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Electricity Transmission (Compensation) Bill

Volume 728: debated on Friday 24 February 2023

Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Third Reading

I beg to move, that the Bill be now read the Third time.

It is one of the in-built oddities of democratic politics that more plaudits tend to be generated by dealing with a problem than by preventing one, yet that is exactly what this Bill sets out to do. We have a problem in North Somerset, and the purpose of this Bill is to prevent it becoming a problem for people in constituencies in other parts of the country.

As we replace our dependence on fossil fuels, for strategic and environmental reasons, with an increased use of renewables and nuclear, there is a need for new infrastructure for electricity transmission. As I have said at every stage of this Bill’s progress, that is something that we all accept as necessary. However, as we do that, we must not allow the rights of individuals to be overridden by the systems for compensation and the current legislation.

Anyone who has not yet seen what is coming to the rest of the country and who wants to get a look at the new T-pylons, which will replace the classic ones that we are all used to seeing, should feel free to take a drive down the M5. They will see what looks like something out of “The War of the Worlds” appearing across the countryside. It is a matter of taste whether people find the new pylons attractive or unattractive, although for the life of me I cannot understand why we have chosen white, which is just about the most stand-out colour with the greatest impact on the visual environment; if we wanted them to blend in better, a coat of green paint would not go amiss. But who knows? In time we may come to accept them visually, just as we came to accept the previous pylons.

This all occurred because we are increasing the voltage in our overhead cables and getting the new infrastructure to link the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power station with Avonmouth. Actually, the quickest and shortest route would have been undersea. I still think it was a huge mistake not to go ahead with that approach, but that is going over history; we now have the new pylons.

The problem we face is that the combination of planning law and current compensation methods hugely favours companies such as National Grid and the distribution companies over our constituents. If they want to put in an access road to build the new pylons or ensure the right to maintain them in time, they can do so; if constituents object, their property can be compulsorily purchased. At present, if National Grid tells our constituents that they will get a certain amount of compensation, and they do not like it, they end up having to go through the court system, which can be hugely expensive for individuals. There is not much point in having rights in law if those rights are too expensive to enforce. The whole point of the Bill is to redress that problem and ensure timely, accessible, affordable and binding arbitration that gives our constituents fair access to justice in a way that will not result in a potentially huge financial cost.

As I told the Bill Committee, the genesis of the Bill was that one of my constituents went to National Grid and said, “I’m not willing to accept your treatment. I’m going to see my MP.” They were told, “Fine, go and see him: he won’t be able to do anything about it”—but one of the great things about being an elected Member of Parliament is that we can do something about it. I hope that that individual is listening and watching as we do something to redress the balance in the David and Goliath struggle and help our constituents to deal with it.

Most of the issues raised on Second Reading have successfully been dealt with by amendments tabled in Committee. I am extremely grateful to the Minister: throughout the Bill process, he showed the constructive disposition with which I was familiar from working with him at the Department for International Trade. We made particular progress on ensuring—I would welcome it if he reiterated this point—that disputes that are not settled when the Bill comes into effect will still be covered by it. It is a matter not of seeking retrospection, but of ensuring that where disputes have not been settled, our constituents can use the provisions set out in the Bill.

One issue is perhaps not as completely settled as I would like. The Bill relates to new transmission, but I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed that it will also cover distribution. That is a slightly lesser issue for our constituents at present, but if we replace the distribution network as part of the Government’s drive towards net zero and decarbonisation, there could be considerable disruption for our constituents as a consequence. The question that will arise is: at what point does updating and upgrading become new, and therefore within the scope of the Bill?

My right hon. Friend is making a powerful case for the protection of all our constituents. On the point he just made, does he agree that such disruption is coming down the line? We are seeing a huge increase in the number of companies wanting to install solar panels, particularly on the roofs of distribution centres and warehouses up and down the country, but finding they cannot do so because there is no substation nearby to take the power in. If we are to have that revolution in solar energy on the rooftops of the United Kingdom, such fundamental change to distribution and substations is going to come.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. It is true that we will require substantial new infrastructure. However, if we are going to do that successfully, surely we need the assent of the people of the country to do so—and if we are to get that, we must ensure that they are given the appropriate mechanisms to seek redress, should they come into conflict with some of the very large corporations that I have mentioned.

