Wind Farms

– in the House of Commons at 7:00 pm on 25th October 2004.

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker 7:00 pm, 25th October 2004

I inform hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister and has imposed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches. Hon. Members who are not staying for this debate should leave the Chamber as quickly and quietly as possible.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 7:16 pm, 25th October 2004

I beg to move,

That this House
recognises that climate change is a major challenge for the twenty-first century and that renewable energy can help to cut carbon dioxide emissions;
regrets the fact that renewable energy supplies only 2.7 per cent. of Britain's energy needs;
deplores the Government's policy of relying exclusively on onshore wind farms to meet its renewable energy targets;
condemns changes to the planning system which may lead to the construction of wind farms in inappropriate places against the wishes of local communities;
and urges the Government to develop a wider mix of renewable energy technologies including hydro, off-shore wind, wave, tidal, solar, and bio-fuels and bio mass, combined heat and power, microgeneration, and energy efficiency.

I am delighted that the Conservative party has been able to devote half its Opposition day today, at the start of energy efficiency week, to this vital subject. In the next few minutes, I intend to expose the serious flaws in the Government's policy on renewable energy and to set out the Conservative party's approach. The alluring task of analysing the inconsistencies in the Liberal Democrat position I will reluctantly leave to my hon. Friend Mr. Gray. I envy him that chance, and as a trailer for his excellent winding-up speech later this evening, let me simply say that the muddle that the Liberal Democrats are in on this issue is at least as hilarious as it is on many others—hilarious if it was not such a disgrace. I will examine the Government's approach to renewable energy and wind farms in particular in the context of the international debate on climate change and the Government's overall energy policy.

On climate change, I am very happy to confirm that the Conservative party accepts the scientific evidence both that the climate is changing and that it is highly probable that one of the causes of that change is human activity. Indeed, I am proud that a Conservative Prime MinisterBaroness Thatcher—was the first Head of Government of any major country in the world to take the threat of climate change seriously. My own close interest in the subject began when I was a Minister of State at the Department of the Environment in 1993, with responsibility for environmental issues. Since then, the scientific evidence has become more compelling. I commend the Government on their role in helping to secure the Kyoto agreement, but it is very worrying that, after seven years of Labour Government, carbon dioxide emissions in Britain are rising, not falling.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Does my hon. Friend welcome the fact that a large number of the environmental leaders who, when he was a Minister of State, condemned the then Conservative Government for their attitude have now recognised that the Kyoto targets are unattainable, particularly in this country, without the use of nuclear energy?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the fact that, on present Government policy, it is extremely unlikely that Britain will honour its commitments under the Kyoto treaty. The targets that the Government have set will not be achieved without a significant and urgent change in their policy—that, of course, includes energy policy.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood

Will the hon. Gentleman say precisely what the Conservative party's policy on nuclear generation is? Does he propose that new stations be built and, if so, over what time scale and by whom?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I will set aside the hon. Gentleman's cheek in posing a question that his Prime Minister has refused to answer for the past seven and a half years; we are no nearer to having any clue as to what the Government's approach is to this vital issue, even though they have been in charge for all that time. They have access to all the information and, quite apart from our environmental commitments, the decision about how to achieve security of energy supply in Britain is urgent, as I shall set out.

However, the hon. Gentleman makes a fair request, and I am happy to accede to it. It is clear that nuclear power scores in terms of climate change because there are no carbon dioxide emissions. That is a huge plus point for nuclear power. I have listened with interest to the debates between the proponents and the opponents of nuclear power. It is up to its proponents, who are quite vociferous, to make the case, and in particular to address two legitimate concerns—first, the environmental concern about the waste issue, and, secondly, whether on strict financial criteria nuclear power is economically viable. If the proponents could address those two concerns to my satisfaction, I would have no other anxieties about nuclear power.

It seems likely that the Prime Minister will continue to duck this decision. If I were to have any role in taking the decision within the first year of a Conservative Government, I would make sure that we had a time-limited review so that people knew that that first year was the period during which they had to make the case for nuclear power.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Conservative, South West Norfolk

My hon. Friend has pointed out the Prime Minister's reluctance to put his cards on the table with regard to the Government's policy on nuclear energy. Does he agree that there is a similar reluctance on the part of the Chancellor to put his cards on the table with regard to encouraging biofuels, and does he think that that is regrettable?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My right hon. Friend anticipates a point that I shall come on to shortly. She is right that biofuels could make an important contribution to tackling climate change, but they are currently handicapped in doing so by the timid approach that the Government have adopted. They have given a small duty cut, but that is not enough to kick-start the market for biofuels.

There is a problem of critical mass with all such alternatives. It is no good having an alternative that accounts for 0.1 per cent. of the market. To get a market going, there has to be a sufficient mass of activity, and in the case of biofuels that momentum will be created—with a lot of other advantages, which I shall mention shortly—only if the Government are a lot bolder in their approach to cutting duty rates.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow Anniesland

The hon. Gentleman has attacked the Prime Minister on where he stands—or, in this case, does not stand. Where does the hon. Gentleman stand on the figures and targets that the Government have set? Would he back them up, and if so, how would he do that?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That is a helpful intervention; I was about to come on to that point. There are many other issues on which I would attack the Prime Minister but, unfortunately, you might consider them outside the remit of this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The Conservative party endorses not only the Kyoto targets, but the more demanding ones that the Government have set for Britain. However, it would be helpful if we did not jump from a target that is 10 or 15 years hence to one for 2050; a series of intermediate steps would make the very long-term targets more credible, but that may be a point of detail.

What is clear is that none of these targets will be achieved unless policy is changed, and not just policy on renewable energy. Transport policy must be changed and energy efficiency must be given much greater priority, to mention just a couple of the important areas where far more urgency is needed. My right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard highlighted that last month in a powerful and wide-ranging speech on this subject.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

On 5 October, addressing the Conservative party conference, the hon. Gentleman said:

"To tackle congestion, I'll expand the road network."

Did he anticipate that that would lead to a reduction in carbon emissions?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

If the hon. Gentleman had taken the trouble to read the rest of my speech to the Conservative party conference, he would know that the answer to his question is yes. Technology opens the door for us to allow people to use their cars as they wish. The car has hugely enhanced people's lives in the last century, and we want people to be free to use their cars. We will not have a transport policy that is predicated on an attempt to get them out of the car, but we will encourage cleaner cars, such as more fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel cars. In that way, we can get the best of both worlds.

I hope that when the hon. Gentleman speaks in this debate he will clarify his position on the decision of Lewes district council to ban solar power in the town, despite the fact that it was particularly badly affected by flooding. It might be the case that in the minds of the hon. Gentleman and his Liberal Democrat colleagues there is no connection between violent floods and climate change, but it would enlighten the House, and possibly amuse it, if the hon. Gentleman were to clarify his position on that.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

Lewes district council did not ban solar power or any other renewable source. Indeed, evidence from planning applications demonstrates that the council has granted 13 out of 18 applications for solar panels in the last four years. Having heard the facts, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his allegation, which he continues to make.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am happy to repeat the allegation: there is a conservation area in Lewes in which the council's policy is to ban solar power.

Let me move on to a wider scale. It is not only Britain that needs to change policy if we are to tackle successfully the challenge of climate change. The United States of America needs to change even more. One of the blackest marks on the Prime Minister's record is his complete failure to use his influence with President Bush to try to get the US to ratify the Kyoto treaty. Without United States involvement, the Kyoto process is seriously, and possibly fatally, weakened. Nobody will take the Prime Minister's claim to be concerned about climate change seriously until there is evidence that he personally has used his uniquely advantageous position to win a change in the United States' approach.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

Before the hon. Gentleman too rapidly escapes from transport, would he like to make clear the Conservative party's attitude towards aviation? Does it intend to apply extra taxes? It talks about renewable energy; is there an attitude towards the use of fuels in general?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We have now developed a detailed policy on road transport, but I recognise that aviation is an even faster growing source of carbon dioxide emissions, and the absence of tax on aviation fuel creates an unlevel playing field in terms of transport choices. Therefore, between now and next spring, I intend to add more detail to our response on aviation.

I hope that the Government also accept that a failure to address the fast-growing source of emissions that aviation constitutes is yet another gaping hole in their strategy towards climate change.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Opposition Whip (Commons)

As and when it comes, the policy that my hon. Friend announces will be greatly welcomed not only by Conservative Members but by many people in the environmental lobby, because the Government's record on aviation is disgraceful. We hear nothing from the Ministers with responsibility for it, and what we do hear is lamentably unambitious; they have no vision and no plan.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's encouragement, although I am unsure whether it is universally shared by Conservative Members. He is rightly known to be one of the most committed environmentalists in Parliament, and I am delighted that he is here to be supportive today.

Returning to Britain, energy policy is a key factor that will determine how successful we are at tackling climate change. The Government's White Paper on energy was a chance for them to set out a coherent approach to this problem; sadly, it signally failed to do so. Government energy policy should have two overriding aims. First, it must ensure security of supply. Secondly, it must enable Britain to honour its environmental commitments. The White Paper implied, wholly misleadingly, that both aims could be achieved without any effect on electricity prices. That was dishonest. The truth is that if we are to have secure energy supplies and meet our environment goals, prices will rise. That throws up the additional challenge of how to deal with the problem of fuel poverty; however, the way to tackle that is not through energy policy, but through greater investment in energy efficiency and through the benefits system.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Labour, Cunninghame North

I agree with quite a lot of what the hon. Gentleman has said. The point he is leading to now is extremely topical because of the sharp rise in gas prices. Does he agree with me that, to a large extent, the key is to have an energy policy that is based much more strongly on indigenous energy sources? We should not be talking about renewables versus nuclear versus clean coal; we should be talking about the role of all three, which will lead to a diminution in our future dependence on imported gas.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I greatly regret the right hon. Gentleman's absence from the Treasury Bench. I recall his contribution to previous energy debates with much pleasure and a good deal of respect, and it is a shame that he is no longer a force for good sense in the Government, especially in their approach to energy policy. His point is well made, and I intend to address the subject he raises.

The White Paper seriously underestimated the probability of interruptions to supply, not just decades from now, but in the next few years. Given the damage that even brown-outs inflict on the economy and the hideous disruption to business and domestic life that any power cut causes, the White Paper's underestimate could have devastating consequences for Britain. Our infrastructure is already creaking, and our dependence on gas imports is increasing alarmingly, especially given the source of those imports and the limited number of entry points. I am indebted to the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, whose latest paper, No. 230, published this month, confirms the worrying position. It states:

"By 2010, it is estimated that the UK will be 50 per cent. dependent on imported gas, rising to 80 per cent. by 2020".

It continues:

"estimates suggest that the minimum share of gas in electricity generation will rise to 46 per cent by 2012 and some analysts suggest that this figure could be as high as over 60 per cent."

About a quarter of our electricity needs might soon be wholly dependent on imported gas. Remember that at present gas is imported into the United Kingdom through just two pipelines: the Bacton interconnector in Norfolk and the pipeline from Norway that enters through St. Fergus in Scotland. I do not need to spell out the vulnerability of that arrangement in today's world. It is not as though our gas storage capacity provides any protection—indeed, as POST notes,

"many European countries . . . have large strategic storage capacities, of up to 80 days' on average compared to 13 days for the UK."

Never before have we relied on imports for more than a quarter of our natural gas needs. No wonder the POST note contains a concluding warning:

"The shift from domestic gas surplus to import dependency may leave the UK more vulnerable to supply interruptions and gas price fluctuations".

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

The hon. Gentleman's comments about security and imports are pertinent, but does he not accept that they apply equally to nuclear power? To the best of my knowledge, there is no uranium mine in the UK.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

There are a great many more than two potential suppliers of uranium, which can be imported in a variety of ways and is not confined to two highly vulnerable pipelines. However, any form of energy is to some extent at risk from a variety of threats, of which terrorism is only one. That is why it is so crass of the present Government in terms of renewable energy to put all their eggs in one basket, and in terms of fossil fuels to become so vulnerable and wholly dependent on imported gas.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Labour, Alyn and Deeside

The hon. Gentleman talks about a lot of problems that we might face, but does he agree that many of them are a result of the way in which the industry was privatised by the Conservative Government?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

No, I do not accept that.

The truth is that Ministers are playing fast and loose with our future energy supply needs. They are banking on the chance that the damage that their reckless approach will cause will not occur until they have moved on to new pastures. Amazingly, their approach to renewables does nothing to deal with the problems of security that I have described.

