Electricity Transmission (Compensation) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:49 am on 21 April 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Blake of Leeds Baroness Blake of Leeds Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Net Zero), Shadow Spokesperson (Business and Trade) 10:49, 21 April 2023

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, for sponsoring the Bill which, as he rightly said, was introduced by Liam Fox in the other place. The main purpose of the Bill is to require UK Ministers to lay proposals before Parliament for the use of alternative dispute resolution processes in England and Wales, to determine levels of compensation in electricity-related land acquisition cases.

We completely agree with the need to improve the UK’s electricity infrastructure so that the UK can expand the grid to incorporate new energy sources and therefore achieve the ambitions around our net-zero objectives. From talking to all the different bodies connected with this area, particularly around infrastructure, I think that this issue is recognised as one of the major infrastructure challenges that the country is facing—how we scale up the grid to achieve our ambitions.

As outlined very clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, achieving the correct balance is paramount, and we need to find that balance between landowner rights and infrastructure development. As the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, acknowledged, there are serious concerns that the Bill could have unintended consequences, particularly around delaying infrastructure development and subsequently providing businesses with uncertainty. We all know how damaging uncertainty is in this sphere. The noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, is laughing, because we have had very close engagement on other major infrastructure projects, which we will not name in this debate. Building investor confidence will be key to encouraging investment in this critical area.

I seek clarification from the Minister and will pose some questions for consideration at this stage. It is worth considering why the take-up of alternative dispute resolution has been slower than we would want to see, and how we can make the improvements necessary, perhaps without waiting for the consequences of this Bill passing. There must be measures we could take now to improve the uptake. Surely the preferred route is to go through mediation rather than into the courts, but what assessment has been made of this?

Last year’s energy security strategy set out the need to expand the connecting infrastructure to support the acceleration of electrification. Again, the central question that we have is whether the Government feel that this legislation could risk slowing down the process and therefore hindering the Government’s core mission in this area. We know that the proposals on ADR will not be drawn up until a later date, but the intention is still to encourage its use. But if that fails to enforce any determination, could there not be a risk that knowing that enforced outcomes will be binding, even if one party is not happy, discourages the use of ADR?

As I have said, it should be a positive that, under ADR, disputes will be settled out of court, but what are the Minister’s views on the extent of this benefit? Can she quantify the benefits of ADR processes, whether in terms of speed, cost or satisfaction of outcome? We have heard it eloquently expressed that this is a complex area. We need to be very sensitive to the needs of all parties involved. One of the criteria for what ADR procedures should address is that they are accessible to landowners without undue difficulty or expense. Does the Minister have any insight as to how they envisage guaranteeing this?

What is the status of the ADR task force? Is a serious attempt being made at this moment in time to look at the existing ADR system and to see how immediate improvements and therefore benefits can be made?