is a better Bill. We have brought forward a number of amendments in response to concerns that have been raised-on Ofqual enforcement powers, the duty to co-operate, admissions and inspections, teacher anonymity, colleges, apprenticeships and direct payments. As my noble friend Lady Walmsley said, we have also committed to use statutory guidance or regulations to address concerns raised about behaviour and discipline, careers and part-time students in HE. So I would like to thank in particular my noble friends Lady Walmsley, Lady Brinton and Lady Sharp for their advice, which has helped us. I thank, too, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, who I hope will pass on my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, for the constructive challenge that they have provided throughout. There have been very important contributions on this Bill from all sides, and from the Cross Benches-particularly on SEN issues and the duty to co-operate-and from the Bishops' Benches, which have underlined the important role that faith schools play across our education system.
I am particularly grateful for one piece of advice that I received from my noble friend Lord Lucas, which I thought summed up our deliberations on this Bill. It is a quote from John Stuart Mill, who must have been sitting in Committee when he said:
"Education, in its largest sense, is one of the most inexhaustible of all topics ... and notwithstanding the great mass of excellent things which have been said respecting it, no thoughtful person finds any lack of things both great and small still waiting to be said".
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, I put publicly on the record what I hope the members of the Bill team know privately-that is, my gratitude to them, as they have been exemplary in every way. I have been very glad to receive lots of praise from many noble Lords about how they have behaved, and I am glad to have the chance to say to them, although they always want to be anonymous and nameless, how much I appreciate the work that they have done and how much it has helped all of us arrive at a better place with the Bill.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|