HL Deb 03 February 2004 vol 656 cc283-340GC

(Fifth Day)

Tuesday, 3 February 2004.

The Committee met at half past three of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Geddes) in the Chair.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Geddes)

Before starting, may I remind Members that the usual procedures in Grand Committee apply? There are not normally Divisions on amendments; they are not normally moved; and if a Division should be called in the Chamber I shall adjourn the Grand Committee for approximately 10 minutes in order that Members may vote if they so wish.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty) moved Amendment No. 103A: After Clause 73, insert the following new clause— APPLICATION OF THE 1965 ACT TO NORTHERN IRELAND

  1. (1) Sections 3(1A) and (6A), 4(3A) and 5(1A) of the 1965 Act (which require certain consultations in relation to nuclear site licences) shall extend to Northern Ireland.
  2. (2) Section 27 of that Act (application of that Act to Northern Ireland) is amended as follows.
  3. (3) For subsection (1) substitute—
    1. "(1) In the application of this Act to Northern Ireland—
      1. (a) a reference to the Minister shall be construed as a reference to the Secretary of State;
      2. (b) sections 3(1A) and (6A), 4(3A) and 5(1 A) shall have effect as if—
        1. (i) for 'appropriate Agency', wherever occurring, there were substituted 'Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland';
        2. (ii) for 'Great Britain', wherever occurring, there were substituted 'Northern Ireland';
        3. (iii) for 'Health and Safety Executive', wherever occurring, there were substituted 'Minister';
      3. (c) section 3(3) shall have effect as if for paragraphs (b) and (c) there were substituted—
        • '(ca) the Fisheries Conservancy Board for Northern Ireland; and'."
  4. (4) Subsections (2) and (3) shall cease to have effect.
  5. (5) In subsection (5), for paragraphs (a) to (c) substitute—
    1. "(a) by the Minister; or
    2. (b) by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland."
  6. (6) Subsection (6) shall cease to have effect."

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 103A seeks to correct some anomalies in Northern Ireland legislation. The Northern Ireland Act 1998 provides that nuclear energy and installations are excepted matters. The Act made no consequential amendments to the Nuclear Installations Act 1965 and, as a result, there are provisions in the 1965 Act which are now inconsistent with the Northern Ireland Act. Consequently, the purpose of this group of amendments is to amend such provisions in the 1965 Act to reflect the devolution settlement in the 1998 Act.

The amendments to Sections 3(1A) and (6A), 4(3A) and 5(1A) of the 1965 Act extend the consultation requirements in respect of a nuclear site licence to Northern Ireland in the event that a licence is granted there. At present, these consultation requirements apply only in respect of a nuclear site licence in Great Britain.

Section 27 of the 1965 Act deals with the application of certain provisions to Northern Ireland. The effect of this section is to substitute references with a UK meaning with references within the context of Northern Ireland—for example, the substitution of "Minister" with "Minister of Commerce for Northern Ireland" and so on. However, in light of the 1998 Act, most of the provisions in Section 27 are now otiose. Consequently the amendment repeals those provisions in Section 27 and updates the provisions that are still required to reflect the devolution settlement.

In preparing the amendments we consulted with the relevant Northern Ireland authorities and they have been agreed. I hope the Committee will accept them. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

I wish to ask the Minister only one question. It may very well be that my question will show that I am ignorant of the whole situation in regard to Northern Ireland. The Minister said that this is to reflect the devolution settlement, which we understand needs to be done. Can he tell us for the record what effect the present constitutional hiatus—which has been caused by the suspension of the legislative assembly and devolved government— will have on the amendment, given that the situation is rather fluid at the moment?

Lord Whitty

The Ministers currently operating in Northern Ireland during the suspension of the Assembly are appointed by the UK Government but are working under Northern Ireland legislation. It is therefore the later Northern Ireland legislation that determines their scope for action, and it is that which is inconsistent with the earlier Act.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 74 [Expenditure on nuclear related matters]:

Lord Jenkin of Roding moved Amendment No. 104: Page 58, line 2, at end insert "; or (c) compliance with his duties under section (Maintenance of nuclear expertise)

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 104, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 105. Amendment No. 104 simply seeks to add a subsection to the expenditure clause of the Bill; Amendment No. 105 is the substantive amendment.

There has been a widespread recognition both inside and outside the House that the steady fall in the number of undergraduate and postgraduate students studying nuclear related courses—in particular full time courses for nuclear science and nuclear engineering—will, if it is not reversed, create serious difficulty for the NDA, its regulators and other agencies. In particular, if it is not speedily reversed, the credibility of the Government's aim to keep open the nuclear option will be further eroded.

Although the building of new nuclear stations and power stations will require the services primarily of civil, mechanical and electrical engineers, those who design and commission such stations will need the services of many skilled specialist nuclear scientists and engineers. It has been remarked in many quarters that the professional workforce of the present operators is ageing, with most professional grade staff already over the age of 40.

When I raised this matter in the House the other day I referred to the number of constituencies—around about 80—which have nuclear installations in them, and to the number of full-time staff working in those various installations, about 60,000.

I contrasted that with the fact that there are now no full-time undergraduate courses at our universities for nuclear scientists or engineers, and only one full-time postgraduate course, which is at Birmingham University. The reaction in the House was quite stark. To many noble Lords, that seemed a startling state of affairs that justified giving rise to anxiety.

Last June, I tabled a Written Question on the availability of courses. I received a Written Answer— as reported at col. WA 42 of Hansard for 26 June 2003—from the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, at the education department. She gave a long list of places with postgraduate courses, but had to admit that at that time no universities were offering undergraduate courses specifically in nuclear science and engineering.

It quickly became clear to me that, even as regards the postgraduate courses, that was a very misleading Answer. I asked the noble Baroness's office where I could pursue the issue of those courses. From where did her department obtain the information? It came from the Health and Safety Executive, under which the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate now operates.

My inquiries made it clear that the vast majority of postgraduate courses are very part-time modules; some are for perhaps only a few hours a week for one term. I am happy to pay tribute to Dr Peter Storey, head of the research and radiation unit at the HSE, based in Bootle, for giving me much of the information that I shall convey to the Grand Committee.

I also tabled further Written Questions in July and received Written Answers—reported in Hansard at col. WA 94 on 1 July and at cols. WA 110 and WA 111 on 2 July. I merely refer to those and do not quote them. They do not give any more information than Dr Storey has been kind enough to give me. I refer to them simply as evidence that I have been pursuing the issue for some time.

Dr Storey sent me various reports. I said that the reply from the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, was misleading. It was also considerably out of date, being based on information that went back to 2001. Dr Storey was, first, able to give me an update on nuclear education at British universities dated December 2003. Apparently that information will shortly appear on the relevant website.

The list Dr Storey gave was quite interesting. I imagine that the universities are in no particular order. New teaching within the nuclear area at the University of Cambridge has been introduced in the form of a module on electricity and the environment within the MPhil in technology policy. The nuclear content of that degree is about 3 per cent. The City University does rather better. The MSc in energy and environmental technology and economics now has two new nuclear elements. The noble lord, Lord Whitty, will be pleased to hear that one is decommissioning—50 per cent nuclear and 50 per cent offshore—and the other is risk analysis for management. Companies such as British Energy, BNFL, UKAEA and the NII provide lecturers for the course.

UHI, which will become the University of Highlands and Islands when it achieves university status in 2007, will collaborate with universities abroad—in particular, the Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble and the National Institute for Nuclear Sciences and Technology in France, the CEA's training and education arm—in an initiative to establish common standards for a vocational and academic training in decommissioning. In Imperial College, the radiochemistry laboratory, which dates back to 1971, has now been completely refurbished. However, the counting equipment, which dates from the 1980s, still awaits updating.

I shall not go through the whole list. The Victoria University of Manchester is developing a proposed MSc in nuclear engineering and continues in line to offer the course from September 2004. Project Dalton involves the university, the North-West Development Agency and BNFL in establishing a new institution at Manchester focused on nuclear science and engineering. The report states: Although primarily linked to nuclear decommissioning and clean up, Dalton will also create links with other areas, such as fusion and nuclear medicine". I pause to remind the Committee that when we discussed research, it was remarked that there was currently no research under way in nuclear fission and all the Government's effort was going into fusion, which may be some decades off.

Other institutions are mentioned in an update of the Answers of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland. We also briefly discussed the question of collaboration in Europe. The European Nuclear Engineering Network is a fifth framework initiative involving 22 universities from 17 EU or candidate countries that aims to harmonise nuclear curricula in Europe and develop a European postgraduate masters course in nuclear engineering. Unsurprisingly, Britain is represented by Birmingham University, which, as I said, runs the only postgraduate course in nuclear engineering. So there are things going on, and we should say so and acknowledge what is happening.

A short while ago, I mentioned Imperial College. At a recent conference I met Professor Hewitt of Imperial College, who told me something about and sent me details of the introduction to nuclear technology that is a third or fourth-year option course offered by the college. As one might have suspected, it turns out to be an afternoons-only course for one day a week— Tuesday afternoons from 20 January through to 3 March—covering an interesting list of subjects but, as Professor Hewitt states in his covering note to me: Our course is a modest effort compared to what is needed at, say, MSc level to give an in-depth training". He continues—the Minister will welcome this point— but the response [to] higher level courses has been insufficient to allow them to continue". There is some evidence that the publication of the Government's White Paper on decommissioning has sparked some interest in students thinking there might be a good opportunity for future employment, but it is still very small. Professor Hewitt is saying that, as a result of what has been said by the Government— indeed, one might say as a result of what is in the Bill, and certainly in the White Paper—to the vast majority of students, many of whom will study chemistry or engineering at undergraduate level, the nuclear industry appears to be a dying industry. Is it surprising that a young man or woman looking for a career with long-term potential might turn away from it?

I find all that very worrying. Dr Storey gave me a very interesting report about what had gone on in the past. It is quite clear that despite the apparent disincentives and the lack of interest on the part of Ministers, certainly until quite recently, other government agencies that need the services of trained graduate and postgraduate nuclear scientists and engineers have become increasingly concerned. Many have taken steps to do something about the problem. In February 2001, there was a nuclear education forum, of which I have been sent details, but I do not need to weary the Committee with those details. Its detailed proceedings are available to anyone who wants to pursue them.

There was an OECD report in 2000, to which I referred briefly at Second Reading, entitled Nuclear Education and Training—Causes for Concern?, which was based on an extensive survey of 16 OECD member states including the UK. For the UK it states that, unless action is taken, the prospects of maintaining a nuclear education capability for the future are not good. A brief summary of the report states that: The possible implications of a decline in nuclear education and teaching arise because the future safe operation of the nuclear facilities in the UK is in part dependent on the continued availability of appropriate skills and expertise". That was the central point of the passage to which I referred at Second Reading. We cannot expect to be able to operate safely and effectively unless we have the trained staff to be able to do that. It is extremely worrying that there seems to be so much doubt about the continued attractiveness and availability of such courses.

I said a few moments ago that there is some evidence that, although the publication of the White Paper about decommissioning has stimulated some increased interest to most young people contemplating where their career ambitions lie, the nuclear industry is not seen to have a future. The industry is doing what it can. BNFL, a leading firm in the industry, has established a centre of excellence at Manchester University, but it tells me that without more government encouragement it is proving an uphill task. I could go on, but I have said enough on the problems that the country faces as we move into this century, and the tasks that need to be done if we are to be able to deal with the matter sensibly.

Only this morning, I was able to lay my hands on a copy of the DTI's Consultation paper on proposals for intermediate level radioactive waste substitution. The consultants happen to be an American firm, but I make no quarrel about that, as there was a perfectly good competitive tendering process. In the very long report they recommended almost exactly what the Science and Technology Committee of this House, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, who knows more about the subject than all of us put together, recommended—that the Government should get ahead with substitution, and that it is a question of what you import, what you must re-export and so on. The consultants gave a very clear endorsement of what we said. Without attribution, that is how such things go. It could not possibly be done if one did not have the trained manpower who could understand the complicated nuclear science involved in judging whether it is right to take in more intermediate-level waste and instead to export high-level waste back to the countries where it is generated, or to stay where we are. I mention that in passing.

Perhaps there is a glimmer on the horizon. I have been given to understand that the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, is leading a study of the problem. One has read almost nothing about that—at least I have not, although I try to follow the subject fairly closely—so I have a series of questions to put to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Who is taking part in this study? Will it produce a report, and when? Will the report be published? Is this area of nuclear education on the agenda of the sustainable energy policy network (SEPN), which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, in two Written Answers to me on 12 January 2004? The noble Lord said that all the departments concerned may be involved in the work of the SEPN.

Is that body looking at the question of nuclear education and training, particularly at higher education level? I am told that some 18 government departments and agencies make up the SEPN. How many people attend SEPN meetings? Perhaps I should submit a Question on the matter, but it has been suggested that it may be 120 people. It is not a decision-making body; it is a sort of Parliament. Is that the way to carry forward such a highly technical subject, or is it delegated to smaller groups? I hope that the Minister can tell us more of the SEPN's role. In particular, I hope that he can throw more light on the study being undertaken by the Chief Scientific Adviser. Knowing Sir David King well, I have considerable faith in his ability and seriousness; after all, he is one of the most outspoken government officials, who has made no secret of his view that there will have to be a new nuclear build. He deserves credit for that.

Amendment No. 105 would require the Government to, establish and maintain a register of nuclear scientists, engineers and technicians currently working … and of those being trained and graduating … in relevant courses in British universities or elsewhere in the United Kingdom".

That puts the responsibility for that important subject firmly on the shoulders of the Government. They need to satisfy the country that they are taking the necessary action about a situation that threatens our nuclear future.

The second part of the amendment requires the Government to maintain and publish a comprehensive programme of research, with particular reference to designs of new nuclear power stations and technology right across the world. We dealt with the subject of research on an amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady O'Cathain earlier in the proceedings of the Grand Committee, and I certainly do not intend to return to that at any length. However, I must say that we still await a clear statement on the further measures that Mr Stephen Timms—the Minister who counts energy as one of his many responsibilities—told the energy choices committee in December were to be expected, with £5 million widely regarded as quite inadequate.

Amendment No. 105 is intended entirely seriously. The Government have to recognise their responsibilities in terms of both trained scientific and engineering manpower for the future, and making sure that the country keeps properly up to date and able to deal with new nuclear designs and technology as it becomes available. I hope that we shall get a rather stronger answer than we have had from Ministers so far on the subject, because it is one of huge importance. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

As a complete amateur on this subject, I would like not only to support the amendment, but to say that I think that we are discussing the nub of the whole Bill. The Government, for understandable reasons up to a point, have been so taken over by their public relations that they are in fact failing the nation in a number of ways at present on quite serious and important fronts. Some of that is being discussed in the Chamber at the moment, but we are talking about energy.

