Clause 8 — Functions of the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority in Relation to Microgeneration

Orders of the Day — Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:00 am on 17th March 2006.

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Amendment made: No. 40, in page 6, leave out lines 13 and 14 and insert

'the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006.".'.—[Malcolm Wicks.]

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I beg to move amendment No. 32, in page 6, line 15, leave out clause 9.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 13, in page 6, line 25 [Clause 9], at end insert—

'(2A) In carrying out the review, the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of—

(a) safeguarding conservation areas;

(b) protecting visual amenity;

(c) reducing noise; and

(d) avoiding risks to health and safety.'.

No. 70, in page 6, line 25 [Clause 9], at end insert—

'(2A) In carrying out the review, the Secretary of State must consult—

(a) such body or bodies as appear to him to be representative of local authorities;

(b) the Royal Institute of British Architects;

(c) the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors;

(d) the Campaign to Protect Rural England; and

(e) any other bodies or persons he considers appropriate.'.

No. 71, in page 7, line 3 [Clause 9], at end insert— '"local authorities" has the same meaning as in section [Local authorities to have regard to information on energy measures in exercising functions].'.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

In addition to speaking to my amendment No. 32, I shall say a few words about the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend Mr. Forth, which qualify clause 9 by requiring the Secretary of State to have regard to, among other things, four desirable outcomes when carrying a review of permitted development orders.

Before considering the detail of what is proposed, I shall set the matter in context. The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 contains important safeguards and restrictions on the ability of a landowner to carry out development on his land. Those restrictions are imposed on the grounds of amenity, and are a significant restriction on the principle that an Englishman's home is his castle and that he can do in it and on his land whatever he wishes.

Planning provides community protection for local people who are concerned about intrusive, insensitive and antisocial behaviour. It is reflected in Government guidance emanating in the form of policy planning guidance and appears in the latest manifestation of that—regional spatial strategies. The regional spatial strategy for the south-west of England, which is of interest to my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin on the Front Bench, has been discussed. It is very controversial. It must be submitted to the Department by the end of March, and as I understand it—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Interesting and controversial the regional spatial strategy might be, but it is not relevant to the amendment under discussion.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I am listening to my hon. Friend's words with interest. Last time we discussed the Bill, we had the benefit of the presence of a Minister from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to deal with development issues. Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that the Minister is not present today?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I do, but perhaps the Minister did not expect us to reach this group of amendments so quickly. She may be on her way to the Chamber. I know from my own experience when I was a Minister with responsibility for planning matters that this is a technical area, and a Minister for Housing and Planning can speak with much more authority than the Minister for Energy, although I accept that the hon. Gentleman is very knowledgeable about most things.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning is in her constituency, where many of us would like to be on a Friday. The fact that I am in the Chamber to represent the entire Government shows that we do not just talk joined-up, we do it.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am glad that the Government make provision for Ministers to attend the House on a Friday, because the Government and the House decided that we should meet on various Fridays during the year. It would be rather bizarre if—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. We are meeting on a Friday and we are discussing a particular set of amendments proposed by the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Section 52(2)(a) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 refers to a development order, which

"itself grants planning permission for development specified in the order or for development of any class specified."

In other words, the development order provides for planning permission to be granted without any notice having to be given, without any consultation with those who are or may be affected by it, without any need for a planning application, and without the involvement of any locally elected councillors—just like the planning-free environment which, to an extent, prevailed before the advent of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947.

A permitted development order can therefore be a very far-reaching curtailment of environmental protection.Clause 9 seems designed to facilitate further and far-reaching curtailment of environmental protection. That is why I am very concerned about the clause and have tabled an amendment seeking to remove it from the Bill. I recognise that the issue creates a dilemma for my hon. Friends. To what extent should we jeopardise one part of the environment, such as visual amenity, in order to benefit another part, perhaps by seeking to reduce global warming? Those are just the sort of issues that we should debate. They are not black and white, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst agrees that inherent conflicts and contradictions on environmental issues are best resolved locally, by locally elected representatives. Of course, that is what can be done under planning law, but could not be done under the general development order relaxation proposed in the clause.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Does my hon. Friend share my unease about the danger of making a presumption in favour of the ability to install what are now rather loosely known as microgenerating plants? The danger is that that will enable more and more such installations to be established, perhaps even against the wishes of individuals or local planning authorities? It is that change of presumption that is key to the provisions, which is why we have now probably got to the crux of the Bill and of the effect that it could have on our communities and in our constituencies.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

That is absolutely right; it is the dilemma that I am hoping the majority of Members of the House will agree should be resolved in favour of localism.

I should like to illustrate that point by referring to the recently published document "Built to Last", which was produced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. That document, which I shall not quote extensively, sets out "Our aims" as follows:

"To improve the quality of life for everyone through . . . a dynamic economy . . . a strong society and

"a sustainable environment where we enhance the beauty of our surroundings and protect the future of our planet."

We will not enhance the beauty of our surroundings if we allow monstrosities otherwise known as microgenerating plants to proliferate in our residential neighbourhoods without the need for individual planning consent.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

This is a very serious issue. If a planning application for 2,000 houses were made in my constituency, for example, the Government might take the view that the best way of providing energy for the houses, on the basis of the figures before us today, would be a 25 MW community energy scheme. Presumably, such a scheme would require planning permission in the normal way. If permitted development orders are introduced, the alternative is that 400 wind turbines could be constructed on an estate of 2,000 houses. Such a development might be beneficial in terms of climate change, but in terms of visual amenity there would be many different views as to whether it was acceptable.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I hope that he will contribute further to the debate in due course, if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I hope that, as my hon. Friend develops his argument—indeed, our hon. Friend Mr. Hollobone may wish to elaborate as well—somebody somewhere will give me an idea of the size of installation that we are talking about. It is in the context of the clause and amendments before us, in respect of which you, Madam Deputy Speaker, most helpfully guided us earlier, that we will properly consider the size of wind turbines, community energy plants and the like. If we do nothing else, we should make people outside this place aware of the direction in which we are going in the name of so-called microgeneration and what they may end up having in their communities in that context.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I shall come to the size of some of the plants, although without the ability to use visual aids in the Chamber, I shall have to rely on the powers of description rather than on anything else.

As it stands, clause 9 is about circumventing the local planning system, despite the fact that planning is deemed by most of our constituents to be the most important responsibility of local government. That is why people argue for keeping local councils, because it is the local councillors who are in touch with people's concerns about planning issues in particular. The importance of planning as a local government function was borne out by all the research done by the Local Government Commission for England when we last looked at reorganising local authorities and considered whether we should abolish district councils in favour of unitary authorities or county councils.

I shall take the House rather slowly through clause 9, because it is actually very sinister. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, who is assiduous in considering such matters, will try to follow the provisions with me. Clause 9(1) states:

"The Secretary of State . . . shall . . . .carry out a review of the effect in England of development orders made by virtue of section 59(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990".

It says nothing about whether the Secretary of State has to consult anyone. Subsection (2) states:

"The purpose of the review is to enable the Secretary of State to form a view as to what provision (or further provision) such development orders should make" about the installation of microgeneration equipment. There is no reference to what evidence, if any, should be considered by the Minister, and neither is there any requirement that he should publicise any evidence.

The most sinister and dangerous element of the clause is that the purpose of the review is not objective or neutral. As line 22 makes clear, the purpose is

"to facilitate development in England . . . of equipment, apparatus or appliances for microgeneration", irrespective of whether such development has an adverse impact on the beauty of our surroundings or visual amenity. I can almost hear the promoter of the Bill or perhaps the Minister saying, "Don't worry; once the review is published, it will be possible for local authorities, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Wildlife Trusts and so on to give their input." Such a common-sense safeguard is, however, specifically precluded by subsection (3), which states that

"the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report of the review, including his view . . . and the reasons for it."