The White Paper set extremely challenging targets for the proportion of Britain's energy that was to be derived from renewable sources, even though in their first three years in office the Labour Government failed to meet the renewable energy target for 2000 that was set by the previous Government. The Conservatives believe that it is crucial that Britain produce more energy from renewable sources. We believe that for environmental reasons, as well as for the reasons relating to security of supply that I have just outlined. Precisely because we believe that so strongly, we are horrified by Labour's approach to renewables, which can be summed up as onshore wind, and nothing else, and which involves forcing local communities throughout Britain to accept onshore wind farms, regardless of how damaging their environmental impact may be on the neighbourhood.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

My concern is the fly-by-night, paper nature of many of the companies, which simply spatter applications all over the countryside and sell on planning permissions, churning up a great deal of angst in local communities. Should we not take a more co-ordinated approach, perhaps via public inquiries? We have to accept that an honest debate is needed and that we can never meet all our needs from wind farms without ruining the environment. We have to accept the nuclear option.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am certainly in favour of an honest debate. I know that my hon. Friend will make a wise and positive contribution to such a debate, if we are allowed to have it.

Of all the available renewable energy technologies, onshore wind is the least reliable and therefore the least suitable for a country where security of supply is an urgent issue. The problem of intermittency is real: consumers who use electricity generated by onshore wind need an alternative and reliable source of power for those days when the wind does not blow—and, indeed, for those days when it blows too hard. Our second objection to the technology is that the siting of an onshore wind farm has a major, often negative, environmental impact on the area—visually and in terms of noise, and sometimes in terms of the consequences for wildlife. It is almost beyond belief that on an island, with all the potential that that offers for offshore wind, tidal and wave power, and in a country where, partly through the Government's own blunders, agriculture is struggling and farmers would benefit from new crops, almost all the Government's support for renewable energy is targeted at onshore wind. Sadly, however, that is the effect of the present operation of the renewables obligation.

If Britain exploited its natural advantages in offshore technologies, we might become a world leader, with all the commercial benefits that that could bring. If we offered users of biodiesel and bioethanol more favourable rates of duty, as advocated by my right hon. Friend Mrs. Shephard, demand would grow. As the market would be a new one, it is doubtful that even the Treasury would lose, because a cut in the rate of duty really could lead to an increase in the yield, so that revenue would grow, not fall. Microgeneration is another way in which we can increase the use of renewables, but if the potential contribution from that source is to be fully realised, changes are needed to the way in which the transmission and distribution networks are funded.

Another of our concerns centres on the way in which onshore wind farms are being imposed on local communities and in unsuitable places, despite strong local opposition, which is often based on sound environmental grounds. This might be the right moment to make it crystal clear that the Conservative party is neither opposed in principle to onshore wind farms, nor opposed in practice to every proposal for an onshore wind farm. We believe that onshore wind will have a role to play—but as part of a mix of renewable energy sources. Individually, wind farms must be situated in places where there is a reasonable degree of acceptance by the local community. At present, a worryingly large number of proposals fail that test. The result is that the case for renewable energy itself is starting to get a bad name in some places.

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

No. I am sorry.

Take the case of the Vale of White Horse in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr. Jackson. There is a proposal near Watchfield, where local people are opposed to the erection of five turbines almost 100 m high. They are lucky to have Ed Veizey to champion their cause locally. Planning policy statement 22 requests local authorities to set their own criteria for the minimum separation distances between different types of renewable energy projects and existing developments.

When the Minister responds, will he say in general terms what he believes is acceptable in terms of minimum distances? In the Vale of White Horse, there is a facility nearby for autistic children, who might be disturbed by the noise, the strobing and the low frequency sound produced by the turbines.

Moving further west, I am advised by Ashley Gray, an effective campaigner who is working to protect the landscape, and by Mrs. Caroline Jackson MEP, that planning applications threaten a number of landscapes in the west country. Going north, in Rossendale and Darwen, on Scout moor, an area of outstanding national beauty, there is another application for 26 turbines, 100 m high, with a footprint of more than 130,000 sq m. Eight miles of road will have to be built on the moor for this project, which will create a total of just four jobs. I am glad that Nigel Adams is fighting the cause.

Photo of Peter Ainsworth Peter Ainsworth Conservative, East Surrey

If I may say so, my hon. Friend is making a compelling speech. I hesitate to draw him back to the choppy waters of nuclear energy. As he has not altogether ruled out nuclear energy as a possibility and he is talking about a mix, what sort of local resistance does he anticipate facing in the event of wanting to build new nuclear power stations all over the countryside? Is he concerned not only about costs and waste but with the issue of safety?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend, who performs a distinguished role as Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee and who has contributed to these debates on a number of occasions, raises an important point. As it happens, I think that the most recent nuclear power station to be built in this country was at Sizewell, in the constituency next door to mine. I am quite familiar with the current debate. I represented south Thurrock when that debate was taking place. I am aware of the concerns that my hon. Friend suggests may be raised. Indeed, they will be. I have no doubt that if a proposal for a new nuclear power station was to come forward in any constituency, there would be a considerable local debate and a lot of controversy.

In the case of Sizewell, my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer, I and others were able, I think, to allay the concerns that were expressed. The power station has operated perfectly satisfactorily with benefit to the local economy, and so on. It would take some time to meet concerns. Issues about the environment and the cost would have to be addressed, and I would need to be convinced. Rightly, my hon. Friend also raises the issue of safety. I recognise that that would be a bigger and perhaps more controversial issue than even a wind farm. Nevertheless, I hope that in the end local people would see the issue on its merits and that the outcome would be a rational one, but it is not for me to prejudge what may or may not happen.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

No, I will not give way. I have already been speaking for nearly half an hour. I wish to mention some other urgent local issues.

In north Devon, Orlando Fraser has told me about the concerns of local people over the planning application for Fullebrook Down for 22 turbines each more than 360 ft tall. Later this week I shall be visiting Herefordshire, where my good friend Virginia Taylor will explain to me the work of the friends of the Golden Valley group, who are fighting—I am glad to say that they are doing so successfully, so far—against a huge and wholly inappropriate wind farm. There are many other applications that I could mention. For example, there are the proposals for Romney Marsh, which are being opposed by no less a person than my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard, the Leader of the Opposition. There is a proposal for a wind farm near the A14 at Boxworth in South Cambridgeshire. It is opposed by my hon. Friends the Members for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley).

In each of these cases local opinion faces the prospect of being ignored by Ministers. The residents in each of the places that I have mentioned, and in other places similarly threatened, will be looking carefully at what the Minister says this evening. If, as I suspect, they will find little to comfort them, I am happy to take this chance to make it clear that the next Conservative Government will withdraw PPS 22 and will replace it with planning guidance that strengthens rather than weakens the role of local authorities in determining the siting of renewable energy projects.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

No, I am sorry. I am reaching the end of my remarks.

I believe that most people recognise that we need more renewable energy in Britain. I believe also that there are some communities that will welcome wind farms in their area. However, I am convinced that the Government's present approach is the worst of all possible worlds. Unless there is an immediate change of policy, Britain's energy supplies will become less secure, not more secure, because of the Government's renewable energy strategy. Britain will throw away the chance to become a world leader in renewable energy technology other than onshore. Britain's farmers will be denied the chance to grow a valuable new crop. Our countryside will be littered with inappropriately sited wind farms. Instead of communities that are proud to play their part in the battle against climate change, we will have groups that resent the imposition by Ministers in Whitehall of damaging developments on their doorstep.

That prospect faces Britain under Labour, and because of it I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry 7:46 pm, 25th October 2004

I beg to move, To leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"recognises the passing of the Energy Act 2004 and the positive actions taken by the Government to increase the amount of energy supplied from renewable sources;
welcomes the global leadership shown by the Government on climate change and commends actions taken to meet the UK's Kyoto targets;
condemns the Official Opposition for opposing the development of renewables while claiming to support them in principle;
notes the abject failure of the Official Opposition to provide coherent policy proposals to meet the climate change challenge and its continued opposition to the Climate Change Levy;
praises the Government for providing significant resources and support to the development of wind energy, including £117 million for the development of offshore wind energy;
further notes that a growing proportion of wind farm developments will occur offshore;
supports steps taken by the Government to promote energy efficiency and notes with approval that the planning regime allows for wind farm proposals to be thoroughly considered in terms of their impacts on local communities and environments and their contributions to national energy needs and policies;
commends the Government's commitment to diversifying the sources of the UK's energy supply and the related investment in a wide range of renewable technologies including energy crops, £60 million investment for biomass, £31 million towards photovoltaics and £50 million for wave and tidal;
and further condemns the Official Opposition's energy policy that would drastically reduce the UK's investment in renewable technologies."

The Conservative attitude to the renewables debate is opportunist, incoherent and fundamentally dishonest. It is opportunist because it seeks to play on the fears of a small number of communities in marginal constituencies that have particular concerns about onshore wind farms. At one stage Mr. Yeo listed threats to the country. It is incoherent because the Conservative attitude hints at support for emissions reductions and renewables and then refuses to support the difficult decisions that are required to achieve these things through onshore wind energy. The Conservative policy is dishonest because it claims to the public that investments in offshore wind farms and other renewables can deliver on renewables by 2010 when reputable scientists know that they will not.

Today, we witnessed the Conservative party in full pre-election mode, playing political games for votes and promising two mutually undeliverable things: the emissions and renewable targets will all be met and communities will have a complete veto over onshore wind farms. These energy issues, which are serious and relate to the future of our country and that of the wider world, should be treated with far more seriousness than the political knockabout that we saw from the Conservatives today. The politics of the short term, the cynical and the expedient that determines Conservative policy shows that the Conservatives are not a serious Opposition.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Opposition Whip (Commons)

Does the Minister realise that it is he who is living in cloud-cuckoo land when he thinks that it is just local communities that are worried about the proliferation of large-scale wind farms? The proposal for Romney Marsh, for example, near my constituency, has upset local residents and anyone who is concerned with the preservation of wild birds, particularly those that have only a small amount of nesting ground. That is an issue that concerns far more people than just local residents. By ploughing ahead with the proposal, the Minister risks discrediting the whole renewable agenda.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

On this business of Romney Marsh, it seems that national Conservative party policy has been decided by a local planning application in the Folkestone constituency of the Leader of the Opposition. Does that reflect concerns about the national interest? No. There are concerns about Romney Marsh, and I do not dispute that it is an important place, but the whole of Britain's energy policy should not be determined by one local area.

I shall now set out the seriousness of the problems facing us and the reasons why some difficult decisions need to be made and why this Government, unlike the Conservatives, are prepared to make them. The hon. Member for South Suffolk referred to specific projects, but the House will know that Ministers cannot comment on a specific project that may be in the planning process, and that Ministers may have to consider in the future.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

I have given way once to the hon. Gentleman, but I shall do so again because I have mentioned an area near his constituency.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Opposition Whip (Commons)

It is extraordinary that the Minister has castigated an Opposition Front Bencher for mentioning planning cases. He has just spoken very clearly about the Romney Marsh project, which is three weeks into a five-week public inquiry. How does he square that? Is not what the Minister has just said about Romney Marsh blatant political interference in a public planning inquiry?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

Absolutely not; I have in no way prejudged anything to do with Romney Marsh—my point concerned the attitude of the Leader of the Opposition. It is in no one's interest to put wind farms in the wrong locations. That is why the Government insist that all renewable energy projects must be considered as part of a formal planning process that gives people the right to express their views and have them taken into consideration.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

Can I take it that that also applies to offshore wind farms and the interests of the fishing community, particularly in Morecambe bay, where the lines that inshore fishermen would have to follow present real problems?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

I want to ensure that the fishermen can make their views felt when an offshore application occurs. We have not only listened to the views expressed by fishermen on the general issue of offshore wind farms—some fishing communities oppose them—but set up studies to examine the problems raised by those fishermen to ensure that we address the serious points.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood

Will the Minister draw a clear distinction between the Government's policy of listening to people's views and the Opposition's policy, which is clear, of rejecting either wind power or nuclear power if the opposition is vociferous? That is a crazy way in which to run energy policy.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

My point is that the Conservative Opposition have not got a serious energy policy.