It is quite clear from the statistics and the discussions so far at Second Reading and in Committee—it will become clearer as we go through the next part of the Bill—that the importance of wind and wave power is completely subsidiary to what my noble friend has talked about. The public relations of the Government are causing them to get us all diverted on to discussing wind power ad nauseam. People are very interested in it, of course, because it comes near their homes and so on. However, the truth is that there is an urgent need to begin to get new nuclear power off the ground in this country. We need nuclear build, to develop the technologies for the safest possible nuclear build, and we need the people to do it.

My noble friend made a rather long speech, and people may have thought it a bit long. I do not believe that it was a bit too long. In fact, he identified in rather a shocking way the level of effort going into the training of nuclear scientists, engineers and technicians at present. It is rather small. People will not want to embark on a career if they do not think that there will be jobs at the end, and they cannot tell whether there are. All they know about is decommissioning, windmills, sea power and so on. They cannot be certain about nuclear power, and yet it is inevitable—we all know that in our heart of hearts. All we do is talk about keeping the nuclear option open. If we do not look out, we will still be doing that when the lights go out. So what my noble friend said is important. I do not know whether including an amendment such as this in the Bill is the right way to proceed; the important thing is that the Government should be responsible for ensuring that our academic institutions have the confidence to set up courses and that people have the confidence to apply to go on them. The amendment is very important. I hope that the Government are not just going to talk to us about keeping the nuclear option open, because that is becoming a joke.

Lord Ezra

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, has raised an important issue of energy policy. I shall concentrate more specifically on expertise in decommissioning, with which the Bill specifically deals, and ask the Minister whether he considers that Clause 7(1)(d), which refers to, educating and training persons about those matters"— namely, decommissioning—gives adequate emphasis to the important task that lies ahead in that area. That does not cover the whole range of nuclear activity to which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, referred, but it is specifically relevant to the Bill. I should like to know whether that rather loose wording is adequate for the important task of training in decommissioning involved.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My noble friend Lady Carnegy was right when she said that the amendment gets to the nub of the matter. The Government continually tell us that they are keeping the nuclear option open, and I restrict my words in that manner, so I do not go as far as my noble friend. If the Government are serious about keeping the nuclear option open, it is clear that people must be studying and achieving in that field to do all those jobs.

I totally agree with my noble friend when she said that she did not think that the speech of my noble friend Lord Jenkin was one word too long. In fact, as I listened to the research that he has performed over many years and the depths to which he has gone to find out about all the courses—how some are just part time or one day a week, and so on—and putting the matter into context, I thought that no one sitting in Committee could fail to have been impressed, but also worried about the lack of facilities that he discussed.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred to Clause 7, which restricts the matter that my noble friend discussed to what the NDA can do in research, education and so on. He referred to Clause (7)(l)(d), which mentions, educating and training persons about those matters". That wording is loose and it will be interesting to hear what the Minister says about that. I am looking in two directions because I am not sure which Minister will reply.

Paragraph (a) of that subsection states: carrying out research into matters relating to the decommissioning of nuclear installations, the cleaning-up of nuclear sites and the other activities in relation to which it has functions". I am interested to know what are those other activities. Does the Minister think that Amendment No. 105, which mentions courses, would provide sufficient training for people to perform all the tasks that are duties of the NDA? I am now talking in a narrower sense than the larger one to which my noble friend Lady Carnegy referred.

Lord Tombs

I think that this amendment goes to the heart of maintaining the nuclear option. For that reason it is crucial.

I should like to make two detailed points. First, subsection (1) of Amendment No. 105 says that the Secretary of State will, maintain a register of nuclear scientists, engineers and technicians currently working in the field of nuclear power". In practice, most of the work done in nuclear power—whether it be building, operating, decommissioning nuclear power stations or providing for long-term or intermediate-term storage—is done by civil, mechanical, electrical and control engineers with a nuclear knowledge; not by narrowly trained nuclear engineers. That of course does not negate the need for a nuclear facility in the higher education system. However, I think that the provision would be greatly improved if the word "nuclear" were removed from the second line of subsection (1), so that it read, "a register of scientists, engineers and technicians currently working in the field of nuclear power".

My second detailed point concerns the second line of subsection (3) of Amendment No. 105, where there is a reference to, a comprehensive programme of research to identify designs of new nuclear power stations". There is no need to identify it; everyone who has developed one is publicising it for all they are worth. What is needed is scientific research to appraise them, to look at them critically and to look at their advantages and disadvantages. That would be a very fruitful and a very necessary field, which was certainly part of the process in the bad old days before privatisation.

Quite apart from the points that the proposed new clause makes about a shrinking specialist force of manpower to maintain the declared option, it is necessary also to concentrate Ministers' minds in an area to which I think they have so far given scant attention.

Lord Whitty

I think that we are in a little difficulty. First, it is difficult to see how the amendment fits into the structure of the Bill; it goes well beyond the structure outlined at the beginning. Secondly, it is difficult to try to disentangle many noble Lords' desire for a significant new nuclear component of energy provision from the Government's position of keeping open the nuclear option. Much of what has been said—the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, was particularly explicit about this—has been in support of a bigger nuclear programme. That clearly would require all sorts of significant skills and significant research, most of which would be funded, one assumes in today's circumstances, by the commercial providers of such power. Keeping the nuclear option open requires us to keep a reasonable level of expertise— both nuclear engineers in the proper sense and expertise in the other required skills—to ensure that we have sufficient technical advice to mobilise should a situation arise where we need new nuclear build.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, raised a number of questions. Perhaps I should start with the strategic one of who takes decisions on all of this. He asked about the sustainable energy policy network. I think that the Committee should recognise that a whole structure was established as a result of the energy White Paper. The decision-making body is the ministerial group, established under the joint chairmanship of Patricia Hewitt and Margaret Beckett, which covers all government departments. That is the decision-making body and is supported by a sustainable energy policy board that also includes experts.

There is also a wider network which is mobilised to feed in to that advice. The whole network meets roughly quarterly and has about 50 participants. That is not the decision-making body and was never intended to be. However, it does cover issues such as what skills are required to deliver the energy policy as a whole. There are training and research requirements in fields other than nuclear power, including renewables, energy efficiency and the delivery of other streams of the energy policy and so forth.

As regards nuclear power itself, the amendments deal with the issues of both training and research. Let me concentrate first on the issue of training. It remains the case—the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, may believe that some of the expertise is a little on the elderly side— that a significant part of energy expertise in this country is still nuclear based and that there is a high level of the nuclear engineers and other support engineers required. In terms of the amount of expertise around, nuclear power is not short of expertise.

It is important that we maintain that expertise. Two years ago, the Government conducted a wide-ranging nuclear and radiological skills report, which was finalised in December 2002. That report indicated that we have an established stock of expertise and that there was no immediate problem, but that action was needed to avoid a future decline. It was in response to that report that the Government have assisted in the establishment of sector skills councils to represent the needs of the nuclear industry and that level. The Cogent Sector Skills Council, which is expected to be licensed shortly, will take a strategic view of the nuclear sector to ensure that the education and training base can meet the nuclear employers' current and future needs. As the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, indicated, that is not only in terms of the nuclear engineers required, but also in terms of chemical, electrical and other engineers.

That, of course, does not immediately translate into undergraduate courses. It is unlikely that we will have many undergraduate courses in nuclear engineering as such. Therefore the modular approach, about which the noble Lord was at times disparaging, must be part of the approach to training at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

The Cogent Sector Skills Council currently represents the chemical, oil and gas sectors. There are many synergies in the various engineering and scientific skills and the nuclear sector. Once licensed, it will operate through a mix of sector skills development agencies and other industrial funding.

As to the nuclear skills group, to which the noble Lord referred, the prospect of the NDA being established has already in the decommissioning area spurred other skills initiatives by a number of authorities, as the noble Lord acknowledged. Cogent has been actively engaged in this. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and others referred to some examples. The North West Development Agency is funding a nuclear skills project to support the siting of the NDA in the North West. Its main thrust is to develop a national nuclear academy, linking schools, vocational training centres and higher education institutions. While the focus will be on decommissioning skills, later stages of the project will enable all aspects of the nuclear sector to be considered.

The noble Lord referred to Project Dalton, which concerns the merger of Victoria Manchester University and the Manchester Institute of Technology. This has led to a project funded by BNFL to forge collaboration among higher education institutes. Energy Foresight is working to develop educational material to support radiation related modules in the revisions to the 2005 schools curriculum. Some of the funding for that is provided by the North West Development Agency.

The noble Lord also referred to the University of Highlands and Islands and the UKAEA, which have signed up to a more international development with the French Nuclear Energy Agency and the University of Grenoble to collaborate on nuclear skills. At European level there is the establishment of the nuclear fission research consortia.

So education and skills development is being substantially backed by the Government in order to enable us to engage in both the decommissioning clean-up and the management of nuclear waste. We are also keeping open the option of a further nuclear contingent in future energy plans should the present strategy prove that we could not manage without new nuclear build. But even without new nuclear build, based on all projections, nuclear energy will continue to play a significant part in the delivery of electricity in this country well into the next two or three decades— certainly into the 2030s. We will therefore need to continue to develop those skills. The management of nuclear waste will take place well beyond that period.

Therefore, we accept the need to ensure that a level of skills is available. However, the amendment requires the establishment of a register of such skills, a unique proposal that relates narrowly to nuclear scientists rather than all the skilled people that will be required. To some extent, it could represent an unnecessary level of bureaucracy and possibly even a restraint on people with a mix of skills who are not on the register from entering the industry. Companies involved in the industry may not necessarily welcome such a register.

The amendment also deals with a funding issue that would not be appropriate for inclusion in this legislation. The noble Lord and others have said that £5 million—the research council's component of nuclear research—is insufficient, but it would be unusual for the Bill to determine the level or structure of expenditure on research. It is true that the level of nuclear research over the past years has reduced significantly. It is not a particularly recent development; it certainly does not relate to the energy White Paper or to this Government. The main drop in nuclear research followed the assessment made in the early 1990s and the statement made by Tim Eggar when he was Energy Minister. Effectively, he said that the bulk of research ought to be financed by the industry itself.

This Government have also taken that position, while recognising their responsibilities to provide higher education and to keep an element of research going through the research councils and elsewhere. However, both the publicly and privately owned components of the nuclear energy industry must be the main funders of research, rather than central government funds. That is why in Clause 7 we have placed a responsibility for both research and training on the NDA, and existing responsibilities and activities are conducted by BNFL, UKAEA and the private sector in the field.

As I have emphasised several times, the nuclear provisions of the Bill deal with the establishment of the NDA. That is why the NDA's functions are highlighted in the clause to which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, drew attention. It does not cover the totality of research or training that would be required from the nuclear sector. It is a function of the new body established by the legislation, and it seems to give that agency adequate powers to carry out the research and training necessary to sustain the level of expertise needed.

I recognise Members' concerns, and the fact that, along with the private sector and the public authorities in the nuclear sector, the Government have some responsibility to help maintain a level of expertise and research. Some of the research requirements proposed in the amendment are not really necessary. I think that I heard the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, rightly say that if anyone is thinking of nuclear build in the next 10 years, the designs and technologies available are pretty well known; we do not need additional research on that. If we were to carry out research in that period, we would already know what kind of designs were available and the benefits or otherwise and costs of nuclear power stations. If we reverted to a larger nuclear component, the need for wider research may become apparent. Keeping the nuclear option open requires a certain level of skills and research, but it does not require a sledgehammer to crack it; nor does it require the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, or the register proposed in Amendment No. 105.

I am not inclined, even on the narrow issue of keeping the nuclear option open, to agree with the noble Lord's amendment. On the wider issue, the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, may be right: the nub of the difficulty between many Members of the Committee and the Government's position is that we do not at present see a significant role for nuclear energy; we are not closing the door on it, but it is not government policy. Therefore, one would hardly expect the Government to seize on skills and research requirements that flow from an alternative policy and include them in the Bill.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I think that the Minister said that the Government see no need for more nuclear power at present. That cannot be a very long-term point of view, or the lights will go out; the Minister knows that. That is a political stance that we all understand. The point is that to be able to proceed in future, we need the personnel. The Minister took the rather narrow view of the amendment that the Government must consider their immediate responsibility for funding training and research. I accept what he said about that and about the research councils.

The Minister said that the main funding and initiative will always have to come from the industry. Of course it will, but how can the industry move ahead with training and educating people, collecting the research information and making plans unless it knows that more nuclear power generators will be needed? Industry does not proceed on the basis that an option is open. Again, I speak as an amateur, but that is only common sense. We must not be taken in by all this talk about the limited needs at present and forget the future. I am sorry that the Minister replied in that way; the Government are getting themselves into a difficult position. Should they win the next election, I wonder what they will do.

Baroness Byford

Perhaps I can add a few comments on the amendment. The Minister said clearly that he does not like the amendment as drafted. To an extent, having listened to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, I understand that we can nitpick any amendment. The main thrust is that we ask the Government how they will keep the nuclear option open if the decline described by my noble friend Lady Carnegy continues. There is a current run-down of nuclear power. Off the top of my head, I think that by 2020 there may be only one nuclear plant left. How is industry to train people for the future if the industry has no future? Does not the Government's responsibility kick in before we lose the very skills that we need?

The Minister also said that the Government were trying to keep the nuclear skills option open. How? We have heard this afternoon that he places responsibility on the industry; he highlighted the NDA's responsibility; but who will provide the money? If the nuclear industry is being wound down to the extent that it is, it will surely not invest in the future when it does not think that it has a future.

The Minister mentioned linking up with companies—I think he mentioned one in France. That will mean that many of our current UK skills will become international skills and the situation described so clearly by my noble friend will become a thing of the past. Is not the Minister anxious about the Government's approach to this important issue? We have not called for new nuclear build—my noble friend Lady Miller has not, and I have not so far—but we cannot hide from the fact that the nuclear industry is being run down. How will we attract people in future?

I cannot speak for my noble friend, but I am not entirely satisfied by the Minister's response. What money are the Government putting in? He talked about the skills programme and the group that meets on a regular basis—quarterly, if I have it right. But what is it doing? What has come out of its meetings? Does it see a way forward?

A series of questions follow from this important debate that the Minister has skated round. That may be because there is no government policy. If so, I should much rather he say that there is not, so that we all know where we are. I support my noble friend's amendment, although he may want to return on Report with a different wording. The Government have not answered the questions that have been put to them.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

As the Minister is not replying to my noble friends, perhaps I can briefly sum up the debate. I do not for one moment regret that we will have spent nearly one hour on this vitally important subject. I cannot comment on all the points, except to say that perhaps if the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, had amended my amendment in the way he suggested, I probably would have been very happy to accept his amendment.