There is no provision for consultation on his conclusions. Even worse, there is no provision to allow for modification of his view as expressed in the review report, because subsection (4) contains this requirement:

"The report must also set out what provision . . . if any, the Secretary of State proposes to make in development orders . . . in consequence of the review."

The clause goes on to state:

"Where the Secretary of State proposes to make provision . . . in development orders in consequence of the review, he must . . . exercise his powers under section 59 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990", and he must do so as soon as is "reasonably practicable". In other words, there is no provision for parliamentary discussion, public debate or consultation. That is all too familiar from this Government.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley 11:15 am, 17th March 2006

I have grave concerns about wind turbines for a number of reasons. In a number of countries where they have proliferated, rare bird species have diminished, because of birds being killed by flying into the turbines. Is my hon. Friend telling the House that there is no opportunity for bodies or individuals who care about rare bird species that may migrate into their areas or pass through them to make representations? Can there be no representations from anyone who is concerned about the placement of wind turbines?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am saying that. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that concern. The clause makes it clear that there is no provision for parliamentary discussion, public debate or consultation on the issue.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I can give some reassurance to my hon. Friend Mr. Evans. If he looks at my amendment No. 70, he will find that I am attempting to provide exactly what my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is asking for. Perhaps we should have a vote when the time comes. I think that the House should express its view at some point, as there is far too much cosy consensus breaking out. I hope that my hon. Friend will refer to my amendment, as I do not take sole possession of it.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. I will indeed refer to his amendment, but I thought it would be helpful to try to progress logically and start by debating the lead amendment, which would leave out clause 9 altogether.

One way of summing up clause 9 would be to say that under its provisions the Secretary of State is expressly prohibited from listening to anyone or modifying the outcome of his review in any way. That is rather reminiscent of the Labour slogan articulated by the late Lord Shawcross after old Labour got into office after the war—"We are the masters now." The Secretary of State is the master and it is not going to be possible for anybody to intervene in any process to say, "Hold on a minute—are you sure this is actually the right thing to do in terms of the environment?"

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Does my hon. Friend agree that those in the environmental lobby sometimes claim that they are the masters now and resent even debating some of the policies that they advocate?

P

Oh, come on, Eric! That's like expecting a Christian group to engage in debate as to the existence of God.

Submitted by Paul Mitchell

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

That is the case with some of them, but not all. If my right hon. Friend had read the open debate in the columns of one of the national newspapers within the past 10 days, he would have seen very different positions being taken on the subject by people all of whom would describe themselves as having the best possible environmental credentials. They can agree to disagree, or strongly disagree, with each other on these issues. That is why it is all the more important that there should be provision for somebody other than just the Secretary of State, whoever he happens to be at the time, to get involved in debating whether permitted development orders should be allowed to be used so that these very large generating plants can be constructed without the need for any planning permission or any chance for local involvement in whether they are a good idea.

What size or nature of development could be constructed under a permitted development order under the clause without planning consent? That is the question that several of us are concerned about, and I will try my best to answer it. I know that in due course the promoter of the Bill wants to enter into the debate to give us some assurances. We do not allow permitted development orders to deal with such things as bus stops, bus shelters, street cabinets or even telecomms masts, although we all know from our constituency casework just how controversial those can be. Not long ago, I attended a meeting of the Greater London authority, where no less a person than the Mayor of London answered a question about the location of a bus stop in Richmond. He took the view that he, as the regional authority leader, should be the sole determinant of where that bus stop should be positioned. Under the clause, we would not have that safeguard even for a large microgenerating plant, because it would all be dealt with under permitted development orders. What would our constituents have said in the past, before the health and visual amenity aspects became big issues, if any Government or Secretary of State said, "We think that all these telecomms masts should be put up without the need for any planning permission to be obtained, because it is a jolly good thing that people should be able to communicate by mobile phone"? There would have been an enormous outcry.

I suspect that at the moment people have not woken up to the exact implications of the Bill as regards microgeneration equipment, because they think of it as being on a very small scale. When they do wake up to it, it may be too late, because by then clause 9 will already be on the statute book and the Secretary of State, without anybody being able to constrain him, will have already passed the necessary orders under the permitted development process and these developments will be outwith the control of local people and their locally elected representatives.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I am very supportive of wind power. A new wind farm in Kettering, Burton Wold, is providing electricity for local people. However, it is affecting many local people's television reception. If the Bill succeeds and lots of these wind turbines are put up, people may become concerned about the effects on their environment. It is right that this House should debate these issues now before it is passed into law.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We normally find in terms of legislation that prevention is better than cure. It is no good coming back later to try to amend it, because it will be too late. Some of us have been receiving representations from constituents who are concerned about the contents of some recent legislation, and we are having to say to them that it is too late to do anything about it because it has already gone through. We should anticipate the concerns that will arise. I like to think that all Members, particularly those of us who attend on Fridays, are closely in touch with their constituents' concerns.

People are worried about how big these structures would be. According to the article in The Daily Telegraph of 13 March, the wind turbine that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition is seeking to fit to his house has translucent rotor blades that are 1.1m in diameter, and it will generate just 400W of electricity. The same newspaper report referred to the Minister's house in Croydon being fitted out with a 1 kW turbine—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. We are discussing the amendment, which is about permitted development orders. We have already heard about the developments involving the Leader of the Opposition and the Minister.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

If clause 9 remains in the Bill, under a permitted development order it will be possible for all these pieces of generating equipment, whether they belong to a Member of this House or somebody outside, to be constructed without the need for any planning permission. That is why I was about to mention the dimensions of the turbine which, according to the press report, will be placed on the Minister's premises.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The Minister is shaking his head before he has even heard what I am going to say. The article said that it will have blades that are 1.75m in diameter. In the old-fashioned language of the metric martyrs, that is about 5 ft 9 in. That is a fairly significant size. However, that is a very small capacity turbine compared with the maximum 50kW capacity that is permitted under the Bill. Under clause 9, microgeneration as defined in the Government amendment to the Energy Act 2004 could have a capacity to generate 50kW. If the Minister were to table an amendment to redefine it as relating to a maximum capacity of 1kW, that might allay many concerns. However, clause 9, coupled with the provisions about the maximum capacity being 50kW, will put our constituents in grave jeopardy and cause them enormous anxiety.

