Energy Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 23rd March 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Conservative 4:30 pm, 23rd March 2004

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, for moving Amendment No. 172. As he pointed out, it has been grouped with Amendments Nos. 179, 184 and 184A. The issue is clearly extremely important. In a sense, we have had a Second Reading debate. Depending on the Government's response to these amendments, it may or may not be necessary to vote at a later stage in the proceedings.

It is extraordinary that whatever subject comes up in your Lordships' House there is immediately a huge amount of expertise available to debate it. I shall not go through this matter in the form of a wind-up speech, but I shall comment on some of the points that have been made and make a few of my own.

As I said in Committee, I am not intrinsically against wind farms. Almost every weekend I fly to Holland at a rather low altitude, and I am surrounded by wind farms when I arrive there. In the course of doing that, one is very conscious of the large amount of shipping passing from one side of the Channel to the other. It is quite extraordinary that we have reached this stage in relation to such matters without proper consultation and consideration having been given to them by the Government. If the Government were thinking of placing offshore wind farms in various parts of the English Channel, off Hull, off Liverpool and in Scotland, it should surely be necessary first to ask, "Where are the shipping lanes?" and then to place the wind farms somewhere else. So far, there appears to have been absolutely no attempt to do that or to consult the relevant interests. That is a very dangerous situation.

The effect of the location of the wind farms, of course, is partly economic, partly environmental and partly a matter of safety. So far as the economic side is concerned, my noble friend Lord Caithness pointed out that 95 per cent by volume of our international trade is by ship, and he also implied that 25 per cent of our internal trade is carried by sea. That is a matter of very great importance.

To what extent have the Government evaluated the problems that arise from diverting our own and other countries' shipping as a result of putting up the wind farms? More particularly, with regard to the environment, have they taken into account the extent to which there may be an increase in pollution because of the re-routing of ships as well as some saving from the location of the wind farms? Whether or not the wind farms are located sensibly will have an effect on the net gain with regard to the sustainable environmental aspects of the question.

It is also the case that there is potential, to which the noble Lord drew attention in proposing the amendment, for an environmental disaster. If we do not take fully into account the safety aspects, we shall almost be planning for a disaster, and not necessarily only one. As the noble Lord pointed out, the degree of damage following the sinking of the ferry in the Channel last year was very considerable. If the wind farms are located in the wrong place, the dangers are likely to be repeated time and again and the likelihood is that more than one super tanker will collide with them. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson said, although the damage to a super tanker is not likely to be very great, it is still possible that there would be some leakage. That would pose a constant threat to the environment, which needs to be mitigated as much as possible by locating the wind farms in the right places.

Amendment No. 179, standing in my name, takes up the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, about radar. The amendment proposes the insertion of a new clause as follows:

"Provisions in this Act and earlier legislation concerning the granting of new licences for generating stations shall not come into effect until the Secretary of State has commissioned, received and approved a full report on the effect of offshore wind farms on radar, radio and other devices used by vessels for the purposes of navigation".

I stress that that is the Government's responsibility, though no doubt they will wish to consider to what extent the cost of such an investigation should be borne by the developers of the wind farms.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, referred to a broadcast that he had heard. I can give him a more specific reference. On 16 March, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, replying to a parliamentary Question about wind farms and low flying aircraft, said:

"It is undisputed that wind turbines can affect radar, low flying, and communications links, so we have to ensure that wind farm developments do not impair our operational needs and safety".—[Official Report, 16/3/04; col. 127.]

If that is the case for air force training, it is surely far more important in the context in which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, drew attention to it. I therefore hope that the Government will accept my Amendment No. 179. Alternatively, it may be necessary to press it to a Division.

In proposing the amendment, the noble Lord spoke also to Amendment No. 184, which raises a number of points. It is extraordinary that the issue is to some extent divided between different departments. The lead department appears to be the Crown Estate—perhaps not a department that immediately comes to mind with regard to the development of international or offshore waters. The document produced by the Crown Estate shows a mass of proposed sites—some, as mentioned on the other side of the House, of very considerable extent—which could not be more conveniently located, not off the shipping lanes but in the Thames Estuary, off the Greater Wash and off Liverpool. All that appears to have happened without any regard to where the shipping lanes actually are and the extent to which the ships will need to divert in order to avoid them, subject to all the hazards of navigation, to which a number of noble Lords have drawn attention.

That brings me to another point regarding the amount of data that we have on shipping lanes. Amendment No. 184A, also tabled in my name, relates to the use of recognised shipping lanes. It reads:

"Installations and the safety zones around them may not be established where interference may be caused to the use of recognised sea lanes essential to international navigation".

I understand that on 19 March a government department issued some information on shipping lanes. However, it appears to have been sent only to the developers, but apparently not to the shipping interests that are involved. Perhaps the Minister will let us know whether or not that is so.

Clearly, these are matters of very great importance. It is right that we should debate them and, if necessary, vote on them. A number of other points have arisen, particularly with regard to our international treaty obligations, which perhaps may more appropriately be dealt with on consideration of later amendments. I believe that we have been right to raise this issue today. We are grateful to the noble Lord for moving the amendment. There are a number of additional points of greater detail, to which I am sure we shall want to pay close attention in a moment.