Energy Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 23rd March 2004.

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Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative 4:00 pm, 23rd March 2004

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, for taking on the burden of moving, in effect, my amendment and his, because he knows far more about the subject than I do. I could not be here last night, and it therefore seemed prudent that he, conveniently for me, should take over my amendment. But I do think I should have my say.

This part of the Bill applies to all of the United Kingdom rights under Part 5 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It gives the Government the power to designate, within that huge area of seabed, renewable energy zones. Theoretically, therefore, the Government could surround this country with renewable energy zones. The problem may not be so much with wind in this instance, but the possibility of wave energy in the future. If we begin to extract energy from waves, that opens up the possibility of going out to deeper sea than one would think of conventionally in the context of wind turbines. Once you begin to widen out the scope, the possibility for interference with shipping becomes greater and greater. I am not a mariner in that sense, but I have sailed off the east coast for some years of my life. The approaches to Harwich and Felixstowe became important to me when we were involved with some port improvements in Harwich. I have lived with the problems of the approaches to the Thames Estuary all my life—who does not who lives in either Essex or Kent? The problems of the Goodwin Sands are something that I remember vividly from my childhood. As the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, pointed out, ships still sink off our shores, for whatever reason, and subsequently there is slightly hazardous navigation. We should not pretend that the sea is a safe place.

My original amendment sought to require the Government, as far as was possible, not to put renewable energy zones in those areas where ships are accustomed to make their passage. They do not make their passage in straight lines in the North Sea, and definitely not as they begin to approach the east coast ports. There are offshore sands and shallows which mean that you must have fairly closely defined routes into these ports. The North Sea itself is shallow. There will be areas which large boats will tend to avoid because of shallow water, even if it is deep enough for them to pass through, because of sea conditions and so on. This matter is not straightforward and it requires the most careful consideration.

You cannot slap down a renewable energy zone somewhere in the middle of the North Sea just because you happen to think it is a nice place. The fact that there is a reasonable depth of water that is convenient for the construction of wind turbines will not necessarily mean that it is a safe place if shipping is required to sail close to it.

That was my motivation in starting my own hare, but the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, has covered the point far better than I. There is no need for me to say more—except that I wholly support everything that is being done to apply the same principles to the inshore areas. In many instances there, they are even more vital because the possible channels for shipping travel are inevitably more constricted.