In my opening remarks, I made reference to the fact that civil, mechanical and electrical engineers will have an enormously important part to play. That raises the whole argument about why young people now find no incentives for going into these very important professions. I can take some comfort from what the Minister said towards the end of his remarks—namely, that the Government accept the need to ensure that the necessary skills for the industry are available. Of course, they would not be doing it all themselves. I entirely understand that. There will be other players such as the remains of the private sector.

I have two points regarding the Minister's comments. He said that a new programme to implement the nuclear option would require a significant additional expertise. The anxiety on this side of the Committee—I speak for my noble friends— is that when the Government decide, as they may, that this will be necessary, they may not have the people with that expertise. That is the anxiety. It is closing one's eyes to the dangers that lurk if one accepts the need to maintain an option without accepting that trained and experienced manpower is part of the reality.

Of course there will be a need for other people as well. But the point was made by many who spoke at Second Reading—I remember a short but eloquent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra—that, as the Bill stands, it is not an energy Bill but a miscellaneous provisions Bill. Those of us who have sought to table amendments want to give it some reality as an energy Bill.

As I said at Second Reading, this is the first major Bill from the Government since they published what they regard as a hugely important policy White Paper—the energy White Paper. It is distressing that one is fobbed off with the answer that this, that or the other cannot be inserted into the Bill because it is not to do with decommissioning when the title of the Bill is the Energy Bill.

I agree with my noble friend Lady Miller that Clause 7(1)(d) does not answer the problem that I have sought to identify. All it does is give the NDA a function to educate and train persons about such matters. It focuses only on the particular problem. With respect, that is not the answer.

The noble Lord said that we shall have nuclear energy for a long time, mentioning the year 2030. By then only one power station will be left: Sizewell B. All the others will have gone; that is, all the Magnox stations and the AGRs. If we are going to keep the lights on and deal with our environmental objectives, it is inconceivable that we shall not have had to have a series of replacements by then. It is against that background that we are looking at these matters.

The noble Lord referred, as I did, to the sustainable energy policy network. I draw no inference from the fact that in the heading of the press release about it, while "Sustainable, Energy and Network" take capital letters, the word "policy" has a little "p". I took it off the Internet as it is. However, it goes extremely wide: The work streams are: Climate Change, Reducing UK Emissions, Energy Efficiency, CHP"— It is good that that is now being considered— Social including Fuel Poverty, International Energy Relations, Innovation, Education, Skills and Research. Transport, Security of Supply and Delivery Partnerships". That is a huge agenda and I seriously question whether a body of this size with that kind of agenda is really going to be able to focus on the very serious problem which I sought to outline at the beginning of my remarks.

I have spoken for long enough. We shall certainly want to find a way to return to the matter and to put into this Energy Bill the fact that it is the Government's responsibility to ensure that it is dealt with. I claim no particular expertise over the drafting of the amendment. I shall study what the Minister said and return to it on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 74 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 105 not moved.]

4.30 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding moved Amendment No. 106: Before Clause 75. insert the following new clause— PART 2 ENVIRONMENTAL COST OF ELECTRICITY ENVIRONMENTAL COST OF ELECTRICITY Within six months after the passing of this Act the Secretary of State shall complete and publish the results of his consideration of the European Commission's published report on the external costs of generating electricity by different technologies.

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 106, I am reminded of that marvellous scene in Homer's Iliad where the Greeks are arguing over whether they should launch an expedition to Troy to take back the princess who had been captured by the Trojans. This great conclave took place at Pilos in south-west Greece. Homer records how the argument went this way and that over many hours until finally only one voice could be heard: that of old Thersites, who went on arguing. I suspect that, aside from the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, I may be the oldest Member of the Committee, and I hope that I shall not be tarred with the brush of old Thersites.

I can move this amendment rather more briefly. As Ministers will know, the European Union has conducted a 10-year study which shows that if the external costs of energy—damage to the environment, damage to human health and a number of other factors—were taken into account, the cost of electricity derived from coal or oil would double from its present level. The cost of electricity from gas, which is another fossil fuel, would increase by 30 per cent. Under our present system, those external costs are not met by the generators. They have to be covered by society at large and are not reflected in consumers' electricity bills.

The findings of the study are important and significant. Wind and hydro energy involve the lowest external costs, which is hardly surprising. In this country, I think we have pretty much exhausted our capacity for hydro energy, but I am prepared to be corrected. We are now embarking on more hazardous wind power generation. But what may be surprising to some Members of the Committee is that the report states that nuclear power also involves relatively low external costs—much lower than those of coal, oil and gas and lower even than electricity from biomass.

I shall quote from the September 2003 edition of the Nuclear Issues news-sheet: The results show that nuclear power involves relatively low external costs due to its low influence on global warming and its low probability of accidents in the EU power plants". I ask noble Lords to remember those words because I shall come back to them: Wind and hydro energy present the lowest external costs". The report goes on to give figures for the different member states of the Union: For the UK … (in ascending order) the external costs of electricity generation in EUR-cent per kWh as: wind 0.15, nuclear 0.25, biomass 1, Gas 1–2, oil 3–5, coal 4–7". The figures cause one to ask questions. If those are the real costs of energy, taking into account environmental damage and harm to human health, why are the Government aiming to rely so heavily on imported gas? Why are they also aiming to increase the burning of biomass, when both are more damaging to health and the environment than nuclear energy?

The European Commission has urged energy producers to pursue environmentally friendly options to help reduce these external costs. The EU guidelines on state aid for environmental protection published in February 2001 allow member states to grant operating aid to new plants producing renewable energy that will be calculated on the basis of external costs avoided up to 6 EUR-cents per kilowatt hour.

I have already referred to the Nuclear Issues news-sheet, which had this to say: This raises the obvious point that such aid"— referring to aid for the burning of biomass, which is heavily subsidised by the present Government— should similarly be available to support nuclear power generation—a more environmentally friendly source of electricity than any other but wind—rather than rely to an ever-increasing extent on gas-fired plant when the external costs for gas are 4–8 times greater than the nuclear option. It is also contrary to commonsense that the UK Government should be supporting the burning of biomass fuels to generate electricity under the Renewables Obligation and encouraging the planting of energy crops for this purpose when the Externe figures show that the damage to the environment and human health from burning biomass (although less than for gas-firing) is up to four times greater than from a nuclear plant". That is a rather striking finding. Accordingly, I tabled a Question for Written Answer on 23 October. The response came from the noble Lord. Lord Sainsbury of Turville, when he was still answering Questions on Energy issues. He has since handed the brief to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham. Among other things, he said this: The department is considering the report and has not yet drawn any conclusions from it".—[Official Report, 23/10, 03: col. WA 192.] The Answer goes on to refer to an analysis published with the energy White Paper. Unfortunately, however, the analysis does not address the central issue exposed in the EU report of the very different external costs of energy. The Defra paper dated October 2002 and entitled The Ancillary Effects of Green House Gas Mitigation—that will relieve the noble Lord, Lord Whitty—contains a very interesting table which is all about the ancillary effects of greenhouse gas mitigation for different mitigation policies and affected sectors. It may be tangentially relevant to the EU study, but it addresses the entirely separate problem of the sometimes different effects of reducing other even more toxic gases such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

The interesting thing about table 1 in the report referred to in the Written Answer which I mentioned a moment ago is that, after considering "Energy Efficiency" and "Ancillary Effects", it considers "Reduction of demand for energy" and, below that, Fuel Switching … Moving from oil and coal to low or no emissions sources … petrol to diesel … to energy from waste", and then "to nuclear".

Next to that, under "Ancillary Effects", it states that "Disposal of waste" is a "welfare loss", and also lists "Risk of accidents and proliferation". However, the EU study stated that nuclear energy came out near the bottom of the scale of external costs because it is in fact an extremely safe form of energy. The number of serious accidents and deaths at work in coal mines and the offshore oil and gas industry simply does not bear comparison with the number of accidents and deaths in the nuclear industry.

However, what do those comments in the paper say about Defra's attitude to nuclear energy? One of the reasons why it does not count in this study of the advantages of getting rid of CO2—after all, that is the assumption written into the paper—is in fact the risk of accidents and proliferation. That says it all.

I should say that, at that stage, Mr Michael Meacher was still the Minister in the department dealing with the matter. As I said, Defra is now a Meacher-free zone. I hope that perhaps the present generation of Ministers will be prepared to take a more realistic view on it.

The Answer that I was given said that the Government are studying the EU report. My amendment calls on the Government to complete and publish the results of their study of the EU report within six months of the passing of the Bill into law. I think it is a very moderate amendment and I hope that the Government will be able to accept it. I beg to move.

Lord Ezra

This is another amendment moved with much vigour and erudition by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, who always does very thorough reading before he puts forward any amendment. However, I have also had a look at this report, and there is a problem as far as I am concerned. The table to which he referred deals with existing technologies, but there are in fact also new technologies. Nuclear, after all, is an established technology. My old industry, coal, for example, has new technologies waiting for rather more government support than it is currently receiving to develop clean coal technology with carbon extraction. That is not mentioned in this table.

The impact of CHP and micro-CHP and all the other emerging technologies is more difficult to identify because this document deals with basic energies. None the less, I think we have to be a little cautious about the document as it stands because it deals with existing technologies. If it is to be examined with reference to the Bill, then due note should be taken of the potential of new technologies.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, on the range of his contribution. He did not tell us whether Thersites ended up for or against the war. I remember the war having a rather satisfactory outcome for the Greeks. Presumably, the noble Lord was quoting him as one of the late conversions to the cause. As I recall, the war was not about weapons of mass destruction, but about the challenge to civilisation.

As regards the more general issues that he raised—

Lord Jenkin of Roding

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I think that the wooden horse was a weapon of very mass destruction.

Lord Davies of Oldham

Certainly, the wooden horse destroyed a city. I considered whether to describe it as a weapon of mass destruction before I made my remarks, but I shall not challenge the noble Lord on his erudition because I certainly would be outclassed. However, I appreciate the skill with which he deployed yet another facet of the nuclear industry case. Of course, he is right in certain parts of his analysis of and reflection on the report. I shall not contend that position at all; that would be exceedingly foolish of me.

In this amendment, the noble Lord provides an extremely useful peg on which to deploy a particular case. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, suggested that it might have wider, fuller and further-reaching perspectives on the development of new technologies than it seemed in the way in which it was defined. Of course, what is being asked for is that this be an amendment to the Bill, which would require the Secretary of State to publish within six months of the passing of the Act an assessment of the European Commission's report.

Perhaps I may emphasise to the Committee that this is an important report, but it is not unique. It is part of a series of reports starting in the early 1990s looking at the external costs of various forms of energy. It is an extremely useful and significant document; the noble Lord identified some very salient points in it. But we all recognise that the report is not definitive. It is a contribution to an area where we all know that a huge amount of continuing work is necessary, not least in relation to new developments and new technology, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. Ongoing work is required. There are many gaps in our knowledge and many uncertainties remain about those very difficult issues regarding energy generation.

The obvious point is that there is no need to require in legislation that this report should be considered. Indeed, it would be a very strange use of an Act of Parliament to have enshrined in it a commitment to a particular report that must have a published response within a limited period of time. After all, this clause presumably would fail. After that obligation had been met within a few months, this amendment to the clause would have no relevance to the longer-term future because it would refer to a report that had already been considered and dealt with.

The noble Lord indicated that he had tabled a Question on this matter to my noble friend Lord Sainsbury, who gave him an open, clear and frank Answer, as is his wont. He indicated that we regarded the report as a significant contribution to knowledge, but that we do not believe we need to publish a formal assessment of its conclusions. We neither endorse nor reject its findings. We take that as part of the important contribution to a difficult area of debate.

Of course, we all appreciate the extent to which the noble Lord has drawn interesting and salient points from the report. But surely it would not be right for us to enshrine in legislation—which is what his amendment proposes—a requirement on the part of the Government to publish a report, which would have to be done within a matter of months. Subsequently, everyone would wonder what on earth this was doing in an Act of Parliament that we all recognise has got considerable significance for the future of our energy industry for many years to come. On that basis, perhaps the noble Lord will consider withdrawing his amendment.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

I cannot say that I was surprised by the noble Lord's reply. I am sure he will recognise, because he has been in opposition in his time, that amendments to Bills are one of the ways in which Parliament can raise matters of concern which may be more or less tangential to the main thrust of the Bill. That has always been done. I have no doubt that when the Government are in opposition again, the noble Lord and his noble friends will do exactly the same. It is a well known tactic.

I am sorry that the noble Lord was not able to be a little more forthcoming. He recognises that if I had asked a Written Question on this, there is no way that I would have put in a supplementary question anything like the amount of information that I was able to convey in my brief opening speech on the amendment. However, I shall seek other avenues with which to pursue the matter.

I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that this is a moving target. There are constantly improving technologies in the nuclear field as well as everywhere else which need to be kept constantly under review. We need to find a way in which, if the Government really are studying these matters, we can oblige them to take the public into their confidence as to the conclusions they are coming to in regard to these matters. That may be done through an interim report—as I said, matters are constantly moving—but it should not lurk within departments.

The EU has published its very important 10-year study, to which the Government should respond and indicate the applicability of its findings to the UK situation. I shall consider how best we can pursue that issue. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 106ZZA: Insert the following new Clause— "STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT OF OFF-SHORE GENERATION

  1. (1) The Secretary of State shall, within two years of the passing of this Act, present to both Houses of Parliament a report on off-shore renewable technologies that—
    1. (a) identifies the areas most suitable for offshore generation of electricity, and
    2. (b) includes an assessment of the environmental benefits and risks of developing generation in these areas.
  2. (2) The report mentioned in subsection (1) shall include, but not be limited to, assessments for generation by means of wind power, wave power and tidal power."

The noble Baroness said: It will be a considerable relief—at least to me and one or two other members of the Committee—to move on to what I consider to be the second, forward looking, part of the Bill. Modern technologies can offer a great deal for the future. Constantly looking backwards to what nuclear power appeared to offer in the middle of the 20th century perhaps is not the best way to move forward.

Part 2 deals with the development of potential for offshore generation. The amendment seeks that the Government should develop within two years of the passing of the Act a strategic environmental assessment of offshore generation. In effect, that means a green tape measure with which we can calculate, through a process of appraisal, the kind of environmental protection and sustainable development factors that need to be taken into account when decisions are taken, either nationally or locally, in regard to the development of offshore technology.