On planning inquiries, we want the impact on the environment, the local community, the landscape and the country's energy needs to be weighed fairly and fully in the balance. We should balance local and national interests, because everyone has a vested interest in reducing emissions that damage our environment and possibly our health, in improving the security of energy supplies and in examining the impact that blocking onshore wind farms may have on our prospects of dealing with energy problems. That is why local planning authorities handle all proposed developments that would generate less than 50 MW. Under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989, which the Conservative party introduced, proposed developments generating more than 50 MW or 1 MW offshore are dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Planning guidelines for local authorities are contained within PPS22, which was updated in August. It is wrong to say that PPS22 has made it harder for members of the public to have their say about new wind developments. Indeed, the objective of the exercise is to let local people have their say, while ensuring that decisions are made expeditiously and fairly bearing in mind the need to reduce energy emissions, which Conservative Members seem to recognise. PPS22 enables local people to have their rightful and democratic say within the checks and balances of the planning system. We also want to recognise the national element and ensure that the national planning inspectorate, which conducts inquiries, considers both local and national needs.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

The Minister's speech sounds reasonable, but he must understand that local authorities suspect that they are wasting their time by turning down such applications, because the inspector's final decision is based not on local planning conditions, but meeting our obligations under the Kyoto protocol. Will he make a firm commitment to my local authority and the others represented here that his inspectors will decide those issues on what is best for the local environment, which is what the planning process is all about?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

The planning process is all about ensuring that the right balance is struck. The Conservative party wants to give a local veto to local people on any planning application for an onshore wind farm, but the national interest must also be weighed in the balance, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we updated the planning guidance in August to achieve the correct balance. We gave full weight to local people's interests and gave local people the right to have their say in the planning process. We also weighed the need to examine local people's interests as well as the wider national interest in ensuring the development of renewables. Updating the planning system was all about getting the balance right.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Minister has described a passive process, but some hon. Members feel that the need to develop some renewables is more urgent. Will he address smaller scale water turbine development, which is a runner in my constituency? It uses old mills, but the Government have provided very little encouragement.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

We need to support small-scale hydro projects. I hope that some of the various grant schemes that we have introduced will enable such projects to find funding to provide the extra assistance that they need to develop. Some of those schemes—particularly micro-generation schemes—could well be the means by which many of us obtain our energy in 10 or 20 years' time. Local micro-generation will become much more important, and I want to see its development.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems of ruling out local initiatives or the nuclear option is that one must then examine other large renewable options? One such option, which is very close to my heart, is the Severn barrage, which I have always opposed because of the environmental damage that it would do to the Severn estuary. If we do not grasp that we need power from different sources, we will not argue about the Severn barrage, because it will be imposed on us. Will my hon. Friend say that we must examine local initiatives?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

Yes; I am happy to say that we must examine a range of diverse energy sources. In the long term, I want to see the growth of local projects, micro-generation, solar schemes and windmill schemes. I recently examined a windmill project in which the windmills are no larger than satellite dishes and can be put on top of roofs, and we must be prepared to examine such schemes in order to deal with energy in the future.

Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Labour, Ipswich

Does my hon. Friend agree that businesses such as Your Energy, which is involved in 25 per cent. of applications for onshore wind farms, depend on certainty in the planning regime? Threats to withdraw PPS22 undermine the commercial decisions that such businesses must make to obtain the investment that will allow us to move forward as a leader in such technology.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

My hon. Friend is right. What the Leader of the Opposition said the other day and what Conservative Members have said today has put doubt in the minds of many companies across this country on the question whether sufficient support for the development of alternatives and renewables will exist in the future. The Conservative party cannot be trusted on that issue, and its opportunistic policy will put doubts in the minds of many companies.

The Prime Minister made it clear that climate change is the world's greatest environmental challenge. Burning fossil fuels produces greenhouse gases and carbon emissions, which can raise the earth's temperature. That could lead to changes in temperature patterns, which could mean an increase in droughts, which affect crop yields, tornadoes, flooding and the extinction of some vulnerable species of wildlife.

Energy demand in the UK and across the world is rising, while the availability of fossil fuels is expected to decline in the long term. The issues are serious, and all Governments must respond to them with long-term solutions. We must develop sustainable, secure and diverse supplies of energy for the future. The UK has set a target to reduce carbon emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050.

There is no single means of delivering that target. Better energy efficiency is crucial but insufficient in itself. Green energy—renewable generation—has a key role to play. It can contribute towards secure energy supplies, create new investment and bring new jobs. The UK has set a demanding target for 10 per cent. of our electricity generation to be supplied from renewable energy by 2010. In 1997, renewables contributed 0.7 per cent. of our electricity. That has been tripled by Labour, but there is still a long way to go to hit our target of 10 per cent.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

No; I have been generous, and I will not give way again.

To achieve that target, we need to make use of all renewable sources. We expect 7 or 8 per cent. of the 10 per cent. generation to come from wind energy. Other technologies will be hard pushed to produce the rest. The suggestion that other energy sources can hit the target by themselves is plain fantasy. Roughly half the 7 to 8 per cent. will come from onshore wind generation and half from offshore wind generation. Today, renewable electricity, mainly from wind farms, supplies enough electricity to light up Manchester. In theory, up to 2 million homes could be lit from wind power. But the plain fact is that without a substantial increase in onshore wind developments, the 10 per cent. target is unachievable. The Conservatives profess support for renewables but seek to introduce policies that would prevent their use. Their proposal to give a local veto on all wind farm developments is simply not credible to anyone who is serious about our renewables targets.

We are not focused on onshore wind farms to the exclusion of other energy sources—the UK has a vast potential renewable source, and we want to take forward a wide range of renewable technologies—but wind energy currently offers the best, the most cost-effective and the only truly serious potential for expansion in the short to medium term.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Only this month, the Government chief scientist said that if we are to combat climate change and meet Kyoto, decisions on future nuclear build must be made within five years. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has said that those decisions do not need to be made for 20 or 30 years. What is the Minister's position?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

That is a very good and carefully modulated question—I like it. As I have managed to discuss the issue with both people, I suspect that the hon. Gentleman may want to reconsider his remarks.

We have not ruled out the nuclear option. Nuclear energy is not commercially attractive at the moment, and no companies are coming forward with propositions for such developments. If they did so in future, we would consider them. However, before going ahead with any nuclear programme we would have to produce a White Paper on nuclear energy and to consider all the issues, including those related to nuclear waste. We would also want to ensure full and widespread public consultation.

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney

If we want to make progress towards a 60 per cent. reduction in CO 2 emissions beyond what we will achieve through the 20 per cent. renewables target and energy saving policies, another alternative to the nuclear option is carbon sequestration. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the Government are considering that as well as what the nuclear industry can offer?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

Yes, I do want to consider carbon sequestration, which I have discussed with my hon. Friend before. I shall ask officials to provide me with full reports on that possibility, which we need to explore.

Our main mechanism to bring forward renewable generation is the renewables obligation. As a market-based measure, the obligation favours the more cost-effective forms of renewables, particularly wind. I am well aware that there are well-organised and vocal anti-wind farm campaigns. However, recent surveys have shown that 67 per cent. of people favour an expansion of renewables, including wind farms. What was particularly fascinating about those surveys was that people who lived near wind farms tended to be more supportive than those who did not. The figure for support went up to 80 per cent. for those who lived within 5 km of a wind farm. It remains to be seen whether those results are borne out by other surveys, but it does suggest that those who know the facts about living with wind farms do not accept the misconceptions. Those facing the prospect of wind farms in their area may well have concerns, and it is right to address them; it is not right, however, to stir them up for short-term political advantage.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Does the Minister agree that if those polls are correct, and local people in areas where wind farms are proposed are as much in favour as he suggests, there will be no problem whatsoever in allowing them the final say on whether they have them?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

The short-term political advantage that the hon. Gentleman is hoping to garner may turn out not to be as great as he thinks. As I said—obviously he was not listening—where applications are being made people may have concerns, which are sometimes no doubt stirred up by Conservative MPs for short-term political advantage. It is worth noting, however, that where wind farms are already in place, the figures that we have seen suggest that most people like them—80 per cent. do, and 20 per cent. do not.

We need to ensure that we develop other technologies. The Government are not only supporting onshore wind energy—we have also made funding available to bring forward emerging technologies with the potential to make a contribution in the longer term. We have announced more than £0.5 billion pounds of support for emerging technologies since 2002. That includes £117 million for offshore wind energy. The potential exists for the UK to be a world leader in the field of offshore wind energy. Last year was a record year for onshore wind energy, with eight offshore consents being approved. We expect all the currently consented sites to be built by 2010. Proposals have been accepted for 15 sites, which, taken together, could supply up to 7 per cent. of our electricity. The second round of onshore programmes paves the way for the biggest expansion of renewable energy yet seen. Perhaps 3.5 per cent. of that will come on stream by 2010.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

I have been generous. If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I have a bit more to say and do not want to take as long as his Front-Bench spokesman.

The Government are also providing support of the order of £100 million for bioenergy. That support benefits facilities ranging from 40 MW power stations to household micro-generation schemes. Earlier this month, the Government announced a new biomass taskforce to stimulate biomass supply and demand. It is to be led by Sir Ben Gill, the former president of the National Farmers Union.

Wave energy and tidal stream technology have the potential to supply a significant proportion of our energy needs. Those technologies are still at the pre-commercial prototype phase, but the UK is currently a world leader in their development. In August, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced the £50 million marine renewables deployment fund to help speed the commercialisation of wave and tidal power.

Last month, I announced that schools, houses and commercial buildings will benefit from £8.5 million of extra new funding to encourage more energy production from solar panels and small-scale renewables. That brings the Government's commitment to solar photovoltaic—PV—to £31 million since 2002. It also increases support for the use of small-scale renewables in households and communities through the £12.5 million clear skies programme and its Scottish equivalent.

We are also developing a broad-based strategy on micro-generation that goes out to consultation next year. There are many potential jobs here, with 8,000 jobs in renewables so far and 35,000 likely in future. For example, Romag, a company from Leadgate, provides the public screens here in the Chamber and PV solar tiles for people's homes.

I have gone through a list of the funding that we are providing, yet the last Conservative Government cut support to the renewables industry to the bone in order to fund their tax cuts. The Conservatives have made it clear that they want more tax cuts. Will they commit themselves to matching Labour's funding of renewables budgets? Will they forgo tax cuts to keep up the programme of investment if they ever come into office? I very much doubt it.

The Government have taken positive steps to expand renewables, but the Conservatives cut funding. The Government have provided national leadership on renewables, but the Conservatives have played nimby politics. The Government have put in place action to meet the Kyoto targets—and we will meet them—but although the Conservatives claim to support renewables in principle, they oppose key elements of the way in which we will meet the targets in practice. The climate change levy funds renewables research, but the Conservatives would take away such funding by removing the levy. The Government have put £117 million into offshore wind energy, but the Conservatives have given no commitment to new funding. The Government have put in place a planning process that gives local people the right to have their say and also allows the national interest on renewables to be heard, but the Conservatives ignore the national interest on energy. The Government have committed funding to renewables—£60 million for biomass, £31 million for photovoltaic and £50 million for wave and tidal power—but the Conservatives cut research funding in the past and would do so in the future to pay for tax cuts.

Onshore wind farms are an essential part of renewables and any party that fails to appreciate that cannot claim to be taken seriously as a party of national government. I say to the hon. Member for South Suffolk, in the immortal words of John McEnroe, "You cannot be serious".

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes 8:11 pm, 25th October 2004

I was looking forward to participating in a debate on climate change during the Conservatives' Opposition day last Monday. Unfortunately, the debate was pulled, but I expected it to be reinstated this week. Instead of a debate about the serious issue of climate change, however, we are having a debate that represents an attack on wind farms, although they are one of the ways in which climate change may be tackled. In the period of eight days, the Conservatives have displayed inconsistency and opportunism.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

When last week's debate was announced, the hon. Gentleman issued a press release that accused the Conservatives of tarmacking over Britain. May I remind him that the Liberal Democrats supported the dualling of the A11 and the A120 and the widening of the A27? They also championed the construction of the Newbury and Batheaston bypasses. Does that not—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I fail to see the relevance of that point to the present debate.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

Your view on that point is echoed throughout the Chamber, Madam Deputy Speaker.

To be fair, we are having a debate of sorts on the environment today, and at least Mr. Yeo is in the Chamber, unlike his opposite number. The Secretary of State is scrupulously absent, as she always is when we have environment debates in the House. I am not sure which country she is in tonight, but I hope that she will do us the honour of turning up to the House of Commons occasionally.

We need a consensus on climate change, but I am afraid that both the Conservative motion and the Government amendment are motivated more by rubbishing the other side than by suggesting a sensible way forward. The motion seemed vaguely attractive, although it was inaccurate in one or two respects, but the way in which it was presented was as thin as gruel, and the combative approach adopted by the hon. Member for South Suffolk showed that he was more interested in scoring political points than in dealing with the serious problem of climate change.

It is strange and regrettable that although the Conservatives say that they are interested in climate change, they are apparently happy to endorse the views of Professor David Bellamy, who said on 9 July:

"The link between the burning of fossil fuels and global warming is a myth. It is time the world's leaders, their scientific advisers, and many environmental pressure groups woke up to the fact."

That man shared a platform shortly afterwards with the leader of the Conservative party, which suggests that it was more important for the party opportunistically to find someone with vague environmental credentials who was opposed to wind farms than to deal with the important problem of climate change.

Richard Ottaway mentioned roads and the "tarmac Tories" throughout the country. It is a fact that the hon. Member for South Suffolk said at the Tory party conference:

"To tackle congestion, I'll expand the road network".

However, that would not help to solve the problem of carbon emission. An answer has come back about cleaner vehicles, which we all support, but that was not a response to the point that was made.

The Conservative party's approach is inconsistent. It says that it wants to tackle climate change and to address real issues, but its proposals and policies run counter to that objective. That is true of their policies on both roads and energy. The party says that it is in favour of wind farms, but opposes them in every location in which they are proposed.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Labour, Alyn and Deeside

Although I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about the Tories, does he agree that the Liberals have exactly the same record on that issue?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

No, and if the hon. Gentleman bears with me, I shall list the occasions on which the Liberal Democrats have supported proposals for wind farms throughout the country, because we do that regularly. We are doing what I assume the Conservatives want us to do, judging by the speech made by the hon. Member for South Suffolk. We judge each application on its merits, so we support many applications and oppose one or two that are inconsistent with local planning guidance. The Conservatives advocate such a policy, so it is a bit rich of them to knock other parties that adopt it.

