House of Lords
Wednesday, 22 July 2015.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough.
Retirement of a Member: Lord Edmiston
My Lords, I should like to notify the House of the retirement, with effect from today, of the noble Lord, Lord Edmiston, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his much-valued service to the House.
My Lords, as the noble Lord may be aware, there is an ongoing litigation in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal on the Wilson doctrine. In fact, there is a hearing tomorrow. One of the issues that the tribunal is looking to consider is the scope of the doctrine. Given this ongoing litigation, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further at present.
My Lords, David Anderson’s recent report confirmed what we already knew from Edward Snowden—namely, that, every day, GCHQ is hoovering up the private data of millions of innocent citizens without the informed consent of Parliament. Can the Minister explain how the Government manage to comply with the Wilson doctrine by excluding the private data of parliamentarians when they are scooping up everyone else’s indiscriminately?
As I said, there is a tribunal hearing on the Wilson doctrine tomorrow, and the noble Lord can understand why I am not in a position to say more about the doctrine with a court case ongoing. Perhaps I may quote the Home Secretary from a recent debate in the other place. She said:
“Obviously, the Wilson doctrine applies to parliamentarians. It does not absolutely exclude the use of these powers against parliamentarians, but it sets certain requirements for those powers to be used in relation to a parliamentarian. It is not the case that parliamentarians are excluded and nobody else in the country is, but there is a certain set of rules and protocols that have to be met if there is a requirement to use any of these powers against a parliamentarian”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/7/14; col. 713.]
My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that we are not “scooping up indiscriminately”? That is a wrong description. As we are just about to break to go on summer leave, will she give congratulations and support to GCHQ, which, during my time as a Minister, stopped 10 major attacks on the country and is consistently looking after the security of our nation?
I warmly endorse what the noble Lord, Lord West, has just said about the work of GCHQ and what it has meant for the lives of many people in this country who might otherwise be in a much unhappier state than they are now. The House will recognise why the Minister is unable to go further, given that there is a hearing tomorrow. Is she not absolutely right in what she said, sadly—that it would be quite wrong for parliamentarians to be totally excluded at all times? It is the only category that would be excluded. Unfortunately, many of us in this House will remember that there have been good reasons why certain people should not have been excluded and were, in fact, found to have been collaborating with enemies of this country in difficult times.
My Lords, given the slight uncertainty about this issue, will the Minister agree to enter into discussions after this with all parties? The metadata will obviously include all parliamentarians. It would be right for everyone, particularly MPs, to know whether it is possible that their communications are being kept. That should be on the record so that everyone knows the position, and those talks should be cross-party.
I thank the noble Baroness for that question. She is right that it would be sensible for us to come back in the autumn and discuss this further after the review on this subject has taken place. That is why I am really not able to comment any further. Until that review is complete it makes it very difficult for me to say anything.
Can the Minister give us any indication of the approximate date on which a new Bill will be tabled? I declare an interest as having been a member of the panel that produced the Royal United Services Institute report, the third to deliver on these topics after those of the ISC and David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. The reports have reasonably congruent recommendations. How long will it take the Government to produce updated legislation?
David Anderson’s recommendations sit alongside the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee published in March and the report from the panel convened by the Royal United Services Institute. The Government are considering all these reviews and their recommendations in the round. We will bring forward proposals for pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses in the autumn.
My Lords, I am much more concerned to know that non-government bodies, particularly a number of charities and political charities, have access to the police national computer. That is completely wrong. I have tabled Questions asking for details about how and why. For example, there is a charity in Scotland that has direct access to the police national computer. That should be much more carefully protected.
Creative Sector: Educational Provision
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to ensure that the United Kingdom retains its global position in the creative sector in the light of plans announced in June to require all state secondary school pupils to study five English Baccalaureate core subject areas, which exclude any music, arts or culture element.
My Lords, all pupils should study a foundation of core subjects, including opportunities to study the arts and creative subjects. The best schools know how to deliver this combination. The creative industries continue to play a major role in our global economy, with the value of services exported totalling £18 billion in 2013 and 1.8 million people employed, which is up by 16% since 2011. EBacc qualifications support the growing creative sector, helping schools to develop well-rounded young people.
My Lords, the creative sector is indeed a UK strength and a key driver for improving productivity, as evidenced by the growing business demand for creative skills. But the Government’s focus on EBacc subjects is already causing some schools to reduce their provision of creative and cultural subjects, and making the EBacc compulsory is likely to lead to more doing so. Moreover, the take-up of these subjects is often significantly lower among the most deprived students. Why do the Government appear to have moved away from the broader and more balanced Progress 8 approach, which measures schools in eight subject areas, including up to three outside the EBacc subjects? Further, what steps will the Minister take to ensure that students, especially disadvantaged students, do not miss out on studying creative and cultural subjects which are so vital for social mobility and UK productivity?
We will continue to use Progress 8 as the main accountability measure. GCSE entries in arts subjects in 2014 are actually up 5% on 2012, while the performing arts have nearly doubled. Of course we want all pupils to study a broad curriculum, and in particular the focus should be on enabling disadvantaged children to have access to a wide range of studies. Ofsted will inspect on this.
My Lords, will the Minister take this opportunity to applaud the work of many arts organisations? I should declare an interest as a member of the boards of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Roundhouse in Camden. The education work delivered not only by the large organisations but also by many smaller ones across the country is of outstanding quality. Does he agree that they find it dispiriting and difficult when they discover that actually there is a diminution of interest in the creative subjects in a number of schools, and that they do not get quite the response they once did to the programmes they offer? Does he think that that is really a good idea?
I do applaud the work of the organisations referred to by the noble Baroness, but the statistics are quite clear. Uptake of GCSE subjects is expanding. All pupils take on average nine GCSEs, and with Progress 8 we hope to encourage pupils to study a broad curriculum with arts subjects.
Is my noble friend aware that schools up and down the country are reducing their curriculum very significantly in order to concentrate on the academic subjects included in the EBacc? That is the case not only in the arts and culture; virtually all technical studies below the age of 16 have now disappeared in our schools. In design and technology, an important subject introduced into the curriculum in 1988, the numbers have fallen in each of the last five years both for GCSE and at A-level. What our students need in most of our schools is a much wider range of studies.
One has to look back to where we have come from. Under the Labour Government, the number of pupils studying a core suite of academic subjects collapsed from 50% to 22% as the Labour Government perpetuated the scandal of equivalents. I make no apologies for the EBacc. We are now back to 39% of pupils taking these core subjects which are acknowledged to give pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, the cultural capital that they need.
My Lords, will the Minister give us an answer which refers to the emphasis that should be placed on encouraging voluntary activity? It has been encouraged by all Governments, and so much is done in the voluntary sector. What are we doing to encourage people to get a good grounding so that this thing which lightens up our lives is encouraged?
All good schools will encourage their pupils to engage in these activities. It is all part of a well-rounded education. We are seeing this across the board. We are also seeing the creation of new free schools that focus specifically on arts and music. We have the East London Arts and Music Academy, the Plymouth School of Creative Arts, and my noble friend Lord Baker will be pleased to hear that we have a number of UTCs specialising in creative and digital media.
My Lords, will the Minister reflect further on the intervention of his noble friend Lord Baker? I remember the noble Lord as Secretary of State when I chaired an education authority. Will the Minister please go away and consider the importance in the Government’s strategy of looking carefully at those subjects—design and technology—in detail to see what has happened to them? I did not always agree with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, but I agree with him that too many able pupils do not exercise the right basic education to go forward in the way the Government want with design and technology and all those subjects.
My Lords, I endorse very strongly what my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking said. Will the Minister agree that in the 21st century no country can really claim to call itself civilised unless every pupil leaves school with a knowledge of music, the arts, and the history of the country?
My Lords, if the Minister walks through the Members’ Cloakroom he will see a bag—I think it is on the peg of the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn—emblazoned with the words, “Music makes the world a better place”. The Secretary of State for Education seems to agree because in a recent speech she revealed that she used to sing with the City of London Choir. In the same speech she said that every young person should,
“have the opportunity to discover how the arts can enrich their lives”.
Given this enthusiasm for culture, why are the Government deliberately excluding study of the arts from the English baccalaureate?
All the evidence from around the world is that pupils need a core suite of academic subjects to engage their intellect and curiosity, so that they will then want to study a broader and more cultural range of subjects. We are investing heavily in music hubs, and I go back to my point that the take-up in EBacc is driving a much richer and more cultural curriculum in schools.
Health: Skin Cancer
My Lords, over the past 10 years in England, there has been a 61% increase in new cases of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, and an increase of 41% in non-melanoma skin cancers. In 2012 there were 11,281 new cases of melanoma and 79,743 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, which shows an alarming increase in skin cancer. I understand that NICE is in the process of issuing new guidelines in this respect, due out this month. Will the Minister advise the House whether these guidelines are mandatory because they are so central to the Government’s campaign in fighting skin cancer, or are they merely “guidelines” and need not be followed? Secondly, is the Minister aware that there is concern among consultant dermatologists in hospitals that the clinical commissioning process may not be sufficiently robust to deal with this increased spate of skin cancers?
The NICE guidelines are due to come out at the end of July or in August. I believe that they are guidelines, not mandatory, although they should be read in the context of the report by Harpul Kumar, Achieving World-Class Cancer Outcomes. Cancer is a very high priority for this Government, and this may come out in further questions. In commissioning these services, we have to be very careful that we do not disaggregate dermatology services in hospitals; the provision of routine and complex emergency dermatology services and, of course, the training of dermatologists should be commissioned as a whole.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that consultant dermatologists often see patients who have been told by their GP that their mole was benign and did not require a biopsy? In the UK, the mortality rate is 20% compared with 12% in Australia for a similar number of cases. Given that outcomes are so closely linked to the thickness of the lesion and early diagnosis, what are the Government doing to make sure that GPs are trained to recognise the benign skin lesions and to refer the more dubious ones to consultants? I am aware that we ask a great deal of GPs, but what matters is training them to recognise these things and not wasting money and compromising patients by not referring them early enough.
My Lords, as someone who had skin cancer 40 years ago, I have a check-up every year. The services are excellent but the most important thing in the context of this Question is that we are now getting the early diagnosis. Does the Minister agree that the most important thing is to raise public awareness, as has been done in Australia, where malignant melanoma, it is believed, can pretty well be eliminated? The important thing is to raise public awareness so that the public go to their doctors and demand to be referred. That is how we will continue to catch more cases at a stage when they can be treated.
The noble Baroness makes a very interesting point. It is recognised that there are not enough trained dermatologists in England—I think the figure I have seen is 177. To put it in context, there are 650 consultant dermatologists in England, so the answer is that there are not enough. The growth in the problem, if I can put it that way, seems to be running at about 3.5% a year. We are behind on this and need to catch up.
My Lords, will the noble Lord share with us the discussion going on in the Department of Health about the many young people being treated for skin cancer because of the sunbed culture that has come about? Regrettably, we have noticed in my hospital in Milton Keynes that that is becoming an increasing problem. We did a grand job in making people aware of the dangers of smoking, and we still are, but nobody seems to be explaining just how dangerous some of these things are.
The noble Baroness is right but a law was passed in 2010, I think, banning the use of sunbeds on commercial premises by children under the age of 18. That law has had an impact but, in a sense, one can never do too much to raise public awareness, and we should do more.
My noble friend makes a very sound point. Harpal Kumar’s task force produced a report entitled Achieving World-Class Cancer Outcomes. If anyone wants a little bit of holiday reading, it is well worth reading at least the three-page letter at the front of the report. He recommends in the report that if a GP has a 3% or greater suspicion of cancer, the person in question should be referred for further investigations.
My Lords, there is a clinical trial known as Matilda at the world-renowned Christie Hospital in Manchester, funded by the Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research. This aims to treat patients with melanoma using their own white cells, which can recognise and destroy cancer cells. It was approved in 2014 but then halted because excess treatment costs, which should be funded by the NHS, were not forthcoming. I understand that the Secretary of State for Health has said that this issue will be sorted by early 2015. Can the Minister advise the House when this crucial clinical trial for the treatment of skin cancer will be progressed?
Railways: Swansea to Paddington
My Lords, the Government are committed to delivering electrification from Paddington to Swansea, which is a priority and part of the largest enhancements programme since the Victorians. Challenges have arisen from electrification, and construction and planning consents have taken longer than expected. That is why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has asked Sir Peter Hendy to look into issues of both deliverability and affordability, and he is due to report in the autumn.
My Lords, the Minister referred to this being a top priority. Can he explain why this is being delayed? Is it due to the inability of the Government to provide sufficient funding, or is it because they have encountered fundamental technical problems? I am aware that initially, in answers here and in the other place, Ministers said that there would not be a delay. The reference to a delay came last Sunday, from the Secretary of State for Wales.
I reiterate that this programme of electrification is a priority. It is not an issue of funding alone. We are spending £38 billion during the next four to five years. That is the largest investment that has been made since the Victorian age. Challenges have arisen over electrification, to which I alluded in my initial response, but other schemes have been put on pause to ensure that we give this particular scheme the priority that we have emphasised before.
My Lords, the term “on pause” is a very vague concept for a government Minister to employ. Is it not clear that this so-called priority of the west coast main line will not see electrification for some time? Would it be wrong of the Opposition to suspect that it is something to do with funding after all? The Minister can probably confirm that the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s northern powerhouse is having the plug pulled on it with the delays to electrification on the Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds line and the delays to electrification from the London to Sheffield line. Will the Minister explain just what “on pause” means?
As a general principle in life, it is often good to pause and reflect. I suggest to the noble Lord that it is something he should sometimes deploy. We have asked Sir Peter Hendy to look into the whole issue and the challenges that have arisen around electrification. He will report in the autumn and, after he does, I am sure we will return to this subject. As for the northern powerhouse, the plug is truly in and the switch is turned on.
My noble friend speaks from great experience on these matters, not least because he has spoken from this Dispatch Box on the issue of skills. I am delighted that that is one of my specific portfolio responsibilities at the Department for Transport. As noble Lords will know, we have already established the Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy, which I visited only last week, an incredible investment that has come out of the Crossrail project. Later this year, I will be joining the Secretary of State for the opening of the National Training Academy for Rail. Britain has some great challenges as far as the skills agenda is concerned. It is certainly this Government’s view that we not only meet the skills challenge domestically but establish institutions to provide for skills abroad as well.
I must say to noble Lords that I am very impressed by my popularity on the last day of term. The noble Lord nevertheless raises an important point. I mentioned affordability because of course challenges have arisen. That is why it is important to allow Sir Peter to look into all elements of the challenges that have arisen around Network Rail. As I have said already, we will return to this issue in the autumn.
May I press the Minister further on that term “affordability”, which he chose to use in his first Answer? If affordability is an issue and if the answer is that the project is going to be more expensive than expected, may that in some circumstances rule out the priority that has been given to this line?
On the contrary—as both the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have indicated, this project remains a priority. We are working with the Welsh Government on issues relating in particular to the connection between Swansea and Cardiff. We have provided additional funding in that respect. Of course, there are challenges; otherwise, we would not have Sir Peter Hendy reviewing this area.
My Lords, as perhaps the only Swansea resident in the House, might I say that, whatever the priorities of the Government—and we are well aware of the pressure of the 40% cut in public expenditure—for us in Swansea this is a major matter? It is part of a trio of developments, including the lagoon and the new university campus. I therefore assure the Minister that this project is not only important for Swansea and the region but will send a signal to businessmen that there is life beyond Cardiff.
European Union (Approvals) Bill [HL]
Order of Commitment Discharged
My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
Energy Bill [HL]
My Lords, your Lordships’ House has had several opportunities to debate energy issues this year, and I know that the debate on this Bill will be as full and rigorous as it has always been in the past.
The Government’s energy priorities are clear: keeping bills as low as possible for families and businesses, and powering the economy while decarbonising in the most cost-effective way. These are challenging and critical objectives, but the Government have a long-term plan, underpinned by carbon budgets, to meet our responsibilities.
Keeping the lights on is non-negotiable. Our modern technological society cannot function without power. A diverse energy mix, including homegrown sources, provides the most resilient system. Tackling climate change is also non-negotiable. Your Lordships know that climate change is a threat not just to the environment but to our national security, global security and long-term economic prosperity. A global deal is the only way both to deliver the scale of action required and to drive down the costs of climate action, so the global conference in Paris this December is a serious opportunity to avoid its catastrophic effects and open up new avenues for low-carbon industries.
Going for clean energy makes economic sense, and it makes business sense: clean energy is a boom market, bringing jobs, investment and growth. But it makes sense only if we keep costs pinned down. The vital financial support that has been provided to the renewables sector has helped new and innovative technologies, while increasing the amount of low-carbon electricity that powers homes and businesses across the United Kingdom. Financial support has already driven down the costs of renewables significantly and these are continuing to fall, making it easier for the industry to thrive without subsidies.
To work for everyone, decarbonisation has to be affordable and sensitive to the impact it has on people’s pockets and wider economic circumstances. The Government have today announced a package of reforms to take control of the costs of renewable electricity subsidies under the levy control framework. This is part of the Government’s commitment to control energy bills for hard-working British families and businesses as we continue to move to a low-carbon economy and make progress towards our carbon reduction and renewable energy targets. This will provide the basis for a more sustainable approach to future low-carbon electricity investment. Consistent with this, in the autumn the Government will set out their plans in respect of the next contract for difference allocation round.
In line with keeping bills as low as possible and ensuring that markets work for consumers, we are proposing to introduce competition to the way our networks deliver electricity, which will open up the energy market to innovation and could potentially save British bill payers £390 million over 10 years. The role that United Kingdom businesses can play in meeting the United Kingdom’s climate change targets is undoubted. By incentivising reductions in energy consumption and emissions, the Government are giving business the tools to achieve that goal. Likewise, by cutting red tape and bureaucracy and creating a simple energy tax system that rewards energy and carbon saving, we are empowering businesses to increase productivity, support growth and ensure their place in a competitive global market. We want to collaborate with industry and the wider green economy sector to ensure that we develop a framework for simplicity and stability.
With regard to North Sea oil and gas, the Bill will complete the work started in the previous Parliament to implement fully the recommendations of Sir Ian Wood’s review into United Kingdom offshore oil and gas recovery and its regulation. The Bill is evidence of our continued commitment to support development of North Sea oil and gas. The United Kingdom’s oil and gas industry is of national importance and makes a substantial contribution to the United Kingdom’s economy, energy security and employment.
The Bill will build on the establishment of the Oil and Gas Authority—OGA—on 1 April 2011 as an executive agency of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and the powers taken in the Infrastructure Act 2015 to establish the principle of maximising economic recovery in the United Kingdom continental shelf. The Bill has been welcomed by Oil & Gas UK, the trade association for the industry. The chief executive, Deirdre Michie, recently said:
“The OGA is a critical catalyst for the work being done to sustain offshore oil and gas activity and the Bill aims to provide the new regulator with the tools and capabilities it will need to do the job effectively and efficiently so we support its swift passage through Parliament. The provisions contained in the Bill complete the implementation of Sir Ian Wood’s recommendations for MER UK – Maximising Economic Recovery from the UK Continental Shelf”.
The Bill will formally establish the OGA as an independent regulator, which would take the form of a government-owned company, and transfer regulatory powers and functions to the OGA, providing it with new powers to be an effective steward and regulator of petroleum recovery.
Implementing the Wood review recommendations will be done in a way that is compatible with our climate change targets. The 2011 Carbon Plan noted that Britain will still need significant oil and gas supplies while we decarbonise our economy and transition to a low-carbon economy. Maximising recovery by increasing efficiency of production, as well as increasing levels of production of the United Kingdom’s oil and gas, will help to maintain security of supply as well as boost growth and jobs. In 2014, oil produced on the United Kingdom continental shelf was equivalent to around 56% of United Kingdom oil-product demand, while gas produced in the United Kingdom was equivalent to just over half of United Kingdom gas demand. Any oil and gas demand that we do not produce ourselves has to be met by imports, at significant extra cost to the economy. The falling oil price makes effective stewardship of North Sea oil and gas all the more important, as the oil and gas industry in the United Kingdom supports an estimated 375,000 jobs. With industry collaboration and facilitation by the OGA, we will help to drive down costs and improve efficiencies across the sector.
Your Lordships may recall that the March Budget also introduced a number of measures that will help encourage more than £4 billion of additional investment in the United Kingdom’s oil and gas industry over the next five years. Petroleum revenue tax is to be cut from 50% to 35% to support continued production in older fields, while the existing supplementary charge for oil companies is to be cut from 30% to 20%, backdated to January. The Government will also invest in new seismic surveys of underexplored areas of the United Kingdom’s continental shelf.
The Bill will make retrospective provision protecting the taxpayer from liability for historic fees which have been charged, and prospectively enable more comprehensive charging of the offshore oil and gas industry for permits and licences for environmental and decommissioning activity. I thank the Select Committee on the Constitution for its recent report on the retrospective power in the Bill. The Government believe that it is right to protect the taxpayer from the costs of regulating the industry, under the “polluter pays” principle, and will respond to the Select Committee’s report before Committee stage.
Moving to onshore wind, decarbonisation must work in particular for the local communities where infrastructure is built. So the Bill makes provision, alongside new planning guidance, to give local people the final say on new onshore wind development applications in their area. The Government made a manifesto commitment to change the law so that local people have the final say on onshore wind applications and the Bill is part of the Government’s delivery of that commitment, alongside forthcoming secondary legislation and the new considerations for applications for planning permission announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
The Bill also helps to deliver the Government’s manifesto commitment to end new public subsidy for onshore wind by bringing forward the closure of the renewables obligation to new onshore wind in Great Britain one year earlier than previously planned. This was a clear and unambiguous manifesto commitment. We have made a great start with renewable power and we will want to be in the best possible position to decarbonise the economy in a cost-effective way, so we will be pushing for an ambitious deal in Paris. We have made excellent progress so far. In 2014, 19% of electricity generation was from renewable sources. We are on track to meet our ambition of 30% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and the Bill will not change that.
In 2014, operational onshore wind farms in Great Britain received in the region of £800 million under the renewables obligation. We would expect this to increase to £1.1 billion per year if, as expected, a total of around 11.6 gigawatts of onshore wind comes forward under the renewables obligation. We are therefore taking action to provide us with better control of spending on subsidies and we will ensure that bill payers continue to get value for money as we move to a low-carbon economy.
In conclusion, this Bill seeks to reform onshore wind subsidies and put more power in the hands of local people to make decisions on the development of new wind farms in their area. This Bill will help to support jobs and growth by reinvigorating our domestic oil and gas industry. I believe that the measures in the Bill will keep Britain on the road to economic recovery and secure our energy supplies. I thank noble Lords for their engagement in this progress today. I look forward to a good debate today and throughout the progress of this Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, energy policy and its development are necessarily long term, with objectives that endure through many Parliaments across all shades of Government. The UK faces a huge challenge to its energy supplies as sources of power come to the end of their useful life, to which Governments must respond with new sources and new infrastructure. The Energy Bill before your Lordships’ House today reflects both these elements and I thank the Minister for his comprehensive introduction and explanation.
I somehow sense that the Minister is already on the back foot, as he spent the first four minutes of his remarks putting up defensive statements around renewable energy policy. However, there is much in this Bill that is to be commended and has our support, helping as it does the UK oil and gas industry prolong the benefits of North Sea oil reserves. Industry has widely welcomed the OGA proposals. However, we believe that more could be done. With respect to the other main provision of the Bill, regarding a new energy source of onshore wind generation, there is much in the Bill that we believe spreads alarm and fear across the renewable energy market.
The main provisions of the Bill implement the recommendations of the Wood review by putting the Oil and Gas Authority on a statutory basis to maximise the economic recovery of petroleum from the UK’s continental shelf. We agree with this and welcome the MER—maximising economic recovery—strategy.
Part 1 of the Bill relates to the OGA and its core functions. Clause 4 will provide for matters to which the OGA must have regard when exercising its functions. The Bill lists five: namely, minimising future public expenditure, securing the UK’s supply of energy, collaborating with government and industry, encouraging innovation in technology and working practices, and maintaining a stable and predictable system of regulation. We contend that another very important aspect should be added, namely that the OGA must have regard to environmental impacts of activity in tandem with the Climate Change Act 2008. We will want to examine this in Committee.
Other measures in the Bill regarding the OGA provide additional powers in relation to its necessary activities between government, the Secretary of State and the wider industry of licence holders and operators. The Minister has outlined these provisions expertly. However, it is important to recognise that the North Sea supports hundreds of thousands of jobs—more than 400,000. We must look to the future of the North Sea, beyond extracting the last useful drops of oil, and to what employment it could provide. The Bill contains no measures to ensure that infrastructure is not lost when companies decide to abandon their operations. Either to salvage important assets or to stifle potential exploitation by others in the future, companies may well take infrastructure assets with them, making it all the more difficult to establish future projects.
The UK continental shelf supply chain is an integral part of a valuable industrial sector, which generated a turnover of more than £35 billion in 2012—including exports worth £15 billion per year—and which has historically been the largest contributor to the Treasury. The OGA, together with the Oil and Gas Environment and Decommissioning Unit, should ensure continued economic activity in the North Sea. This could include ensuring that infrastructure assets that could be reused later are preserved. Much of this infrastructure could be used in the storage of carbon dioxide. The Bill gives the OGA powers to license sites for CO2 storage but does not do nearly enough to ensure that the necessary infrastructure to transport and store CO2 remains in place. This is happening as part of the Peterhead CCS project.
The Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House has drawn attention to the retroactive aspects of the Bill at Clause 58, which would validate fees already charged by the Oil and Gas Environment and Decommissioning Unit. Although retrospective provisions are generally to be avoided at all times, the Constitution Committee recognises that these provisions do not retrospectively criminalise any conduct or seem to unpick any judicial decisions. The provisions cover the levy of a narrow set of fees and the Minister has given further reasons today in his remarks for the need to retain the fees already levied. I thank him for that.
Although the majority of the Bill is devoted to providing certainty of benefits for investors in offshore oil and gas, the two clauses that deal with onshore wind as a future energy source do the exact opposite for investors in renewable energy. These changes to the financial support for onshore wind threaten the future of 19,000 jobs supported by that sector. These changes certainly curtail future development of the lowest-cost source of low-carbon power, and by setting dangerous precedents for other renewable sources of energy, investor confidence in a stable UK business environment is being shattered.
The first of the two clauses on wind power devolves the decision-making on planning applications for schemes larger than 50 megawatts to local authorities. This is all very commendable and, so far, we can all agree—except when it is put against guidance issued by DCLG on 18 June that local authorities may only issue planning permission for sites “already identified as suitable” as part of a local or neighbourhood plan. Several authorities, such as Mid Devon District Council and North West Leicestershire District Council, have indicated that this means, far from local authorities being consulted, they will have to reject outright any applications for onshore wind farms, as they have no sites allocated in their local or neighbourhood plans.
The second clause puts an end to public subsidies for new onshore wind farms under the renewables obligation one year early. This sudden change to the renewables obligation is particularly damaging. Closing it one year ahead of schedule means projects that have already received investment and incurred expenditure may not now go ahead. The last Government brought forward plans to close the renewables obligation in 2017, and no indication was given that it would be closed any earlier. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, told the House in a Written Answer in January this year:
“No further comprehensive banding review is planned for the RO scheme”.
The Independent Renewable Energy Generators group estimates that members in the advanced stages of projects have aggregate onshore wind investments of £1.2 billion, with sunk costs either already spent or contractually committed totalling £350 million. A sense of dismay is felt throughout the renewable investor market that this Government cannot be relied on.
The Minister stated that there will be a grace period with three key criteria to enable projects to qualify, namely that a development must have received planning consent, accepted a grid connection offer and have a land lease agreement in place. However, the Government have not specified dates nor taken the lead to contact the estimated 250 projects affected. That this number is put forward would suggest that the Minister’s department has done a jobs and supply-chain sector impact assessment. Can the Minister say whether the department did undertake an impact assessment before the announcement of 27 June? It would an astonishing omission if an impact assessment had not been undertaken, which would be the inference without an answer from the noble Lord. If he can confirm that an impact assessment has been made, will the Minister publish it?
The lack of clarity in the timescale and other important elements of the grace period mean that project financing and development may be delayed, potentially causing eligible projects to fail. The knock-on effect on the confidence of renewable investors into other areas is extremely damaging. As the company E.ON said:
“This jeopardises the reputation of the UK as a stable and attractive market to invest in”.
Long term, that can only be to the detriment of the UK citizen. However, to undermine the future role that onshore wind can play is not inevitable. Although we share the Government’s desire to reduce the costs, we believe that it can be achieved without deterring investment. Companies could still make positive investment decisions based on the grace period proposals with some modest government actions. Will the Government come forward with reassurances and proposals?
These changes make it all the more difficult and expensive for the UK to meet international obligations on renewable targets. In June, the European Commission released a report showing that we are falling behind the trajectory necessary to achieve the UK national target. This comprises three elements: heat, transport and electricity. On transport, the aim is for 10% of transport fuel by 2020 to come from renewable sources. The UK is at present only at 3.5%. On heat, the target is 15% from renewable sources, when the present level is only 4.9%. Yes, on electricity the UK is on track. Yet the Bill may well jeopardise that achievement. What assessment have the Government made of the likelihood of achieving a virtually carbon-free electricity sector by 2030 following the impact of the Bill?
What estimates have the Government made of the effects of these changes on the overall cost of creating a carbon-free electricity sector by 2030? Will the Government commit to maintaining support for onshore wind through the contracts for difference scheme and feed-in tariffs up to the end of 2020, although at a reduced capped price of £80 per megawatt hour? At this price, the Committee on Climate Change has stated that onshore wind could be deemed to be subsidy free when compared with the full cost of unabated gas. By reducing the rollout of onshore wind, meeting 2030 and 2050 decarbonisation objectives will require alternative technologies, which may well ultimately increase costs for consumers given that onshore wind is one of the most cost-effective energy technologies. In contracts for difference, onshore wind has a strike price of £95 compared with £155 for offshore wind.
The Bill severely limits the cheapest way of meeting UK targets. The Bill will increase consumers’ bills and make it more expensive for the UK to decarbonise. The Bill represents a potential wrong turn. The Government must work hard to bring forward the necessary investment still so needed to transform the UK’s energy sector. The Government must not let this become a missed opportunity.
My Lords, before I begin, I declare one or two interests. I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association, president of the Sustainable Energy Association and vice-president of National Energy Action, which is a fuel poverty charity. If we are serious about tackling climate change we need not only to reduce the amount of carbon we produce but to make sure we find sustainable solutions for our energy needs. In scrutinising the Energy Bill, the Liberal Democrat Benches will be looking to see how it stands up to those criteria.
As has already been made clear, the Bill falls into two parts. We want to maximise the potential of our North Sea oil and gas reserves but we are also planning to change the way we subsidise and plan onshore wind power. The first is by far the greatest part of the Bill. It implements, as we have heard, the recommendations of the Wood review into maximising the economic recovery of oil and gas from the North Sea, which was set up during the previous coalition Government under the leadership of the right honourable Ed Davey, who was Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
As we have heard, it establishes the Oil and Gas Authority, which will be an independent regulator, but it also transfers functions from the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. It would seem in many ways to be the least controversial part of the Bill. It looks forward and sets out a long-term framework, and I understand that it draws quite closely on what Norway has done to maximise its gas reserves in the North Sea. Last year, I was part of a parliamentary delegation to Norway, and we had a series of meetings and presentations in Stavanger about how Norway has made the most of its oil and gas resources in the past and its plans for the future.
As we have already heard from the Minister, the North Sea is very important to us. It provides 56% of our oil product and just over half of our gas demand. There is every reason to believe that there is the potential to supply a significant proportion of our needs to 2020. Indeed, we know that these resources are needed as we transition to a low-carbon future. We also know that large numbers of jobs are involved—the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said more than 400,000, although my figure is a bit less than that. Particularly where I come from in the north-east of England, this is a very important contribution to our economy.
Those involved with North Sea oil and gas extraction support the recommendations of the Wood review, but consultations on the levy that will fund the oil and gas body are still ongoing. I understand that the levy structure and amounts will be introduced through secondary legislation, under powers contained in the Infrastructure Act 2015, and that the Government are still analysing the feedback from the consultation. Will the Minister be able to give us this information before the Committee stage of the Bill in September?
There are numerous points in the Bill where the Secretary of State is given powers to make regulations. When will we get details of these? We are in recess between now and Committee, and the ability for scrutiny of secondary legislation is somewhat limited. However, I have no doubt that this House will, as usual, give thorough scrutiny to this part of the Bill in due course.
The second area covered by the Bill is onshore wind, and this is somewhat more controversial. Clause 59 changes the planning regime for onshore wind turbines and Clause 60 changes the closure date of the renewables obligation for this sector. The Department of Energy and Climate Change briefing for the Bill claims that onshore wind has deployed successfully to date, and that we have enough onshore wind in the pipeline to meet our 2020 aim of generating 30% of electricity from renewable resources. Have the Government at any time indicated that this was the point at which they would consider changing their commitment to subsidy for onshore wind? Is the Minister aware that RenewableUK, which represents the wind and marine energy sectors, does not agree with DECC’s analysis of the situation, saying:
“The share of renewable electricity will need to increase if we are to meet out 2020 renewables target. Ruling out … further contribution from onshore will increase our dependence on more expensive technologies and, hence, the cost of meeting the 2020 renewables target and longer-term low carbon reduction objectives”.
The Minister must be aware—the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, talked about this—that this change of direction sends a terrible message to those prepared to develop all forms of renewables and, equally and very importantly, puts off those who are prepared to provide finance for projects. Again, I quote from RenewableUK, which says:
“Early RO closure threatens investor confidence in the stability of UK energy policy and increases the risk premium attached to energy infrastructure investments—projects which make up the largest part of the national infrastructure pipeline identified by the Treasury. Confidence has been further undermined by the retroactive cut to LECS”—
and, indeed, by the announcements that I woke up to on Radio 4 this morning.
Many of the UK’s independent renewable-power developers and generators have collectively invested millions of pounds in onshore wind generation. They point to the commitment given by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, at the beginning of this year and pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. It is clear that removing the support mechanism for onshore wind has the potential to destroy investor confidence in the wider energy market, putting investment in all energy infrastructure at risk. Wind, as has already been noted, is the lowest-cost source of low-carbon power we have. Without onshore wind, British bill-payers will have to pay hundreds of millions of pounds more every year as more expensive alternative technologies are substituted for it. Uncertainty around the arrangements for grace periods needs to be removed at the earliest opportunity if we are not to lose valuable projects that are already in the pipeline. What information can the Minister give us on these matters today?
Turning to the changes in the planning regime for onshore wind, it is not clear to me exactly how this will work. We on these Benches have always believed in devolution but believing in devolution when you come late to it means that sometimes you do not always carry it out in a way that works and is democratic. I am still not clear how the changes will work. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, about his concerns about this. I hope that our deliberations in Committee will give more clarity, especially as it seems that so much of the detail will be in secondary legislation.
Finally, I should like to dwell for a moment on two areas that have not been considered: energy efficiency and fuel poverty. Can the Minister explain a little more clearly how the measures in this Bill support the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s work,
“to power the economy with clean, secure, affordable energy supplies while keeping bills as low as possible for hard-working people and businesses”?
We know that meeting the UK’s energy needs through increased domestic energy efficiency can reduce the UK’s dependence on imported fossil fuels, so it does increase our energy security. It is also a part of tackling fuel poverty at the same time as supporting many other national priorities, including carbon reduction, reduced pressure on general practices and emergency services, economic development and regeneration, to name but a few. Currently, not £1 of the UK’s public infrastructure budget has been spent on initiatives to make homes warmer and healthier and to, in turn, encourage economic growth. This is in spite of Her Majesty’s Treasury receiving a significant windfall from domestic energy consumers, some of whom are in fuel poverty.
In the first few months of this new Government, we have found it very disappointing to see us moving a little backwards in our efforts to combat climate change. It is particularly so in the light of the joint pledge made in the last Parliament. Only last February, Mr Cameron, Mr Clegg and Mr Miliband agreed a pledge to tackle climate change which they said would protect the United Kingdom’s national security and economic prosperity. The pledge committed them to seeking a fair, strong, legally binding, global climate deal which limits temperature rises to below 2 degrees centigrade and to work across party lines to agree UK carbon budgets and accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy-efficient, low-carbon economy. My colleagues on these Benches, particularly my noble friend Lord Purvis, will enlarge on some of these matters later in the debate. Meanwhile, I have indicated the thrust of how we on these Liberal Democrat Benches view the Energy Bill. I look forward to the Minister’s response to some of my questions and to our deliberations when we return from the Recess in September.
My Lords, I declare an interest as honorary president of the Energy Industries Council, chair of the Windsor Energy Group, adviser to Mitsubishi Electric Europe and, recently, president of the British Institute of Energy Economics. I have four points to put to your Lordships. First, I hope that this Bill, which the Minister has presented so ably, is the harbinger of more changes to come. Our energy policy is one of the less happy legacies of the previous coalition Government and major alterations are badly needed in the light of changed circumstances.
To this day, the trilemma facing our energy policymakers—to combine affordability, reliability and decarbonisation—remains totally unresolved. As we know, energy costs and bills are through the roof, causing much suffering. It is ridiculous in an advanced society that energy and fuel banks have to be opened to help vulnerable people to avoid freezing, or that Tata Steel has to lay off hundreds of workers because of “cripplingly high electricity costs”. This is self-harm on a grand scale.
Meanwhile, the electricity supply system has become precarious, with safety margins still much too narrow—although I believe that National Grid will manage to cope, just—and new gas turbine capacity is not being built nearly fast enough. This is despite heroic attempts, which we in this House are all familiar with, by the Government to induce more investors to come forward and put money into new gas generating plant: for example, by guaranteeing plant revenues and other devices that we have discussed at great length.
As for decarbonisation, emissions from our home production may be down but carbon leakage and imports mean that the actual emissions embedded in our consumption patterns are way up. Even if they were not, one has to ask what all this is doing for climate change, which is our main concern. I know the theory is that it will work by example and, like others, I hope that other countries around the globe will agree at the forthcoming Paris conference to new and binding CO2 limits, which the Minister mentioned. However, with over 2,000 new coal-burning generators being planned or built around the world, and when one hears the determination of Indian leaders, come what may, to go for massively increased coal to get cheap power for development, one has to wonder to what extent our efforts so far are making an impact on the real issue of combating climate change.
I hope that the Bill is the beginning of something better, with resources going less to endless subsidies to high-cost renewables and more to the research and technology that will get costs down and make green power cheaper and cleaner. I look forward to green power that can make do without subsidies at all. I can easily understand the dismay, which we have heard about, of those who have invested and planned on the assumption that subsidies and support would stay the same for ever and a day. However, once they get too high—too good to be true, as it were, and for some investors that has certainly been the case—common sense ought to warn that Ministers and officials can change, Governments come and go, the mood may change and public money may run out. The wisest guidance there is not “Invest more” but “Put not too much trust in princes”. If the true climate impact of our efforts globally is small, though important; if energy reliability has become less, not more; and if the environmental effect is negative, as it is for many people, the voter and the taxpayer are bound to ask what on earth they are paying the premium for and why. Subsidies and support prices are bound to be capped; the only surprise is why it was not done, and did not start, earlier.
Secondly, I come to the major part of the clauses in the Bill, concerned with the Oil and Gas Authority. I hope that it will be strong enough to cope with the long string of problems that the North Sea now faces. The chief of these will be the weak oil price for a long while to come. We are moving into an area of major oil and gas surplus, not only because of the vast American shale oil and gas expansion but because Iran will shortly be adding a few million barrels a day to the market and Saudi Arabia is pumping more than ever. On the demand side the outlook is flat, with even Chinese oil thirst slowing down. With strong supply and weak demand, it does not take a rocket scientist to see where that points. There may be spikes to come in the oil price from so-called high-impact events in the Middle East but the trend is down, down, down. That is going to place considerable strains on North Sea oil and gas producers and all the ancillary industries surrounding and supporting them. I hope very much that the new authority is going to be able, and will have the powers, to cope with the enormous challenges ahead.
My third point is that in everything to do with renewables, as in this Bill, we are of course governed by EU energy policy. This, as we know, vacillates but is currently dominated by the need to reduce dependence on Russian gas. Like our own policy, EU energy policy has been badly wrong-footed by events and needs constant overhauling. Stupendous errors have been made, and I hope and trust that one of the key points in the negotiations on EU reform being held by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will be the need for radical changes in the way that energy policy is handled between the EU Commission and member states.
Fourthly, in closing off in Clause 60 the renewables obligation for future new onshore wind—that is, the obligation on energy companies to buy highly expensive wind power electricity—one is bound to ask: who next? How and where will the levy control framework next be applied? The Minister gave some strong hints on that but we read in the papers today that maybe small solar farms will be the next in line.
By far the biggest obligation, or future burden, on consumers and households is the Hinkley Point C nuclear project. I am very pro nuclear and pro its low-carbon contribution but this must be one of the worst deals ever for British households and British industry. Furthermore, the component suppliers to EDF are in trouble, costs keep rising, no reactor of this kind has ever been completed successfully, those that are being built are years behind and workers at the site have been laid off, so personally I would shed no tears at all if the elephantine Hinkley Point C project were abandoned in favour of smaller and possibly cheaper nuclear plants a bit later on. A far better hope lies with the Japanese nuclear plants at Wylfa and Moorside. The Japanese can build quicker with more tested and reliable reactor designs, and, because of cheap gas for years to come, we will not need them so soon anyway. I would very much like to hear the Minister’s assessment of what is happening on this front.
When it comes to decarbonising world energy, what happens in India and China is far more important than anything we do on renewables here. I hope that in all our energy priorities and in our handling of relations with the great Indian nation we will keep this in perspective. It is in the technology and innovation to reduce renewable costs, to make storage commercial and to push up energy efficiency at all stages of the power supply chain, and in the cleaner burning of coal across Asia, in particular, that our salvation lies, not in offering soaring and uncapped subsidies. We need to decarbonise but at an affordable and manageable pace, and that is where our resource priorities should now be directed. I hope that this Bill is a modest start in that direction.
My Lords, I refer to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests in that I am a non-executive director of the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, a government-funded initiative to develop technology in the offshore renewable energy field. It is funded by BIS through Innovate UK. In a little while I shall refer again to the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult but for a very specific reason.
There is much in the Bill that I support. I learned a very long time ago that, whenever Sir Ian Wood says something about the oil and gas industry, one should listen very closely. He has considerable expertise and focuses very rapidly on the key issues. Indeed, the review that he conducted for the coalition Government merits detailed consideration during the passage of this Bill because it refers to a lot of the detail that we need to take into account to ensure that we sustain an industry in which, quite frankly, we are world leaders.
My noble friend Lord Grantchester talked about the infrastructure, which we need to maintain. One area that I am concerned about—and here I agree with my noble friend—is the supply chain, but particularly the supply chain as it applies to people. Our skills in oil and gas technology lead the world. I speak with a degree of passion on this issue because people have tended to forget that some years ago the oil price dropped to $10 a barrel, at a time when every major company was doing its sums on $28 a barrel. We looked hard in the eye at the prospect of decommissioning. We saw carriers in Scottish sea lochs, nose to tail for mile after mile. The thing that scared the living daylights out of me was the dramatic reduction in applications to study offshore oil and gas technology at Robert Gordon Institute in Aberdeen, now Robert Gordon University—another world-leading institute. This is not a partisan point but the then Labour Government put considerable effort and impact into the oil majors. For the first time ever, we got the oil majors around the table to consider what this challenge would mean for the industry. We managed to protect that supply chain and regenerate interest in offshore technologies. In fact, some years later, I was to see the benefits of it when I was walking through the central business district in Perth, Western Australia, and was greeted with that elegant Scottish phrase, “Gaun yersel, Mrs Liddell!”. Many of the oil and gas specialists became international specialists and would fly into and out of, for example, the Timor Sea area because they have expertise in deep water.
I am labouring that point to the Minister because there is something I want him to look at. I have a great interest in offshore renewable energy, as I have mentioned. Many of the skills from our technologies in oil and gas in the North Sea are transferable. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, pointed out, we have a dramatically declining oil price. We should consider the Iranian situation, and I am beginning to hear talk about the oil price coming down to $40 a barrel. This is emergency territory. We must not lose our expertise. I am not going to bounce the Minister into an answer today, and perhaps he would be kind enough to write to me, or perhaps we could meet. However, I ask him to look at a proposal called OASIS, which has come from the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult. It aim is to take people from the oil and gas offshore industry and second them into the catapult of other organisations to allow the transfer of research and development capability in the North Sea, particularly as regards deep water. I am asking him to look at that early because the Oil and Gas Authority could consider it, and that needs to be done more quickly than it will take us to complete the proceedings on this Bill. At an early stage, there is a need to triage the significant R&D projects that could be imperilled as a consequence of the low oil price and to map where that kind of innovation and R&D capability could move across to offshore renewable technologies.
The second opportunity would be in development projects such as floating offshore wind capability—something I have plucked from mid-air. It might even put a smile on the face of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, who is known to be extremely sceptical about these issues. However, we have rigs, capabilities and semi-submersibles out in the North Sea. Can we look at the possibility of using them for offshore renewable technologies? My third point is that we have an opportunity to become global leaders in these technologies. Co-ordination and co-operation with the Oil and Gas Authority can bring this to fruition.
I make one slight diversion into the issue of onshore and solar energy. I am not going to go into whether onshore wind or small-scale solar are wonderful. What I will say is that anything that mucks about with the regime for these industries affects investor confidence, and that is what we really need to work on at the moment.
I am never sure whether we can refer to strangers in this Chamber, but I saw the Energy Minister standing at the Bar of the House. She was looking remarkably well. In her position, I would be losing sleep. There are real concerns about security of supply. A major outage in the United Kingdom could put us in an extremely perilous position, and that is a strategic issue. The last thing we need at the moment is uncertainty around energy investment.
I was tempted by the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, when he referred to Hinkley Point. Like him, I am a great advocate of nuclear energy. But, frankly, the proposal for a new generation of nuclear is at the dog’s breakfast stage. Something needs to be done and it needs to be done quickly because we need the energy and we need the capabilities. There is no way of shirking that. If we do not do something about our own nuclear industry, we will be importing French nuclear electricity. We really need to get our act together on this. If it takes cross-party discussions then for goodness’ sake let us do it. It is too important to leave to a whim and the bargaining power of EDF—a monopoly is not a good situation to be in.
My main plea is that I hope we will have an opportunity to address the strategic issues in the course of this legislation. I am slightly worried by the conclusions of the Constitution Committee, but that is undoubtedly something we will look at in more detail as the Bill goes through its processes in September. I pay tribute to Sir Ian Wood’s work. What he has put together is essential for our energy security. I make a sincere plea to the Minister and his department. I work on the figure of 375,000 jobs in the offshore oil and gas industry. We lead the world. Let us build on that leadership in the world and recognise that oil and gas capability can be transferred to offshore renewable capability. Let us seize the moment.
My Lords, I see this Bill as something of a curate’s egg: it is good in parts but less good in others. My main concern is less about the details of the Bill and more about the lack of an overall strategic framework for energy into which we can fit it.
The first part of the Bill deals with North Sea oil and gas—and here I should declare an interest as honorary president of the Carbon Capture & Storage Association. The decision to follow the main recommendations of the Wood review is exceedingly welcome. Although the overall demand for oil and gas is likely to decline with increasing use of renewables, that same increase will increase the need for dispatchable energy. Currently, that need is mostly met by gas and it makes sense to reduce our dependence on imports and to make maximum use of our North Sea resource.
The proposed OGA arrangements are broadly welcomed by the industry, as several noble Lords said. However, for them to work effectively, as indeed the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said, it is essential that the detail is right. As this Bill progresses, we should look at that in much more detail and consider what will be put into secondary legislation. One question that the Minister might be able to clear up today is: how many civil servants and at what level is it intended will be transferred from DECC to the Oil and Gas Authority? Furthermore, what oil and gas expertise will remain within DECC to ensure that the department can provide intelligent and informed oversight of the authority?
I turn now to the part of the Bill that relates to wind energy. The Government must recognise that the two provisions in the Bill, one relating to the closure of the ROC scheme one year earlier than originally advertised and the other relating to planning consents for wind farms, will together be seen as a government cold shoulder for onshore wind. It is hard to see how this is consistent with the declared intention of decarbonising our economy in the least expensive way. I do not know whether the Minister is familiar with the review of onshore wind completed by the Baringa Partners consultancy in April of this year, but even if he is not, his officials will be. Using DECC documentation and assumptions, the review shows that after landfill gas, onshore wind provides potentially lower strike prices than any other renewable technology. This finding led to the conclusion that, “Based on DECC’s assumptions, onshore wind is the cheapest source of renewable generation available to the UK today for deployment at significant scale”. It would be helpful to know whether the department accepts those Baringa conclusions. There may well be good reasons why UK onshore wind capacity should not exceed the 12 gigawatts that the department seems to have in mind, but if so, it would be useful to know what they are.
The onshore wind industry in the UK—as distinct from the offshore industry, about which we have talked a little, and is more capital intensive—is one that owes much of its growth to small companies. Indeed, for several years I was the chairman of such a company. The fact that many of these companies are small makes them particularly vulnerable to abrupt changes in government policy. Delayed or cancelled programmes can result in fatal cash-flow problems, or at best simply increase the cost of capital. For these reasons, can the Minister assure the House that he will consider sympathetically representations made on behalf of smaller firms in respect of significant sunk costs that do not fall within the currently proposed period of grace within which planned projects may proceed? I think that this would be seen as a sympathetic gesture by the industry as a whole.
An even better way to decarbonise than wind is not to use the energy in the first place, but rather to save it, particularly in domestic housing. In that case, does the Minister not feel that the decarbonising efforts of his department are being undermined by the Government’s decision to countermand the previously advertised new regulations for low-carbon building that were due to come into force this year? As he will know, there are now companies in the UK that offer to build new, low-cost, near zero-carbon housing at the same price or better than conventional housing. I find this decision particularly odd in the light of a remark made yesterday by the Secretary of State to a Select Committee in the other place: “I am particularly ambitious in the area of energy efficiency”. The decision adds to the impression that there is no cross-government cohesion on energy policy.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to the massive impact of the commissioning of coal-fired power stations in India and China, and he is absolutely right. Unless the environmental effects of those are brought under control, what we do in Europe really will not have a great effect. What we are doing in this country, which is of considerable importance, is pushing ahead with carbon capture and storage. The main aim of our policy has to be to drive down the costs of CCS to a level at which the technology can be applied—in many cases retrospectively—to coal-fired power stations, particularly in developing countries, but also in other parts of the world. Cost will be the crucial factor.