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood 11:30 am, 17th March 2006

My hon. Friend has framed this important argument excellently. However, is not he guilty of presuming too much about the review's outcome? Having listened to him carefully, I have heard a solid case for improving the clause through the process that underpins the review, but I have not yet heard a case for removing the clause, which is the purpose of the amendment. Will he make that case?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am making the case. If the clause was not part of the Bill, putting microgenerating plant in one's garden or attaching it to one's house would be a matter for planning and subject to the usual planning laws. In that case, one would make an application, fill in a form, pay a fee to the local authority and discuss it with the local planning authority, which in due course would develop a policy in its local plan process. That might cover the points that my hon. Friend Mr. Hollobone made about whether we should have many individual pieces of generating plant or whether one larger piece of community generating plant would be preferable. The planning process could deal with all those issues. If individuals wanted to install many pieces of plant, councillors could end up discussing the applications. They could ask questions, such as that asked by my hon. Friend Mr. Evans about the implications for bird strike, the butterfly population and so on. However, if the clause remains in the Bill, none of those opportunities would arise. The constituency of my hon. Friend Mr. Hurd is in an urban area, where proper protection under planning laws is even more crucial, because people live close to each other.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I hope that my hon. Friend has not left the subject of size. For the benefit of us non-metric people, will he please tell us not only the overall diameter of the allegedly small wind turbine that will be positioned on or near a dwelling house, but how high it might have to be? I presume that height and size are important when considering visual and possible sound intrusion. It would be helpful if we could get some of those facts on the record so that people are under no illusions about what the Bill asks us to do.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My right hon. Friend asks about height. I am not sure whether I have much information about maximum height. However, I have a picture, which I cannot show hon. Members, but it depicts a 12.5MW biomass plant at a place called Westfield. It resembles the cement works at Westbury. I do not know whether hon. Members are familiar with the big cement works in the countryside at Westbury. It has an enormous chimney, which rises 100 m into the sky, and large warehouse-type buildings, which could, at a guess, be 50 ft to 100 ft high. There is another picture of a smaller, 5 MW plant—the Goosey lodge plant. That resembles a mini version of the Fawley refinery. I hope that that gives some visual impression of what such plant would be like.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

The applications need to be considered before full planning, but not only for reasons of size, which is important. We worried about birds, but kids playing in backyards could be affected if the blades are large. There could be a problem, depending on where the equipment was sited. Let us ensure that there are proper rules and regulations. Local authorities can then consider where equipment will be sited. I must—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Gentleman making an intervention or a speech? Perhaps he could bring his remarks to a close.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

I shall, Madam Deputy Speaker. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most common problems that we encounter in our surgeries is neighbour disputes? When neighbours cannot—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. We know that neighbour disputes can end in violence and, indeed, death. I spent some time in a previous Parliament discussing the frustrations that people can experience living on each side of a hedge.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. We do not need to hear about the hon. Gentleman's frustrations in a previous life.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

We have heard that the diameter of a 400W wind turbine is 1.1m and that that of a 1kW wind turbine is 1.75m. [Interruption.] I do not know whether my hon. Friend has noticed that we are being gesticulated at from the other side of the Chamber. The promoter and seconder of the Bill and the Minister are present. Surely someone can tell us what the diameter of the blades of a 50kW wind turbine would be.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I hope that we shall get closer to an answer to that pertinent point. Whatever the size, we know that it will be pretty large—or there may be many wind turbines. That could amount to the same thing. I can envisage that, in order to generate 50kW, one might have to install photovoltaic tiles and erect a fence that was 15ft high and 30ft long next door to one's neighbours.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

The hon. Gentleman has invited me on a couple of occasions to give my views of what the Bill might allow. Allowing a fence of the size that he outlined or, indeed, a 12.5MW biomass power station to be included under the permitted development orders would not be the desired outcome of the clause. I intend to deal with the matter in my contribution. If he is satisfied with that, perhaps he would be prepared to let other hon. Members respond to his points at an early stage in the debate.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

That is a helpful point and I look forward to the hon. Gentleman's contribution, to which I shall have the opportunity to respond. I believe that the best way of tackling the problem is by leaving out clause 9.

Clause 9 currently discriminates against installations within the curtilage of a dwelling house, but not buildings that contain one or more flats. I hope that the Minister will deal with that point. If one's neighbour lived in a flat, one would have no worries, but if one's neighbour lived in a bungalow or a detached, semi-detached or terraced house, there are potential problems. My home in London, where I stay during the week, is a terraced house and the impact on my quality of life if my neighbours began installing such equipment in their gardens could be significant.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

If one were in favour of permitted development orders, would not it appear extraordinary if blocks of flats were excluded, because their roofs would be perfect, if one were so minded, for siting a wind turbine to provide efficient energy for the dwellers.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Again, my hon. Friend makes an excellent point, which I hope the Minister will tackle. Why are blocks of flats—or houses that are converted into two flats—excluded when ordinary houses with land attached are included? Of course, one can get big converted houses, which stand in substantial plots of land. Under the provisions, they could not take advantage of the permitted development rights, but those living cheek by jowl in small bungalows could.

Amendment No. 13 limits the clause in the sense that

"the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability" of four factors. The amendment, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, would be better than nothing. However, I warn him that the expression "have regard to" is a weak phrase, as we discovered in the challenge to the Government requirements on school admissions. That is why the expression in the Education and Inspections Bill, which had its Second Reading this week, has been tightened.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. We have debated the Education and Inspections Bill. We are now debating the hon. Gentleman's amendment to clause 9.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Absolutely, and I was addressing my remarks to the expression "have regard to" in amendment No. 13. That expression has been the subject of judicial decision making. As a consequence of that, I ask my right hon. Friend to think again about whether it goes far enough. One cannot ignore it and proceed as before, as the High Court recently ruled.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I plead guilty in that sense, but if we must have the clause—perhaps we will accept my hon. Friend's amendment—one decision that we might have to make, and we will have to make it on the hoof, is whether my modest and perhaps rather ineffectual amendment is at least a gesture in the right direction because it could improve the clause.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I certainly agree, but I have another reservation about amendment No. 13. By specifying some factors, it could be taken that others are excluded—for example, the need to safeguard the green belt, to preserve the setting of listed buildings and to protect wildlife, the point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Evans. By not including those provisions, it might be thought that they are excluded. Perhaps that is a slightly technical, whinging point that it ill behoves me to make, especially in respect of an amendment so ably drafted by my right hon. Friend.

What I like about amendment No. 13 are the specific references to visual amenity, noise and health and safety. We discussed visual amenity quite a lot in this short debate, but noise is a big unknown factor. Nothing in the Bill would limit the use of equipment at night. We know how sensitive our constituents are to night-time noise. I have personal experience of that. We once had a family house quite close to a farm that operated equipment late at night to dry bulbs produced in west Cornwall for the early English spring market. The noise was highly intrusive, but the equipment could run at night under permitted development powers because its use was related to agriculture. There was nothing that a concerned neighbour could do, except to plead with the farmer's common sense and to ask him to limit the use of the machines to daytime or to put in proper noise insulating material.

The other good thing about amendment No. 13 is the reference to health and safety. We are talking about big pieces of generating equipment, which may have quite high voltage, especially if they transfer energy to the national grid. All the electricity poles in my constituency have had little red signs put on them with a yellow marking that says, "This is dangerous", and barbed wire has been put around them to protect them against intruders. Do we expect the equipment to be put on land adjacent to the public highway? How will we ensure that children, vandals and so on do not trespass and endanger their health and safety?

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst 11:45 am, 17th March 2006

In a sense, the discussion takes us back to the debate on sources of energy and the list that we considered. Up to now, my hon. Friend has rightly talked about the visual and noise effects of wind turbines. We have also touched on photovoltaics—solar panels—which are probably the least intrusive pieces of equipment. However, as he rightly explains, once we get into biomass, biofuels, fuel cells and other more exotic and esoteric sources of energy, the safety element becomes of great importance. Their location and the safety factors surely must be taken into consideration. That was partly what I had in mind when I drafted my little amendment No. 13.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My right hon. Friend is right, and it is why his amendment has more in its favour than it has against it. I do not mean to damn it with faint praise; safety is a significant element.

My right hon. Friend also tabled amendment No. 70, which was not on the selection list last week because it had not reached the daylight and been exposed for public discussion. It reflects the concern that I expressed that the clause as drafted does not make provision for consultation. The amendment spells out the requirement for that.

