Lord Redesdale: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment 1, I wish to raise a couple of issues about how we have tried to deal with some of the questions raised at earlier stages of this Private Member's Bill. Obviously, Private Members' Bills rarely become law, but they provide a fabulous test bed to make sure that the wording and sentiment of the proposal are correct so that, hopefully, when the Government come to their senses and decide that this is one of the most worthy pieces of legislation to be placed before them, they will immediately grab it with both hands and at a later stage bring forward a Bill reflecting almost every aspect of this Bill. I would like to address some of the concerns highlighted at Committee stage in March surrounding the issues of how and by whom it is decided what "dangerously out of control" constitutes within the Bill, as raised by the noble Lords, Lord Skelmersdale and Lord Pearson of Rannoch. One of the reasons for doing this is that I have had a large number of letters on this matter, so I thought it as well to deal with the issue by way of formulating the amendments that have been put forward.
The Bill's intention is not to see responsible dog handlers and owners penalised but to deal with those owners who give others a bad name so that we can better protect the public by dealing with potentially dangerous dogs at the first signs of a behaviour problem. It is important to note that dogs are protected from the overzealous officer by writing into the Bill specific circumstances when a dog can be excused for being aggressive. A dog that bites a burglar or a mugger does not commit an offence, as the burglar or mugger is in the wrong. Equally, police and service dogs are protected. If the dog is attacked by a person and bites, no offence is committed. I believe that these rules achieve a sensible balance between protecting the public from unwarranted dog attacks and allowing dogs to behave normally. The Bill expects that the enforcers of this legislation will have adequate competency in dealing with dog-related issues to distinguish between a true act of aggression and normal acceptable canine behaviour.
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I will address the specific concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, at the previous stage of the Bill. He sought clarification on why the words "aggressive or" were removed from Clause 2(1)(a) while the same words were left in Clause 2(1)(b), and he wanted to know whether this was intentional. The decision to retain "aggressive or" within Clause 2(1)(b) was intentional, as it refers to the person who is responsible for encouraging a dog to be aggressive. Clause 2(1)(a), however, simply refers to allowing a dog to be aggressive, which I conceded at Second Reading could be open to abuse or misinterpretation. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, is immediately looking straight through the Bill with his usual "dogged" determination-
Obviously, this is a very difficult question to deal with, because it raises so many issues. Many dog owners feel that this has raised a number of issues which will put them at risk and, therefore, I was using this opportunity to put the record straight and maybe to stem some of the flow of letters that I will probably receive after this stage.
Amendment 2 deals with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, during the previous debate and rectifies a drafting error within paragraph 3(3) of the Schedule. As the Bill covers both England and Wales, "Secretary of State" has been removed and "appropriate national authority" has been included in its place. I do not intend to speak a great deal on this issue, but it does show the value of being able to use the knowledge of this House to scrutinise and pick out issues that are difficult to spot for those putting forward
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I very much hope that, at the next stage of the Bill, we will receive some indication from the Government that their position may change and move forward, especially considering the results of the consultation, to which 4,500 have replied.
Lord Richard: As the noble Lord was kind enough to refer to me, perhaps I may briefly respond. I have to say that I do not think that this is a very well-drafted, apposite or timely Bill, but on the other hand I think that the thrust of it is good. What the noble Lord is trying to achieve on the whole might be a desirable thing. However, the one thing he will not be able to do is legislate in this way by means of a Private Member's Bill. He has done a service to the House in exposing both sides of the argument, and it is now for the Government to decide whether they wish to pick up this issue and deal with it. As far as I am concerned, it is an issue that the Government ought to deal with. I know that we are considering a specific Private Member's Bill-as your Lordships may have gathered, I am not too keen on the actual Bill itself-but, nevertheless, it does seem to me an issue that the Government ought to take seriously and look at.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): I was rather hoping that I would be able to get away without intervening at all. The Government have made their views fairly clear at both Second Reading and in Committee, when my noble friend Lord De Mauley dealt with this Bill. I will say very briefly again that we cannot give our support to this Bill, but we are well aware of the problems that it is addressing and are prepared to consider moving forward in due course.
As my noble friend Lord Redesdale mentioned, the House will be aware of the consultation issued by the previous Government towards the end of their 13 years in office-I think it was issued in about March 2010, just before the general election-and that concluded in June 2010. There were some 4,250 responses to that consultation, which Ministers are still considering. We published a summary of those responses in November 2010, and, as I said, we are still considering the right way forward. It is a matter that we want to discuss across government, because these matters are not just for Defra but for the Home Office and others. In due course, I hope that we will be able to have something to say, but we will not offer support to this Bill. It might be that, when the noble Lord seeks a Third Reading and moves that the Bill do now pass, that might be a moment when I might be able to say a little more. However, as I have made clear and as we made clear on earlier occasions, we cannot offer support to this Bill.
Lord Henley: Depending on when Third Reading happens, that in the course of the debate on whether the Bill do now pass, I might be in a position to say something. That depends very much on when my noble friend seeks the Third Reading of the Bill. I make no guarantees, and the noble Lord will well know that "in due course" can be a rather flexible form of time, and he will just have to wait and see.
Lord Redesdale: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for coming in and eliciting a response from the Government. I also thank the Minister for the fulsome proposal that the Government will bring forward such useful information at the point of Third Reading. On that basis, I will wait probably until after the summer for Third Reading, although I realise that "after summer" means September rather than, in the Government's parlance, somewhere nearer March. However, on that basis, I hope that this amendment will be acceptable.
Lord Reay: My Lords, in introducing the Bill I should like to declare an interest: I live within one and a half kilometres of a wind farm that is in the pre-planning application stage and which would be disallowed under the provisions in this Bill because of its proximity to my house and, I am told, to about 600 other houses, which would all be within two kilometres of the 110 metre-high turbines.
There are many reasons to be opposed to the Government's policy towards wind farms and I agree with most of them. But this Bill only concerns itself with one disadvantage of onshore wind turbines-their propensity for making life a misery for those unlucky enough to find themselves forced to live in their shadow.
There is now a well-established body of evidence, collected worldwide, that demonstrates the harmful effect of turbines for at least some of those who live close to them. Complaints are made continuously to the environmental health officers of local authorities. In February 2009 the Renewable Energy Foundation produced a roll, obtained under freedom of information requests, of 27 out of 133 wind farms in the United Kingdom which had given rise to noise complaints. This number subsequently rose to 46 out of 217 wind farms by April 210, with 285 complaints having been recorded in total.
In her book Wind Turbine Syndrome, Dr Nina Pierpont recorded and analysed the symptoms of a number of families in different parts of the world who had been driven out of their homes by their sufferings from wind farms. Dr Pierpont concludes that a minimum setback distance of two kilometres should be required, also that developers should be obliged to buy out affected families at the pre-turbine value of their homes.
Jane Davis is another famous authority on the subject, and a victim herself. Driven from her Lincolnshire home by a wind farm that appeared within 1,000 metres upwind of her, she has fought for the last five years for recognition and compensation. She goes to the High Court in July in a case expected to last for 12 days. In the very recent BBC2 series "Windfarm Wars", which chronicled with admirable fair-mindedness the story of a Devon wind farm application, at Den Brook Valley, viewers will have seen Jane Davis's evidence, together with plenty of other examples of the intolerable consequences for some people of having to live close to such developments.
Only the day before yesterday an account appeared in a local newspaper, the North Devon Gazette, under the heading "Our Sleepless Nights with Wind Turbines", of a Torrington couple who were being forced to sell their home and business following a planning inspector's decision to overrule Torridge District Council and allow a wind farm within 500 metres of their home.
Wind farm noise differs from other continuous forms of noise, for example the noise from a nuclear power station. It has a rhythmic, pulsing quality, with at times a vibrating effect which many have found too invasive and disturbing to live with. It can quite obviously seriously damage people's health. There are many illustrations of this in Dr Pierpont's book.
But there is another baleful effect, which is more than visual or aural. This derives from the scale of the turbines. So vast have they become-the largest currently in the planning process being over 600 feet high, twice the height of Big Ben-that the more humane inspectors, those few who have chosen not to be ruthless agents for enforcing the Government's renewable energy policy, have described them as dominating, intimidating, blighting for a generation the lives of those who have to live under them, and have rejected applications on that score.
So except by hoping to be lucky in the choice of the inspector that is parachuted in on them from Bristol, how can local communities hope to defend themselves against the threat of this nuisance to their lives?
In England, in practice, developers decide on the limit they will adopt, many opting for 500 metres, some for 800 metres, some not setting limits at all. A 100 metre high turbine has recently been permitted by Lancaster County Council within 250 metres of a dwelling and kennel business. Paragraph 22 of PPS22 in fact permits local authorities to set limits to the distance between wind farms and other existing developments, which they could interpret to mean dwellings. But the reference is oblique, and virtually no local authorities have made use of it, Devon County Council being an exception, setting a limit of 600 metres in 2009 in the case of one proposed development at Holsworthy. Today, by coincidence, a Private Member's Bill introduced by Christopher Heaton-Harris MP is being debated in another place, which would give statutory authority to local authorities to set distance limits.
In Scotland, Scottish planning guidance contains an advisory, rather than mandatory, limit of two kilometres. Adherence to this seems to be gaining ground. The Scottish Borders Council last month approved a presumption against any turbine within less than two kilometres of any residence. Of course Scotland has more open, undesignated countryside than the rest of the United Kingdom, although not so much so in the Borders.
In Wales, Technical Advice Note 8-TAN 8-adopted by the Welsh Assembly, specifies what it calls a "typical separation distance" of 500 metres, not to be applied rigidly. However in Wales a flurry of interest has recently been caused by Carmarthenshire County Council, which decided that its new development plan would not permit wind farms within 1,500 metres of dwellings. I believe that the Welsh Assembly may have the power to annul that decision. I also notice that an e-petition against TAN 8, which is incidentally still open for signature, has gathered the most signatures to date for any petition on the Assembly for Wales website. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, may perhaps be able to comment on these stirrings in Wales.
In sum, I believe that where limits are imposed at all, they are generally insufficient as well as haphazard and that it is time to do something about it. The need to do something is increasingly widely perceived as the number of those affected has risen. I suspect also that the effects today are more dire as the number and size of turbines have grown so massively. This in itself is a reason for the Government to bring up to date their absurdly out of date system of rules for prescribing tolerable noise levels-the so-called ETSU R 97 rules, which are now 14 years old.
In resisting any attempt to prescribe distance limits, Ministers have deployed the argument that it is illogical to require a distance limit for wind farms and not for nuclear or fossil-fuelled power stations. This makes a ludicrous comparison. In the first place nuclear and fossil-fuelled power stations, being for the most part sensibly sited unlike wind farms close to the places where the electricity is required, are generally to be found in semi-urban or brownfield sites where there is no comparable destruction of visual amenity and where also any noise they make is smothered by other noises.
In the second place there is nothing like the same number of them; fossil-fuelled power stations can be counted in dozens, while wind farms already number hundreds, and wind turbines thousands. I believe that the latest official figure for those operating and under construction on shore is 299 wind farms, comprising 3,649 turbines.
Ministers have also said that it would be unfortunate to remove the possibility for wind farms to be placed in semi-urban or brownfield sites, which this Bill as it
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It has also been argued that to restrict development in more inhabited areas will put greater pressure on the less inhabited areas, in particular national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. But my Bill does nothing to lessen the protection which is rightly given to those designated areas under present planning policy and which will remain in force.