Turning now to the broader policy context within which this Bill is presented, it is general knowledge that the Government have energy problems. It will be very difficult to keep costs within the arbitrary cap of the levy control framework. It was, and remains, difficult to predict how the EMR would work in detail, how fossil fuel prices will change and how new technologies and other variables will affect us. However, there is a wide perception, particularly in the investment community, that the Government’s support for decarbonisation in general and renewables in particular is incoherent, unconvinced and half-hearted. I am not saying that this is truly the case, but it is widely believed to be so.
Abrupt changes in previously announced policies to save relatively small sums make the Government appear penny wise and pound foolish, and it saps confidence. As long as that remains the case, decarbonisation industries will struggle to find investors. I conclude by pointing out that in a survey of its members published in June this year by the Energy Institute, the professional body for the energy industry, energy policy was identified as the greatest concern. If the Minister can help dispel these doubts and uncertainties, he will do a great service both to the country and to an important part of British industry.
My Lords, I declare my energy interests, as listed in the register, mainly in unsubsidised coal, although I also have much smaller indirect interests in wood, wind and grain ethanol.
I shall confine my remarks mainly to the renewables and wind parts of this Bill. I welcome, like others, the Oil and Gas Authority, and strongly welcome the Bill. At last we can see an end to the ruination of many parts of the British landscape, funded by regressive hidden taxation and carried out by crony capitalism. In particular, Northumberland has borne more than its fair share of the onshore wind industry, as we discussed in a debate in this place a few months ago. It is welcome, therefore, to know that this might come to an end.
We have heard a lot from the Benches opposite about the plight of wealthy investors in wind power in the coming months. It is time to hear of the needs of ordinary working people on whom the cost of the renewable energy subsidy burden has disproportionately fallen in recent years. I am proud of the fact that it is a Conservative Government who are standing up for ordinary people to try to halt the runaway cost and overspend that has happened in this industry. I congratulate the Secretary of State, through my noble friend the Minister, on tackling the grandfathering of biomass, as announced this morning, a technology that produces more carbon dioxide than coal. I urge the Secretary of State to push ahead urgently with the early closure of the renewable obligation to under five megawatt solar farms. A five megawatt solar farm needs 25 acres of land, and a policy that distorts the market to switch land from producing food to producing extremely expensive and unreliable energy is a bad policy.
By the way, it is a myth that is being repeated here today that onshore wind is the cheapest renewable. It is not. Hydro is cheaper; biomass is usually cheaper; and, as we have heard, landfill gas is cheaper. So we should not fall into the error of thinking that it is by far the cheapest.
Please note that the measures announced today, and those in this Bill, will not achieve the Government’s stated priority of:
“Reducing energy bills for hard working British families and businesses”,
as the cost of renewable subsidies will still double by 2020. Bills will still go up, not down, and this will be the case even if wholesale gas prices fall. The Secretary of State’s announcement today includes a table that confirms that we are on course to spend £1.5 billion more a year by 2020 than the levy control framework limit—that is, £9.1 billion instead of £7.6 billion. That means a £20 billion overspend cumulatively.
The Renewable Energy Foundation, and John Constable, its director, in particular, have predicted exactly this situation for a number of years, and today’s announcement precisely confirms their predictions. The REF figures, based on the Government’s own planning database, suggest that we have 49 gigawatts of consented capacity for renewables, which would generate roughly 148 terawatt hours of electrical energy, which is 34% over the 110 terawatt hours needed to meet the 2020 target. This is probably an underestimate as it omits small-scale solar photovoltaic, existing unsubsidised hydro and sub-10 kilowatt generation. Then, there is a further 14.7 gigawatts of renewable capacity pending in the planning system. If that was all built, we would have a 67% overshoot of the 2020 target for renewables. So we have to slow down this spend, and we have to grasp the nettle that it has to be slowed down offshore as well as onshore. Almost half the renewable electricity that we will get in 2020 will come from offshore wind. Notwithstanding the hopes of the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, will the Government confirm that there will not be a huge expansion of contracts for difference for offshore wind in the wake of these announcements?
We have to address the environmental problems created by the mad wind rush we have seen in recent years and the damage caused to landscapes, peat, birds, human health and tourism. I draw my noble friend the Minister’s attention to a 10-minute rule Bill introduced yesterday by David Davis MP, in which he pointed out that many wind companies are not liable for any damage that is proved against them in terms of nuisance because they are now shell companies. That is a relatively new phenomenon. So who carries the cost of decommissioning these wind farms when they need to be decommissioned in the 2020s and 2030s?
I have a series of other questions for the Minister. He said that this measure is intended to give local people the final say. He will know that in the planning system there is, obviously, a right to appeal. Does giving local people the final say over onshore wind farms mean removing that right of appeal or in some way circumscribing it? I would like a little clarity on that, if possible.
There is some strange wording in Clause 60, on which I would like clarification, because it removes the right to renewables obligation certificates in 2016, but not the right to accredit or register for renewables obligation certificates after that. What is going on here? Would this allow speculative developers to still register after 2016 in the hope of a change in policy, a change in government or a fall in the price of wholesale electricity? It would be helpful to have a little clarity.
Finally, my noble friend the Minister said that decarbonisation makes economic sense. However, the figures that he gave me on 24 June, in answer to an Oral Question, confirm that the cost of decarbonisation using offshore wind or solar are £120 a tonne and £110 a tonne respectively under the renewables obligation, and this does not include many of the system costs. Yet these numbers are far higher than the cost of damage that climate change is likely to cause, brought forward to the present, even in the estimates by the noble Lord, Lord Stern, which do not exceed £50 per tonne. So there is a danger here that, in spending huge sums on decarbonisation, we are putting a tourniquet round our neck to stop a nosebleed.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of a fuel poverty charity and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. It is quite convenient to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley—at least he gives us a carte blanche to be a bit controversial. What we have just heard makes me move to one of the phrases from later in my speech: that one of the dangers here is that the Treasury has taken over DECC. But it is actually more profound than that. One of the dangers is that the climate sceptics have taken over the Treasury.
There are different perspectives, and not everything in the renewable field is lovely, aesthetically or economically. Nevertheless, I think that the recent decisions by the Government in relation to onshore wind and, indeed, solar power make a proper economic and effective contribution to renewables, to our decarbonisation programme and our security of supply of energy more difficult to attain rather than less.
It is true that this Bill is a pretty thin Bill as energy Bills go. There are only really two bits of it: one related to the OGA and one to effectively limiting the support and the ability to engage in onshore wind projects. I do not have much to say about the OGA; it is following through on decisions taken in the earlier Bill at the end of the last Parliament. I would, however, underline two questions that have already been asked. The first was from my noble friend Lady Liddell, regarding the OGA’s role in effecting the transfer of skills, infrastructure and connections from the offshore oil and gas system to offshore renewable projects. The second was asked by my noble friend Lord Grantchester: will the responsibilities of the OGA extend to the operation of carbon capture and storage, where the emptying North Sea gas and oil fields could provide ready-made storage not only for British operation of fossil fuel facilities accompanied by CCS but also for a large part of Europe as well?
The OGA at the moment is very focused on oil and gas as it is and will be for the next few years, but we need a complete transformation of the offshore system to be connected and to have a holistic arrangement with the still growing—we hope; I part company with the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, here—contribution of offshore wind and perhaps other technologies down the line.
Most of what I will say relates to the issue of the government changes in the cross-subsidy arrangements and the planning arrangements for wind, although it is part of a wider context because the Government have also announced changes relating to the climate change levy and issues related to solar. All of these are affecting both individual investments which are in the pipeline and the general confidence in a stable, forward-looking programme for investors in energy of all sorts, but particularly in the renewable field.
Bringing the end of ROCs forward by one year, as far as onshore wind is concerned, does not sound like a lot. However, if you are already engaged in a project that was relying on ROCs being available until 2017, it pulls the carpet from under such projects. It is, of course, understood that as the costs of technologies such as onshore wind and solar come down, the need for the subsidy diminishes. However, that should not be a precipitate change which will affect decisions already taken by investors, companies and planners on the basis that rebates announced only a few months ago by the Government would remain in place. Many noble Lords will no doubt have received representations on this front. It is clear that independent generators in particular are being contacted by investors asking what the hell is going on, because they thought that they had the economics worked out, that they had done the accountancy and that they understood the degree of government support which would come in the next few years, but suddenly that has changed.
Lest the Minister, the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and others think that this is just a few trade associations, green lobbyists and the opposition parties making a fuss about the changes, let me quote from a couple of individual companies involved in this field. A company which is involved in solar energy but also has interests in onshore wind has written to me and spelt out that,
“recent changes to RO on onshore wind, lack of clarity over CFDs and changes to the Climate Change Levy … have created uncertainty for the entire renewable industry. This has put jobs and renewable energy targets in serious jeopardy. Government policy has meant that access to finance for renewable projects is on hold, with now only a select few of projects in the pipeline likely to go forward. The Government’s confidence that there are enough renewables projects in the pipeline to meet renewable targets is far from guaranteed”.
That is from a relatively small company involved in this area. I also quote one of the big six which has invested heavily in this area. It states that its understanding was that:
“During the introduction of Electricity Market Reform”—
only about a year ago—
“the Government signalled to investors that there would be an orderly transition to the new framework. To aid this transition it was stated … that the Renewables Obligation … would remain … until 31st March 2017. This was accepted by investors … Since then we have seen the closure of the RO for solar PV schemes on 1st April … followed by the decision to close the RO for onshore wind twelve months earlier than previously indicated”.
This has caused consternation among boards and outside investors and,
“jeopardises the reputation of the UK as a stable and attractive”,
regime for investment. We have to remember that such investors have choices. Whether the investments are being made at the board level of large multinational energy companies or whether investors are going to the market for the funds, they need to see stability. The Government, by a number of individual decisions in aggregate, have caused that confidence to disappear.
There are better ways of doing this. Different timescales would have reflected the need to reduce support as the costs of producing the technology reduced—I recognise that and so do most of the companies—but once you have lost the confidence of the investor community and the boards of major multinational companies in there being a stable, proactive regime for investment in renewables, then you have lost it for a very long time. That jeopardises some of the targets which the Government have set. It may be true, as the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said, that it does not jeopardise that much the 2020 target, but it will certainly jeopardise projects which would otherwise have gone ahead and been rolled out from 2020 to 2025 and therefore the targets which are in the DECC plans—or what were the DECC plans, because we do not know quite whether those have changed—in terms of a renewables contribution and the level of decarbonisation as we go forward into the 2020s.
That is a mistake of cardinal importance on the part of the Government. It is not a good start for the new Conservative Government’s intervention. I would hope that they could recover from that. As the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, has just said, we need to see the total context in which this is working—we have yet to see it. In the mean time, it is important that this House recognises that what has been announced in the last few days and weeks makes much more difficult, and even more difficult to deliver, all aspects of what was previously a more or less consensual view on the way in which energy policy should go following electricity market reform. I do not think that that was the intention. The intention, according to the Secretary of State—and the Minister has repeated it this morning—was to make bills lower for the consumer. In no sense can bills be made lower for the consumer if we are cutting off one relatively low-cost renewable technology but paying very large sums of money—increasingly for the consumer and, to some extent, the taxpayer—for ones that are more expensive. This is not sensible economics. It is not a rational policy. I hope the Government can do better within a very short period of time.
My Lords, I admit to having been quite reassured when the Conservative manifesto was published back in April. It had two key comments on this area. One was that the Government were aiming very hard for a good solution and a good agreement in Paris at the end of this year, and I am sure that that is the Government’s true intent. The other one, which I almost expected not to see, was that the Government were committed to the Climate Change Act and, I assume from that, all the follow-ons involving carbon budgets and so on. So I thought that those were two good parts of a cornerstone of energy and climate policy for the Government. The Benches opposite have mentioned the emphasis on hard-working families—used all the time as a phrase—and I was also quite encouraged because page 57 of the manifesto said:
“We will cut emissions as cost-effectively as possible”.
I am indebted, as always, to the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, for his work in this area. On 24 June this year he asked a Question of the Minister. He asked what estimate the Government had made of the cost in pounds per tonne of CO2,
“of greenhouse gas emissions abatement in the most recent year”—
what were the costs of those technologies? The Minister replied—absolutely correctly, I am sure—that the abatement cost per tonne of carbon dioxide in 2014 was,
“£65 per tonne of carbon dioxide for onshore wind, £121 for offshore wind and £110 for solar PV”.—[Official Report, 24/6/15; col. 1583.]
It was a very useful Question. I find it somewhat difficult to reconcile that Answer with the Bill before us today. I agree that the Conservative manifesto was very anti-onshore wind. In Cornwall, an equally beautiful part of the countryside as Northumberland, we have a large number of wind turbines. At the last count I could see about 30 from my own house. Strangely enough, there has been a direct and positive correlation between tourism success and the number of turbines that have gone up in Cornwall. I am not saying they are absolutely related but I do not think it is really the problem that sometimes we make out. It is great to see a living countryside rather than a preserved and backward-looking countryside. That is something that Liberal Democrats would stand for: growth and a good economy in rural areas.
I find it very strange that the Government have taken against onshore wind in this way but are promoting other technologies, although I have no argument with them about offshore technologies, which, as we have seen from those figures, are roughly twice as expensive. Again, I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, that there are other renewable technologies that are even cheaper. Hydro is one but of course the problem with hydro is that we have more or less used our total capacity in the UK to produce it. I would be standing shoulder to shoulder with the noble Viscount on hydro schemes if we had the ability to produce them. So I find this part of the Bill very regrettable and difficult for our very successful renewable industry to deal with.
However, my biggest concern about the Bill comes back to a number of excellent comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh; that is, once again we have an Energy Bill that concentrates purely on supply issues rather than demand—the coalition Government were not a lot better but they were slightly better on this. Of course, it is the demand area that really is the challenge to us as an economy moving into the future. In his excellent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said that we still have not solved the energy trilemma: the difficulty between affordability, security and low carbon. But, as he went on to mention, we have the solution to that, which is the whole area of energy efficiency and making sure that we decouple economic growth from our energy usage. In the UK we have actually been pretty good at that over recent years. That ratio has come down and we have managed to do that decoupling, but there is nothing in the Bill—or any sign in government policy—of energy efficiency really being core to what they are doing.
My final point comes back to another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh. I was very dismayed indeed by the announcement that the policy of zero-carbon homes from 2016 was going to be discarded as if it was something that had been an idea for a short while but is too difficult and will be got rid of in order to produce thousands more houses from 2016 onwards. That is not the case. That policy started in 2007 under the then Labour Government and went through the coalition Government; in fact, some of the standards were raised at the beginning of the coalition period. The industry had prepared itself for that. It was understood that that was going to go ahead but after eight years of negotiation, planning and enthusiasm to go ahead with that, six months before we reach 2016 that policy is screwed up and thrown in the bin.
One of the biggest issues of affordability in this country is fuel poverty. We still have some 2 million households suffering from fuel poverty and some 18,000 excess winter deaths, a significant number of which are due to fuel poverty and inadequate heating. Stopping that move to greater thermal efficiency of homes is not just the abstract issue of solving that energy trilemma; it concerns actual households and individuals who will suffer into the future because of higher energy bills over the life of those buildings of 50 to 75 years; and the rate of excess winter deaths in the United Kingdom, which is substantially above those of other European nations, will continue. What will we have to do in another 10 or 20 years? We will have to reinvent the Green Deal to retrofit all those post-2016 buildings to bring them up to a standard that a civilised society expects. Would that have cost extra to the building industry? The estimates are £3,000 per house—not insignificant, of course, but something that would be paid back within a very short number of years. As always, I am afraid I point at the automotive industry, which has had considerable constraints, mainly through European directives, on the carbon emissions of vehicles produced. That industry actually objected—unlike the building industry, which has been very pro-moving forward—but has the cost of cars in real terms gone up because of that policy? Absolutely not: in real terms, those costs have come down.
My challenge to the Government in this Bill is to tackle the inconsistency of the treatment of onshore wind against solar, and to refocus on the demand and efficiency side of electricity and make sure that we solve the trilemma. What concerns me most, very much reflecting what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, is that we seem to have a Government who are “1984” Orwellian in their style, in that what we read is not borne out by the actions that we see.
My Lords, first, I draw attention to interests which I have declared. I am an officer of a fuel poverty charity and I have advisory roles in one or two other areas of energy.
I suppose that a debate of this nature should be determined by the Long Title of the Bill, in so far as that determines the content, but a lot of today’s debate has been about what is not in the Bill rather than what is. While it is a great temptation to go on at length about what is not in the Bill, there is quite a lot of substance here, to which we should give proper consideration.
The drop in oil and gas prices and the impact on exploration and production, particularly in the UKCS, and its knock-on effects on tax revenues and a broad range of industrial activities in the North Sea certainly serve to underline the sensitivity with which we must deal with North Sea matters. As my noble friend Lady Liddell said, we are world leaders and one of the reasons that we are is that it is so damn difficult to do anything in the North Sea, given the climatic and other conditions there. In some respects, it is a bit like what Frank Sinatra said of New York: if you can do it in the North Sea, you can do it anywhere.
The point also has to be made that, when Ian Wood was called upon to review the circumstances, we probably could not have asked a better person to do it. Anything that he says certainly requires our attention and respect. I think it is fair to say that he has produced a series of recommendations which, across this House, we would all want to see accepted.
We have to recognise that, under successive Governments since the mid-1990s, there has been a series of initiatives of a collaborative character involving all sides of the North Sea interests and, because of that, a number of difficult crises have been ridden out. However, it is also fair to say that the challenge of having a consistently—and likely to be lengthy—low price of oil and gas is one of the biggest crises. It is expensive and difficult in these circumstances to maximise the recovery from the North Sea, so the setting up of the OGA is to be welcomed. The powers that it has been given are sensible ones. On the proposals for funding, although there is an understandable concern about the possibility of retrospective legislation in relation to the levies, they are not beyond the wit and intelligence of the department to have a go at.
While the general powers of the OGA and its capacity to become involved at various levels are to be welcomed, I would make one cautious point. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, was moving towards this in the question that he asked about the number of officials from DECC who will go to the OGA. Now that we have Ofgem and the OGA, there is a danger of having a department which is far smaller than the arm’s-length agencies over which it has a notional degree of control. I make this point because, when push comes to shove in debates in Cabinet and elsewhere, the size, strength and critical mass of the department can be an important factor in pushing the case which that department wishes to advance in these arenas. We therefore have to get some reassurance that this does not mean that the department itself will be denuded even further. We know that it is one of the smallest departments, with a relatively small budget, but along with BIS it is responsible for some of this country’s most significant earning capabilities.
The OGA will have the function of MER, and you might say that that has the ring of coming out of one of Stalin’s five-year plans. Maybe that is going a bit far, but when you consider that we have a Conservative Government establishing a quango, funded by levies, to regulate a vital part of the UK economy with the potentially extensive powers of intervention of this authority, it is, as someone said to me the other day, a wee bit like the BNOC—the British National Oil Corporation, for those of us who are old enough to remember that. It is a bit like the BNOC, but unfortunately—I speak here as a socialist—while it may have control, it does not have ownership. Maybe that is for another day, or we should leave it to those in the Labour Party seeking higher office than me to try to work out. That is probably the least of their worries at present. However, as a sensible form of intervention it enjoys a great deal of support across the House.
However, there is one area which I hope the OGA will have powers for, and perhaps the Minister could clear this up. It has been a hobby-horse of mine for years that we have insufficient gas storage capability in the United Kingdom. It may be that, in the years that lie ahead, we will enjoy an increased supply of gas worldwide and that it will be at low prices, but the volatility of gas prices has had a detrimental effect on the cost of energy for UK consumers, both industrial and domestic. I have always felt that there was a case, and I think I am not alone in this, for having a greater storage capacity in the UK—not as much as Germany or France, which have different conditions. But, as we know, year by year the amount of gas that we get from the North Sea is declining and it might therefore be prudent to look afresh at this. Will that come within the responsibilities of the OGA? I would like to know.
Mention has been made of renewables. I am a wee bit of a sceptic on renewables; I am not antagonistic to them but I have often felt that the pudding has been overegged in some areas. When we talk about the scarring of the countryside by having windmills, I am reminded of the attitude in the 1930s and 1940s to the hydro schemes, which are now held up as the greatest thing since sliced bread: “Here is this cheap form of power generation—the only thing we do not have is enough water”. I was reminded that, in the 1930s, one of the advocates of what is now one of the jewels in the Scottish energy crown, the Pitlochry hydro scheme, was expelled from the Perthshire hunt for daring to advocate something so radical, which was going to destroy the countryside. We should therefore perhaps take the rhetoric of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, with a fair amount of salt.
The other side of the issue is that a number of small wind-farming facilities are supporting smallholdings and small farms, and keeping them going. In turn, they enable the husbandry of the area round about to be sustained and, very often, enable people to have access to the hills. I had that issue in my constituency in Scotland when I was an MP, and it is not given sufficient attention.
Having said that, it is unfortunate that the Government are withdrawing the subsidies to wind farms in the precipitate way that they are because there will be casualties from this. It would be interesting to know whether the ministry has made any estimate of the likely cost of those proposals which are currently partially in train but which will not enjoy the necessary degree of subsidy to be self-sustaining. As my noble friend Lord Whitty said, it was precipitate. There are obviously going to be casualties here, and I hope that when we get to Committee we can look at the fine print of this.
I also make the point that it is very good to have localism and give powers to local authorities but, at the same time as doing that, one would expect that the local authorities had the capability and resources to undertake proper planning reviews of the sites which could be the source of some controversy in their communities. It is fair to say that a number of the rural local authorities are woefully underresourced and will probably not be able to do this job. Has the Minister given proper attention to that?
There are obviously a number of issues that we could go into here. I think that it is fair to say that we are sailing very close—sorry, that is a dangerous metaphor—but it is problematic in relation to our capacity to generate electricity. We know that National Grid has one or two innovative schemes which will come in over this winter. Nevertheless, we need to have the energy debate put into context and to have some indication of what is actually happening at Hinkley. We know that the latest delay is the Austrian hurdle, but it seems that every possible delay is embraced by the French owners on the basis that it gives them more time to try to get their capital arrangements made. They do not now seem to have the money to undertake the programme that they signed up for, despite the fact that we are giving them a very attractive price for nuclear power.
At the end of the day, this Bill is primarily about the OGA and the question of the withdrawal of wind farm subsidies. I welcome the OGA and I have some misgivings about the wind farm subsidy withdrawal and the manner in which it has been handled, but when we get to Committee we will be able to look at that in far greater detail.
My Lords, I welcome the Bill, which will support the United Kingdom’s oil and gas industry by establishing the OGA. It will be of enormous help for us to be able to use our North Sea resources better, and this authority has powers to do just that. The Bill falls into two parts: the majority has to do with setting up a new authority, and the last two clauses, Clauses 59 and 60, concern the removal of renewable subsidies for onshore wind developments.
I think we all agree that we often have tough decisions to make, and this is one of them. From my very amateur point of view, surely a purpose of public money is to help and pump-prime new technologies and new industries. Once they become established and the cost of running them reduces, surely it is right that we look again at which technologies our money goes towards promoting. While I have listened carefully to what noble Lords have said, I will return to those matters later. The most important thing is that we have a mix of technologies and energy resources. I look forward to Committee, when I am sure we will discuss this in further detail. I have no direct tie with any oil or energy-producing companies, but I do have shares in oil companies, which are declared in the register.
If I may, I will turn to the second part of the Bill first. Clauses 59 and 60 make provision for the early closure of the subsidy arrangements, under the renewables obligation, for new onshore wind developments in Great Britain. They also make changes to the planning system, which we have debated, transferring those decisions for future onshore wind developments to local authorities in England and Wales. While I follow what the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, said, I think it is right that local people should make local decisions on that matter. It may well be that some areas decide very clearly, “We as an area will benefit by it, therefore we would like to have it”. Unfortunately, in past discussions people have said, “We are against all of it”, but in certain circumstances some may well find it an attractive option.
I have received letters that express concerns about this part of the Bill, which no doubt we will debate fully in Committee. Those concerns include issues that other noble Lords have referred to, such as sunk costs, future investment, confidence and future investment in technology. However, I am much more open-minded about looking at a diverse energy mix for our future production, and that would include nuclear energy, which my noble friend Lord Ridley mentioned.
The proposed grace periods seem reasonable, but I seek clarification from the Minister in respect of the grid connections offer. There can be lengthy delays in gaining planning consent, but both local authorities and central government operate under considerable scrutiny and are open to public challenge. I am not so sure of the position with grid connections; I understand that the picture may not be so clear, and would be grateful for further explanation of the extended period to 2018 to cover grid or aviation delay.