I said that I would not be too long on this group of amendments, so I sum up by saying that surely the best protection is provided by ordinary planning law, which requires consultation with neighbours, residents' associations, parish councils and town councils. It gives the decision-making power to elected local councillors. Surely that is what we should be urging on the Government. We want to increase the safeguards, rather than reduce the protections.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

I shall speak briefly. This part of the Bill originated in an amendment tabled in Committee, and was not included in my original version. I am pleased that both Ministers and Conservative Front Benchers have made suggestions that have been incorporated in the Bill, and I am pleased that it has proved to be a suitable vehicle for such improvements.

When I said that I would speak briefly, I did not use the word in the sense in which it was applied to the 44 minutes during which Mr. Chope made what was described as "not a long speech". The hon. Gentleman did, however, raise an important point. Clearly, clause 9 could have different effects depending on how it was applied. I would certainly oppose it if I thought that it would result in "monstrosities" in people's back gardens, with 12.5MW biomass plants being described as microgeneration plants.

I am aware that in the debate on renewable energy, and wind power in particular, there are extreme views on both sides. There are those who oppose any form of wind turbine, no matter how large or small or whether it is in the country or on someone's house; and there are wind power enthusiasts who would favour allowing any wind turbine anywhere, whatever its size and wherever it was located. I do not support either of those extremes. The clause is intended to make it possible, in the right circumstances, for microgeneration installations to be placed on people's houses without the unnecessary bureaucracy that is too often involved at present. That bureaucracy varies from authority to authority, which lessens the possibility of wider use of the technology.

The application will have to differ from community to community. What may be possible in some areas or communities will probably not be possible in conservation areas, or areas with particular historical significance. That is why I think that the review proposed in clause 9 is essential. We cannot possibly specify every single way in which the powers will apply in every single type of community. I therefore think that the permitted development order procedure is appropriate. I trust that the Minister will tell us how he will consult, how he expects the clause to be implemented, and what principles he will apply to its implementation.

I hope that the hon. Member for Christchurch will be satisfied with whatever the Minister says in his response. He is right to ask questions, and if he is not satisfied with the answers he will be able to vote in due course. I repeat, however, that if we are serious about allowing microgeneration to be used more widely so that people can take advantage of its benefits, we must not allow too many bureaucratic obstacles to interfere with that. My hon. Friend Dr. Whitehead, who tabled the original amendment in Committee, may speak from his own experience. However, given that the clause merely suggests that a review should be conducted and laid before the House, and does not allow development orders to be made independently, I hope that Members will reject the amendment if the hon. Member for Christchurch presses it to a vote.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Although my hon. Friend Mr. Chope spoke at great length, he expressed sensible and justifiable concerns that might well be shared by anyone who approached clause 9 in a sceptical frame of mind. I have no doubt, however, that his worries are unconnected with the intention behind the clause. I welcome what I believe to be its true purpose, which—as Mark Lazarowicz said—is to permit the installation of domestic appliances, probably the size of a television aerial or satellite dish, which are unobtrusive in any normal sense of the word.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

My hon. Friend has used the word "probably". Is that not part of the problem? Is it not better to establish clarity than to leave any doubt whatever? As my hon. Friend will know, we have sometimes passed legislation whose intention has been twisted out of all recognition in practice.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That is a good point, but this is not enabling legislation. The clause simply asks the Minister to produce a review, which would have to be laid before the House. That would be the proper time to engage fully in the debate on which we are embarking now, and to apply the necessary scrutiny and ask the questions that are being asked today. Once the review had been presented to Parliament, a statutory instrument would be required, which would have to be debated and, if necessary, voted on in the usual way. At that point I am sure that the sensible suggestions in the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend Mr. Forth about the parties whom the Secretary of State should consult and the concerns that he should take into account in his review—such as safeguarding conservation areas, protecting visual amenity, reducing noise and avoiding risks to health and safety—will be properly debated. All we doing now is beginning the process, not reaching a conclusion, prescribing behaviour or forestalling in any way the sensible, rational debate that must follow. We believe that if microgeneration is to enter the mass market and become accessible to the domestic householder, a way must be found of making it just as easy to erect small domestic appliances as it is to erect a satellite dish or television aerial. Therefore, I do not believe that those of us who strongly support the Bill would be well served by the rejection of the clause.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind comments about some of the points that I made. However, can he spell out how the Bill would be made worse if the clause were omitted completely?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It would be worse because there would then be no compulsion on the Secretary of State to review the permitted development status, and it is important that that status is reviewed, for the reasons that I have set out. We need to streamline the process by which microgeneration technologies can be taken up and used by the domestic user. It is absurd that things the size of a television aerial are subject to the current planning laws. It is not the intention of anyone that a 50kW wind turbine be erected in the garden of a bungalow in Bexhill. As we are at the very beginning of the process, we cannot expect the Bill to prescribe every single outcome of the Minister's review. I accept that it is broadly drafted, but I hope that the Minister may be able to reassure us that the review will be conducted under sensible terms of reference and with a clear purpose in mind—to enable the fast-tracking of small domestic apparatus, not the nightmare scenarios that my hon. Friend has suggested.

Opposition Front Benchers do not oppose the clause, and we wholeheartedly support the Bill, but we are mindful of the considerations that have been raised.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

I thought that it would be useful if I intervened at this stage. Amendment No. 32 would remove clause 9—an important clause that was added in Committee on 9 February. Clause 9 requires a review of permitted development rights. That will allow the Secretary of State to form a view about the need for any further rights to facilitate the installation of microgeneration equipment on houses.

Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I wish to correct what the Minister has just said. Clause 9 would not "allow" such a review, because such a review could happen now, under existing powers in the planning legislation. Instead, clause 9 would require such a review, and that is the important advantage of it. But it does not change what could be done now.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

Let me continue by saying that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has been conducting a review of householder development consents. The review was set up to address the problem that the planning legislation governing minor consents is unnecessarily complex, possibly too constricting and may be interpreted in different ways by local planning authorities across the country. The ODPM proposes to look at ways of simplifying the relevant sections of the secondary legislation, known as the general permitted development order, to make it easier for households to install microgeneration technology without the need for a planning application.

12 noon

The Government continue to support clause 9, as we want to make it easier for householders to install microgeneration equipment. That is its purpose. There is clearly some confusion, but this clause is about facilitating small-scale microgeneration, a kilowatt or two. We are not talking about a provision that would allow one of those 50kW jobs to be installed in a suburban back garden. We thought that was obvious, but I am happy to suggest that my colleague, the Minister for Housing and Planning, Yvette Cooper, will write to Mr. Chope setting out clearly the terms of the review so that there are no misconceptions.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Does the Minister not understand that there is concern because of the definition of the capacity of microgeneration? If the Minister had come to the House today and said that this provision relates to microgeneration up to 1kW or 5kW, we might not be having a debate of this length. However, because we are placing a capacity of up to 50kW in the Bill, under PDOs that could, despite the Minister's good intentions, lead to the establishment of wind turbines that local residents might find unacceptable.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

Perhaps foolishly, I was applying a common-sense test to this. No one can anticipate that, following the Deputy Prime Minister's review, such things would be allowed. If my judgment on common sense lets me down, I apologise to the House. We have to bring some sense of scale to this. It may be helpful if my colleague the Minister writes to the hon. Member for Christchurch on this point so that there can be no misconceptions.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

Does the Minister recognise that there are more and less controversial microgeneration plans? Small solar panels on roofs would be acceptable to the vast majority of people in this country, yet certain wind turbines, even of a small scale, might be controversial, particularly to neighbours. Does the Minister recognise that there are two aspects of microgeneration?