The motion cites the Conservative party's well-founded and proper regret that only 2.7 per cent. of energy comes from renewable sources. It is a disgrace that the figure is so low. We are blessed with the potential for renewable energy, whether that is produced by wave, tidal or wind power, or from other sources such as biomass or perhaps even geothermal energy from underneath Cornwall, but we have not exploited that potential in any way. I must say that although the present Government have done little to increase the amount of renewable energy produced, that is because they inherited such a low base in 1997. Neither the Conservative nor the Labour party comes out of the situation with any credit.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the list of methods of producing renewable energy in the future that he provided would all fall under the 50kW measure, so they would all, in principle, be subject to local decision making prior to an inquiry? Does he agree that if the Conservatives had their way, it would be virtually impossible to introduce any form of renewable energy in a systematic and planned manner to meet renewables targets?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I think that that would be the outcome. I am afraid that evidence from throughout the country shows that the Conservatives oppose any innovations on renewables, although they pretend to support renewable energy. The policy of absolute local determination might be appropriate if sensible local politicians were to approach the matter apolitically, but that is not the case at present, so we must consider the overall national interest as well as local interest.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Opposition Whip (Commons)

Just to be clear, is the hon. Gentleman saying that he opposes local people having a say about installations in their communities?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

Certainly not. We favour a presumption from central Government in favour of wind farms, but that would not take away an appropriate level of local determination. A similar arrangement applies to mobile phone masts. There is a presumption in favour of development, but local people may have their say so that applications can be blocked as and when. The alternative systems would be either national diktat or local determination that could stop everything, which seems to be the Conservative party's policy, but neither would be in the national interest.

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Conservative, North Dorset

The hon. Gentleman said earlier that the Liberal Democrats supported wind turbine applications where they considered them appropriate. Which applications have they supported in constituencies that are represented by Liberal Democrat Members?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

If the hon. Gentleman allows me to make some progress, which I shall now try to do after taking many interventions, I shall come on to that.

The motion refers to a worry that has its basis in fact: an over-reliance on onshore wind farms. I say to the Minister, in a friendly and genuine way, that the Department of Trade and Industry has identified wind, and especially onshore wind, as the aspect on which greatest progress may be made most quickly. That might be right, but the downside is that insufficient attention is being paid to other possible renewable energy sources. They might be getting £30 million here, or £50 million there, but they are being squeezed out, and insufficient attention is focused on them. The Government must widen their basket of renewable energy and give more help to alternative sources. They should do that now, rather than when wind power is well established, so that the schemes may progress in parallel. That would be my major criticism of the Government's renewable energy policy, to which I hope that the Minister will respond.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

I am listening to the hon. Gentleman's argument with care and agree with much of it. I agree that we need to resource the development of other renewables, but if we are to hit the target for 2010, wind will be the main way of doing that: about 3 per cent. could come from other sources, and about 7 to 8 per cent. from wind. Does he not accept that only half at most of that could be offshore wind, and that onshore wind must therefore be developed?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

Of course I accept that onshore wind must be developed—if that was not clear from my remarks, I am happy to put it on the record now—but what I also accept is that there is potential for wave power, tidal power and other sources of renewable energy, which are not being developed at the necessary speed because the Government are keeping their eye almost exclusively on wind power. I am seeking to correct that in Government policy.

I have a fear—I am not a conspiracy theorist by nature—that Government energy policy is not quite the same as the DTI's energy policy, and that Ministers' views are not always reflected in the legislation drawn up by officials. If the Minister had been present during consideration of the Energy Bill, he would have found it interesting to compare the statements honestly and forthrightly made by his predecessor, who is now the Financial Secretary, with the terms of the Bill, which do not deliver what he was saying he wanted. A large body of opinion in the DTI is wholly in favour of nuclear power, to a far greater degree than Ministers are. The Minister ought to watch that, as he may have been given information that will help the recreation of nuclear power in years to come rather than renewables. It would be convenient for some people—I am not thinking of DTI officials at this moment—for renewables to be strangled. If onshore wind, which is up there in lights, can be discredited totally, renewables can also be discredited as a consequence. That is a very dangerous outcome, which we must try to avoid. That is why politicking on this matter is reprehensible.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Opposition Whip (Commons)

I find myself very much in agreement with the hon. Gentleman that if onshore wind is discredited the whole renewables agenda will suffer. Is not that the very reason that we must avoid forcing onshore wind into totally inappropriate sites, as the Government are trying to do, such as—to return to it again—Romney marsh?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I do not wish to comment on Romney marsh, but there is a middle course between the exploitation of the issue for political purposes, in which I fear that some of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues are indulging, and railroading through, which some people wish to do. Neither of those helps wind power or renewable energy. The sensible course is to put in place a policy process to which people can sign up, in which they have confidence, and which will deliver a significant increase in renewable energy in this country from onshore wind and other sources.

Photo of David Hamilton David Hamilton Labour, Midlothian

I have been a lifelong opponent of nuclear power, but does not the hon. Gentleman agree that renewables, no matter how optimistic we are about them, will not fill the gap that we are approaching? Security of energy is becoming the biggest issue facing us all, irrespective of which party we represent. If I can change my position and begin to consider such an option, surely that is the way forward. Security of energy must be the criterion that we all work towards.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I agree that security of energy is important, but I do not agree that nuclear energy is the answer. We have just passed an Energy Bill that commits £48 billion of public money to clear up the mess that we already have. Imagine what we could do with £48 billion to spend on renewable energy—we would have 100 per cent. renewable energy in this country with that money. We have an ever-increasing mountain of intermediate and high-level waste, and no one knows what to do with it. There is no answer to that, and it is irresponsible to build that up further for future generations. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that a policy of energy efficiency—on which the Government need to do far more—and renewables development, plus, I suggest to Paddy Tipping, some investment for the long term in clean coal technology, as we have hundreds of years of coal supplies under the ground, may be the way forward, rather than nuclear. Nuclear has too many uncertainties and question marks against it for us to proceed down that road.

Furthermore, variability of supply is an issue with regard to wind power. Obviously, wind stops and starts, so it is not like a coal-fired or oil-fired power station, and the grid capacity that wind can produce must be limited by that variability, but it is also the case, according to a report from Germany—the 2004 wind report by e.on—that the impact on the grid from wind power is detrimental and requires further investment above and beyond that which was expected. Germany has a heavier reliance on wind power than other countries. Has the Minister seen that report, and if so, will he comment on it?

The visual impact of wind turbines is a subjective issue—some people think that they look attractive, whereas others find them horrendous. I find it difficult to understand how people can object to wind turbines when they are quite happy with pylons all over the country. One of the problems with the current wind power proposals is that they concentrate on areas of population that are often a long way from the centres where the power is expected to be used. We must develop further a close relationship between the location of turbines and the populations where the wind power will be used. That is important not simply to minimise transmission losses and to avoid strings of pylons, but so that local communities have ownership of the turbines and feel that they belong to them, rather than that they have been imposed on them.

Photo of Mr Adrian Flook Mr Adrian Flook Conservative, Taunton

I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman's last point, but one of the arguments for scarring the Somerset countryside that campaigners for wind farms advance is that turbines will stay up only for 25 years, which is exactly what my local Friends of the Earth members said when I met them on Friday. Does he agree that we must treat with a huge amount of scepticism the notion that any, or many, or those wind turbines will come down after 25 years?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I have no idea. In a sense, once a wind turbine has been put in place and is delivering, it should carry on for the rest of its operational life. It seems stupid to remove something that is operating satisfactorily. I am not sure that I understand the basis of the question.

The results of a Greenpeace survey are interesting—hon. Members may say that it has a vested interest, but it commissioned an independent study, and I am not sure whether the Minister was referring to it or to a different study. National polling survey fieldwork carried out for Greenpeace on 25 and 26 August suggested that 79 per cent. of the population were in favour of the development of wind farms in the UK generally, and 69 per cent. were in favour of the development of a wind farm in their area. There is not the huge opposition to wind farms that has been reported. Interestingly, in the south-east, which is perhaps one of the most concentrated areas of population in the country, support for wind farms is strongest.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

On that point, will my hon. Friend join me in complimenting the Ford motor company on having recently erected two wind turbines on its Dagenham site, which are close to where the energy is needed and do not need huge pylons to take the energy into the grid? Does he agree that there may be other sites on industrial estates that could be equally attractive for this purpose?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I absolutely agree. Indeed, Lewes district council, which the hon. Member for South Suffolk was keen to rubbish inaccurately earlier, is exploring the possibility of a wind turbine to power its own needs. We need to get more wind turbines locally, for the reasons I have given. If we do, we will have less environmental impact and more community support for such developments.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

One of the problems with wind farms is intermittency. Onshore, the electricity is not available 70 per cent. of the time; offshore, 50 per cent. of the time. What is the hon. Gentleman proposing to back up wind farms once they reach critical mass?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I have already suggested that a wide range of renewable sources should be used and that energy needs should be cut through energy efficiency. No doubt we will use gas as a bridge. In the very long term, if we have not found some alternative solution, say from hydrogen, we will have to go back to coal, which I hope by that time will have been cleaned up. That would be my way forward, rather than nuclear power. Coal is not currently usable in big quantities because of the carbon problems, but who knows what scientists may do in terms of clean coal technology? If we are able to develop clean coal technology and export it to countries such as China, that will make more of a difference to climate change than almost anything else we could do, reducing emissions elsewhere in the world.

I need to refer to the Liberal Democrat record on the matter, because inaccurate statements are made regularly by the hon. Member for South Suffolk in particular, which I cannot let go by. He has put on the record his position. He told the Tory party conference:

"Take a look at Lib Dem-controlled Lewes. There the council have banned solar power. I am not kidding."

I do not know whether he has a dictionary to examine the definition of the word "banned", but the official figures are that between 1999 and 2003—I referred to it earlier—the council approved 11 applications for solar panels and rejected four. That hardly seems to constitute a ban.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

It was 13 out of 18 applications, was it not?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

Three applications were withdrawn, making 18 in all. I am happy to send Conservative Members a copy of the figures, so that they are better informed next time they speak on the issue.

The hon. Member for South Suffolk said on 16 September 2003:

"It is almost impossible to find a specific proposal for an onshore wind farm that the Liberal Democrats locally are prepared to support."

I can give him lots of examples of areas where we have supported wind farms. My hon. Friend Mr. Reid, for example, and the Liberal Democrat Member of the Scottish Parliament, George Lyon, have supported one at Gigha, Scotland's first community-owned wind farm. Aberdeenshire council, which is run by a Liberal Democrat and independent coalition, has supported the Clashindarroch Forest project and the Vale of White Horse project. The Lib Dems are in favour of wind farm developments at Norfolk, including the Cromer offshore scheme. The Lib Dem local council and the local Lib Dem Member there have supported that project.

I could go on. It is rubbish to say that we have opposed wind farms up and down the country. It is the Conservatives who do so. The hon. Member for South Suffolk neglected to mention that the Conservatives have a moratorium on wind farms in Scotland. That is their policy. It is not selective. It is not judging matters on their merits—it is that all wind farms must be stopped in Scotland. That is their position. George Lyon said:

"Up to 1,200 jobs in Scotland rely on the development of the wind farm industry . . . yet this young industry would be threatened if this"


"moratorium went ahead—it would be choked at birth".

Therefore, in their effort to make political points, the Conservatives are strangling development, strangling the environment and taking away jobs as well.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

No, I am going to conclude, because I have spoken for 20 minutes.

Clearly, the Conservatives are seeking to make political capital out of this. They are in favour of wind farms in principle and against them specifically, wherever they occur. They have ducked the opportunity to have a debate on climate change, which they should have had last Monday, and failing that, they should have had today. They have chosen instead to pick this topic to attack the environment by seeking to undermine renewable energy, which is one of the key ways to tackle climate change. The Conservatives have no credibility on the issue.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The 10-minute time limit on Back-Bench speeches operates from now. Nine hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, so there is a certain difficulty. Mutual self-restraint will, of course, be universally welcomed.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Labour, Rother Valley 8:34 pm, 25th October 2004

If Norman Baker wants people to take the Liberal Democrats seriously in these areas, he should not say things such as that £48 billion could supply Britain's electricity needs by alternative energy. It blows the mind. Can he tell us how he would get 10 per cent. of base load electricity from renewable energy? He should take stock of that. He should also read what the Opposition's motion says. He was saying that he sort of agreed with it in a sense. The Opposition motion mentions

"the Government's policy of relying exclusively on onshore wind farms to meet its renewable targets".

That is what the hon. Gentleman believes. What about the £117 million that the Government are putting into offshore wind farm development? Should I go through the list of the tens of millions of other things into which the Government are also putting money?