I return to the earlier part of the Bill, which relates to the Oil and Gas Authority and its core functions. Clause 4 clearly sets out matters to which it must have regard, but in the broader context I hope the Minister will expand on its exact role in ensuring secure energy supply. Will it have functions in international negotiations on gas or oil imports, for example? Will it set standards for the physical protection of pipelines, drilling platforms, wellheads and so on, or will it be merely a statutory consultee? As noble Lords have heard, the industry employs some 375,000 people; it is a big industry and we rely on its sustainable future in securing cleaner, increasingly home-grown energy. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, on the importance of skills and expertise that we must not lose.
The Bill’s provisions on national security and public interest, taken in the context of modern communication, raise a number of queries. What mechanism and which medium will be used by the Secretary of State in laying copies of directions given by the department, and what sort of material would be deemed not in the public interest? Where directions are not published, how will the Secretary of State ensure that they remain out of the public domain? I know that these are very specific questions that we will discuss in Committee, but I thought I would flag them up in advance.
I agree that innovation should be encouraged. No doubt in Committee we will consider the definition of “to encourage innovation”. It can range in meaning from standing on the sidelines shouting to providing financial assistance, use of facilities, secondment of personnel and so on. When it comes to dealing with collaboration, will the OGA have a duty to ensure even-handedness in its dealings with all companies and persons that have an actual or potential ability to contribute to oil and gas activities? Will it, perhaps, have a role in ensuring that government departments do not fail to recognise the contribution of small and medium-sized enterprises, which are hugely important to future development?
Finally, I come to the system of regulation. I would welcome an indication of the intended meaning of the phrase “stable and predictable”. Which bodies or persons will be the judge of whether a system is predictable and the circumstances in which that will be relevant?
This is not a big Bill but it is a very important one, which I support. It fulfils the Conservative manifesto’s support for the UK’s oil and gas industry in the longer term and will secure cleaner, increasingly home-grown energy. In a world that is very topsy-turvy, how important that is. Sir Ian Wood’s independent review aimed to maximise the recovery of the UK’s indigenous oil and gas supplies and to help maintain security of supply. The Government have taken on board his recommendations with this Bill, which could result in the delivery of 3 billion to 4 billion barrels of oil equivalent—more than would otherwise be recovered over the next 20 years, worth some £200 billion pounds. The Bill deserves our support.
My Lords, the Energy Bill that we have before us today contains two unrelated sets of measures. One set concerns projects for establishing onshore facilities for generating electricity by wind power. The second concerns the establishment of a new agency for regulating the extraction of oil and gas from the North Sea. I will deal with these matters separately and in that order.
The legislation affecting wind power proposes an early end to the subsidies that have been received under the renewables obligation. The subsidies will end on 1 April 2016, which is one year sooner than had been agreed by the partners in the coalition Government. The legislation will also appoint local authorities as the primary decision-makers in respect of planning applications for new onshore wind farms. The measures in the Bill were pledged in the Conservative Party election manifesto. Their purpose was to appease a vocal faction within the Conservative Party that regards wind turbines as a blot on the landscape and to seek an advantage for candidates who were vying for election in marginal rural seats. It is notable that 37 out of 198 marginal constituencies were in rural areas.
Of the available sources of renewable energy, the cheapest by far is onshore wind. It has dismayed environmentalists to see the Government pursuing a policy that is in utter contradiction to their declared intention to provide renewable energy at the lowest possible cost. There are currently some 5,000 onshore wind turbines, which satisfy close to 6% of the electricity needs of the UK. It is reckoned that about 250 planned onshore wind farms are likely to be cancelled as a result of the early end to subsidies, which would mean that 2,500 planned turbines will not be built. This will have a devastating effect on the wind power industry, which is said to be in a fragile state. Moreover, given that around 70% of wind turbines are to be found in Scotland, the adverse economic effect of the cancellations will be concentrated in that region, which has infuriated Scottish MPs. The question arises of why the changes to the planning regime will affect onshore wind but not shale gas. Why should local authorities be given a power of veto over wind farms but not over fracking installations? There is no honest answer to that question.
The second part of the Bill concerns the extraction of oil and gas from the North Sea. The aim is to maximise the recovery of the remaining resources by establishing a regulatory regime that is more effective than the present regime, which faces challenging circumstances. The Bill deals with some complex matters, and to reach sound opinions on the quality of the proposed legislation, one needs to acquire detailed knowledge of the regime that grants licences to the companies operating in the North Sea. To evaluate the proposals, one needs to know, in detail, how the industry is organised and how the operators within it are liable to interact. One also needs a fair understanding of the technology for the recovery of oil and gas, of the state of repair of the installations in the North Sea and of the geophysical details of the continental shelf that surrounds the UK. It is fortunate that the parliamentary Recess is available to us for researching these matters.
We are also fortunate in having the excellent Brown report at our disposal, which has made recommendations that have been adopted by the Government. The report records some startling realities, such as the vast contribution of offshore oil and gas to the UK economy over the past five decades. As we have been reminded, production from the UK continental shelf met 67% of the UK’s demand for oil and 53% of its demand for gas in 2012. It also contributed £6.5 billion in corporate taxes in the year 2012-13. Some 42 billion barrels of oil equivalent have already been extracted from the area, and it is estimated that somewhere between 12 million and 24 million barrels remain to be produced.
Those who are concerned to limit the effects on the global climate of the burning of fossil fuels might be happy to see a rapid decline in the output of the North Sea. However, a further decline in its productivity will have serious implications for Britain’s balance of payments and economic welfare. In fact, the recent fall in output has been dramatic: production fell by 38% between 2010 and 2013. Levels of investment have fallen and the rate of discovery of further reserves has halved in that period.
The Brown report attributes a large proportion of the decline in output to a fall in productive efficiency, although it gives no indication of how that efficiency is measured or calibrated. The truth is that the many operators who are scattered throughout the North Sea are tripping over themselves. In the early years, a few major operators exploited large and plentiful fields under a relaxed regime of light-touch regulation. Over time, the number of fields has increased to more than 300. New discoveries are much smaller than hitherto and many of the fields are marginal and highly interdependent. There is also increased competition for a depleted stock of ageing infrastructure. There may be better prospects for the operators elsewhere in the world, and unless a more orderly structure is imposed and they can be offered more attractive fiscal incentives, they are liable to go elsewhere.
The Brown report recommended that a revived regulatory body should be established at arm’s length from DECC, which has previously performed the regulatory functions. The number of staff within the department who have been deployed recently in this capacity is half what it was previously, and the cuts that have been imposed on the department will undermine their role. It is now proposed that the new Oil and Gas Authority should be funded wholly by the industry, which should save something from the Government’s budget. However, one has to ask whether such an arrangement will run the risk of regulatory capture. This is a process, familiar in the United States, by which regulatory agencies eventually come to be dominated by the very industries they were charged with regulating. We can look forward to a discussion of these matters in the Committee stage of the Bill, for which I understand four days have been scheduled. At first this seemed an excessive allocation, but I am beginning to think that the detailed scrutiny of the Bill will fully occupy the available time.
My Lords, I want to talk only about Part 4 of the Bill. First, I must declare an interest as a farmer in Somerset who has invested in solar PV. However, I reassure the House that, having done my bit, I have no plans for projects, either in solar or wind, so personally have nothing to lose or gain from the Bill or from any other imminent changes to support for renewables.
I am enthusiastic about renewable energy and believe that if we as a nation can kick-start the various renewable technologies, including battery power, by supporting them through their early stages, we will undoubtedly produce at least one or two viable industries that will in future be able to stand on their own feet and bring us big rewards. I might add that it is not only the new renewables that need government support these days. Fresh-start gas and coal-fired power stations still need government financing, and of course nuclear fission is probably proving to be the most expensive of all forms of electricity generation—although in the long run it might be offshore wind that takes that particular biscuit, or even in the short run if salt and sea storms take their likely toll.
However, I also support the government principle, inherent in Part 4, that we should gradually withdraw or at least reduce the subsidy for new technologies in recognition of the fact that mass production, better science and better engineering gradually combine to reduce the costs of production. Although there is still a long way to go in cost saving per output with solar PV, which in my view could produce the cheapest form of electricity we will have in 10 years, the cost curve of onshore wind turbine generation is now flattening and is unlikely to see any major reduction in costs per kilowatt in the future.
With all that in mind, your Lordships might expect me to be a firm supporter of Part 4—or at least of those clauses covering the planned changes from renewable obligations to contracts for difference. However, as with other noble Lords, I can sum up what I want to say by citing the then Energy Minister in the other place when he said, only last January, that the renewables obligation would remain open until March 2017. As it happens, in the same month, the then Energy Minister in this House said:
“No further comprehensive banding review is planned for the RO scheme”.
I realise at this stage of the debate I am repeating what other noble Lords have said, but we absolutely must maintain consistency in our approach to renewables. If we are to meet our targets, our generators, whose investments in projects can take up to 10 years from start to finish, must know where they stand. More importantly their investors, and particularly those small generators who are dependent on bank loans, must all know where they stand.
By these sudden and unexpected changes in policy—and there was another one this morning—the Government have made banks and investors nervous. It applies across the whole renewables sector because, as we heard this morning, going back on promises made on wind can also apply to solar and maybe other technologies. It goes without saying that the uncertainty filters back to the engineers and manufacturers responsible for producing the equipment for these technologies, and they have to invest for up to a 20-year horizon. We must have consistency.
Now as I understand it, as far as wind is concerned the Government have recognised the problem and are trying hard to accommodate projects that have had quite considerable investment but have been put on ice by the sudden change in policy. They are trying to help with the so-called grace periods or exceptions to the change in the rules. However, the problem lies in the details in the Bill: there are no details in the Bill. While that remains the case, the banks and other investors have paused investment and lending and will not resume until they see what the Government are offering—really offering for certain, because there is uncertainty everywhere here now. What politicians say in Parliament clearly has little validity any more in this field. I think banks are probably aware of the concept of one Parliament not being able to control its successor.
If the Government are going to wait until the passage of the Bill before publishing the exact details of the grace periods, these projects are likely to miss not only the March 2016 deadline but possibly the March 2017 deadline, if they indeed qualify. There is a lot of money involved here—money which has been invested as a result of government promises. Therefore, before the Bill comes to Committee in this House, we must have the necessary detail of these grace periods well and truly embedded in Part 4. Indeed, if this morning’s announcement on solar PV is anything to go by, Part 4 may need to be rewritten in entirety.
My Lords, the Minister in introducing the Bill spoke forcefully about the obligations to keep the lights on and he, among others, mentioned national security. If I am allowed to digress for a moment, I get a bit worried at times about the national security implications for our energy system when so much of the ownership and expertise is passing into the hands of other nations, not least China. To return to the Bill, while obviously the new authority has got real responsibilities in this sphere, there are other obligations. There is the obligation to fulfil the objectives of the 2008 Climate Change Act. There is the necessity to protect the quality of landscapes, seascapes and other places of particular historic, cultural and character significance. Indeed, there is a need to fulfil the legal obligations—frequently underlined by Ministers of all parties and successive Governments—to protect the national parks, areas of outstanding national beauty and similar places. I, of course, take an interest in this as a patron of the Friends of the Lake District and as a vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks.
To return to the main theme of the Bill, how exactly have the Government assessed the cost of their energy policy? How have they become convinced that this will deliver at minimal cost to consumers while ensuring security of supply and meeting our climate change responsibilities and targets? What methodologies have they used to make their assessment? Have they genuinely factored in the full costs of the technologies involved, including the cost of delivering energy to the point of use and removing obsolete equipment and waste—again, if I may digress for a moment—when at times this can be an acute problem in other spheres such as nuclear waste?
What about energy efficiency? The Bill once again seems to concentrate on supply and building more infrastructure rather than reducing demand. I always think the lack of real, deep commitment on this front is well illustrated by both Houses at Westminster. We should be a model to the nation of energy responsibility and use, and this starts at the personal level. Too often when I walk through this building at a late hour in the evening, it is absolutely clear that this is not yet instinctively deep in our psychology. The amount of waste at the micro level in these buildings is still far too large. This is the responsibility of all Members across the Floor and both Houses. How can we talk to the nation unless we live by what we preach?
What of thermal heating? We have an extraordinarily laid-back, complacent approach that lacks the drive to ensure that building regulations are making the maximum possible use of this benefit. What about energy efficiency measures? Do the Government really value them? Why is neither the zero-carbon allowable solutions carbon offsetting scheme, nor the proposed 2016 increase in on-site energy efficiency standards for new homes, going ahead? How do we reconcile these points with the Government’s firm manifesto undertaking to,
“meet our climate change commitments, cutting carbon emissions as cheaply as possible, to save you money”?
As noble Lords, notably the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, have said, we have had representations from RenewableUK and from the independent renewable energy group. I was struck by those representations. Those bodies clearly believe that the Bill will penalise them in some respects and severely undermine their efforts to contribute to the Government’s declared climate change objectives. They claim that the onshore wind industry provides 190,000 jobs and is the lowest cost source of low-carbon power we have. They argue that early withdrawal of Government financial support will cut short projects on which the industry is already advanced, conceptually as well as industrially. This action they have already taken for the future is on the basis, they remind us, of assurances previously given. They ask, therefore, how the Bill can possibly encourage or enhance investment or confidence in their future work. They also see it, evidently, as a dangerous precedent for other renewable and wider energy investments. Clearly, the Minister will have to deal in his comments with those anxieties in an industry on which we are so dependent.
There are different views on the architectural and aesthetic merits of windmills. I am one of those who find them totally unacceptable in areas of outstanding natural beauty, national parks and other areas of special landscape, character or significance. Successive Governments of all persuasions, with legislation backed up by ministerial undertakings, have protected these gems from such intrusions. It would be a tragedy if the situation changed. Very quickly, we could throw away one of the most precious recreational and recreative assets in our stressed and pressurised society, and one of immense value to the travel industry.
Some argue, in support of my contention, that windmills do not anyway produce much electricity. I simply dismiss that argument—I do not agree with it at all. Collectively, they are already contributing very significantly to our essential supplies. Almost by definition, alternative energy is likely to come from an aggregate of a large number of units, each producing far less than our traditional power stations. The issue is not whether to have wind power or not; it is the comprehensive social planning that ensures that units and their supporting infrastructure are in the most suitable places, do not ruin the landscape or seascape, and do not pile all the pressure on less articulate, vociferous or influential communities. That is what we have to get right.
The convincing arguments put forward in a host of organisations representative of a wide cross-section of the public are impressive. I have mentioned some of those in which I am involved. Rather than regurgitating their arguments, I shall very briefly put to the House their own words on some of these things. They say that the Energy Bill focuses only on energy supply and misses the opportunity to include proposals to reduce energy demand. While onshore wind can make an important and greener contribution to our energy mix, we must ensure that new energy infrastructure does not damage our countryside. The provisions of the Bill that transfer the consenting of all new onshore wind farms to local planning authorities is a welcome response to local concerns about the impact of badly sited developments on landscape. Clarity is still needed about whether the planning inspectorate will be able to overturn decisions on onshore wind. The Government should support aspirations by introducing a community right of appeal against damaging proposals where a neighbourhood plan is being prepared—and not just for onshore wind or other energy infrastructure, but all types of development.
Friends of the Earth also has points to make, which are not quite the same as other agencies’, so it is worth looking at some of the things it is saying. It says that as,
“one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy, the closure of the RO for wind has the potential to increase bills for consumers, particularly if there is no new allocation round available under the CfD … Curtailing the development of onshore wind could increase the risk that the government will miss its legally binding Renewable Energy Directive targets for 2020 … The closure of the RO for wind a year early is yet more uncertainty for the industry … The closure of the RO will particularly impact on the devolved nations—as the majority of new development is due to take place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”.
Friends of the Earth suggests that,
“this is a policy for the Home Counties being imposed on other regions”,
and argues that,
“Closing the RO for wind will impact communities who may want wind power”.
These organisations do a great deal of serious work with a lot of commitment and represent the concerns of many people in this country, so I hope the Minister will treat those concerns seriously. We want a secure UK worth living in that is fit to meet the accelerating challenges of the age of climate change. This is no time for further ideological objectives; it is time for common-sense practical arrangements. I am afraid that in my old age, I have come to a firm conclusion: I believe in a mixed economy and, in believing in a mixed economy, I think there are some areas of our activity that are so important to society as a whole—not least for strategic reasons—that they will be better in the public sector than in the private sector.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow my good friend and mentor, my noble friend Lord Judd. I share his concerns about the excessive use of energy late at night in this place and elsewhere. When he comes to visit me, he will see that I go round the house switching things off all the time, which I confess is much more to do with Scottish thrift than energy saving—although the energy saving is a consequence.
I get really annoyed with government, Ofgem and others saying that if I want the lowest tariff, it is easy for me to switch supplier. Why should we have to switch supplier to get the lowest tariff? I say as a trustee of Age Scotland—I see in her place my good friend the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, with whom I worked at Age Concern—why should elderly people, or anyone, have to through the bother of switching suppliers to get a lower tariff? Why cannot we ensure that the lowest tariff is supplied anywhere? It seems very strange.
It is also very pleasing that quite a lot of Scots are participating in this debate—three from the Labour Party and, shortly, we will have a contribution from the Scottish Liberal Democrats—because it is a matter of particular concern to Scotland. I shall come back to one particular aspect of that later. Before that, I join in the widespread expressions of concern that the Government have ended new public subsidies for onshore wind farms, with no more renewable obligations certificates for wind from 1 April next year. Ending it one year earlier than planned is shifting the goalposts and has caused investors and potential investors great dismay. In 2014, wind provided only 5% of the total of our electricity needs, yet the Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock said in March 2015 that subsidies would not stop until 10% was reached. That promise has been broken. Now we have the announcement about solar today—and, presumably, we will have amendments to the Bill to deal with that, too. I hope that the Minister will let us know how we are going to deal with that when he replies.
This Bill is harmful. Already £350 million has been spent on projects that may now not be financially viable. That is a terrible waste of resources. On top of that, the July Budget scrapped the climate change levy exemption, which results in a double blow to renewable energy production in the United Kingdom, and a loss of investor confidence, which puts investment decisions in renewable energy in doubt. Renewable energy may also now become more expensive as we move away from wind to other more costly forms, such as tidal energy, in order to try to meet the Government’s 2020 target. DECC claims it has enough subsidised projects in the pipeline to meet the renewable energy commitment. Perhaps the Minister could spell these out. Can he name these projects that are in the pipeline? It is no good just saying that they are there without indicating what they are.
Finally on this point on a Scottish aspect, since 75% of independent renewable energy onshore wind production is in Scotland I found it disgraceful that Holyrood was not even consulted, let alone involved in this decision. I hope the Minister will apologise for that lack and make it clear that in any future energy decisions that affect Scotland the Scottish Government will be consulted and, indeed, involved. We have this wave of nationalism at the moment, which I am totally opposed to, and it is fuelled by the lack of consultation and involvement by this Conservative Government and their predecessors.
I now come to the entirely different matter of environmental degradation in Scotland. I sent a message to the Minister saying that I was going raise this. In 2013 Scottish Coal and Aardvark TMC—two east Ayrshire mining companies in my former constituency—went into administration. There is now massive environmental devastation in east Ayrshire as a result, with an estimated 2,000 hectares of disturbed land and 22 voids filling up with water and with unstable cliff faces. Restoration liabilities are estimated to be over £160 million. One operator with some foresight and sense, Hargreaves, has submitted a proposal to the Government for carbon price support tax exemption which is similar to the scheme for coal slurry. That would support opencast coal restoration projects. It also has the support of the wider coal producers’ organisation, Coalpro. The reason why this should appeal to the Government, and the Treasury in particular, is that it is largely self-funding since stimulating activity would generate significant tax revenues. Since the March Budget the Chancellor has signalled his intention to work with the Scottish Coal Taskforce. As I say, I have given the Minister prior notice so I hope that he can say today whether the Treasury will support the Hargreaves proposal to deal with this dereliction facing the mining communities in east Ayrshire.
I will now say a word about nuclear power. I started off many years ago as a nuclear sceptic but I became convinced of the value of nuclear power, not just because of the greater safety and the fact that there is not as much waste now as there was in the old reactors, but because it can contribute towards our climate change targets. However, I have a specific question, of which I have again given the Minister prior notice. With Hinkley Point poised to proceed to construction, we are now increasingly aware of the massive costs involved in nuclear power construction and the fact that the companies doing this will need a huge amount of insurance. I have some concerns about this, and others have expressed concerns directly to me. Can the Minister tell us whether there is sufficient capacity in the United Kingdom and the European Union insurance market to meet the requirements of operators and contractors for planned UK nuclear plants? Can he also say whether the UK and EU insurance markets are competitive, ensuring not just the best price for customers who operate and plan to operate nuclear power stations in the United Kingdom but the interests of consumers as well? I hope that he will indicate whether the capacity and the competition are there.
Finally, I will say a few words about the Climate Parliament of which I am a trustee. There are two other trustees in this House. One is the noble Lord, Lord Bell, the Conservative publicist and philanthropist; the other is the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Parliament, now a Liberal Democrat Member. It is about the only thing we have in common, incidentally, but it is a good cause for us to be working together on. The Climate Parliament works with parliamentarians around the world to encourage development of renewable energy and we are planning to develop a group within this Parliament in both Houses. This Bill and the July Budget sadly lead to a greater reliance on carbon-intensive fossil fuels rather than renewable energy and that is why the role of the Climate Parliament is very important.
One of the things that the Climate Parliament has been looking at recently—I attended a meeting in Lucerne that it arranged in which we discussed this—is a global green grid. That is difficult enough to say but easier if you are Scottish because you can get your Rs—sorry, the letter R is better pronounced. It is a bold and imaginative proposal and it is supported by the Climate Parliament. Renewable energy has problems of transmission costs and the variability of the nature of sun and wind. The global green grid is one solution to this. It would use smart grids to connect different sources of renewable energy into a reliable supply linking together renewable energy production both within countries and internationally. That would ensure permanent reliable access to energy where wind is blowing in one place and the sun is shining elsewhere, linking them up together. Europe is already developing its own green grid but now China, the world’s leading renewable energy producer, has made a proposal for a global green grid to help the world to produce 80% of its energy from renewables by 2050.
As technology is improved, renewable energy becomes cheaper and more reliable while fossil fuels become limited and more expensive in the long term. I hope that we will support this kind of thing because British energy policy should avoid short-sightedness and look to encourage investment in renewables technology to help us meet the 2020 target, to fight climate change, and to secure a clean, cheap and sustainable energy supply for the future.
My Lords, it is always a genuine pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, in this Chamber. I have learned to enjoy these opportunities to follow his contributions. He may be thrifty but he is also a crafty politician, able to secure east Ayrshire mining within the subject area of this debate, although I question his pouring a dram of hospitality in darkened rooms as he rambles from one to another, but that is a whole separate image of his thriftiness.
Part of this Bill is forward looking, provides for long-term planning, offers business certainty and encourages a stable investment environment. The other part of the Bill does the reverse. Most colleagues who have spoken in this debate so far have drawn the same broad conclusions that there are some elements that are to be wholly welcomed and other areas where we have cause for very considerable concern. I want to start by thanking the Minister for his courteousness in meeting colleagues to brief us on the Bill but I can only assume that the Government work so fast and efficiently that the announcement that I heard on the “Today” programme this morning was done overnight and he was not in a position to at least alert me to it. However, I respect his sincerity on climate change and it was interesting that he started his contribution on climate change and the ambition that the United Kingdom should have. I will return to that later.
With regard to the first part of the Bill on the Oil and Gas Authority, it is clear that the industry—predominantly based in north-east Scotland but having provided support across the United Kingdom for the past 40 years, explored for oil and gas for the past 50 years, and produced gas since the late 1960s— will be entering a considerable next phase. With decommissioning and the harder exploitation of the resource within the UK continental shelf, we require a different regulatory framework. That was set by the outstanding Wood review, whose conclusions the previous coalition Government accepted in their entirety. This Government are carrying on honouring the commitments provided by the previous one with genuine cross-party support, and that is to be warmly welcomed. When I spoke in the debate on the then Infrastructure Bill, the consensus was there in that legislation and it carries on. I therefore think that the Government will see that there is lots of constructive support for those clauses within the Bill.
I shall highlight some areas before moving on to the renewables sector. Clause 4 indicates the areas that the OGA must have regard to. However, since the predominance of Scotland within the oil and gas industry has been commented on so far in this debate, I wonder whether Clause 4, which says that the OGA must have regard to operating closely with the Government, should now say “all the Governments across the UK”. Of course I recognise that it is a UK authority and it will be under the auspices of this Parliament and this Government, but I think that its working effectively with the Scottish Government as well as with the UK Government would bode well for its efficient delivery of its own duties.
In addition, given that the principle behind the clause is to establish the independent operation of the Oil and Gas Authority, I highlight my observation that there is considerable scope in Clauses 5 and 6 for very wide ministerial direction. While the Bill says that ministerial direction will be given on public interest grounds only in exceptional circumstances, it would be helpful if the Minister could give us, if not today then with further briefing material, some further illustrations of what the public interest grounds may be, and some examples of what those exceptional circumstances might be that would bring the Government to direct the OGA.
Noble Lords have also mentioned the fee levels. Again, I think there should be some clarification of the ministerial powers within this area. Currently in the Bill, Ministers hold the powers to change fivefold the levels of fines that can be imposed by the OGA, except it is not clear whether this can be on an individual fine or whether they can simply increase the power of the OGA to do this. Again, clarification on that would be helpful.