The amendment is particularly needed because, at the moment, we have no marine spatial planning framework. I know that in the paper Safeguarding Our Seas the Government expressed an interest in developing legislation to cover marine areas, but that has not been forthcoming. It will not be introduced in this Session of Parliament and possibly not the next. So the marine environment is not covered by any kind of planning framework. There is nothing against which to judge what is proposed for development in marine areas.

That should worry us. When generating plants have been developed on land there has been a planning framework against which to judge them and which takes all kinds of issues into account. We do not have that kind of planning framework for our marine areas. Therefore a strategic environmental assessment is of particular importance.

Our Government signed-up to these assessments when a European Parliament directive was issued in 2001. The stated aim of the directive that enabled the strategic environmental assessment is to provide a high level of protection of the environment and to contribute to the integration of environmental considerations into the preparation and adoption of plans and programmes with a view to promoting sustainable development. They are different from environmental impact assessments, which are used when considering one focused project. Strategic environmental assessments are intended to cover a much wider area. They would be particularly suitable for inclusion in the Bill because we are looking at the whole marine environment for many purposes, some of which are as yet undefined. We do not know what wind, wave and tidal power will mean for technology, even over the lifetime of the Bill. Technologies are developing fast. Against that background we need some way of measuring the likely impact on the environment. I beg to move.

Lord Ezra

In supporting the amendment, I wish to take a leaf out of the book of the noble Lord. Lord Jenkin, and say that this seems to be another occasion on which a wider issue can be raised. As the noble Lord mentioned at Second Reading, some of us felt that the scope of the Bill was too narrow. Therefore, we must take advantage of the relevant parts of the Bill to introduce issues of more general policy. My noble friend has raised an environmental issue of great importance. The Bill could gain substantially from having an introduction of the kind that she has proposed for Part 2 of the Bill on renewable energy sources.

Baroness Camegy of Lour

I support the amendment. The noble Baroness and the noble Lord make a very important point. Perhaps the Government could tell the Grand Committee two things. First, is any of the current information on oil rigs at sea and their environmental impact applicable to offshore wind farms? Some environmental problems that have been experienced and sometimes answered in respect of oil rigs may be relevant. Have the Government any information on that?

Secondly, in assessing the environmental effects of offshore wind farms, is account also taken of the back-up necessary for wind farms? What will be their environmental effect? Last summer, when for three months the wind hardly blew at all, we all realised that, excellent though the idea of wind power is, there would not have been much for three months and there would have been a need for back-up additional to any other generation. In assessing the environmental impact, is it possible to take account of back-up?

I am making a point rather than asking a question that is easy to answer. I hope that the Minister, who is so very knowledgeable on these points, may be able to help me.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 4.59 to 5.8 p.m.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Elton)

The business before the Committee is Amendment No. 106ZZA.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I wish to return to a theme that I was advancing on the Floor of the House in my Question this afternoon. The problem of low-frequency sound is a very recent discovery, and I have certainly not been able to find anyone who has done any research into its impact in the marine environment. It is necessary to bear in mind that water is an extremely efficient transmitter for sound.

The means by which a wind generator is installed in the seabed is very simple and basic; that is one reason why it is such an attractive economic proposition. A very large ship is sent out with a very large pile driver. The coverage on my local television station in Essex was full of such a scene only a few weeks ago, showing an offshore plant just off Yarmouth. A very large steel pipe is driven into the seabed until it can be driven no further. The pipe must be of the appropriate length so that the top is above the water. It has a mounting plate on it, and the pylon, generator and vanes are mounted on that, and that is it. The whole structure is such that it is a remarkably efficient transmitter of sound. It will not transmit only the high-level sound that will come from the generator, but the low-frequency sound generated by the vanes. It will put those low-frequency waves into the water.

I have been able to see nothing that suggests that research has been done into the possible impact. We know from other walks of life that the likes of submarines have had bad reports, because of the low-frequency sound effects that upset whales' navigation. There is a potential problem. All right; we may not have many whales floating around in British waters, and the issue may not be considered very great. However, any whale hugger would certainly consider it very important. The same applies to porpoises. The point is that we do not know the impact on other fish species.

My purpose in asking a Question earlier today was not to prevent the installation of wind farms, but to make sure that research was done before we got any further down the road so that, if larger buffer zones are required round them on land, we have them before we have wind farms right up to the edges of every town and village in the country. In that way, we can affect what is happening. The research needs to be done quickly. The same argument applies in the marine environment. We do not know what the effects of wind farms will be on the marine environment, and until we know we would be wise to be a little cautious.

I put the matter no higher than that, but I support the amendment for that very reason. I hope that the Minister will not say in response, "This is going to be another one of those reports. The clause will be dead once the report is presented, so there is no point putting it in the Bill". Although the argument is valid, there is some purpose here and the amendment deserves a better answer than that, as did the previous one.

5.15 p.m.

Earl Attlee

I welcome the amendment. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that we need to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the Bill. That follows the arguments of my noble friend Lord Jenkin. Unfortunately, my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith has taken the wind right out of my sails and covered one of the points that I was going to make. Of course, he did it much better than I could ever hope to do.

The amendment would benefit from providing that the report also covered economic considerations. As an example, during a debate on a recent Unstarred Question, the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, talked about the economics claimed for tidal lagoons. I hope that the report would cover such issues.

When considering offshore energy, it is important that the Government set the course and ensure that we remain on it. The report would be helpful in that regard.

Baroness Byford

I also support the amendment. if the Minister cannot accept it word for word, I hope that the principle behind it will be accepted. I do not know whether the Government have paid any regard as yet to the EFRA meeting of 12 November, as it is very important that they should. At that stage, that committee was interviewing people with regard to marine conservation. The wildlife trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, the Marine Conservation Society, WWF-UK and Wildlife and Countryside Link were among the groups represented that day, to name a few.

I took the 35-page brief and sat just outside Sizewell and read it last weekend. What comes through very clearly is that the groups feel that there is no vision for marine environment development. They were asked direct questions on what they thought about matters and what might be done. At one stage, they questioned whether there ought to be a particular Minister responsible, as wind farms come under the auspices of the DTI, the ODPM and Defra. I may be wrong and have missed a department out, but I think that those are the three relevant departments. It has been suggested that each department has a green Minister. That is wonderful, but what have the green Ministers done? There is the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, but I would expect him to be a green Minister in his department.

What has happened since that meeting? I understand that the ODPM is the department that gives planning permission for offshore wind farms. There seemed to be great gaps in provision for looking forward, and there was no framework for accountability, reflection or any of the matters raised in the amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer.

There are simple matters involved. For example, what happens if a wind turbine has an effect on sea ducks or other birds? Is there a risk? Has a risk assessment been done? If so, where is it? That is not in the Bill; if we are talking about developing offshore wind turbine farms, I would have thought that it should be. Visually, it is said that wind farms should not be erected in sensitive areas. What sort of risk assessment has been done? What thought has come forward on that?

On 7 January, the committee met again. This time it interviewed Elliot Morley, who referred to John Randall's Private Member's Bill, which raised the whole question of protection and enforcement. My second question concerns enforcement; I have tabled some amendments to cover that later. It is no use having wonderful ideas if nothing is written into the Bill to protect the very things that we are trying to protect.

In answering another question, the Minister said that Defra has put £10 million into research. What research has been completed, and are the responses to that research in the public domain? I gather from other departments and sources that another £30 million may be made available. What resources are there, where is it going, what is the time-scale, and what "commercial interests"—referred to in the Defra committee meeting—are being protected? How much can be put into the public domain?

I would have raised these issues later when speaking to my amendments but I am glad to be able to do so now. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, has raised a very important issue. Reading through the minutes of both committee meetings, I was struck by the fact that there are huge gaps. Some departments are doing bits of the necessary work but no one seems to be pulling it together. It has been suggested that a marine Act may be needed. The evidence seems to indicate that that was felt to be unnecessary because powers are available in existing legislation. However, who will pull it all together? Who is the number one person in charge? I was not able to find those answers in the report. I therefore hope that the Minister will touch on the broader issue. It is germane to the amendment before us, which I have great pleasure in supporting.

Viscount Ullswater

I, too, support Amendment No. 106ZZA. This chapter of the Bill deals with the rights of the United Kingdom to establish an exclusive economic zone within which it has sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting the zone for the production of energy from the water, currents and winds. However, there is great concern among many about the extent of the effect that the Government's target for wind power will have on different regions of the UK and, for that matter, in our coastal waters even further out to sea.

The new PPS22 suggests: Offshore renewable generation projects … should be identified as a separate regional target from land-based renewable energy projects", and that, the potential to generate substantial amounts of renewable energy from offshore projects should not be used to set lower targets for onshore projects". In view of that, should not the Government set targets for individual renewable energy zones and incorporate a report of that nature into the assessment of offshore generation proposed by Amendment No. 106ZZA, perhaps under subsection (2)? This amendment and the publication of targets for each renewable energy zone would go a long way towards allaying fears or concentrating the mind more clearly on what is proposed for each zone.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

I shall detain the Committee for only a few moments. It has become quite clear from the words of three of my noble friends who speak from our Front Bench on three different subjects that we support the amendment. As I said at the beginning, although this is a DTI Bill, the Minister is from Defra. We have covered many issues today, especially those raised by my noble friend Lady Byford, who covers Defra issues and is working with me on this Bill. It is most interesting that my noble friends have all the required skills to explain why the amendment is necessary. I think the Minister will understand that we feel this provision is very important.

I say that in the light of today's topical Unstarred Question—which, when mentioned by my noble friend, quite took the wind out of my other noble friend. It is interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, when dealing with comments about an article on the dangers, indicated that other articles suggest differently. I think that the issue needs to be examined. It is most important and should be in the public domain.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I hope to convince the Committee that I am giving a positive response to the theme of the amendment and the contributions in support of it in the hope that, having heard me, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw it on the basis of my assurances.

I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, had the wind taken out of his sails, but that was the burden of the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy: what happens when the wind is taken out of sails. I reassure her that we will take into account what she referred to as the necessary support and back-up for energy generated by wind turbines. We recognise that over the course of a year, generation from wind turbines will not follow an even production platform because of wind variations. We must therefore take into account what will provide a supplement and back-up as part of our general evaluation.

The main burden of my response—although I shall try to deal also with some of the detailed points raised—is to say that we strongly sympathise with the thought behind the amendment. I assure the Committee that we are already doing what it seeks and intend to meet most of the requirements mentioned in representations—certainly in terms of the general propositions about what the Government need to do to evaluate those effects. At the same time, I shall do my best to deal with the detailed points and will take steps to add in writing anything that I leave out.

We have already commissioned a study to identify the geographic distribution of the UK's offshore renewable energy resource that will achieve the requirement in proposed new paragraph (a). That study, called Atlas, is due to be completed in summer 2004 and will certainly be made available to Parliament, as requested.

Proposed new paragraph (b) requires, an assessment of the environmental benefits and risks of developing generation", in potentially suitable areas. The noble Baroness will appreciate that to perform that thoroughly will take longer than the two years stipulated in the amendment. It will be a major programme of work requiring the collection and analysis of a great deal of field data. We are undertaking that work, but on a phased basis. Separate environmental reports will be produced that can certainly be made available to both Houses, but it is unrealistic to imagine that that work can be completed within the two years specified in the amendment.

The final proposed requirement is that: The report … shall include, but not be limited to", generation from wind, wave and tidal power. The renewable energy sources that can be exploited within renewable energy zones include wind and water. A study of the potential available offshore renewable energy sources will therefore extend to all technologies. We are going as wide as we possibly can; I assure the noble Baroness of that.

On the question of the Government's general obligations, we must meet the requirements of the European directive, so we are under obligations to produce some of that work. That partly conditions the extent to which that work is in progress. We will adopt the same strategic approach to arrangements for future site leasing competitions for wind farms.

I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, says about what might be the impact on marine life. The wind farms we are considering are not expected to be in deep waters: the limit is about 30 metres. I do not suggest that that does not raise some of the issues he mentioned for marine life; but it is unlikely to affect some of the categories he identified as problems.

I want to comment on one or two other specific points that have been raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked about enforcement. I hope that she will forgive me if I do not go into detail at this point because that is a matter for later in the Bill. However, I recognise that her representation was made to strengthen the general view of the Committee that some reassurance is needed that this work is going on. I can give that reassurance.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked about tidal lagoons. I do not have any specific briefing on that point, but I shall take it on board, as I will the matter introduced into our discussion by the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater. Those were specific points addressing the need effectively to cover all the issues in this area.

I say to the Committee that we recognise the force of the amendment. It has given us an opportunity to make what I hope the Committee will regard as a positive response, but I am sure that noble Lords will recognise that the amendment has some defects, not least the timescale within which we would have to produce this work. The schedule is too tight for the immense programme that we shall need.

However, if we have overlooked any details, they have certainly been drawn to our attention today, which may serve to increase the workload rather than reduce it. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Dixon-Smith

The Minister will be pleased to hear that I am somewhat encouraged by what he said. However, the problem we must face is that the installation of some of these establishments is already taking place—before the assessment work has been done. It is that which concerns us.

Although the eternal optimist in me says that the chance of anything going wrong is pretty minor, the reality is that if we have wind farms dotted around our coasts before we have the results of this research and there are adverse consequences, we shall have caused long-standing damage that our children and our children's children will regret long after we are gone. That is not a responsible way to behave. We must impress on the Government the urgency of getting this work done. With due deference, I do not think that the Minister has answered that point.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham

We are proceeding with some caution on wind farms at sea and undertaking a complete assessment of the work. I am not suggesting that it will be years before an assessment is available, but many points have been made in the Committee across the whole field of the issues. A substantial amount of work has to be done and it is unrealistic to expect to produce a comprehensive report within two years.

Having mentioned the requirements of the European directive, I also want to reassure the noble Lord that, far from wind farms being developed at sea with gay abandon and without the slightest regard to the consequences, careful evaluation is being undertaken. However, until some of the turbines are installed, we shall not be able to carry out a full evaluation. It is a classic chicken-and-egg situation.

I ask Members of the Committee to forgive me if I have not answered all the detailed points, but I can give a reassurance that we recognise the broad thrust of this amendment and we intend to meet its objectives.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

Before I decide what to do with my amendment—within the confines of what can be done in Grand Committee— is the Minister saying that if I had not specified a two-year time limit, it would have been more acceptable to the Government?

Lord Davies of Oldham

I am not here to advise the noble Baroness on how to draft amendments. Rather I have identified what is probably the most salient point of the amendment and which means that we think it should be withdrawn. If such a provision were in the Bill, it would present the Government with an impossible target. However, we are not saying that we do not agree with the broad thrust here. We are trying to meet those obligations and we have a full programme of work in place to meet the objectives. However, the element of timing is what is most difficult for us to accept.

