Wednesday, 14 October 2015.
Energy Bill [HL]
Committee (on Recommitment) (in respect of Clauses 65 and 66)
Relevant documents: 6th and 7th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
My Lords, if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.
Clause 65 agreed.
Clause 66: Onshore wind power: closure of renewables obligation on 31 March 2016
1: Clause 66, page 38, line 5, leave out subsection (1)
My Lords, I start by speaking to government Amendments 1 to 13, which seek to amend and supplement Clause 66. I thank noble Lords for extending this debate and allowing us the time for a fuller and thorough discussion.
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention but I make the same response as I gave previously. I know that is the noble Lord’s view but I have heard contrary views, and not from the Conservative Benches, that Members prefer this Bill to be in the Moses Room. However, the point is noted.
As previously set out in the Secretary of State’s announcement on 18 June regarding the early closure of the renewables obligation, we proposed a grace period to protect investor confidence in the wider renewables sector. A grace period was proposed that would provide for those projects which had, as of 18 June this year, planning consent, grid connection and land rights. The grace period was designed to allow for projects that meet certain criteria to continue to accredit under the renewables obligation until the original closure date of 31 March 2017. Following this announcement, we undertook a significant period of engagement to understand better the views of industry and other stakeholders on our proposals.
I recognise that the Government’s amendments, which were tabled last week, are somewhat technical and have the potential to be seen as complex. I reassure noble Lords that, from the outset, the Government have been alive to the issues of investor certainty and clarity, which is why the provisions have been drafted to reflect the approach taken in existing renewables obligation legislation, in particular the Renewables Obligation Closure Order 2014 and the 2015 closure order relating to large-scale solar. This approach aims to ensure consistency and ease of understanding for industry. Following our previous Committee debate on 14 September, we have now carefully reviewed the feedback and evidence provided during the engagement exercise. We have since developed amendments to our original policy to ensure that it strikes the right balance. The amendments aim to protect consumer bills and ensure the right mix of energy, while balancing this against the interests of onshore wind developers and the wider industry.
I am also pleased that the amendments and the revised impact assessment were made available to noble Lords on 8 October in advance of today’s debate and as promised at our last sitting. I hope that noble Lords have had time to review the amendments and that they go some way towards addressing concerns raised during the debate in our previous Committee sitting on 14 September.
Amendments 1 to 13 amend the Bill to introduce the proposed grace period criteria for the early closure policy as outlined in the announcement on 18 June and make a number of additional supplementary amendments.
Amendments 1 to 12 make a number of changes to Clause 66, which introduces a new provision into the Electricity Act 1989 to implement the early closure of the schemes to new onshore wind in Great Britain. The amendments seek to remove the delegated power with a view to setting out the terms of the grace period in the Bill. Amendment 13 sets out the detail of the grace period in the Bill. I hope that these amendments will be welcomed by noble Lords, as initial feedback from the industry to the department following the publication of these clauses has indicated.
I again apologise for the delay in bringing these amendments forward, but hope noble Lords understand the complexity of the policy that has been drafted and appreciate that we will now have an appropriate amount of time in which to debate them today.
I turn first to the terms of the initial grace period criteria as outlined in the Secretary of State’s announcement in June. The proposal was—and, following detailed industry engagement, remains—to offer a grace period to those projects which, as of 18 June 2015, already have, first, relevant planning consents; secondly, a grid connection offer and acceptance of that offer, or confirmation that no grid connection is required; and thirdly, access to land rights.
In addition to this, in certain circumstances, projects that have been granted planning permission following a successful appeal will also be eligible for the grace period. In particular, those projects which have, via an appeal or judicial review, had a negative planning decision that was made on or before 18 June overturned, should be eligible for the grace period. This is because had the correct decision been made in the first instance, they would have had planning consent on or prior to the 18 June cut-off date. These key grace period terms are referred to in the amendments as the “approved development condition” and are referred to in proposed new Section 32LJ.
I turn now to investor confidence. At the time of the announcement outlining the initial grace period, the Secretary of State also said that she wanted to hear the views of industry and other stakeholders before framing the terms of the legislation. The department engaged with hundreds of stakeholders, including the devolved Administrations, supply chain, investors and developers, over the summer. The evidence gathered during that engagement exercise demonstrated the views of individual developers and the wider industry. Evidence was collected though online representations, individual meetings, representations from trade bodies and investor round-table sessions.
Following this engagement, we now have evidence that certain projects which already meet the proposed grace period criteria are experiencing difficulty securing finance. Feedback has shown that a number of financiers may be unwilling to lend to projects due to legislative uncertainty created by the parliamentary Bill process. Therefore, to ensure that projects which meet the grace period criteria and would have otherwise been able to commission and accredit under the renewables obligation by 31 March 2017 are not frozen out of the process, we are offering those projects which meet the approved development condition additional time to seek accreditation. The extension available is broadly equivalent to the period between the date of the Secretary of State’s announcement—18 June—and likely Royal Assent to the Bill, which is approximately nine months. To be eligible for this extra time, projects must be able to provide evidence that they have been impacted by a lack of investment during the period to Royal Assent.
This investment freeze condition I have just described is intended not to increase the pipeline of onshore wind projects that are able to accredit under the renewables obligation but rather to ensure that those projects which were intended to be protected by the grace period, as proposed on 18 June, are afforded this protection.
To provide a consistent approach to all onshore wind projects eligible to accredit under the renewables obligation, we also ensure through these amendments that a pre-existing grid and radar delay grace period applies here. This entitles projects affected by unforeseen grid and radar delays an additional 12-month period in which to accredit.
We are confident in our amendments and the proposed grace period. We have actively listened to stakeholders and worked to ensure that the final policy strikes the right balance between the interests of onshore wind developers and those of the wider public. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for having this session, which is very helpful. I agree that it should be in Grand Committee because as the session unfolds there might be quite a lot of detail and I suspect that it may be easier to tease out some of that detail in this venue.
In these amendments, the Government have addressed a number of the issues that were raised by the industry about the grace period with regard to planning, lack of investor confidence leading to some projects being frozen, the grid and radar and aviation. In speaking to the amendments in my name and those of my noble friends, I shall probe some of them because although when these amendments were announced last Thursday the industry felt that a number of concerns had been addressed, as days have passed more and more anomalies seem to be coming to light. I wish to identify some of these anomalies and get the Government’s response to them. The purpose of the amendments we have tabled is to allow an opportunity to tease out some of these anomalies. I am not saying they are all covered but I hope the Minister will be able to respond. I do not think we have covered everything comprehensively with our amendments, but there will be an opportunity to come back on Report in the light of what the Minister says.