I understand that further amendments are being considered for this element of the OGA. It would be helpful to know when the Minister expects the Government to bring those forward so that we will be able to see them. In the wider sense, the Bill further develops the consensus and the process that was started on the basis of the consensus in the previous Government, and with wide input from the sector. That is why I think these aspects of the Bill are to be welcomed.
I turn to the elements on renewable energy. I say “elements”, as today we are debating only partial government policy; we have not had sight of the criteria that were announced by press release through the BBC this morning. I was hoping that in the Minister’s opening remarks at the Dispatch Box he would outline clearly what would be the timetable for the legislative measures on solar that we heard about through the press release, and whether they would be part of this Bill or whether the Government intend separate legislative measures for that. It would be helpful if he did so in responding to this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and others made a persuasive case that much clearer information is not only necessary for industry but is of necessity for this Parliament.
Many noble Lords have raised issues relating to planning. I think that I heard the Minister say that communities would have a final say on planning—I think he said it twice. He has been asked to clarify that point. I echo those requests; it would be helpful to know how many schemes he anticipates this would cover. Also, given that he said that communities would have the final say, I was interested to read the Peers’ briefing that was given to Peers on 16 July, which says about planning:
“We want to see local communities having a greater say on the development of onshore wind in their area”.
It markedly does not say “final say”. I was interested to see that in another place Kit Malthouse MP asked the Secretary of State, with regard to whether communities would indeed have the final say:
“Can she reassure those worried communities that that means that they cannot now be overruled by the Planning Inspectorate?”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/6/15; col. 627.].
Ms Rudd responded:“Yes, I can”
That led to him tweeting:
“I asked a question today about planning permission for wind farms and got the perfect answer”,
but a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said that developers would still be able to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. Could the Minister confirm whether Ms Rudd or Mr Malthouse was correct? Could he confirm exactly what that situation is?
The Bill seems to suggest that the competence of the grace periods will be determined by regulations. I am unclear what additional provisions the Government might make relating to the closure via regulation, subject to the affirmative procedure, which I understand is in the Bill, especially as DECC officials have been clear in a number of public forums in saying that the grace periods are to be introduced in primary legislation. That confusion is further compounded by the announcement this morning with regard to solar. Not only would it be helpful for the Minister to clarify this; it is absolutely necessary for him to do so.
The Government have said that they were going to consult colleagues in the Scottish Government—we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and others about the predominance of this relating to Scotland —but they published a policy paper that said:
“We will not be holding a formal consultation on our proposals because they will be subject to full Parliamentary scrutiny”.
How can that be when we do not have the measures in front of us at the beginning of the Bill? How can we properly scrutinise the proposals when we have only partial proposals there? We will not be able to scrutinise views submitted by people to the Government’s process on the grace periods, to allow us to inform our views and scrutiny of the Government. Surely that cannot be the correct way of going about our business, especially in the context that it is the grace periods that are absolutely fundamental to the business opportunities.
I do not think that the Government have a mandate to bring forward the shortening of the support for industry. The Government’s tools for doing so are becoming quite clear: they are using uncertainty and disruption for the investor community to end a practice, and they are seeking not to be clear on bringing that forward in Parliament. These are not trifling sums: £1.3 billion of capital expenditure, with £350 million of sunk costs, is at stake. I had to chuckle slightly this morning when I saw that the press release was concerned about “supporting hard-working businesses with their energy costs”. These are hard-working businesses that have put £350 million of investment into schemes that may not come to fruition.
On top of that, there is now much greater uncertainty for the investor community. Let us remind ourselves what the investor community is: it primarily consists of United Kingdom pension schemes that are looking for long-term ethically secure investment opportunities to support British industry and British energy. That should be exactly the kind of investment environment that we wish to see, not harm.
Yesterday in another place, Amber Rudd, the Secretary of State, responded to this question:
“Scottish Renewables say that this decision, the early closure of the renewables obligation, risks £3 billion of investment and compromises two gigawatts of projects. Is that correct?”,
by saying: “It may be correct”.
She was then asked:
“So you would not anticipate onshore wind being part of the next CfD?”.
She replied: “I would not, no”.
I do not think that Parliament yet has sufficient information to fully scrutinise these aspects of the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, and my noble friends Lady Maddock and Lord Teverson have said compellingly, not only are we undermining the cheapest source of renewable energy, the cheapest source of growth in renewable energy and the cheapest way of gaining electricity growth as part of the whole energy mix but we are also undermining the crucial consensus which has been developed over the last few years and which has not set one energy technology against another. An overall consensus has been built. Nor do I believe that the Bill is part of the wider consideration of climate change that the Minister referred to in his opening remarks. This would be a climate change Bill and an Energy Bill true to its name if it included measures for reducing consumption, improving energy efficiency and maintaining zero-carbon homes, as my noble friend indicated. The consensus has been broken and uncertainty has been put into our manufacturing industry, and that cannot be good for the British economy.
My Lords, it is a genuine pleasure to respond to a debate that has had a veritable all-star list of energy experts contributing to it. I begin by thanking the Minister for his introductory comments. My sense is that we now have a very capable and committed Minister but, sadly, he comes before us with a rather shoddy and politically tawdry Bill. That is to be greatly regretted because important things need to be done in energy policy. There are big issues to be tackled and 2015 is a big year for climate change. I fear that we will waste precious parliamentary time on a Bill that is not complete, is lacking in important detail and is very confusing and conflicting in the messages that it is sending.
As many noble Lords have mentioned, the Bill is in two parts, the first relating to the setting up of the Oil and Gas Authority and the second consisting of a meagre two clauses that seem to be designed to destabilise the wind industry.
Many noble Lords have spoken very eloquently about the first part of the Bill. It is indeed necessary to implement the findings of the Wood review. However, the timing of the review was rather unfortunate, being published in February 2014—mere months before we saw a radical resetting of the global oil price. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, and my noble friend Lady Liddell pointed out to us that things are changing rapidly in the global oil and gas industry, and my fear is that this aspect of the Bill reads slightly as though it is out of touch and out of time with what is happening in the industry today.
I say that because we have seen a dramatic falling off of revenues from oil and gas from the North Sea continental shelf. It is now a very different place. I am sure that we will go through this in detail in Committee but we must ask whether the Government have truly reflected on whether the powers they are giving the OGA will be fit for purpose.
The statistics are quite astounding. Revenues from offshore oil and gas have already tumbled by 40% but they are likely to tumble again from £2.1 billion last year to only £0.7 billion in 2015-16. This is a serious issue. The future scenarios upon which we are relying that might see rising receipts are predicated on an oil price of between $70 and $100 a barrel. We must ask ourselves whether that is likely. It is possible—everything is possible—and even plausible that, with renewed investment in the North Sea and a renewed commitment, we will see production levels creep back up again. However, no matter how much wishful thinking we might apply to this problem, we will not see a return to the activity levels that we had in the heady days of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Production peaked in 2000 and has been falling steeply since the start of this century. My noble friends Lady Liddell and Lord O’Neill hinted that there is a future for the North Sea but it is likely to be very different from the one we see today.
It is likely that some of the skills will be transferable into the offshore renewables industry and equally likely—again, the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, spoke eloquently on this, as did my noble friend Lord Whitty—that the North Sea will reinvent itself as a source of storage for CO2 as we move to decarbonise our fossil fuel industries. This creates a challenge for the OGA because part of its job, in addition to trying to create some transparency and openly negotiate reinvestment in the North Sea, will be considering decommissioning—the rolling out and management of decommissioning. However, the risk is that, because it is largely determined by private sector players, the decommissioning may occur out of sync with our needs for carbon capture and storage.
If we do not get on with the carbon capture and storage element of our energy strategy, we could see a mismatch where infrastructure that would otherwise be re-used for carbon capture and storage is simply decommissioned because the carbon capture and storage project is not yet up and running. Will the Government consider creating a hierarchy in the OGA’s thinking—where the talk is about efficiencies and investment but then thought is given to re-use for CCS, and only then is thought given to decommissioning—so that we do not run the risk of a timing mismatch?
Another subject which I am sure we will talk about in Committee and which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Grantchester is the core functions of the OGA and whether they are fit for purpose and comprehensive enough, given today’s concerns. I certainly echo my noble friend’s comments that the core functions should include references to environmental considerations and climate change. One aspect of the new regulatory authority will be that it can levy fees and raise finance for necessary expenditure, including on environmental issues. A very interesting proposal has been posited by the academic Myles Allen from Oxford University. He has been asking whether the time has now come to ask the extractive industries, which are currently extracting fossil fuels to be burned for our energy sources, to pay a levy towards the climate change damage that arises from the use of their products. We may wish to explore that in Committee.
The Bill has two functions—looking at oil and gas and the more minor measures on onshore wind—but I am left wondering whether it could have been different. Could we not have had a much more positive Energy Bill from the Government? There is an agenda here that I support. The Government said in their manifesto that they will seek to decarbonise at least cost. That is a very sensible aim. I am a technology neutralist—neutral in terms of which technologies we should be deploying. I do not believe that there should be holy cows within the energy sector, where certain technologies are protected. I honestly believe that market forces should help us to determine which of the technologies should succeed. That should be overlaid with strategic oversight from government to determine which technologies will play to the UK’s strengths and to ask where we can invest in and develop technologies that will give us a lead in the global race towards decarbonisation.
That leads me to think that we are missing a trick on carbon capture and storage. The Bill, had it perhaps not been rushed through at quite the speed that it has been and had a little more consideration been applied to it, could have been an excellent vehicle for kick-starting our focus on carbon capture and storage, not least because of the measures regarding the Oil and Gas Authority but also because we have now recognised that we need to do something to help industry to decarbonise. We talk a lot about electricity decarbonising but there are still large sources of greenhouse gas emissions in this country that will need to be decarbonised or these industries will simply be forced to leave the European Union and move elsewhere, because the caps on those emissions are tightening.
There has been some very good work on the subject of how to decarbonise our industrial sector. A recent report commissioned by DECC or the DTI—I forget which—asked the Teesside Collective to think about policy mechanisms for funding industrial decarbonisation. There are some very interesting ideas there. When will the Government start to take this seriously? When will we see some policy consultation on how we are affordably to provide industry with decarbonisation options that mean that it can reinvest in the UK and get primary production of materials going again, safe in the knowledge that we are insulated against carbon prices in future? That is the sort of Energy Bill that I would have liked the Government to have come forward with, had they given themselves a little more time to reflect and to produce a more strategic set of measures.
On process, there is no impact assessment for the Bill, which I find curious. When will we see an impact assessment? It has been mentioned by noble Lords today that the methodologies that the Government are using are opaque. The Government say with great confidence that they are on track to meet their renewables targets. Can we see those figures written in black and white please? As my noble friend Lord Grantchester mentioned, it is simply not true that we are on track to meet our EU renewables targets. We may be doing reasonably well in electricity, but we are falling drastically behind on heat and transport, and the target represents all energy, not just electricity.
When it comes to assessing how well we have done, if I were the European Union DG responsible for assessing our performance, I would look very gravely on a Government who come out of the traps with this short-sighted set of measures to rein back on renewables at a time when we have no comprehensive plan and no confidence that we will hit our targets. That seems to me to be wilfully trying to miss targets, and I would take a dim view of it. That will cost the UK taxpayer money, let us be clear, because we cannot simply flout the rules having signed up to them. There will be financial consequences to our missing those targets. Let us see the analysis and see how the Government can be so confident that they can tie their hands behind their back by destabilising some of the most successful aspects of our energy industry.
I have moved seamlessly on to the second part of the Bill, which is clearly the most controversial. It contains merely two clauses at the moment, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, stated very clearly, we need to see the detail. We need to scrutinise it. There has been no consultation and there is no impact assessment. The Government owe it to Parliament to bring forward that detail as soon as they can so that we can scrutinise it. We have only these two clauses and we must try to derive from them the Government’s intentions and plans. It seems to me that the reality is that this is obviously just narrow party politics. When she announced the early closure of the RO, the Secretary of State namechecked several Conservative Back-Bench MPs. This is clearly more about party politics than anything else. What angers me the most is that it puts in jeopardy the UK’s economic growth for the sake of narrow interests raised by a very small number of MPs. The whole of the UK economy is benefiting from our investment in our energy infrastructure. To put that at risk and seriously damage investor confidence in the way that the Government are is wholly irresponsible.
Several noble Lords mentioned investor confidence, including my noble friend Lord Whitty, the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron. It is a serious problem. The think tank E3G states:
“Every time these announcements come out, the U.K. looks like a less attractive place in which to invest. I think a number of investors will be pricing in much higher risk now”.
That was true when the Bill was published; it is even more true after today’s announcements. It is really regrettable that we should kick off this new Government with something so short-sighted and tawdry—that is the only word that I can come up with. They are simply enabling a very small but vocal group to issue self-congratulatory press releases while putting serious investment and serious jobs at risk and making us appear to be a country that does not know which way it is going when talking about the need to address climate change and to decarbonise.
The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, made good points and some of them are obviously being listened to. He and I agree on a few things, and one of them is that there should be a focus on a least-cost approach to this. I am not saying that we should continue to provide subsidies when they are no longer necessary; that is not my aim at all. My aim is that we conduct ourselves in a way that gives investors confidence and allows for an orderly transition—a phrase that has been repeated here today. That is the phrase that the Government have used. An orderly transition is what is needed. This is a long distance from that; the Bill does not represent that.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for allowing me to intervene briefly, since she mentioned me. The central point to all this is that we are on course to overspend—from £7.6 billion up to £9.1 billion—on subsidies for those industries. What would the Opposition’s position, or anyone else’s, be about reining in that expenditure, because the cost is falling most heavily on the people who can least afford to pay it?
I thank the noble Viscount for that intervention.
On the levy control framework, there is an interesting policy that the Treasury invented. I honestly think that it was invented simply for us to have this conversation later down the line. That number represents a partial figure for what is being added to bills as a result of government policy. It is incomplete; it does not include everything. It also makes no reference to the counterfactual. We live in a world with infrastructure built in the 1960s that has now served its time, is closing and will need to be replaced. That involves higher capital costs. You cannot replace assets that have already had their capital costs paid and expect energy prices to stay the same: they will not. The counterfactual is that we will have to spend more money on electricity as we build a new infrastructure.
That is not taken into account in the Treasury’s levy control framework, so it is a particularly redundant policy, and I would not use it as my measure of whether we should be cutting an industry off at the knees just as it is showing signs of success, in the false belief that we are on track with our targets. We are not. We desperately need inward investment and jobs in the UK. The Government do not have a great record in stimulating growth in the economy—far from it. They are desperately cutting costs to mask the fact that economic growth is virtually stagnant—or would be if it were not for immigration. Here we see them recklessly upsetting investor confidence in one of our success stories.
It could have been so different. It could have been done in a much better way. We could have made it clear that we are encouraging a wider range of technologies. We could have talked positively about some of them. We could have heard more about the fact that an increasingly wide range of renewables is now being deployed, but we have not. Unfortunately, we have had a very negative spin on what has been a success story for the UK.
I have not done justice to the debate, because it has been so rich and varied, but I thank noble Lords for all their contributions. As noble Lords can see, this is a subject I feel great passion about. I hope that, as we go into Committee, we will find some way to improve the Bill. I am sure that there are some measures in it that are necessary, but it is not the Energy Bill that we would have brought forward. I hope that through the scrutiny process of Committee we can make changes to make it something worthy of our efforts.
My Lords, first, I thank your Lordships very much indeed for what has been a debate of extremely high quality with some important contributions, to which I shall try to do justice, on subjects ranging from the Oil and Gas Authority and wind to the old chestnut of the East Ayrshire coalfield. I am very grateful for the advance notice of that question, otherwise I might not have been able to deal with it; I will certainly try to as I address the points raised within the suggested time.
Let me begin by dealing with two general points. The first was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, at our meeting yesterday, when I also met the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. I was of course aware of the likelihood, although not of the certainty, of announcements today at that stage, but I could not share anything because of market sensitivity. The only conversations that Ministers are allowed to have are with devolved Administrations—which brings me on to the second issue. We have very good avenues of communication, and such things continue to be shared, as they were yesterday, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That does not mean that we agree, but we of course continue to do what previous Governments have done.
I will try to deal with the issues in the way that they were set out—the Oil and Gas Authority, wind and then miscellaneous. I am not in any way denigrating the importance of the miscellaneous questions, but they are not directly represented in the Bill. I will try to do justice to the contributions that have been made. I start with a general point about what will be forthcoming as we go through the Bill. We are certainly hoping for an impact assessment by Committee stage. We very much trust that that will happen, as we trust that there will be a settled position on the grace period, an issue raised by many noble Lords and by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, in a briefing meeting. As soon as I am in a position to give information on that, I will ensure that it is circulated to all noble Lords because I am cognisant of the fact that they will need to be aware of it in the Recess.
Turning to the Oil and Gas Authority, the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, raised the question of how the environmental importance issue will be dealt with. DECC will continue to be responsible for that in relation to the Oil and Gas Authority, but it will of course work alongside it. The decommissioning strategy will be delivered; indeed, it is the prime issue that will be dealt with by amendments that we will introduce. That is not yet in the Bill and we hope to come back in Committee with more detail on that.
Many noble Lords raised the issue of carbon storage—I have it under the heading of oil and gas, but also under miscellaneous—including the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. I thank her for her kind comments and I understand her passion and share many, if not all, of her climate change goals, so I am sure we will have a good working relationship. The noble Lords, Lord Grantchester, Lord Oxburgh, Lord Whitty, and Lord O'Neill, the noble Baroness Lady Worthington, and others raised the issue of carbon storage, which it is important we look at. It would be a responsibility of the Oil and Gas Authority, although not its core responsibility. I hope we will be able to look at that as the Bill proceeds through Committee and beyond.
On Norway and Scandinavia, again, I agree that a lot of this draft legislation is based on the experience of Scandinavia, which is a good example for us. I am sure that we will continue to learn lessons from there and exchange good practice.
Moving on to a general point about the Oil and Gas Authority and the tribute to Sir Ian Wood paid by noble Baronesses, Lady Worthington and Lady Liddell, the noble Lords, Lord O’Neill and Lord Purvis, and others, I quite agree. We have not really done anything other than present the report as it is. We believe that it is a good report and we are giving it legislative strength. The timing—2014—might not have been of our choosing, I agree, but we are where we are and we have to make sure that the authority is smart, nimble and able to take on new challenges as they develop.
I am happy to look at and engage with the example of transferable skills and research given by the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell. It was a helpful suggestion, so we will be in touch and make sure that noble Lords are aware of what we are doing in that regard.
The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, asked about the number of staff who would be transferred. The current figure is 103, which is an increase from the figure I was given earlier this morning, so we are obviously recruiting at a rate of knots. The majority will come from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, but expertise is retained in the department and of course we are continuing to recruit. There was a suggestion that the industry was trying to do this on a small budget, but that is not the case. We will obviously continue to recruit.
My noble friend Lady Byford raised some specific issues about the stable and predictable regulation regime set out in Clause 4 and asked for more information about that. I am happy to write her and copy noble Lords in on the detail that we have.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, talked about the regulatory role of the Oil and Gas Authority. Yes, it is of course the regulator and is subject to controls, but the oversight will be with the Secretary of State, who will be the sole shareholder of the company. No doubt we can look at that as the Bill goes through Committee. Those are the prime points on the Oil and Gas Authority. It seemed to receive a general welcome, and no doubt we can look at the detail as we proceed.
Obviously, we will not all agree about wind. There are differences even within party groups. I notice that some are more enthusiastic than others about onshore wind. Clearly, the fundamental point is that industry should not have been taken by surprise by the attitude of the Conservative Party to wind. One thing we cannot be accused of is ambiguity: the manifesto made our stance very clear.
A general point was made about the affordability of bills. My noble friends Lord Howell and Lord Ridley rightly said that affordability is an issue. Looking at the figures, the action we have taken has trimmed bills by £7 annually, which is not something that we should dismiss. But there is a concern and we should not categorise it as tawdry. We may disagree with it, but there are people who feel that there are sufficient land-based wind farms and they affect the quality of their lives, so let us put that in perspective. We have just had an election in which that was an issue.
To return to planning, developers can obviously still appeal against a decision from the local authority as they can in relation to shale. The point was made that somehow, the planning regime is fundamentally different in relation to shale. It is not. As we know from the decision recently taken in Lancashire, a decision is taken at local level and then there is the potential for appeal. In a similar way—although not identical because they are different planning regimes—there is a local element and then an appeal in both cases.
Reference was made to the certainty that is needed for British industry and investors regarding the supply chain. I agree. We need a sustainable approach to decarbonisation to 2020 and beyond. There was a Written Ministerial Statement this morning outlining these changes, which I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has. There was a press release, too, as is customary practice, but this was not announced only by press release. It makes it clear that there is a levy-controlled framework beyond 2020. I reassure noble Lords that in the autumn, we will say what we will be doing about contracts for difference.
My noble friend Lord Ridley questioned the need for Clause 60(3). It is simply there to ensure that generators who do a credit before the closure date will not be affected. A general concern was expressed about the grace period. There is an ongoing dialogue on that issue, which is why it was not dealt with in the Bill and we will return to it in Committee. That dialogue will finish at the end of July. We will then study the representations made to us and come back with something. I will make sure that noble Lords have sight of any decision as soon as it is made. That is why the measure has not been included in the Bill. I know that noble Lords will want us to look at these considerations with some care.
The number of projects affected is in the region of 250. It is not a precise figure—we cannot be absolutely certain which projects will proceed, so to that extent it is a best guesstimate. Again, that will be covered in the impact assessment. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, also talked about the grace period and the need for dialogue, which I quite agree with. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, stressed the importance of areas of outstanding natural beauty, and I agree. Some people may well say that some wind farms are already in such areas, but I thank the noble Lord for his thoughtful speech. He asked how the costs were determined. I think they are published, as we will be able to see as we go through the Bill, but they are determined by the Office for Budget Responsibility.
I hope that the Minister will forgive me for bringing him back to the issue of planning. Just after he received clarification from the Box, I took the opportunity of looking again at page 57 of the Conservative Party manifesto, which says that it would,
“change the law so that local people have the final say on windfarm applications”.
The Minister confirmed at the Dispatch Box a few moments ago that that was not the case. The current practice of developers being able to appeal to the planning inspectorate will carry on, so that is not being implemented. Is that true?
Noble Lords will understand that I am approaching this constructively. I am not going for the party knockabout, so let us leave that for another occasion. I am trying to be constructive and explain how we can take this forward.
The noble Lord quite rightly raised a point on public interest and national security grounds; perhaps I may get back to him on that with examples. The two go together. The national security point will be fairly evident, the public interest one perhaps less so. Thinking on my feet, it could involve something like piracy, but that word has connotations of the old type of pirate. However, it could mean someone taking over one of these installations, which, while it might not represent a threat to national security, may demand urgent action in the public interest by the Secretary of State. It could be something like that, and I will certainly write to the noble Lord with more precise information.
As I understand it, coming back to the announcements on solar made this morning, we do not need primary legislation for any action that is taken consequent on that consultation, and therefore I do not think that we will need to amend this legislation. If I am wrong about that, I will write to noble Lords, but I think it can be achieved through secondary legislation.
I shall move on to the miscellaneous points, although that is not to say in any way that the issues are not important. A regular theme of the debate was energy efficiency. It was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, and the noble Lords, Lord Oxburgh, Lord Teverson, Lord Judd and Lord Foulkes, among others. It is a vital issue and a lot is already happening that does not demand legislation from us now. I refer to the smart meter programme, the delivery of which in 2020 will make a massive difference. Since April 2010, we have delivered the installation of more than 1.5 million measures such as boilers, insulation and so on which have made a material difference. That links to another area of responsibility, namely fuel poverty. We are currently looking at how to ensure that our fuel poverty measures are more closely allied to improvements in energy efficiency than perhaps they have been in the past. That is something we are looking at and it is certainly important.
On nuclear, a matter raised by my noble friend Lord Howell and touched on by the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, and others, we are expecting the contract to be concluded at the end of the year. I think my right honourable friend the Secretary of State mentioned this yesterday to the Select Committee in the House of Commons. We are certainly looking at small nuclear, as I think I have indicated previously; it is important. Progress is being made on Wylfa and I discussed it again yesterday with the devolved Administration in Wales. Those matters are progressing. I think I have dealt with carbon storage.
I am coming to that; I had not forgotten. I think the noble Lord has also tabled a Question for Written Answer on this and I hope he has had a response because I have it here, although I will not read it out. I think he will be reassured that we believe there is sufficient cover at the moment. The Government will continue to monitor the insurance market for capacity in this area and to encourage insurers to enter the nuclear insurance market. I offer the noble Lord my apologies if the response has not yet arrived, but it is certainly on its way to him.
On contracts for difference, raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, the noble Lords, Lord Whitty, Lord Oxburgh, and others, I have indicated that we will be announcing our approach. Of course it is important that we look at the totality of the position on renewables; I totally agree with that.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, raised issues around the automotive industry. He is absolutely right to say that there is a massive opportunity for the United Kingdom in this area. We are working across government on this with the Department for Transport and there is a certain urgency. It is an important issue and it would be great to see British industry have an edge in the area.