I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Minister could just deal with that issue. I would like him to tell us that, as we develop this upgraded distribution network, it will count as new infrastructure and therefore fall within the remit of the taskforce he is going to set up. I welcome the acceptance of the amendments, which I think fulfil the cross-party spirit of support throughout this process—I do not see it visually represented on the Opposition Back Benches today, but I know Opposition support was there.

I look forward to my right hon. Friend coming forward with the details of the taskforce. There are two things we will specifically want to see. The first is a speedy process for setting up the taskforce and for how it comes to its conclusions, so we can get as early a utilisation of this legislation by our constituents as possible. The second is that the taskforce itself is fully representative, so it is not simply from the producer side of the equation, but at least equally weighted in terms of those whose properties may be affected, including the farmers up and down the country who are likely to be affected more than most.

I am very grateful to the Government for their support for this Bill and look forward to it becoming law, and I look forward even more to my right hon. Friend the Minister having the opportunity to clarify these small points in the way I know he is more than capable of doing.

After I have concluded but before I sit down—I suppose my hon. Friend is just in the nick of time.

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way at the last moment. Will he clarify for my constituents in Watford, who may not be directly impacted by the Bill but I am sure are very supportive of it, that while this is about fair compensation for disruption, ultimately it ties into the fact that people are increasingly using electricity far more, to charge their mobile phones, electric cars and so on? As the infrastructure grows, we need to make sure there is fair compensation for those people who may have to have the infrastructure put in place on their sites.

My hon. Friend shows yet again that timing is everything in politics. He says that his constituents may not be affected by this Bill; I would correct that, if I may, to say that they are not affected by the changes yet. These changes are coming, to the whole country, sooner or later. We in North Somerset may be at the beginning of that process and may therefore have been the most affected up to this point, but as we move towards decarbonisation and net zero there will need to be, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) said, an upgrade of our entire system of transmission and distribution. As we use more electricity, as my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell) says, there will be all the more need for that system to be robust.

Therefore, while the provisions of this Bill may not affect a number of constituencies yet, they will at some point affect them all. As I said at the beginning, we do not always get credit in politics for preventing a problem; let us hope that today is the exception that proves the rule.

Friday is always a day for firsts. I have never allowed a photo finish intervention before, so congratulations Mr Russell.

I rise in support of the Bill brought forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), which sets out to empower landowners with a clear, fair, affordable and enforceable means of dispute resolution with electricity network operators. I must commend him on all the work he has undertaken to get the Bill to this stage. I think he has the unusual record of two successful private Members’ Bills in two consecutive years.

In the pursuit of greater energy security and meeting the goal of net zero, the UK faces the daunting task of significantly expanding and upgrading its electrical infrastructure across the country. As my right hon. Friend said, as we seek to decarbonise our energy by doing things such as using heat pumps in place of existing gas or oil-powered heating or having electric cars, the demand for electricity will inevitably be far greater in future decades than at present in each and every constituency of this country.

Furthermore, today’s one-year anniversary of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and its consequential energy crisis brings into sharp focus the importance of ensuring our energy security here in the UK. It is essential that upgrading the power grid is conducted effectively, efficiently and economically for the British people, given how heavily we depend upon it. Regardless of how many innovative forms of energy production we introduce, the grid’s expansion and transformation are critical factors in pursuing the targets of decarbonisation and greater energy security.

It is estimated that as much as 600,000 km of additional distribution network cabling lines could be required by 2050 across the country. That is a staggering figure, and it will inevitably have a serious impact on landowners, as is the case with all large infrastructure projects. I know all too well the way these large infrastructure projects can disrupt local communities from the bitter experience of HS2 in my constituency. Its construction works continue to bring disruption to local residents and businesses, and to wreak devastation on our beautiful Buckinghamshire countryside. The perpetual road closures and the resulting traffic delays caused by HS2’s construction fill my inbox each and every week.