Baroness Byford

Before the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, responds, I hope that the Minister will clarify some points that he has skated around. In his opening comments, he said, "We are already doing it". What are they already doing?

Lord Davies of Oldham

We have in place a programme to evaluate the impact of the development of wind farms at sea. I emphasise the crucial point that we are not involved in the reckless spread of wind farms without carrying out a concomitant programme of evaluation.

Baroness Byford

I thank the Minister for clarifying that. Furthermore, how many evaluations have been done; to whom do they report; is it in the public domain; and what is the effect on wildlife, which I mentioned earlier, and the environmental concerns expressed by groups outside this Chamber? I think that I am right in quoting the Minister as having said that, on the whole, wind farms would not be built in waters more than 13 metres deep.

Lord Triesman

Thirty metres.

Baroness Byford

I realise that that limits the zone to much closer inshore than offshore. Is research being done on the "nearest inshore-offshore", if the Committee understands what I mean, rather than the wider limit? The zone possibly extends to 12 miles and then up to the 200-mile limit. Obviously, there is a huge range of options within that. I would be grateful if the Minister would address the point that three departments are supposedly doing different bits at different times. Who has the lead role; who is pulling it together; and what is happening? None of those questions has been answered. I would be grateful for an answer.

Lord Davies of Oldham

More than one department has an interest in the work, but the DTI has the lead role. It takes responsibility for answering questions on the matter and co-ordinating the work. On the range of the assessment of wind farms at sea, we are doing that as they are commissioned, licences obtained and the wind farms built. The noble Baroness will recognise that we are in relatively early days on that matter.

The noble Baroness asked me about an area on which we are not in early days: what we are doing at present. We are not in early days on the oil and gas position, which the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, raised. We carry out a full environmental assessment of the impact of those developments. They help to inform other work at sea.

Lord Higgins

I am grateful to the noble Lord, but he speaks as if we are the first country to build wind farms. There are immense wind farms all over the Netherlands and elsewhere. Surely those countries have made assessments. Are they not being taken into account?

Lord Davies of Oldham

They are, but I thought that the thrust of the amendment and the tenor of the approach taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, was to ask what the Government are doing. I was trying to phrase my response—a narrow one, I admit—to our current activity. The noble Lord is absolutely right; other countries are more advanced in certain areas of this technology. Of course we seek to benefit as best we can from the lessons that they have learned.

Viscount Ullswater

The Minister has helped the Grand Committee by saying that a map of coastal waters which are most suitable for wind farms is currently being produced and that they will be let out or disposed of in the same way as oil in its early days. Will that assessment take into account both the capacity of each individual area—that is, the amount of generation expected from it—and the hook-up to the grid, including the cost of the hook-up, the availability of the grid and whether or not other assessments are needed before it is brought into the National Grid?

Lord Davies of Oldham

I can reassure the noble Viscount on that point. He will recognise that the ecology of different sites at sea varies enormously, as do the economic challenges of making them effective enough to link up to the National Grid. I can assure the noble Viscount that when the map is designed it will take such factors into account, although he will also recognise that it is not a straightforward task.

Baroness Byford

If, before Report stage, the Minister could point me in the direction of the information that I asked for earlier, I should be very grateful.

In the discussions on the Defra report it was fell that there was no accountability and that organisations would be pushed from one department to another. I should like this important issue addressed. We are not saying that there should not be any wind farms—the Minister should not run away with that idea—but we are concerned that they may be built in areas where they will disrupt our most sensitive marine life.

We have the opportunity today to debate this enormously important issue. I seek extra guidance, but if the Minister cannot give it today I should be grateful if he would write to me. We shall, no doubt, be lobbied by outside groups. They will say, "You referred to the comments that we made when giving evidence to the Select Committee, but where do we go from here?".

Lord Davies of Oldham

I am happy to give the assurance that the information requested will be given. We can see from the discussions in Committee that information has been requested. Where it has not been given, we shall obviously take steps to provide it.

The Duke of Montrose

The Committee will forgive me if I have not quite kept up with the arguments, but surely anyone building offshore power stations will be asked to carry out an environmental impact study. If this covers areas which are under investigation or research at this point, what will be the Government's attitude to the application for construction? Will everything be put on hold until after the Government have finished their inquiries? What kind of environmental impact studies will they ask for?

Lord Davies of Oldham

The answer to that question is that the people who are taking-up such a licence will be well aware of the obligations placed upon them in terms of the criteria they have to meet. The Government of course are concerned with the overall position across the whole of the nation—certainly in regard to the economic benefits. That ties in with the crucial point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, in regard to the link up with the National Grid.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken so helpfully in the debate. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked whether we should include economic issues in the amendment. They are worth considering but they should not be included in the amendment. The previous amendment perhaps touched more on them. So, although they are critically important issues—as the noble Earl said, the debate on tidal power in your Lordships' House a few weeks ago underlined how much we need to consider the economic issues—I should like to concentrate on the remarks made by noble Lords in regard to the amendment and its environmental aspect.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, is correct to say that we have a vision for marine development. That is exactly how I regard the amendment. When the Minister came to reply, the message I got from him was perhaps delivered in a gentler and nicer way than normal—the word "environment" seems to produce that in people—but he still said, "No, the Government are not interested in accepting the amendment". That seems to be for two reasons. First, the Government think that they are doing it already, and secondly, it would make life too difficult. I do not think either reason really worthy of overriding so critical an issue. Although I accept that the Government are doing a lot of work already, it is not joined up. They themselves recognise that by their very promise to bring forward a marine Act. They know that the situation is unsatisfactory.

If I thought that the Government believed that the situation was satisfactory, I would probably not feel so strongly about the amendment. However, by their own admission they say time and again—it is documented, with Mrs Beckett's quotations in Safeguarding Our Seas—that a marine Act is important. That leads me to think that, in the absence of that Act, the amendment to the Bill is essential.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, raised an interesting point about whether individual licence holders would, for example, have to conduct environmental impact studies. They probably should have to, but they should be able to do it within the framework of an overall national framework. That is what is lacking. It is not really very fair to expect individual licence holders to conduct their application without a national framework developed by the Government. How would individual people approach planning permissions on land if they had to do so in a complete vacuum? The situation is very similar, except that it happens to be at sea.

Therefore, I cannot see that the Government's position is in any way logical. I underline the fact that I certainly do not want the amendment to be a brake on offshore renewable energy development. I see the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, looking slightly doubtful about that, but he can be assured that my commitment and that of the Liberal Democrats to developing renewable technology is very deep. At the same time, it has to be against a background of knowing what we are doing and what we are putting in place. If we are developing offshore technologies as we should as a matter of urgency, it is a matter of urgency that we put the framework in place.

I will certainly return to the issue on Report. I hope to have discussions with the Minister before then about the length of time that the Government think might be reasonable. If they think that two years is unreasonable, I might accept that. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 75 [Exploitation of areas outside the territorial sea for energy production]:

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 106ZA: Page 58, line 16, after "from" insert "renewable sources such as, but not limited to,

The noble Baroness said: The amendment is small and probing. It aims to explore whether the Bill is limited to the renewable sources that it cites, which are wind and water power. It is hard to envisage that there could be much else of importance in a marine environment, but what if, for example, there were some form of floating solar capture in future? Would the Bill be unable to cover that? Both the amendment and Amendment No. 109G, which is to do with definitions, are to explore the issue. Floating solar capture is my best example. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Let me add one comment to muddy the waters, although only very slightly. It is useful to do so because wind and water are fine, but one could envisage sources of heat below the sea bed that could well be picked up by heat transfer and made use of. Technically, under the Bill, that procedure is excluded. I am sure that that is not the Government's intention so, although I would not necessarily expect them to say instinctively that the amendment was great, they might be prepared to take it away and look at the question.

Lord Davies of Oldham

We are not. The reason is that we are constrained by international law in what we can do beyond 12 nautical miles. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), referred to in Clause 75, gives us the right to produce energy from the water and winds in what we are calling renewable energy zones. To include other renewable sources, such as that mentioned by the noble Lord, within the scope of Clause 75 would be to breach the convention, so we cannot accept the amendment.

Viscount Ullswater

The Government produced useful Explanatory Notes to accompany the Bill. I refer the Minister to paragraph 214, which states: UNCLOS also gives coastal States the exclusive right to construct and authorize and regulate the construction, operation and use of artificial islands, installations and structures for the purposes outlined above and other economic purposes". The Minister appeared to rule that out. Can he clear up that matter for the Committee?

Lord Davies of Oldham

I was citing the basis on which we drafted Clause 75 against the requirements of the UN convention. I cannot comment in detail about other areas in which different activity may be possible. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, if heat is under the sea bed, it may be captured under the Continental Shelf Act 1964 and be a resource of the soil, not a resource of the sea, and fall under a different framework. But as I understand it, the position advanced by the noble Baroness had more to do with solar issues, and so on, and I merely suggested that our concept of the renewable energy zone is restricted within the law of the sea to the product of wind and water.

Lord Skelmersdale

Reading the Bill, the clause applies only to areas of the sea outside the territorial sea. Therefore, for the first time today, I agree with the Minister.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I thank the Minister for his explanation and those who contributed to this short but interesting debate. In the light of his explanation, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 106A: Page 58, line 16, at end insert "in a manner which maintains the natural environment

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 106B and 106G, which are grouped. Turning to Amendment No. 106A, there are national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and special landscape areas. There are sites of special scientific interest; there is common land and open access land; there are bridleways and footpaths All of those have legislation attached to them, some of which protects them from those who would damage and exploit them. There is little comparable in the marine environment, yet a steady flow of discovery implies that the sea bed is a wonderful place. More importantly, it appears also to be a vulnerable place. We need think only of the black coral reef off Scotland to realise that there is much about which we do not know, some of which may turn out to be exceedingly valuable.

The use of the word "exploitation" worried me, because it carries connotations of ruthlessness. Undoubtedly that is not what is intended, but it may well be how people interpret it. Indeed, the subsidiary definition of the word in Chambers is, "the act of using for selfish purposes".

I ask the Minister why that particular phraseology has been used and I hope that, having listened to my explanation of my suggested wording, he will be willing to take it on board.

I turn to Amendment No. 106B. We are told that certain types of fishing cause damage to the sea bed and that some areas are now beyond repair. Only recently we had another Select Committee report looking at the Common Fisheries Policy. We have been fishing since Moses was a boy and yet still have not managed to perfect methods that conserve the marine environment. How much more damage is likely to be caused by those charged with examining the deep sea to determine how it may be used to provide energy.

We should bear in mind that many of those undertaking this work may not be seafarers. They will be people who have done the same kind of work on dry land and who inevitably will try first to apply the lessons learnt there. Can the Minister tell us about the department's thinking on how this subsection was developed? Were there any feelings about how such exploitation would be controlled, whether by order or through guidance? Perhaps government bodies such as the Environment Agency are to be used, or will they rely on organisations like Greenpeace? It is important to note that the use of wind turbines is not considered by everyone to be always a good thing. Grave concerns have been expressed that the installation of these structures will, in some cases, outweigh the energy consumption and carbon production their use might save.

In that connection the latest issue of the AONB Association newsletter contains an article by Richard Bull suggesting that wind power is a viable proposition only in the short to medium term. If he is right, it is imperative that the exploration of possible sites does not add to the negative side of the equation. This, I think, is an important point.

I have tabled Amendment No. 106G to give Members of the Committee the opportunity to debate an issue which is of major relevance to any extension of wind farms on the scale seemingly being proposed by the Government. It is a paradox that the renewable energy said to be needed in order to prevent atmospheric pollution can be delivered only at the cost of visual pollution on a truly massive scale. So we have to ask ourselves how to resolve this problem, especially if we are not to consider using clean nuclear power energy supplies, which we discussed earlier. How are we to save from destruction some of the great desolate places and grand sea vistas of our country by the advance of armies of whirling propellers that have caused much dismay in some of our most beautiful and rugged mountain countryside?

No one these days thinks it respectable to cause pollution at sea by depositing rubbish in our waters. Thank goodness that we have moved on from those times. Will it be too late before we realise the damage we may cause by spreading visual pollution to our coastal waters? The Government have a duty to spell out in advance the extent of the installations that they intend to create offshore and what criteria governing their impact on our natural environment they will include in any planning decisions. Surely our people must have a say in this through the planning system.

One thinks of the low, flat East Anglian coast, from which I have just returned, or the wild salt marshes and the sweep of the Wash, flanked by noble churches. Here I declare an interest in and love for both counties. Those great low skies so beloved by generations of painters, walkers and photographers will never be the same again if wind farms march towards the shores like Martians out of the War of the Worlds. What of our great coasts and natural parks; the North Yorkshire moors; the Cornish coastal paths. Those desolate places will never look the same again.

What protection, if any, do the Government propose for these views, which are part of our national heritage? Where is the special protection for national parks? Perhaps there is some, but I have not come across it. Will any consideration be given to areas of outstanding natural beauty or to our coastal paths? Without the complement of the open sea in all its moods, none of these places will be exactly the same.

This is a probing amendment but it relates to a serious issue. Perhaps I may advance a few ideas which I hope the Minister will carefully consider. Surely our environmental bodies must have a voice enshrined in the planning system before the Government can make zoning orders. Is it too much to ask that the powers in last year's Local Government Act, which allow local polls, might be used to allow the populations affected to express views and, where relevant, to come forward with a veto?

I hope the Government will enter the debate in all seriousness. It will be nothing short of a tragedy if we were to lose some of our finest coastal vistas through a lack of proper planning and protection for them.

I referred to planning during the debate on an earlier amendment. Although it is the responsibility of the ODPM, all departments need to consider this issue. The debates in the Select Committee revealed that there is a great worry about the future of marine development. That is why I have brought forward these amendments. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I support the spirit of the first two amendments. I would feel more comfortable if the wording of the first one stated "in a manner which respects the natural environment". I am worried that the maintenance of a natural feature—for example, a tidal lagoon—in its exact state would not be possible.

As regards Amendment No. 106B, again, the concept of irreversible damage is very important. But we would need to consider what the timescale of "irreversible" should be. I have not had an answer to that so I merely raise the query with the noble Baroness.

The issue of renewable energy zones off national parks is very important. I know best Exmoor National Park, the coastal part of which is, for me and a number of visitors, the most exciting. However, I would hesitate to give local people the veto over what should happen. This is because national parks are national assets and what takes place in them or just offshore of them affects us all.

