Queen’s Speech — Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:22 pm on 2nd June 2015.

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Photo of Lord Holmes of Richmond Lord Holmes of Richmond Conservative 6:22 pm, 2nd June 2015

My Lords, in the spirit of that announcement, I am prepared to give up those 20 seconds of my time to the Deputy Chief Whip for that announcement.

I will focus on energy, but before I do that, I congratulate in particular the two Ministers who are bookending this debate this afternoon and evening, who, although they were both members of the previous Government, have now been elevated to high ministerial office. My noble friends Lady Williams of Trafford and Lord Bates, with his north-eastern credentials, as a duo demonstrate quite magnificently what we can get from the northern powerhouse.

I also congratulate the two maiden speakers today. We heard two marvellous speeches, latterly from the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, and formerly from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury. It would certainly be fair to say that whoever else joins the right reverend Prelate on the Bishops’ Bench, none of them can compete with the fact that he has the highest spire in the United Kingdom. All our proceedings will benefit from the bird’s-eye perspective from that vantage point of 123 metres. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Eden on a thoughtful and extraordinary valedictory speech. If all of us can seek to have a career of such distinction, we will all have used our time incredibly wisely.

To focus on energy, specifically sustainable, renewable energy, I must remark on a comment that was made in the recent general election campaign by a prospective parliamentary candidate. It would be wrong of me to say which party that PPC was standing for, but in a debate on new energy this prospective candidate asked, “That’s all well and good, but what happens when the renewable energy runs out?”. As I say, I will not mention the party—but it has only four letters in its title.

Fortunately, renewable energy, as its name somewhat suggests, will not run out, but it is a great step forward that the subsidies for onshore wind farms are being brought to a conclusion for new projects going forward. I am a supporter of renewable energy; we need to have as many diverse sources of energy in the mix as we can possibly get. However, with wind turbines we are at a level at which, by any measure, it is questionable on a cost-benefit analysis whether putting funding there gives us the best energy mix and, crucially, the security of supply that we need going forward. We have already heard about £101 billion globally going into subsidies; only £6 billion goes into research and development. I want us to be pioneers—I want us to be at the forefront, to develop the best technology—but if you look at wind turbines and compare them to technological advances in almost any other industry, they look pretty much like yesterday. That is not to mention their impact on the environment: they slaughter golden eagles and kites out of the sky, create a whirring noise whether the turbine’s blades are turning or not, and turn stomachs for miles around. That cannot be the technology of the future. I ask the Minister to consider whether, as long as the renewable obligations come to an end in 2017, it should be clear that contracts for difference are also seen as subsidies and will also be treated under this policy. I believe they should be.

Similarly, I turn to Scotland, which as a nation suffers the brunt of wind turbine technology. Of the schemes currently seeking planning, over 1,600 out of 2,800 are looking to be sited in the uplands of Scotland, which will have a significant impact on the environment. Therefore my second question for the Minister is: will that end to the subsidy going forward apply to Scotland in the same sense as it applies to England? If it will not, we will have created a terrible situation where largely English pounds go to subsidise Scottish wind farms to produce inefficient energy, which largely English pounds then have to purchase back into the grid. That cannot be a sensible solution—it cannot be the way we do energy policy, going forward. I hope that the end of the subsidy will apply to Scotland as it does to England.

As we have already heard in the debate, it is extremely good news that nuclear is back, very much on the table. It is the most secure and potentially the cleanest energy source we currently have, but we need to ensure that we deliver it, not necessarily in the way that Hinkley Point was contracted for.

In conclusion, I do not see wind turbines as a non-existent, imaginary enemy, but perhaps, if not at windmills, it is absolutely timely and right that we are finally tilting at windmill subsidies.