The security of the national grid was raised by noble Lords. That was one of the first visits I made, and obviously there are connections with other countries such as Norway and France. I think security of supply is in place.
The Competition and Markets Authority was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, in relation to switching. He will be aware that we are currently studying, and will soon be responding to, the preliminary findings of the Competition and Markets Authority, which had a default mechanism in those preliminary findings for those people who do not switch and are on an expensive tariff. They are put into a default mechanism tariff, which will be better for them. I hope he is reassured by that. The noble Lord also raised the issue of smart grids, which are very important. We are looking at them as part of the smart energy programme.
Finally, I turn to the East Ayrshire coalfield. We are aware of the issues, as the noble Lord indicated, and at the moment the Treasury is looking at the Hargreaves and Banks proposals he mentioned. We will come back to him on that; it certainly has not been forgotten.
In anticipation that the Minister is about to finish, I want to touch briefly on two points. I hope I will be forgiven if the noble Lord has already mentioned them. On the European targets, I should like some clarity on the statement from the Government that we are on track. We are not on track. We would like to see some information about how we will compensate for failing to meet the targets for the other two aspects of the energy policy. Related to that, I should like some reassurances because, as I understand it, to have an auction for the CFD, as was planned, the Government would have to be making decisions in August, not in the autumn. Can we assume from this that the planned CFD auction for this year will not take place, and what will that mean in terms of our being able to make progress with our targets?
I thank the noble Baroness for those two points. On the European targets, we are certainly on track, as I think she will accept. Indeed, I think she said that in relation to the electricity target, which is the one that wind directly affects. The other targets are certainly challenging and we are seeking to address them. I have mentioned what we are doing on cars, but I accept that they are challenging. However, I am sure she will agree that the track record of the United Kingdom in meeting our targets is, in European terms, very good, and I am sure it will remain so. On the auction, as I say, we will be making a statement in the autumn about the future of contracts for difference, and I have indicated that there is a future for the levy control framework, but I cannot really add to that at this stage.
Once more, I thank all noble Lords for a wide-ranging debate, which has gone far beyond the narrow remit of the Bill, but that is no bad thing. I hope that, as we go through the Bill, we can engage in the constructive way we have today.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
Energy Bill [HL]
Order of Consideration Motion
Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 (Extension of duration of non-jury trial provisions) Order 2015
Motion to Approve
My Lords, under this order, trials without a jury can take place in Northern Ireland for a further two years from 1 August 2015. Without this order, the current provisions will lapse on 31 July. This is the fourth such extension of these provisions. Noble Lords will understandably want to assure themselves that a further extension is justified.
As Northern Ireland continues its progress towards peace and stability, the proposal to extend the system of non-jury trials is not made lightly. We continue to face a severe threat from dissident republican terrorism in Northern Ireland; there remains a minority of committed terrorists who seek to undermine our progress using lethal violence and intimidation. The explosion of a device in Lurgan last Saturday is the eighth national security attack in Northern Ireland this year. It was an attempt to murder police officers who serve the community with bravery and dedication, and it demonstrates once again the severity and persistence of the threat we face.
We all want to see progress towards normalisation in Northern Ireland. We must recognise, however, that Northern Ireland is still in a unique situation. The non-jury trial provisions in the 2007 Act continue to provide an appropriate response to a very small number of cases. Without such provisions, trials in Northern Ireland would not be safe from disruption, and justice would be put at risk in the most serious of cases.
I can assure the House that the Government would move to end the exceptional system of non-jury trials in Northern Ireland as soon as it was no longer necessary. However, this should happen only when the security situation allows. Regrettably, we are not there yet. Police, prison officers and military personnel remain the principal targets of attacks for violent dissident republican groupings. Attacks such as the one in Lurgan at the weekend demonstrate a blatant disregard for human life and put the wider public in danger.
Noble Lords will be aware that such attacks are not isolated events. In June an explosive device was placed under a police officer’s car in Londonderry in another attempt to maim or kill. Earlier in the year a postal improvised explosive device was sent to the Police Service of Northern Ireland headquarters, which could clearly have caused harm to postal workers. A further device exploded at the Probation Board offices in Londonderry in April and the remains of another exploded device were also found on the Belfast to Newry railway line.
Over the last year there has been a rise in paramilitary-style attacks by both republican and loyalist groupings as a means of exerting fear and control within their own communities. In-fighting also persists within loyalist paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland, remaining a cause for concern for the wider community. Threats and acts of violence towards police and public bodies demonstrate continued attempts at intimidation of individuals and communities, and under these circumstances we must not allow the criminal justice system to be put at risk.
I will now turn to the process for obtaining a non-jury trial. The Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland issues a certificate which allows for one. The DPP can issue a certificate for a non-jury trial only if, first, he suspects that one or more of four statutory conditions, which are laid out in Section 1 of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007, are met.
Condition 1 is that the defendant is, or is an associate of, a member of a proscribed organisation, or has at any time been a member of an organisation when it was a proscribed organisation, whose activities are connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland. Condition 2 is that the offence was committed on behalf of such a proscribed organisation, or such a proscribed organisation was otherwise involved. Condition 3 is that an attempt has been made by or involving a proscribed organisation connected with Northern Ireland to prejudice the investigation or prosecution. Condition 4 is that the offence was committed as a result of, or in connection with, religious or political hostility. Furthermore, the DPP must be satisfied that, in view of one or more of these conditions being met, there is a risk that the administration of justice might be impaired if a jury trial were to be held.
There is a clear distinction here between this system and the pre-2007 Diplock court arrangements—a term which has previously been used erroneously to describe the current system. The Diplock system saw a presumption that all scheduled offences would be tried by a judge alone. Today, there is a clear presumption that jury trial will take place in all but the most exceptional cases.
Certificates are issued only in a very limited number of cases. So far in 2015, the DPP has issued just nine certificates for non-jury trials. During 2014, 18 certificates were issued. To put this into context, in 2014 only 1.7% of all Crown Court cases in Northern Ireland were conducted without a jury. The figure so far for 2015 is 0.7%.
In keeping with the approach followed in 2013, the Secretary of State conducted a targeted consultation to gather views from 35 interested groups and individuals, including representatives of the main political parties in Northern Ireland, independent reviewers, human rights and other NGOs, security forces, and practitioners in the criminal justice system. In total 19 responses were received: five were supportive of extension; three were opposed; and 11 expressed no clear preference but did not object.
The Secretary of State decided to seek an extension of the provisions, having considered all the responses received, in conjunction with her view of the security situation in Northern Ireland and the potential for disruption of criminal trials. It is important to note that there is no limit in the legislation on how many times the provisions can be extended. However, given the understandable concerns around the repeated extension of these provisions, and mindful of previous calls for wider consultation, the Secretary of State has asked officials to prepare a public consultation ahead of the next expiry in 2017. This will inform a wider review of non-jury trials in Northern Ireland and how certificates are issued and may be challenged. This should not be perceived as the Government questioning the necessity or validity of the provisions for Northern Ireland’s current situation; rather, it is a positive commitment towards openness and a desire to consider the views of the wider public on provisions that would, by 2017, have been in operation for 10 years.
Let me again emphasise that the Government remain fully committed to tackling the threat from violent paramilitaries and keeping the people of Northern Ireland safe and secure. This includes doing all that we can to ensure the effective administration of justice. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of national security arrangements in Northern Ireland, noted in his response to the Secretary of State’s targeted consultation in 2015 that,
“there remains clear evidence of residual dissident activity with some technical ability, access to weapons and explosives, and the ambition to undermine the democratic process in NI”.
The noble Lord goes on to say:
“It is rational and logical to believe that dissidents would strive to undermine criminal trials of their friends and confederates. This would be likely to include the intimidation of jurors - a form of perverting of the course of justice that can be formidably difficult to detect”.
It is clear that the non-jury trial system is not being overused and that it remains necessary for the very small number of cases in which it is applied for the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. I commend the order to the House.
My Lords, I rise briefly, with a heavy heart, to support this approval Motion. I am very grateful to the Minister for the way in which he has explained the context fully and fairly. I would add only one consideration, which is that another destabilising element in the recent situation was the large paramilitary display by the INLA at the weekend in Derry. It contributes to a picture where, unfortunately, it is necessary to maintain this particular provision. I am very grateful to the Minister for saying that there will be a wider consultation next time out.
I have been speaking on these Motions since my arrival in this House, and I would love to think that, 10 years in, next time out the Minister will have better news for us. I support the approval Motion today.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister to his brief. Let me place on the record that we appreciate the efforts that have been made by him in consultation. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Bew, said—it is with a heavy heart but nevertheless a necessary attitude towards the legislation. The shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ivan Lewis, was consulted on these measures. Again, that demonstrates the bipartisan approach to issues in Northern Ireland, which is absolutely necessary. That was before the election but we are still very grateful for that.
We all recognise that non-jury trials are not an ideal part of the justice system. They are currently necessary in a society emerging from conflict. The measures will be used in only a small number of cases—as stated, fewer than under the previous Diplock system, and under very specific circumstances, as outlined by the Minister. The Minister said that the measures were justified, and we agree. The situation is unique, and we agree wholeheartedly. We accept assurances about future monitoring of the figures.
The noble Lord mentioned examples of recent behaviour in Derry/Londonderry and clearly outlined the procedure. We support the Government on that. These measures are an improvement on Diplock. The figures need to be monitored. We also wholeheartedly welcome the public consultation, as mentioned also by the noble Lord, Lord Bew. That is a positive measure because the situation in Northern Ireland will have to be resolved within the political process.
We need to make political progress in Northern Ireland through implementing the Stormont House agreement in full to better deal with the underlying tensions that make such differences in the justice system necessary—they are necessary, unfortunately. Collectively, we need to make sure that there is no let-up in the process in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State has to be seen to be active in a bipartisan way, backed up by the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is not a place where one can take one’s eye off the ball. We must constantly reiterate the Stormont agreement and the need for peace and progress. Having said all that, clearly the measures are justified and have our support.
I thank the noble Lords, Lord Bew and Lord McAvoy, for their support. Non-jury trial is an exceptional system used only in very limited circumstances. There is rightly a presumption for jury trial in all cases. The security situation in Northern Ireland has not significantly improved since the 2013 extension. The situation is covered by the conditions in the 2007 Act, which remain relevant for the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. In view of the continuing potential for juror intimidation and disruption of criminal trials, I commend the order to the House.
Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Amendment) Order 2015
Motion to Approve
My Lords, this statutory instrument makes provision to adopt for the purposes of Northern Ireland Assembly elections the same polling districts and polling stations already in place for parliamentary elections.
Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly are elected using parliamentary constituencies. However, at previous elections the polling districts, or wards, used were those drawn up for local government elections. Following the reorganisation of district councils in Northern Ireland in 2012, the local electoral boundaries were changed. This resulted in polling district boundaries that no longer sit discretely within the parliamentary constituencies.
The Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland has made it clear that it is not possible for him to hold an election where the wards straddle two constituencies. So, in advance of the general election, the last Government introduced legislation that removed the formal link which provided for local government polling districts to be used at parliamentary elections.
Under the new provisions introduced for the general election, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland now has a duty to designate the polling districts to be used for parliamentary elections, and the Chief Electoral Officer a duty to designate polling stations within those districts.
The polling districts that the Secretary of State has designated for the purposes of the parliamentary elections are the ones that were in place before the reorganisation of local government boundaries in Northern Ireland. The effect is to retain for Westminster elections the same polling districts as previously used for the 2010 general election and the last Assembly election.
The purpose of this order is to seek to close the legislative gap that has existed for Assembly elections since 2013 by applying the parliamentary polling districts and polling places used for parliamentary elections to Assembly elections. This measure will have the effect of maintaining the status quo, retaining the polling districts that voters are familiar with.
The order provides that the polling places used for the Assembly election will be those listed in the polling station scheme drawn up by the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland. He will have a duty to amend the scheme in relation to Assembly elections if he considers that the parliamentary scheme does not adequately provide for voters at an Assembly election. As a result of this order, electors and interested parties will have recourse to the Electoral Commission to appeal the scheme if they are not content.
I hope that noble Lords will agree that making provision to re-establish the link between parliamentary and Assembly polling districts and polling places is a necessary and logical step to take in advance of the Assembly elections, and are reassured that these changes are fully supported by both the Electoral Commission and the Chief Electoral Officer. I therefore commend the order to the House.
Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (General Duties of Self-Employed Persons) (Prescribed Undertakings) Regulations 2015
Motion to Approve
Section 1 of the Deregulation Act 2015 gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations, which limit the scope of Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 so that only those self-employed who conduct an undertaking of a prescribed description will continue to have a duty under the provision.
The regulations set out ways in which undertakings may be prescribed. The regulations will retain duties on all self-employed persons who conduct specified high-risk work activities or may expose others to risks to their health or safety. I am satisfied that the instrument is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
It is important that I set out a little of the background to the draft regulations. In 2011, the Government commissioned Professor Löfstedt, director of King’s Centre for Risk Management at King’s College London, to conduct an independent review of health and safety regulations. One of his recommendations was to exempt from health and safety law those self-employed people whose work activities pose no potential risk of harm to others. The Government accepted this recommendation and asked the Health and Safety Executive to draw up proposals for changing the law.
Currently, Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 imposes a general duty on self-employed people to protect themselves and others from risks to their health and safety, regardless of the type of activity they are undertaking. The proposed change to the law was included in Clause 1 of the then Deregulation Bill to ensure that only those self-employed who conduct an,
“undertaking of a prescribed description”,
will continue to have a duty. The underlying policy is that self-employed people will retain duties under Section 3(2) only if their undertaking involves carrying out an activity which is specified within the regulations. It was intended that the regulations would consist of a short concise list of activities. The proposed policy was subject to two public consultations and was debated in Parliament. The Government carefully considered the consultation responses and listened to respondents’ concerns during the debates in both Houses. The clause was therefore amended at Report in the House of Lords to ensure that those self-employed people whose work poses a risk to the health and safety of others remain subject to the law. It is these amended regulations that are subject to scrutiny by both Houses of Parliament.
The Bill received Royal Assent on 26 March 2015. The regulations have been drafted to ensure that self-employed people still have a duty under the law when they carry out high-risk activities that create risks for themselves or others. This is intended to include the most common activities carried out by the self-employed and those which statistically result in high numbers of fatalities or injuries. This approach puts beyond doubt that these self-employed people will not be exempt from health and safety law, irrespective of what they do.
Work activities in agriculture, on the railways or involving gas and asbestos are included. In addition, the regulations also include any EU requirements that impose a specific duty on someone who is self-employed to protect themselves from risks to their own health and safety. This brings in work with genetically modified organisms and self-employed people who work on construction sites. This is the key part. There is a catch-all provision in the regulations so that self-employed people who carry out an undertaking which may expose others to risks to their health and safety are included. We are exempting only those self-employed people who do not pose a risk to the public and who are not going to sue themselves.
The Government acknowledge that the self-employed will need some help to understand this change and to limit the possibility of incorrectly assessing whether their work activities may expose others to risk. The Health and Safety Executive will therefore produce guidance to support the regulations. This will also signpost existing guidance which explains in practical terms what they need to do to comply with health and safety legislation.
My Lords, I regret that these regulations are before the House. As they are here, I think they are the least worst option. I see from the impact assessment that a “probabilistic” approach was taken to these regulations. It is not a word I have ever heard of. I hope they veer towards the probable rather than towards the ballistic in their outcome.
As the Minister has said, the catch-all provision to ensure that those self-employed persons who may pose a risk to others are not exempt from Health and Safety law is at least an improvement on the original intention. The word “may”, however, leaves an awful lot to be desired. This all arose, of course, from an explicit assurance by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, to my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton, who was seeking inclusion of this provision in the Bill.
I still believe that the phrase,
“may pose a risk to others”,
will cause confusion. Professor Löfstedt actually recommended exemption from Health and Safety law for,
“those self-employed people whose work activities pose no potential risk of harm to others”,
which is what the noble Baroness herself just quoted. There was no “may” about it.
It may be that the impact will be minimal because, even under current legislation, there is evidence that a significant number of self-employed people do not think the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act applies to them. In one piece of qualitative research, only five out of 60 people interviewed thought that they had any health and safety obligations. Not a single one of them responded to say that this change would make a difference to their working practices.
The regulations may be more about perception than a real change, as stated by Professor Löfstedt. In one sense, I hope that is correct, and that health and safety at work will not diminish. However, perceptions are extremely important, and these regulations may encourage the perception that not only is health and safety a burden but that it is respectable to avoid obligation. There is still potential for self-employed people to assess incorrectly whether the exemption applies to them. The Health and Safety Executive guidelines—to which, again, the Minister referred—are still in preparation, so we do not know what impact or coverage they will have.
With approximately 266,000 new businesses being established each year, we do not know what impact these regulations will have on them. As the impact assessment points out:
“The newly self-employed will still need to spend some time determining whether they are exempt under the proposals”.
I hope it will be made clear, in communicating information about these regulations, that there are still more than 40 sets of regulations that apply to the self-employed, either explicitly or in more general regulations. For example, the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations, known as RIDDOR, will still apply. When I was preparing my report on fatalities in the construction industry, I was concerned about the low level of reporting of accidents and injuries under RIDDOR. It was quite clear that hospitals were more likely to know the extent of occurrences under RIDDOR than the reporting mechanism itself. It was also clear that there was a pattern that low levels of reporting on minor injuries also saw a higher proportion of serious injuries and fatalities. I realise that these comments apply to construction, which is not an exempt industry under these proposals, but I am making the point that, if anything, there is a problem of underreporting, which can lead to more accidents. It is in the interests of government and the taxpayer, as well as the self-employed person, to be conscious of the costs to the health service and the DWP of any increase in accidents at work. This is why I remain concerned about the policy of exempting people from an Act that has served and is serving this nation well.
My Lords, it is very clear from what the noble Baroness has said that the health and safety of the English language are at risk. I should like an assurance from my noble friend that the word “probabilistic” will never appear again in any document or on the Floor of this House. I should like an assurance that she will take some time during the Recess to distribute to everyone within her department a copy of Sir Ernest Gowers’ Plain Words. May we also have a resolution that, when we come back in the autumn, acronyms will be banned?
My Lords, I agree entirely with the comments of my noble friend Baroness Donaghy. She is absolutely right to raise her concerns. I also want to raise the question of the agriculture industry. I know that this industry is prescribed; it is the most dangerous industry working today. There is a shocking level of drownings, electrocutions and other fatalities in this industry. It has a really appalling record. I hope the noble Baroness can comment on that today because it really is an industry in which a lot of individuals work and in which some very serious injuries take place. Frankly, the regulations at present are not good enough or strong enough, and need strengthening in that industry.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, for introducing these regulations. I welcome her to what I understand to be her first foray into the health and safety debate. The Minister will doubtless be aware of the extensive legislative consideration given to this matter in what was then the Deregulation Bill—now the Act—which culminated in the provision now enabling these regulations.
As we heard, these changes to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 have their origin in the report of Professor Löfstedt entitled Reclaiming Health and Safety for All, in which he recommended that those self-employed people whose activities posed no potential risk of harm to others should be exempt from the general duties under that Act. This recommendation was made, notwithstanding that it was generally acknowledged, included by the professor himself, that these duties did not overly burden the self-employed, and that any requirements in these circumstances would be minimal in time, cost and enforcement effort by the HSE and local authorities. Their main duty was to carry out an assessment of the risks to themselves and others that are relevant to their work. There was no necessity to record the findings. The impact assessment that accompanies the regulations estimates that those within the provisions would have spent on average just 15 minutes a year on this endeavour. Paragraph 58 of the impact assessment further states:
“One current requirement that the self-employed might not comply with if they became exempt is carrying out a risk assessment considering risk to themselves. However, in order to know whether they qualify for the exemption, they would still need to assess whether their work poses risk to others, and it is likely that any risks to themselves would arise from the same factors”.
So there is no particular practical easement from that perspective.
Although we supported the overall thrust of Professor Löfstedt’s report, we hold to the view that to implement this recommendation is, to use the words of IOSH, “unwise and unnecessary”. The scope for confusion over who is covered and who is not, and the minimal overall benefits calculated—less than £1 million a year, with estimated upfront costs of £3.4 million—strongly argue still for the original scope of Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act to be retained. But changes to primary legislation preclude our going back.
The argument that this is all in the interests of tackling perceptions about over-burdensome inspection and prosecutions is simply not tenable. The facts dictate otherwise. Surely, so far as perceptions are concerned, the task is to challenge misperceptions rather than to pander to them. The Minister will be aware that there were a couple of attempts by the previous Government to implement a Löfstedt approach which fell well short of being acceptable. The penultimate attempt at prescribing a list of high-risk activities which, if carried out by the self-employed, would cause them to remain subject to the 1974 Act with all other self-employed outside was greeted with a storm of criticism not only from the health and safety community—RoSPA, IOSH, IIRSM and safety groups—but from the CBI, EEF as well as the TUC. The HSE’s consultation clearly demonstrated this approach to be untenable.
Thankfully, the coalition Government belatedly listened. While not abandoning an approach of a high-risk list, they were persuaded to add a “catch-all” provision to include within the provisions of Section 3(2) of the Act those self-employed whose activities may pose a risk of harm to the health and safety of another person. We support this as far as it goes, but note that it does not replicate any previous obligations on the part of the self-employed to avoid risks to their own health and safety, unless they are on the prescribed list. However, the HSE has never prosecuted anyone for putting at risk their own health and safety.
I have some questions for the Minister. Can it be confirmed that nothing in the Deregulation Act or these regulations diminishes in any way the health and safety obligations of others to the self employed? Can it also be confirmed that, similarly, nothing diminishes the obligation of the self employed to their employees or to others in respect of activities which may pose a risk of harm to them; that is, Section 3(1) and Section 2 of the Act will continue to apply? Can the Minister explain the reference to “employees” in Regulation 2(b) given that Section 3(2) of the 1974 Act supposedly only applies to self-employed who are without employees?
To the extent that, previously, the self-employed posed no risk of harm to others, the substantive change appears to be in respect of the self-employed’s duties not to expose themselves to risks to their health and safety. Does the Minister agree with the impact assessment that this easement will have little practical effect on the risk assessment they will continue to undertake?
The HSE is to produce guidance. Is this now available in final form given that the regulations come into force in less than three months? I think that there was a commitment to have them ready 12 weeks or three months before implementation.
What definition is being used for “self-employed”? The Minister will doubtless be aware of the long-standing difficulties of what is known as the bogus self-employed, which is an issue that my noble friend Lady Donaghy focused on relentlessly in her report on the construction industry. While many in this category would be involved in construction, and whose activities would be in a prescribed category in any event, uncertainty of status can only create uncertainty of application of health and safety regulations. If a self-employed person’s activities are not listed in the schedule, they have to make a judgment about whether they pose a risk of harm to others. To what extent is that process and judgment different from that which would have taken place before the amendments to the 1974 Act were made?
Paragraph 18 of the impact assessment makes it clear that more than 40 sets of regulations which apply to the self-employed, including RIDDOR as referred to by noble friend. The regulations before us deal with the general duty, but can the Minister explain their impact, if any, on these other regulations and the requirements they place on the self-employed?
We see these regulations as an improvement on where we might have been heading when government first turned its mind to Professor Löfstedt’s recommendation. But they remain unsatisfactory because of the uncertainty created; unsatisfactory because of the risk that the view will take hold that there is a general exemption for the self-employed; and unsatisfactory because they reinforce the idea that health and safety is unnecessary and burdensome.
Although the list of prescribed activities in the schedule is shorter and more precise in some respects than earlier offerings, it still relies on references which will not be familiar to all. The list of categories attached to the impact assessment might be read by some as negating the need for individual risk assessments.
We welcome the plans for a review, but are concerned that it might be as long as five years before it comes to fruition. Are there any plans to do it earlier in that five-year period? These are important regulations potentially touching on matters of life and death. We believe that they bring unnecessary change, but one which must now be made to work effectively. Therefore, we will reluctantly not oppose them.
I thank noble Lords for their comments, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for their, albeit reluctant, welcoming of the proposals.
I want to provide some clarifications that were asked for by the noble Lord. The obligations of the self-employed to others are unaffected. Their obligations to employees are unaffected and Section 3(1) and (2) will still apply.
I also make it clear that the exemptions will be clarified in specific, detailed guidance from the Health and Safety Executive. The definition of self-employed that the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked me about is in Section 53 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and is rather broad, stating that,
“‘self-employed person’ means an individual who works for gain or reward otherwise than under a contract of employment, whether or not he himself employs others”.
A director of a limited company is an employee of that company. If that company employs others—that is, is an employer—it will have duties under Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act towards its employees.
I take my noble friend Lord Cormack’s point about the term “probabilistic”, which seems to have been more ballistic today than one might have expected, and I will relay his request to the department. As far as banning acronyms is concerned, as someone who is steeped in pensions, these have often been the bane of my life and I sympathise to some degree.