There is a further difficulty. As with the building of nuclear power stations and onshore wind turbines, a planning process has to be gone through. As soon as a project is proposed, it is very easy for people to rally a great deal of opposition. If too much of a veto mentality is brought in, we would never be able to develop anything anywhere, even if it was in our interest. I would urge caution about that.

That brings me to the point that there is a planning process to deal with these issues on land, but none to deal with them in a marine environment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I ought to know this, but can the Minister tell me whether local planning committees have any say about the seascape between the coast and the horizon, as it were; that is, what one can see from the land. I am not sure whether they do and it would be interesting to know.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

As I listened to my noble friend talk about Amendment No. 106G, I envisaged that we could all be walking around those national parks. I wondered why so many of us were sitting here, just listening to how we could protect them. She spoke with a great deal of emotion and obviously feels strongly about the issue, as we all do. Everyone is concerned about the countryside.

Earlier we discussed new technologies. In a sense, given the scale on which we envisage this technology, it is new. Therefore, it is important that we consider all the exploitation—I did not mean to use that word; I meant to say, "advantages and disadvantages"—that it could bring to the countryside. I used the word "exploitation" in error, as that one word caught my eye in Amendment No. 106A.

[The Sitting was suspended/or a Division in the House from 6.6 to 6.15 p.m.]

Baroness Miller of Hendon

I am not 100 per cent sure where I was when, all of a sudden, the Bell went. So I will simply say that the words, in a manner which maintains the natural environment", are gentle words that balance the word "exploitation", which my noble friend mentioned. She gave an interpretation of what "exploitation" could mean. It is interesting that my dictionary—I, too, looked it up because it is a harsh word—defines it as: to use or develop for one's own ends or to take advantage of". That interpretation is not as nice, but if we add the words, in a manner which maintains the natural environment", that would counterbalance the wording. I cannot imagine that those eight words would make such an enormous difference to the Bill.

Lord Triesman

Like every other Member of the Committee, I was impressed and moved by the defence of our wonderful countryside and coastline mounted by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. I share her passion for walking on coastal paths and elsewhere in the countryside. As a consequence, I have no hesitation in agreeing with what I take to be the motivation behind this group of amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Byford and Lady Miller of Hendon, which is to ensure that renewable energy zones are developed in an environmentally responsible way.

My noble friend Lord Whitty was kindly and, I am sure, accurately, described as being a green person. I do not know whether the Committee will feel that I am green enough by the end of this debate, rather than grey enough, which is what I am usually accused of, but I want to give a number of assurances.

Having established my intention to claim some green credentials, I note that the word "exploitation", which is in many senses not a happy word and does not inspire a warm glow, none the less follows exactly the word used in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. We are simply reproducing that terminology. We certainly do not want to imply by it any suggestion of ruthless exploitation in the manner of either of the dictionary definitions that we have been offered.

Let me state categorically what will happen. The key points to bear in mind are these. First, we must address the big picture of climate change. Offshore renewables will play an important role in doing so. It would be foolish to claim that we will try to deal with climate change while suggesting that there will be no impact on anything else. That would be unrealistic and not sensible. There is a potential impact, and it is a matter of getting the balance right, for all the reasons mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford.

Secondly, I turn to the first possible impact, the visual impact, of development within the renewable energy zone. Zones will be limited to areas 22 kilometres offshore. I cannot speak for the quality of other people's eyesight, but I strongly suspect that I will not be able to detect a great deal 22 metres offshore.

Noble Lords


Lord Triesman

Did I say metres? I apologise. I could manage 22 metres; that is more or less the length of a cricket pitch—plus a little bit—and I have usually been able to see between the two sets of stumps. I mean 22 kilometres, which is a fair distance. Even with some wind generators being 150 metres high to the tip of the top blade when at its highest position, in almost no case will that present a visual eyesore from almost anywhere from which one might view the sea. It might be difficult to work out who should be polled on whether such a generator is suitable, because of the distance offshore.

I turn to my third point. Establishing the renewable energy zone is only an enabling provision; no decisions about how it will be developed will be made at this point. It does not pre-empt any decisions; its purpose is only as a legal step to facilitate consideration of whether developments are appropriate.

The fourth main point to bear in mind is that there are robust safeguards in place—the SEA and EIA—to ensure that the environmental impact of strategic environmental assessment of any proposed development is taken into account.

I now draw attention to how planning decisions are made. We certainly intend there to be a change in the role of the local authority in the consultation process to become a statutory consultee following the Bill's enactment. The position is clarified in the Bill. Local authorities will not be responsible for forcing a public inquiry, but they will certainly take part in them. That will be included by providing for it in secondary legislation rather than in the Bill. No attempt will be made to stop anyone with anything to say from making his objections known.

I am rather at a loss as to how to deal with the fifth point. I am unfamiliar with the history of fishing nets, although, standing in the Moses Room, I recognise that it draws their entire history to our attention. Plainly, it will be important to ensure for fish and other marine animals that all relevant considerations are taken fully into account.

The amendments would not achieve their objective, as they propose introducing environmental considerations too early in the process, when the REZ is established. They also run the risk of introducing such restrictive conditions that they might prevent any offshore renewable development from taking place. At that point, we lose the big picture by concentrating on a much smaller one.

As I said, the renewable energy needed to address climate change cannot be said to be 100 per cent impact-free. However, I ask the Grand Committee to bear in mind why we are establishing the renewable energy zones. We want to be able to take advantage of the country's very considerable natural resources offshore—the wind, waves and tidal currents—to produce electricity in a truly sustainable way and without pumping carbon into the atmosphere. As the Committee will know, the Government have a goal of cutting CO2 emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. Offshore renewable energy technologies have an absolutely vital role to play in helping us to achieve that goal.

We have taken on the challenge of reducing carbon emissions in order to address the very real and serious environmental consequences and threats of climate change. The important issue is to get the balances right. We must balance the impact that developing offshore renewable energy may have on local marine environments against the potential climate change from fossil fuel generation if we do not develop the offshore renewables. The impact of wind farms, for example, will be managed and limited, because our assessment processes ensure that they are consented to only if that is so.

In that light, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment—not because the issues in it are not of the gravest importance; I fully accept that they are. However, the provisions available should make it possible to achieve all the objectives mentioned.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

I want to make two very small points. Amendment No. 106A suggests, at end insert 'in a manner which maintains the natural environment'". I can quite understand the words of the Minister about not wanting to make anything too prescriptive and prevent the proper actions that need to be taken to deal with climate change. Some alteration may be needed. However, the provision that Amendment No. 106B would affect states that, 'exploration' includes the doing of anything". All Amendment No. 106B would do is insert after that, which does not cause irreversible damage to the marine environment". The Minister must think it all right for the Bill to state "anything". The amendment does not say, "which does not cause damage"—that would be a different matter. But it would be dreadful if irreversible damage happened to the marine environment. I cannot see why the Minister cannot accept that amendment anyway.

Viscount Ullswater

The Minister helpfully said that the renewable energy zones are no closer to the shore than 22 kilometres, and that they would therefore not be able to be seen from the shore. Could he envisage a situation in which there may be contiguous developments of wind farms, both in and outside territorial waters—that is, on both sides of the line of the 22 kilometres? My noble friend Lady Byford has been saying that something may be visible from the shore. The Committee has demonstrated uncertainty about who is responsible for the planning of offshore wind farms, whether inside or outside territorial waters—I hope that I have the terminology correct. That issue is eluding Members of the Committee.

The Duke of Montrose

The Minister was helpful in beginning to describe the renewable energy zones and the fact that they have to be more than 22 kilometres offshore. I wonder what the Government envisage with the zones. Will they be vast areas, perhaps hundreds of kilometres wide, or pockets in which the Government might encourage renewable energy development?

The point made by my noble friend Lord Ullswater was about visibility, and the Minister suggested that something may not be noticed too much. However, I know that I have to go only 100 yards behind my house to see the chimney of Inverkip power station, which is not 150 metres high. Such things are noticeable.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

The other problem with what the Minister said—I am sorry to have to trip him on this— is that the coastline is not flat. There are plenty of places where the cliffs are 100 feet high, or even 200 or 300 feet high. Depending on where one was, one could see vastly further out to sea than if one were standing on one of the bleak east coast shores, which might be only a couple of feet above sea level.

Lord Triesman

I shall try to deal with the variety of points made. We are not dealing with the wind farms that would be closer to shore. I entirely accept that the ones far closer to shore—I have seen some myself— will certainly be visible. That is not the issue with which we are dealing in relation to the REZs. It is important to be as realistic as possible about the impact that the REZs may have.

I do not think that the zones will be vast areas of turbines, if that was the point of the question. They are areas in which it will be possible to site turbines. It would be unlikely and impractical, particularly given the engineering issues about bedding them firmly in a relatively shallow area of water, to envisage very large areas of that kind. An REZ can be from 12 miles out— that is the 22-kilometre point—to 200 miles out. It is simply a definition of an area in which wind farms can be located. The appropriate way to deal with concerns about where the zones are located and what the impact of any one of them might be is the consent process, rather than the designation of the REZ itself, which is about an area in which they might possibly be.

I probably ought to have said earlier—I apologise for not doing so—that, when views are sought on any of the projects, everyone will have an opportunity to comment and make their views clear through planning consents, which are provided under Schedule 8 to the Electricity Act. That remains an absolutely firm commitment.

I entirely take the point that the coastline is not flat. I suppose that that is one reason why I enjoy walking on it. It is very high in some places. However, although from very high points it is possible to see a considerable distance, one has to get quite high and we are talking about quite a considerable distance. We are not talking about something that will be an ever-present eyesore in most circumstances.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am sorry, but I could take the noble Lord to a place in France where we would have to be only 90 feet above the sea to see the island of Corsica, which is more than 90 miles away.

Lord Triesman

That is an offer too good to turn down. I am fond of both France and Corsica, and shall make my diary available after this sitting of the Grand Committee. I do not say that in certain atmospheric conditions it is not impossible to see quite long distances. However, having walked most coastal paths in England and a good few in Scotland, I can confirm that, generally, unless the atmospheric conditions are unusually good, it is not often that one can see very considerable distances. The great pleasure in the walking is, of course, what one can see, and the walk itself. None the less, I hope that the noble Lord will make good his offer when I approach him about it later to make the arrangements.

I shall now respond to Amendment No. 106B, on which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, commented. Clause 75(7) merely seeks to define what is meant by "exploration" in Clause 75(2). Wind farms cost many millions of pounds to construct. Before committing themselves to investing those large sums of money, developers must ensure that their planned site is viable. They will want, for example, to understand the character of the sea bed into which the wind turbines will be placed, and to measure wind speed. Those exploration activities are not likely to have a lasting effect.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

I thank the Minister for giving way when in full flow of his explanation. He said that Clause 75 merely deals with the exploration of areas. It does not; it refers to the exploitation of areas. Its heading uses the word "exploitation". That is the particular word that we did not like.

Lord Triesman

I ask the noble Baroness to forgive me. I stand corrected, but I do not think that it will alter the theme of the answer. Despite the fact that I do not much like the word either, although it is the word currently used in the circumstances, my point was as follows. The exploitation activities are unlikely to have a lasting effect on the marine environment. The early phases, in which people seek to establish whether the site is viable at all, will certainly not do so. If a structure such as a wind-speed measuring device is placed in the water, the developer must first obtain a licence under the Food and Environmental Protection Act 1985, which has been mentioned previously. Again, the necessary safeguards to protect the marine environment are already in place and most certainly should be used to do that.

Baroness Byford

I am very grateful to the Minister for the courteous way in which he has responded to the amendments, and to all Members of the Committee who have commented on them. I understand the Minister's explanation about the use of the word "exploitation"; in fact, I have not asked for it to be removed. I am not breaching the UN convention, as it would still be there, but I seek merely to make a softer interpretation of what is a fairly barbaric word at present.

I hope that the Ministers will consider the matter before Report, because I do not think it would change their objective. It would merely pull people up short and tell them that exploitation must be carried out in a manner that maintains the natural environment. I do not think that the Minister, who is nodding, would disagree with that. I hope that the Government will return with a provision that accepts the thrust behind the amendment. I have not asked for the word to be removed; I have merely softened it. I shall leave the matter standing.

The Minister rightly said that at present renewable energy zones are not in being, but may be established. That makes me even more worried—the Minister will get used to me after a while—because I tend to like to have provisions written in the Bill. I get very worried when there are inferences or words such as "may". I call them Henry VIIIs, which is not technically correct, but I am always apprehensive when something is not as clear as I would like it to be on the face of the Bill.

The Minister said that local authorities will now be consultees on planning. Is he saying that that provision will be added, or is it already in the Bill without my having seen it? I did not pick up that the Bill defines that. Perhaps it relates to a previous Bill. Will the Minister respond on that? Is the provision not already in the Electricity Act 1989? It may well be, in which case he will clarify that for me. He will learn also that I do not like a provision being made through regulations if it can possibly be included in the Bill.

In passing, the noble Lord mentioned fishing nets. Last autumn, there was grave concern about 100 dolphins that had been washed up in Cornwall. Some of the Bill overlaps with the question of fishing, which we shall come to in greater detail later. I accept that there is a huge role to be played in enlarging the holes in fishing nets so that certain fish will not be caught in them. I shall look very carefully at the Minister's response.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, did not like the use of the words "irreversible damage" in Amendment No. 102B. Perhaps we can think about that. But I do not like either the wording on page 58, line 35: 'exploration' includes the doing of anything". My noble friend raised the point that the "doing of anything" is completely open-ended. I urge the Minister to give that issue serious thought.

As regards my Amendment No. 106G, I do not say that there should be no development because development there will be. I disagree with the Government's estimate of the amount of energy wind farms will produce and the amount of pollution they will reduce. Other methods were referred to in the debate on earlier amendments. I am being lobbied very heavily by a company which is using waste to produce energy. When we have vast amounts of waste produced on a daily basis, surely it should be a high priority to use it for energy production and conservation. A great number of possibilities are being explored—the Minister touched on some of them earlier—of which wind farms are but one.

I am not saying that there should no wind farms. What I am seeking to do with my amendments is to draw attention to the fact that serious consideration should be given as to where they are sited. That is most important. Obviously there are not national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty all over the country. Some areas are less sensitive than others. The amendments seek a greater degree of clarity.

I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate on the amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 106AZA: Page 58, line 24, at end insert— ( ) The Renewable Energy Zone shall only be the area necessary for efficient energy generation taking into account environmental impacts which shall have the provisions in this Bill applied to it.

The noble Baroness said: The amendment addresses an issue touched on earlier by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. It seeks an answer from the Minister as to how big a renewable energy zone could be. There is nothing in the Bill to define the size of a zone. The amendment suggests that it should be only the area necessary for efficient energy generation.