As the Minister rightly indicated, the three conditions required for a project to fulfil approved development conditions are planning permission, grid connection agreement and land rights. Proposed new Section 32LJ(4) relates to the date on which planning permission was granted. The date chosen is the date when the Secretary of State made her announcement of the early closure of the renewables obligation for onshore wind projects. To some extent, it is an arbitrary date. No doubt the Downing Street grid said it would be done on that date and not the day before, the day after or the week after. So there is a degree of arbitrariness in all this and, in many cases, that has led to considerable unfairness.
Our first amendment probes whether there is any need for this planning permission rule, given that grid connection agreements and land agreements would already be in place. If the Government insist on having a cut-off date, there is a possibility that that date should be later. We have suggested that it should be the date of the publication of the Government’s grace period amendments or that all projects that were already in the planning system should be considered for eligibility. Those in the industry will tell you that submitting a planning application is not something you do on a whim when you wake up one morning. Considerable work goes into the application before then and considerable money has been invested in making it in the first place. In many cases, that investment will be for naught if what is proposed is so rigid.
It has also been drawn to my attention—if you think about it, it is probably quite obvious—that there could not possibly be a worse date than 18 June. There was a period of April to May, during purdah, when councils were not processing in the run-up to elections. New planning committees were being formed after the elections in the first week of May. I have been told that, in some cases, the last thing a new planning committee or planning chair would be given for their first meeting was a complicated wind farm proposal. Therefore, in many cases, there were a number of applications pending, not unreasonably, from the preceding weeks. After 18 June, the Government asked all developers for information about projects in the planning system that would not be eligible under the 18 June 2015 rule. The hopes of many developers were raised as a result of this, but these amendments dash those expectations.
I ask the Minister to consider this: given that Clause 65, which already stands part of the Bill, emphasises the Government’s desire for local determination, if in fact a local planning committee has considered and agreed to an application but has not had, because of the cycle of meetings, the approval of a full council, it seems really unfair, given that the planning committee has gone through all this, that that should not also be eligible for accreditation and fall within the grace period. It is the cycle of local government meetings that determines whether a project can go forward.
Another issue that has been raised with me—perhaps the Minister can clarify the position—is that, in many cases, the authority has said that it will consent or has consented to a planning application in respect of onshore wind, but there is a Section 75 agreement in Scotland, or a Section 106 agreement in England, that has still to be concluded. Those who deal with those agreements know that it often takes considerable time to bring them together and put them in place. It would be very helpful for the Minister to indicate whether, if there has been a consent, subject to a Section 75 or Section 106 agreement, before 18 June, the Government would accept that this complies with the grace period; or, if they do not, whether he will consider making a further exception for those who have been given consent subject to those agreements. More often than not, it will not be in the hands of the developer whether these agreements could have been concluded in time; rather, it relates to the nature of the bureaucracy. I do not mean that pejoratively: it is the nature of discussions that have to take place. I know there is a particular concern over the status of agreements with Section 75 or Section 106 requirements.
The Minister also indicated that what the Government have done here, in allowing a period of grace, is that, if a correct decision had been made before 18 June, that should be eligible for the grace period. The two reasons why it might not have been correct were that a wrong decision had been given and was successfully appealed, or that no decision had been given and there was a challenge because it was a deemed refusal. I ask the Minister to consider some of the points that arise from this. First, with regard to a deemed refusal, in many cases that have been represented to me, the good practice was to work alongside the planning department of the local authority, not to rush to flag up a deemed refusal. When you think you are making progress, it is in everyone’s interest that this comes out the other end with a grant of planning permission and that it is done co-operatively, involving communities and ensuring that concerns raised were properly taken into account. Very often that will not have been done within the statutory time period, but it is nevertheless good practice. We are in the position whereby those who do not observe good practice, but rush straight away to claim a deemed refusal and put it into the hands of a local public inquiry or a ministerial decision, will benefit from this. However, those developers who have been trying to follow good practice will be penalised by this. Frankly, that does not seem fair. This morning Scottish Renewables sent me the details of a case regarding this matter. It said that its members are happy for their case to be mentioned as an example of the inequity of the current grace period criteria. We are told:
“The Binn Group initiated the Binn Wind Farm development as an integrated part of their waste and recycling and Binn Eco Park business in 2010 …The Planning Application was submitted to Perth and Kinross Council on 7th November 2014 and validated on 25th November with a statutory determination period of 4 months”—
that is, by 25 March. But in fact planning permission was not granted until after 18 June, and during that time considerable work was done between the developers and the planning department. We are told:
“None of the four surrounding community councils objected and a community benefit scheme with the full engagement of each of the four community councils has been agreed. The site has a grid connection and land agreement”.
The note also states:
“The energy produced by the wind farm would be used directly on the site to replace diesel generated power, enabling business growth with increased employment. Planning is also underway to develop a co-located hydrogen for transport project as part of the Sustainable Cities initiative and the Tay Eco Valley proposals initiated by the local authority making this a unique application of wind power for the future”.
That is all now prejudiced by the fact that the developers worked collaboratively with the planning department and did not seek a deemed refusal. That is the kind of case that seems inequitable. The proposals brought forward by the Government do not address that and I very much hope that the Minister will be willing to accept that some account should be taken of it.
Proposed new Section 32LJ seeks to extend the principle of the planning refusal gateway to the Section 36 process. Under that section, the equivalent of the refusal of a planning permission is the filing of a statutory objection by the local planning authority. Then, as with an appeal, there is an inquiry and a Secretary of State or Scottish Minister’s determination. For some reason, the provision as drafted by the Government deals with one approach but not the other. Small extensions of larger sites go through the Section 36 process, while isolated small sites remain with local planning, and it is unclear why extension should have less access to the renewables obligation with grace periods than standalone developments. The company that has raised this with me has 25 megawatts of extension projects in Scotland, which would be able to go ahead if a change were made in that regard.
