That this House do not insist on its Amendment 7T to Commons Amendment 7, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 7TA.
The Commons agree with the Lords in their Amendments 7A to 7S and 7U to 7W, and disagree to Lords Amendment 7T for the following reason—
7TA: Because it is not appropriate for renewables obligation certificates to be issued in respect of electricity generated after the date on which the Energy Bill is passed by onshore wind generating stations for which planning permission was granted in the circumstances described in the Lords Amendment.
My Lords, the elected Members in the other place have sent a very clear message regarding the amendment made in this House on 12 April. The continued toing and froing on this issue is preventing the Bill proceeding to Royal Assent in a timely manner. Until that happens, we are unable to implement the much-needed measures relating to the Oil and Gas Authority. In the other place, there was much discussion of the importance of ensuring that the Bill now comes to a swift conclusion. The honourable Member for Aberdeen South, Callum McCaig, said, in relation to the Oil and Gas Authority functions:
“I urge the Government to put their eyes back on the ball and allow the Energy Bill to proceed. If we go back and forth with ping-pong we risk delaying that further”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/4/16; col. 945.]
Indeed, previous representations from industry bodies such as Energy UK, RenewableUK and Scottish Power have also recognised the need for the,
“swift passage of the Energy Bill, with clear, fair and consistent RO grace period provisions”,
as those bodies have jointly said. We must move forward with the Bill to provide certainty in this sector and to allow projects to benefit from the investment freezing condition, which has been broadly welcomed by the industry.
Once again I find myself reminding your Lordships why the onshore wind measures were introduced in the Bill. The Government have a mandate to deliver on their manifesto commitment to end new subsidies for onshore wind. The Government remain intent on delivering this commitment and bringing forward the closure of the renewables obligation to new onshore wind in Great Britain. Noble Lords will recognise that the manifesto proposals were put before the country at the general election last year, which resulted in the present Government taking power. The Government have a mandate to act on this manifesto commitment, which was based on plans signalled well before the election. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, was surprised by the result of the election but noble Lords should not be surprised that this action is being taken. It was very clearly stated in the manifesto and well signalled. Nobody should have been taken by surprise.
Back in March 2015, the right honourable Member for West Suffolk, Matthew Hancock, then Minister for Energy and Climate Change, stated in the other place:
“We have made it absolutely clear that we will remove onshore wind subsidies in the future”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/3/15; cols. 1227-28.]
Prior to that, in December 2014, the Prime Minister said of wind farms in a House of Commons Liaison Committee:
“We don’t need to have more of these subsidised onshore, so let’s get rid of the subsidy”.
The Government, the Prime Minister and Members of the elected Chamber have continued to make their position clear.
Members in the other place have removed Amendment 7T, inserted after our previous debate on the Bill. Amendment 7T would have allowed certain projects, which did not have planning permission as of 18 June last year, into the renewables obligation beyond the early closure date. I say again: these projects did not have planning permission as of 18 June last year and therefore do not meet the grace period criteria proposed by the Government. Amendments such as the one removed in the other place would lead to an increase in deployment under the renewables obligation, which would come at a cost to consumers. As my honourable friend the Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change, Andrea Leadsom, noted in the other place:
“Opposition Members suggest that just because there is local agreement, it is fine to add to the bills of all consumers across Great Britain, but that is simply not the case. It is our duty as consumer champions—at least on the Government Benches—to keep down the cost to consumers, and this is what we will do”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/4/16; col. 952.]
The policy set out by the Government strikes a fair balance between protecting consumers and addressing the concerns of industry. Noble Lords should take careful note of what Members in the other place have said and should not seek to undo the position by amending the Bill again. I beg to move.
Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)
Leave out from “House” to end and insert “do insist on its Amendment 7T”.
My Lords, we have gone over this ground many times. I therefore do not intend to delay the House very much. I just want to pick up on one or two of the Minister’s remarks.
It does not really become the Government to pray in aid time. This Bill left your Lordships’ House well before Christmas last year and it was some weeks into the new year before it was brought to the House of Commons for Second Reading. Any delay in the Bill is entirely it the hands of the Government because of the exceptional delay between the Bill completing its passage through your Lordships’ House and being introduced into the House of Commons. These kinds of arguments at this late stage really do not cut any ice.
