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New Clause 8 — Parliamentary requirements

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 8:45 pm on 2nd June 2008.

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Photo of Richard Benyon Richard Benyon Opposition Whip (Commons) 8:45 pm, 2nd June 2008

I wish to speak to my amendment No. 3. The Minister and members of the Committee will recall that I raised the issue of extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields in Committee. As I said then, the Draper report, funded by the Department of Health and published in 2005, found that children who had lived within 200 m of high-voltage power lines since birth had a 70 per cent. higher risk of developing childhood leukaemia. The Government have received recommendations for action on the issue from the Health Protection Agency, from the Government's own stakeholder group SAGE—the Stakeholder Advisory Group ELF EMF—and from those involved in the cross-party inquiry on childhood leukaemia and EMFs last year.

My hon. Friend Mr. Hurd, who could not be present for the debate, has given a lead. Recently, along with members of Children with Leukaemia, he met the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Mr. Wright, who stated—as he has stated elsewhere—that his Department, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department of Health were considering proposals for precautionary measures to be introduced this year. Those measures are likely to involve either the issuing of information to the public and planning authorities, or planning controls restricting the building of houses very close to high-voltage power lines.

The Bill provides for the expansion of essential infrastructure, such as high-voltage power lines, and for the fast-tracking of planning approval for such projects. I believe that it should also provide for the introduction of precautionary measures. If the Government introduce planning controls applying to the building of houses and schools near power lines, the IPC must be able to implement planning controls on new power lines near houses and schools.

As we know, for we have debated it at tortuous length, the Bill also provides for the creation of national policy statements on infrastructure. If the Government are not prepared to accept an amendment allowing the IPC to consider EMFs and health concerns in its decision making, I want to receive assurances that high-voltage overhead transmission lines will be the subject of a national policy statement.

Amendment No. 3 would simply require the Secretary of State to consult on potential health risks arising from national planning policy during the drafting of national policy statements. I have deliberately left the wording vague. No doubt civil servants advising the Minister have expressed the fear that he may be required to consult all sorts of weird and wonderful organisations that are worried about energy fields and the like. Actually, we leave it to the Secretary of State to designate the organisations that he or she feels are "appropriate" to consult on the risks to health arising from the national policy statement.

Many closely involved with this matter, such as the excellent pressure group Children with Leukaemia, are concerned that the proposed system will allow much less consultation and opportunity for representation from members of the public, as the IPC will be given only six months from the initial meeting to take evidence and another three months to deliberate. The IPC can decide what subjects are relevant to the discussion at the evidence sessions and can explicitly exclude subjects that are deemed to be covered by a national policy statement, which of course could include health.

Obviously this is an extremely emotive issue for families and I ask the Minister to consider the implications for families and parents when a new proposed high-voltage power line or large transformer station is to be placed within close reach of housing or a school, as the understanding of the risks involved increases. This is an opportunity to address those concerns and to put a precautionary principle in the Bill. I ask the Minister to share his thoughts and an up-to-date assessment of where these negotiations are going in his Department and the two others that I have mentioned. I ask him also to give some comfort to the House that the Government are taking the matter seriously and are addressing a matter of great concern to a great many people. How he responds will determine how I proceed with the amendment.

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