With regard to the investment freezing conditions and the amendments that we have tabled in relation to those, the Minister accepted that these were complex matters. I want to explore with him the intention of specifying 1 May 2016. It is perfectly fair that he says that he has sought to put in place a period of grace that is roughly equivalent to the period from the Secretary of State’s statement to Royal Assent. However, the documents sought under proposed new Section 32LK(4)(a) include,
“a declaration by the operator”—
the developer of the station—
“that, to the best of the operator’s knowledge and belief, as at 1 May 2016 … the relevant developer required funding from a recognised lender before the station could be commissioned or additional capacity could form part of the station … a recognised lender was not prepared”,
and so on. What has to be done as at 1 May 2016? There could have been a delay because of the investment freeze, but if—for the sake of argument—the Bill were to receive Royal Assent on 29 February 2016, in that intervening period funding might have been forthcoming. Does the developer or operator have to wait until 1 May so that the company can declare that on that date these beliefs were outstanding? That could lead to a loss of valuable time. I do not quite understand the importance of “as at 1 May”. Our amendments seek a date up to and including 1 May so that if at any time before that—say, at Royal Assent—there has been a delay because of an investment freeze, nevertheless the company can get on with the project by making a declaration.
One of the other concerns that has been raised is whether this is cumulative or separate. Proposed new Section 32LK(4)(a)(ii), which is on page 7 of the Marshalled List, refers to a declaration that,
“a recognised lender was not prepared to provide that funding until enactment of the Energy Act 2016, because of uncertainty over whether the Act would be enacted and its wording if enacted”.
Is that cumulative? Does it apply both whether there ever would be an Act and to the wording if it were enacted, or could it be either/or—that there was concern either as to whether the Act would ever get to the statute book or about its wording and meaning? It would seem much fairer if it was either/or rather than “both and”, so clarification on that point from the Minister would be welcome.
The other amendment in relation to investment freezing, Amendment 21B, relates to the definition of investors. We are proposing that there should be flexibility in this regard. It should not be banks exclusively but include those which are,
“managed by a Financial Conduct Authority registered manager”.
It is my understanding that many smaller projects make great use of equity players. Nevertheless, those equity players have to be managed by the FCA and in these circumstances it is again not clear whether they would qualify. It would seem inequitable if the equity managers are excluded and the funding is required to come from a bank. I ask the Minister to reflect on that because it would affect quite a number of potential projects.
I move on to the grid and/or radar conditions. The proposed new section refers to the,
“grid and radar delay condition”.
I know it sometimes seems to be dancing on pinheads to talk about “and/or” but, again, it is not clear whether it has to be cumulative. Does it have to be both grid and radar? What makes this particularly important is that the Guidance on the Transition Period and Closure of the RO, published under the previous regime on 16 October 2014—almost exactly a year ago—referred to grace periods in Section 4 and to the,
“‘Radar or grid connection delay’ grace period”.
Lawyers are always keen to jump on the fact that if one government document says “or” and a subsequent one says “and”, there was intention to change it from “or” to “and”. They are two very separate things and it does not seem relevant to try to link the two together. It may well be that the intention was not to link them but, given how it appears in the government amendments, it would be helpful if the Minister could indicate that these are not to be taken together.
With regard to the grid, again, there is a potential for anomalies. I have been made aware of at least one case where there was a joint venture between an energy company and a private individual. The energy company carried the transmission entry capacity for a substation. What initially happened was that a substation was built for a grid connection of a much larger capacity than was consented to but subsequently there was consent for the additional capacity, for which that grid connection was already in place. But that joint venture ceased earlier this year and the energy company is no longer part of it. The transmission entry capacity was therefore lost and had to be reapplied for. It had had that connection for the past five years but the period of application for it to be renewed for the new, single person covered 18 June. So something that had been in place for five years was not there for about three or four months, including that critical date. That seems to be quite anomalous, especially when the capacity is there.
It is clear that many projects now have radar delays. Our concern here is that the concession will not work. Most projects with radar delays are dealing with Ministry of Defence radar as opposed to civil civilian airport radar, and getting the MoD to agree to mitigation schemes has been very slow. I ask the Minister to look again at the situation involving the MoD, and to get the MoD to confirm how many projects out of all those blocked or delayed due to radar concerns it now expects to be able to assist or support. These are fully consented projects, they have grid connection agreements and they have land rights that will satisfy all the approved development conditions, but we seek some reassurance that the Minister is aware of these projects and the commitment that has been made to seek to resolve the objections.
The grace period proposals in relation to radar objections seemed reasonable when they were first published a year ago, but since then there has been very slow progress with the MoD and, of the roughly 12 to 14 projects affected, not one has had an agreement to implement a solution, far less any implementation and completion dates for the relevant radar works that might be required. Our “for the avoidance of doubt” amendment would make it clear that the radar works did not have to be completed by 31 March 2017, so long as the works were completed prior to the end of the grace period and so long as an agreement to do the relevant works had been entered into by 31 March. That seems very fair. We also think it important that there is no expectation from either the Ministry of Defence or the relevant developers in any of the 12 to 14 projects that it would be possible to have the relevant radar works completed before the deadline set out in the Government’s amendment. It seems a bit perverse that the Government give with one hand but a different government department stymies it with the other. The Minister’s response to that would be welcome.
The other point is that it would appear here that in looking for an outcome—a set of radar works—it may be that, as a result of discussions, the objection is withdrawn. I would like confirmation that if the objection is withdrawn and there is no longer any radar issue, that too would satisfy the condition.
I am sorry that this has taken some time but these issues are complex. I think the Minister said in his opening remarks that they were very complex. I have tried to set out the concerns that have been raised but I am sure that these have not been exhaustive. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to address these issues.
My Lords, I have not spoken before on the Bill but have followed the proceedings closely, particularly as I live in Northumberland, the county that has had more onshore wind farms installed than any other county in England. I know that many people have made the point during debates that Scotland is the part of the UK that feels the major effect of both the previous policy and what is now being proposed, and I accept that completely, but in England Northumberland has a key role and a key interest both in the policy and in the changes that are proposed to it.
I speak as someone who is strongly supportive of the renewable energy sector generally, and indeed I was concerned today at what seems to be the direction that the Government seem to be taking over solar energy. None the less, I have a problem with onshore wind installations in my part of the country, which probably relates more to the planning process than to anything else simply because in Northumberland so many applications were approved in the face of not just the majority of the local people affected opposing them but an overwhelming majority. In many cases it seemed to those residents as though those investing in and pushing for such schemes had little connection with the local area, and little commitment to it other than making a financial gain with generous public support. For that reason, I am glad that the Government started to listen.