Would my Bill if enacted therefore preclude any further onshore wind farms? Plainly not in Scotland, where a two-kilometre distance limit is already recommended and apparently largely observed. But in England? CPRE once did a study which I believe indicated that at these limits something like 70 per cent of existing wind farms in England would not have been allowed.
So my Bill might to some seem likely, if ever enacted, to deal a devastating blow to the Government's present renewable energy policy. But why is it thought appropriate for England's green and pleasant land to be industrialised by ever more gigantic wind turbines for the sake of a pointless gesture towards an economically crippling green ideology?
The Government claim to believe that they will achieve support for their onshore wind farm policy by encouraging developers to pass on to local communities in one form or another more of the subsidies which they are about to receive. Apart from being unlikely to succeed, this policy is both corrupt and divisive. The people who will receive the advantage will not be the same as those who suffer the injury. How will a community playground, while it may sway a planning committee, compensate someone who has seen his environment immeasurably degraded and the value of his house fall by 35 per cent?
At the same time, some farmers and landowners are enriched obscenely. How can the Liberal Democrats, or my modern caring Conservative colleagues, let alone noble Lords opposite, tolerate this, achieved at the direct expense of those who are pushed into fuel poverty? This is the way to create the torn society, not the big society. So I hope that the Government will have a change of heart, show some humanity and remove this scourge from our countryside by adopting this Bill. I beg to move.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Reay, for introducing this Bill and for the way he set out his stall-if I may put it like that-with clarity and persuasiveness. On the whole I agree with what he said, but there are two major problems with wind turbines. One is to do with noise, and the other is visibility. The noise point has been satisfactorily illustrated by the noble Lord, Lord Reay. If any of your Lordships have actually been near a
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Noble Lords will know that this issue was raised in another place about a year and a half ago by Mr Peter Luff. There was a wind farm application in his constituency of Mid Worcestershire. Nothing much came of it in another place, but I gather there are again moves to produce something along the lines of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Reay. I welcome that.
We might be able to put up with these problems of noise and unsightliness if these machines were efficient and cost effective, but they are neither. The average wind turbine will probably produce something just over 20 per cent of its installed capacity in a given year. It is enormously costly. When we had the big freeze last winter, there was a high-pressure system over the whole of the United Kingdom. Wind farms in the UK produced at 3 per cent of their installed capacity, just when the electricity was needed. That really shows how dreadfully inefficient these things are.
They are also extremely expensive. The noble Lord, Lord Reay, referred to Wales. It is certainly true-we have a plague of these things in Wales. In Powys and Ceredigion, about 240 turbines are in operation, and another 1,000 are under application. The cost of these-together with the cost of lines, pylons, hubs and low-voltage lines-will be in the order of £1.3 billion. This works out at something like £5 million per achieved megawatt. That is the scale of the economic disaster that we seem determined to invest in. I do not believe that the Government have been entirely honest, because the vast bulk of this cost will not be paid by the developers. It will be paid by either the taxpayer or the consumers of electricity.
I understand that when local authorities come to assess planning applications, they have to pay attention to the policy guidance that comes from central government. The problem with that is that none of these planning policy statements-neither PPS 22 nor the additions to PPS 1-is properly debated in Parliament. They are just issued by government, and the chief planning officer, known as the chief planner, simply writes to local authorities saying they are obliged to have regard to these statements when they assess the applications for wind farms according to their development plan. The courts have ruled that these are material considerations for local planning authorities when they make that assessment.
None of that has been discussed in Parliament. I am sure the Minister will be able to assure us that-under the localism proposals-that will change, and we will have an opportunity to discuss, in both Houses, planning guidance that comes from central authorities. The problem is that, not only do we not have a discussion of what government policy is but other organisations-such as Natural England, which I will come to in a minute because it is important for Reeves Hill-seem to take these policy guidance notes as government policy that they themselves must respect. They believe these notes should override the instructions given to
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I do not want to go on too much about the unsightliness of these turbines. However, your Lordships will recognise that, in Wales, we have them on top of hills. If they were in valleys, they might be reasonably acceptable. If your Lordships go along the Cambrian mountains and see the wind farms there, they will understand what I am talking about. If you put them on top of hills, they can be seen for miles. The proposed turbines on Reeves Hill stand on one of the most beautiful parts of western Herefordshire. You can see the Brecon Beacons from there. You can almost see Plynlimon from there. You can see right across towards the Upper Wye Valley. That will be destroyed by these enormous turbines that are going to be erected if this application is successful, and Natural England really ought to be there to oppose it.
Fortunately, it may be that access to the site has to come through Powys. Powys County Council has started to move-very sensibly-in the direction of saying, "We have had enough of these turbines in mid-Wales". If it does that, we are at last getting somewhere. As the noble Lord, Lord Reay, said, we should Carmarthen if we can and start to change what is a disastrous policy. If the Government wish to engage in renewables, there are plenty of reliable renewables-in tides, nuclear or even offshore wind, which is much more reliable than onshore wind-that they can use. If they wished they could do it, but it needs political will. There is no point wrecking the landscape to try to save the planet, and these turbines do wreck the landscape. I hope very much that the Government will give the noble Lord's Bill a positive reception-possibly even a fair wind.
Lord Teverson: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Reay, for missing the first 30 seconds or one minute of his speech. I usually go back to Cornwall from this House by train. Today I have to go back by car, because I am picking up my daughter and all her paraphernalia from university to drive her back to that county. One of the pleasures-and I say this absolutely seriously-of driving across Cornwall is when I come along the A30 to an area called Fraddon/Indian Queens, which many noble Lords who have
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A few years ago someone who was affected by a wind farm in north Cornwall asked me to look at a similar vista, though a very different one, where the wind farm was going to be established. The major despoiling factor-as is the case in Scotland, but maybe not so much in Wales-was the pylons, which were rather ugly, and criss-crossed the landscape. In terms of comparison, wind turbines are one of the most elegant structures of recent technology ever devised, though I readily accept that they are not to other people.
There was a wind farm application recently in north Cornwall, near Davidstow. One of the concerns on the community side is that the Cornish tourism industry might be affected. A colleague of mine on Cornwall Council but not, to give him his due, of the same party, surveyed tourists on whether they would like a wind farm in that area. He had no difficulty in filling his petition for the wind farm to go ahead. So I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Reay, says about people's reactions. It is true of some people, but it is not necessarily the reaction of the majority. Indeed, another fellow councillor in west Cornwall-again, not a Liberal Democrat-commented on strategic planning and said that people tend to like wind farms and when they have them nearby, wonder what all the fuss is about.
With regard to issues with households, I am not going to discuss the broader matter of energy policy, which previous speakers have done. That is not what the Bill is supposed to be about. The main problems are to do with flicker and noise. Recently I was at Delabole, which has just been repowered. It has larger wind turbines, but far fewer of them. That is the way the movement is going: fewer individual turbines, but larger ones which are much more efficient. I walked round Delabole wind farm and I cannot remember even hearing the noise. I am sure that there are sometimes noise issues, but I suggest that noble Lords stand by wind turbines to hear what noise there is. It is extremely low; it is far less than a main road or a railway. On many occasions it is not particularly perceptible.
"There have not been extensive issues with shadow flicker in the UK. The frequency of the flickering caused by the wind turbine rotation is such that it should not cause a significant risk to health. In the few cases where problems have arisen"-
So the case about the alien nature of wind turbines and the effect they have on local communities has been strongly exaggerated in relation to the facts and the reactions of the communities living near them.
It is important to look at the Bill's effects. The figure is that if there was an exclusion around dwellings of two kilometres, 0.5 per cent of the UK landmass would be able to take wind turbines. Effectively, we would end that industry completely. Although some noble Lords may welcome that fact, this Bill would effectively close down this most efficient and cost-effective form of renewable energy.
I was interested that the noble Lord, Lord Reay, mentioned the Liberal Democrats. I am pleased and proud that he did, but we should remember that it was the Labour Government who primarily promoted wind power and renewables, and the Conservative Party has also been strongly supportive. This is an all-party conspiracy, if you like, against the British landscape, but one in relation to which it is important to meet our renewable targets. However, this should not be the major argument with regard to this Bill.
Lord Williams of Elvel: Does the noble Lord recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Reay, said, that a massive number of people have signed a petition in Wales against TAN 8, more than have signed any other petition to the Assembly? Does he also recognise that the other evening 2,000 people went to a village hall in mid-Wales to protest against an application for a wind farm? That is local response.
Lord Teverson: I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I do not know the situation in Wales; clearly the noble Lord, Lord Williams, knows that far better than I do. However, many issues generate long petitions. I have used them many times myself during my political career. Do they always accurately reflect public opinion? Sometimes they do, sometimes they do not. They are not necessarily conclusive. But I would not want to comment specifically on the Welsh situation.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: Will my noble friend take on board that the proposals in mid-Wales are for 170 wind towers that are closely stacked together? Not only that but, because there is no energy-generating plant close by, the towers have to be taken into Shropshire over a very considerable distance. It amounts to the destruction of a beautiful landscape in mid-Wales.
Lord Teverson: I thank my noble friend for that intervention. I was about to conclude by saying that there is an issue with the over-density of wind turbines-we see this in other European countries, particularly Spain. The irony of this Bill is that that is exactly what we would get. The effect would be an over-concentration of wind turbines in the most rural areas. I would probably be in favour of a Bill that stated that, through strategic planning, we had to ensure that the amount of clustering was not over-dense. I rest my case and look forward to hearing other noble Lords on this subject.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend's Bill. Indeed, I empathise with the sort of buildings that he is seeking to protect, finding myself, as I do, sandwiched in the speakers' list between two powerful wind turbines. I hope that everybody realises that the environmental impact of wind farms is an important point. It is not acceptable that they should do huge damage to the environment of people where they live; that matters as much as anything to those people. The purely environmental aspect of any wind farm application must have a high priority.
Of course there are places where wind farms are completely acceptable. I drove down this morning from Suffolk, and I always drive through Dagenham. In Dagenham, there are two enormous wind turbines which enhance the factory landscape. Just to give your Lordships an idea of the scale of some of these wind turbines, the Ford factories barely reach their knees. They are very welcome there, and I get from Dagenham the sort of delight that my noble friend Lord Teverson feels in Cornwall.
However, there are real problems with the number of applications coming forward, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has already said. They are tempting because of the economic subsidies that are offered. Many farmers are tempted by that monetary reward. A couple of years ago, the Marlesford Parish Council, which I chair, objected to a wind farm at Parham, the next-door village. Although it did not affect me or my property or anything, it would have damaged a number of houses in Parham because it would have been very close to them. This is an example of the sort of thing which my noble friend's Bill seeks to counter.
Of course, the location of wind farms that are agreed depends primarily on the planning authorities, then on the planning inspectors when there is a public inquiry or objection, and finally on Ministers. Inspectors have often been particularly brave, especially in the rather notorious example of Whinash in Cumbria, next to the Lake District, where distinguished locals such as the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, Chris Bonnington and John Dunning all successfully opposed that wind farm with ultimate success.
However, my main worry is the way in which the Government have embraced wind farms as a means of increasing the proportion of renewables and reducing Britain's carbon footprint. In fact, as has been said by others, they are in general very uneconomic without the huge subsidies they get. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has pointed out, the intermittent nature of their output makes their real contribution of rather doubtful value.