I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about the agriculture industry. It is indeed an industry, as is construction, in which there have been an enormous number of accidents and fatalities. The duties on the self-employed to report accidents are not affected in any way by these changes but it is anticipated that they will remove 1.7 million people from the scope of Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety and Work etc. Act 1974 and will result in savings to the self-employed of £4.7 million over 10 years. Obviously, the source of those savings is subject to estimation but it appears that a number of self-employed people who do not pose any risk to others, such as a bookkeeper working from their own home and not coming into contact with anybody else, mistakenly believe that they are required to carry out health and safety assessments or are approached by consultants who lead them to believe that they need to spend money on having such an assessment. I entirely agree with the noble Lord that as long as the guidance is clear and the clarifications are available—so that people who are exempt know they are exempt, and those who could pose a risk to the public and are therefore not exempt will be able to identify themselves—this should indeed result in savings, as recommended by the Löfstedt report.
We have had an independent review. We have listened to the concerns and the requests for amendments that have been made, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and have responded to those. The catch-all phrase in Regulation 2(b) should make it absolutely clear that we are intending to cover anybody who potentially poses a risk to the public, and they will still have to comply with health and safety regulations.
The Minister referred to the 1.7 million people who will be taken outside the scope of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. What estimate has been made of the number of those people who would have to undertake a risk assessment in the first place to determine whether or not they pose a risk to others?
We would expect that if they are exempt they would not need to undertake a health and safety risk assessment. The idea is that it will be made clear to them if they are working in such conditions that they pose no threat to the public. As I described, if you work from your own home and you do not come in contact with the public, you will not need to do a health and safety self-assessment, and somebody will not come along and say, “Oh, by the way, everybody has to conduct a health and safety assessment”. However, of course, if you are employing other people, that will still be required. I hope that that answers the question.
I understand that it is difficult to imagine how this will work until it is actually working, but the guidelines and the guidance will be available six weeks before the regulations come into force. There will be an extensive campaign to publicise this change and to explain it to the public. Our estimates have been made and we are accepting the recommendations of an independent review. We are talking only about someone who is self-employed so our expectation is that this will save both time and money; it will also save those self-employed people who are now exempt from having to keep up to date with any changes in health and safety regulation, which in itself can take time or cost money.
We are aiming to help businesses. We expect that more new businesses will start up as a result of this. Again, one cannot demonstrate precisely how many—
I am sorry; I promise not to interrupt again. Is the Minister seriously saying that an estimated 15 minutes a year has been prohibiting self-employed businesses from starting up and flourishing; or that the minuscule savings that, in aggregate, even on these estimates, are expected to accrue will affect the growth of self-employed businesses? There have been some 200,000 new businesses in recent times in any event. They do not seem to have been inhibited by overburdensome health and safety regulations.
I accept that it is impossible to prove but that is the expectation of the department. At the margin—these decisions are often important at the margin—some people will be reassured to know, if they are intending to set up only as a self-employed person working from home, that they are not included in the health and safety requirements they are now being exempted from. It is impossible to say, as with all such things, but we certainly have been advised that, and it is the view of the independent reviewer that, this will make a difference. Therefore, we are recommending these changes.
I said that I would not intervene again, but I want to stress to the Minister that the statement made that those working at home can be outside the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act is very dangerous. To make blanket assertions in such a bold way—that no one in that situation will pose a risk of harm to others or need to undertake a risk assessment—is highly dangerous. I apologise for interrupting. I will not do it again but we have to stress the importance of not going down that path of encouraging people to think that they are outside the provisions of this very important legislation.
I absolutely share the noble Lord’s view that this is very important legislation. The advances we have made in health and safety and the consequent reductions in accidents, along with the measures introduced all those years ago, are a significant achievement and success. However, I am suggesting that certain businesses can be exempted from this provision because they pose no risk to the public. I certainly would not wish to give the impression, and I hope I have not, that everybody who works from home is exempt. One million self-employed people will still be covered by the regulations. They will apply only to certain types of activity and they will be made clear. They will be clarified by the guidance and by the campaign that will be launched six weeks before these measures come into effect.
Perhaps my noble friend might like to explain to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the party opposite that what is actually needed here is common sense, not risk assessment. Risk assessment is a formal legal process. People should use their common sense to make sure that they look after themselves. I think that is what my noble friend is trying to drive at and it must be the right way to proceed—to avoid paper form-filling and unnecessary diversion of effort for people who, with common sense, could work it out for themselves.
I thank my noble friend Lord Hodgson for his comments. I would certainly be of the view that in the cases one could imagine these regulations applying to, it would be common sense to identify whether you pose no risk to the public in the work you are doing. You would therefore not need to carry out a health and safety assessment on yourself or your place of work if you do not pose any risk to anybody else. As I have said, a self-employed person who is an employer will continue to have duties under the Act; so will anyone who carries out high-risk activities.
I made reference to the problems in the agriculture industry, which is the most dangerous in which to work in the whole of the UK. I am certainly of the opinion that either the regulations are not strong enough at present or they are not enforced properly. Will the noble Baroness look at the list of injuries—drownings and electrocutions? It is a shocking tale in that industry and something really needs to be done about it.
I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about agriculture, which is a prescribed activity. All self-employed persons undertaking agricultural activities will continue to have duties under Section 3(2) of the health and safety Act. Indeed, if the noble Lord so requests, we will be happy to look at the situation with agriculture. We certainly recognise the importance of keeping agriculture within the remit.
I beg to move that the House has considered these regulations.
UK Opt-in to the Proposed Council Decision on the Relocation of Migrants within the EU (EUC Report)
Motion to Agree
That this House, while noting that Her Majesty’s Government are minded not to opt into the proposed Council Decision establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece, agrees the recommendation of the European Union Committee that, should an amended or a new proposal be brought forward giving effect to the European Council’s Conclusions in April and June 2015, the Government should exercise their right, in accordance with the Protocol on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, to take part in the adoption and application of that proposal (2nd Report, HL Paper 22).
My Lords, I beg to move this Motion as chairman of the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee, which prepared the report to which the Motion relates. I thank all members of the sub-committee, the clerk to that committee, Theo Pembroke, and the policy analyst, Lena Donner, for their assistance with the preparation of the report.
As your Lordships know, when the House considers reports from the European Union Committee, it is normally on a Motion that the House takes note of the report. In this case, the Motion invites the House to agree the committee’s recommendations. The reason is that this report deals with a proposed European Council decision, which falls within the area of justice and home affairs and which will apply to the United Kingdom only if the Government exercise their right under protocols to the EU treaties to participate in its negotiation, adoption and implementation—in other words if the Government, having taken into account the views of the committee, opt in. The Government have to do this within three months of the proposal being presented to the Council. In this case, the deadline will expire on 27 August so I am extremely grateful that time has been made available to debate this opt-in report at short notice and before the expiry of that three-month period.
The background to this debate is the global migration crisis and, specifically, its tragic consequences in the Mediterranean. In a single incident off the coast of Libya in April, more than 800 people lost their lives. Italy and Greece are on the front line. The proposal that is the subject of this debate focuses narrowly on the EU’s attempt to alleviate the burden that has fallen on Italy and Greece in responding to this humanitarian crisis. The fact is that Italy and Greece are unable to cope with looking after migrants and processing their claims for international protection status. Conditions have become so poor in Greece that the European Court of Justice has held that states that return asylum seekers to Greece are in breach of the prohibition against torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.
In response, the emergency European Council summit in April agreed to consider organising emergency relocation between all member states on a voluntary basis. What this meant in practice was that the member states agreed voluntarily to assist Greece and Italy by taking in or relocating some of the migrants already based in those countries. However, in May, the EU Commission proposed a Council decision that, if adopted, would create a temporary scheme to relocate 40,000 migrants entering the EU via Italy and Greece to other member states, with the precise numbers to be determined in accordance with a mandatory quota system. Since that point, the Commission and the European Council seem to have been in disagreement. What happened next was that the European Council agreed at its meeting in June that the Council of Ministers should adopt a Council decision providing for,
“the temporary and exceptional relocation over two years from the frontline Member States Italy and Greece to other Member States of 40,000 persons in clear need of international protection, in which all Member States will participate … all members will agree by consensus by the end of July on the distribution of such persons, reflecting the specific situation of Member States”.
This meant that the European Council accepted the principle that 40,000 migrants should be relocated from Greece and Italy, and the reference to agreement on distribution by consensus, rather than by qualified majority voting, underlined that the European Council was rejecting the mandatory nature of the scheme proposed by the Commission and reverting to a voluntary political agreement.
Earlier this week, on 20 July, after the report was published, the Justice and Home Affairs Council agreed to a voluntary scheme that would relocate 32,256 migrants—almost 8,000 short of the target agreed by the European Council. Germany has agreed to take 10,000; Luxembourg, with a population of a little over half a million, is taking 320; even Malta, which is already overburdened with migrants entering Europe by sea, is taking 60. The UK is taking none—not even one.
Not exclusively. The point is that the definition of a migrant is rather fluid, because people who are migrants may become asylum seekers or refugees.
As I said, the UK has taken none—not even one. This week’s political agreement appears to have sidelined further involvement by the Commission, so the status of the Commission’s proposal is uncertain. It is not clear whether it will be withdrawn or amended. Indeed, the information published by the Council about Monday’s meeting has muddied the waters, leaving it unclear on what legal basis the Council’s decisions are being taken forward. That is why the Motion before the House is conditional on the Commission amending or replacing its proposal in such a way as to reflect the conclusions of the European Council.
This is a convoluted story; it was not the way to handle an issue of such gravity and importance. We need to remind ourselves of the underlying reality of this crisis. First, the proposed scheme would not relocate any migrants who have entered Italy or Greece. Only those who are from countries where over 75% of emigrants are successful in claiming asylum status are eligible. At the moment, only three countries meet this condition: they are the conflict-ridden states of Iraq, Eritrea and Syria. Those who would be helped by the scheme are overwhelmingly refugees and not economic migrants.
Secondly, the scheme has repeatedly been conflated with the concurrent proposal to resettle 20,000 refugees in the EU directly from north Africa, the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and other priority areas. The UK has agreed, in accordance with long-standing international obligations, to take in just more than 2,000 refugees under the resettlement scheme—but this has no bearing on the relocation scheme, which applies only to migrants who are already in the EU.
Why is the UK refusing to help? The Government argue that the relocation scheme, which is helping those migrants who have already reached the EU, will act as a pull factor and encourage more people to risk their lives. This claim is wholly unsubstantiated, and the Minister, James Brokenshire, was unable to offer any evidence to support his claims when he appeared before the committee. These refugees are fleeing for their lives. The notion that the relocation scheme will encourage more to flee is therefore totally unconvincing.
The Government also cite their wider objectives, such as stopping migration across the Mediterranean and reducing the flow of migrants in countries of origin. These are of course laudable medium and long-term objectives—my sub-committee has just launched an inquiry into the EU’s agenda on migration, which will address these issues in more detail—but they have no bearing on this proposal, which has a specific, limited goal to deal with the current humanitarian crisis.
If the EU fails to relocate refugees, they will be forced to remain in countries which have increasingly poor reception conditions and which, particularly in the case of Greece, are facing economic crises that seriously reduce their capacity to accept additional migration. This is a humanitarian crisis which requires genuinely collective EU action. Moreover, this scheme is about the fundamental principle of solidarity and burden-sharing between member states. As an EU member state, we have a duty to show solidarity and help deal with the crisis. The political and international implications of failing to opt in would also be grave. This humanitarian crisis is happening within the EU’s own borders, and the EU’s failure to deal with it adequately is undermining its international credibility. Effective action is needed and this cannot happen unless all member states, including the UK, take their share of the burden.
After the June Council, the Prime Minister made it clear that the Government do not wish to take part in the relocation scheme. However, the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum leaves open the possibility that the UK may help if a voluntary scheme is introduced. This now appears to have happened at this week’s Justice and Home Affairs Council. Moreover, the distribution of relocated migrants is well below the target of 40,000, so it would seem that there is still scope for the UK to participate in this scheme. The precise number of migrants that the UK would take would of course be up to the Government.
Before I finish, I have three questions for the Minister, of which I have given his office advance notice. First, further to the Council’s resolution on 20 July, will there be EU legislation to establish the relocation scheme? Secondly, what form will such legislation take and on what legal basis will it be adopted? Thirdly, what relationship will this legislation have to the Commission’s original proposals? These are technical questions but they are important.
Technicalities aside, the issue we are discussing today is fundamentally a question of the UK’s responsibility as a member of the EU. We believe that duties of solidarity with our allies, and compassion for those who have fled civil war, mean that the UK must opt in. Moreover, we believe that it is in the UK’s interest to take part in the proposed scheme. Now, above all, we should show we are fully engaged in supporting our partners. I urge the Government to reconsider their position and opt in. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on the remarkable report that she and her committee produced in a very short time. I also congratulate her on a formidable speech. The points she made and the moderation with which she expressed her views were quite moving and very convincing. I am not going to speak for very long because the noble Baroness has set out the case with such eloquence and covered all the issues at stake so fully that there is very little I can add. I only say this: I agree with her about European solidarity and the failure of the EU to respond satisfactorily to this crisis. However, above all we are dealing with a humanitarian crisis that touches all our consciences, as she said. It is as a humanitarian crisis and a matter of conscience that the Government should approach this.
We have heard a great deal recently in the media, but also from members of the Government, comparing what is happening in Syria and Iraq and ISIS with the Nazis of the 1930s. I am always rather dubious about historical analogies and, almost always, situations differ from one epoch to another. However, we can all agree that ISIS is evil—evil in its intent and evil in its actions. If we are to make comparisons with the 1930s, we ought perhaps also to think about what happened to the victims of persecution then: of course, most countries closed their doors to them. Most countries would not take the people who were suffering in Germany and Austria at that time. Indeed, one of the countries that particularly closed its doors was the United States.
However, the United Kingdom had a relatively good record in this respect, as my own family has reason to know. We recently mourned the death of Nicholas Winton, who organised the Kindertransport to this country. There is a striking contrast between the actions and attitudes then—not just of Sir Nicholas Winton but of those who received the children, the institutions in Britain that provided jobs to people who were fleeing and those whose hearts went out to those who were suffering—and the very cold-hearted behaviour that the Government are exhibiting at the moment. It is on that basis that I hope this matter will be considered, in addition to all the other powerful points made by the noble Baroness.
It is unworthy of the traditions of this country that we should not participate in this scheme. It is an EU scheme and we are members of the EU. We have duties to our fellow members and those should all be observed. Quite apart from anything at all to do with the EU, this is a humanitarian issue that should touch the conscience of the nation. If we are to be true to our traditions, we should be co-operating and trying to do something for those who are seeking asylum and fleeing from persecution, who it is quite impossible to send back to countries in a state of chaos, upheaval and violence. I hope that the Government will be able to put that at the centre of their consideration.
My Lords, I also welcome the debate. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, on her speech and on the report. I congratulate the sub-committee—of which I am, in fact, not a member—on the speed of its report. We learn from the United Nations that there are 60 million refugees and displaced persons in the world and, since the beginning of 2014, getting on for 400,000 people have arrived in the EU. I share the view expressed by previous speakers in wanting a more positive response to the whole European agenda on migration from the Government of a country that is still a leading EU member state and a permanent member of the Security Council and which has, while by no means a perfect record on handling migration, at least a lot of experience, and a better tale to tell than many others. I would like a greater sense of how the Government think that the UK can contribute to EU solidarity on this matter, as well as enhancing the responsibility, which is the other side of the coin, of all member states to implement the asylum acquis. We know that there was not a good record in countries such as Italy and Greece even before this crisis; across the whole EU, apparently only two in five return decisions are implemented, which does not help the situation, although some ideas include much greater use of detention, which is worrying.
Sadly, the UK’s moral authority on matters of the asylum acquis is not increased by the fact that we have not opted into two of the five measures—the procedures directive and the reception conditions directive—in the common asylum system. Of course, we are not in the Schengen information system for immigration purposes, so the return decisions and entry bans are of no help to us. But even if the Government are not persuaded by this report and this debate—and I hope that they might be—I hope that they can tell us, in the words of the Explanatory Memorandum to this proposal, how they think,
“an effective and sustainable response to the situation in the Mediterranean”,
can best be implemented, and the extent to which the UK can contribute to an effective response to migratory pressures on some member states, even if it does not opt into the relocation proposal.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, updated us, there was an agreement at the JHA Council on Monday to clarify the legal nature of the scheme—that it is voluntary—by consensus, because it must be admitted that that lack of clarity was not conducive to making decisions. I would like to hear what the Government think about the implications of the scheme for the future of the EU asylum system. Now that the legal nature of being voluntary has been ascertained, could the Minister elaborate on what other factors and criteria will influence the Government’s decision now that that is clear?
The Commission has presented the present proposal as temporary, but as the precursor to a permanent and mandatory scheme which, presumably, would drive a coach and horses through the Dublin arrangement of responsibility on state of first arrival. The June European Council referred to a “temporary and exceptional relocation” of 40,000 over two years but, once this has been done, how could Dublin be re-established, even if it were desirable to do so? Perhaps the Government could answer both those questions. I note that Austria has already stopped processing asylum requests, and Hungary has refused to take back Dublin transferees, so what is the future of the EU asylum system? How will the Government contribute positively to make the overall system work? One puzzle is why the temporary protection directive has never been used and invoked in these circumstances. It is designed for a mass influx, which can be counted cumulatively. One would have thought that it was tailor-made for this situation.
While we are on the asylum acquis, the Commission guidelines on fingerprinting have elicited considerable concern on human rights grounds, since they introduce notions of coercion and detention for failing to give fingerprints. What is the Government’s reaction to those guidelines? It has been much commented on, so are they aware that many arrivals are not being fingerprinted? Can the Government give us an idea of what really is the extent and scale of the problem of non-fingerprinting?
Even if the Government are hesitant on relocation, they need to do much more to help promote safe and legal routes into the EU, whether for refugees, displaced people or legal migrants. It should be much more positive and proactive on the resettlement side of the equation for permanent resettlement, humanitarian admission, enhanced family reunions, study visas and so on, by which I mean direct from the region, specifically for Syrian refugees, of whom 4 million are registered by UNHCR and hosted in neighbouring countries. We must applaud the generosity of countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, while being very aware of the strain that this is placing on their capacity, resources and local communities. Indeed, they are starting to close their borders, because the degree of pressure is leading to unregulated shanty camps, which are rife with disease and distress and act as a hotbed for radicalisation. UNHCR is running out of money because promised donations, particularly from the Gulf states, have not materialised. Are the Government pressing those states to come up with the money?
There was an excellent article recently on resettling Syrian refugees by Dr Neil Quilliam, acting head of the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House. I have not got time to quote a lot of it but he feels that our failure to resettle or provide humanitarian admission to more than a few hundred Syrian refugees is harming the UK’s reputation in the Middle East and squandering an opportunity to influence a new generation of Syrians who will likely lead the reconstruction of their war-torn homeland. He draws an analogy with Iraqi Kurds and Kosovars and he proposes that the UK should admit 10,000 Syrian refugees as opposed to this couple of hundred. This would have various beneficial results. It seems to me that if we were to set such an example we ought to be aiming for something upwards of 200,000 resettlement places across the whole of the EU. Then we could challenge other regions and countries in the world to take on a similar burden. The advantage of resettlement is that it cuts out the middleman or criminal smuggling gangs. I believe there would be public support for such a programme. It does not have the same resonances as the relocation scheme.
On the return of irregular migrants, the Commission plans to revise the legislation on migrant smuggling by 2016. Will the UK take part? It is regrettable that the UK is not a party to the return directive or the framework decision on strengthening criminal penalties against smuggling. Will the Government turn over a new leaf and decide to actually lead in this area for the EU? Perhaps the Minister can update us on other measures that have been taken to tackle criminal smuggling, even though that is not the focus of today.
Also, can the Government give us, either now or perhaps in September, more information about the third leg of the European agenda for migration, which is co-operation with countries of origin and transit? There is much rather airy-fairy talk of a global package to support a dialogue with third countries. What does it really consist of? Are we ready to make serious offers to countries, including Morocco and Tunisia, with which the EU is trying to negotiate readmission agreements, on trade and possibilities for legal migration which would actually make it a real partnership? Even if the main focus today is the relocation proposal, perhaps the Minister can add some comments that will put some concrete flesh on the bones of those proposals, if I can mix my metaphors.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for having secured this debate and for introducing it. I agree entirely with her speech.
The discussions about opt-ins, opt-outs and Title V of Part 3 of TFEU risk obscuring an extraordinarily serious and difficult issue: the consequences of the situation in Iraq and Syria and, further south, in Sudan and Eritrea. The war in Syria alone has led to the worst humanitarian disaster on the borders of Europe since the end of the Second World War, and that is only part of a huge global problem, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, has said: 60 million refugees worldwide, with more than 20 million displaced people on the borders of Europe.
Not only is this extraordinarily serious, it is also extraordinarily complex. There are people fleeing conflict in Iraq and Syria. There are economic migrants from west Africa who had gone to work in Libya but are now fleeing conflict there—economic migrants have become asylum seekers. The apparent constancies here easily break down. Whatever the causes, though, the consequence of all this is that desperate people are prepared to take desperate remedies to escape a pretty desperate predicament. In some cases, as we know, women and children are encouraged into leaking boats by unscrupulous people smugglers and many of them, alas, have died.
There is an inevitable and understandable tendency to wish for an easy solution to problems as complex as this, but there are, alas, no easy solutions. I have to say that I entirely understand, and in many ways applaud, the European Commission’s attempt to find a solution by proposing a relocation scheme. I think that it was wrong to stick to a mandatory scheme when the European Council clearly did not want that. However, proposing to allocate to other EU member states some of the asylum seekers in Greece and Italy is a perfectly sensible, logical and humanitarian attempt to share the burden among EU states.
Of course, that can be only part of the solution. For the longer term, we need to work collectively with countries in the region to remove the causes of migration—not easy at the moment in Iraq, impossible in Syria and virtually impossible in Libya. But we need to work with Jordan and Lebanon and, where we can, with those in north Africa to encourage co-operation and promote development. I think that there is a big role here for DfID, and I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that it will indeed be working hard to co-operate with the states from which the migrants are coming.
We also need to work to try to neutralise people smugglers and drug traffickers. This will inevitably be for the medium to long term, and meanwhile we need to ensure that those who are on the leaky boats are rescued, not left to drown. I was encouraged that HMS “Bulwark” was sent to help to achieve that, and I would be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that HMS “Enterprise” will be equally assiduous in trying to save people on leaky boats trying to get from the north African coast to Malta or the European continent.
I am glad that at the Council meeting this week the UK agreed to take 2,000 people from east Africa. However, if we believe that the United Kingdom has an international role, or indeed an international responsibility, surely we must take part fully in the search for a solution to an immensely difficult problem, and that means taking part fully also in the European Union’s proposals for relocation. The response is evolving day by day, and we must be part of that. Opting out of a key part of the European Union’s attempt to find solutions to a problem as serious as this is, frankly, as the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, has said so eloquently, not worthy of our history or our traditions, nor indeed of our interests as a nation that still has global influence around the world. I therefore hope very much that the Government will consider these broader humanitarian issues as well as the narrower question of how many people to take in under these different schemes.
My Lords, like other speakers, I am grateful for this debate and particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and her colleagues for this excellent, moving and powerful report.
Of course, there are no easy answers to this dilemma, and I do not pretend that there are. I fully accept that any further help that we offer these poor disrupted people should be on a voluntary basis. Generosity and hospitality are important but cannot be mandated. On the other hand, as relatively wealthy members of the family of nations and of the European Union, we have a duty to help the persecuted and dispossessed, and to offer support to poorer European partners who find themselves under severe pressure. I stress that this is not easy.
Clearly, the problems in places such as Eritrea, Syria and Iraq must be dealt with at source, and it is right that we as a country should play a full part in that diplomatically, through appropriate aid—I note and endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said about the involvement of DfID—and, if necessary, in other ways. But if people are driven out of their country or are fleeing persecution, the political considerations and complications should not be an excuse for our inaction.
The words “refugee” and “asylum seeker” have become almost terms of abuse in our generation, yet we have a noble tradition in this country of welcoming the persecuted and dispossessed, and that is part of what has made our country great. In my city of Peterborough, we still have a thriving community of Ugandan Asians and their descendants. These people were expelled by the dictator Idi Amin in 1972 in an appalling act of racial cleansing. Our city welcomed a large group, and three years ago held a celebration of 40 years of that community and the immense contribution that it has made to our common life over that time.
Yes, the political problems are great. There are no easy answers and all actions have consequences. Nevertheless, welcoming the persecuted and the dispossessed is a duty for civilised nations—I would argue that it is a Christian duty—and in the long term it is good for the host nation, as well as for those fleeing for their lives.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the right reverend Prelate in a very brief but powerful and moving speech. I am glad that he referred to the Ugandan Asians. I was a very new, young Member of another place, alongside my now noble friend Lord Tugendhat, in 1970, and when I look back upon that time, I think that it was the best decision of the Heath Government, notwithstanding any others. We behaved as good neighbours and received people into our midst, and we have received manifold benefits as a result of that. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Popat introduced a debate in this House to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the coming of the Ugandan Asians.
Of course, there is no exact parallel. Ugandan Asians, for the most part, had British passports. We were taking in those who had a degree of entitlement, although there were many voices raised at the time to suggest that they did not. However, it is an interesting parallel to draw. I am very glad that my noble friend Lord Tugendhat referred to the late, great Sir Nicholas Winton, who, with his Kindertransport, did so much—unheralded and unknown until recent years—to bring children here from one of the most evil and repressive regimes in history. Many of them settled and, indeed, we have at least one in our own midst, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who has talked movingly of that.