I know that comments have been made during the proceedings about the role of Conservative Back-Bench MPs. Having been a long-standing Labour Member in another place over many years, this is perhaps the first time that I might be saying something kind about Conservative Back-Bench MPs. I assume that they were opposing onshore wind not because they suddenly felt like it but in response to constituents’ concerns, which is what MPs of all parties can and should do. In my area, plenty of people who are not Conservative supporters were concerned about some of the inappropriate intrusive wind farm schemes that, for example, led to very familiar views of our iconic coastal castles disappearing behind a circle of turbines, or, in another case, threatened to overshadow ancient standing stones that had stood proudly amid beautiful countryside for thousands of years.
Organisations that are normally very concerned about environmental issues and about climate change, such as the Northumberland and Newcastle Society or the Northumberland branch of the Council to Protect Rural England, have expressed their concerns very loudly about this. I should declare a non-financial interest as president of the Northumberland National Park Foundation. I have a lot of links with those who are concerned to protect and enhance the Northumbrian countryside and ensure its continued attraction to tourists and residents alike.
I should like the Government to give us some more information about the effect of what they are now proposing for areas such as Northumberland. A lot of very reasonable questions have just been asked by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, which obviously need addressing. But a breakdown as to how different parts of the UK will be affected by the changes that the Government are proposing would be welcome to all of us, whatever views we take of onshore wind and its future.
I also understand some of the points about investor confidence that have been made by my noble friends. As I said, I also understand what has been said by my honourable friends about the situation in Scotland and ensuring that there is proper and meaningful consultation with the Scottish devolved authority on these issues. However, I support local people wherever they are in the UK having their strong views taken into account. In many areas and in many cases there is strong public support for the renewable energy sector, whether in onshore or offshore development. I believe that we can meet our targets. But at the same time we need to be determined to conserve and enhance our precious national landscapes and countryside, not least in Northumberland.
My Lords, I understand that we are dealing with all the amendments grouped together, so we can discuss aspects of any of them. Amendment 18, which I tabled, is really a technical amendment given to me as a way of tidying up the amendments that the Government have proposed. I will not speak to it today but I am happy to table it again on Report and speak to it on that occasion if necessary.
I fully understand what my noble friend Lady Quin just said. She and I were together in the other place, along with the noble Lords, Lord Deben and Lord Howell, and others, and we know the importance of representing constituents and making sure that their views are represented in relation to major planning issues such as wind farms. In my old constituency of Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley—I never had to explain to anyone that that was in Scotland; they knew straightaway once I had pronounced it—we had a number of wind farms and they were welcomed locally. We did not have the kinds of objections that my noble friend obviously experienced in Northumberland, but I understand that and she made her points very well.
I was tremendously impressed by the explanations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, of his own amendments—they were detailed and forensic—and by his clear knowledge and understanding of them. I noticed that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, was, like me, slightly perplexed on one or two occasions, but he managed to explain them to us. As I whispered to my noble friend Lady Quin at the time, “You can easily tell that he is a very good lawyer by the way he takes a brief and manages to explain it to lesser mortals like me and others”. I was very impressed by that.
However, I am not as equable and relaxed about what the Government are proposing as some of my colleagues in this Grand Committee appear to be. People in Whitehall and Westminster sometimes do not understand what is going on in the real world outside. I wish that the Minister had experienced the kind of anger, fury and despair that I have experienced in the representations made to me about what the Government have done and are doing on this. I am astonished that they are pursuing this and treating it with such equanimity.
This has been an exercise of the greatest incredible incompetence and betrayal that I have known for a long time and I have seen some degree of incompetence and a lot of betrayal from time to time. I want to go through that statement and explain it, even in terms of the procedure. I tabled my Amendment 18 with the very helpful clerks in the Public Bill Office upstairs. I asked how frequently Governments have to resort to this astonishing procedure of re-commitment. Apparently, it is a very infrequent procedure and it is astonishing that the department has had to resort to it. It is a procedure where we are dealing with 12 pages of detailed amendments which have a huge effect, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, has pointed out, on investors, consumers, producers and everyone, and we are trying to rush them through in this way. Next week, we have two days of Report, when we are supposed to deal with the whole Bill yet again. This is an astonishingly incompetent way of dealing with legislation.
I want to turn to the betrayal and the reneging on promises that have been made. I took part in a referendum in Scotland and went on platforms—much to my disadvantage, I may say—with Conservative spokespersons. It was a bit easier with the Liberal Democrat spokespersons. The SNP and others have taken us to task—to some extent understandably—for appearing shoulder to shoulder with Tory spokespersons. I feel really annoyed now that some of the things that were said on behalf of all of us, but put into government documents, are now being reneged on by the Conservative Government. Perhaps if it had been a coalition, they would not have been reneged on.
I will give two examples of the documents that went out to electors in the referendum. One said:
“The UK Government is now introducing the Contracts for Difference scheme, which will provide long term support for all forms of low-carbon electricity generation. These contracts provide industry with the long-term framework to make further large scale energy investments at least cost to the consumer.”
Does not that ring hollow in the light of what the Government are now doing? It continues:
“Whilst the Renewables Obligation has been successful in incentivising renewable electricity deployment, a new market mechanism is now required to provide industry with the framework to make further large scale energy investments at least cost to the consumer. Therefore in its place, the UK Government is introducing the Contracts for Difference mechanism, which will provide long term support for all forms of low-carbon electricity generation—including nuclear, renewables and carbon capture and storage. Such contracts will allow investors to be confident about the returns on their capital in advance of investing billions”—
this is in a government document—
“into new infrastructure, remove exposure to volatile wholesale electricity prices and produce a more competitive market; therefore ensuring electricity remains affordable.”
That is really astonishing. This pledge in a government document to electors in the Scottish referendum was totally reneged on by the new Conservative Government.
Let us take the second betrayal by the Government. I will quote the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, who in the Chamber on 4 November 2013 said:
“My Lords, Amendment 66 provides the Government with the power to close the renewables obligation to new capacity. As noble Lords know, this closure is planned for 31 March 2017 as part of the transition to contracts for difference. We had previously considered that the renewables obligation could be closed using existing powers within the Electricity Act 1989. However, we have now concluded that a specific power in this Bill will put the closure arrangements on a more reliable and transparent legislative basis”.—[Official Report, 4 November 2013; col. 28.]
That enabled the power, which had been devolved to the Scottish Parliament, to be brought back here on the pretence that all this would be done on a proper, comprehensive, United Kingdom basis. The Scottish Government were betrayed on that promise, too, made by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma.
The third betrayal relates to the Conservative Party 2015 manifesto, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, said, explicitly committed to ensuring that,
“local people have the final say on windfarm applications”.