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. As colleagues are finding, progress and modernisation can be controversial, and there can be resistance. That is true for microgeneration, if the hon. Gentleman understands my meaning. These things are controversial, but the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will do a review to facilitate sensible-scale microgeneration. That is all we are saying. It is a red herring to think that we are talking about 50kW plants.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

An earlier intervention from the Opposition Back Benches suggested that the review might be carried out without any form of consultation. Is the Minister prepared to give an assurance that there will be consultation in any review, as one would expect to be normal practice?

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

My hon. Friend encourages me to finish my speech. I have made the point that my colleague will write to the hon. Gentleman so that we can clarify these matters.

Amendment No. 13 specifies things to which the Secretary of State should have regard when carrying out his review of permitted development orders. It goes without saying that the Secretary of State would conduct a thorough review, so a prescriptive list, such as this, is unnecessary. The listing of various bodies as consultees in amendment No. 70 is also unnecessary. When there is a consultation exercise on a planning matter, the ODPM invites comments from a great many organisations, including those that represent local authorities, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and other organisations with an interest in planning. That will already happen, so the amendment is unnecessary.

I want to clarify a point that was raised about permitted development orders. Should the ODPM decide, following the review, that a new permitted development order is required in relation to microgeneration, the order will be tabled in the House. It will be subject to the negative resolution procedure, but the House will nevertheless have the opportunity to comment. That is in addition to the full consultation that will take place as part of the review.

In summary, amendment No. 71 is consequential on the incorporation of amendment No. 70. I oppose the inclusion of amendments Nos. 32, 13, 70 and 71.

Photo of Christopher Huhne Christopher Huhne Shadow Minister, Treasury

I am certainly reassured by the Minister's answers, especially on the point about consultation. Members who raised that issue may have been unaware of the Cabinet Office code of practice on consultation, in which criterion 3 states clearly:

"Efforts should be made to bring the consultation to the attention of all interested parties."

I have no doubt that the Government will attempt to do that.

Photo of Christopher Huhne Christopher Huhne Shadow Minister, Treasury

No, because I know that the right hon. Gentleman has a great interest in absorbing large amounts of time.

The key point is that no new powers for the Government are introduced by the clause. If the Government were minded to allow the building of monstrous wind turbines, biomass fuel plants or anything else under PDOs, they could do so already. The concerns expressed from the Conservative Back Benches seem completely unfounded. The clause introduces a requirement for a review of PDOs, which will then be brought to the House in the normal way—with a statutory instrument, which, as the Minister says, requires a negative resolution. That seems appropriate and is one of the reasons why we shall support the clause and the Bill.

P

No, because I know that the right hon. Gentleman has a great interest in absorbing large amounts of time.

LOL! Yes, of course he does. It is called "scrutiny" and is generally considered beneficial for legislation.

That said, Fridays are special. Both Mr. Forth and Labour's Andrew Dismore are notorious for their ability to "talk out" Private Member's Bills.

Submitted by Paul Mitchell

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

The purpose of the clause, as Gregory Barker has already suggested, is to examine whether it is possible to ensure that small-scale microgeneration equipment of various kinds can be installed by householders without their necessarily having to go through the full bureaucracy of the planning process.

At present, authorities take a different view about the planning process for particular items of microgeneration; for example, in some local authority areas one may put solar tiles on one's roof without planning permission, while in others planning permission would be required, due to concerns arising from section 60 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Similarly, if one erects a small wind turbine—we have heard about various people who are trying to do that, one of whom is me—some local authorities will say that all applications for miniature wind turbines on houses are subject to planning permission, but other authorities will not require planning permission, within particular constraints. The clause provides that if a review finds that a permitted development order is possible, after discussion in the House, the PDO will remove the requirement for the full planning process for a number of defined microgeneration devices.

We have heard the idea expressed—I am sure by inadvertence or misunderstanding—that a 50kW wind turbine might be installed on a roof in Bromley, which would be a monstrosity and insupportable—

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

Indeed, and might lead to other consequences.

The provision suggests that the PDO mechanism does not actually work at present because, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, the general permitted development order and section 60 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 limit the scope of development orders in terms of the extent to which they may be mediated by

"the approval of the local planning authority with respect to the design or external appearance of the buildings".

The general permitted development order makes a number of points about the circumstances under which that may happen.

For example, in local authorities generally, if a householder adds less than 15 per cent. to the curtilage of their property, that is not regarded as requiring planning permission. I am sure that Mr. Chope is well aware of that from discussions that he has had in his constituency. In addition, there is a range of other considerations that cause certain things that are not fundamental to the extension, or the change of the appearance of the property, to remain outside the planning regulations. If one thinks about it for a moment, that is a good thing because otherwise no one could do anything without being snowed under by the requirement to have planning permission, and local authorities could not operate because every time that someone put a porch on their house, or some such, they would have to apply for planning permission.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, increasingly, local authorities will impose a condition on a planning consent which means that the applicant is not allowed in the future to rely on the provisions of the general development order?

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

Yes indeed, and that underlines my point that there is a boundary on permitted development orders that local authorities can apply, and also, through the general permitted development order, a boundary on the extent to which permitted development orders apply in any event. If one applies that logic, a biomass plant might extend the curtilage of a particular properly by more than 15 per cent., which would be outside the terms of the general permitted development order. Similarly, if a wind turbine went well above the roofline or beyond the building line, that would also be beyond the terms of the general permitted development order, so there are boundaries anyway.

The difference that is suggested is very modest indeed. It would simply clarify the terms under which microgeneration devices—which were not in existence when permitted development orders were first thought about in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990— might be attached by householders to their households, in the same way as, under other circumstances, they might introduce a roof extension or a porch to their house. The suggestion in clause 9 is that if a review agrees that that is a good idea, householders who wanted to put solar panels on the roof who, in other times and places, might have considered that it was necessary to apply for planning permission, would not after that general permitted development order was put in place have to do so in any local authority in the country, subject to all the conditions and the constraints that I have mentioned.

The result for microgeneration would be that there would be clarity throughout the country in terms of what one could or could not do. A person who was installing a modest device would not have to go through the red tape. Cost is also involved. The price of a small wind turbine, such as the Leader of the Opposition is considering for his house, comes to about £1,500. As things stand, the Leader of the Opposition would have to spend perhaps £300 or £400 of that £1,500 on seeking planning permission, with all that that entails, to get that device on to his house.

Our suggestion is both modest and economical. It takes out of the realm of red tape those modest devices within the overall constraint of permitted development orders that could aid microgeneration and thereby help householders to generate the power that they consume in their households without recourse to the national grid.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

Perhaps my hon. Friend would also confirm that special requirements under the procedure for permitted development orders, which apply, for example, to conservation areas and listed buildings, would in no way be set aside by the proposal.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The same applies when we consider the safety of such devices. The hon. Member for Christchurch painted a picture of almost Frankenstein proportions of large swathes of white electricity fizzing across the landscape as people put power into the national grid. The truth is that if one had a solar panel on one's roof that produced electricity when it was not being used in the house, a two-way meter could place current completely safely—without danger to small children, pets, or anyone else—into the national grid. The same would be true for other forms of microgeneration.