I accept that the wording of the amendment probably leaves something to be desired. I found difficulty in expressing how the zone should be limited within the context of the Bill. But if zones are not limited, we could end up with a renewable energy zone around the UK that takes in all the waters between the 12-mile and the 200-mile limits.

If that is what the Government have in mind, we should know it; and, if there are to be little pockets of water, as the noble Duke put it, we should know that too. I have absolutely no idea what the Government have in mind. It is for that reason I have tabled the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Triesman

In my previous response I gave a slightly better indication. I said that the REZs will be from 12 miles to 200 miles out. I understand the point made by the noble Baroness that one can envisage a ring around the United Kingdom which encompasses all waters between those two limits.

Again in earlier exchanges we noted that engineering realities dictated the siting of wind farms in areas where the sea is no more than 30 metres deep. It would not be an engineering practicality otherwise. For a very large part of the United Kingdom the shelving away from our coast is fairly abrupt. Scotland is a good example of this. There are very few areas that fall into the kind of category suitable for wind farms. Although we do not have the benefit of a map today, I suggest that the mix of relatively shallow waters and those which are much more steeply shelved would indicate that the risk of there being a kind of Polo-mint effect around the country is not realistic.

Amendment No. 106AZA seeks to restrict the renewable energy zone to the area necessary for efficient renewable energy generation. The creation of the R.EZ does not in itself indicate anything about where or how much development should take place within it. Clause 75 relates to the establishment of the renewable energy zone. Perhaps I may stress what I said in my response a few moments ago: the establishment of the REZ will not pre-empt any decisions about the appropriate scale or location of renewable energy development that may be considered within it. It is purely a legal step that needs to be taken to ensure the proper consideration of renewable energy projects beyond the limit of territorial waters at 12 nautical miles. I should add that nautical miles are rather longer than ordinary miles. It is not a stage at which plans are made for developing the zone so it is not a point at which any decisions are taken about environmental impact.

The areas within the renewable energy zone identified for offshore renewable energy development will be established after an assessment has been made of the geographical location of the potential resource. Safeguards are already in place to make sure that appropriate consideration will be given to the impact on the environment of proposed renewable developments both before these regions of the sea are offered to developers to apply for site leases and then once developers have worked up their specific proposals and have applied for development consent so that we can see exactly what is involved in any proposal.

I hope that this provides an adequate reassurance to noble Lords that the proposed amendment to limit the size of the renewable energy zone is unnecessary. I shall not make the point at greater length because I believe that we have already been over a number of the key issues of definition during our previous discussion. However, the point I seek to make is that this is not the point at which the whole consent system would be at its most effective.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I thank the Minister for his reply. It is still not entirely clear whether the zones will in effect be limited or unlimited in size. I shall read his response carefully. When people want to check on a map what areas the Minister has designated as renewable energy zones, I hope that they will be able to see them. The question of the limit to a zone and whether that will be defined anywhere, such as on a map, or whether it will remain something in the Minister's mind, is a matter to which, in the light of his reply, I shall probably have to return on Report. In the mean-time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 106AA: Page 58, line 28, leave out "An Order in Council under this section is" and insert "Orders in Council under this section, and orders under subsection (5), are".

The noble Lord said: This amendment has been tabled to correct an oversight. Clause 75(5) provides an order-making power so that the Secretary of State can delineate that part of a renewable energy zone around the UK in which Scottish Ministers are to have functions; for example, in relation to the application of civil and criminal law under Clauses 76 and 78, or consultation in respect of decommissioning in Clauses 92 and 98. In drafting the Bill we omitted to provide a parliamentary procedure for such orders. We propose that these orders should be subject to the negative resolution procedure. This is in line with the procedure for Orders in Council under Clause 75(4) which designate the renewable energy zone. The Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform has seen the amendment and is satisfied with it. I beg to move.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I wish to question the Minister on a matter about which I warned him that I was not absolutely clear. Exactly how will Scots Ministers be enabled to do that? I understand that they will be consulted by the Secretary of State, but is the Order in Council laid by the Secretary of State at Westminster? I take it that the Scots Parliament will not lay an Order in Council. As a subsidiary Parliament, can it not do that? I am interested in how it works, so I wanted to be clear.

Lord Whitty

This issue may arise later. In this context we are talking about the United Kingdom power of delineation and designation of the zones and indicating in which of those zones that part of the responsibilities would thereafter fall to Scottish Ministers. This clause covers only the UK power of delineation, which is through an Order in Council in the Westminster Parliament. Thereafter, issues of enforcement under the Scottish laws can arise, but this clause concerns solely a UK power. It might be better if I elaborate on how the Scottish Parliament can also use an Order in Council when we come later to a slightly more complicated set of amendments.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I thank the noble Lord very much for that. I am sorry if I was confused, but it is important that we understand the matter. It is only recently, since devolution, that those issues have occurred. In this case the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will lay an Order in Council, having consulted Scots Ministers.

The Duke of Montrose

This is a fascinating concept as regards the question of devolution. At present, there is a clear line of delineation between which territorial waters out to 12 miles are Scottish and which belong to the UK. At present, waters beyond the 12-mile limit are reckoned to be UK territory. Is the Minister saying that Scotland will be given a slice of the waters beyond the 12-mile limit to look after? Will the Scottish hegemony be extended over a wider area?

Lord Whitty

I would not encourage the noble Duke or the Scottish Parliament to extend the Scottish hegemony over any wider an area than it already has. The point is that the designation of the areas is a UK responsibility because the waters beyond that area belong to the UK. But the enforcement of certain aspects of environmental protection, for example, will fall to Scottish Ministers and agencies. This clause deals only with the delineation, which is clearly a UK power.

The Duke of Montrose

Forgive me if I have misunderstood, but I thought that these areas would be outwith the 12-mile limit and therefore not in Scottish waters at all. I do not see why Scottish law is required.

Lord Whitty

There are already law-at-sea arrangements whereby Scottish law rather than English law applies in certain marine circumstances. Those would apply in this situation also. It is not a new concept in that respect.

Lord Skelmersdale

As a subjunct to the point made by my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour, I am confused. Subsection (5) talks about orders made by the Secretary of State, while subsection (4) provides for Orders in Council. Clearly an order made by the Secretary of State is a lesser beast than one made by Her Majesty in Council. However, given devolution and the situation in Scotland, why can the Secretary of State, off his own bat, produce an order for Scotland whereas any other must come from Her Majesty in Council?

Lord Whitty

Subsection (4) relates to designation which is provided by an Order in Council, while subsection (5) indicates which of those designations would have administrative functions for the Scottish Executive. The original Order in Council is then subject to the negative procedure in the Bill as drafted. We are also making the other part of this subject to the negative procedure so that there is a consistency of process throughout the clause.

Lord Skelmersdale

I certainly understand what the amendment will do. I am asking what the Bill does, and why.

Lord Whitty

The Order in Council will provide the designation. The implications of the designation, which are a lesser issue, are that Scottish Ministers will have jurisdiction in relation to devolved matters within those zones. So the international waters element is dealt with by Order in Council, while the Secretary of State is then responsible for the administrative arrangements. However, they would both be subject to the same parliamentary process if the amendment is accepted.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 106AB: Page 58, line 29, at end insert— ( ) The Crown Estates Act 1961 (c. 55) shall not have effect for the purposes of this section.

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this amendment is to explore the effect of the Energy Bill on the responsibilities of the Crown Estate as laid down in the Crown Estates Act 1961. It asks whether this Bill will need to amend those powers.

I have tabled the amendment because, under the terms of the Bill, the Crown Estate will be able to license areas of the sea bed in the renewable energy zones for the purpose of exploring and exploiting— that word again—the UK's wind, wave and tidal resources for the production of energy. However, the Crown Estates Act 1961 requires the Crown Estate Commissioners to maintain and enhance the estate's value and the returns obtained from it. In other words, the commissioners will have to operate a strict policy of maximising financial gain, regardless of community interests.

It is in particular regard to community interests in the northern isles and perhaps elsewhere in Britain, as they have been explained to me, that I have tabled the amendment. The fact that the Crown Estate Commissioners have to secure the best returns possible from rental of the sea bed is likely to mean that there will be a bias in favour of the much larger generators proposed for very extensive wind farms. Based on economies of scale, they will be able to generate much larger returns and more significant profits from which the Crown Estate Commissioners can derive greater charges.

This issue was first raised in Scotland, but it may have an impact in several areas. Local communities are interested in deriving benefits from wind, tidal and wave energy sources. Given that, it would be very unfortunate if the Crown Estates Act 1961 meant that those communities did not benefit as much as they should from the development of these resources in their waters. That will be the case if the Crown Estate Commissioners raise money from the estate. Any income derived will become a cash cow for the Treasury rather than feeding back into local communities. I beg to move.

7 p.m.

Lord Triesman

Amendment No. 106AB would exclude the Crown Estate from playing a role in the development of renewable energy zones. I consider that such a move would be short-sighted and we wish to resist this amendment. It might be helpful if I remind Members of the Committee of the role that the Crown Estate plays now in the process of developing offshore renewable energy.

The Crown Estate owns the sea bed out to the 12-mile limit of the territorial sea. Perhaps I may put it this way: it acts as the landowner for the sea bed. Developers who wish to construct, say, a wind farm must enter into an agreement with the Crown Estate for the lease of the area of the sea bed where the structure will be placed. Naturally, developers are charged a rental for the use of the sea bed in the same way that any landowner would also make a charge for use of his property. That, together with other Crown Estate revenues, is paid to the Consolidated Fund at the end of each financial year.

The Crown Estate and the DTI are working closely together in developing the framework for expansion of the offshore wind energy industry. Members of the Committee may know that as late as last July the Trade Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, invited the Crown Estate to hold a tender for sites for offshore wind farms in three strategic areas—that is, the Greater Wash, the Thames Estuary and the area broadly from the north Wales coast to the Solway Firth.

Those areas were selected by the DTI as offering the best prospects for wind development based on factors such as the prevailing wind resource, water depth and the capacity for grid connections. Just before Christmas, the Crown Estate offered leases for 15 sites to successful applicants. In due course those developers will apply to government departments, including the DTI, for the consents necessary for the projects to be built.

This co-operative arrangement is working very well and we see no reason to change it. The Government set the energy policy framework and regulate individual projects, while the Crown Estate manages the sea bed and gives the site leases. It makes very good sense for those arrangements to be adopted for the renewable energy zone beyond the territorial waters.

It is very important that there is a common regime in the territorial waters and for the renewable energy zone. We want to create a single level playing field for development no matter where projects are located. The effect of the amendment would be to have some differential arrangement in the renewable energy zone, although, from the way in which the amendment was spoken to, it is not clear that that is what the amendment proposes.

I think that I must correct the notion that there would be a conflict of interest in the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has described. The Crown Estate's rent must be the best consideration—I emphasise this—reasonably obtainable in all the circumstances as set out in the Crown Estate Act 1961. It must exclude any element of monopoly value attribution to the extent of the Crown's ownership of comparable land. But, critically, it must be the best consideration reasonably obtainable in all the circumstances. Plainly, that includes overall considerations about whether it is a proper site or whether the site would be developed in a way that would cause considerable difficulty or offence to people who live locally—for example, by the installation of over-large machines.

In the three areas that I mentioned, there was tremendous interest from developers in the round 2 tender for offshore wind farms. Many more developers applied for leases than it was possible to grant. There is strong evidence that the rental is not acting as a barrier to development, nor is it being exploited in a way that is likely to act as a barrier. Those who are serious in wanting to put up a wind farm will not be deterred by extortionate rental levels.

The Crown Estate has given an undertaking that it will monitor and review the effect of the rental payments on the development of the wind industry. Should any kind of evidence emerge suggesting that the viability of future development is being impeded by the rental level, or that some unreasonable arrangement is being made of the kind suggested as a possibility by the noble Baroness, the Crown Estate will consider whether revision of the rental would be justified.

I hope that those are reasonable assurances that sensible people are co-operating in this, and that there are provisions in legislation which would stop the exploitation—to use that word again—of these resources in a way that would cause offence.

Lord Higgins

I was listening carefully to what the noble Lord said, but I have some difficulty in understanding it. Are we to understand that there are competitive tenders for any given tranche? If so, how is the concept of excessive charges or excessive rental levels to be established? I should have thought that if there were a competitive tender, that would be the appropriate amount. Is it a market process? Or are the Government, in some way, imposing a limit, saying that they will not charge the full amount that they could obtain in order to ensure that some development takes place?

Lord Triesman

No, my Lords. I hope that I have not given that impression at all, but if I have, I apologise. It is a tendering process, but it is also a process where the development must receive various kinds of planning consent. Those are unquestionably considerations that would have to be taken into account in the construct of considerations reasonably obtainable in the circumstances. There is a balance.

I am not sure whether that analogy is 100 per cent accurate, but I am trying to give the best illustration that I can in response to the noble Lord's question. It is probably like a proposal to develop a piece of land. A development might be proposed that would produce very high commercial returns but would be unacceptable on that piece of land. If it is unacceptable, of course that development cannot take place and those returns cannot be achieved.

Lord Higgins

I am grateful to the noble Lord. I had better read exactly what he has said. But, if, on environmental grounds, a limit is imposed on the amount that can be charged, several people may wish to have the asset at that price.

Lord Triesman

My point is that the environmental considerations are free-standing, not that there is a limit to what can be charged by virtue of the environmental considerations. The environmental considerations will determine the merits of whether to proceed with a particular development. That might have an impact on the amount that reasonably can be realised by people tendering. They will have to take into account those environmental factors in framing what they bid in the tender. The tender process is not about bidding by developers for the site. The rental fee is set out, and bidders can compete on the basis of the quality of their proposals within that framework.

Baroness Byford

Perhaps I may follow my noble friend a little further on that line. I am getting more mystified. Am I right in saying that the Minister said that 15 approvals have been given already? If I can put it in simple language, more people want to take on the projects than there are places available. Further to my noble friend's comments, I wish to know whether the base of rental was put too low. Who decided the rate? Or have I missed the point altogether? That is where I am getting more mystified.

For example, when mobile telephones were introduced, the amounts charged for the masts were absolutely huge. Ultimately, it was realised that they were not a commercial viability and, if I remember correctly, many businesses went bust. In fact, the reverse is happening here. More people want to do business than there are places available. As regards the very good amendment raised by the noble Baroness, how was the process devised in the first place? Can we have clarification on that?