This is a humanitarian issue. We are talking about refugees, people who are fleeing evil regimes, situations of civil war and repression. It is not an unfair analogy to say that the evil of ISIL compares with the evil of Nazi Germany. I am grateful, as are others, to our noble friend Lady Prashar for the way in which she chairs our sub-committee and for the manner in which she introduced this debate.
We all understand the caution on the part of the Government when immigration was an issue that played large in the recent general election and when the policy of an open door excites sometimes very unfair, sometimes downright wrong responses from certain people. We are not talking of ordinary immigrants here. Of course, precautions have to be taken. It is necessary for fingerprints to be taken, because in the areas from which these poor people flee not only is there strife and civil war but there are those, some of them from our country, who are fomenting trouble and are guilty of terrible things. We have to be careful, but being careful does not mean that you have to slam the door or refuse to open it.
I very much hope that the Government will heed the voices heard in this debate. I hope that they will recognise that this great humanitarian crisis—the greatest, as has been said, since the end of the Second World War—behoves us to behave as good neighbours. None of us is saying that there should be a mandatory scheme. You cannot order people to be kind, as the right reverend Prelate made plain in his remarks, but a voluntary scheme is one of which we should be part, as long as the renegotiation, of which we should be part, produces a workable one. I believe that it can and should; I hope that it will.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, has reminded us that we are a world power. We have a seat on the United Nations Security Council. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, reminded us, we are a leading member of the European Union, one of the largest nations. If we remain within it, as I devoutly hope that we will, within a decade or so we will probably be the most powerful economic nation within the European Union.
Of course we have national obligations, and it is by recognising national responsibilities in the past that our country has become a great country. In the 19th century, we opened our doors to people. In the 20th century, we opened our doors to people. In the 21st century, we must be prepared to take into our midst not unlimited numbers—that is not possible—but the sort of people for whom Nicholas Winton fought to gain admittance to the United Kingdom.
I sincerely hope that my noble friend who will be replying to this debate, who has an enviable reputation as a Minister of sensitivity, compassion and thought, will be able to give us an encouraging response, because this is a modest report which makes a modest request. It is fitting that the last debate before we break for the summer should be one where we look not inward but outward and seek to recognise the plight of those whose sufferings we cannot even begin properly to imagine and to say to them: “Yes, we will behave as good neighbours”.
My Lords, the debate we are having today and the report from the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee shine a much-needed spotlight on a policy area where both the EU collectively and its individual member states are struggling to find an adequate response and, so far, falling well short of what is required. Although I am no longer any part of the sub-committee—I used to chair it, before the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, who introduced the debate this afternoon with such eloquence and precision—I strongly endorse the views put forward in that report. Just in case anyone feels that if we go away on holiday and simply forget about it, the problem will somehow go away or diminish, I commend to their attention the Ditchley lecture on 11 July by António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who warned that the flow of asylum seekers towards Europe is sure to get worse before it gets better. That warning really does need to be taken seriously.
The Government and indeed the EU’s response so far has contained some valid elements. It is indeed good that rescue operations in the Mediterranean have been stepped up and that the Royal Navy is participating actively in those operations, thus reducing the appalling death toll of the spring and early summer. It is right to contemplate taking military action against the traffickers, although the implementation of that approach bristles with difficulties. It is right, too, to intensify police and judicial co-operation both within and outside the EU to clamp down on this inhuman trade. It is the case that helping developing countries to grow their own economies must be part of any solution to the problem of excessive economic migration. But having said that, to go on to assert, as the Government have done, that to handle genuine asylum seekers more expeditiously and humanely would be to encourage a pull factor, is deeply unconvincing—and that is a British understatement because one could use stronger words than that. Do we seriously believe that Syrians, Eritreans, Iraqis and Afghan families fleeing for their lives from persecution are motivated by the same factors as economic migrants? I cannot believe that we believe that.
I agree that the EU Commission has not helped the handling of this sensitive matter by ignoring the views of the April European Council and putting on the table a proposal for mandatory quotas. However appealing the emotional argument for such an approach, the Commission must have known that it would not be accepted. The Commission’s task is to be practical and not utopian. On this occasion, it failed that test.
The Government’s response, which has been to shelter behind the Justice and Home Affairs opt-out, was predictable, and so long as the proposal for mandatory quotas was on the table, I would argue that it was a legitimate one. But that seems to be no longer the case, and the June European Council opted for a voluntary approach, which has now been confirmed by the 20 July Justice and Home Affairs Council earlier this week. I believe that the Government should—there and then in June, when the mandatory approach was discarded and the voluntary approach was endorsed—have marked that shift in policy by making a voluntary offer to increase the number of asylum seekers from conflict zones whom we are prepared to admit from the current pitifully low level. To have done so would have been to show sensitivity to the problems that Greece and Italy are facing as a result of being in the front line of the wave of migrants and would have been no more than we are obliged to do under our international obligations towards refugees. That chance was missed, unfortunately, but I agree with the proposal before us today and with those who have preceded me in this debate in urging the Government not to opt out again but to participate in the voluntary scheme which is now taking shape.
Surely we need to be shaping policy in this area, not washing our hands of it like Pontius Pilate. As long as member states, and we are not alone in this, allow their policies on immigration to be dictated by scare stories in the press and by populist political agitation, we will fall short of finding an adequate response to what is a major humanitarian challenge of our times.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. I have had the honour of serving under him on several EU sub-committees and it has always been an instructive experience. Our views do not always coincide. The noble Lord has an Olympian view, honed by years of distinguished service to this country in the Foreign Office, while my more utilitarian views have been honed by years of experience in the rather more vulgar world of industry and commerce, so I am afraid that our views today do not coincide.
I was not a member of this sub-committee, but I have served on it before and was a member when, in the 2007-08 Session, it produced its report on FRONTEX, the EU’s external borders agency, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Jopling. Then, as now, one could not fail to be appalled by the evidence of human misery: wretched men, women and children being plucked from the sea or staggering on to some Mediterranean beach. Then, as now, one could not fail to be appalled by the cynical behaviour of the people smugglers. I remember a particularly heartrending evidence session given by a senior officer from the immigration service of Malta. He described overloaded, unseaworthy boats being towed by an inflatable until the GPS showed that the boat was in the territorial waters of Malta. A cheap satellite phone would then be handed to one person on the unseaworthy boat with instructions to call a number, and when it was answered to say, “We are in Maltese territorial waters. Please rescue us”. The number, of course, was for the Maltese coastguard. By the time the coastguard turned up, the inflatable was, if not back in Africa, well its way there. So I would not want any Member of your Lordships’ House to doubt my sympathy for these unfortunate people.
Yet, while this Motion is entirely worthy and has been incredibly persuasively argued by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, I think it is misconceived. As the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, said, this is a very complex problem and I believe that the Government are right not to opt into this measure or any part of it on any basis. I do so on two grounds. First, while I agree that the measure is entirely well intentioned, it addresses the symptoms, not the problem. As such, it risks exacerbating the problem rather than solving it. Secondly, while many noble Lords have referred to this country’s historical welcome to displaced persons and refugees, the situation now is that this country is experiencing, and will continue to experience for the next 20 years, a population explosion—unlike our continental European neighbours—with consequent strains on social cohesion. In that context, the relative population densities of different EU countries are a critical feature.
Let me deal with each of those in turn. I am afraid that I do not accept the assertion of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that there is no pull factor from allowing immigrants, refugees and displaced persons to enter the EU. I support what the Government say in paragraph 24 of the report. The challenge is that even at first quite small, limited numbers can begin the creation of what is known as an immigration superhighway. Immigration superhighways can now be created faster than ever by the prevalence of social media, which allow instantaneous communication about possibilities and opportunities. The more desperate the people, the quicker the highway emerges.
That takes me to my concern about the statement in paragraph 29 that this event is “exceptional and temporary”. I am afraid I have difficulty in accepting that argument. I would very much like to see evidence to support the argument in paragraph 31 that somehow “international protection” will not encourage a steady drift west or north in search of a better life or merely to avoid persecution, poverty and threat to life or limb. However neat this may appear to the Commission in Brussels, displaced persons are not so easily segmented or clearly put into one box or another.
There is another political, rather more stark reason why this proposal is misguided. The presence of these unfortunate people puts pressure on the Governments of the countries involved to police their borders effectively. If there is a hope—a possibility—that arrivals can be passed on to the rest of the EU, I fear that the political and operational focus will inevitably diminish. The numbers, as other noble Lords have said, are staggering. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, referred to 10 million displaced persons in Syria, 3 million in Iraq and many more in Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and other north African and Saharan countries. Any action, however trivial, that suggests that the EU might open its door even a fraction could create population movement on a scale hitherto undreamed of.
So, do I think that we have to leave those unfortunate people to their fate? Of course not. The Government have made a courageous and principled commitment to spending 0.7% of our GDP on overseas aid and have ring-fenced it. The economic power with our international partners—I entirely support the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, when she said that we ought to make sure that everybody does their bit—needs to be deployed to improve the living and economic conditions of these displaced people at source, as does our military power to offer protection to displaced people as well as to destroy the boats and generally inhibit the operations of people smugglers wherever they may operate.
I turn to the second reason why I believe that the Government need to keep control of our borders and should not take part in any relocation scheme. Noble Lords have made moving statements. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough, and others, talked about the contribution that refugees have made to our country in the past. This is a very small and very crowded country. Furthermore, it is a crowded country undergoing a population explosion. Last year our population rose by 500,000 people—1,400 people a day. A small town or large village is being put on the map of Britain every week. If we wish to house these people to the same standard that we enjoy ourselves—I assume we wish to do that, with 2.3 people per dwelling—we need to build 600 dwellings a day. That is one every two and a half minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That is without building the hospitals, the schools, the roads and other infrastructure that are required. That is not all. The mid projection from the Office for National Statistics suggests that this will continue for the next 20 years. By 2035 it is estimated that we will have a further 8 million people in this country, equivalent to three cities the size of Greater Manchester. To house them, we will have to build 3.4 million dwellings—building a house every three minutes for the next 20 years.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough referred to social strains. This will put huge social strains on our country. Some of those strains, I fear, are beginning to make themselves felt already. We should not add to those strains as this proposal suggests, not only because it would be unfair to our settled population, of whatever race, colour or creed, but no less significantly because, when social cohesion breaks down, it is the poor, the disadvantaged and the recently arrived who suffer the most. If the European Union wishes to proceed with these plans, it is surely essential that existing countries’ population densities need to be taken into account. This is not mentioned in paragraph 11 of the report.
I described England as a crowded country. We have just overtaken the Netherlands as the most densely populated country in Europe, with more than 400 people per square kilometre. The Netherlands has 393 people per square kilometre. However, Germany has 233—about 60% of our density—and France 111, about 25% of our density. If the EU wishes to proceed with this measure, these countries must surely be the destination for the 40,000 people.
To conclude, I recognise that these are stark realities and I, for one, do not always feel comfortable spelling them out, but the 40,000 are only the symptom of the problem. We need to tackle its roots.
I apologise for interrupting but I would have thought the noble Lord might recognise that at the Council meeting on Monday of this week, the French and Germans accepted numbers in the region of 10,000 each under this scheme, and these are countries where there are very active political forces urging them—like us—to accept no one at all.
My Lords, I did not expect to get through this speech without the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, wishing to draw attention to the advantages of the European Union. The fact is that those countries are immeasurably less densely populated than the United Kingdom. France, at 111 people per square kilometre, has 25% of our population density, and we have to bear that in mind. Our settled population—and when I say “settled population”, I mean people of whatever race, colour or creed—has its own position and we are in danger of—
I understand. I am speaking for the people of this country and what we should be doing to make sure that our settled population’s rights are looked after. I am trying to draw attention to the fact that, with a population growth rate of 1,400 people per day, this country’s population is growing very fast indeed, and that will bring strains with it. Those are strains to which we should not be adding, but we risk doing so if we go down the line being pursued this afternoon by the proposers of this Motion, well-meaning, beautifully argued and well-modulated though it may be. It is a question of the preferences that we need to speak up for in this debate. I believe that, as the sub-committee itself reported, this situation is “exceptional and temporary”. In my view, the Government would make a grave mistake if they opt into this proposal in any way.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, has considerably widened the scope of this debate and I shall resist the temptation to answer him directly for that reason. I understand that he must come to the aid of his noble friend, but it is not enough to say that he is in a minority because he has made important points which we will reserve for another day.
This debate follows on neatly from the debate on the situation in the Mediterranean and the displacement of refugees and migrants from Asia and Africa introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on 9 July, which the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, may have attended. I am afraid that we did not get satisfactory answers on that occasion, as we should have done given the current daily anxieties in the media and among the public, so I shall ask some of those questions again today. This is a matter of great concern in this House, not least because of the work that has been put in by our Select Committees.
I congratulate my noble friend Lady Prashar on her elegantly worded Motion and on taking on this urgent question on the very last day that we can have any hope of influencing Her Majesty’s Government. It is also a genuine benefit to have this particular Minister, whom I know from experience of the Modern Slavery Bill and most recently the Psychoactive Substances Bill. The Minister has to represent a department that can at times, and under any Government, resemble a brick wall—and I have had 20 years of experience of that—but he himself is a very practised listener.
The Government do need to listen on this issue because, as others have said, this is an exceptional time in terms of the numbers of migrants entering Europe. Member states therefore have to make urgent adjustments, and they are very modest adjustments being proposed today, to current EU policy—not just the Commission proposals or the recent Council conclusions, which seem to have confused everyone and have muddied the waters, to use the expression of my noble friend—but in the longer term the Dublin regulation itself, because the fact is that member states are already reinterpreting the regulation. Surely this strengthens the argument, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, pointed out, that we should be reconsidering that regulation formally.
We are therefore discussing this issue in something of a vacuum because the Commission, having revised its conclusion, has not yet come up—or the Council has not yet come up—with new proposals we can consider. We know that the Commission made a serious misjudgment—and the Minister might agree on that point—in proposing a mandatory scheme in the first place. On the other hand, it should be helpful to our Government if we raise the issue today, either to enable them to prepare a response in advance or, better still, for us as the UK to make our own proposal first.
My own view is close to that of my noble friend and of the committee. The Commission’s intention is very clear: to help Greece and Italy to relocate 40,000 migrants to other member states. The Council has agreed now to adopt a voluntary scheme, if it is agreed by consensus by all participating member states. I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, mention our own “population explosion” and “superhighway”, which I think do not come into this area of discussion. I believe that the UK should in fairness take an active part in the resettlement scheme as proposed in the terms now set out by the Council.
The proposed scheme does little to help with the processing of asylum applications; under the Dublin rules, that falls to Greece and Italy as the countries of first asylum. They get very limited operational assistance from the EU or through FRONTEX, but that processing needs strengthening as well. As my noble friend says, these are not economic migrants from north Africa. I must repeat that. The vast majority in Greece and Italy who come under these measures are fleeing civil war in Syria, Iraq and Eritrea. I support the view that, when we see the Council’s conclusions, the UK should fully take part in negotiations on them. We are a member state, whatever our legal relations with Schengen or FRONTEX, and under a voluntary scheme especially we have a clear moral responsibility.
Can the Minister say how many Syrians are being processed already under the UNHCR’s gateway resettlement scheme? I know we are receiving up to 750 from different countries under this programme, but how do the Syrians fit into the more recent scheme by which hundreds of vulnerable Syrians are selected and given five years’ humanitarian protection status? I understand that up to March only 183 had been resettled under this scheme. When I asked the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, the number had risen by four, to 187, when he answered in the 9 July debate. Can the Minister confirm those figures, and does he have anything more recent?
I do not think we are slamming the door—an expression that is being used. I recognise that more than 4,000 Syrians have already been granted asylum in the UK during this crisis, but we still cannot match the generosity of other EU members, such as Germany and France, which have various problems, as has been said, and are jointly taking more than 20,000 refugees in the next two years.
I am reminded by the right reverend Prelate’s contribution that this contrasts not just with the case of the Ugandan Asians but with the warm reception that the earlier boat people, the Indo-Chinese, received— I think that most of us can remember that—especially through the churches and local communities. Again, these were people already under UNHCR protection and processed through that scheme.
If I may digress for a moment, some noble Lords may be familiar with the magazine Forced Migration Review, which is published by the Refugee Studies Centre in Oxford. It is an excellent magazine recording the direct experience of aid workers and researchers who visit refugee camps in Turkey and the Levant. They know the problems of refugees intimately. Last September’s issue was devoted to Syrian refugees. It reminded us that during the civil war it is the women who shoulder the main burden in feeding the family and keeping homes together. It is they who ultimately make the decision to leave; they are already vulnerable at the point. But the old, the infirm, mothers of young children and many more suffering from mental health problems are the categories that we are talking about, who deserve urgent assistance and protection. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, put it, the Government must not shelter behind their JHA opt-outs. It is up to them to increase our share of this responsibility.
My Lords, like other Peers, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for securing the debate. The UK has a unique role in Europe in that, like France, it has a significant colonial past with positive and negative connotations. The positive legacy is that the UK still has many friends in Africa, in particular sub-Saharan Africa, from where many migrants emanate. I shall focus on Africa as the continent I know best, because, as a migrant of some 63 years in this country, I probably know more about it than most. Of the three countries that have been referred to as being eligible for admission under the scheme, Eritrea, in the Horn of Africa, is the only African country.
However, many from west Africa are undoubtedly economic migrants. Many of them started to go to countries such as Libya, Tunisia and Egypt to better themselves, improve their family and send money back home. They have come not only from francophone countries but from anglophone countries in west Africa.
The problems that have occurred in Libya with the change in government—in fact, no government in some respects—the warfare, the abuse and the persecution, have meant that those who went there as economic migrants now choose to leave as persecuted people, in the same way as many in Syria and Iraq. We must make the point that there are those who are genuinely fleeing oppression, and that needs to be taken into account in dealing with them.
Our focus, naturally, has been on people around the Mediterranean rim. We have heard in an evidence session even today, from Franck Düvell, a senior researcher from the University of Oxford, that 90% of those who embark on journeys to Europe succeed, with 1% dying on the way. So for a migrant, a 99% success rate is a risk worth taking. To them, the prize at the end is what matters.
If we reflect on the fact that in this House we often say that hard cases make bad law, we must also be careful that we do not let the tragic incidents which have occurred—and they are indeed tragic—divert us from the fact that we need to get to the solution via the causes of the problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said, we need to deal with the causes not just the symptoms. The Spanish Interior Minister, Senor Diaz, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal yesterday as saying:
“It’s like when you have a leaky roof: Instead of fixing it, we distribute water between the rooms”.
Surely, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, identified, we would do better to work with the sub-Saharan African states to fix the leaky roof.
The UK is one of five EU member states in the Khartoum process and should use its influence to bring greater pressure to bear on the African Union, which also has responsibility in this matter. We talk about the pull factor but there is also a push factor and in order to get a push factor you have to have countries that do not have secure borders or arrangements to ensure that their people are not persecuted or made uncomfortable about staying in those countries. The African Union has responsibilities in relation to migration, both regular and irregular. Sudan enacted a law against human trafficking in March 2014, yet conflict in South Sudan is a major factor in migration, some of which passes through Sudan to Europe.
At the meeting of the African Union in Khartoum in October 2014, the African Union Commission Director for Social Affairs acknowledged that despite action plans in 2006 and 2009, human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants remains a “caustic challenge”, particularly in the Horn of Africa. He said:
“Many Member States in the Sub-region are yet to ratify the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and/or fully implement it with national legislation in their respective domain”.
The UN has been mentioned today and certainly the UNCHR has offered to help but I believe that this is a challenge for the UN itself to deal with. There are issues and problems with the UN. We know that in the Security Council there is disagreement between the various parties about this issue and therefore very little has happened. But dealing with many of the conflicts in the zones and areas that we have talked about is the way to address the problem.
We have talked about the Horn of Africa. There is also Niger, which is a major transit point for many migrants. The reason is the problems we have seen recently with Boko Haram in Nigeria and many people being displaced from that country to surrounding areas. My questions to the Minister are: what input have the UK Government had in the discussions with the EU members of the Khartoum process? What is our response to the action plan for 2014-17 set by the EU-Africa Summit in 2014, which focuses on the following priorities: trafficking in human beings; the diaspora, which is one of the pull factors; mobility and labour migration, including intra-African mobility, which I referred to earlier; international protection, which we feel is a right for all those who migrate; and irregular migration, which is the basis of our discussion today? We have heard much about the pull and push factors driving migration but I would like to know what we can do in the long term to contain the problem, which can be solved only through conflict resolution.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the European Union Committee and the members of the Home Affairs Sub-Committee, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for this report. I will direct my comments to the specific points made in the report and the conclusions set out in the last two paragraphs in respect of the Council decision that the committee retains under scrutiny.
The number of migrants and refugees attempting to reach Europe via the central Mediterranean Sea route has increased considerably, rising from 40,000 illegal border crossings in 2013 to more than 170,000 in 2014. On the eastern Mediterranean route through Turkey to the European Union via Greece, southern Bulgaria or Cyprus, there were just over 50,000 illegal border crossings last year. The EU border agency said in March this year that anywhere between 500,000 and 1 million people were waiting in Libya to cross the Mediterranean.
In response to this major unfolding and all too often tragic humanitarian disaster in the Mediterranean, the European Commission, as the report says, published a proposal just under two months ago for a mandatory emergency relocation scheme in respect of Syrian and Eritrean nationals who arrive in Italy and Greece seeking asylum. The scheme aims to relocate 40,000 people to other member states over the next two years. The EU Committee report notes:
“While the Commission has presented the current proposal as a temporary measure, it intends that it should be a precursor to a permanent and mandatory scheme”,
to be brought forward by the end of this year.
Under the proposal, responsibility for deciding the asylum claim would rest with the member state that accepts the relocated asylum seeker. Doing this would constitute a temporary and limited departure from the usual Dublin system for determining which state is responsible for processing an asylum claim, namely the member state through which the applicant entered the EU. Our opt-in arrangements mean that we decide on a case-by-case basis whether to participate in new EU legislative measures on asylum and immigration. In this instance, the three-month deadline for indicating that we wish to participate in its negotiation and adoption, if that be the case, falls on 27 August this year.
In an article in a national newspaper on 13 May, the Home Secretary said that the United Kingdom would not participate in mandatory relocation or resettlement schemes, since in the Government’s view the schemes would create “pull factors” for further migration, strengthen the incentives for people smugglers’ activities and reduce the incentives on individual member states to ensure effective asylum systems of their own. Indeed, these points were similar to those made by the coalition Government in October 2014 when they supported the ending of Italy’s search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea.
A number of other member states have also expressed their opposition to the introduction of mandatory relocation quotas. The European Union Committee’s report refers to a lack of clarity in the light of the European Council meeting on 23 April this year and the conclusions following a Council discussion on the Commission’s proposal towards the end of last month. In its report, the committee says that it is,
“not in a position to express a view on the relative merits of a voluntary and a mandatory scheme, but we do not understand why the Commission, despite the clearly expressed view of the European Council, should have persisted in proposing a mandatory scheme, which it must have known was unlikely to be accepted by the Member States”.
The report also draws attention to the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum, in which they state their opposition to mandatory relocation and any form of relocation of asylum cases within the EU, and their conclusion that they are minded not to opt in to the proposal. However, as has been said, the committee’s report goes on to say that the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum,
“leaves open the possibility that this position may be reviewed before the deadline of 27 August”,
subject to three factors. These factors are that the proposal is amended to be a voluntary scheme, that there is consideration of how to implement an effective response to the situation in the Mediterranean, and that there is consideration of how the UK can contribute to a,
“response to migratory pressures on some Member States without opting in”.
No doubt the Minister will be updating us on whether the Government anticipate, or are, reviewing their position.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, said, the committee’s report sets out the reasons why it is not convinced by some of the Government’s objections to the proposed decision, before stating:
“The Government’s approach will do little to help the response to a humanitarian crisis within the EU’s borders”,
“The reputational risk of a continued failure to act, to individual Member States as well as to the EU as a whole, is great”.
The report concludes by saying that the committee believes that,
“it is in the United Kingdom’s interest to take part in the negotiation”,
of the proposed Council decision,
“and that, should an amended or a new proposal be brought forward giving effect to the European Council’s Conclusions in April and June 2015, the Government should reconsider its position and opt in”.
There is an obvious difficulty in expressing a view about specific proposals that, as I understand it, have not yet been made and conceivably may never be made. We have already said that we should decouple asylum from migration targets, since the considerations in determining our decisions on these two issues are—or should be—very different. We have already said that we would take more Syrian refugees. However, with respect to relocating those asylum seekers who have already entered the EU through Italy and Greece, the responsibility for processing their asylum claims should remain, as now, with the member states through which the applicants entered the EU and not with the member states, including the United Kingdom, that accept the relocated asylum seekers. Neither could we go along with a proposal that told us how many refugees we had to take, since that is a decision that should be made in this country, by this country.
The Prime Minister has announced a modest expansion of the UK’s resettlement programme, particularly for vulnerable Syrian refugees. I conclude by simply asking the Minister: on the basis of what criteria have decisions to date implementing that modest expansion been made? How modest has that expansion been? Are any changes in the criteria being considered?