I consistently raise these concerns with HS2 Ltd and its contractors, but rarely do we see progress, because we do not have the support in legislation that the Bill will introduce. Farmers in my constituency have felt powerless against HS2 Ltd when subjected to the invasive requirements of access to their land, resulting in distress and uncertainty. No landowner should feel that they are pitted in the scenario of David and Goliath, and my right hon. Friend’s Bill seeks to address that, at least with respect to electricity transmission.

The Bill sets the stage for encouraging the use of alternative dispute resolution processes between landowners and network operators, such that cases can be resolved out of court. I believe this will establish an effective baseline for network operators to be good neighbours with communities, and may well serve to allay many of the grievances that landowners could have when deprived of their land or having their land used through no fault of their own. While the Bill will not impede the necessary and, indeed, accelerated expansion of infrastructure, landowners and communities will be empowered to have a say and to be included in the process, and that must be right.

In times to come, I am confident that some of my constituents will benefit from the ramifications of the Bill. As my right hon. Friend has said, this issue will affect each and every constituency across the country. Already, Aylesbury has been highlighted as an area in which the existing power grid is constrained, and it is in the process of being upgraded. However, our historic market town is also challenged by the massive expansion of housing, with a total of 16,000 new dwellings scheduled to be built in and around the town between 2013 and 2033. We are already around halfway through that process. Those households create greater demand for electricity already, and they will continue to do so in the next 10 years. This Bill is a reassurance that in the future, my existing constituents who own land that may be required by electricity network operators could have reasonable means to resolve any disputes that arise.

I add in passing that the housing development I referred to will also require considerable investment in my town in other infrastructure, which is at breaking point. Traffic constantly remains the No. 1 concern. Aylesbury has been reported to have the eighth worst traffic congestion in the country. We need better roads around the town, and I urge Homes England to make rapid progress in approving the request from Buckinghamshire Council for funding for link roads, so that we can get shovels in the ground and cars on the move. East West Rail’s Aylesbury spur would also significantly alleviate many of the congestion problems faced by my constituents, but despite that spur being part of the original plans, it is now in peril. I very much hope that Ministers in the Department for Transport will do everything necessary to secure that vital link.

No less important is that the thousands of new homes being built in Aylesbury require schools for all the children moving to the area, and sufficient healthcare provision.

You are absolutely right, Mr Deputy Speaker. As I am highlighting, electricity is one element of infrastructure; I am very pleased that that infrastructure will be introduced as a result of the Bill tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset, but there are so many other aspects of infrastructure, which you have been kind enough to allow me to refer to in my speech. The plain truth is that we are going to need much more of that support in the years to come, and electricity will be behind it all.

As my right hon. Friend has set out to achieve, the scope of his Bill—even if it has not always been in my speech—is clear and to the point. Its could save landowners and communities in Britain from the potentially prohibitive costs that are involved in litigation, the uncertainty that comes with that litigation, and a great deal of emotional stress that such circumstances can place on them. I applaud my right hon. Friend for his efforts to provide landowners with the means to resolve their disputes with electricity network operators fairly. I thank you for your generosity, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I look forward to the Bill making its way on to the statute book as soon as possible.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler), who so skilfully weaved into his speech many of the issues that we both face across our respective constituencies in relation to all the projects he listed. He has said that Aylesbury has the eighth worst congestion in the country; given that to get from one part of my constituency to another, I often have to go through the middle of Aylesbury, I certainly wish him every success in combating that congestion.

The wider point—I think it is very relevant, and it is why I rise to support my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) on what is an excellent Bill—is that we in Buckingham are no strangers to the acquisition of land in order to build something, quite often against the wishes and will of those who own that land. I am particularly referring to High Speed 2, but the principle remains the same: people should be fairly compensated when their land is taken or disrupted. Let us be really clear about this: in my constituency, the vast majority of those who see their land disrupted for projects, certainly for electrical upgrades, are farmers. Their ability to farm their land—to get their combine harvester from one side of a field to another, or to move their tractor in the way they wish—is being disrupted. Those farmers absolutely must have a clear, fair dispute resolution mechanism and fair compensation, not just for the loss of the use of that land but for the wider disruptions that that loss causes them.