One of the most dramatic experiences of my life was visiting the pump storage station at Dinorwig in Snowdonia; how unlike that wind farms are. There is this enormous cavern with a huge wheel which slowly circulates. At night, they use electricity which is surplus to the grid to pump the water up to the top of the mountain and, in the morning, they release it as everybody puts on their electric kettles. It adds something like an 8 per cent surge to the country's electricity supply. That is the sort of renewable which is thoroughly desirable. A wind farm which will not obey anybody
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One of the disappointing aspects of this Government is how they have yielded to tokenism in their policies. To some extent-one does not know how much-I suppose that this reflects the costs of coalition politics. If one wants an example, one has only to look at Germany, where Chancellor Merkel has had to do a total U-turn on nuclear power and has made a commitment that is quite undeliverable. Frankly, it is probably about as undeliverable as the commitment made at the G20 in Seoul in November to underwrite all the sovereign debt of any European country up to 2013.
However, there are other examples of such tokenism in the UK. I will not mention one of them as we will spend two days debating it in the next couple of weeks. But another, which is all too real, is the determination with which the Government have set their face against GM foods-this is not directly relevant except as an illustration of the mischief in some of the thinking-at a time when the production of food is of paramount importance in a world with masses of starving people. It is a paradox that the Government oppose GM foods-this is where I wish they would get their thinking sorted out-while making the aid budget a top priority. It makes them very guilty of the charge of tokenism.
I conclude by saying that I hope my environmental credentials are sufficient. Although I do not think that I would qualify as a "bunny hugger", I am nevertheless passionately keen on preserving the landscape. Therefore, I ask the Government to focus their efforts on what will really help this country. I hope very much that my noble friend's Bill will prosper and that the priorities reflected in it will be reflected in the new policy planning framework which Secretary of State Pickles is planning to bring before us. It is extremely important that we have the opportunity to debate that policy fully in this House. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to give us that reassurance.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, ought not to worry too much about being sandwiched between my noble friend Lord Teverson and myself. This issue is not aligned on rigid party lines. If one takes a spectrum of opinion on terrestrial onshore wind farms, my noble friend Lord Teverson and I would find ourselves nearly at the opposite ends. I am one of those people who believe that wind farms constitute a blind alley, are not the answer and, to cite the words of the noble Lord, Lord Reay, are a scourge on our countryside. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, that there is no point in wrecking our landscape in order to save the planet. I am not against all wind turbines-
Lord Greaves: I thank the noble Lord for that. We have a unique landscape in these small islands. Geologically, the rocks on which the landscape is formed cover the entire length of geological time, from some of the oldest rocks known on this planet in the Isle of Lewis through to the most modern. The landscapes which we have as a result are of extraordinary variety yet are concentrated in such a small area. No other part of the world has landscapes as diverse and interesting as those in the islands in which we live. To cover them in industrial power stations seems to me the height of folly.
I accept entirely that people have different views on whether wind turbines are wonderful, beautiful modernist structures and will attract lots of tourists, as my noble friend suggests, or are a blight on the landscape, as I believe. Many of Cornwall's landscapes were devastated by tin mining and, in particular, china clay mining. Why, when we are cleaning all that up and dealing with it, are we devastating the landscapes with more industrialisation in this way?
I welcome the Bill. It is not perfect by any means, but it is at the very least a means of debating these important issues. There are three main issues, as noble Lords have said. There is noise and flicker. However, unlike my noble friend, I do not believe that they are the only main issues. Amenity and landscape are crucial. Of course, people will always go to look at unusual things. I do not know if they still do so in our part of the world, but people went to look at the first wind farms when they were erected on the Pennine moors because they were new and therefore interesting. That is not to say that if we cover all the Pennine moors with wind farms-it is an ideal place for them if they are to be placed on the land-suddenly people will come from all around the world to look at our wonderful landscape of continuous wind farms, instead of the wonderful, wild and open wilderness that we have in many areas. For a one-off, lots of people go to Sellafield, because it is a very special place. There used to be a tourist facility at the nuclear power station in mid-Wales at Trawsfynydd. However, if there were a whole series of nuclear power stations next to each other, they would not all be tourist attractions. It is the unusual things that people look at in that sense.
The noble Lord, Lord Reay, suggested that an unforeseen consequence of the Bill might be the pressure put on other areas, but said that it would not be important. This issue must be looked at in context. He suggested that that concern would not be too important because there are national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty with special designation. Indeed, there are other areas such as large SSSIs and so on in the uplands. However, a large part of our uplands and interesting coastal areas do not have that kind of designation. I am interested in the mid-Pennines. There are national parks in the Pennines, but there is a whole area of the Pennines between the national park in the north and the Yorkshire Dales and Derbyshire that does not have that sort of protection. The areas of mid-Wales that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, was talking about have been precisely targeted for large
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I return to the issues in the Bill. The issue of noise is crucial and there is no point in pretending that it is not difficult. The traditional approach to noise is to measure the decibels. That is a technical matter but fairly straightforward. If there is a noise problem in a particular area, the appropriate environmental health officers are called out, they come with their noise meters, and they measure the level of noise. However, in many cases, some of the most annoying noise does not register loud enough to count as an environmental nuisance. I am not talking just about wind farms. There can be all kinds of industrial and commercial premises cheek by jowl with housing. You might have heating plants, for example. You might have generators. You might have other plants which cause low-level low drones, low whines and sometimes even the kind of throbbing, drumming noise that you get with wind farms. That kind of noise, which is relatively quiet, nevertheless can be extremely irritating and annoying. It can prevent people from sleeping. Whether it has an effect on people's brains is a matter of technical research, which I do not understand at all.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: Is my noble friend aware that noise can come from the most unexpected places? I once had a case involving a house next to a primary school. We measured the decibel level at 120 decibels at playtime, which was the equivalent of Concorde taking off.
Lord Greaves: I am sure that that is the case, but if the decibels are there, you can do something about it. If there are not sufficient decibels, it is very difficult to do something about it, but that noise may be ruining people's lives. My noble friend said that there is no evidence that that affects their health, but if people cannot sleep and are having their mental health affected by it, because they simply cannot cope with it, there is a serious problem. Those of us who live in areas where industry and housing exist side by side know about those problems. From my experience, noise from wind turbines can be heard for considerable distances across valleys in some circumstances. There is a real problem there.
There is the question of the relationship between height, distance and size, which needs discussing. There is also the question, fundamental to the Bill: at what level should those decisions be made? I have great sympathy with the aims of the Bill, but am not sure that it is appropriate for national primary legislation. It seems to me that it ought to be incorporated within the planning system. Nevertheless, the basic principles are right.
can give their consent. I would hope that the noble Lord would consider that it is residents, including tenants, who should have to give their consent, not just owners, because it is the people who live there who have to suffer. Clause 3(3) comes very close to putting in legislation that people should not break the law, which seems a little unnecessary. Having made those cavilling points, the Bill has my general support and I hope that it will get thorough and careful consideration in Committee.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I strongly support the Bill produced and so eloquently proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, and supported generally by Members of this House. The Bill would not be needed were it not for our foolish commitment to sign up to the EU requirements. Our renewables obligation requires us to produce 20 per cent of our electricity from renewables by 2020. I hope that the whole House, including the Minister in her reply, will bear that in mind. That requirement means that one particular energy generator, wind, is guaranteed a market share and a price-which is underwritten by the taxpayer, regardless of how competitive that energy source is.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said that he believes that wind power is competitive on cost and efficiency. I do not know how he can say that with a straight face. A moment's study of the facts will show that to be completely nonsensical. Let us take costs first. Here I take the facts from the report of a House of Lords committee on The Economics of Renewable Energy, 2008-09, which said that onshore wind is twice as expensive as coal, gas or nuclear; that is before taking into account the cost of transmitting the power produced by this uneconomic source to the National Grid, which is a substantial added-on cost. The result is that-thanks to the requirement to produce our 20 per cent by 2020, as we are told by the EU-our consumers will be forced to pay twice as much for a proportion of their electricity requirement.
Turning to efficiency, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and other noble Lords, there is the well known problem of intermittency and fluctuation. Who has not driven down any road recently, particularly during the past two winters, and seen wind turbines totally stationary and not generating a single watt of electricity for weeks on end? The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said that he had driven down this morning and seen two attractive turbines in Dagenham. Perhaps he could tell us whether they were revolving and producing electricity. This morning I drove to the station from my house and passed a wind turbine which was running a road-warning sign; that was stationary. Coming in on the train from Moreton-in-Marsh to Slough, I saw a large factory outside Slough with four large wind turbines and not one of them was moving a single inch; they were not generating a single watt of electricity. They are grossly inefficient.
The problem is that in order to maintain a stable electricity supply, wind turbines have to have a permanent back-up, whether they need it or not; it has to run all the time. That may not be a problem at the moment because such a tiny proportion of our power is produced
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Perhaps in answering the debate the noble Baroness could tell us how many extra fossil-fuel or nuclear power stations would have to be built simply to support the extra percentage of power which is due to be produced by wind, according to the aspirations. She may not have the answer at her fingertips, but perhaps she could write to me about that and put the answer in the Library. It may be a little technical.
Lord Teverson: I would like to put something that the noble Lord said into context; it is an important point. Clearly wind is an intermittent technology. Generally, the utilisation of the UK generating capacity is about 50 to 60 per cent anyway; it is quite staggering how inefficient it is as a whole, and wind is probably a lot worse than that. To put the issue in context, the other half of the equation on renewables and intermittent renewables is that, in terms of the distribution grid, you have to move towards smart grids. How you use those is part of the total package. You have to do both and one helps to solve the other. That is how the overall energy strategy works. The argument itself is not conclusive.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: I think it is conclusive. The noble Lord has made my point for me. There are huge added costs in creating a wind grid which will feed into the national grid. That problem is not even close to being addressed, let alone solved yet.
I turn briefly to the environmental impact of wind farms. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, said, they are scarring some of our most beautiful landscapes. He mentioned Wales. I have been to Wales on many occasions and seen the increase in these dreadful wind farms over beautiful parts of mid-Wales. One noble Lord mentioned a figure of 160, but there are proposals for 800 new wind turbines in mid-Wales that will scar the Cambrian mountains beyond redemption. Each turbine will be 425 feet high-higher than St Paul's Cathedral. Not surprisingly, local communities have come together to oppose this despoliation and vandalism of the countryside in pursuit of a chimera-a dream-that is unachievable. The Department of Energy and Climate Change must know that there is no chance of achieving these dream targets.
I will present my own evidence. My electricity is supplied by Haven Power, which thoughtfully provides its customers with a statement detailing the fuel mix for the electricity that it supplies. In 2010, 33.7 per cent of its electricity was generated by coal, 54.1 per cent by natural gas, 7.2 per cent by nuclear and 1.3 per cent by renewables. I would guess that that pattern is representative for England as a whole. We must now crank up the
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What are we doing about that? First, we are wrecking some of our most cherished landscapes. Secondly, we are forcing electricity users to pay far more than they need simply to subsidise these grotesque, inefficient and costly wind farms. As a result of government intervention, the wind industry is turning into a money-grabbing scam masquerading as an environmental benefit. There is no environmental benefit from wind farms-but it is a money-grabbing scam.