The Minister will also be aware that some doubt has been expressed as to how clear the manifesto commitment was. While for some the election result may have been a surprise, what really was a surprise was that no one in the industry interpreted the manifesto pledge as being one which would ensure that the ending of the subsidy for onshore renewables, already due in March 2017, would be accelerated by a year. People I have spoken to throughout the industry say that that came as a great surprise to them. But that is the position we are in. The Government are going to get their policy, but we are trying to ensure that there is some justice attached to the way in which they get it. That is the whole point of having grace periods, and these are the specific points that are raised in the amendments.
When the noble Lord’s ministerial colleague Andrea Leadsom appeared before the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change in the other place, my right honourable friend the Member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland asked her:
“So what is the purpose of the grace period then?”.
The Minister replied:
“As I say, to ensure fairness. To ensure that those who have spent money—significant investment—and achieved everything technically to meet the cut-off date but, through reasons beyond their control, haven’t actually made it, are not penalised for reasons beyond their control”.
That is a very fair submission and definition of what fairness should be in such circumstances. With these amendments, we are trying to ensure that the definition of fairness which the Minister expressed in the other place is given some reality and substance.
The amendment which we are insisting on would specifically look at those cases where there was a decision by a council committee based on an application to which the committee was minded to consent, where notice had been issued and where there were conditions attached to it. These conditions were known to be deliverable because any other practice would be a waste of everyone’s time. These kind of conditions, which are Section 75 conditions in Scotland and Section 106 conditions in England and Wales, have been in place and sought after or imposed as planning conditions for 15 years. The process has now matured and is well understood. The illustration put to me by people within the industry, which I think I have given before, is that the Government are trying to say, “You’ve passed your exams but we’re not allowing you to graduate”. That is what it feels like to those who find themselves in this position.
I shall not go into the details again of the Twentyshilling Hill wind farm in the south of Scotland—but, clearly, everything had been done to get that development to the stage where the council had indicated that it was minded to consent. There then just had to be to-ing and fro-ing between lawyers to get an agreement but the agreement just fell on the wrong side of 18 June—something for which the lawyers cannot really be held responsible. They had in fact spent a substantial amount of money.
The other amendment in my name, in Motion A3, would try to ensure some fairness between Scotland and England. The difference in the levels at which developers have to apply to local authorities in Scotland and England means that where a local authority makes an objection in Scotland, the matter goes to the Scottish Ministers under Section 36 of the Electricity Act, whereas a similar development in England would trigger a public inquiry. In the particular case I have in mind at Aikengall, on the border between East Lothian and the Scottish Borders, the two councils expressed objections. If they had been local authorities in England, the matter would have gone to the Secretary of State and a public inquiry would have been held. Even though that inquiry reported after 18 June, the developers would have been able to go ahead in the event of a successful outcome. As it happened, both councils objected, but because in Scotland it had to go to Scottish Ministers without the councils making a determination, that did not count as a determination. Although a similar procedure of a local public hearing was in place, under the law as it stands—or as it is proposed by the Government—they would not be entitled to go forward with their project, should the development consent be granted.
Since we debated this at the first iteration of ping-pong, the developers, Community Windpower, have been in touch with me further. They note that they have worked closely with Wind Towers (Scotland) Ltd—now the Korean-owned CS Wind—to ensure that all the towers for their projects are delivered from the manufacturing plant at Machrihanish, Campbeltown, and, more specifically, that they have entered into an agreement to ensure that Liberty Steel will provide the steel for them. So when the Government are telling us that they are trying to do all they can to help our native steel industry and a company that wants to build these turbines and access a source of British steel, it seems perverse that it might not be able to do so because the Government are taking such a intransigent position.
As I say, what we are seeking is simple justice. I will leave the closing words to the Minister himself, when he was dealing with the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Featherstone in relation to solar energy.
