Energy Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 23rd March 2004.

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Photo of Lord Jenkin of Roding Lord Jenkin of Roding Conservative 7:15 pm, 23rd March 2004

My Lords, I should like briefly to follow the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, and then to come back to the question of fishing. This is why I was rather keen to establish from Ministers that we are not talking just about little rings on the chart but about significant areas, from which fishermen, trawlers in particular, might need to be excluded. One comes back to the question of compensation for that.

I have re-read the debate held in Grand Committee and I understand the point then made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that this is primarily, or at least in the first stage, a matter as between any fisherman likely to be affected by a proposal put by a developer, and the developers. Indeed, if there were a case for compensation for the fishermen, it would be for the developers to agree that before going ahead.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, also recognised that there may be cases where the developers are reluctant to agree to pay compensation yet where compensation may be necessary. However, my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon failed to get from the Minister what would happen then. The noble Lord said that they might consider that as a reason for refusing consent to the developer. That would be a fairly extreme case. There might well be cases where, because of a traditional fishing ground for fishermen who have fished there for some time, it would be perfectly reasonable to grant permission for the development but to compensate the fishermen for being kept off their traditional fishing grounds.

The reason I raise these issues is because of the substantial report published by the Royal Society of Edinburgh—I declare an interest as an honorary fellow, of which I am very proud—which has considered the whole question of the future of the Scottish fishing industry. As noble Lords will know, the largest proportion of the fishing industry in the United Kingdom is in Scotland. As has been said, and was certainly said in Grand Committee, many other factors currently affect the fishing industry. It is not right for us to go into those today. However, paragraph 11 of Chapter 1 states:

"In the whitefish sector, there has been a collapse in profitability as a result of quota restrictions. Although it catches a diversity of species, its difficulties have been dominated by cod and haddock".

It goes on to talk about the decline both in landings and employment.

If one is to find in addition an exclusion from what has hitherto been regarded as profitable fishing grounds because of the construction of a wind farm, it seems to me that in those circumstances the Bill should include a right to compensation. As I read my noble friend's amendment, it should cover compensation for that loss of fishing. I should like the Minister to confirm that that would, indeed, be the case and then to try to justify why that should not be put into the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, stated, there is no doubt that the fishing interests are considerably worried by what could happen to them as a result of the substantial expansion of wind farms in their traditional fishing grounds.

It is not enough simply to rest this on the question of getting an agreement between the developer and the relevant fishing industry. The fact of the matter is that it could be a very unequal bargain. The developers are sometimes very large and powerful companies, and the fishermen, as is shown in this report, are often quite small partnerships of individuals who run their boats as individuals. To expect a fair result from that could be very difficult. So, it seems to me that there is a case for writing into the Bill a clear right to compensation for fishermen who are excluded from traditional fishing grounds as a result of developments given under consents by the Secretary of State. I hope that we shall get a very clear statement from Ministers that that will indeed be the case.