Energy Bill [HL]
Lord Davies of Oldham (Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household; Labour)
My Lords, I am grateful to all who participated in our short debate, particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, who moved the amendment. It is the last amendment before the Government's amendments, which, I trust, will not cause much controversy, so it is appropriate that our last debate should cover the broad issues with which the Bill is concerned. I can think of no amendment that has greater breadth. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, took us back to Second Reading: he could have taken us through Committee as well, when all the issues were discussed at considerable length.
I make the obvious point that, of course, we share the sentiments behind the amendment. If we did not share the sentiments behind an amendment requiring us to take care of the natural environment, why would the Bill be the kind of Bill that it is? It is concerned with reducing carbon emissions and encouraging the development of an electricity supply from more benign sources.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, is right to remind us that nothing in this difficult world is cost-free. There are some environmental costs with any aspect of new development. I have not the slightest doubt that, if we were able to produce all the wind energy that we wanted from one turbine, the people who lived closest to that turbine would have identified for us the environmental costs to their neighbourhood. That is in the nature of such issues. We cannot have an entirely cost-free proposal, but it is clear that the development of energy in this way will go some way towards our broad objective of meeting the Kyoto targets and will be in line with our general position on energy generation. The inspiration behind the Kyoto targets is concern about the natural environment on the whole planet. We are all aware of the consequences of doing too little, too late in that regard.
The only powers in the Bill to which the amendment relates in practice are the powers that enable the development of renewable energy installations in the renewable energy zone. In Committee, we had a lengthy debate on the decision-making process concerned with giving developmental approval to renewable energy installations. We considered the importance of ensuring that the process gave proper and adequate consideration to the impact on the natural environment. We continued the debate earlier on Report, when we discussed some key amendments. Throughout those debates, the Government have sought to provide genuine reassurance that the decision-making process will ensure, through the incorporation of strategic environmental assessment and site-specific environmental impact assessments, that there is protection and concern for the natural environment. Our argument today is unchanged from those advanced by myself and, most forcefully, by my noble friend Lord Whitty, who, regrettably, is not present to produce a summation of the debate.
I remind the House of our need to recognise the bigger environmental picture. It goes beyond even the local marine environment and ecology, which is why we need to create the renewable energy zone. In developing renewable energy installations, we seek to achieve net environmental benefits by reducing our dependence on carbon-based fuels that not only deplete the planet's limited natural resources but, as we all know, pump damaging carbon into the atmosphere, a major factor in global warming.
I cannot do justice to all the issues raised in our short debate, but neither could the noble Baroness who moved the amendment or others who spoke. We are considering the broad, general issues that we all face with regard to protecting the natural environment. I emphasise that, obviously, substantial sections of the Bill are concerned with the natural environment and how we meet the necessary targets for protecting it and the health of the planet as a whole. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Baroness, having once again raised a very important issue, will be able to withdraw the amendment.