I apologise for interrupting and am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for allowing me to do so. Given that he is not moved by the arguments made by the Front Bench on our side, perhaps I could try an argument on him that might appeal particularly to a Scottish Liberal Democrat. News came in recently, in the last month or so, of a study that has found that the density of breeding golden plover goes down by 80% when a wind farm is built on a particular piece of moorland.
The noble Viscount is rehearsing Second Reading arguments. We are dealing with some very small—but very important to the developers—changes to try to ensure justice. As I indicated, the Government will get their policy and will be able to close down the onshore wind industry subsidies, as they wish to do. What we are trying to do is to ensure that this very small and limited number of cases where substantial amounts of money have already been laid out by developers in trying to take the development to planning consent—and where in some cases the council had indicated that it was minded to consent after much local discussion and engagement—should be allowed to proceed.
To us it is a question of simple justice. I read somewhere the other day that the Scottish author William McIlvanney had said that Scotland’s motto was not,
“Wha daur meddle wi’ me?”,
but was really, “It’s no’ fair”. In this case, it isnae fair. The Minister himself said, when dealing with the end of the renewables obligation for solar of 5 megawatts and below, that,
“we have aimed to strike the right balance between protecting bill payers and protecting developers who have made significant investments, while being conscious of the need to decarbonise our energy infrastructure. That is why the order makes provision for a number of grace periods, which mirror those offered last year as part of the large-scale closure. Stakeholders have welcomed this consistency”.
Well, they do not welcome the inconsistency in dealing with onshore wind. He went on to say:
“One of the grace periods was designed to protect developers who could show that a significant financial commitment had been made on or before the date on which the proposals were announced. This required evidence that a planning application had been made, among other things, as a proxy for the financial commitment”.—[Official Report, 16/3/16; col. 1915.]
It seems to me that that is entirely in line with what we are proposing in these amendments. It is a question of simple justice, and even at this late stage I ask the Minister to think hard and seriously about these matters and to respond favourably. I beg to move.
My Lords, I should inform the House that if this amendment is agreed, I cannot call Amendments A2 to A4 by reason of pre-emption.
My Lords, I am grateful for that explanation. My Amendment A2 is dealt with in this grouping, so it would be appropriate for me to speak to it now, as I understand it. One of my noble friends said to me earlier, “This issue is hellishly complicated” —I am not sure whether that is an unparliamentary phrase or not—and then added, “I do not think all these three amendments make it any simpler”. I apologise if that is the case.
All three amendments are very similar to each other, but perhaps rather immodestly, I think mine makes the issue a bit clearer than the others, particularly in relation to one case that the Minister knows I have a particular interest in—I know this sounds like special pleading, and I will come to that in a moment—which is the Sorbie project near Ardrossan in North Ayrshire. I know representations have been made to him about it, and I tried to intervene—I should perhaps have got up a bit earlier—to try to get some clarification in relation to Sorbie. Government legislation can be interpreted in different ways, and if the Minister had been able to say then that Sorbie is covered by his amendments and that they will be interpreted as allowing it, it would have saved me having to speak at all. That would have been merciful, but I will speak and then see if he can say in his reply whether or not it is included.
The key difference is that my amendment expressly covers the situation where the planning authority’s decision to grant planning permission was subject to a planning agreement being entered into. I do not think that the wording of the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, covers that scenario.
The lawyers who have been advising me say that my wording removes any uncertainty over whether a planning authority decision which was subject to a planning agreement being entered into can actually meet the criterion, “a grant of planning permission was resolved”. With my wording, Ofgem would not be able to say that if the planning authority made the decision subject to the planning agreement being entered into, it would not qualify.
Ultimately, the difference between the amendments is very slight and—this is the point—Ofgem might take the view that “resolved to grant” would include where this was subject to a planning agreement being entered into, because the most likely reason for a delay between a planning authority decision and planning permission, or a decision notice, being granted is that a planning agreement was required. So the principle behind both amendments is the same: that a planning agreement delayed the grant of the permission. My wording is slightly clearer on that point.
