Energy Bill [HL] — Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:37 pm on 22nd July 2015.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales 2:37 pm, 22nd July 2015

My Lords, first, I thank your Lordships very much indeed for what has been a debate of extremely high quality with some important contributions, to which I shall try to do justice, on subjects ranging from the Oil and Gas Authority and wind to the old chestnut of the East Ayrshire coalfield. I am very grateful for the advance notice of that question, otherwise I might not have been able to deal with it; I will certainly try to as I address the points raised within the suggested time.

Let me begin by dealing with two general points. The first was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, at our meeting yesterday, when I also met the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. I was of course aware of the likelihood, although not of the certainty, of announcements today at that stage, but I could not share anything because of market sensitivity. The only conversations that Ministers are allowed to have are with devolved Administrations—which brings me on to the second issue. We have very good avenues of communication, and such things continue to be shared, as they were yesterday, with Scotland, Wales and

Northern Ireland. That does not mean that we agree, but we of course continue to do what previous Governments have done.

I will try to deal with the issues in the way that they were set out—the Oil and Gas Authority, wind and then miscellaneous. I am not in any way denigrating the importance of the miscellaneous questions, but they are not directly represented in the Bill. I will try to do justice to the contributions that have been made. I start with a general point about what will be forthcoming as we go through the Bill. We are certainly hoping for an impact assessment by Committee stage. We very much trust that that will happen, as we trust that there will be a settled position on the grace period, an issue raised by many noble Lords and by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, in a briefing meeting. As soon as I am in a position to give information on that, I will ensure that it is circulated to all noble Lords because I am cognisant of the fact that they will need to be aware of it in the recess.

Turning to the Oil and Gas Authority, the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, raised the question of how the environmental importance issue will be dealt with. DECC will continue to be responsible for that in relation to the Oil and Gas Authority, but it will of course work alongside it. The decommissioning strategy will be delivered; indeed, it is the prime issue that will be dealt with by amendments that we will introduce. That is not yet in the Bill and we hope to come back in Committee with more detail on that.

Many noble Lords raised the issue of carbon storage—I have it under the heading of oil and gas, but also under miscellaneous—including the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. I thank her for her kind comments and I understand her passion and share many, if not all, of her climate change goals, so I am sure we will have a good working relationship. The noble Lords, Lord Grantchester, Lord Oxburgh, Lord Whitty, Lord O'Neill, the noble Baroness Lady Worthington and others raised the issue of carbon storage, which it is important we look at. It would be a responsibility of the Oil and Gas Authority, although not its core responsibility. I hope we will be able to look at that as the Bill proceeds through Committee and beyond.

On Norway and Scandinavia, again, I agree that a lot of this draft legislation is based on the experience of Scandinavia, which is a good example for us. I am sure that we will continue to learn lessons from there and exchange good practice.

Moving on to a general point about the Oil and Gas Authority and the tribute to Sir Ian Wood paid by noble Baronesses, Lady Worthington and Lady Liddell, and noble Lords, Lord O’Neill, Lord Purvis and others, I quite agree. We have not really done anything other than present the report as it is. We believe that it is a good report and we are giving it legislative strength. The timing—2014—might not have been of our choosing, I agree, but we are where we are and we have to make sure that the authority is smart, nimble and able to take on new challenges as they develop.

I am happy to look at and engage with the example of transferable skills and research given by the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell. It was a helpful suggestion, so we will be in touch and make sure that noble Lords are aware of what we are doing in that regard.

The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, asked about the number of staff who would be transferred. The current figure is 103, which is an increase from the figure I was given earlier this morning, so we are obviously recruiting at a rate of knots. The majority will come from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, but expertise is retained in the department and of course we are continuing to recruit. There was a suggestion that the industry was trying to do this on a small budget, but that is not the case. We will obviously continue to recruit.

My noble friend Lady Byford raised some specific issues about the stable and predictable regulation regime set out in Clause 4 and asked for more information about that. I am happy to write her and copy noble Lords in on the detail that we have.

The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, talked about the regulatory role of the Oil and Gas Authority. Yes, it is of course the regulator and is subject to controls, but the oversight will be with the Secretary of State, who will be the sole shareholder of the company. No doubt we can look at that as the Bill goes through Committee. Those are the prime points on the Oil and Gas Authority. It seemed to receive a general welcome, and no doubt we can look at the detail as we proceed.

Obviously, we will not all agree about wind. There are differences even within party groups. I notice that some are more enthusiastic than others about onshore wind. Clearly, the fundamental point is that industry should not have been taken by surprise by the attitude of the Conservative Party to wind. One thing we cannot be accused of is ambiguity: the manifesto made our stance very clear.

A general point was made about the affordability of bills. My noble friends Lord Howell and Lord Ridley rightly said that affordability is an issue. Looking at the figures, the action we have taken has trimmed bills by £7 annually, which is not something that we should dismiss. But there is a concern and we should not categorise it as tawdry. We may disagree with it, but there are people who feel that there are sufficient land-based wind farms and they affect the quality of their lives, so let us put that in perspective. We have just had an election in which that was an issue.

To return to planning, developers can obviously still appeal against a decision from the local authority as they can in relation to shale. The point was made that somehow, the planning regime is fundamentally different in relation to shale. It is not. As we know from the decision recently taken in Lancashire, a decision is taken at local level and then there is the potential for appeal. In a similar way—although not identical because they are different planning regimes—there is a local element and then an appeal in both cases.

Reference was made to the certainty that is needed for British industry and investors regarding the supply chain. I agree. We need a sustainable approach to decarbonisation to 2020 and beyond. There was a Written Ministerial Statement this morning outlining these changes, which I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has. There was a press release, too, as is customary practice, but this was not announced only by press release. It makes it clear that there is a levy-controlled framework beyond 2020. I reassure noble Lords that in the autumn, we will say what we will be doing about contracts for difference.

My noble friend Lord Ridley questioned the need for Clause 60(3). It is simply there to ensure that generators who do a credit before the closure date will not be affected. A general concern was expressed about the grace period. There is an ongoing dialogue on that issue, which is why it was not dealt with in the Bill and we will return to it in Committee. That dialogue will finish at the end of July. We will then study the representations made to us and come back with something. I will make sure that noble Lords have sight of any decision as soon as it is made. That is why the measure has not been included in the Bill. I know that noble Lords will want us to look at these considerations with some care.

The number of projects affected is in the region of 250. It is not a precise figure—we cannot be absolutely certain which projects will proceed, so to that extent it is a best guesstimate. Again, that will be covered in the impact assessment. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, also talked about the grace period and the need for dialogue, which I quite agree with. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, stressed the importance of areas of outstanding natural beauty, and I agree. Some people may well say that some wind farms are already in such areas, but I thank the noble Lord for his thoughtful speech. He asked how the costs were determined. I think they are published, as we will be able to see as we go through the Bill, but they are determined by the Office for Budget Responsibility.