Independent generators, as other Members will have seen from their paper, are concerned that the Government’s proposed grace period for the early closure of the RO unfairly excludes projects with democratic local planning consent, contradicting that manifesto commitment to give local people the final say. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, they give examples of that. I will not go into the full details, except to say that the Section 75 agreement was made on 2 July 2015, which of course was after the cut-off date, because of a technical delay. That means that the will of local people, contrary to what the Government say, will not be taken into account. We keep being told that we should all abide by the Salisbury convention, but the Government are betraying their own manifesto. Those are the three betrayals.
We are told that all this is being done to keep prices down, but Bloomberg has just produced a report, which says, according to the Guardian—I know that not all Members like the Guardian, but I am sure that they like Bloomberg more:
“New onshore windfarms are now the cheapest way for a power company to produce electricity in Britain, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance … Costs have dropped to $85 … per megawatt hour … compared with the current costs of about $115 for constructing coal or gas-fired plants”.
The costs for nuclear are assessed by Bloomberg at $190. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, said earlier in the Chamber that he was looking forward to the day when we do not have to subsidise renewables such as wind, but he should perhaps think about how much subsidy is going into Hinkley Point and look forward to the day when we do not have to subsidise nuclear.
These matters go beyond the terms of today’s debate, of course, but it is clear that, if we are to help consumers and keep our pledge to them to provide the cheapest form of electricity, using onshore windfarms is one way of doing that, according to the Bloomberg report. It is most unfortunate that we are dealing with this matter in this way.
I do not know who is going to the climate change conference in Paris in December. I once went to a climate change meeting that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, in his previous capacity, chaired—in a brilliant way, by the way—with everyone discussing the issues rather than reading out reports prepared by civil servants back home. It was a very good and constructive debate.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
I would like to resume. I was thinking ahead to Paris in the week beginning 7 December, wondering which poor Minister—I hope it is not the noble Lord, Lord Bourne—is going to have to go there and explain how we are going to manage to achieve our targets for reducing carbon emissions by the appropriate date, given what we are doing in relation to solar energy, and now in relation to onshore wind. I certainly would not like to be doing that.
In the light of the fact that there has been this betrayal and that the Government are trying to rush us through some very complicated and detailed amendments with serious long-term effects that will affect not just investors, customers and suppliers but many more people, I must give the Minister notice that I am minded to oppose all his amendments in this Grand Committee unless he can give me some very clear assurances. I will be listening very carefully. If we do not agree this today, it will give the Government another week to try to get it right.
I ask the Minister to go back to his Secretary of State and his other Ministers and ask whether it is really worth the candle to push this through the House of Lords and then go to the House of Commons and try to persuade it, with 55 SNP Members of Parliament snapping away at Ministers’ heels, just for the relatively small amount that it would cost to go ahead as originally planned, and for the relatively small amount of generation involved? Is it really worth pushing ahead with that?
I wonder whether the Government are now regretting having introduced this Bill into the House of Lords. We are supposed to deal with Bills that are not contentious but this one is proving very contentious indeed. The Minister should go back and explain the problems that he is having getting the Bill through the House of Lords and warn his colleagues that it is going to be not just twice or 10 times as hard but many times more difficult to get it through the House of Commons. The Government have a majority there but there are all sorts of ways that it can be upset. I hope that he will consider changing his mind, withdrawing Clause 66 completely, finding some better arrangement that protects onshore wind schemes and keeping the three promises that I mentioned earlier, which the Government have reneged upon. I give him that very serious warning. Perhaps he will reflect that if he had taken my advice to have this matter dealt with in the Chamber, he might not be in the pickle he is in now.
My Lords, I declare my interests, including as president of the Energy Industries Council, which I cease to be tomorrow evening so I shall not need to declare it after that.
I applaud the very balanced assessment of the situation given by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin. It reflected very sensible views about the way this issue should be handled and approached. As for the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, perhaps he was not in the Chamber at Second Reading, or if he was he seems to have completely forgotten what I said about Hinkley Point. I am very pro-nuclear indeed, but I do not mind saying in front of my noble friend that I have very serious reservations about whether the Hinkley Point C programme is the right way to get our nuclear renaissance going. I just remind him of that before he makes a further comment.
I thank the noble Lord for that. Turning to the amendments, they are very generous and I congratulate my noble friend on bringing them forward, even though they are rather extensive. They are what we used to call in the other place “liquid legislation”; that is, legislation going through Parliament that all the time is massively amended so that it changes from day to day. The amendments are indeed extensive but also very generous. This is a very exciting industry, part of the great low-carbon renewables transformation in the world that most of us want to see. All around the world, costs not only for solar power, which we were discussing earlier in the Chamber, but for all forms of wind power, onshore and offshore, and all sorts of other associated technologies are coming down dramatically. Really amazing technological advances are being achieved.
I listened to the expert legal commentaries of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and I am all for speeding up the planning. However, it has to be remembered that what we are doing here is not legislating to stop all onshore wind. That is a vast industry that will continue and contribute to the energy transformation of the entire planet. What we are legislating for is to bring to a halt, with the various adjustments embodied in the amendments, further subsidy that falls upon consumers. This has to be weighed in the balance. We hear horrid stories about the closure of businesses; the Redcar steelworks is perhaps the most dramatic recent one. When you look at the small print, you find that one of the difficulties is that they are facing much cheaper imports from countries that are not carrying such heavy energy costs. We have to put that in the balance and not just ignore the other side of the argument. There are consumers and taxpayers, often poor households and consumers with very low incomes, at the other end of this process, and we cannot ignore their position.
In addition, it has to be remembered that many of the investors behind the projects we are talking about have not just entered into them entirely from the goodness of their hearts or because they want to save the planet. Investors enter into these great projects because they can make a profit, and I have nothing against that; that is excellent. Less excellent, however, is that they sometimes enter into them because the subsidies seem so juicy and attractive and they think that they are going to make exceptionally large profits. So I just say to my noble friend, and I am sure he would agree, that we should bring to an end—with these many concessions and in a very balanced way—this particular growth of additional subsidies. In future, let us make sure that investors in these industries understand, as I believe the wise ones do, that the projects that they want to go for are the ones that are really likely to be extremely profitable, particularly in Scotland, and very competitive with all other forms of energy. They should be careful if they think that they are just going to ride on an indefinite continuation of very large subsidies because Governments and policies change. Wise advisers to wise investors will always warn them that the best projects are those for which the subsidies are a minimal part of the reward, and the profitable and efficient operation of the industry itself, and the rapid adaption of new technology, are the larger part of the profit generated. In every case, we advise that subsidies can end.