Yesterday, BP produced figures showing that global emissions in 2010 from energy consumption increased by 5.8 per cent. China accounted for the biggest rise, overtaking America as the prime emitter. Whether the UK increases or decreases its CO2 emissions will have absolutely zero effect on global emissions as a whole, yet in the vain pursuit of this chimera-this dream-the financially and morally bankrupt policy continues. It enriches landowners-as the noble Lord, Lord Reay, said-and wind farm operators at the expense of pensioners on fixed incomes who are least able to afford the luxury of subsidising renewables and wind power. This is Robin Hood in reverse: robbing the poor to pay the rich. It is completely crazy.
Opponents of wind farms-we have heard from some of them this morning-are branded routinely as Luddites by the proponents of wind energy. In truth, the wind energy fans are the Luddites. They are blocking the one energy that will give us a secure supply without damaging our landscape for ever, which is of course nuclear. The dream of relying on the wind to keep the lights on will go down as one of the most costly and damaging fantasies of our time.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne:My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Reay, in the excellent Bill he is putting before this House, to support its committal and to thank him most warmly for the effort he has put into creating the Bill. This is a very important topic indeed, and I believe it has been underresearched, underdiscussed and, perhaps, underdebated.
I shall explain my interest. My colleagues behind me will be surprised to hear me speaking on wind farms and on energy when some of them have spent most of their political lives thinking about these important topics and I have apparently not done so. That is not precisely the case. My initial constituency, Blyth in Northumberland, drew my attention very seriously to fossil fuels. It is one of the great coalmining constituencies, but unfortunately I did not win it. I was then selected by Torridge and West Devon. The noble Lord, Lord Reay, has already mentioned a very important case that arose in my constituency when I was a Member of another place: the Holsworthy wind farm case. In the European Parliament, in which I subsequently served, I sat on an important European Union/US climate change scientific committee for several years and, as a result of that experience, I gladly accepted the invitation from the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, to join the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and I declare that interest today.
I shall turn first to the important point on which this Bill rests, which is the separation of wind farms and human habitation by a precise measurement. I also serve as vice-president of the pre-eminent school for deaf children and young people in the United Kingdom, the Mary Hare School just outside Newbury, where I was brought up. I have a lot of knowledge and experience about human hearing. First, I wish to focus on why the premise on which this Bill is based is so profoundly right. I recently asked the House of Commons Library to extrapolate for me the statistics available on problems of human hearing in the British public. According to the House of Commons Library, something like 27 per cent of the British population has hearing problems. There may not immediately seem to your Lordships' House to be an absolute correlation with the potential difficulties caused to human hearing, which have already been mentioned by a number of noble Lords, but that is not so. Every year 400 babies are born profoundly deaf in the United Kingdom and a vast number of young people now have induced hearing loss but that does not, alas, give them a fundamental protection from pain, distress and psychiatric problems caused by noise. In fact, it is a curious fact that quite often the loss of human hearing or its failure to develop in the womb creates a much higher sensitivity in the brain. I do not know enough about it to understand the connection. All I can say is that when a noise drills through the brain, that is perhaps where the hearing should have been, and it causes immense pain. The fact that one-third of noble Lords should by rights perhaps be seeking some hearing enhancement from technical devices would not mean that the noble Lords in question could not feel pain despite the fact that they could not hear the noise in a normal sense.
My attention was drawn to this problem by another case, in North Tawton in my then constituency. A retired man with very acute hearing had pain from the noise that emerged. It came from a long way away from his retirement home, but it hurt his head. It was absolutely clear. The hospital tests showed that it was the case. I merely make the point that the fact that people cannot hear does not protect them from pain and acute psychological distress. If you penetrate the brain with harmful noise, you upset people very much indeed. That gentleman and others like him-he was certainly not unusual-experience great physical difficulties through accessing parts of the brain that should be left alone unless it is through our normal hearing mechanisms.
On top of that, I saw from the case in Holsworthy that the general population was extremely distressed. I accept that over the border in Cornwall things may be different, but I hae ma doots, dear colleagues and friends-very large doots-because my experience is that people mind very much indeed about the persistent noise. It is painful, it is harmful and, as I said a few moments ago, it has a bearing on noise-induced hearing loss. It is the easiest thing of all to bring about in babies and young children, in whom the delicate mechanisms of the ear are still developing. These can be readily damaged. In most young people it happens because of discotheques, jazz concerts and
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I shall touch on a point briefly, although there is much more to say. Why has this not been raised by the National Health Service? Noble Lords may not be aware that the NHS does very little indeed on hearing. Of the total professional medical training provision for doctors in the United Kingdom, only five days out of the seven years of training are spent on the human ear. The National Health Service is very unlikely to have an understanding of this, other than in bits and pieces.
One or two noble Lords have said that the population is comfortable with wind turbines, but we are discussing the spending of taxpayers' money. I believe that when taxpayers know the truth about the subsidies that wind turbines have attracted, they will not be at all comfortable that their hard-earned income is being spent in this way. It is an unhappy fact that wind farms are almost entirely subsidised by a complex yet hidden regime of feed-in tariffs, tax cuts and preferential tax credits. A typical turbine generates power that is worth around £150,000 a year, but attracts subsidies of more than £250,000 a year. These subsidies are of course added directly to consumer bills on the premise that the consumer pays. The cost to consumers of the renewables obligation scheme has risen from £278 million in 2002 to more than £1 billion in 2009, which is a total growth of £4.4 billion over seven years. Ofgem predicts that the total cost to consumers of the renewables obligation between 2002 and 2027, when the scheme is set to end, will amount to a staggering total of £32 billion. I cannot believe that consumers would be happy if they fully understood this.
An analysis of wind patterns in the United Kingdom suggests that at high penetration levels here, wind generation offers a capacity of between 10 and 20 per cent, which in itself is an indicator of how much of the capacity can be statistically relied on to be available to meet peak demand. It compares with around 86 per cent for conventional generation. This means that fossil fuels and other thermal or hydro power still have to be available as a back-up in times of high demand and low wind output if security of supply is to be maintained. I therefore make the point that new conventional capacity will still be needed to replace the conventional and nuclear plant which is expected to close over the next decade or so, even if large amounts of renewable capacity are deployed. To put it plainly, this means that every 10 new units' worth of wind power installation has to be backed up with some eight new units' worth of fossil fuel generation. This is because fossil fuel sources will have to power up suddenly to meet the deficiencies of wind. Wind generation does not provide an escape route from fossil fuel use, but embeds the need for it. Nuclear fuel runs at base load and therefore cannot power up to cover the absence of wind.
Lord Teverson: I thank my noble friend for giving way. That energy prices go up as a result of renewables is clearly a concern of us all, but does she not agree that the cost of renewables is almost insignificant in comparison with the increase in the cost of gas and
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Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My noble friend's argument might hold water if wind power or the other alternative renewables were able to provide the 86 per cent of our energy that conventional fuels provide. Since conventional fuels have to back up renewables, I cannot give credence to his argument. Conventional fuels have to be around to back up the intermittent wind power that is all we get in the United Kingdom. I happen just to have spent the Recess in Oklahoma, just down the road from cyclone country. It is very different there. I was blown so hard in the street one day on my way to the conference I was attending that I almost fell over. How very different that is even from the Isle of Lewis, with its unique rock, and the Isle of Man, with its trembling granite-another unique feature of the United Kingdom.
I cannot accept that wind power offers a decent alternative to fossil fuels. Of course, fossil fuels, as my noble friend has immediately pointed out, are themselves expensive, which is why I have always backed nuclear fuel as the only really sensible, long-term solution for the United Kingdom.
I say again that I am enormously grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Reay, for bringing about this important debate. I am immensely unhappy that our intermittent wind power has attracted such monstrous subsidies. Largely, of course, I am unhappy because it has been kept away from the consumer, for it is ultimately consumers who will have to tell us how they wish to go. There is enormous unhappiness about the wind farm programme. The chair of energy policy in the Parliament of one of our closest allies in the European Union, Denmark, calls the Danish wind programme a terribly expensive disaster. I support the Bill.
Baroness O'Cathain: I shall speak in the gap in this immensely fascinating debate. I was stimulated to make a very short contribution by a statement made by my noble friend Lord Greaves. He said that wind farms were not the answer. Then I began to mull over the question. Do we really know what the question is? Surely the time has now come for us to reconsider whether we need to increase relentlessly and in an unthinking way the despoliation of our countryside, establishing wind farms and wind turbines in order to produce inefficient energy on a cost-benefit analysis, when we should be asking and undertaking a total reassessment of the impact of so-called climate change. I suggest that the documents which have just been adduced by our noble colleague Lord Turnbull be read by everybody. Only on that basis will we be able to see that these things are changing inexorably-the balance between the costs of fossil fuels and the amount of electricity that is required. We are going back to old statistics without taking the new assessment into account.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Reay, and I do so as a Labour person. Not everyone on this side takes that view, but I do because it is the poorer parts of our community that are paying the main price for this bizarre programme. As has been pointed out, they are paying often without knowing, because the extra taxes that come through the subsidies are often not revealed. I also resent the fact that it involves a huge transfer of wealth from the less well-off to my good friends who own great estates in Scotland and make millions of pounds out of it. I am very happy for them but unhappy for the poorer parts of our community who have to pay for it. I hope that my party will look more closely at this situation in the future than it has in the past.
I also support the noble Lord, Lord Reay, as an environmentalist. It is bizarre that the environmental warriors support this programme when what it does to the visual environment, as has been pointed out, is quite appalling. I object to the fact that they are described as "wind farms". Farms and the farming community contribute enormously to our visual environment but these objects do quite the opposite-they scar it. We need a new collective name and I think "wind blight" is one that could be used in the future because environmentally they are a menace.
As a one-time economist, I particularly object to the economics of the programme, which are absolutely appalling. I shall not go over it all but the wind, especially, is the most uneconomic part; the cost of it is outrageous relative to its contribution. Its contribution is minute. During the winter, the official figures produced showed that wind contributed 0.5 per cent to our energy, partly because of the feature that during very cold spells-certainly in this country-the wind blows less.
Lord Donoughue: The noble Lord said 60 per cent for the others and that wind was not far from it. I can tell him that it is a very long way from it. Official figures on the efficiency of the wind blight show that it may be up to 30 per cent but on average it is around 20 per cent. That is a very poor contribution indeed.
I should tell the Minister that just before the Recess I put down two Written Questions on this issue and received helpful Answers. The Government stated that the cost of the whole programme, of which wind is a part, was up to about £30 billion but pointed out that a large number of costs were not included in that. It would be helpful if the Government could explain the full gross cost of this programme. I asked also about the number of jobs that were forecast to be lost and the Government said that they had not made any calculation of this. It would be helpful if the Government would make a calculation of jobs lost.
Lord Grantchester: My Lords, this Bill has implications on a very important policy area in Britain's energy policy. It aims to put the UK on a path to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 and some 70 per cent by 2050. The size of this challenge is underlined by the fact that in the next decade over 30 per cent of existing traditional electricity power sources will be removed from the grid as current power stations are decommissioned. Abundant gas supplies are set to diminish. Shale gas exploration has been put into review following fears that it has triggered small earthquakes in Lancashire. Fossil fuel supplies are being pursued in ever more hazardous environments, with deep-sea oil drilling. The investment required for the UK's energy policy is estimated at over £40 billion, well beyond the capacity of the public sector alone.