I regret that several wild misapprehensions have been raised today, perhaps because of a lack of clarity or understanding about the proposals in clause 9. However, with the benefit of any reasonable consideration of how permitted development orders work, how a review might be undertaken and the extent of what is proposed, no reasonable Member in the Chamber could oppose clause 9.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 12:15 pm, 17th March 2006

The hon. Gentleman has made a useful contribution to the debate and our understanding. To summarise, he has made a strong case that if the review is conducted sensibly and sensitively, it could result in a welcome anti-regulatory measure.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

We could indeed have an anti-regulatory measure whereby the red tape behind something that could be of great benefit to many people and the country as a whole could be removed without in any way undermining people's rights to enjoy their houses in the normal way, subject to any concerns that they may raise with local authorities about how their amenities might be reduced. It is useful to see such a measure in the light of being anti-regulatory when considering the development of microgeneration.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I am sure that we are all grateful that it has been acknowledged that these debates have real use. Some of our parliamentary colleagues have finally accepted that these occasions have value, and I am glad that they are participating in them—that is at least a small step forward. However, despite the clarification that we have been given, I am not sure that we have all the reassurance that we might need.

The problem is that the environmental fanatics have a mysterious hold over the body politic and assume that whenever they produce a Bill, it cannot possibly be debated, questioned or in any way delayed in what they think should be its seamless passage through the parliamentary process. That is unfortunate, but at least some of us have not been taken in by all that yet and, indeed, believe that it is our duty to ask questions, even about something as allegedly worthy as the Bill. I hope that the process that we have undergone hitherto has demonstrated that. Our debates have elicited useful information.

Finally, the promoter of the Bill and Dr. Whitehead have done the House a real service by setting out several arguments about the Bill that were long overdue. Fortunately, the assumption that the Bill was so worthy that it hardly needed explanation, which several hon. Members tried to make, is behind us and we are getting proper debate and explanation, which is a real step forward.

Of course, both my hon. Friend Gregory Barker and the Minister intended their comments to be helpful. My hon. Friend said with great bravura and confidence that we need not worry because the wind turbines would be the size of a television aerial. If my hon. Friend was the Minister and able to give such an undertaking, I am sure that we would all be reassured. If I could press him further to guarantee that that would be written into the Bill or the guidelines, the reassurance would be great indeed. However, I am not sure whether the Minister would be prepared to go quite as far as my hon. Friend. A range of possibilities has been put before us. On the one hand, we have my hon. Friend's television aerial, and on the other, we have the wording of the amendment that we agreed this morning which refers to capacity of up to 50kW. Perhaps the reality lies somewhere between the two extremes.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that earlier this week, in a Statutory Instrument Committee that he was chairing, I expressed some surprise at the speedy discussion of the matter before the Committee. Does he not agree that this is precisely such a matter of detail which could, if there was a review, be discussed in a Statutory Instrument Committee, and that he might be able to pursue his points in more detail at that time? That would be a very helpful way forward.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

It would not be as helpful as the hon. Gentleman might think. I can tell him that if I had been a member of the Committee, rather than its Chair, the proceedings would not have gone nearly so speedily. The business would have been properly scrutinised instead of being nodded through. This is something of a red herring because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, statutory instruments are not amendable, and it is simply not good enough for the Minister

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Is the right hon. Gentleman addressing his remarks to the amendment to which he is presumably speaking?

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

I should prefer it if the right hon. Gentleman addressed his remarks accordingly.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I was doing the Bill's promoter the honour of answering his question, Madam Deputy Speaker, but if you do not want me to do so, that is his loss.

I was saying that we are now presented with a wide spectrum of possibilities. I am now picking up the points made in this debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle, and I am about to pick up a point made by the Minister—I thought that that was what debates for. The Minister said that we have had a review of this important area of planning and development and referred to a kilowatt or two. He was trying to reassure the House, and that is very welcome, but I am not sure that his words here will be sufficient reassurance for people out there who might be worried about the potential intrusion of these microgeneration devices. It may not be enough simply for the Minister to say, "Don't worry folks. Although my amendment refers to 50kW, it won't really be anything like that; it will be a kilowatt or two."

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

What I attempted to explain, perhaps not as well as I might have done, was that it would not be acceptable to place a huge wind turbine of 50kW on someone's roof because the roof would not support it; it would not be within the permitted development order outline; and it would go above the roof line and outside the building line. A kilowatt or two would be about the limit for the size of a wind turbine to be placed on a person's house. With respect, the right hon. Gentleman's comments are a red herring.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his explanation, but are we not talking about the possibility of installations within the curtilage as well as on the building? I should think that we are then talking about a potential for much larger installations.

Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how clause 9 changes anything in planning law so that any of his remarks on the matter are relevant?

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I am sure that if they were not relevant, Madam Deputy Speaker would see to that. She does not need the hon. Gentleman's assistance. We are discussing the potential in clause 9 for the whole regime to be altered in a way that we cannot predict.

Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

But the point is that nothing in clause 9 changes planning law at all. There is no such potential.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I thought from what was said by the promoter and the hon. Member for Southampton, Test that that was the whole point—they want to see changes made that would remove what they see as the bureaucratic restrictions of existing planning provisions. I believe that the powers available to Ministers in clause 9 could go a lot further than is being suggested.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Does my right hon. Friend think that the point being made by David Howarth, who is a distinguished lawyer, is that this whole clause is effectively a waste of time because there is nothing to stop the Minister now from consulting on a list of permitted development order changes? He does not need this Bill to do that. Why has he not done it in the past two years?

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

We have a difficult choice to make. Either everything is hunky-dory and we do not need the provision, or it is so ineffectual that we do not need to bother with it—or anything in between; take your pick.

Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

The point of clause 9 is to place an obligation on the Minister to carry out a review that he already has a power, but no obligation, to carry out.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

In that case, we need not have the clause at all. The Minister could give us an undertaking and we could all go home quickly.

Another of the criticisms that have been levelled at the Bill from the start is that it is in that dangerous area of gesture legislation or motherhood legislation. It is about making people feel good, especially some of the single-interest groups, which seem to influence so many Members of Parliament these days. Legislation should not be for such purposes: it should be for specific and clearly beneficial purposes. It should not be about making a gesture or making people happy, or pleasing this or that group. I am now being told that all the clause does is say to the Minister, "Do a review, old boy," but if the Minister were to say simply, "I'll do a review, don't worry," we could dispose of the matter very quickly.

The Minister said, "Don't worry, folks, wind turbines in domestic circumstances will be for a kilowatt or two." If I thought that the Minister would table an amendment—say, when the Bill goes to the Lords, as I am sure it will—that would be enormously helpful, but at present we are stuck with only one figure to work with—the famous 50kW in amendment No. 52. Apart from what the Minister said, that is the only guidance that we have had so far.

The Minister went on to talk about "sensible-scale microgeneration", but what is sensible is very much in the eye of the beholder. It is like our good old friend "reasonable". It sounds reassuring, but in the terms of what I believe we are discussing today—potential intrusion into people's lives, albeit for the best of motives—sensible is not good enough.

The dilemma that we face goes to the heart of the Bill. That is why I am so grateful to my hon. Friend Mr. Chope for setting it out, and to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test for taking the trouble and deploying his expertise to spell out how he envisages the mechanisms working. However, as my hon. Friends indicated in their interventions, we are entitled to exhibit at least some unease about the process that the Bill invites to take place.