My Lords, in discussing these amendments, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of the enormous success of the system which the Government and their predecessor put into place. The fact that these prices have fallen significantly is in part—indeed, in very strong part—due to the encouragement that this Government and the previous Government have brought to play. Sometimes, we talk as if all this technological advantage has just happened because people have been clever. Actually, it has not: a market was created. Certainly, the successes of offshore wind have been achieved because people had a proper market, with a proper continuum, and were therefore able to invest.
I declare an interest as chairman of the Committee on Climate Change. Although I have to sit on one side or the other, that makes me entirely independent on these issues. The fact that we can talk about offshore wind being competitive now, in a way that we had never thought of, is entirely the result of the foresight of all three political parties in various assemblies putting this opportunity in place. Let us not just say that the technology has improved so wonderfully that it is now in this new position; it is actually a very good example of the relationship between government and the provision of opportunity by others. Any new technology has to compete in a world where there are enormous advantages for old technologies, because of the investment they had in the past and a whole range of subsidies that happen throughout the world. That is certainly true of the fossil fuel industries.
I point next to the fact that one of the reasons why the cost has risen is that these technologies are actually more efficient than we ever thought they were going to be. When the Committee on Climate Change proposed that it would cost us some £7.6 billion to ensure that we were on track to decarbonise our electricity supply, and therefore on track for meeting our statutory requirement to reduce our emissions by 80% by the year 2050, the then coalition Government accepted that amount. It is actually costing more than that, partly because of the fall in the gas price. The gas price affects this because of course a contract for difference takes place, so when the price of gas falls the additional cost comes back. However, it is also partly because offshore wind is immensely more efficient than we thought it would be. It is putting more energy into the grid, which costs us more because that is the deal we have done. So the background to these amendments is one of success, not failure. We are not having to do this because it has cost us more by being a failure; it is because it has been a success.
The amendments seem to go a very long way towards meeting the one legitimate argument that needs to be faced: the reasonable expectation on the part of business that if it invests, it will get certain advantages from the Government. The Committee on Climate Change is primarily concerned not with means but with ends. We are concerned with delivering the budgets to which the Government and Parliament are committed. Frankly, Governments have every right to make changes if they want to, as long as the changes end up in such a place that we are able to meet the requirements of the carbon budgets laid down by Parliament as a result of the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change. So I am very leery of being led into a position of saying that this or that mechanism is the right one. However, I have to say that it is very important that business should not get the impression that promises made are broken.
That does not mean to say that if you subsidise people now, you will always be subsidising them. That is not true. Sometimes, when I listen to some of the green organisations, you would have thought that the moment you promise to do something, you are then going to do it for ever, and that somehow you are letting people down if you do not. That is also not so. All I am saying here is that there are two different issues. On the one hand is the right and ability of the Government to alter, extend or restrict the subsidy that they offer in the light of changed circumstances and, on the other, the duty of the Government to ensure that they meet fully the obligations into which they have entered.
My own view is that there is a significant argument as to whether that was “the promise”; it was the mechanism that was put forward. My concern now is about a perfectly reasonable assumption that the Government, in looking at the circumstances, have decided that the way in which the system works has to be severely altered. In doing that, I am concerned that we do not deal unfairly with companies that have entered into significant costs on the basis of what the law appeared to them to be. Why do I say that? I do not have a position to argue on behalf of the companies but I have a duty to argue on behalf of the future of our policies towards climate change. That means we have to ensure that the British Government are always seen as absolutely dependable. I warn that if we do not get that right, we will find ourselves in the position that some other Governments appear to be in. In general, the Government seem to have done precisely what they ought to in these amendments and I commend the Minister for putting them forward in this way. I speak in support of what he has done here.
However, during the course of the debate and discussions, the Minister will have heard a number of particular examples which sound as if they fall on the wrong side of the lines that have been drawn. My experience from many years as a Minister is that having one occasion which looks pretty unfair causes very considerable angst, not just to those people but much more widely, so that that one occasion begins to undermine the way in which the Government are seen. I want the Minister to look carefully just to make sure that where some of the examples which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, presented earlier are reasonable, we should find some way through.
Secondly, I do not know how much the Minister has to do with planning permission personally. I declare an interest in the sense that I help people to do planning permission for sustainable development—not anything to do with energy but on other things. Planners can take a very long time and when one is trying to work with them on a joint agreement, all these rules about having to provide an answer in four months can so easily end up as 14 months, and sometimes as 24 months. But you do that because you really want to get an answer which everyone is happy with. I therefore hope the Minister will recognise that if there are circumstances where it appears that another arm of government has made it impossible for people to meet the real and sensible restrictions which he is laying to achieve his ends, he will look particularly carefully at those circumstances. One area where people feel very unhappy is if they feel that one bit of government has made it impossible for them to meet the arrangements which another bit has perfectly properly put forward, so I hope he will look at that.
The third thing I hope the Minister will do is that when he talks about these things he will remind people of the enormous success of the policy, as I mentioned earlier. This policy has achieved a great deal. Britain was hugely at the bottom of the heap in the amount of renewable energy it had. We have done extremely well, which seems something to be very cheered about. I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Howell, as he always does, referred to this great industry. The renewables industry is a great industry and has emerged from circumstances in which it was rather laughed at by many people. It is now a serious industry with serious results and, importantly, providing for the absolute demand that we have to combat climate change—which, as I think almost all of us accept, is the biggest material threat to mankind.
As I have said on earlier occasions, these amendments—although they may not all be right—are important in order to emphasise that the Government have to follow what they have already done with their own amendments. They have to make sure that at no point does it look as though they have let people down, because it is very important for future policies that that does not happen. However, they are also important because they are testament to the fact that this Government have achieved so much, and I think that it is necessary for the wider community to become more interested in ends than in means.
I finish by saying that assessing Governments’ commitments on the basis of whether they happen to accept a particular way of doing something rather than on whether they are achieving the end that you want is a great mistake. We ought always to recognise that it is difficult to be government and it is easy to be opposition; it is easier to be green in opposition than it is in government. The judgment must be: have the Government achieved the end to which they have committed themselves? At the moment, the jury is out because we do not know the alternative ways of proceeding. However, it is perfectly reasonable for a Government to decide that it is no longer sensible to subsidise in one way rather than another or to subsidise in one way rather than have no subsidy. All that matters is that the Government can stand with their head held high and say, “We have met our obligations”. There are some examples here which I think it would be a mistake not to look at very carefully; otherwise, all the good intentions of these amendments might be much undermined.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing this session of the Committee. I should start by declaring an additional future relevant interest. I am in negotiations about taking up a position with an American charity that will be working on climate change and energy. I have not signed anything yet, but I think that it is material and that therefore I should declare a potential future interest.