My noble friend Lord Grantchester’s excellent amendment in Motion A4 is the same as that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, subject to one difference. As I understand it, my noble friend’s new amendment requires the planning permission to have been granted within three months of 18 June 2015, that is, by 18 September 2015. This amendment would not work for Sorbie or for Crookedstane, as the decision notices were not issued until December 2015 and January 2016 respectively. I am arguing that they should be included.
Subsection (f) of my amendment is specific to Sorbie, as it clarifies the different legislation which applied to this project as it was dealt with under delegated authority in Scotland. The existing legislation does not deal in any way with a planning application which was processed under delegated authority under the Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006.
I want those included. It may be a bit of special pleading, but I think that noble Lords who heard me last time will agree that it is a very good case, and I want to mention it briefly again. Sorbie Farm is a dairy farm in North Ayrshire. The price of milk was going down, and it was in financial difficulties. It was advised to diversify, and one of the obvious ways of diversifying in that area was to plan a wind farm, and it decided to go ahead in that way. A great deal of effort was put into it, and a lot of investment; the farm had already invested a great deal.
If the amendment were to be carried, it would in no way challenge government policy or the whole principle. Whether or not we agree with the points made by the Minister in his introduction, that would not be contested. The position in relation to Sorbie was that North Ayrshire Council approved it in June 2014. However—my noble friend Lady Liddell will understand this very well—it was called in by the Scottish Government due to an aviation objection which was subsequently withdrawn. The application was then granted on appeal in November 2015. Although the grace period wording would, on the face of it, allow the project to proceed, it is threatened by what those advising me consider to be inadequate drafting in the Bill, which my amendment is intended to clarify. It is not clear whether the approval date would be November 2015 or the original date when it was approved.
If the Minister can consider the matter and let me know at some point during the debate that Sorbie would be included, I would certainly be happier—no, I will not say that; I am never happy about government legislation, but I would be less distressed by it as it goes through.
Notwithstanding all that, and the special pleading for Sorbie, I support the amendment proposed by my noble friend on the Front Bench. It does not challenge the Government’s policy; it does not undermine the manifesto on which they were elected; it does not threaten any of the basic policy, but it brings justice to developers who were encouraged to develop renewable energy projects and who, in some cases, have invested up to £1 million each in getting them off the ground—or on the ground. They did it in very good faith, and then the ground was taken from beneath their feet by this Bill, which they were not expecting. The specifics of it were not included in the manifesto.
I hope the Minister will give serious consideration to accepting the amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Grantchester, and even more serious consideration to accepting that Sorbie should not be excluded on the basis of this legislation as currently drafted.
My Lords, I rise to speak briefly to the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Grantchester. In his opening remarks, the Minister referred to saving bill payers money. We are discussing the early closure of a support mechanism for renewable energy which was replaced by contracts for difference under the Energy Act 2013.
Essentially, control over subsidies for renewable energy was repatriated to the Secretary of State in the UK from the hands of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government, where it used to reside. Until 2013, energy policy and renewables subsidies were devolved issues. They now sit solely in the hands of these Houses and the Secretary of State. Were we to repatriate decisions about how we allocate CFDs and give subsidies out to renewables—and let us be clear that we are not yet meeting our legal obligations on renewable energy, so there is a need to continue subsidies and we need to continue to deploy least-cost technologies so that bill payers get the best value for the money they pay in—and if Scotland had the decision over how projects were allocated subsidies and it chose to allocate future CFDs to onshore wind, all bill payers would be paying less because at the moment CFDs are not going to onshore wind, which is substantially cheaper than many projects that are continuing to receive subsidies.
The Government’s policy states that they want to allow local people to have the final decision over projects and that they want to encourage least-cost deployment of renewables. This refusal to accept this very sensible amendment goes completely against those two objectives. If this went through, we would all be saving money and local people would be getting what they want, which is wind power in Scotland where it is supported and where it is sustaining jobs and delivering economic growth.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly in support of the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock and also, in a sense, in favour of the amendment so powerfully moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. He mentioned the phrase oft-used by Scottish schoolboys, “It’s no’ fair”. The response is usually, “A big boy did it and ran away”. In essence, what the Minister has been saying about the passage of the Bill through the House of Commons is, “A big boy did it and ran away”.