Increased development from all quarters is vital to facilitating the delivery of UK commitments on both climate change and renewable energy. This inevitably puts increased focus on land use, agriculture and food and bio-energy production, as well as supply chains and transport. In response to criticisms that agriculture is responsible for an overproportionate amount of CO2 emissions, the agricultural industry has voluntarily signed up to the greenhouse gas action plan to reduce emissions by 3 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents by 2020 without compromising domestic production. This plan was launched by Jim Paice, Minister of Agriculture in another place.
This is the wider context and the place within which the provisions of this Bill are to be assessed. This Bill is focused not only on larger development but also on small farm-scale turbines in the larger end of the small wind sector, including some turbines that fall within the definition of microgeneration. That area has been unlocked by the feed-in tariffs regime brought forward by our previous Labour Administration. All planning decisions reflect a balance of competing interests and benefits, advantages and disbenefits, development and conservation. In this case, striking the right balance between regulations and incentives is vital.
We have heard today across the House of the challenges that wind farms face from your Lordships. All but one noble Lord today has expressed disapproval, but it is important to distinguish between, on one hand, long-term legislative and prescriptive "thou shalt not" regulations-which may be necessary to protect citizens and the environment where there is certainty of outcomes and overwhelming evidence-and assessment against guidance on the other, where parameters are set to measure each situation on a case-by-case analysis. On these Benches, we would be concerned that this Bill's definitive prescription would be required for all cases. As has been argued even by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, this situation is covered by provisions in PPS22, which sets out government policies for renewable energy and parameters which planning authorities should have regard to when preparing local development documents and taking planning decisions. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, made the point that nuisances such as noise could perhaps be encompassed within these provisions rather than primary legislation being brought forward.
The first thing that could perhaps be said about the Bill is that it uses an unusual way in which to measure wind. The Bill takes the tip of the blade as its highest point in measuring its impact. The more accepted method of measurement is to the top of the nacelle, where the rotor is fixed. Adding blade length to the standard scale of masts may impact on the development of technologies that reduce noise and have other impacts in future. I also wonder whether the exceptional condition that owners of residential premises that fall within the minimum distance requirements must agree in writing to the construction of a wind turbine could lead to a number of perverse outcomes affecting blade choice and effective siting. Planning policy statements set flexible parameters within which developments can take place that take account of changing circumstances and technical advances. Experience and knowledge could perhaps inform our decisions in future.
In a Written Answer on 14 September 2010, Charles Hendry, Minister of State for Energy in another place, replied to a Question concerning reports on and challenges to the Energy Technology Support Unit method of assessment and rating of noise from wind turbines, most notably ETSU R 97, by acousticians. He replied that he had,
This method remains the applicable guidance for assessing and rating noise from turbines. Could the Minister provide the House today with any more information on the progress of this analysis and when it may be published? This is separate from and in addition to a University of Salford report which has already endorsed the ETSU system. As this is not primarily her department's responsibility, could she ask her colleagues to write to me on the matter? In a further Written Answer that same day, the Minister stated:
"There are currently no plans to introduce a proximity rule. The assessment of an application to develop a wind farm already includes, among other things, an analysis of visual and landscape impacts to ascertain whether the location and height",
While acknowledging that the balance of benefits of any development can be controversial, it would be foolish not to take account of the considerable animosity and protest that has arisen in such areas as Devon, Dorset and west Wales. However, there are procedures and mechanisms that already apply in this situation. From these Benches, I urge caution before embarking on heavy regulation that defines prescriptive parameters for all cases and situations. The continued use of site-specific assessments may still provide the most appropriate and effective means to assess and determine any potential development impacts, while protecting the amenity and health of local residents.
The recently announced review of the renewable heat incentive and feed-in tariffs has been extremely destabilising and disruptive to investments in renewable
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Reay for providing the opportunity to discuss an issue that is clearly close to his heart. From the speeches made around the Chamber, it is obviously close to the hearts of all those who have spoken. We have had a thoroughly interesting debate and I thank the noble Lord for the opportunity. I appreciate that the noble Lord has long-standing concerns over wind turbines, and that this Bill proposes a way of tackling some of the matters that can arise when proposals for wind farms and wind turbines are considered. I have listened with interest to the points that have been made.
While I can appreciate the concerns that have led to this Bill being placed before us, we need to consider whether legislation, and particularly legislating in this manner, is the most appropriate way to address them. I have my doubts, not least because the approach set out in the Bill sits uncomfortably with the Government's reforms to the planning system and energy policies. We also need to recognise that in a rapidly changing world some degree of flexibility is both desirable and necessary. Fixed separation distances may be attractive, but once in place there may be good and unforeseen reasons why the original justification for setting them no longer applies. By that I mean that technological advances could lead to sites that were once seen as unsuitable being suitable in the future.
It is helpful to put this Bill in context and remind ourselves of why we need more renewable energy developments. Harnessing our renewable resources is necessary for energy security and environmental reasons. The Government firmly believe that climate change is one of the gravest threats we face. It is not something that we can ignore and hope will go away, so there is no question that the United Kingdom must become a low-carbon economy and decarbonise, where possible, its electricity supply. Having said that, we are aware that this is a huge challenge, as was absolutely clear from the speeches.
Onshore wind is one of the most cost-effective and established renewable technologies. Where small-scale schemes are put forward by local communities or individuals or much larger-scale ones are put forward as part of a commercial generator's portfolio, our energy security is enhanced by a resource-wind power-which is ours alone. Renewables also provide opportunities for investment in new industries and new technologies: the kind of opportunities we so badly need to help the economy recover.
None of this, though, gives an excuse to ride roughshod over local communities, or for building wind farms in the wrong places. The views of local communities are a vital contribution in making decisions about the suitability of a proposed wind farm's location. Through the Localism Bill we are committed to ensuring that local communities should have a much greater say in shaping the places where they live, and that includes
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The noble Lord referred to ETSU R 97, as did the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. That report potentially gives a different answer in every case, varying according to factors such as: the number, type and space of turbines in the proposed wind farm; ambient noise levels at the nearest residence, which can vary significantly around each site; and topography between the turbines and affected property. For local plans to set minimum separation distances from wind farms, all those factors would have to be assessed for all likely locations while looking at them case by case would vary the separation distances. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked me two questions that I cannot at this moment answer, because they are not actually for my department, but I will ensure that he has a Written Answer to them.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, raised the advice given by Natural England to support a development in Wales. He was kind enough to give me notice that he was going to ask that question. I am bound to tell him that, unfortunately, all of that is still an undecided planning issue and I therefore cannot comment on it today. However, he referred to the land enforcement fund, which would provide local landowners and communities with funding for environmental schemes such as the replacement of hedgerows to help mitigate the effect of the wind farm proposals. I do not know where that is being pursued but it is clearly a factor which will now be taken into consideration during the planning process. The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, also asked a question to which, again, I am afraid that I do not know the answer. It may sound feeble of me to say this but again it is not for my department. However, I will make sure that the noble Lord gets an answer to it.
The Government have stated on many occasions that decisions on siting wind farms should be made on a case-by-case basis, so as to take account of the local context. This Bill would prescribe fixed-separation distances according to the height of the wind turbines. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, drew attention to the fact that it is the height where the measurements are taken from. The Bill would also automatically rule out locations that might otherwise be suitable for wind turbine developments because, for example, it makes no allowance for matters such as local topography or the presence of other buildings. Both are capable of providing mitigation against the impact of a turbine. That can make a development which might otherwise be considered unacceptable in isolation of its context quite acceptable when considered in its context.
There can be good reasons for rejecting proposed wind turbines. However, the reasons for some refusals could be addressed by future advances in technology. Improvements in technology could make acceptable sites which are currently deemed to be unacceptable.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: I hate to interrupt the Minister in what I think are her winding-up remarks, but she has not chosen to comment on my important points, which have not been put to the House before, on the impact wind farms' proximity to communities
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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the noble Baroness has intervened a little before I got to the conclusion of my remarks. However, it would be sensible for me to address her concerns now and to say that of course the matters that she has raised in her speech today will be referred on; I will make sure that they are.
Returning to where I was, technological advances in radar, for example, could overcome current objections on radar grounds. Future turbine designs could be quieter than the turbines being erected now. Our approach to localism means that we want communities to be able to shape and influence new developments-[Interruption.] I do not think that my remark justified that thunder!
I am concerned that even small-scale or community-backed developments could be inadvertently ruled out through fixed separation distances. I accept that the Bill makes some allowance for flexibility where local agreement is reached, but there are flaws in this approach.
On the planning policies coming forward, the current approach is looking at each proposal on its individual merits within the context of the local council's development plan; that is well established. It enables a flexible and customised approach to be taken to each proposal. Decisions on applications such as wind farms are therefore taken on a site-by-site basis. This enables impacts such as noise and shadow flicker to have tailor-made assessments using recognised methodologies rather than being judged against an arbitrary separation distance. It enables the impact on the surrounding landscape to be considered, and for topography to be taken into account. That case-by-case approach is evidence based. I am not aware of any evidence which supports the thresholds proposed in the Bill. I am afraid to say that they appear to be quite arbitrary.
Noise issues were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and several other noble Lords. It might be helpful if I told the House that the Department of Energy and Climate Change is currently undertaking research to analyse how noise impacts on, and is considered in, wind farm planning applications in England. The aim is to ensure that noise assessments are consistent and effective, and provide the intended level of protection from noise impact. The results of this research are expected to be published in the next few weeks. I hope that that will address some of the points that have been raised.
On planning, we are in the middle of major reforms to the planning system. We are taking forward major changes to the way planning decisions are approached and we are firmly committed to decentralising power to local authorities and communities. The creation of neighbourhood plans will help with this. My noble friend's Bill unfortunately cuts right across our proposals for localism. By prescribing in legislation separation distances, it is setting out-actually imposing-the type of top-down approach from which we want to
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Over the past few months we have been working hard to put together the new national planning policy framework. This will simplify the reams of existing planning policy. Part of it will cover renewable energy. It will be published for consultation and I am sure noble Lords will ensure that we have an opportunity to discuss it in this House. I believe that its approach to localism and the importance it places on protecting the environment will be reassuring.
We want to reward those communities that welcome development and help deal with the demands for supporting infrastructure that may arise. Specifically, our commitment to the local retention of business rates generated by renewable energy developments will reward communities who host these developments.
Focusing on the detail of the Bill, if it were to progress further, a number of technical drafting issues would need to be addressed for it to become a workable piece of legislation. For example, it would need to clarify what is meant by "relevant authority". The reference to "government department" in the definition of "relevant authority" could imply that my noble friend intended that his Bill should apply to all wind turbine proposals, but I am not clear whether this is the case. Is it meant to include within its scope those wind farm proposals which are considered to be major infrastructure proposals as well as those decided by local authorities or by the Secretary of State if the local decision is appealed? However, under the Planning Act 2008, nationally significant infrastructure projects require development consent rather than planning permission. The Planning Act removes the need to obtain planning permission, so as drafted the Bill would not apply to wind farms with an installed capacity of more than 50 megawatts.
The exception provisions in the Bill may not empower all those who live in properties within the thresholds to be involved in the written agreement process. That point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. Owners do not necessarily live in the properties they own; they can rent them out. The Bill would also need to be amended to clarify the position with regard to leaseholders. Would they be classed as an owner, or would "owner" include only the freeholder? I am also unclear as to how a "relevant authority" might be expected to ensure that written agreements are not elicited by unlawful or pressurised means. How do we stop this becoming a charter for bureaucrats laying down their view of the law?