Roughly this time last year, I was delighted to speak on, I think, Third Reading of my right hon. Friend’s Bill that did so much good for people with Down’s syndrome in this country. It is a pleasure to again support him on a Bill that will fundamentally deliver a fairer outcome for landowners in my constituency, and across every right hon. and hon. Member’s constituency. The absolute need for affordable, accessible and independent alternative dispute resolution is clear and vital when we consider some of the points my right hon. Friend made about the sheer scale of improvements, upgrades and new installations of electrical power distribution systems in this country.

As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset in an intervention—my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell) also made this point—this is an issue that will affect each and every one of our constituencies, not least as we see renewables installed, be it onshore wind or solar on the rooftops of distribution centres, warehouses, factories and commercial premises up and down the country. As it stands, the grid simply cannot cope with the power input coming from many of those solar installations. That is one of the reasons why we are seeing so many applications for huge solar farms on agricultural land up and down the country. That is where, within the existing grid, the substations happen to be that can physically take in the power to distribute to all of our homes and all of the businesses up and down the country. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to pinpoint the need to prevent a problem before it arises.

The term “landowner” is being used very widely in this debate, but would my hon. Friend like to amplify the point that this is not simply about big landowners, but about small farmers and those right down to the level of individual households and homeowners that will be affected? There is a key principle—I might say a conservative principle—in this, which is that those who own property and land have rights, and when they are forced in the name of the public good to have some of the natural rights of property overridden, it is only fair in principle that they get compensation and access to law and justice as a result.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in what he says. In some cases, we may be talking about huge estates or big landowners, but in the vast majority of cases we will be talking about people with very modest parcels of land, smallholdings or small farms, such as small livestock farms that are of not more than 100 or 200 acres and small arable farms of 300, 400 or 500 acres. Those people do not necessarily have the means, and certainly not the capability, amid the stresses and strains of just getting on with their daily lives, to take on very expensive dispute resolution, which often involves big legal and tribunal fees, not to mention the time away from working their land in the way they want to and going about their daily business on it.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely spot-on and correct, as he always is, to say that it is a fundamental conservative principle to ensure that if we, in the name of the public good—sometimes that public good can be questionable, as in the case of HS2—need to take land, it needs to be fairly compensated. That is a non-negotiable position as far as I am concerned.

I am grateful that the Government have already indicated their support for the Bill. I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to be clear with the House when he responds about the timescale in which the Bill will be implemented once it has achieved Royal Assent, as I have no doubt it will, not least the creation of the taskforce. In his speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset made the very strong point that the taskforce must be representative. It cannot just be a one-sided body—it cannot look just to the power companies or to particular vested interests—but must be as broad and representative as it possibly can be to ensure that everybody gets a fair deal.

There is also the point with dispute resolution—no matter what sphere we are looking at, but in this case it is land taken for electrical distribution and transmission—that these disputes can often be long, drawn-out and lengthy. It is incredibly important, as the Bill becomes law and is implemented, that such recourse should be quick and straightforward, but that where cases remain complex and very difficult to judge, there is still a land tribunal option as well. Lastly, on the Secretary of State being asked to draw up proposals for alternative dispute resolution processes in relation to an order made under section 114 of the Planning Act 2008 about orders granting development consent, could those proposals equally relate to compulsory purchase orders under the Acquisition of Land Act 1981, which was amended by the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004? There are some large underground cabling routes being developed by the National Grid that do not fall under a development consent order. I would be grateful if the Minister gave an assurance on that.

To conclude, I again congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing forward another hugely important Bill that will affect the lives of many of our constituents up and down the land and, as he says, will prevent a problem before it comes to fruition. He is absolutely right to highlight the power that Back Benchers can have to solve the issues that are raised with us by constituents before they become a huge problem.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) on his success in the ballot and, indeed, on the Bill’s passage through Second Reading, Committee and its remaining stages. I also congratulate him, as I have not put it officially on the record, on the Down Syndrome Act 2022, which I was proud to see become law in support of the work of the all-party parliamentary group on Down’s syndrome.