I am grateful for all the contributions to this debate and, again, to the Minister for his introduction to these clauses. I am particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, for—as has been said before—his forensic description and critique of the amendments as we see them today. I say at the outset that we are, as I am sure are the Government, committed fully to decarbonising the UK energy system at least cost in a way that ensures that we maintain security of supply and, one hopes, engenders an industrial revolution that we can be proud of and export to the rest of the world. Within that, people will know that I have no particular love of any particular technology. I take a very broad view towards the groups of technologies that should be considered as we go forward in this endeavour.
In that spirit, I want to ask the Minister some specific questions relating to the amendments but also to a wider context. I am sure he appreciates that we are dealing with a somewhat febrile environment. There is now sufficient investor disquiet that people are watching very carefully for signals from the Government that this is not about the wholesale disruption of the renewables industry, and we must do everything that we can to reassure the industry that that is not the case.
I shall start with the more specific questions relating to the amendments. As was raised earlier, there are some anomalies. They may arise from the fact that it feels, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, as if we are in a liquid legislation situation, where we seem to be getting rather large chunks of detailed and complex legislation with relatively little time to assess it. I am therefore genuinely looking forward to the Minister’s responses because some of these anomalies seem to be substantial and we need a response.
The Government made this announcement on 18 June, in the first few weeks of government after the election, and then set about consulting. That is not normally the way around that we would expect a Government to behave, but there we are. We are where we are. Then, in the Minister’s own words, they consulted industry and hundreds of stakeholders. To my knowledge, however, although maybe I have missed it, we have not seen the synthesis of the results of that consultation. In normal proceedings, the Government would conduct a consultation and get the results back, and we would all be able to look at what everyone had said. As far as I am aware, we have not had that. That puts us at a great disadvantage. There is distinct informational asymmetry since the Government have been involved in all these conversations but Members of Parliament from other parties have not had that luxury. We have therefore found ourselves, in the past few days since these rather detailed amendments came forward, having to consult a large number of people to absorb their concerns, even though we have very little to go on in terms of being able to place them in context. Noble Lords will have noticed that we have not tabled any amendments to the amendments. This is because until this morning we have been receiving people’s feedback on these complex issues.
As the Minister said, this is a complex issue. Had the draftspeople who were writing the manifesto in April and May before the election realised quite the implication of those few words in the manifesto, would we have seen them appear? Regrettably, they have led to this huge amount of complexity and disquiet and a feeling among some investors that they have not been handled with due respect. They have seen what they thought were very sensible investment decisions being completely undermined by what to them was a very sudden and surprising announcement with very little signalling that it would take place.
The government amendments are intended to clarify, but unfortunately they just raise more anomalies. This has been raised already, but it might just be worth reiterating a couple of points. We have a situation now where the grace periods will apply to projects that have had a negative decision in planning overturned at appeal. That seems to fly in the face of Clause 65, which says that local people should have the final say. Here we have a situation where a project that clearly was not very popular has been appealed and is now going forward. Such projects will continue to be eligible. However, where we have the reverse—an approval by local planning but no written documents, so we have gone through the democratic process and had approval but have not yet received the written information—the guillotine comes down and you cannot go forward. That seems to be a very odd situation. Similarly, you may have got your approval, but if you have asked for a variation and are waiting for clarity on it, that too falls foul of this artificial 18 June deadline. I would like the Minister to respond to those concerns and explain why the guillotine is being interpreted in this way, which seems to conflict with the overall desire of the Government to keep local government and local decision-making at the heart of this.
Then we move on to the issue of whether investment has been frozen out by the uncertainty created by bringing forward this clause. Again, as a general point, this could have been so different had we not embarked on this endeavour, but there we are. We are where we are. I am repeating some of the technical questions that have already been asked so eloquently by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace. We question why only lenders who have investor-grade credit ratings qualify. That seems quite restrictive and could freeze out very good potential creditworthy lenders who happen not to meet that particular criterion.
We would like to know exactly how the investment freezing will be interpreted. Do you have to prove that you have been frozen out for the entire time of the legislation from the start to Royal Assent, or just a part of that? How much of the delay counts and what does not count?
My final point has already been raised. Once you have proof that you have been frozen out, you have to show this by a certain date—I think it is March 31 2016. How long will it take before you get a reply? You have to have already built your project by December 2017. There is nothing in here to say that there must be a time limit by which any final decision is made. It could drag on. It has been said before that some of these things drag on for reasons outside government control. We need more clarity on how that will work practically. I know that it seems slightly odd to be arguing over and/or, but it is material about whether we are talking about a grace period for grid and radar delays or whether it is just grid as one category and radar as another. We need clarity on that.
From what I and others have said, it is quite clear that these amendments are not yet fit for purpose. We have had very little time to consider them. Indeed, it feels very much like liquid legislation. It feels slightly as though we are making this up as we go along. It is a regrettable situation.
I want to pause and reflect on why we are doing this. What is the reason behind it? It has been stated that it is to save consumers money. Actually, that is not true. It is more to do with how the levy control framework has been interpreted. The impact assessment makes rather a lame attempt to explain some options that were considered. The only options that were really considered in the impact assessment were do nothing or do this, but that is not a great set of options. There is a far wider range of things that could have been considered to stay within the levy control framework budgets, as imagined by the Government—not least simply reopening the levels of CFD allocations to onshore wind, leaving the ERO as it is, because that has already been debated. We have had a closure date and we know what is happening there: there is certainty. Why not look at the CFD regime instead? That option was not considered in the impact assessment and not brought forward.
Reading the impact assessment, we now find that we are in a curious position where we make an announcement, and it is not thought through. We then consult. We then find that everyone is very unhappy so we bring in grace periods to make everyone happy. That almost completely undermines the purpose of the intervention in the first place, since we are now looking, in the central scenario, at avoiding 200 megawatts of extra onshore wind, which probably has local approval and is probably in Scotland. Would it really have killed us to allow those to go forward and keep investor confidence? Instead, we could have focused our collective efforts, in much more of a spirit of collaboration, on the bigger picture, which is what are we going to do going forward on contracts for difference. That is by far and away the biggest issue. How will we apply those to onshore wind?