I hope that when we come to Third Reading, we shall have an opportunity to range much more widely over the concept of climate change, the United Kingdom's role in that, and the role of microgeneration within that, so that we can set the Bill in context. That is certainly for Third Reading, not for Report. In that part of the Bill, there is a tension or perhaps a conflict between, on the one hand, the environmentalists' desire to reap the alleged benefits of microgeneration and, on the other, constraints on planning, capacity and so on. If we do not get it right there is a danger that there will be a backlash such as the one against telecommunications masts which, although in a very different way, it was thought would improve modern communications and the quality of life in general.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I have already made a ruling on telecommunications masts. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would concentrate on the matters before the House.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst 12:30 pm, 17th March 2006

Indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Under the Bill, we face the prospect that devices such as solar panels would be installed. Little has been said about them, because they would not be intrusive, although I accept that others may take a different view. Other devices that would be installed include wind turbines, about which a great deal has been said, as many people are worried about their visual impact, noisiness and the risk that they pose to health and safety. A more difficult problem—I acknowledge that my hon. Friend faced a challenge in trying to use description when illustration would serve much better—arises when we try to envisage what a microgenerating plant, whether it runs on biomass, biofuel, heat and power or fuel cells, would look like or how big it would be. Again, we are taking a great deal on trust, because we have only my hon. Friend's assertion that a domestic wind turbine could have blades up to 6 ft long if it was located on the ground in a back garden rather than on a building. It would therefore be a fairly tall device, but it is difficult to imagine the size of a building or an installation that would house the domestic or, more particularly, the community microgeneration plants referred to in the Bill and the amendments.

Such things are unknown and uncertain, and we have been asked to take a great deal on trust. Mark Lazarowicz naturally says that we should not worry, as the proposals are modest and serve a terribly good cause. The Minister said that a kilowatt or two should be enough, so we should not worry. My right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin is a huge enthusiast for such power, but we have a duty to look at the measure from a different angle on behalf of people who are not environmental enthusiasts. They value their present quality of life and would prefer not to worry about the climate in 50 years' time. They are, however, worried about visual amenity and the effect of the devices on the value of their property—that has not been mentioned, but it is a valid consideration. All those factors should be taken into consideration.

That is the thrust of amendment No. 13. Instead of saying that we trust the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister and the parliamentary process to make sure that everything is okay in the end, I have attempted to ensure that the Bill includes a mechanism that will reassure people. Despite his mild criticism that I should have used another formulation in preference to "shall have regard to", my hon. Friend accepted that the amendment is a step in the right direction, as it refers deliberately and explicitly to the desirability of

"safeguarding conservation areas . . . protecting visual amenity . . . reducing noise; and . . . avoiding risks to health and safety."

None of the changes and mechanisms in the Bill or the amendments should compromise our highly valued conservation areas, whether they comprise buildings or amenities. Visual amenity, too, is important, not just in rural areas but in many urban areas as well. People value visual amenity, whether they are in their home or garden, or going about their daily business. My hon. Friend said the devices would not just generate daytime noise but intrusive noise at all hours, which should be taken into consideration.

My hon. Friend touched on health and safety. Labour Members made some unnecessarily derisive remarks about that, but we ought to pause and consider the implications of, for example, a wind turbine of considerable size in a back garden, or one of the more exotic generating plants located on the ground inside or outside a building. There must be a distinct safety element to such installations. We all know that existing gas central heating appliances, for example, are rightly subject to severe safety regimes.

With regard to some of the proposed new technologies, some still relatively untried and untested, I am not sure whether we can be comfortable with the thought of them being inside or in the curtilage of domestic premises and running 24 hours a day or on demand—we will come to dynamic demand technologies in the next group of amendments. I wanted an explicit reference to health and safety written into the Bill to provide some reassurance that in our rush to save the planet, we did not ignore such important detailed provisions.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Before my right hon. Friend moves on to his other amendments, will he address the concern that there could be several 1kW windmills in one site? For example, the owner of a property in the green belt, where no development is allowed, could decide to engage in the generation of electricity and put up 50 1kW windmills. That could create an enormous amount of noise, similar to the noise from the halyards at a marina.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Indeed. My hon. Friend makes an important point. Necessarily, this is all rather speculative. We have not had a chance—although we may get one on the next group of amendments or the one after that, or perhaps on Third Reading—to explore the intriguing idea of surplus energy generated for domestic requirements being sold back to the grid. If that could be made to work properly, if we could get the pricing relationships right and so on, there could be a temptation for people to put in much more capacity than they needed for their own family and domestic purposes to make some money.

I am all in favour of making money. I am still a capitalist. I know that that is out of fashion in this modern age, but I still believe passionately in profit, capitalism and even tax cutting. I am not criticising any possibility the Bill might give to the capitalist instinct in all of us, but the worry is that that incentive might induce people to install more potentially intrusive equipment and capacity than they might otherwise do. We have not considered that aspect and none of us is certain what the effect might be. That should give us some pause for thought.

I move on to my amendment No. 70. Here again, there is the conflict that has arisen a couple of times and always will when we are considering such Bills. The Minister tends to say, "Don't worry. Of course we'll consult all the right people. Of course we'll pay due regard to their views." To avoid all doubt and misgiving, it would be better to have in the Bill an obligation on the Secretary of State, in the context of the mechanisms in the clause and the aim of this part of the Bill, to consult any

"body or bodies as appear to him to be representative of local authorities".

Local authorities play a key part in the Bill since in our sitting last Friday we agreed to insert the Minister's new clause bringing them very much into play. Having brought local authorities in, it would be a good idea if they were consulted on the important provisions in clause 9. The list that I propose is not intended to be limiting or exclusive. I put into the list the bodies that I thought were relevant to the sort of considerations that I hoped would be in play in the review and the process of looking at the relationship between microgeneration and planning. Obviously, the Royal Institute of British Architects sprang to mind as a group of people to whom it would be very useful to speak, to find out how they saw the relationship between the built environment, as I think we are now supposed to call it, and all this exciting new technology.

I think Dr. Whitehead was gently pulling my leg, for which I forgive him completely, when he spoke about windmills on roofs in Bromley. I can tell him that the roofs of Bromley are sturdy indeed. Whether my constituents want turbines on their roofs is a matter for them. Of course, there is also a serious point about the relationship between whatever form of microgeneration we happen to be talking about—it may be photovoltaics, solar panels, which do not have to be on roofs, as they can be mounted away from a building, wind turbines or some of the more exotic technologies—and building design and construction, on which they all have a bearing. That is why I thought it would be proper and indeed essential for architects to be brought into the matter.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

I was at pains when I spoke earlier to say that the amendment was unnecessary, because all the bodies, including RIBA, would be consulted. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman missed that speech, but I wonder why he is labouring the point now, when I have reassured him that they will be consulted.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Of course I accept the kindness and integrity of the Minister, which are not in doubt, but Ministers come and go. Who knows? He may become the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the next reshuffle, although the possibility of filling the post seems to recede ever more into the distance.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

The temptation for going is quite a strong one at this moment, so I do not regard those words as a threat at this hour, I am bound to say. The serious point is a question not of Ministers coming or going, but of the established procedure whereby the bodies will be consulted. They will be consulted. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should move on.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

The Minister should not be so eager to move on all the time. Obviously I have not said this often enough, but I thought that we had finally learned the lesson that moving on is not the way we legislate in this country or in this Parliament. We legislate by careful consideration, scrutiny, debate and amendment. Those are the processes by which we try to make our legislation good and workable, rather than "moving on"—this pathetic desire that people have to rush through the legislative process because a very small and vocal number of people outside expect legislation to be introduced at their whim. We will decide the pace of legislation and what is proper, because this is Parliament scrutinising legislation, not the Minister getting his way.