I should particularly mention the £31 million towards photovoltaics. Back in the 1980s, when I was an Opposition energy spokesman and had an interest in such matters, the Conservative Government withdrew all research and development into photovoltaics. Anybody who read The Observer yesterday would know that at least this Government are giving grants to people who want to put photovoltaic tiles on their roofs, so that they can bring forward renewable energy in a sensible way. We ought to look at the history of renewable energy before we start talking and accusing the Government, because they have a good record on encouraging renewable energy.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Labour, Rother Valley

No, I will not, because I have only 10 minutes. I might give way later, if I get the chance.

On onshore wind farms, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, it is not marginal seats in which there are such developments; potentially, seats that people do not think are marginal have them, too. On 30 January, my local newspaper in Rotherham, The Star, ran a story about wind farms. It stated:

"The company which withdrew controversial plans to build huge turbines in the Peak District is now looking at a site near Rotherham.

Warrington-based United Utilities has confirmed it is considering a one-and-a-half mile long wind farm in the local countryside.

Up to 16 massive turbines could be built—each one between 60 and 80 metres high".

The article also referred to discussions between the company and Rotherham metropolitan borough council's planning authority about the building of only three turbines. I discovered later that that proposal was put forward by npower, which took over from Yorkshire Electricity as a distributor and energy provider.

In August, npower sent out letters to local residents and to me, outlining its proposal to site three turbines at Loscar common, near the village of Harthill in my constituency. In response, I wrote to npower, highlighting concerns that I wanted it to address. One was the potential problem of noise. Had there been noise factor tests on the turbines that it intended to use and, if so, what were the results? The other concern was the possible TV interference. At the Millhouse Green wind farm on Royd moor in the Barnsley area, I understand that a new relay station eventually had to be installed so that local people could get their television reception back.

The other issue that I raised with npower was the effect on property values. In January this year, a district judge was reported in The Times as stating that

"the noise, visual intrusion and flickering of light through the blades of turbines reduced the value of a house by one fifth."

He went on to say that

"the value of a remote house in Marton in the Lake District fell significantly because of the construction of a wind farm of seven 40 metre high turbines 500 metres away."

If that description is true, npower will have to deal with the issue when it is looking into building anything that is close not just to isolated farm houses, but to dozens—and in some instances hundreds—of properties in conservation areas.

I received a reply on 2 September saying that the person dealing with the matter in npower would be away until 13 September and that on his return I would be sent "a formal proper response"—npower's words, not mine.

Having not as of today received a response, I asked my office to make contact. It was told that the answers to my questions were specific to the site, or something to that effect, and a meeting to discuss my concerns was suggested. Having been promised a letter on the three issues that have been in the public domain for many months—the judgment was in January—the developer has still not written to me with answers to my fundamental questions.

I spoke to the planning department of my local council today to find out whether it has received a planning application for the npower site. It has, but it is invalid owing to the lack of detail. I am confused about who has made the application, because it could be the farmer rather than npower, but I fear that such planning applications will not diminish my constituents' worries, but make them grow. The developers need to be more professional.

Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Conservative, Bridgwater

Two or three times in Somerset, companies have looked for sites and done so very publicly so that people thought that they were putting in an application. They then got an idea of public opinion.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Labour, Rother Valley

I suspect that that is true.

Five parish councils have joined together because they are worried about the applications. Companies are looking around and I think that a game of poker is being played, which is not good. Although I had no local authority experience before coming into the House, it is clear from my case load that plenty of games of poker have been played with planning applications for the past 21 years. It is a major issue that has not been handled professionally. However, I have given a date when I will meet npower. It has asked to meet some of the local authorities, but not the planning authority, and they are not too happy about it.

United Utilities has not publicly discussed its 16-turbine plan. That raises many questions about how the planning applications will make progress, if they are to make progress, and what the implications are for the Government's planning policy statement 22, published earlier this year. The Guardian reported in August that it was a way of getting wind farms built with no or little opposition from local communities.

I want to ask my hon. Friend the Minister about a number of things. One relates to the key principles. PPS22 states:

"At the local level, planning authorities should set out the criteria that will be applied in assessing applications for planning permission".

It goes on to say:

"The Government may intervene in the planning process where it considers that the constraints being proposed by local authorities are too great or have been poorly justified."

What does that mean in the context of local authorities presumably having the right to give their opinion?

The key principles also state:

"Developers of renewable energy projects should engage in active consultation and discussion with local communities at an early stage".

One of the developers—npower—has attempted to do that, but no one else has. There is a plan for 16 turbines, stretching for one and a half miles, but no attempt has been made to engage in public consultation. Under those circumstances, we need to tell local authorities and communities exactly what we mean by the planning policy statement. I know that a booklet is to be issued on that, but how should we interpret it now?

The section on landscape and visual effects states:

"Of all renewable technologies, wind turbines are likely to have the greatest visual and landscape effects. However, in assessing planning applications, local authorities should recognise that the impact of turbines on the landscape will vary according to the size and number of turbines and the type of landscape involved".

I accept that entirely, but what do we do when an application for three turbines is followed by an application for another 16? Should my local authority say that that is, in fact, a planning application for 19 wind turbines in urban Rotherham, because the companies have been chased out of rural areas and the Peak district?

Those big issues must be addressed. Interpretation of the Government's planning policy statement is crucial if we are to achieve steady growth in renewable energy.

Photo of Peter Ainsworth Peter Ainsworth Conservative, East Surrey 8:45 pm, 25th October 2004

I applaud the way in which the motion sets the debate about wind farms in the context of the much wider debate about climate change. I am sorry that the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats did not appear to notice that.

I am an agnostic on wind farms. I like the look of them, especially when they are abroad, but I am not sure that I should like to see them on a planner's map that affected my constituency. Therein lies the problem. The issue is compounded by the fact that, to achieve 5 per cent. of our energy needs from wind power, we shall have to build 6,000 of the things. Where are they to go?

The Government know that they have a problem, which is precisely why they changed the planning guidance. In doing so, they have set themselves on a possible collision course with public opinion, and that concerns me. Measures designed to improve the quality of the environment must be aligned with public opinion, not opposed to it. I appreciate that the Government have a difficult job, but they must be careful not to go looking for a fight.

The motion castigates the Government's performance, as Opposition motions do, but I am sorry that so much of this debate has been characterised by cross-party political bickering. There is a real need for political consensus on these issues if we are to avoid the disaster that threatens. The Government have undertaken some positive measures and set some useful targets. The fact that they are missing their targets and are likely to carry on doing so illustrates that their efforts are not yet sufficiently joined up or consistent.

The Government need to be much more imaginative in their use of fiscal instruments. They must use carrots as well as sticks to alter behaviour. Many of the measures introduced so far are peripheral, small fry and very small scale; for example, the Budget measure this year to reduce VAT on ground source heat pumps resulted, if it resulted in anything, in a chorus of "What is a ground source heat pump?". Such measures are useful and worthy, but will not make the difference between success and failure.

There are glaring inconsistencies. If the aim of increasing wind farm capacity is to cut CO 2 emissions, why on earth are the Government simultaneously proposing a trebling in aviation capacity, whose effect will be to negate any benefit from covering the entire country in controversial wind turbines? The Government need to be coherent if they are to be believed. They must send out clear, unequivocal messages if they expect people to go along with them.

We need an urgent step change in investment in renewable energy for three reasons. My hon. Friend Mr. Yeo has already touched on them. The first is that our increasing dependence on overseas oil and gas poses a long-term threat to security of supply. It makes good economic sense to become less dependent on others for our electricity needs.

Secondly, the declining role for nuclear power envisaged in current Government policy will leave a 25 per cent. gap in our energy supply in about 20 years' time. Some people say that we should start building new nuclear capacity. I am not convinced that that is politically or economically attractive, or even viable. The nuclear industry has betrayed too many promises in the past for us to be able to rely on it now. It is massively expensive and dependent on the taxpayer and, as my hon. Friend pointed out, the issues about waste are far from being resolved. The Minister may want to know that, in evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee, Professor Sir David King, the Government's chief scientist, said that his attitude to reinvesting in nuclear energy had been affected by the events of 9/11. There are genuine security concerns.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

Is it not the case that the chief scientific adviser suggested some months ago that new nuclear build might be necessary, but only as an interim measure until the full range of renewable technologies had been properly developed, not as a permanent solution?

Photo of Peter Ainsworth Peter Ainsworth Conservative, East Surrey

The hon. Gentleman is exactly right and I am grateful to him for his intervention. However, I am concerned that, by keeping the nuclear option open, as it were in an antechamber to where the main debate is taking place, the Government are setting up a powerful disincentive for investment in other forms of renewable.

The third reason why we need to get to grips with the matter and bring about a step change in the level of investment and political commitment is the biggest reason of all: the threat posed by climate change. I know that some people say there is no problem. When more than 1,000 of the world's leading scientists say there is a problem, we had better believe them or be very lucky indeed. We know that global temperatures are rising fast and concentrations of CO 2 in the atmosphere are higher than they have been for over 400,000 years. We know that there are forecasts predicting that, on a business-as-usual case, by the end of the century we could see temperatures in the United Kingdom up by 10°C, which would lead to Sahara-like conditions in parts of the south of England. Do we really want to leave that to our children and future generations?

What is worse is that that is happening now. We do not need a crystal ball. We do not need to look into the future or make predictions. Sir David King made an extremely powerful speech in the Greenpeace business lecture about a week ago, in which he set out some of the ways in which it is happening. I will not rehearse them all. The Greenland ice sheet is melting by about 10 m a year, that water heads into the sea and water levels go up. The Thames barrier, which was opened in 1982, was designed to be operated about once every five years. It is now being operated about six times a year on average. The World Health Organisation reports that 150,000 people die every year around the world directly as a result of the impacts of global warming. There were 30,000 excess deaths in Europe in 2003 during the heat wave.

Much of our infrastructure—pylons, roads, communications networks, rail lines—was built to withstand temperatures of up to 30° C. Kent recorded more than 38° C in August 2003. That is putting huge and potentially massively expensive pressure on all our infrastructure. I know that the Minister for the Environment, whom I am pleased to see in his place, knows this. The worst aspect is that, as Professor King says, even if we found a solution tomorrow, the problems would still be with us for another hundred years.

We may castigate the Government for being timid and inactive and not doing enough, but even if the UK solved all its problems, built wind farms everywhere and radically cut CO 2 from our energy supply, transport and housing, we would be dealing with only 2 per cent. of total global warming. We are responsible for only 2 per cent. of CO 2 emissions. The United States, responsible for 25 per cent., has not even bothered to recognise that climate change is happening and has not signed the Kyoto protocol. That is a disgrace, but I welcome the apparent change of heart on the part of the Russian Government recently.

In that context the debate about wind farms looks trifling. It is not surprising that some people argue that the UK's climate change programme is pointless. They say it would place us at a competitive disadvantage without achieving very much for mankind. But if we accept that we have a problem, we have a moral duty to do the right thing. If we go about it the right way, it may not involve too many hair shirts to do the right thing. I said that it would make good economic sense to become less dependent on others for sources of energy. It would be good environmental and economic sense to be at the forefront of cleaner, greener technologies. It would make good economic and environmental sense to ensure that, if we build millions of new houses, every one is built to the highest standards of energy efficiency. It would be good economic and environmental sense to support a far greater investment in offshore wind power, tidal power, wave power, solar power and biomass. It would make good economic and environmental sense to support households that wish to buy into the developing sector of micro-renewables, solar power, micro-wind and micro-combined heat and power.

More and more households need to be energy-efficient, eventually become energy producers in their own right and sell the energy that they do not need back to the grid. They could make money from that. We could do that for, for example, a fraction of the cost of the war in Iraq, an event that was not entirely unassociated with our addiction to fossil fuels. It would bequeath a much safer national and global security situation to our children.

Giant industrial and distant wind farms may be part of the answer, but I believe that they will be a small part. Offshore wind will play a much bigger part. The future may lie in small, local, affordable and surprisingly uncontentious micro-power.

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney 8:56 pm, 25th October 2004

The original title of the debate, "The Siting of Onshore Wind Farms", suggested a debate about planning policy. It was difficult to understand how there could be much of a debate on that because planning policy statement 22 on renewable energy is an entirely reasonable document. It gives only general guidance and is not a diktat, because it is for regional spatial strategies and local development plans to set out plan-led policies that are particular to an area.

The first key principle of PPS22 refers to appropriate environmental safeguards in planning for renewable energy developments. All the usual planning criteria are contained in PPS22, covering protection of internationally and nationally designated sites, green belts, landscapes and visual effects and noise. Given the challenge of global warming, PPS22 is a reasonable document unless one supports a blanket ban on wind farms.

The debate highlights the nature of the Conservative party's political strategy, or lack of it. Conservative Members look out for any apparent discontent and, in a desperate search for votes, try to jump on the bandwagon. They try to link up with any stop the wind farm campaign. They do not relate that to policy on dealing with global warming and rising sea levels, which are important to coastal communities such as my constituency. They behave similarly on housing and house building by opposing any plan that people do not like. Again, they do not relate that to homelessness or the high prices that keep young and first-time buyers off the property ladder.