There is a problem caused by circumstances that relates particularly to Sorbie. Sorbie is a distressing case which could lead to bankruptcy for people who did everything they thought was right to save their business. It is unfortunate that they have been caught in this, but it is in the hands of the Minister to correct it. No one on this side of the House seeks to delay the Bill. There is a lot in it that we do not like, and there are some things in it that we like—I cannot think of any offhand—but this is a question of basic fairness and also about being pro-business and pro-communities. This is an anti-business move. If we are encouraging small firms, particularly small firms in rural communities, to take the initiative to change the nature of the economy and of their own outlook, we should have a situation where people are prepared to respond to the difficulties they face. Other wind farms have been caught in broadly similar ways, not least one from my own area, but the Sorbie case is a very dramatic one. Quite apart from requiring common sense, it also requires compassion, and I ask the Minister to consider that.
My Lords, I immediately declare an interest in land in South Ayrshire, as detailed in the register of interests.
I support the Minister. Recently, I read very interesting figures showing that, in Scotland, there is now 16 gigawatts of installed or consented capacity of onshore wind farms, against a peak demand of 6.5 gigawatts. The shocking figure has emerged that, in 2015, £90 million was paid in constraint payments—that is, to pay wind farm owners not to allow their turbines to turn. Surely this is mad economics. There is no justification whatever for allowing any extension of the deadline for subsidies to wind farms that are consented, and I therefore urge noble Lords opposite to support—
Will the noble Duke not admit that we are not looking to extend the deadline at all? The Government are proposing to bring it back, so it is not an extension but a reduction in the deadline. Since I used to represent his interests, if not get his vote, I hope he will consider that.
My Lords, my understanding is that the Conservative Party announced in its manifesto that it wished to terminate these subsidies earlier than originally anticipated. That is a manifesto commitment that we in this House are now asked to agree. My argument would be that, however deserving the case may be, there is no justification for extending beyond the deadline established in the Bill. That is why I urge noble Lords opposite to support the government amendment.
My Lords, I shall speak to Motion A4, which contains my proposed Amendment 7TD.
Today, once again, your Lordships’ House returns to the Energy Bill. How deeply damaging the actions of the Government have been is evidenced again, at this late stage of the Bill between the two Houses, by the booklet produced with four amendments relating to the Government’s refusal to accept the considered amendment in your Lordships’ House a fortnight ago. All four amendments are targeted once again on the original two clauses relating to onshore wind that the Government inserted into the Bill following the success of the Conservative Party at the general election.
Let us not forget what was said a fortnight ago. Yes, the Conservative Party won the election. Yes, the party had an ambiguous passage in its manifesto regarding the end of subsidies to onshore wind. Whatever may be contended from the passage, the renewables obligation for onshore wind was drawing to a close in any case by 31 March 2017. By aggressively—some may say vindictively—bringing this forward to 18 June 2015, the Conservative Government were, at the stroke of an announcement, creating their own mess. Government must be an orderly process, not dogma followed by diktat.
My Lords, could the noble Lord not just reflect that the Conservative Government were doing no such thing? They were responding to demands and requests from all over the country.
I well understand the words of the noble Lord, but my contention is that the Conservative Party was responding to the voice of UKIP.
Government must be an orderly process, not dogma followed by diktat. Under their own endeavours, following due process and local planning procedures, investors knew where they were and had to complete by 31 March 2017. By drawing the line somewhere with their grace periods, as we were ready to concede last week, the Government have arbitrarily cut a swathe across the many excellent schemes that were drawn up in good faith, with money invested and local backing, all to do their bit to decarbonise the UK’s energy sector.
Of course, any scheme falling on the wrong side of the line will be hurt. The amendments before your Lordships’ House contend that fairness and decency are still not in evidence within the Government’s concessions. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, may well be right in his assertions under Amendment 7TC to allow Section 36 projects. Certainly, they are very similar to cases won on appeal after 18 June 2015 but refused planning permission prior to 18 June 2015, a situation allowable under the Government’s concessions. I pay tribute to him for the dedication he has committed to getting this situation resolved and I thank him for his introductory remarks today.
My noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock also makes a compelling case for specific projects in Scotland. When noble Lords have received industry briefings covering a wide range of seemingly genuine cases, it underlines the huge damage the Conservative Government have created and unleashed in the renewables sector, especially in Scotland, with many jobs and livelihoods of hard-working farmers and others at stake.
My noble friend Lord Foulkes mentions the case of Sorbie, which, although called in by the Scottish Government, who subsequently withdrew any objection, was granted on appeal in November 2015. Can the Minister say why this is not covered by the concession to allow projects to proceed that were won on appeal? Has the Minister consulted with the Scottish Government on this case? I press the Minister to agree when he comes to reply that this case taken up by my noble friend is allowable.
On Amendment A1, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, Amendment 7T is the one in my name which was accepted by your Lordships’ House a fortnight ago. I argued then that this was logically compatible with the concessions already accepted by the Government. The local planning authority had—I stress—indicated relevant planning consents, although written notice was delayed, due to a Section 75 or Section 106 agreement being needed, until after 18 June 2015. This cannot be said to be against Conservative Party policy. It is widely considered that the decision made by a democratically elected local planning committee embodies the principle of giving local people the final say. To deny these cases where written consent was made after 18 June 2015 is to deny and prevent local people having the final say on onshore wind applications due to a pedantic technicality, as the final say had effectively been made prior to that date. The projects have, arguably, a stronger case than those originally refused local consent before 18 June but subsequently won on appeal after that date. I am grateful that these arguments won the backing of your Lordships’ House a fortnight ago.
This amendment was judged to include all the cases—a total of seven—that could be argued to be a minimum of unfair treatments needing to be rectified. They amounted to 90 megawatts. The wider onshore industry has come to a consensus to support this single, narrow extension to the Government’s proposed grace period criteria. It is hugely frustrating to find your Lordships’ fair compromise rejected by the Government in the Commons.
Labour wants to stand up for Scotland. Six of these seven schemes affected by this extension are based in Scotland. The Government have gone against the general consensus to devolve to the Scottish people the power to resolve their own issues by claiming back to the Westminster Parliament the issuing of renewable obligation certificates, which are to be solely under the jurisdiction of the UK Parliament. I thank my noble friend Lady Worthington for her wider remarks regarding the same situation under CFDs.
Labour is standing up for jobs in Scotland. The Minister in the other place, Andrea Leadsom, accused Labour of adding costs to consumer bills through the £10 million extra these schemes, totalling 90 megawatts, would add to consumer bills. However, analysis by the Independent Renewable Energy Generators Group shows that, had the Government accepted this amendment, it would have actually saved consumers over £10 million a year, as renewable technologies other than onshore wind could cost £20 million a year—being more expensive than onshore wind—given the necessity to reform the UK’s electricity system and decarbonise the economy. Instead, these schemes will be mothballed in Scotland and could cost jobs there.
My amendment in lieu of Amendment 7T, which I will press, will save investments and extend grace periods to the majority of the schemes under the original amendment. My amendment recognises that the Government do not wish to accept the full seven schemes and have rejected the original amendment. Instead, my amendment presses the case for schemes whose Section 75 or Section 106 agreements came through very close to the arbitrary cut-off date of 18 June 2015, such that written notice was issued within a three-month period—in other words, before 18 September 2015. This three-month period recognises the variability in dates of planning committee meetings and is proportional to the fair consideration of justice in these cases, and the Government’s stance.
Four of the seven schemes would qualify under this redefinition, all of them in Scotland, and would total 66.3 megawatts. With regret, the remaining three are unfortunately now excluded, as their dates of written notice were not until January 2016—a further three months after 18 September, and therefore over six months after the arbitrary cut-off date of 18 June.