Of course, I am very happy that the Minister has given his undertaking. All I am saying—it is the reason for this little debate—is that we must make a judgment as to whether we are prepared to accept his undertaking, which he gave in a kind way, or whether it is better for us to seek to include in the Bill provision to reassure not only us but people outside. It is those very people, our constituents, who may be uneasy about the process set out in the Bill. I am in the business of trying to give them a degree of reassurance. If the Minister does not want to give his constituents any reassurance, that is up to him, but I may see things differently.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the issues that the Minister has not addressed is the stage at which the consultation will take place? My right hon. Friend's amendment deals with consultation that will occur at the beginning of the process, but the Minister may have it in mind that consultation will take place much further down the track, just before the legislation comes to the House, which would be far from satisfactory.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Indeed. We know of many occasions on which so-called consultation has been carried out in such a peremptory way, or so late on, that it has had little or no impact. When I was drafting the amendment, I had in mind whether the consultation process was of any value at all. I am giving the Minister the benefit of the doubt in this case, because it may well give some added value to the legislative process and to the Bill.

I mentioned the Campaign to Protect Rural England because many of the mechanisms, techniques and installations that we are discussing could have an enormous effect on our more beautiful rural areas. They will have different effects in urban areas, of course—that is a different consideration—but I thought that it was worth mentioning the rural environment.

The benefit of this part of our deliberations is that we have highlighted the difficulties that could arise if we fail to get absolutely right the balance between the desire of the promoter of the Bill, the Government and my Front-Bench colleagues to introduce microgeneration much more widely and the negative effect that it could have. I think that we have made some progress. We have teased out the issue and got it on the record and into the public domain. Ever with a mind to the legislative process in another place, I hope that we have given Members there something to think about as well.

I hope that the Minister will give us a definitive response as to how he sees the review developing and how he envisages the emergence of the constraints on such installations that we might expect. We can then go back to our constituents and say that we have obtained from him as much reassurance as is reasonable.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 12:45 pm, 17th March 2006

We have had an excellent debate in which almost a record number of right hon. and hon. Members have taken part. I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you were not in the Chair to hear the beginning of the debate, because you may find it more difficult to follow the stage that we have reached. We have made a lot of progress since the outset. The Minister started off with the view that there was no need to worry about something that was just a lot of hot air being blown from this side of the Chamber, but he, as well as the promoter of the Bill, the hon. Members for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) and for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) and my hon. Friend Gregory Barker have all joined in and said, in effect, that it is a genuine issue and therefore an important debate.

An interesting backdrop to the debate is that if we had had before us the report that the Minister was going to produce before the end of this month giving his strategy for the promotion of microgeneration, we would have been able to see to what extent the difficulty of getting planning permission, or the need to get it, is a constraint upon the development of microgeneration and one that he would wish to overcome. It is disappointing that we have been unable to see that, because we do not know what the Minister's strategy is or what he has in mind.

We do know, however, that under existing planning law the Minister could bring forward proposals to change the general development order and increase the categories of permitted development without the need for this clause. Indeed, he could have taken that course any time in the past 18 months or two years. Why has not he done so? If, as has been suggested, it is such a burning issue, why have the Government not presented proposals to change the existing general development order and what is permitted under it?

The Minister has not allayed my concern that the clause is highly prescriptive. If he is happy to provide for consultation, he does not need the clause. When my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle is the Minister responsible—I hope that that will happen sooner rather than later—I am sure he will not be so slow in making the relevant amendments to the general development order. He will not need the Bill to do that.

There is agreement between Front-Bench Members of all three parties that microgeneration is a good thing and that it should be facilitated. If that can be done through relaxing the provisions of the general development order and allowing permitted development, there is nothing to prevent it from happening now. Indeed, the Minister could get on with it this weekend. He could put a note in his Red Box for Monday morning—so that his private secretary would see it—saying, "Get on with this." Perhaps he would have to consult the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or even the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. However, I am sure that he could present such proposals.

The mandatory nature of the current formulation and the way in which the clause appears to exclude proper debate and consultation worry me. I shall not repeat my detailed argument that the way in which the subsections are linked results in an unnecessarily oppressive measure.

We have heard much about the amount of electricity generation that could be facilitated without the need for planning permission under the permitted development order. The Minister has assured us that he does not intend to go beyond what he and other contributors to the debate call "small-scale microgeneration". That is a good expression, but it does not appear in the Bill. If it had been incorporated, I am sure the measure would have received less detailed scrutiny because there would not have been so much concern about its intentions. People are worried about what the Bill describes as microgeneration but is, in common parlance, large-scale microgeneration, and its being carried out without planning permission.

I have considered whether we should accept the Minister's good intentions and not press the matter to a vote. I have also taken into account the assurances of Mark Lazarowicz that he has only television aerials and satellite dishes in mind. If that is all he has in mind, it can be done at the moment, pretty uncontroversially, through the Minister's current powers. David Howarth made the point that the Minister already has the power and that the clause simply makes it use mandatory. Why do we need to make it mandatory when the Minister is such an enthusiast? What is holding him back? Surely he is being encouraged. [Interruption.] Unfortunately, I cannot respond to hand gestures. If anyone wishes to intervene, they are free to do so.

On a serious note, if we are just talking about television aerials or satellite dishes then fine, but we need to be alert to the possibility that someone might want the equivalent of 50 satellite dishes or TV aerials because they want to have 50 1kW generators.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

But what is to stop someone bulk buying 50 generators, and then putting up 50 windmills? I accept that they may be no larger than a TV aerial, but I do not know of anyone who has more than one television aerial or, for that matter, more than one satellite dish. The hon. Member for Eastleigh is looking at me in a certain way; perhaps he is the exception to my proposition.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

It is subject to current planning law.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The hon. Gentleman comes at me with these short statements. He thinks that permitted development rights allow for one television aerial or one satellite dish without the need to get planning permission. That is fine, but unfortunately he has said nothing to suggest that the power would be used to prohibit the erection of more than one 1kW windmill generator on one particular set of premises. I am glad that I gave way to him because I recall our days in Southampton when we closely debated political issues, and it is good to renew that acquaintance across the Chamber, but he has not satisfied my concerns.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point about bureaucracy and bureaucratic obstacles. I also understand how unsatisfactory some people, in particular the enthusiasts for microgeneration, might find a situation in which some local authorities allow people to put solar panels on their houses or to erect windmills without the need for planning permission, but others do not. Surely, however, it is a virtue of the nature of our society that we believe in localism, which necessarily involves individuality and diversity. He seems to want to promote uniformity and stereotyping. That cannot be a good thing. The idea of putting up lots of new windmills or photovoltaic equipment may be thought of as a good thing in some parts of the country, but why should an elected local authority not be able to decide the policy for itself?

If we remove the clause, it will not prevent the use of permitted development orders to relax the planning regime for some parts of the microgeneration industry. It will not do that at all, and any suggestion that the clause is a vital part of the Bill is misconceived. However, the Minister has, I think, accepted that as drafted, clause 9 is open to misinterpretation. He says that it does not reflect his intention, but we are dealingwith legislation that has to be precise in its content. I hope that he will support me in the Division Lobby when I put the amendment to a vote. Removing the clause from the Bill will enable the Government to table a much better drafted version in the other place to make his intentions clearer and to put safeguards on the face of the Bill. I would welcome those, but at the moment they are articulated only in terms of expressions of intention by the Minister and the promoter, rather than being guarantees, which they would be if they appeared in the Bill.

The debate has been constructive. The size of microgeneration plants causes a lot of concern. The Government have given us assurances about that. If we vote to remove the clause, they will be able to present clearer, fresh proposals that are more in tune with their real intentions.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 2, Noes 72.

Division number 197 Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill — Clause 9 — Review of permitted development orders

Aye: 2 MPs

No: 72 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 568 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.