Property is relevant to wind farms because I suspect that the real objection of most people who oppose wind farm applications will not be found in the planning criteria—for example, landscape, wildlife and noise—but relates to worries about the possible effect on the value of their property. That is not surprising given the amount of their wealth that most people in this country invest in their home. However, the flood risk from rising sea levels through global warming poses a much greater threat to the value of people's properties than the odd windmill down the road.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

The hon. Gentleman can understand that I share his concern about rising sea levels, but does he not believe that it is better to devote some of the resources to insulation, which would save approximately 55 times the amount of energy that the Government's proposed wind farms would generate?

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney

I do not believe that it is either/or. We must adopt a full-scale energy saving programme and do everything that we can to achieve the 20 per cent. target for renewable energy by 2020. The Government are determined to do that. There is a huge drag factor on onshore wind farm applications. That is why the Government have made a big push on developing offshore wind. We will achieve those targets only if we make progress now as a matter of urgency, but that seems to have escaped many Conservative Members.

I do not think we should infer, however, that because there are objections to wind farm applications, wind energy is unpopular. Over the past 10 years, more than 50 polls have shown a consistent 70 to 80 per cent. support for it—and, as was mentioned earlier, some of the strongest support comes from people living in areas containing wind farms.

Recent debates on what is now the Energy Act 2004 revealed the Conservative party as the source of a much wider attack on wind energy, not just onshore but offshore. I could spend the rest of my time this evening quoting what prominent Conservatives in both Houses have said about wind in general, but I will content myself with quoting Mr. O'Brien, who said that the Government were making the greatest mistake over windmills since Don Quixote.

What have the Conservatives got against wind power? They say that they support renewable energy and the targets, but they criticise the Government for majoring far too much on wind and other renewable sources. I ask them, what other source of renewable energy is more commercially applicable now, on a scale sufficient to achieve the 10 and 20 per cent. targets and to tackle climate change? No such source is available now, on that scale and at that cost. If we do not make an impact now, we shall have no chance of doing so in the future.

Wind energy is the most cost-effective renewable-energy technology available now to generate clean electricity and help combat climate change. People say it is costly, but other renewable-energy sources are even more costly. Labour Members want those other sources to take their place, but they are not commercially ready yet. I think the next will be tidal current, and I look forward to having lots of tidal current—

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney

Tidal current, providing energy for our country. We will need all those sources to achieve our targets, and it would be madness to abandon wind at this stage.

I ask again: why are the Conservatives so opposed to wind energy? I think the answer lies in their real but unwritten energy policy. It is clear from what many of them said during the passage of the Energy Bill, and from what has been said this evening, that their real policy involves a new generation of nuclear power stations. Conservative Member after Conservative Member has advocated that. Their leader and Front Benchers will not formally announce it, because they do not want to tell villagers who oppose wind farms "Don't worry, we support you on that: we are going to build a nuclear power station instead."

Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Conservative, Bridgwater

My constituency contains four nuclear reactors. There has been an application for 12 turbines next to them. I have received more complaints about the turbines than about the nuclear reactors.

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney

I shall not extrapolate, and apply information about one place to the whole country.

Nuclear energy is, of course, a zero carbon dioxide emission generator, but it is costly too—just as costly as wind energy. I think it pointless to argue about the respective merits of these energy sources, because ultimately we shall need them all if we want to maintain security of supply and meet the long-term target of a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. Neither wind nor renewables in general will be the sole answer to the problem, but surely we must get whatever we can from wind energy. Future generations would not forgive us if we did not make maximum use of the wind, but I am afraid that the Conservative policies that we have heard this evening would not achieve that.

We have been told that a nuclear review might be produced within a year of the arrival of a possible Conservative Government. That would be much too quick, and it would require Government finance, because nuclear energy does not take its place in a liberalised energy market on its own. Such a development would stifle and suffocate investment in renewables, and wind energy and other renewables would remain babes strangled at birth. The Government's policy in the White Paper is right—to keep the nuclear option open but to keep it at bay for some time to enable wind and other renewable energy sources, and other carbon dioxide reduction technologies, to get off the ground and play their full part.

Wind energy, especially from offshore wind farms, is key for my constituency. As I said, it is a coastal constituency. Global warming and climate change are real threats to people who live by the coast. I am not talking only about the impact that a rise in sea levels would have on places such as Lowestoft, Kessingland and Corton that are actually on the coast. One can also foresee the Waveney and the Hundred rivers becoming huge lakes, with massive flooding penetrating miles and miles inland and affecting other towns, such as Beccles and Bungay, and villages in my constituency. That is why I am concerned about climate change, and that is why I do not want to oppose wind energy but to promote it.

Wind energy also provides a huge economic opportunity. For many economic activities, Lowestoft, as Britain's most easterly point, is not exactly in the best geographical position, but for developing a wind energy industry, Lowestoft is in the ideal position. It is a port right in the middle of the best and most expansive area designated suitable for offshore wind development from the Wash to the Thames estuary. With many years of expertise in building, assembling and installing offshore structures with the oil and gas industry, Lowestoft is, as its brochure says, "Britain's leading edge" in wind energy.

The turbines for Britain's first truly offshore wind farm at Scroby sands were, I am proud to say, assembled in and shipped out from Lowestoft harbour. We have formed the Lowestoft wind energy steering group, which I chair, to maximise our opportunities and I am pleased that the East of England Development Agency is now giving us financial support to establish an offshore renewable energy centre to build on that geographic advantage. The presence of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science also helps, because it does much of the environmental assessment work offshore. I am proud to say that we are also building a large wind turbine at Britain's most easterly point in Lowestoft and we hope to see that completed by the end of the year.

The Labour party will go into the next election supporting wind energy as a key part of achieving our policy of 20 per cent. renewable generation by 2020, as a milestone on the way to the 60 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. We need to prevent constituencies such as mine being submerged by rising sea levels from global warming. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are trying to play opportunist politics, desperately grasping for votes, and have no sensible energy policy. They do not want to announce what they actually support and they will go into the election keeping the people in the dark. Their policy is so confused that if they did win the election, people would literally spend more time in the dark as, once again, under the Conservatives, the lights would go out in Britain.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Shadow Secretary of State (Environment) 9:08 pm, 25th October 2004

I welcome the fact that—contrary to what the Liberal Democrats say—the motion embraces the issues of climate change. We on this planet face two challenges. The first is that we are using up our resources faster than we can replace them. The Government have a duty to protect those resources, but that is not easy when facing relentless demands from a restless society. The second challenge is that our climate is warming. Nature is telling us something when daffodils flower a week earlier than they did four years ago, when sharks are found in unprecedented numbers around Scotland and sea levels are rising. Something is clearly going on, and the question posed by many people is whether man is causing it. In my judgment, the answer is yes.My hon. Friend Mr. Ainsworth made an excellent speech and he referred to the Greenpeace lecture by Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, in which he said that man's activities clearly play a part.

Research shows that there have been seven or eight global warming cycles in the past 800,000 years and that atmospheric carbon peaked at 250 to 275 parts per million during each of those cycles. As the Minister will know, today the figure is 378 parts per million and rising fast at the rate of about two parts per million a year. As my hon. Friend said, Sir David King warns that the ice caps will melt when atmospheric carbon hits about 500 parts per million, and the reasons that he gives for that increase are deforestation and population growth.

Given the huge growth in the economies of China and India, neither of which is part of the Kyoto agreement and whose populations are growing at 70,000 people a day, we have to put international leadership on climate change at the heart of our foreign policy. That is why I am critical of the Government: they talk a good fight, but they do not do much about it. We have heard that CO 2 emissions have risen since 1997. During Foreign Affairs questions the other day, the Foreign Secretary lectured the House about the robust line on the Kyoto agreement that he was taking with the American Administration, but he was unaware that CO 2 emissions were rising.

I agree with those who call for us to hit the targets. We must hit the 2050 target, but we need coherent policies and a road map in place so that we know how that will be achieved. Some measures could be taken immediately. We should phase out hydrofluorocarbons, as announced by the Leader of the Opposition, and carbon trading has a serious part to play, but we can address the issue most by making renewables a key component of our energy policy. My complaint is about the slow pace of change. In 2003, 69 per cent. of suppliers failed to meet their renewables targets.

The Government have put heavy emphasis on wind farms. I listened with interest to the last speech, but it was a misrepresentation: the Opposition are not against wind farms; what we question is the building of onshore wind farms, and there is huge potential in offshore wind farms. I recently had the opportunity to visit North Hoyle, where some 50 turbines have been put up already, with another 450 proposed. Wind will not be enough on its own. As Paddy Tipping often tells us—he did not do so today—it takes several thousand wind turbines to replace one power station.

Wind turbines must be built offshore, where large numbers of them would be acceptable. That is why the change in planning guidance is wrong. Five or 10 wind turbines on a hillside will not have that much impact on electricity supply, but they will have a big impact on the local environment. If a block of flats cannot be built on the top of a hillside that is of outstanding natural beauty, why can wind turbines be built there? I am delighted that the Conservative party will repeal the planning guidance when it takes office.

It is in energy policy that our attempts to meet the challenge must be driven forward. The failure to stimulate other renewables is a disaster. We will not hit the 2010 renewables target, which the Government admit, as is shown by their review of the renewables obligation. As my hon. Friend Mr. Yeo said in his opening speech, for the first time in history, we will be dependent in the long term on imported energy, but most dangerously of all, that coincides with the phasing out of coal, under the large combustion directive, and nuclear power.

Notwithstanding the fact that no new power station is under construction in this country, mainly as the result of the spot market operations of the new electricity trading arrangements, by 2030, we will have an energy mix of 20 per cent. renewables, 70 per cent. gas and 10 per cent. oil. That, in itself, poses three problems. First, as I said earlier, there would be no solution to the problem of intermittency. Secondly, we will not be on course for the 2050 target. Thirdly, we will be heavily dependent on imported energy, which will, in truth, emasculate foreign policy.

I agree with the Government that it is right to keep open the nuclear option, but I also agree with James Lovelock, the Right Reverend Hugh Montefiore, Sir Crispin Tickell and the Government chief scientists that we have to embrace that option and give it urgent consideration, as that will not only give us economic and political independence and a key tool in fighting climate change, but with the first hydrogen-fuelled production car coming on stream in 2010, provide the answer to mass hydrogen production, which will give us a triple whammy in one go. However, the Government have ducked the issue, and I seriously pose the question, can democracy combat climate change? The Government ducked nuclear power because it is unpopular. Kyoto has been an issue in the United States presidential election.

The Liberal Democrats posture on the environment. I drew attention to their inconsistencies last week over their support for a number of road transport projects. They have argued against air travel, yet at the same time they support airport expansion. I wonder whether that is because BAA plc is one of their largest donors. They argue against waste incineration in Guildford and Hull, but support it in Sheffield. It is no surprise that Stephen Tindale, the executive director of Greenpeace, said:

"The Liberal Democrats don't seem to have any principles when it comes to waste management and will say anything that they think gains them electoral advantage."

They also campaign against 4x4s, but many of them drive around in them.

On wind farms, their hypocrisy knows no limit. Norman Baker said that his party supports wind farms, but it has been stated in the press:

"Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Norman Baker last night accused anti-wind farm campaigners in the West country of 'acting irresponsibly'"— at least he is consistent—but Nick Harvey

"has backed the campaign against a development at Fullabrook Down in his constituency, which would see the erection of 20 turbines up to 360ft high.

Responding to Mr. Baker's comments he said: 'Norman is not responsible for our planning policy.'"

That is what the Liberal Democrats think of their own spokesman.

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Conservative, North Dorset

I can probably add to my hon. Friend's list. Mr. Heath and I successfully campaigned against a wind farm on our respective borders.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

My hon. Friend gives an answer to the question that I posed about whether democracy can respond to climate change. As he says, in order to achieve that, we need to build consensus. I say to the Liberal Democrats, "Stop playing games with the environment; it is a very serious subject indeed." They should work with people, instead of engaging in short-term posturing, which is what they do. If we look at the United States, Sheffield or Devon, we can see that the answer to the question is that democracy is struggling to combat climate change. A consensus is needed.

Ask the man in the street if he cares about the environment, and he will respond, "Yes, of course." It is one of those issues we are all signed up to, but it needs more than words; it needs action. My party would provide the lead that is necessary.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar 9:18 pm, 25th October 2004

Rubbish. That has nothing to do with recycling, but is a comment on the asinine Opposition motion that states that the Government intend to meet their renewable obligations by relying exclusively on onshore wind power.

I admire and support the Government's commitment to renewables. They are spending £117 million on offshore wind power. That is good, in that the round 2 offshore wind farms are a minimum of 8 km offshore, and 13 km where nature interests require that. They are located way out in the sea, and subject to navigation and fishing rights; nobody goes there. They are ideal locations for wind farms, and they are, inevitably, the thrust of future wind farm policy.