I thank the other hon. Members who have contributed to the debate; I will make only a few short remarks. I have listened to the proceedings and reviewed the outcome of the Committee, and I recognise and understand the rationale for the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has laid out some of the concerns that we have as a nation about recognising the need to look at energy transmission and how demand will go up. That is core to an industrial strategy and how we plan for the future, which are big questions for Parliament and for our nation. It is about having processes that look to engage fairly and empower local residents to have a voice.

I will ask some questions of the Minister and reiterate some of the concerns that were laid out by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) on Second Reading, particularly about some of the unintended consequences that could arise. I am sure that these questions will be considered by the Minister as the taskforce takes forward its work on how the balance of rights and development is achieved.

In that context, my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde laid out some of those concerns and the potential negative consequences of the Bill on our national mission, which is essential to revolutionise our electricity infrastructure for the long-term prosperity of all our communities, including those in rural areas. Indeed, rural businesses have raised with me the need to look at infrastructure to support development so that they can operate with the same level of success and opportunity as businesses in towns and cities. There are different sides to the question of renewal and development of our infrastructure that we need to take into account and consider in our proceedings.

Like other hon. Members, the right hon. Member for North Somerset also referred to the energy crisis that we are facing. I am sure that he also hears about the cost of energy from local businesses and families. We want to develop our energy security and resilience in this country, and ensure that in the future we do not have the kind of crisis that we have seen in the last year, whereby skyrocketing energy bills have had an impact on our ability to employ people. We need to have a much more sustainable and long-term plan for our energy stability and security, and the price of energy should be a lot lower for all our constituents.

Research released this week by the British Chambers of Commerce shows that almost half of businesses say that paying their energy bills will be very difficult when the current business support package comes to an end in April. That is a matter of concern for all of us, and the Federation of Small Businesses has similarly shown that one in four of its members plans to close, downsize or restructure should energy relief come to an end in April.

We are in a race against time to improve our energy stability and security for the sake of our businesses and the planet. That is why the Opposition have been setting out our plans, and right hon. and hon. Members will have heard the Leader of the Opposition make a speech yesterday. We believe that we need to make Britain a clean energy superpower by 2030. That is relevant to the subject of this Bill, because we should be in no doubt that achieving the urgent mission to have clean power requires us to have a revolution in green energy technologies, to establish storage capacity, to manage peaks in energy demand, to develop new ways of balancing the grid, and to deliver comprehensive improvements to our energy infrastructure in order to expand the grid to new sources of energy.

I am sure the right hon. Member for North Somerset has heard concerns about National Grid having the capacity to expand to new sources of energy, and about seeing the transmission of energy across the country. I have a couple of questions for the Minister, who I am sure will want to ensure that the process does not inadvertently slow down some of the development that we need across all our constituencies, including in rural areas. Will the taskforce look at how improvements can be made to the processes that are currently in place? That was talked about on Second Reading, and we need to make sure that they are delivering in the way that was intended.

Some of the measures in the Bill would require the Secretary of State to draw up proposals for the use of alternative dispute resolution processes, and to look at providing compensation in this respect. Under the Bill, compensation would be paid to landowners. As the Minister has said previously, the small number of cases where there is a dispute over the amount of compensation would be determined by the Upper Tribunal in England and Wales, and by the Lands Tribunal for Scotland. Throughout the passage of the Bill, he has referred to encouraging the use of alternative dispute resolution processes, instead of immediately resorting to the Upper Tribunal.

It is worth considering why the take-up of alternative dispute resolution processes has been lower than we would want to see, and what improvements can be made. Comments that have previously been made, while sympathetic to the arguments, raise questions about the cost and the speed of the processes. We need to look at ways in which we can improve the current system and make sure that it has gone through the process of the taskforce. Perhaps the Minister can outline how he sees the taskforce working, and the engagement of colleagues through that process.

I note, too, that the aforementioned orders—the development consent orders and so on—have the safeguard of being subject to consideration by the Secretary of State. In relation to that, I note that in the energy security strategy released last year, the Government said that to accelerate domestic supplies of low carbon and affordable electricity, the UK will need to expand

“the connecting network infrastructure to support it”.