We on this side of the House want to be as inclusive as we can insist on being to the Government, in being reasonable to all justifiable cases against arbitrary disruptive proposals. I call on your Lordships’ House to support this amendment and ask the Government and the Commons to think again.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for participating in this debate and making their points as fluently and forcefully as they have in the past. I shall deal with the points in the order they were made during the debate, and will therefore refer first to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, who spoke about the grace periods and the timeliness of what we are doing, saying that this is the Government’s fault. The point I was seeking to make was not so much about the delay as the constant ping-pong, given that the other place has given a very clear view. This measure was passed there by a substantial majority—far larger than the Government’s overall majority; it was not just Conservative Members who voted for it.
So these points are relevant, and I hope that the noble and learned Lord will accept that the Liberal Democrats have no monopoly in determining what justice is. We have sought to be just in setting grace periods and allowing for an investment freeze, so although we differ on where we think justice lies, I will take no lessons from the Liberal Democrats—that this is the definition of justice that has been handed down from on high.
The difference between us is this. We feel—
I was not seeking to give the Minister a Liberal Democrat definition of fairness and justice: I quoted his honourable friend Andrea Leadsom on what fairness was, and himself when he defended the Government’s ending the renewables obligation for photovoltaics. It was a Conservative Minister’s definition of fairness, which the Government are not rising to in this case.
We Conservatives have put forward our own definition of justice, rather than seeking to put a gloss on it in a way that is helpful to the noble and learned Lord’s argument.
The essential difference is one of deployment. Every proposal put forward by the noble and learned Lord would increase deployment. We feel that we are doing the right thing in balancing the interests of investors with the wider interest, what was in the manifesto and votes in the other place.
The noble and learned Lord raised the issue of steel, suggesting that this measure would make a massive difference and therefore we have to adopt it. As is widely recognised, the Government are committed to doing everything they can on steel, and indeed are delivering—on procurement, on relief on energy costs, on action against dumping. I hope that we will have his support in those matters.
I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who, with his customary passion and fervour, put forward arguments in relation to an area that he knows well. I respect where he is coming from—of course, I understand that—but I do not think that there is any ambiguity in relation to Sorbie. I have checked this and do not want to give a running commentary on planning issues—I should not seek to do that and it would be unwise to do so—but it seems to us that it is very clear that Sorbie falls the other side of the line. I do not think that there is any ambiguity there but, as I said, I cannot really give a running commentary on it.
I do not seek a running commentary; I just seek a specific answer to a specific question. Sorbie was approved well in advance. It was delayed because of the aviation objection, which was subsequently withdrawn. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that it was approved prior to the relevant date, and that is an interpretation that could be put on it by the department or by Ofgem. I am seeking an indication that at the very least the Minister will have this examined to see whether that is a possible interpretation of the current position.
The noble Lord is being very creative. I do not think that there was any legal doubt about it. He has referred to it previously as a technicality in a broader sense. I will write to him if I am wrong on that. We will double check but I do not think that there is any uncertainty in relation to that matter.
I move on to what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, in relation to CFDs. That of course goes wider than the current debate, which is focused on wind deployment, but I take on board what she said. We have made statements about new technologies within CFDs. The CFD system is designed with this in mind. As I think the noble Baroness knows, CFD auctions for less-established technologies will be taking place later this year in relation to pot 2, and further details will be issued in relation to that.
Would the Minister care to comment on the fact that, because we have not yet met our deployment targets under our legally binding European targets, any onshore wind project that goes through that is cheaper than projects less close to CFD auctions that we are about to grant saves the bill payer money rather than costing the bill payer more?
To me, unnecessary subsidies—and I think we are entering into that area—are undesirable. Solar, for example, is being deployed without subsidy, as we know, and that will no doubt happen with onshore wind. All the evidence I see is that those technologies where we do not need a subsidy, we should not be subsidising, and that is the international message that is coming across. Al Gore and others who are not necessarily supportive of the Conservative view say that we should not be subsidising unnecessarily, and we are very much of that view.
I turn to the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, who sought to characterise the House of Commons as a big boy with a stick or a bully. That may happen on occasion but it is perhaps an incomplete picture of what, after all, is the elected Chamber, and this measure was passed by a significant majority in the House of Commons.
