My Lords, it has been a privilege to sponsor this particular piece of legislation through your Lordships’ House. It started life in the House of Commons, led by Dr Liam Fox, Member of Parliament for North Somerset. In fact, it is the second Private Member’s Bill that Dr Fox has piloted through the House, the previous one being last year’s Down Syndrome Bill, now Act.
This Electricity Transmission (Compensation) Bill comes on the back of very personal experience that he has had within his own constituency with major infrastructure projects—in particular, Hinkley Point—and the problems caused to landowners when transmission cables are necessarily laid over their land. The Bill sets out an alternative dispute resolution—ADR—procedure. ADR is currently available but is not a legal requirement, and it should become a legal requirement. This is a small piece of legislation that rights a wrong. I thank Members of your Lordships’ House for their support and also thank the National Farmers’ Union.
My Lords, I will speak briefly to thank the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, for his explanation of the Bill. We completely agree with the need to improve the UK’s electricity infrastructure; we need to be able to expand the grid to enable new energy sources to come online. However, we emphasise the need for the correct balance to be found between the rights of landowners and infrastructure development.
As I laid out at Second Reading, we remain to be convinced that the Bill is necessary. Our concern here, if we have one, is that the Bill may hinder the Government’s plans to expand electricity network infrastructure. We do not want to see unintended consequences that could generate uncertainty among the business community.
However, with those comments, I commend the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, and Dr Liam Fox, the Bill’s sponsor in the other place, for raising this very important issue so that we can consider and debate it.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord McLoughlin for taking the Electricity Transmission (Compensation) Bill through this House. I also thank noble Lords from across the House, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Blake and Lady Walmsley, for their valuable contributions on this Bill through its passage.
The Government are pleased to support this important Bill. The measures in it will help ensure that landowners have access to alternative dispute resolution in cases where their land, or rights to access their land, have been acquired for the build of network infrastructure. This will help landowners avoid having to take a case to the Upper Tribunal, which can be an expensive and lengthy process. While I acknowledge the concerns that the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, just raised in terms of unintended consequences, the intention of the Bill is to help speed up resolution where there is dispute. It will help to ensure that we strike the right balance between protecting the rights of landowners and the urgent need for network infrastructure build in this country.
To implement the measures in this Bill, the Government have committed to establishing an alternative dispute resolution task force in 2023. The task force will be responsible for developing proposals and making recommendations to government. The Government will continue to engage with a broad set of stakeholders, including network operators, representatives of landowners and experts in acquisition of land and alternative dispute resolution to ensure that the task force has the appropriate membership.
To conclude, bringing forward this new Bill will ensure that landowners have access to a clear, fair, affordable and enforceable system for dispute resolution. The Government are pleased to support these new measures and we have been glad to see the level of support for them across both Houses through the passage of this Bill. I again thank my noble friend Lord McLoughlin for his sponsorship of the Bill as it has moved through this House. I also thank my right honourable friend Dr Liam Fox for his sponsorship of the Bill in the other place and his hard work on the matter.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her remarks and for a better and more forceful summary of the Bill than mine. I completely understand the point that was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blake. I am one of the last people in the House who would ever want to see major infrastructure projects held up, but I do think it is essential and right that people have a fair opportunity to make their case and have a simpler way of seeing a resolution to a dispute, which I believe this could lead to.