I have other concerns, but my final point is that by setting such rigid separation distances and linking them to the height of the turbines, the Bill could actually lead to perverse outcomes-and I suspect not at all the sort that my noble friend has anticipated. I wonder whether, as a way of getting round the Bill's provisions, we will simply see proposals being submitted for turbines which cluster just below the height limits. Instead of submitting a proposal for, say, four turbines of a particular height, a developer might bring forward
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I conclude by restating that by imposing rigid separation distances, the Bill would cut across the Government's reforms to deliver localism and the decentralisation of power. Ruling out what could be suitable sites on an arbitrary basis could hinder our ability to meet our ambitious but necessary renewable energy and climate change commitments. I understand that wind farm proposals, and even individual wind turbines, can cause a great deal of concern in communities about the impacts that they might have-we accept that-but I do not believe that this Bill is the way to address these matters.
It is normal practice for the Government not to support or oppose Private Members' Bills and I do not propose to break that convention. However, I ask my noble friend to consider the extent to which the localism agenda will address his concerns, and how he might contribute to the national planning policy framework on this matter through the forthcoming consultation.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, will the noble Baroness clarify one point? She said, rather encouragingly, that the Government wanted to move away from the top-down planning structures that we have seen in the past. Under their policies, including the Localism Bill, perhaps local people will have more of a say on wind farms. Does that mean that there are no proposals to reinstate the Infrastructure Planning Commission that was dismantled, but would have had the power to override local decisions, and thus render null and void the decisions of local people and local authorities? That was the specific role of the IPC. Is there a "son of the IPC" in the making, or has it been abandoned?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the son of the IPC will be the Secretary of State. These matters will be brought back under democratic accountability and the final decision will be made by a Minister or the Secretary of State. It will not and cannot be made by the IPC alone. I should add that neighbourhood planning will also be helpful and effective in this matter.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, one of the difficulties of a debate such as this is that it ranges across several departments' responsibilities. The two matters that my noble friend has now raised do not come within the ambit of planning, and that is the aspect that I have been addressing today.
Lord Reay: My Lords, I am profoundly grateful to all who have taken part in an extraordinarily good debate with most powerful, passionate and well informed speeches from many parts of the House. Of course I
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The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said that he thought the effects of wind farms were being exaggerated and that people got used to being near them. Many who find themselves in that position get on with life, however much they dislike the situation. It is probably only a minority who are so severely affected that life becomes intolerable, but it is a substantial minority, and some inspectors have found that even a minority of a single family was sufficient reason for them to reject a planning application as being for a farm too close to where they lived.
The noble Lord referred to renewable energy and wind power in particular as being cost-effective, but, unlike many other noble Lords, he ignored the effect of the subsidies. The current subsidies paid through the ROCs system by the electricity consumer are running at a rate of £1.2 billion a year. Under policies that are already adopted, this figure will increase to £5 billion or £6 billion a year by 2020. If wind power needs that, how can you possibly describe it as being cost-effective?
The noble Lord suggested that the consumer was suffering more from increases in the price of oil and gas. It was interesting that he mentioned gas. Because of the recent extraordinary discoveries around the world of shale gas deposits, there is an opportunity for cheap gas to be available on a huge scale for long into the future. This is an alternative that the Government should welcome, not seek to close out by favouring renewable energy instead-which is what is happening.
I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for fully addressing the subject in her wind-up speech. Of course, I dispute many of her assertions, but I should like to study carefully everything she said. There were positive features, including her invitation, which I eagerly accept, to take part in the debates leading up to the adoption of the national planning policy framework.
This issue will not go away. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, I think that the public are waking up to the costs that they are having to pay through their bills for the Government's current renewable energy policy, and I doubt that that will be welcomed by them.
I am especially delighted that, in addition to a number of Members of your Lordships' House who will speak in the debate, I can see one or two others who I know have a long-standing commitment to our democratic and architectural heritage. I am particularly delighted that my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire is to respond from the Front Bench, because, as will become apparent later, he, too, has a track record in these matters.
There is widespread agreement that the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 was not the most appropriate legal mechanism to regulate and manage democratic demonstrations in and around Parliament Square. Some thought that it was simply ineffective; others that it was excessively heavy-handed; but I think that all now agree that it has not really worked. Worst of all, it has put our police force in an unnecessarily compromised position, seeking to administer a very defective law. All of us, as lawmakers, have an important responsibility to take that into account.
My Bill would repeal the part of the Act which manages to be both inadequate and overbearing. The words in my Bill are directly lifted from the previous Administration's draft Constitutional Renewal Bill. However, I should also say that my Bill takes account of the pioneering demolition job done by Mr Mark Thomas, whom I heard on BBC Radio 4-but I think there are other occasions on which he was able to demonstrate its inadequacy-and of the persistent campaigning of my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. As noble colleagues will know, since I introduced my Bill, a very useful Bill has been brought forward by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. I do not want in any way to suggest that my Bill is an alternative to his; indeed, it could lead on to his; but as his Bill has been more recently introduced, we cannot as yet give it the attention that it deserves.
However, I think that we all agree that the present messy hiatus is intolerable. It may take an initiative from Parliament, advised by our security experts. I noted the reaction of colleagues in your Lordships' House when there was a clap of thunder-at least, I hope it was a clap of thunder-a few minutes ago at midday. We are all very conscious of security concerns. It may take the advice of our security experts to both Houses of Parliament to break the bureaucratic logjam and knock together the heads of the London Mayor and Westminster City Council who, to my mind, have been trying to find interminable ways to pass the buck.
As I said, pre-legislative scrutiny on various Bills that have come before your Lordships' House has considered the issue. I was involved in the Joint Committee that considered the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill in 2008, where we had a lot of fact-based evidence before us. That put in their place some of the more fanciful prejudices that had been apparent. For example, we looked with some scepticism at the idea that Parliament should exercise remarkable special privileges for itself in relation to noise nuisance-another theme from the previous debate. Was the idea that we should pass a
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However, we had some extremely good evidence from the Westminster City Council's environmental health officer who is responsible for us. I apologise to your Lordships' House for quoting at length, but I think this is important. He said:
"The first thing is that if you have to look at noise from the local government perspective, noise actually creates a nuisance. That is the way legislation frames it. That nuisance is really aimed around protecting residential areas but the courts have been tolerant with us in terms of applying it to work premises as well ... If we were to look at demonstrations that we have experienced, what we have found is that when we have tried to measure the sound as each phase of traffic passes through Parliament Square the sound of the loudspeakers disappears; it is drowned out by the noise of the traffic".
So it is important that all these issues should be considered in the light of factual evidence. In other words, the noise of protesters is seldom, if ever, a statutory nuisance that Parliament has to find a way of circumventing.
Then, from the Constitutional Renewal Bill in the latter part of the last Parliament, we had provisions that went into the so-called CRAG Bill-the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, as it became-and they were lost in the 2010 wash-up. Finally, as noble Lords will know, we have in Part 3 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, currently before the House in Committee, a very welcome restriction of the area to be the subject of a unique control regime. We have not reached that point in the Committee proceedings yet so it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it in detail. However, my Bill precedes these later developments. My job today is simply to suggest that the repeal of SOCPA is an opportunity for really constructive, positive, imaginative thinking about the relationship between Parliament and the public spaces around this building.
I have some experience in architecture and planning; I have never qualified but when I had a real job I worked for the RIBA in these matters so I can tell colleagues that some of the discussions about the future of Parliament Square go way back to the 1960s when I worked in that role. Personally, I think public spaces are the key to this issue. I welcome the fact that the public see democratic demonstrations and marches focused on this building, on Parliament, and not just on Downing Street. Parliament is the proper site for democratic dialogue, not the Executive's offices in Whitehall. Surely, that is entirely appropriate in a parliamentary democracy. We do not yet have an elective dictatorship run from the bunker in No. 10.
Equally, the current physical characteristics of the immediate environs of Parliament are hardly conducive to an effective dialogue between electors and the elected representatives, let alone with those of us who are appointed at this end of the Palace. Parliament Square is an extraordinarily important, iconic, architectural construct. It is surrounded by significant buildings such as the abbey, the Supreme Court, Parliament and the Treasury. You have the church, the judiciary, the legislature and the Executive. What could be of wider significance in our democracy?
It was in that context that, many years ago, there was the very important analysis of what should happen in Parliament Square, which was given the title of World Squares for All and it dealt with Parliament Square regeneration. We do not have to buy into all its recommendations but it included the principles that pedestrian access to the central area should be approached more sensitively, that traffic should be more carefully and sensibly addressed and that, of course, as I have already said, security should be looked at in the context of potential threats today.
As long ago as June 2008, the Chairman of Committees of your Lordships' House wrote to the Mayor of London calling for the closure of Abingdon Street and St Margaret Street. In his letter, he said that that closure should take place,
No doubt my noble friend the Chairman of Committees will be able to tell us whether he received a coherent reply from Mr Johnson. The ideas submitted by the Chairman of Committees on behalf of your Lordships were naturally very modest, but even they seem to have been brushed aside in the interminable discussions that have taken place since.
Since then, there has been a deafening silence. We should revisit the options urgently and not let the passage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill impose an entirely negative context. We should look at positive opportunities as well. Most importantly, those practical proposals could ensure general public access to the central area and so secure what I would describe as popular self-policing, rather than simply permit the present exclusive, permanent encampment by a small minority to persist for ever.
It is a disaster that the Mayor of London and Westminster City Council seem completely to have blocked progress. I will make one suggestion; I do not pretend that it is the answer to everything. Why should we not relocate or replicate Speakers' Corner in the centre of Parliament Square? I am very grateful for my noble friend Lady Trumpington's agreement. My erstwhile colleague in the other place, the former MP Mr Peter Bradley, founded the excellent Speakers' Corner Trust, in which I have no pecuniary interest but which I and a number of distinguished parliamentarians of both Houses wholeheartedly support. He could find this an important opportunity. It is ironic that the trust has created a number of speakers' corners in the United Kingdom and abroad-in Lichfield, in Leicester
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I understand also that some very useful and comprehensive research is being undertaken at the moment by the Hansard Society-again, I declare a non-pecuniary interest as an officer of the society-on behalf of the parliamentary officers of both this House and the other place who sit in the Group on Information for the Public. I will not test noble Lords, but I wonder how many have any knowledge of what the GIP is or does, because it does not have any responsibility or accountability to Members of either House. Anyway, it is a useful exercise. The society is looking at the whole question of what should be said and done to tell Parliament's story, which will include the way in which Parliament Square is to be planned in future. I would be very interested to know what the GIP hopes the long-term aim, outcome and timescale of this research should be.
I come back to the issue of security. Naturally, we should all aim to ensure the safety of all who visit this building, as well as those who work here, and there is a strong argument for the removal of traffic from the east and south sides of the square for that reason alone. I am sure that the necessary access and parking issues could be successfully addressed. I also recognise, as has been mentioned before in your Lordships' House, that the sessional orders of both Houses may require some review. However, surely we cannot allow that review to hold up the wider improvements that have become so urgent. As the very successful depopulation of Trafalgar Square has demonstrated, it is perfectly possible to achieve greater priority for people over vehicles without major disruption. We are always told by the motoring lobby that this is impossible, but we have proved it possible in Trafalgar Square, and we need to look at it again in the immediate environs of this building.