Given that I spent 11 years in the Chamber of the House of Commons, I think that I have a passing knowledge of what it is like. “A big boy did it and ran away” means somebody dreaming up an excuse for something that they did but do not want to admit to.
The noble Baroness did indeed give exemplary service there. Of course, she has experience of the other place and she will therefore know that it is the elected Chamber and that we should not ignore what is said there. However, I come back to the principle of this issue. We have to draw a line somewhere. It is said that that line is arbitrary, but it is arbitrary only in the sense that that was the date—
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. As he knows, I have a lot of sympathy with government policy because I have seen very heavily subsidised schemes inflicted on communities in Northumberland where over 90% of the people have opposed them. At the same time, it seems to me that the Government should look at all possible ways of having flexibility in the cases quoted by my noble friends Lord Foulkes and Lady Liddell. If there is some flexibility in schemes that undoubtedly have the support of local people and, at the same time, through no fault of their own they seem to have fallen foul of the grace periods, I think that the Government ought to be prepared to look at that.
My Lords, I understand the point that the noble Baroness is making, and I thank her for her general support for what the Government are doing. Clearly, we need legal certainty. We feel that we have delivered on a grace period to take account of some of the difficulties that there are and the investment freeze position. We have made movement on grid delays and radar delays as well. I say to the noble Baroness that the line has to be drawn somewhere; as soon as you start to unpick it and make exceptions for one or two categories then one or two others come into play. I understand that there is great difficulty in drawing the line anywhere, but unless you draw that line, every case could be an exception. That is the point I am making.
I thank my noble friend the Duke of Wellington for some interesting insight on the situation. As for the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who said that my noble friend would not get his vote, I do not think any of us got his vote, so that was probably fair to all of us.
I turn to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. He talked rather uncharacteristically—I am not sure whether he really meant it—about vindictive and aggressive attitudes and the adoption of a UKIP stance. I hope he has evidence that that is what we have been doing because it does not cut the mustard with us. As the noble Lord well knows, we do not listen to UKIP on anything, thank goodness. There can be no suggestion that this is vindictive or aggressive. It was in the manifesto, which people voted for; it has been debated in the other place numerous times; and we were responding to views heard up and down the country. He might not like the policy but I do not think that he can characterise it as vindictive or aggressive.
We have the date of 18 June and I repeat to the noble Lord that that is not arbitrary: it is the date that the announcement was made. We believe that this is an unnecessary subsidy and that we have got justice by balancing issues such as the investment freeze and the grace period with the cut-off point. There is a very clear policy, which has been endorsed several times by the other place. I urge noble Lords to oppose any amendments and vote for the main Motion.
My Lords, the Minister has given us a fairly predictable but disappointing reply. He will be aware that when we first dealt with grace periods, back in October, there was a considerable number of possible areas in which justice could be done—and I am talking about justice as defined by his ministerial colleagues and himself. We have whittled those down. Indeed, I am prepared to indicate that the “insist” Motion, which is whittled down even further by the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, is one that we would be prepared to support. However, we are getting absolutely no response.
Scottish colleagues present will understand the phrase, “It is like arguing with Ailsa Craig”. I am afraid that that is the position we are in. I do not think that this is good governance. What we are doing is freezing potential developers in other areas, not just in onshore wind, who no longer can have the certainty that the developments they make and investments they put in will not one day be swept aside at the whim of government. However, I beg leave to withdraw Motion A1.
Motion A1 withdrawn.
Motion A2 not moved.
Motion A3 not moved.
Motion A4 (as an amendment to Motion A)
At end insert “, and do propose Amendment 7TD in lieu—
7TD: Line 179, at end insert “, or
(e) evidence that—
(i) an application for 1990 Act permission or 1997 Act permission was made on or before 18 June 2015 for the station or for additional capacity,
(ii) a grant of planning permission was resolved by the relevant planning authority on or before 18 June 2015,
(iii) planning permission was granted no later than three months after 18 June 2015, and
(iv) any conditions as to the time period within which the development to which the permission relates must be begun have not been breached.””
26 April 2016
Division on Motion A4
Motion A4 agreed.View Details