That leads me to another serious question. I have asked it before and I have not had a direct answer. When will we hear about the next auctions for contracts for difference, and, most importantly, will onshore wind be given an allocation within that? We have had no categorical statement from the Government, but I can read between the lines. If the Government insist on staying within their rigid view of how they will meet the renewables targets that were set for us by Brussels, they will have to set a zero quota for onshore wind. In their mind, they think that we are on track and ahead of schedule and we will make it. But we are not on track and what we should be looking at in the entirety of this is the cost of renewable energy across the board. Is it not more sensible to pursue lower-cost technologies that are proven, that are generating jobs and putting investment into parts of the world that need it? Mostly that is in Scotland, where we see unemployment rising and we need to see inward investment. We could perhaps look again at some of the more expensive and less proven things that we are trying to do at the same time.
It is simply a question of prudence. We should do the things that are delivering and do them well, and do not use the promise of some fictional future that we have very little confidence will be delivered as an excuse to cut off at the knees the technologies that we know are delivering.
As I said at the outset, I am not a particular fan of any one technology. I abide by all of the above and I want to see least-cost decarbonisation. But every time I come to this subject, I keep returning to the question of why. Why have we singled out onshore wind in the way that we have? I do not have a good answer and I would like the Minister to answer that question. It should not be because the department says that we have overspent a particular bit of budget, because that is not going to cut it, I am afraid. We know that that is not how targets have been set by Europe and we know that it is within the Government’s discretion to move things around.
Many more points could be delved into in the detail, but one of our greatest concerns is that there is an information asymmetry here. We are still processing a large part of information. I am almost certain that we will return to this on Report next week with amendments. In the mean time, I very much look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I wish to add my voice to some of the points that have been made this afternoon. I particularly want to talk about parliamentary process. I have done this before. For the duration of the coalition Government, I was a party Whip and I am still a party Whip. We have never had to deal with the situation that we had with this Bill where we had the Second Reading on the last day of business. We had the first day of Committee when we came back for two weeks. We then went away for two weeks. We were promised that we would have the amendments to the Bill on 7 October. We got them on 8 October. They were several pages of very technical amendments.
I feel a great deal of sympathy for the Minister because it is probably not his fault that this has happened. But to have to deal with this Bill in this way? This is his first Energy Bill and I have great sympathy for him, so I am not necessarily having a go at the Minister, but at the process. We really need to get our act together.
We have heard today about how this is affecting people outside; about how important it is and how people want to talk to us. I made the point before that we are now a very big House. If we make technical changes like these at the very last minute, it is very difficult for Back-Benchers to get involved. A lot of us get bombarded by people from outside who are worried about what is going on, and what time have we had to deal with that? I would like to send the message—I am very pleased the government Chief Whip is in his place—that we try to avoid this in the future. It is not a good, efficient way to work and it is not the way the House of Lords has worked in the past.
The other point that I want to support is the issue of certainty. In the last Parliament, we had the promise made by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma—I was there, working on that Bill. We again spent hours on technical stuff, going through an Energy Bill, trying to make sure that in the future people who invest in energy across the board would have certainty about what was happening. We are already into the uncertainty around this Bill. I read with horror in one of the newspapers—I am afraid I cannot find the article again—that the funding for one of the gas turbines had been withdrawn because of the uncertainty about what the Government were doing in the whole of the energy sector. This is an important point that the noble Lords, Lord Deben and Lord Foulkes, have also talked about.
We are where we are and the uncertainty is very difficult for industry. We have heard about businesses going under and so on. We are between a rock and a hard place on these Benches because in some ways we do not particularly like the way in which the Government have carried on, but we want to try to make sure that the amendments are as good as we can get them. My noble and learned friend, Lord Wallace, is much more able than I am and has explained them all beautifully to the Committee. I hope that the Government can respond to these, because it is important that the uncertainty does not go on any longer if we can possibly help it. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, had a wonderful phrase for the things that we are trying to sort out—examples falling the wrong side of the lines. I think that is the sort of thing that we are trying to put right. I hope that between us we can reach a reasonable conclusion and we do not have uncertainty any longer in this industry.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in this debate and raised some salient points. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, who was good enough to take me into her confidence some time ago. I am delighted about her prospect, and we all wish her well in that new role. She will bring considerable knowledge and massive commitment to that task. We share objectives, and I wish her every success in that role. I know that she will continue to have a vital part to play in the House of Lords.
I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, who is not in his place. He handled part of the Bill as well as leading for the Liberal Democrats on some of these issues. That role has been taken over, but he had tremendous brio and contributed massively to some early consideration of the Bill.
I shall deal with the point about the recommital before I move on to say something about the amendments. I listened very carefully to what the Labour Front Bench, the Liberal Democrat Front Bench and some Cross-Benchers were saying. I went to considerable lengths to get this recommital organised. The only option for doing the recommital was in the Moses Room, otherwise it would have disrupted business elsewhere in a way that noble Lords would not have wanted. There was little option for recommital other than to have it in the Moses Room. It was a genuine and considerable effort to get organised.
There is obviously a difference of opinion over the amendments that have been put forward. There is clearly a difference between noble Lords about the desirability of what we are doing. I point to the manifesto. We may have different views about whether this is desirable but there is a commitment in the manifesto in relation to onshore wind, and that is why we are pursuing it. I understand that other parties would deal with it in a different way, but there is a democratic process and there has been a general election.
In view of what has been said today in this Committee, I am minded to withdraw these amendments to represent them next week, having considered very carefully some good points, particularly from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, which were echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. There are some very serious points that I would like to look at. Some of them clearly merit looking at in the way that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, approached them in terms of improving what the Government are committed to doing. Others do not like what we are doing. As far as I am concerned, that matter was settled in broad terms by the general election. There are going to be democratic differences between the parties. This is the way things happen. However, I am very happy to go away and reflect on the points that have been made. We have come a long way and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, and my noble friends Lord Howell and Lord Deben for what they said about the amendments. I agree with the commitment to renewables that was put very forcefully by my noble friend Lord Deben. They are vital and are something we are pledged to, as we are pledged to the climate change negotiations that are going on in Paris and are moving at great speed, with 149 countries yesterday, and probably more now, having made commitments regarding their contribution. There is a great prize there internationally.
I will reflect on what was said today and, having considered the points that have been made, will bring these amendments back on Report. I hope that in the light of what was said by some noble Lords that that is considered a reasonable approach.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendments 2 to 12 not moved.
Clause 66 agreed.
Amendment 13 not moved.
Committee adjourned at 5.29 pm.