Our overall objective must surely be that the heart of our parliamentary democracy should be seen as such, with clear guidelines on what should be permitted and even encouraged to enhance this role, without recourse to unwieldy, excessive and unworkable regulation. Your Lordships' House will no doubt remember the disgraceful case of Maya Evans and Milan Rai, who were arrested in 2005 under existing legislation simply for reading out the names of war dead at the Cenotaph. That was wholly disproportionate. It reflected a piece of legislation-the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act-that vastly overestimates the risks attached to legitimate, well managed demonstrations and protests. The Act is very obviously a blunt instrument that by its nature gags free speech in the very place where it should be allowed. Indeed, for every demonstration that grabs the attention of the media-perhaps one a year, on average-there are so many which are well managed by stewards and the police. I do not know whether there are any figures that my noble friend can give us, but I think there must be many demonstrations of that type every year. We will recall the Ghurkhas, the countryside march, which was on a much bigger scale, and, indeed, the biggest one of all, the demonstration and lobby of Parliament in favour of Make Poverty History. They were well managed, well organised and
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I end with a quote from a 2008 letter published in the Guardian on 1 May-May Day. It is perhaps significant for those who share my view that May Day should not be allowed to be for just a minority. Those of us who are parliamentary democrats can take significant dates, such as May Day, as being ours too for all radicals. The letter runs as follows:
"The current proposal is to close off the south side, with traffic continuing to flow between parliament and Westminster Abbey. If, however, the east side were closed as well, a grand new open space would be created from the end of Whitehall through Old Palace Yard. That would provide a far more welcoming context for parliament itself, allowing the removal of most of the barriers, and creating a space where visitors can gather/demonstrate. The wealthy inhabitants of Smith Square object to this as they will have to drive round the other side of Westminster Abbey. Given the national importance of this democratic space, I hope that broader considerations will prevail".
Lord Cormack: My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lord Tyler. He has performed a real service to the House in introducing his Bill and in what he said in his wide-ranging and excellent speech. I thought that his idea of a speakers' corner should commend itself to serious consideration. There are, perhaps, problems, but nevertheless it should not be dismissed. I was fascinated to hear about the GIP. I did not know it existed, I do not know what the letters stand for even now-something to do with information and Parliament, I believe-but I am grateful to him for drawing it to our attention. When it comes to closing the sides of Parliament Square, I am not entirely sure that he took sufficiently into account the traffic problems within London, which are a serious issue.
What I want to concentrate on in supporting my noble friend in his admirable endeavour is the need to clear up the squalor in Parliament Square. We are dealing with one of the greatest and most historic squares in the world. We are dealing with a world heritage site, as my noble friend said, a site which has the Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, the new Supreme Court and the Treasury. It is symbolic, valuable and architecturally of enormous importance and worth. To have in the centre a beautiful green defaced by squalor is a disgrace to our nation, and I have lost count, as I am sure many other noble Lords have, of the number of taxi drivers who have said as they have gone around Parliament Square, "When can you do something about this? Every time I have a foreign tourist or visitor in the cab, they say, 'This would never be allowed to happen in any other great capital city of the world'".
There have been attempts to do something. My noble friend has referred to what happened in 2008 and made a passing reference to 2005. For some five years until 2005, I sat on the House of Commons Commission, and it was an issue then. I kept raising it at commission meetings and was told that it was incredibly difficult because of the divided responsibilities for Parliament Square, something to which my noble friend also alluded in his speech. I raised it on the Floor of another place. The then Government attempted in the 2005 Act which my noble friend is seeking to amend to tackle the problem, but they signally failed. They had produced a Bill that was draconian in its apparent dealing with the freedom to demonstrate but which was completely ineffective in removing the squalor.
It is vitally important that in this wonderful country of ours, people should have the freedom to demonstrate. I was proud to take part in the countryside march, and I addressed the countryside rally in Parliament Square, which was vast but on the whole very well organised, and certainly should have been allowed to take place, as indeed it was. I would deplore any legislation that prevented a similar peaceful demonstration taking place in the future. But it is one thing to demonstrate for a particular time on a specific day, and another thing to camp indefinitely-and in so doing, in fact to prevent others from demonstrating, which is something that we should bear in mind.
I hope very much that the measures now before us in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill will deal effectively with this matter, but I have my doubts. Earlier today I was talking informally to my noble friend Lord Blencathra, who I know has tabled amendments for discussion in your Lordships' House in a couple of weeks' time. They seek to ensure that the measures that the Government are introducing are indeed wide-ranging and foolproof. It is, for instance, tremendously important that in clearing up Parliament Square, we do not move the squalor to Abingdon Green or to the green around the statue of King George V. All the spaces around Parliament should be available for appropriate free and peaceful demonstrations, but none should be available for encampments. It is therefore necessary, in whatever legislation is finally adopted-be it that before us from my noble friend, be it from the Government, or be it an amalgamation with the admirable Bill drafted by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, who has left the Chamber-to have a foolproof solution. It must be a solution that imposes a sensible curfew so that people cannot demonstrate indefinitely.
Of course we have to be sensitive. When talking about this with colleagues earlier, I suggested that we should place a time limit on demonstrations, but I was asked what would happen with a silent candlelit vigil by nuns. Would we want to stop that? Of course we would not, so it is very important that whatever we do allows for the legitimate but does not give freedom to those who would exploit the very freedoms that we are here to safeguard and protect. I hope very much that, following the initiative of my noble friend and the welcome attempts by the Government in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, we will arrive
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I said at the beginning of my remarks that the traffic issues cannot be lightly dismissed. Perhaps the answer is a couple of underpasses so that people can go into Parliament Square. One of the problems at the moment is that that massive traffic island is difficult to access. Those who have got there, camped there and stayed there fall into one category, but those who want to go and look at the statues of great statesmen, to wander around and see the buildings of Westminster Abbey and Parliament from the square, have to take their lives into their hands to cross. We need underpasses and a proper public access to this greatest of all public spaces.
I very much hope that when my noble friend comes to reply to this debate he will be able to give us both reassurance and encouragement. I hope that he will be able to tell us that the Government are utterly and absolutely determined to restore Parliament Square as a place in which every citizen of this country and the world can take pride, a place to which people can come and say, "Yes, this is the heart of the oldest, greatest democracy". I hope that he will be able to give us an assurance that there will never again be an opportunity for that space, once cleaned up, to be defaced. I hope that he will be able to tell us that the Government's measures will make it absolutely impossible for people to camp indefinitely and to create squalor where there is beauty and where that should always remain. It is a question of adequate public access and proper freedom for proper demonstrations, but an absolute recognition of the beauty and historical importance of this great world heritage site.
I am delighted to support the Bill that my noble friend has introduced and to welcome the Government's indication that they recognise the importance of these issues. I very much hope that, in a few months' time, taxi drivers taking me and other noble Lords round the square will not continue to say, "Why can't you do something about it?", because I hope by then that it will have been done.
Lord Desai: My Lords, I rise to speak on this Bill, but having heard the noble Lord who moved it and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I am not quite sure that I will go along with it all the way. I spoke at Second Reading of the Police and Social Responsibility Bill, but only on Part 3, which has to do with Parliament Square. I took the view that it is part of a free society that if people want to demonstrate they should be able to do so. If it is squalid, that is a price of freedom. The people who are camped there are not causing anybody any harm. They are registering protest about something with which you may or may not agree, but you cannot deny that there is something to protest about. I supported the war in Iraq and continue to do so-I make no bones about that-but the fact that Mr Brian Haws has been able to demonstrate for 10 years this month is a great tribute to British democracy. Parliament Square is a heritage site already because our society allows, across from Parliament, people to demonstrate and say, "We reject what this Parliament has done; we
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I go along with Clause 1(1) which seeks to remove Sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. That would take us back to the Public Order Act 1986, which was perfectly adequate for a number of years until everyone panicked. We were not an unruly country-there was no anarchy-when the Public Order Act 1986 was in force. Why we needed the 2005 Act is beyond me. It was introduced because everyone was panicking about 9/11 and 7/7, or whatever it was. Terrorism is being used as an excuse for all kinds of restrictions on our freedoms.
I quite agree with the first proposal in the noble Lord's Bill and that we should remove Sections 132 to 138; I also go along with him that we should celebrate Parliament Square and make it accessible to everyone. Let us make it a speakers' corner-that would be quite right. Let us have a variety of demonstrations and different ideas being floated about our politics and other people's politics-I do not see what the problem is.
We ought to examine ourselves and ask whether we as a Parliament really want to be part of suppressing people's right to demonstrate even if that means occupation. I would argue that that occupation is very orderly, as anyone who was there during the recent Royal Wedding and saw encampments all over that area will know. People were camping and no one said, "This is squalor". There was a lot of squalor, I can tell you-I walked through it-but, of course, it is remembered as a joyous occasion. So it is a joyous occasion when people agree with what the establishment wants-there is joy and everyone is fine-but if you do not agree, it is squalor. I reject that.
I say let the people who are there be there. Yes, let us open up Parliament Square-I do not have a car so I do not worry too much about traffic; whatever you want to do about traffic, do it-but do not remove the people who are there because the fact that they are there is one of the greatest tributes to our democracy. The excuses are always related to issues other than politics-noise, squalor, inconvenience-but they have a political subtext. It may seem harmless but there is a political subtext to it. You do not like looking at those posters; they are terrible. They remind you of things which you probably think are all lies. Refute them-but do not deny the right of people to demonstrate.
I urge the Government to accept what the noble Lord asks for in his Bill which is already in the political and social forums through the Act, but to desist from doing anything which would remove the right of people to demonstrate as and when they think necessary.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, a very long time ago I asked a question on this matter in this House. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, on introducing the debate and the Bill; I hope that the three councils involved in this matter will read every word that is said in this Chamber today. The mistake that has been made is not telling the people who are in their little tents where they can legitimately go. I hope the Minister can tell us of sites or a site-speakers' corner or where have you-where they can legitimately do what they want to do without making such a terrible mess of a place of great beauty and state importance.
Lord Wills: I was not going to say anything, but the words of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, reminded me of the many gruelling months that I spent in the last Government as the Minister responsible for these issues, so I felt that I should speak in support of his Bill. I am also in support of the careful way in which he has tried to strike a balance.
I very much associate myself with the words of my noble friend Lord Desai in stressing the importance of the right to protest. It is precious; we often may not like it, and many of us may be offended, as he rightly points out, but it is one of the most precious supports of our democracy. But at the same time, I think that my noble friend would accept that that right is not without constraints. The problem lies in where exactly those constraints should be drawn. Trying to strike that balance is what has made this issue so brain-achingly and heart-achingly difficult to reach any kind of achievable solution.
It is a great criticism of this place that we have failed consistently, over many years-and I take my own share of responsibility for this-to find a solution to this problem. But as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, so rightly says-and I agree with every word that he says and pay tribute to all his efforts to find a solution to this problem-Parliament Square is a very important symbol of the way in which our democracy works. I do not think that anyone looking at it at the moment thinks that it is a good advertisement for that, which is not to gainsay anything that my noble friend Lord Desai has said in support of that precious right of peaceful protest.
I welcome this Bill and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, on bringing it forward and his effort to give Parliament once again an opportunity to reach a solution. I hope that it is successful. He has all my support and this House, Parliament and the whole of our democracy owes him a debt of gratitude for giving us this opportunity.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has explained the purpose of his Bill, which addresses an issue that is addressed in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill going through Committee in your Lordships' House.