As a result, we are not fully convinced that this legislation is necessary, or that, if implemented in a particular way, it would not hinder the Government’s own express mission to expand the electricity infrastructure to enable greater use of low-carbon technologies. I would be grateful if the Minister commented on that. At a time of crisis in our energy supply and in tackling climate change, I am sure that balancing all these considerations will be at the top of his mind as well.

In conclusion, while the Bill clearly has positive intentions, I must question whether it is necessary to bring it forward in the way that is currently intended. None the less, the work of the taskforce will be important. It does not need me to say this, but the Government have failed on a multitude of fronts to get to grips with energy security and in tackling the climate crisis. I do hope that there will be ways that we can move forward in the interests of our nation to look at the speed of how we decarbonise our economy, and of how we ensure that we realise the opportunities and ambitions of the nation in going green. I finish by urging the Minister to follow Labour’s lead and to match our ambitions to make Britain a clean energy superpower by 2030 and secure our energy security once and for all.

Once again, may I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) for introducing this important legislation? I am afraid that I am not the historian of legislation that I ought to be, so I have no idea whether any Member in history has ever managed to get two private Members’ Bills in a row put into law, but my right hon. Friend is a remarkable man, and he has shown that once again by successfully steering this Bill through. The machine, as ever, always responds by trying to kill it, but such is his dexterity, insight and flexibility that no attempt to kill it is successful, and he finds a way through to deliver something that will be good for everyone. I am pleased that all the amendments were accepted in Committee on 25 January, and I am delighted to offer my support for the Bill as the Minister of State in the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.

Although the name of my Department may have changed, the position of the Government has not, and I can confirm that the Government are fully supportive of the Bill. One key priority of the new Department is ensuring that the UK is on track to meet its legally binding net zero commitment and support economic growth by significantly speeding up delivery of electricity network infrastructure and domestic electricity generation.

The nation will have been grateful for the speech made by the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), but it seemed clear from its tone that the Labour party prefers appropriation to the reasonable treatment of people in delivering this. Of course, failing to engage properly with communities will slow down the transformation we need. People thinking they can ride roughshod over communities because they scream, “Climate emergency and urgency” is not the way to do it; we have to go with the grain of communities. We have to explain the narrative. What is our narrative? As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has set out, we have a vision of delivering the most competitive, lowest-cost clean energy in Europe by 2035. That will have a transformative effect, not only in terms of our leading the world in reducing emissions, as we have done to date under this Government, but in enabling the re-industrialisation of the north, Scotland and Wales, with all the economic benefits that come with that. It is this Government, not the Labour party, who have delivered. When Labour left power in 2010 only 7% of our electricity came from renewables, but now it is nearly half. We are going further and faster, but making sure we do it in a way that works with the grain of communities, because if we ride roughshod over them, they will come back and will slow us down. To answer the hon. Lady’s point, this Bill will not slow down what we are doing; it will enable us to move at the speed required and make sure that we do so in a way that retains community support.

The Bill is about the building of network infrastructure, and the planning and consenting process. I thought it would be helpful to set out the Government’s commitments in this area and the work that is already under way. It currently takes about 12 to 14 years to build or reinforce new onshore electricity transmission network infrastructure, from the initial planning to the final completion and commissioning. The development of new transmission infrastructure is often on the critical path for the connection of new generation. The wonderful and extraordinary new generation that we have helped bring about, and are going to bring about in the future, is of no use if we do not have the infrastructure to get the electrons to where they need to go. The current position offers an unacceptable timeline when the electricity network is a critical enabler of our domestic energy production targets and our decarbonisation targets. We committed in the British energy security strategy to significantly reduce the timelines by about three years for delivering onshore transmission network infrastructure. We aspire to halve this end-to-end process by the mid-2020s. So we are working with developers and supply chains to increase pipeline visibility and certainty, to help accelerate the procurement.

