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Report (3rd Day)

Part of Infrastructure Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 10th November 2014.

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Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru 7:30 pm, 10th November 2014

I am very grateful to those who have taken part in the debate and to the Minister for her response. Quite clearly, I would be unlikely to carry the House on the amendment that the clause should not stand part of the Bill. Although my heart would want me to go down that road, I suspect that I would come to a blind alley. Therefore, I will not press it on this occasion because there will be opportunities in another place. I have no doubt that many Members of all parties in the other place will wish to come back to this because there is deep concern outside.

Even if one was in favour of fracking in principle, I would have thought that it would be very wise to pay attention and take the maximum possible notice of the reservations that exist outside, because these are the real fears of real people in real communities, and they need to be addressed. Members in all parts of the House have expressed that in the series of debates we have had tonight.

Turning to the lead amendment in the group, which relates to the powers of the National Assembly for Wales, I think that it is ironic that at a little earlier than this time tomorrow—as the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, on the Government Front Bench, will be well aware—we will consider an amendment that would change the model of devolution for Wales to a reserved-powers model of the sort that exists for Northern Ireland and Scotland. This was a recommendation of the Silk commission, of which the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, was a member, and which appeared to have all-party support in Committee in this House. The Report stage of that Bill takes place tomorrow. That being so, unless there was a specific exemption made for these purposes, it would not be enough to rely on the 2006 Act, which the Minister has relied on in the debate tonight.

However, rather than argue technical, legalistic points arising out of legislation, I put this to the Minister in conclusion. When the National Assembly for Wales has responsibility for the environment, particularly for town and country planning, transport, and economic development within Wales, as well as health proposals, then surely it makes all sense to put the responsibility for this area also into its hands—at the very least to make sure that there is a working together. That surely was the intention of the Government when they responded to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs report. I will not quote it again, but it underlined the fact that planning policy is a devolved matter and that planning is integrally involved in the decisions we are talking about in regard to fracking.

Therefore, I ask the Minister whether she will take this away between now and the debates in another place and give further thought, particularly in the light of the debate we will have on the Wales Bill tomorrow, as to whether there is a mechanism to make sure that the National Assembly for Wales and the Government of Wales are totally on board in a dialogue on these matters so that, in keeping with the principle of subsidiarity, the decisions affecting communities can be taken as close as possible to those communities—in this context, decisions affecting Wales can be taken by the National Assembly where possible. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 114 withdrawn.

Amendments 115 to 115B not moved.

Clause 33: Further provision about the right of use

Amendment 115C not moved.

Clause 34: Payment scheme

Amendment 115D

Moved by Lord Whitty

115D: Clause 34, page 39, line 18, at end insert—

“( ) The regulations must require contributions to the contingency fund or funds from relevant energy undertakings which are sufficient to meet—

(a) any loss caused directly or indirectly by the operation of the oil and gas activity;

(b) the costs of—

(i) remediation;

(ii) enforcement action against the relevant energy undertaking;

(iii) other measures taken by a public authority in respect of, or in consequence of the loss, or the activity which gave rise to the loss.

( ) The regulations must ensure that the contingency fund is protected in the event of the insolvency of a relevant energy undertaking which has made payments to the fund.”