With the conflicts of interest that need to be balanced, policing protests often generates controversy, not least in respect of protests around Parliament where, unsurprisingly, people wish to come to make known their views if they feel strongly about a policy that the Government of the day are or are not pursuing or a decision they have made. The European Convention on Human Rights gives people rights under both Article 10 on freedom of expression and Article 11 on peaceful assembly, but such rights are not absolute. The rights of protestors have to be considered, as well as those of the general public. In recent years, the issue has arisen as to whether Parliament requires different arrangements from elsewhere to control demonstrations in its vicinity.
Before the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 was introduced, a number of byelaws and the Public Order Act 1986 applied to Parliament. In addition, there were sessional orders for the House of Commons and stoppages orders for the House of Lords, which related to access and gave the Metropolitan Police Commissioner the power to direct police officers to keep Parliament free from obstruction. In 2003, the Commons Procedure Committee carried out an inquiry into those powers as a result of demonstrations that had taken place outside and near Parliament, and concluded that the law was inadequate. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 followed, which created a new offence of demonstrating without authorisation in a designated area, which was defined by order, but had to be within one kilometre of Parliament Square. The Act also banned the use of loudspeakers in the designated areas.
However, concerns soon emerged about whether that Act had, in its effects, struck the right balance. For example, two people were arrested and prosecuted for reading out the names of British soldiers and Iraqi citizens who had been killed in Iraq. Yet the concerns the Act was intended to address remained largely unaddressed as people sought to find loopholes in the law and ways to get around it. As a result it became generally accepted that the provisions of the 2005 Act should be repealed. Such a proposal was included, as has been said, in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. However, that measure fell in the wash-up before the general election last year.
The Government have now introduced their own proposals to deal with this issue in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which is currently going through your Lordships' House. Their proposals are in many ways similar to the provisions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, but would apply to the much narrower and more restricted geographical area of Parliament Square. I assume that when the Minister responds, he will say something about the thinking behind the Government's proposals in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill in pursuing what I am absolutely sure is the objective
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This is certainly not an easy issue to resolve but there is a need for change and for further proposals. There will obviously be further discussion on this issue. While the best way forward now will be through consideration of the proposed clauses in the Government's police reform Bill, rather than through the Bill before us today, we still await the Minister's response with interest.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, this debate has ranged a little more widely than the Bill under consideration and has raised some large questions about the future of Parliament Square. I start by declaring two personal interests. First, I live in a world heritage site in Saltaire and have therefore spent considerable time dealing with the legislation on world heritage sites. Secondly, I was, many years ago, a chorister across the road at the abbey and still have links to it. Indeed, I give occasional singing tours of the abbey for charity. I am conscious that the two halves of this world heritage site are, alone among world heritage sites in this country-and on the absolute outer edge of UNESCO regulations-divided by a main road.
I start by addressing the issues raised by this Bill and Part 3 of the Police and Social Responsibility Bill, which I hope will reach the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, in one week's time rather than two if we are able to make progress in Committee next Thursday. The Government have set out their commitment to restoring the rights to non-violent protest, and have therefore brought forward the repeal of Sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act. We agree that Sections 132 to 138 impose unnecessary restrictions on the right to peaceful protest around Parliament, and that they have had a chilling effect on that right, which has contributed in some quarters to a breakdown in trust between the Government, the police and those who wish to protest. We recognise that we are talking about striking the right balance. However, I am very happy to hear the consensus across the Chamber-and, I am sure, in the other place-that it is important to maintain the right to peaceful protest.
I shall just throw in a small amount of history, since I was heavily criticised over answering a question about sessional orders and have done a little research. In the 17th century this Chamber assumed that noble Lords had the right, under all circumstances, to come to this Chamber and that spaces should be cleared for them. Having looked at the book just published on the Lords in the 17th and 18th centuries, the degree of arrogance with which the Lords then assumed that the right of access could be enforced is not one that would be appropriate to our modern Chamber. In the 1780s, after the Gordon riots, a battalion was encamped in St James's Park for some months in order to maintain the right of access to Parliament. That is not the sort of thing, I suggest, that we now wish to repeat.
The Government are therefore making it clear that Sections 132 to 138 have not prevented the abuse of our public spaces by a determined few to the detriment of the enjoyment of those spaces by the wider public. I think we are talking about a maximum of 150 in the democracy encampment and fewer than double figures in the Brian Haw encampment. However, in striking a balance we are also bringing forward a package of measures in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill to ensure that everyone else is able to access the square equally and to enjoy its amenities. There are, after all, others who come to Parliament Square for a number of reasons: as tourists, to see the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben; as a cultural experience in visiting this world heritage site; and as an educational experience for those interested in the democracy process, by seeing where Parliament is situated.
I am happy to say that discussions have been under way between the Dean and Chapter across the road and the authorities here about joint visits by school parties and others to the abbey and to the Palace of Westminster-and, incidentally, extending to the Supreme Court, while there will be discussions in the summer of whether that could also include Buckingham Palace-to bring people to this central area of English history. That also raises questions about how easy they find it to get from one part to another.
We all witnessed the occupation of Parliament Square Gardens by the democracy village encampment during the summer, which prevented members of public and visitors using and enjoying the garden. The courts have said that Parliament Square Gardens is not a suitable area to be used for any sort of encampment. The High Court has also said:
The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, asked whether we could tell campers of sites to which they might legitimately go. One has to say that they can legitimately go to authorised campsites. It is no more legitimate under general law to move to encamp in Green Park, St James's Park, Westminster Abbey churchyard or elsewhere than it is to camp on Parliament Square itself.
Lord Desai: What were the permissions given during the royal wedding for people to camp across from Westminster Abbey and all around Parliament Square? Was there a special dispensation given by the police or was an announcement made about that?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: They were not only there but on The Mall, as I attempted to walk at speed from the Cabinet Office to Tothill Street the day before the royal wedding and it took me nearly 20 minutes. I am well aware that policing is by consent and discretion in this country. On special occasions, as in the run-up to a royal wedding, we accept obstruction of the footpath for a limited period. That is what happened then.
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We all welcome that very large number of people. I have had an office on the West Front for some years and I am used to hearing people singing hymns, or hundreds of schoolchildren producing a substantial number of decibels as they cheerily march past, and a whole range of other demonstrations. I do not mind that noise as it comes through; I much prefer it to the more regular noise of the heavy traffic. That is part of what Parliament should be about. We shall return to the exact question of the measures which are now proposed to replace SOCPA next Thursday. I say simply that those measures are to have a small controlled area in which certain activities-erecting tents and the unauthorised use of loudhailers-are prohibited.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: No, we are talking about timescale. This democracy encampment has gone on for a very extended period, and the Brian Haw situation for even longer. Of course one has to use discretion on certain occasions, but people who put up their picnic tables and chairs for one overnight, cheery encampment is not at all the same thing as people who erect permanent tents over months and years at a time, which then extend to the sort of huts which we now see opposite us that are almost permanent erections. That is of a different scale, and the timescale is fundamentally different.
We argue that what is proposed in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill is a proportionate and targeted response which is the minimum necessary to deal with the particular misuse of tents and structures on Parliament Square Gardens and the footways. For the rest, protest in this area will henceforth be governed by the same laws as govern protest elsewhere. We think that returning to that is the appropriate course. By removing the SOCPA rules against protest as such, we are saying that if people want to protest for days, weeks and months, including candlelit vigils by nuns or others, they can. What they cannot do is erect tents and/or other long-term structures to do so. So while the Government cannot and will not support this Bill in the other place as it stands, we welcome and urge continued debate.
I shall now deal with some of the wider issues which are of clear interest to Members of the House about the future of Parliament Square and the way in which it fits in to the central democratic space which is the Palace of Westminster and its environs. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, talked about the need to break the bureaucratic logjam of the division of responsibility between Westminster Council, the Greater London Authority and various other authorities, which has made it very difficult to deal with these issues. A number
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Parliament Square is, as some noble Lords have remarked, a traffic island, surrounded by a traffic roundabout. The questions raised in the project for World Squares for All of one or more sides of Parliament Square being closed to traffic would answer the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about pedestrian access to the centre, give us a much larger space and give us something which we all, as pedestrians, enjoy in Trafalgar Square. When, as a Liberal Democrat opposition spokesman I raised this question on one occasion, the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, objected that closing off two sides of Parliament Square would inhibit her ability to arrive for weddings at St Margaret's in a car. I regret to remind her that that would indeed be the case, but there would be compensating advantages to a larger number of others. We cannot restore Parliament Square to the glory which the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and others evoke without restricting traffic.
On the question of sessional orders, which other speakers have also raised, I point out that the Commons no longer has a sessional order. The order, in its very grand-sounding statements, does not actually enforce any action outside the Palace of Westminster. It might indeed be time, therefore, to consider whether it is desirable to continue the grand language of the sessional order, given that it gives rise, as I have discovered when answering questions on this, to a number of misunderstandings about its potential use.
We welcome the frequency of well managed demonstrations, and in all that we do here we want the maximum number of people to come into the Palace and to appreciate how the Palace, Westminster Hall, Westminster Abbey and the surrounding area are a central part of English history. We welcome the opportunity that visits-particularly of the younger generation-to this area give to educate a new generation about English history and the growth of democracy in it. Although I am not saying that the Government support this Bill in another place, I very much hope that those who have spoken in this debate and others will continue the debate about how this world heritage site-this place that we love so much-should best be redesigned and rearranged so that we can welcome the largest number of visitors and the largest number of people who want to express their views in a free society.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I certainly do not seek to delay and to detain the House for more than a few minutes. This has been a very positive debate, and I think there has been wide agreement on all sides.
I take up just one small point. My noble friend Lord Cormack is usually spot-on accurate, but I think I am right in saying that the statue to which he referred was not of George V but of George VI. However, that
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I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who expressed some misgivings, summed it up very well when he said-I paraphrase, and I hope that I have got this about right-that he supported everyone's right to demonstrate so long as they do not prevent others from doing so. That is the crucial issue at present. We want to enable people to use their democratic rights as our fellow citizens outside their Parliament, and not to be tucked away somewhere quite different.
The noble Lord, Lord Wills, was very generous in his compliments, and I in turn compliment him. He worked very hard to get the balance right, but I have to admit that I think that we on all sides would now accept that the present regime failed, that it is therefore right to look at another one, and that we have to strike a new balance.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, rightly identified the fact that the area for limitation, control and management is more restricted under the Bill, but I think that is welcome. I think it is a kilometre, not a mile-oh, dangerous, European stuff-but the previous legislation was excessive, and this Bill is much improved. However, again, as other noble Lords have said, the strict definition, which goes back to some previous legislation on Parliament Square, might not be sufficient and we might need to look at Abingdon Green and the area immediately around the statue to which I have referred.
I end now with what my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire said. His final words were extraordinarily encouraging, because he is saying to us that, in parallel with any new restrictions on demonstrations when the SOCPA provisions are removed, we must urgently have positive reassessment of the role of this iconic square. It is so important, not just to our architectural heritage but to the way in which we relate to our fellow citizens. If this is the centre of a parliamentary democracy we cannot continue, as we are, discouraging people from seeing it as such, and seeing its relationship to the other pillars of our state-which are still, curiously enough, the church, the Supreme Court and the Executive up Whitehall.
My noble friend's final words were very encouraging, and I am sure that there will be others in your Lordships' House who will hold him and the Government to account if we do not see some progress in the next few months on the positive as well as the negative concerns that we all have.
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