I want to sound a quick caution that we should not override the concerns of people local to the last of the round 1 wind farms, which are to be built much closer to shore. There is concern that, as the Government amendment states and the Minister made clear, although the planning regime allows all-round consideration of onshore wind farms, the procedure for offshore wind farms is less clear; it is not so open, obvious or public, in the sense that there need not be a planning inquiry. That gives rise to real fears, which I hope my colleagues on the Treasury Bench understand, that no matter what or how rational the local objections, they can be killed in the understandable rush to renewables.

Teesside is faced with an application for the last of the round 1 offshore wind farms. The round 2 wind farms—admittedly bigger than those in round 1—are between 8 and 13 km offshore, whereas no round 1 wind power station is less than 5 km offshore except for Scroby sands, where the nearest turbine lies about 2.5 km offshore. The proposed Redcar wind farm would be half as far away as that: 1.4 km off the esplanade in Redcar to the nearest turbine. There would be 30 turbines, each 450 ft high and about 5 m in diameter—they are pretty big. They would run 200 yd apart, with 600 yd between the three rows, straddling the whole of the bay on which Redcar town lies. The easternmost would be 1.4 km off the tourist office in the middle of the town, and the next would be opposite the seafront cinema.

Redcar is an industrial constituency, but as one travels toward the sea to the town of Redcar, one leaves behind the chemicals and eventually the steel industry. There is a wonderful 5-mile long wide sandy beach where swingboats, bouncy castles and sports activities all occur in summer. It is the proximity to the industrial area that makes Redcar town such a special treat for the local people, who go there to breathe its free air, refresh their mind with the clean sea view, and lift their horizon from the humdrum. There are real concerns about the impact on the area of such an industrial installation.

Let me add that there is already a plan to have between 18 and 32 equally large turbines on land, onshore, adjacent to the steelworks in the industrial landscape—a plan to which nobody in Redcar has a real objection. Furthermore, Redcar already makes a big contribution to clean energy: our SembCorp power station has now been burning tallow—a renewable fuel—for a year and has ambitions to build a biomass generation facility; and we have well developed plans in the area for hydrogen fuel cell technology. We would be pleased to do more, as tidal and wave power develop.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

My hon. and learned Friend is making a valuable point. Wherever the wind farms are, is not the most important thing that they are sited as appropriately as possible? My constituency is in the hilly country near the Pennines. We have one wind farm, but if Burnley were to be surrounded by wind farms, the impact on the environment would be disastrous.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

My hon. Friend makes an apposite point, because the 18 to 35-turbine onshore station that, it is already accepted, is coming to Redcar will result in a huge estate being sandwiched between it and the shore. If an offshore station were erected, people would be living between two wind farms, which is probably not tolerable. The point is that in an industrial area such as mine, we should not extend industry into a seaside oasis.

The potential problems arising from such close proximity—1.4 km—are not known. They never will be known, because all the future developments will be between 8 and 13 km offshore and no other round 1 wind farm will be situated less far offshore than the Scroby sands station. The only people to learn what the impact is of a very close wind farm will be the residents of Redcar after the proposed wind farm is built. The environmental impact assessment conducted by the would-be developers contains nine chapters that identify potential additional hazards to Redcar, apart from visual intrusion and interference with tourism expansion and sea sports, which we want to encourage. They include the risk of large quantities of sand being stripped from Redcar beach by the impact of the tide breaking on turbine towers very close to shore, as well as potential threats to some sites of special scientific interest, the seal colony, a Ramsar site and the European nature reserve, some of which are within half a kilometre of some of the turbines.

I have a question. What is the process now? In the summer months alone, between 5,000 and 6,000 have signed a petition against the proposed wind farm. Everybody in the town opposes it, as does the council and all four local Members of Parliament. I have a plea. It is imperative that in the rush to wind power, despite its merits, everything else is not driven before it.

Round 2 wind farms involve 15 leases that can generate up to 7.2 GW of capacity, enough for one sixth of households in the UK. They will all be 60 to 90 turbine wind farms and well away offshore. These plans make the UK one of the most ambitious in terms of future wind power, probably putting us in the world lead in offshore turbine development.

Clearly the round 1 wind farms will be built very soon. The turbines will be bought from Denmark and Germany, where there is an established turbine manufacturing industry. The current manufacturing base in the UK consists of a small blade factory and a turbine factory, which I think are both owned by the Danish company, Vestas; a turbine production facility at Loughborough and a Nordic wind turbine manufacturing facility at Fife.

These future offshore zones—

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

No; I am afraid that I do not have enough time.

The future offshore zones are in three strategic areas and two of them are on the east coast—the larger one is on the Wash and the second on the Thames estuary. Together they should create in the UK a home market for an offshore supply chain of about £7 billion. In addition, European wind farms are planned on the north-east coasts of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Those coasts are readily accessible from the north-east of Britain.

The north-east has a long history of, and a well-established capacity in, manufacturing. It has world class capabilities in the marine, offshore oil, gas and power generation sectors. It is currently completing a new renewable energy centre at Blythe, benefiting from £10 million of investment and creating a nucleus of renewable industrial activity. This centre will have the biggest wind turbine blade test facility in Europe.

The industrial and research skills base in the north-east is considerable and it is augmented by a large number of technical graduates from universities in the region. There is already offshore wind capability provided by Marine Projects International, which is based in Middlesbrough, and AMEC, which is based in Hexham. In addition to these strengths, offshore wind jobs will make, or can make, a vital contribution to reducing the north-east's economic deprivation. The unemployment rate in the region, which has been caused by a steady decline in traditional manufacturing, is about 6.5 per cent. although it has been slashed over the past few years.

In 2002, 18,000 of the region's unemployed were science and engineering professionals, skilled workers in construction, engineering and other trades or plant and machine operators. That demonstrates that there is a high availability of potential skilled labour for a new north-east far offshore wind energy industry. Rates of pay are extremely competitive compared with those in Denmark and Germany, where turbines are currently manufactured.

There is no doubt that there are the seeds of a major new industry that is entirely apt, but not exclusively so, to the north-east. The Government are to be congratulated on the fact that their future far offshore wind policy will not only benefit climate change but will simultaneously offer regeneration opportunities.

I make a nod in the direction of Greenpeace, from which I have taken some of the statistics I have cited. It is fine to do so. I hope that the worries that I have set out about Redcar show how important it is, particularly if we are to carry people with us to a renewables future, that it be acknowledged that wind power stations can be extremely intrusive, and that sometimes these intrusions must be allowed to prevail.

I hope that I have also made it clear, however, that sensible people can rationally oppose an individual installation on sound grounds while supporting and, indeed, encouraging the drive for renewables as a whole. All of the people in Redcar to whom I have spoken have that state of mind about renewable energy.

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Conservative, North Dorset 9:28 pm, 25th October 2004

It is unusual for a constituency Member to be able to participate in such a timely debate. It is both relevant and topical to my constituency because at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning I shall be appearing before the development control committee of the North Dorset district council, which will be considering an application to build nine wind turbines in the Winterborne valley in Dorset. Such is the opinion in my constituency against those developments that the local authority has had to house the meeting, which is considering one application only, in the largest hall in the area.

I declare a small but non-pecuniary interest: I shall appear at that meeting as the honorary chairman of the 1,000-member strong Dorset Against Rural Turbines. That organisation came into being because in the past 18 months no fewer than four schemes have been proposed in and around my constituency. In total, the schemes would have amounted to some 49 turbines in Blackmoor vale and the Winterborne valley—Hardy country.

Two of those applications were within feet of my constituency and were actually in the constituency of Mr. Heath. As I mentioned earlier, he and I combined to get his local authority, South Somerset district council, which still encourages applications for wind farms on its website, to reject one of those applications. That council is Liberal Democrat controlled, but I do not want to make a party political point. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome saw that his own constituents were so opposed to that application that he joined me.

Another application, which is still current, is to build 12 turbines on the airfield at Henstridge. Although Henstridge is technically in the constituency of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, it is a finger that sticks out into my constituency, and most people assume that it is in my constituency.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning)

My hon. Friend has highlighted two points that I wonder whether he will amplify. First, applicants tend to make applications on the edge of constituencies or local authority boundaries, which makes things very difficult for all concerned. Secondly, the cumulative impact of applications is rarely measured, and the Government must take it seriously. I am fighting applications on the edge of my constituency affecting Gedney Hill, Throckenholt and Sutton St. Edmund in the same way as my hon. Friend.

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Conservative, North Dorset

I am glad that my hon. Friend has made that point, because the applications that I have described are not only on local authority and constituency boundaries, but a county boundary, so two county authorities' alternative policies also come into play.

The other two applications that are current in my constituency are in the Winterborne valley. At one stage, the applications were for a total of 35 turbines, which would have been sandwiched between two areas of outstanding natural beauty and among, but not on, National Trust land and some of the most beautiful towns and villages in Dorset. Under public pressure, those 35 turbines were reduced to 32 and then, I am pleased to say, 23 of them dropped out of the equation because of the power of public opinion—the Drax estate saw that all its neighbours were up in arms about its having those turbines on its land. I congratulate Richard Drax and his family on that decision because, in the words of my hon. Friend Mr. Yeo, those turbines might have been seen as a "valuable new crop" on the Drax estate.

That leaves tomorrow's application from Your Energy, which was mentioned earlier. It seems to be a company of little substance and one can find out very little about it. Its application is for nine turbines in the Winterborne valley, although I must say that the officers of my local authority have recommended refusal and no doubt we will hear the weight of local opinion tomorrow. The turbines are of an unprecedented size and number in a beautiful lowland landscape. Installing nine massive turbines, which would be 105 m high, in attractive, soft, rolling, rural down land would be industrialisation on a huge scale.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England has stated that the visual impact on the two adjacent areas of outstanding natural beauty—

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the difficulties with wind turbine technology is that for six months of the year only 11 per cent. of the designed and built capacity is used because of a lack of wind? That means that for half the year the nine turbines that the hon. Gentleman is talking about would produce only the equivalent of the maximum output of one. That is an issue, is it not?

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Conservative, North Dorset

It certainly is, and I shall come to it in a moment in relation to the efficiency of these turbines.

The area where it is proposed to place the turbines would be adjacent to two conservation areas in the villages of Winterborne Zelston and Mapperton. Some much valued heritage sites are very close by—the Badbury and Spetisbury rings, and Hambledon and Hod hills, which will be remembered by those who know their civil war history—and many listed buildings in the vicinity would be ruined for ever. Winterborne Tomson church, which would be towered over by the wind farm, has been described thus in a book compiled by John Betjeman's daughter, Candida Lycett Green, entitled "Over the Hills and Far Away":

"there were so many magical views and memorable jewels of houses but none could ever compare with that exquisite church at Winterborne Tomson. I shall always remember the cool, pristine 'prayerfulness' of the unearthly place . . . it was total perfection and worth driving hours just to be there".

Those words were written by another large local landowner, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. Approval for the proposal would destroy that location and set a precedent for expansion and duplication not only in Dorset but across southern England in similar lowland sites.

We have heard some of the compelling arguments on environmental issues. There is increasing evidence from Europe, as well as from this country, to prove the harmful effects of long-term exposure to audible and low-frequency noise from wind turbines. However, little or no research has been undertaken on turbines of this size; and the Government seem to have excluded wind turbines from the current research into low-frequency noise that is taking place at Salford university.

Then there is the loss of amenity—I have talked about our beautiful landscape—and the impact on tourism and the local economy. At the planning application meeting on the turbine proposed for Cucklington in south Somerset, on the boundary of my constituency, it was estimated that the negative effect on the local tourism industry would be more than £3 million a year.

As David Taylor pointed out, wind power is intermittent.

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Conservative, North Dorset

No; I have done so a couple of times, and I have some important points to make.

Wind power is also inefficient. As we all know, the wind will not be blowing on the cold, frosty morning when everybody wants to put the cooker and the kettle on to make breakfast, turn the heating up as far as possible, and have hot water for a bath or shower. That makes wind power a very expensive alternative when it is located at such inefficient onshore locations. I congratulate Vera Baird on her successful exposition of the alternative—offshore wind energy. The indirect subsidy results in wind energy producers having to be paid about three times the commercial price of the energy that they are producing. Wind power is an unreliable and inefficient way in which to proceed.

In summary, wind turbines will not stop global warming. They are more expensive than all other mainstream sources of energy and do not produce a significant amount of power. They disturb nearby residents and cause both physical and psychological illness. They harm wildlife, destroy large tracts of much cherished landscape and require massive funding from the taxpayer. A balance must be achieved in contentious planning applications such as that in which I will be involved tomorrow. The case for wind power has not been proven. The potential gains from it are minimal, but the losses due to it, and the effect on our environment especially, are absolutely enormous.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 9:40 pm, 25th October 2004

We have had a fine, interesting and well-informed debate. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have made good speeches in what should be an academic discussion about two matters of huge importance to all of us: first, what we can do to preserve the global environment; and secondly, what we can do to preserve the local and rural environment, which is almost as important to many of us, especially Conservative Members. The significance of one argument should not be overwhelmingly greater than that of the other, and we should try to strike a balance between the two.