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Perhaps I may help my noble friend. My understanding of the Crown Estate is that it is like any other landlord. It is an extremely good landlord and extremely sensitive to environmental issues. That is why there are so few complaints about what the Crown Estate does. My understanding is that, in this case, there would be competitive tendering within the constraints of the planning requirements and the highest bids would win, providing they were adequate. So of course there were more bids; everyone wants to develop wind farms. That is the Crown Estate's point of view. If I am wrong about that, perhaps the Minister will tell the Committee. I feel strongly about this issue. The Crown Estate is like any other landlord.

Lord Higgins

Perhaps I can explain to the Minister why we are confused. He seems to be saying, "We will set a price and then see which of the people who want to accept at that price produce the best environmental outcome". If that is what he is saying—it appeared to be what he read out—that is a strange concept. If you impose a limit on a price, you may well get more than one person who wants to buy the asset at that price.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour. I understand that the Crown Estate is a good landlord. It has done an immense amount to clean up beaches, for instance, by promoting the blue flag scheme and so on. So I do not intend by my amendment to question its credentials in that area.

Perhaps I may use the Minister's analogy of a piece of land because that is easier to imagine. As I understand it, under the 1961 Act, the Crown Estate is bound to get the best possible price for a piece of land, for whatever use. If there are two private bidders, the highest one gets it. But supposing that the community also wants to build a school on it; is the Crown Estate able to sell it to the community for a lower price? That is my question. If the community in some isolated place wants to build their own renewable energy source, can the Crown Estate let them have that bit of the sea bed at a lower price?

Lord Triesman

I hope that I can carve my way through the various issues that have been raised. My initial response was to the case made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, who suggested that there could be a conflict between the Crown Estate as landlord and its obligation under the law to do its best in commercial terms. I pointed out that there are other considerations in legislation concerning what the Crown Estate can and cannot do that go beyond the simple principle of getting the highest possible amount of money for the property. That may have inadvertently led to an exploration of the subject that goes onto different terrain. It is important to clear that up.

I certainly share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, of how the Crown Estate operates. Incidentally, I do not think that a case could realistically be presented by a local community that it wanted to build wind farms 22 kilometres off the coast. We are not here dealing with alternatives; we are dealing with the most appropriate way for large commercial providers to deal with the problem. With great respect, I shall focus on that because that is the most realistic prospect.

Let me set out how the Crown Estate has proceeded. I may be able to answer most, if not all, of the questions posed. First, the Crown Estate arrived at a fixed fee per square kilometre for rental. It worked on and decided what should be the fixed fee per kilometre. The rental was set by the Crown Estate as the appropriate value for the site compared with alternative uses. I do not today, as the Committee will understand, have greater detail about the entire process it went through to make those comparisons but, knowing its quality as a landlord, I have no doubt it was done with the usual thoroughness.

The site allocation was then—

7.15 p.m.

Lord Higgins

I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord. He is putting forward a normal opportunity-cost argument, but this particular site does not have any alternative use.

Lord Triesman

I was trying to be candid in saying that I do not have in front of me the entire set of criteria which I have no doubt the Crown Estate worked through in making an opportunity-cost analysis of the alternatives. I cannot rule out that there may not be other alternatives; I cannot speculate what they might be either.

Lord Higgins

Fish farming.

Lord Triesman

Fish farms do come to mind. Aggregate extraction is also a possibility.

We are told that the Crown Estate set the appropriate value for the sites by comparing the alternative uses and coming to a conclusion. I hope that the Committee will recognise the two examples I have given.

The site allocation—this is where we come to the nub of some of the questions that have been asked— was then made on the basis of the quality of the project and the environmental impact. Those are the issues that the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, said were often in the forefront of the Crown Estate's mind when it takes decisions. The overall allocation is limited by the strategic environmental assessment, not by how much is paid. I have made the point that the amount paid per square kilometre was set by the use of criteria as to appropriate or viable alternative uses. After that it was decided among those who made bids on the basis of the quality of the project and the environmental impact, limited by the strategic environmental assessment.

That is broadly where I started. I feel that I have come full cycle in the argument.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate and the Minister for his reply, which I shall read carefully. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 106B not moved.]

Clause 75, as amended, agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lyell)

I should advise the Committee that if Amendment No. 106BA is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 106C and 106D because of pre-emption.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 106BA: Page 59, line 44, leave out subsections (9) and (10).

The noble Lord said: This amendment relates to the purpose of Clauses 76 and 78 and is intended to clarify a position relating to Scottish powers. The clauses apply criminal and civil law to offshore renewable energy installations and, in the case of civil law, to cabling. Both clauses provide for an Order in Council procedure to give flexibility to the process so that properly considered decisions can be taken about which aspects of the criminal or civil law it is necessary or appropriate to apply. Clause 76 also provides for the extension of police powers and privileges, again by an Order in Council procedure.

Both clauses apply to renewable energy installations wholly or partly in offshore waters, including the Scottish part of the renewable energy zone. An Order in Council could potentially cover civil or criminal law matters that are wholly reserved under the Scotland Act 1998, wholly devolved or a mix of both. We are legislating for devolved matters with the agreement of Scottish Ministers, and a Motion under the Sewel Convention is being considered by the Scottish Parliament.

We need to provide for an appropriate procedure in all three circumstances: where an Order in Council covers reserved matters; where it covers devolved matters; and where it involves both. We now recognise that the Bill as drafted is deficient in that respect, so we propose by way of these amendments to remove the existing provisions and to introduce a new clause covering Orders in Council for both criminal and civil law. The clause sets out the parliamentary procedure to be followed depending on the subject matter. In the case of wholly reserved matters the Order in Council would be subject to the negative resolution procedure in the Westminster Parliament, as we discussed earlier. Where the Order in Council deals with wholly devolved matters it would be subject to annulment of a resolution of the Scottish Parliament. Where the content of the Order in Council includes both reserved and devolved matters it would need to be subject to the procedures of both the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments. The new clause clarifies the position as compared with the original draft and makes a flexible provision that covers all three circumstances. Each of the three circumstances will require different procedures or combinations of procedures.

I have referred the amendments to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and it has no problem with them. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford

I ask the Deputy Chairman whether I am allowed at this stage to speak to my amendment. No? I am told that I am not.

Earl Attlee

My noble friend wants to speak to this group of amendments that the Minister has approved. She understands that later on she will not be able to move her amendment and get the Committee to agree to it, but she can speak to the group.

Lord Whitty

As I understand the Deputy Chairman's ruling, the amendments are grouped together, so the noble Baroness is entitled to speak to her amendments. If my amendments were agreed before the noble Baroness's were voted upon, there would be pre-emption. But certainly she should be able to speak to them now.

Baroness Byford

My goodness. Perhaps I could ask all Members of the Committee and particularly the Government whether it is possible to move away from this terrible system of having amendments entitled "BA", "ZX" and so forth. It is a nightmare, and we are having a torrid time.

I shall speak to my two amendments and comment on the government amendments. The Minister knows very well that my amendments were tabled well in advance of the government amendments—I do not think that there is anything between us in that regard. If, anyone can table amendments with the result that another amendment cannot be taken as was intended, it obviously does not pay to table amendments until the last minute. I do not think that either the Government or the department would want that, but I urge that a little thought be given to those of us who have done our work in advance but suddenly find themselves overtaken by events. That might happen on Report, but it is extraordinary that it should happen in Committee.

In Committee, we normally table amendments at a point when the Government have not put down many of their own. They listen to the discussions in Committee and then come back on Report with new or altered amendments. However, that has not happened at all in this Bill. It is extremely difficult. I see that the Minister is shaking his head. I have never known so many. It is nearly like saying that the Government are altering their Bill before we have actually had a chance to debate it.

At Second Reading the general, overall thrust of what the Bill is about was outlined; the Committee stage gives us a chance to table amendments, to hang hats on pegs and to debate the issues that we need to raise. I have never seen so many government amendments walloped-in at the Committee stage.

Lord Whitty

I do not recognise the noble Baroness's description of other Bills. On almost every Bill— particularly Bills that start in the House of Lords— there are government amendments very early in the proceedings. This is because we recognise early on that there is a deficiency in drafting. It is for the convenience of the House—and of Grand Committees at this stage—that the Government put that right at the earliest possible opportunity. There is no serious policy issue here. The problem is the procedural issue that arises through the interaction of Scottish and UK procedures.

As to the issue of pre-emption, I am afraid that: the Government are always in the same position as others in the House—pre-emption is never absolutely clear until it is enunciated from the Chair. That applies to any Bill at any stage. I do not believe that we are in new territory here.

Baroness Byford

I accept that quiet rebuke and take it in the spirit in which it was offered. I have not participated in many Bills that have started at this end and so I may not have come across the problem quite so much. The noble Lord is much more experienced than I am and no doubt has.

I turn now to speak to Amendments Nos. 106C and 106D. The Minister has spoken to his amendments. I am grateful to him because obviously one of them does exactly what I seek to do with Amendment No. 106C. Can the Minister confirm that his amendments will ensure that the application of criminal law will be the same in all UK territorial waters? It is quite amazing that the Bill as published can make the definition of criminal activity in Scottish waters subject, in effect, to a veto from Scottish Ministers. It is even more amazing that the Bill lays down that the Secretary of State has only to "consult" Scottish Ministers if he wishes the NDA to work on a Scottish site. That provision can be found on page 6, in Clause 6(3). By the time this issue arises in the House we will have dealt with the Minister's amendments, which we are still debating. I therefore do not need to further enlarge on that issue.

Moving on to Amendment No. 106D, although the Minister's amendments would remove subsection (10) altogether I hope that he can clarify something for me. The point of my amendment is merely to raise again the situation where what is acceptable in English and Welsh law is not necessarily acceptable in Scottish law. Its effect is to create a renewable energy policy which is not a devolved matter, but which contains contiguous matters that are. In Clause 76, the contiguous matter is the definition of criminal activity in, on, over or under the territorial sea in the region of an offshore wind turbine installation.

The nonsense is that it would be possible for there to be a wind turbine installation that covered an area partly adjacent to England and partly adjacent to Scotland. It would then be possible to make an Order in Council which classified—this is a very silly example—throwing stones as a criminal activity. if Scottish Ministers did not agree, that activity would not be criminal in that part of the installation which was in Scottish waters.

Perhaps the Minister will enlighten me as to whether pursuit of an offender from English to Scottish waters would be allowed—or is that something else that, having been devolved, Scottish Ministers can prevent?

The Duke of Montrose

I have a question on the drafting. I have been trying to understand the Government's amendment, which states: An Order in Council under section 76 or 78 that makes provision falling within subsection (3)". I can understand it falling within subsection (3) of Clause 76, but does it apply also to subsection (3) of Clause 78? The wording seems to include both.

7.30 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I realise that the Government have been discussing this whole matter with the Scots Parliament, and doubtless with the Lord Advocate, and that that is how they came to the conclusion that the Bill is wrong. I could not understand it originally and I am sorry to say that I do not quite understand now. Who lays the Order in Council which is wholly related to the Scots Parliament? Can the Scots Parliament lay an Order in Council direct to the Privy Council and Her Majesty? That was my concern. I think that that is a very interesting legal point. Otherwise, subject to what my noble friend the Duke of Montrose has advised, I am satisfied that they have found an answer.

I am sorry that my noble friend has had such an annoying time working out what was wrong with the Bill and has found that the Government have found the answer after she tabled her amendments. That is very annoying for her and I can understand her being rather irritated. However, I am very grateful if the Government have found the answer. This is a very interesting devolution issue where you have three different sorts of circumstances that involve both Parliaments in different ways. So I should simply like to know who lays an Order in Council that is concerned only with the Scots Parliament.

Lord Whitty

Where it is a purely devolved matter the Scottish Parliament would consider a resolution on an Order in Council and that would be subject to annulment if the Parliament did not agree. Bringing forward that Order in Council would be a procedure solely for the Scottish Parliament. The parliamentary procedure is slightly different from ours but it has the same effect in that the Scottish Ministers will propose a resolution to put to Parliament and Parliament can accept or reject it.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Does the Order in Council laid by the Scots Parliament go straight to Her Majesty or does it have to come through Westminster?

Lord Whitty

It goes to the council. It does not come through the Westminster Parliament.

On the question of different laws applying, the criminal law in Scotland has been different from the criminal law in England since the Act of Union or before. We are not in new territory here at all. A criminal offence involving a boat that puts in to Peterhead will be handled under Scottish law, but if the boat travels south and lands at Newcastle it will be dealt with under English law. It is clear that the noble Baroness's amendment would have dealt with the criminal law aspect but not with the civil law aspect. Although she would have dealt with part of the matter, she would not have dealt with all of it.

We have dealt with it by deletion and by replacement with the new clause in Amendment No. 106EB. That replaces the whole procedure for both clauses—to answer the noble Duke's question—in one place. I think that that is probably a tidier way of doing it—albeit that this is a complex area.

The situation about which the noble Baroness expresses horror—that the Scottish criminal courts and Scottish civil courts would do things slightly differently from English courts—is not a result of devolution but has always prevailed. As for areas that are subject to both, the British have a geographical issue which will have to be dealt with in the same way as is the ship. Usually, however, we would deal with it in an Order in Council that perhaps dealt partly with a devolved matter and partly with a UK matter.

Therefore, the devolved matter would be a Scottish matter and the UK matter would be a UK matter and dealt with accordingly. A purely criminal law issue would be dealt with by Scotland and a purely civil law issue would be dealt with by Scotland in areas in Scottish territorial waters or the Scottish part of a renewable energy zone. I hope that that greatly clarifies the position.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

This is a most interesting Grand Committee because we seem to be having a lesson: we are asking questions and we are getting answers; some points are clarified and others are not. I have one simple question on Amendment No. 106DA, which is in this group. I am not sure how this amendment fits in. It raises a slightly different issue from the one we have been discussing. The amendment states: Page 60, line 12, at end insert', and '"subordinate legislation' includes an instrument made under an Act of the Scottish Parliament". However Clause 76(11) states: In this section 'director' in relation to a body corporate whose affairs are managed by its members, means a member of the body corporate". The amendment would then add: '"subordinate legislation' includes an instrument made under an Act of the Scottish Parliament". I understand that governments bring back amendments. I have a bit more experience than my noble friend with regard to DTI Bills; sometimes whole chapters are left out and we rewrite the Bill. Fortunately my noble friend has not had that pleasure. I shall be very brief as there seems to be a Division in the House. All I am saying is that I cannot imagine how one can propose such a provision but ignore the whole issue of important subordinate legislation.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 106C and 106D not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 106DA: Page 60, line 12, at end insert ", and subordinate legislation" includes an instrument made under an Act of the Scottish Parliament.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 76, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Triesman

This may be a convenient moment to adjourn until tomorrow at 3.30 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

The Committee stands adjourned until tomorrow.

The Committee adjourned at twenty-three minutes before eight o'clock.