Work is already under way to improve the strategic planning of network infrastructure, including the holistic network design. We are also improving the planning and consenting process. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities published its nationally significant infrastructure project reform action plan just yesterday, and our consultation on the revised energy national policy statements is imminent. Additionally, work is ongoing to improve work with communities and to expedite Ofgem’s regulatory approval process, but we recognise that more needs to be done. That is why in July last year my Department appointed Nick Winser CBE to the role of electricity networks commissioner. He is advising Government on how the development process for transmission infrastructure can be accelerated. He has extensive experience in electricity networks and is currently chair of the Energy Systems Catapult, which provides technical, commercial and policy expertise to drive innovation across the whole energy system. The commissioner is tasked with looking at where further improvements can be made beyond what is already in train across Government and will be looking at providing recommendations on crucial issues such as strategic network planning, planning consent and regulatory approvals. His work commenced in September and he continues to work intensively with stakeholders across the development process, within Government and across industry so that his work can deliver a valuable contribution to my Department’s aims. He hopes to submit his final recommendations to the Government for review in June. The commissioner is working in collaboration with the offshore wind champion, Tim Pick, and the offshore wind acceleration taskforce, given the importance of electricity networks to the offshore wind deployment we need. We are also working with Ofgem to speed up its regulatory approvals process. So in December, Ofgem published its decision on accelerating strategic transmission investment, which includes exempting certain strategic projects from being subject to competition. That provided greater clarity and certainty to industry on which projects should be progressed, and by whom.

Communities that host network infrastructure are playing a vital role in ensuring a cheaper, cleaner and self-sufficient energy supply in Britain. It is therefore only right that they benefit from developments in their area. Although benefits to communities are already offered by industry, now is the right time, given the scale and rate of change to which hon. Members have referred, to review how community benefits are delivered. We intend to explore whether there should be a more standardised approach, or whether providing a framework or benchmark offers more flexibility that would be of benefit to the distinct needs of individual communities and projects. We will consult in the coming weeks on options for community benefits regarding onshore network infrastructure.

The Government announced a review of the energy national policy statements to ensure that they reflect the policies set out in the energy White Paper net zero strategy and the British energy security strategy, and that we continue to have a planning policy framework that can deliver the investment required to build the infrastructure needed to ensure an independent, secure energy supply as we transition to net zero. The draft energy national policy statements were subject to parliamentary scrutiny, including by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which published its report and recommendations on 25 February. When analysing the responses to that consultation, we will take account of those and of any other resolutions as we go forward.

Let me talk now about the Bill. I have set out what we are doing to accelerate the build of network infrastructure, but as I have said, new network infrastructure must be built in a way that protects the rights of local landowners and communities. That is why the Bill has the Government’s support. We believe that it can be a bulwark for the vital transformation that is needed for our electricity network.

Transmission owners need access to private land when installing network infrastructure, and in that situation, the landowner is entitled to compensation. We recognise that in cases in which the landowner and the transmission owner cannot agree on compensation, challenging through the upper tribunal can be expensive for landowners. The Bill presents an opportunity to address that by ensuring access to alternative dispute resolution processes, which can play such a crucial role in offering a quicker and cheaper route to resolving disputes.

We need the right expertise and the right balance of views to develop proposals, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset said. That is why we will establish an alternative dispute resolution taskforce to take the work forward. I have been asked repeatedly and quite rightly about timelines, and that taskforce will be taken forward this year. Its work will complement the ongoing work within my Department. We are already reviewing the land rights and consents processes for network infrastructure. We published a call for evidence in 2022 and we are reviewing the responses.

To answer my right hon. Friend’s question on whether the scope of the proposals will extend to the distribution network and to the refurbishment of existing infrastructure, the Bill sets out only which cases must be in scope of the proposals. The Secretary of State can decide whether to extend the scope to other electricity network-related cases, including the distribution network and, indeed, refurbishment where a DCO is not in place. We envisage that the taskforce will make a recommendation on scope to the Secretary of State.