It is notable that today's debate has been called by Her Majesty's Opposition because the Conservative party has taken the lead for at least 30 years on environmental matters—Baroness Thatcher was the first person to raise global warming, in a memorable speech some 30 years ago. Let no one mistake the fact that Conservative Members are wholly committed to combating global warming using a basket of renewable energy sources as part of an armoury of weapons.

I pay tribute to the speech made by my hon. Friend Richard Ottaway, who has made a huge contribution to our discussions on such matters over recent months. I have greatly enjoyed working with him and I know that he will continue to do that. My hon. Friend Mr. Ainsworth plays a distinguished role as Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, and he spoke with great passion and knowledge.

Conservative Members accept the renewables obligation, and we are as keen as anyone to find a way of meeting it. However, that should not preclude a sensible and grown-up debate about how best to achieve that. Should the policy be largely dependent on onshore wind farms, which in essence seems to be the Government's current proposal? The Minister for Energy and E-Commerce made it clear that half of the balance required to increase the 2.7 per cent. of energy currently produced by renewables to the target of 10 per cent. would be achieved by using onshore farms, with the other half achieved using offshore ones. I suspect that onshore farms will produce more energy than offshore farms. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey nicely put it, we need a step change in our approach to such matters, and we must use not simply one such source but a basket of several.

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I have only 10 minutes in which to speak, and the hon. Gentleman has had his say.

If we are to achieve anything approaching the 10 per cent. target by primarily using onshore wind farms, which is the most likely situation, we will need between 6,000 and 7,000 2-MW turbines. We currently have about 1,000 onshore turbines, so we would need about six times as many. That would mean that few parts of our green and pleasant land would be far from a wind farm, which is exactly what worries many of my hon. Friends, such as my hon. Friend Mr. Walter. It would be awful if large parts of Hardy country were covered by what most dispassionate observers would describe as pretty ugly installations. Almost no one likes wind farms, although their initial impact is such that some people like them to begin with. A passage from "The War of the Worlds" by H.G. Wells describes the Martian invaders as

"Monstrous tripods . . . striding over the young pine trees, and smashing them aside in its career; a walking engine of glittering steel, striding now across the heather; articulate ropes of steel dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling with the riot of thunder".

Those words of 100 years ago describe the average wind farm today equally well.

I must admit that wind farms have a certain majesty. I spend my holidays at Delabole in north Cornwall, but while it is amusing for a week or two, I would not want to live there. Many of the people who have spoken, particularly Opposition Members but also Vera Baird, who made a memorable contribution, have made precisely that point. Many people pay lip service to wind farms, but do we want them next door to us? Precious few people would say yes.

Wind farms may have consequences for human health—I admit that, as yet, those are ill-researched—with worrying reports of increased headaches in their vicinity, particularly in Cornwall. There are also clear risks for wildlife, especially migratory birds and bats. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, for example, has objected to a total of 52 wind farm applications, even though it is in favour of wind farms, including the ridiculous application to build 26 turbines on Romney marsh, to which various hon. Friends have referred.

No matter how enthusiastic one might be for renewable energy, no one can deny that there are significant environmental downsides to wind farms. No one who has spoken on either side of the debate today could deny that a large environmental price is attached to having wind farms anywhere near us. It would be an environmental catastrophe for our green and pleasant land were we to seek to achieve an unduly large amount of our renewables obligation from onshore wind.

There is not only a big downside but a relatively small upside. Sometimes, the enthusiasts in this debate make it sound as if wind power is a fantastic solution, and that it will be the answer to climate change. Of course, it is important that our motion mentions climate change, which was obviously not noticed by our friends the Liberal Democrats, who claimed that it did not. It is all about climate change, and sometimes people who are enthusiastic on the subject make it sound as if wind is the be-all and end-all of their energy and renewables policy, but the truth of the matter is that wind farms, whether onshore or offshore, simply do not add up. They are effective only 27 to 28 per cent. of the year, sometimes there is too little wind, and occasionally there is too much, and they must be switched off as a result. They require lines of pylons, often to remote and beautiful areas, to connect them to the grid. As the Government's record so far demonstrates, they go nowhere at all towards providing the renewables obligation.

By contrast, Her Majesty's Opposition strongly support the obligation but believe that it can be achieved only by a basket of renewable sources: solar, wave and tidal, hydro, offshore wind, as well as biofuels and biomass—very important but not even mentioned in the Minister's speech. The Labour party has put all its renewables in one basket—onshore wind farms—and will fail to achieve its targets and the hopeless aspiration in the White Paper of 20 per cent. as a result.

The Opposition of course are by no means opposed to onshore wind farms, and the hon. and learned Member for Redcar gave a good example of how they would fit in extremely well in her constituency. We are by no means opposed overall to onshore wind farms in their correct place. When I raised the matter with the Minister during his speech, he claimed that all the polls demonstrate that people are strongly in favour of onshore wind farms—

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I have only a minute to go.

If the Minister is correct in saying that 70 or 80 per cent. of people across England are in favour of wind farms, he need not fear local opinion, but the fact that he has had to reissue planning policy statement 22 shows plainly that he does. We believe that the new PPS22 slants the planning presumption against local people and in favour of national decision making, and in favour of the developer, to which we are wholly opposed. We would take an early opportunity to redraft PPS22 to give the local people the ability to decide on whether they want a local—

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I am afraid that I cannot.

That would give local people the ability to decide whether they want a wind farm. There should be no presumption that that decision will be overturned on appeal, and no presumption in favour of wind energy. There should be a presumption in favour of local decisions. Were that to mean an end to the massive expansion of what I believe to be absolutely hideous wind farms—[Interruption.] I am not ashamed to say that they are hideous. I challenge any hon. Member here to say he loves them. Of course they are hideous, but the question is whether we want them.

If that presumption means an end to the massive expansion of these hideous wind farms, to be replaced by other forms of renewable energy, so be it. If we seek to save the global environment by achieving our 10 per cent. renewables target through onshore wind farms alone, it is our belief that the damage to our rural environment will be greater than any advantage we gain from it. Most green initiatives involve some kind of balance. It is our view that the Government have allowed the renewables balance to tip too far in favour of onshore wind farms, and I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 9:50 pm, 25th October 2004

I am not altogether clear where the Conservatives are coming from on this issue. Mr. Yeo says that wind farms have their role in relation to renewable energy, and indeed they do, and then Mr. Gray talks basically about hideous killer alien wind farms from outer space, which does not strike me as a balanced view of the role of wind farms. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire quoted fiction. I always thought his speeches were complete fiction. I think that he proved it tonight. I will come back to some of those points in a moment, but I want to deal with some of the other points that were made. We heard a range of reasonable speeches. Hon. Members have made some fair points.

Norman Baker pointed out that, sadly, opportunism underpins the motion. This was an opportunity for a sensible debate on some serious issues. My right hon. Friend Mr. Barron, who is knowledgeable on energy from his time in opposition, talked about the range of issues in relation to wind farms. He talked about the impact on property prices, but according to work by bodies such as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the impact is more perception than reality. RICS did not find any impact on property prices where wind farms have been erected.

Mr. Ainsworth made an extremely good speech, which was well balanced; he said that it was agnostic. He talked about the number of turbines that may be needed. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire mentioned the figure of 6,000. It depends on the balance between onshore and offshore. Wind turbines generally are getting larger and more efficient, particularly the offshore ones, so it is wrong to cite such figures.

The hon. Member for East Surrey talked about how to encourage renewables through the use of fiscal incentives. I agree that there is a range of fiscal incentives. I do not agree that they have been minor. The introduction of the renewables obligation certificates was a major change. The renewables obligation and the climate change levy have had a major impact in boosting renewables. Nevertheless, I do not dispute that more can be done. We should consider that as part of the debate about how to get the balance of energy right.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about the future of micro-power. Again, there is a considerable future for micro-power in this country. I believe that we will see more development of micro-power. We certainly want to encourage it as a Government.

My hon. Friend Mr. Blizzard put PPS22 in the proper context. It is about getting the right balance between a national strategy and taking into account people's legitimate concerns. That is important, but the most important point that he made is that, if we are serious about renewables, wind is the most established and is cheap compared with some of the other renewables that are still being developed and coming on stream. They will have their place, but if we are serious we need to make a start. He put the nuclear question in its proper context, too.

Richard Ottaway clearly outlined the risks that we face in terms of climate change and made a good case on that. He said that he supported offshore wind. We need both: offshore and onshore wind. Again, there is a balance to be struck. He talked about repealing PPS22. That is linked to the promise that the Conservatives are apparently giving—that local people will have a veto on applications for wind turbines. If that were the case, it would kill investment in renewables dead, because companies would not put the investment in.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Minister will be aware of concerns in Wales that applications for more than 50 MW are still determined by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. When I last asked the former Minister for Industry and Energy about this, he said that he would welcome proposals for further devolution on this matter. Have Ministers had any further thoughts?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Welsh Assembly has played quite a role in determining decisions on wind power, but I understand that the actions of the Conservative group in the Assembly have been very opportunistic, in that it has opposed wind farms that have been granted permission. We have seen something similar tonight.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Briefly, because I know that my right hon. Friend has long experience of this issue.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Labour, Cunninghame North

I agree with my hon. Friend that nobody should have the right to veto projects, but will he include the regulator in that? The problem is that the regulator has effective power of veto over huge swathes of the country where renewable resources are greatest. Does he agree that the regulator cannot have such a primacy of role that could overrule and pre-empt anything that planning authorities might want to do?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Indeed: there is a balance to be struck, and the regulator has a proper role in that, but local people's concerns should not be ignored and should be taken into account. There are issues relating to siting, and it is right and proper to consider them. That point was touched upon by my hon. and learned Friend Vera Baird who made a strong argument in relation to the offshore development in round 1 and made it clear that she supported the round 2 development. She also gave strong support to the industry, job and regeneration potential of new technologies and energy. I fully support her in that. I am very pleased to hear about the development that is taking place in the north-east.

The speech of Mr. Walter was simply an anti-wind farm rant. There was no attempt at all to take into account the fact that there is an appropriate role in terms of siting. I met wind farm campaigners on the Isle of Axholme in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr. Cawsey. At that meeting, local people and the campaign group said that they were not against wind farms per se or against provision for a number of them, but they objected to any idea that, because they were willing to be reasonable and accept a percentage of wind farms, people in other areas would do nothing to consider cases on their merits. I fear that the hon. Member for North Dorset confirmed their concerns.

I know that there are issues relating to the impact on the landscape and the environment. I went to the constituency of my hon. Friend Tony Cunningham and talked to campaigners and people who had perfectly reasonable concerns about the siting of wind farms. I believe that their fears can be allayed, and we have already heard examples in the debate of applications being opposed and then turned down. That demonstrates that the system works and that, when a good case is made, it is listened to and taken into account.

We heard from the hon. Member for North Wiltshire about the Conservative party's proud 30-year record on the environment. In those 30 years, it managed to generate 0.7 per cent. in renewable energy, and that does not strike me as a proud record. This Government are spending more than £500 million between 2002 and 2008 on areas other than onshore and offshore wind.

The very premise behind the motion, that the Government are relying exclusively on onshore wind power, is totally untrue. The Government support a range of renewables, and that includes £117 million for offshore wind, more than £60 million for energy crops and biomass, £31 million for photovoltaics, £12.5 million for community schemes, including micro-power, and the setting up of a £50 million marine renewables development fund—

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 183, Noes 298.

Division number 276 Wind Farms

Aye: 182 MPs

No: 298 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Absent: 175 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):

The House divided: Ayes 325, Noes 140.

Division number 277 Wind Farms

Aye: 325 MPs

No: 141 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Question accordingly agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, being put;


That this House recognises the passing of the Energy Act 2004 and the positive actions taken by the Government to increase the amount of energy supplied from renewable sources; welcomes the global leadership shown by the Government on climate change and commends actions taken to meet the UK's Kyoto targets; condemns the Official Opposition for opposing the development of renewables while claiming to support them in principle; notes the abject failure of the Official Opposition to provide coherent policy proposals to meet the climate change challenge and its continued opposition to the Climate Change Levy; praises the Government for providing significant resources and support to the development of wind energy, including £117 million for the development of offshore wind energy; further notes that a growing proportion of wind farm developments will occur offshore; supports steps taken by the Government to promote energy efficiency and notes with approval that the planning regime allows for wind farm proposals to be thoroughly considered in terms of their impacts on local communities and environments and their contributions to national energy needs and policies; commends the Government's commitment to diversifying the sources of the UK's energy supply and the related investment in a wide range of renewable technologies including energy crops, £60 million investment for biomass, £31 million towards photovoltaics and £50 million for wave and tidal; and further condemns the Official Opposition's energy policy that would drastically reduce the UK's investment in renewable technologies.