Onshore Wind Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:41 pm on 19 November 2021.

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Photo of Lord Oates Lord Oates Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 12:41, 19 November 2021

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on introducing the Bill, not just because it implements a Liberal Democrats manifesto commitment —I urge other noble Lords to follow that line—but, as we have heard, because it is felt across the House that this is a major shot in the foot that the Conservative Government of 2015 put in place. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, this Bill is about attempting to find a more balanced approach. The Government’s current approach is totally unbalanced. As we have also heard, onshore wind is critical to the decarbonisation of our economy. As the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, reminded us, it offers the cheapest form of energy, not just of renewable energy, so we clearly need more of it.

I have some experience of the Conservative attitude to onshore wind because I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that David Cameron’s shift from “Vote blue, go green” to “all the green crap” took place rather earlier than 2015. In fact, it appeared to take place just about as soon as the coalition was formed and he had his feet under the Cabinet table. From then on, the then Prime Minister, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was even more hostile to any greenery, pursued this agenda. This proposal, which was implemented after the end of the coalition, was one of the proposals that they tried to push on us during the coalition. It has never been explicable to me how Conservative MPs, leaders and chancellors who make so much of energy bills could have put in a place a situation where one of the cheapest forms of producing energy was curtailed. It was a massive act of environmental vandalism.

As the Library briefing note tells us, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, have underlined, the 237 applications for wind farms between 2011 and 2015 plummeted to just eight between 2016 and 2020, after the Conservatives introduced the new guidance in 2015. Forgive me for making a partisan point, but there can hardly be a clearer contrast between the commitment we got to decarbonisation with the Liberal Democrats in government and the appalling record on onshore wind since.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, also made the important point that we need not only to increase very significantly our production of green energy over the coming years, if we are to have any hope of meeting our carbon targets, but to focus on reducing our energy consumption. We have no chance of getting where we need to be, even with this excellent Bill, unless we do that.

I reiterate the points we made in the COP 26 debate: the Government have to act, particularly on building and heat, where the strategy was so woeful on new measures to reduce energy wastage. That is absolutely key. The second point here was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr: the Government need a proper energy policy. They have to think not just about generation but about storage and distribution. Storage is absolutely critical, and there needs to be much more focus on that to ensure that our intermittent renewable sources can be as effective as possible.

The Prime Minister tells us that every house will be powered by wind generation within 10 years. Whether or not that is true, the aspiration that we move to an entirely renewable system is certainly commendable. But the Minister will have to tell us how we can achieve that in the absence of the sort of change of policy proposed in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, told us that we will need to treble our onshore wind capacity if we are to meet these targets, so I hope the Minister will tell us how he responds to that.

I will conclude by saying this. The Government have set a series of impressively ambitious targets for decarbonising our economy, which I welcome and which are welcomed across this House. But as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, if these targets are to retain any credibility at all, the Government will have to start willing the means as well as the ends, and to start doing that quickly. This is one clear first step that they could take, so I very much hope that the Minister in his reply gives full support to the Bill from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.