Amendments have been made to the Bill since Second Reading. I will now—briefly, I hope—explain the amendments and their purpose. Amendment 1 removed clause 1, which was replaced with new clause 1. The new clause focuses the proposals on electricity-related cases rather than gas-related cases. The new clause also moves away from proposals to establish a new mechanism to proposals to encourage use of alternative dispute resolution processes. That means that we can consider existing practices and whether they can be strengthened to meet the aims of the Bill, as well as whether new mechanisms are required. The new clause retains the key factors that the proposals must consider: that decisions are enforceable and that the process is affordable and accessible, as my right hon. Friend so fluently laid out.

Amendment 2 simply replaced “applies” with “extends” for the subsection dealing with territorial extent in clause 2 —a minor technical amendment to reflect more appropriate terminology. Amendment 3 changed commencement to two months after Royal Assent, bringing the Bill in line with standard commencement procedure for primary legislation. In line with the focus on electricity transmission infrastructure, amendment 4 removed “gas” from the Bill’s short title in clause 2. Finally, amendment 5 edited the Bill’s long title to reflect its contents in clause 1.

I thank all hon. Members who have participated at the various stages of this Bill’s progress through this place. Supporting this Bill is in line with our ongoing objective of ensuring that landowners have access to a clear, fair, affordable and enforceable system for dispute resolution. I am so grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset for introducing the Bill and for working so constructively with the Government to ensure that were able to deliver on this important issue. I hope all Members will agree that the |Bill should now move to the other place, where I hope it will gain the support of peers as it has gained the cross-party support of Members here.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) talked about David and Goliath and about the need to ensure that we have a system of infrastructure that works fairly and equally for people, and reflected on his experience in his own constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith)—there is something of a Buckinghamshire massive here today— talked about solar farms and the need for infrastructure reinforcement, and pressed me on the timeline. I hope I gave a suitable answer.

I am grateful to my officials, those in the Box and those outside: Daniel Boorman, Charles Grant, Alex Chittenden, Louise Sun and Susanna Isola from my private office. I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset to support the passage of the Bill, which I am confident will not only introduce a fairer system but aid rather than break the fast change that we need to deliver in order to have the most competitive energy system in Europe in the 2030s, which I think will underpin the return of the UK—quite properly—to its position as the premier economic power in Europe. I believe that energy is often the foundation and the secret of economic success.

With the leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Let me first thank those who have spoken today: my hon. Friends the Members for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) and for Buckingham (Greg Smith), and—briefly—my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell), as well as the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), who not only spoke for the Opposition but was, indeed, the entire Opposition throughout the debate. I thank the Government for their support; I particularly thank my right hon. Friend the Minister, who has been hugely helpful at every stage of the Bill’s progress in ensuring that its aims were improved in Committee, and the officials who helped us to get the appropriate draft into the appropriate place. I thank those who served on the Committee: as always, they were volunteers rather than pressed MPs, and I am grateful to them for their support.

I also thank the outside groups who have written to me about the Bill. One communication, which I think sums up the support I have received, is from Suffolk County Council, which said:

“As I am sure you are aware, Suffolk and the wider eastern region are subject to multiple electricity transmission projects, both overhead pylons and buried cables. Given the significant imbalance of power between National Grid and individual landowners, the proposals outlined in the Bill, to provide an effective, accessible, independent, and low-cost mechanism, for the arbitration of disputes between individuals and National Grid, is essential.”

It could not have been summed up better.

Most of all, however, I want to thank my constituents in North Somerset for their tenacity in dealing with the problems thrown up by the current system. It is their resistance and determination to secure a better resolution for themselves that has led to the Bill, and that will be extended throughout the country.

In another debate earlier today, the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) said that she had to wait 11 years for a private Member’s Bill. What a beginner! It took me 29 years to get my first private Member’s Bill, and I am extremely honoured to have had two Bills in consecutive parliamentary Sessions. I think that that is something worth waiting for, and something that might weigh on the minds of others.

Let me finally mention my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), for whom I have great respect and not a little affection. As the House will know, when the ballot for private Members’ Bills is being held not far from here, the Whips have a habit of calling us up and reminding us to put our names forward for the next ballot. May I say very gently to my hon. Friend that this time she might want to save herself a phone call?

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.