Second Reading (Continued)
Lord Moran (Crossbench)
My Lords, we come back nearer to home with the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. This Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, said, is long overdue. We all know that our seas, with their exceptional wildlife, have been neglected and despoiled, suffering from gross overfishing and dredging and trawling along the seabed. That is apart from what now appear to be the adverse effects of climate change.
What were, not long ago, substantial populations of cod, herring, mackerel, sole, plaice and whiting are all greatly depleted. Some have collapsed. Sand eels, an essential food species for many fish and such birds as puffins, kittiwakes and Arctic terns, are nowhere near as numerous as they once were. The species that feed on them are in trouble. Our seas and their wildlife urgently need protection, yet, year after year, while all sorts of measures have been put before us, we have not been asked to pay attention to the seas that surround us. It is surely rather shameful that our island country, while doing a good deal to promote conservation on the land, has done hardly anything comparable to conserve our seas.
However, the Bill we have awaited so long at last has arrived. Its 300 pages and accompanying documents show that Defra and other departments have put a vast amount of work into it. They have produced a good Bill that deserves our support. It has had extensive pre-legislative scrutiny although, unhappily, some of the very sensible proposals made by parliamentary committees have been rejected. In any case, there is room for improvement, which we shall address at subsequent stages.
Although it is not included in the Bill, we must bear in mind that under an EU directive we are now required to achieve good environmental status for our seas by 2020. That includes making sure that commercially exploited fish and shellfish populations are within safe biological limits, maintaining the biological diversity of marine habitats and limiting contamination of the marine environment to levels that do not cause pollution.
Turning first to the nature conservation provisions in the Bill, I think that some of the key proposals are those in Part 5 for marine conservation zones or MCZs in the seas off England and Wales. However, I agree with those critics who say that the conservation objectives could be undermined by the provision that the designating authorities may have regard to economic or social consequences. I am sure that sites should be designated solely on scientific criteria, as is the case on land. That is in line with the Government's promise in the 2002 document, Safeguarding our Seas, that there should be an,
"ecosystem-based approach to marine management".
The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, for which we should have the highest respect, in its 25th report, recommended that in order to restore health to UK fisheries and marine biodiversity, the Government should establish a linked network of marine reserves. It should cover at least 30 per cent of UK seas, go out 200 nautical miles and protect the whole ecosystem by connecting together reserves that are established as "no-take" areas. That would allow fish to reach their full size, which they cannot do at present, and to spawn safely. That is the right way to bring about the needed recovery, as has been argued by Friends of the Earth's Marine Network.
I welcome the plan to have an independent body, the Marine Management Organisation—MMO—to discharge marine functions and control planning and licensing, provided that it is properly resourced and staffed by competent, knowledgeable people and given powers to police provisions in the Bill. We shall get nowhere without such enforcement.
I also welcome the proposal to set up inshore fisheries and conservation authorities and to reform migratory and freshwater fisheries, although it has taken, strangely, nearly a decade to meet the relevant recommendations in the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review. It is clearly important that the management proposed should be co-ordinated with the authorities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The inshore fisheries and conservation authorities should also be required to work closely with the Environment Agency.
Speaking as a resident of Wales and as president of the Welsh Salmon and Trout Angling Association, I think it essential that the Welsh Assembly Government should be given the necessary powers and duties to deliver the same improvements that will enhance fisheries management in Wales as those to be passed in England, even though TECAs will not be created in Wales.
It is odd that the Government are working in the Bill to secure the welfare of migratory fish while they are also considering the construction of the Severn barrage, which, as I pointed out when we debated that project some time ago, will probably destroy the runs of all migratory fish heading for the upper Severn, the Usk and the Wye.
Part 9 on coastal access has been generally welcomed but is inevitably rather more controversial than the rest of the Bill. I sympathise with the Government's objectives. I remember that when my wife and I served in Canada we used at weekends to drive out to the country near Ottawa and often found attractive lakes where we hoped to walk with our dogs. Usually, we found a lodge and fences barring our way.
There are of course many private properties along out coast: farms, beaches, golf courses and much else besides. Although gardens and parks will be exempted, other properties may have a 33 feet-wide corridor together with an area curiously described as "spreading room" driven through them. The Government have rejected views expressed by the Joint Committee of both Houses and the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee that there should be a right of appeal and, where appropriate, compensation paid. It seems quite wrong to me for the Government to take such a ruthless, unsympathetic line in dealing with the private property of ordinary citizens. That ought to be looked at again.
Apart from that, it will clearly be necessary to arrange that the route does not damage sensitive habitats and wildlife sites such as estuaries, marshes and cliffs, which are used as nesting sites by birds.
On the whole, we are fortunate in having to deal with a really worthwhile Bill, but it needs some changes. I look forward to subsequent stages, and I hope that the Government will respond reasonably to suggestions that may be made to them. If so, the Bill may, as I hope, become a real environmental landmark.
Baroness Young of Old Scone (Other)
I was delighted to hear the Minister do the vision thing on the marine environment. It is a whole new country that we have out there and it has been only lightly explored. It is full of diverse landscapes, constructions, species and habitats and it is rich in natural resources. I invite your Lordships for a moment to walk, wade or swim with me through that landscape. Those weeds that you see are its forests; those shoals are its soils, mountains and hills; and those fish are its cows and sheep.
Some of challenges that we face in the marine environment are very similar to those that we have worked on for considerably longer on the land. There are pressures on natural resources and pressures for development. There is the impact on the environment: the noble Lord, Lord Moran, talked about the impact on fish stocks, for example. We have a lot of experience in balancing these competing demands in the terrestrial environment. We need perhaps to add to the welcome and long-awaited framework that the Marine and Coastal Access Bill provides by drawing from some of our experience on the land and by taking that 60, 70, 80 years' worth of rather sophisticated legislation and case law into the Bill.
Let us think what some of the issues might be that could be better informed by thinking about what has happened on land. I welcome marine conservation zones. The previous legislation on protected areas was absolutely hopeless and resulted in only one marine nature reserve in 27 years. We need to make sure that the marine conservation zone programme mirrors some of the protected area provisions that we already have on land. We need identification and designation of a series of sites that will be ecologically coherent and representative of those areas that are distinctive and deserve protection. They need to be well managed and they need to have an adequate level of defence and protection.
At the moment, the Bill has some deficiencies in that respect. For example, site designation on land is purely on the basis of evidence of nature conservation criteria. Then, once a site has been designated, it is possible to take a view about socio-economic aspects, about development and about the needs of people, bearing in mind that that piece of land has been identified on good scientific evidence as being in need of protection, so that the social and economic issues can take full account of that. If the designation process as it is suggested in the Bill has to take socio-economic considerations into account before any designation even takes place, we will almost by definition be damaging some of the most important sites at sea.
The Bill provides for a very welcome process for designation, but it does not give us much of a timescale or programme. The appropriate authority should have a duty to produce a programme for this coherent network of sites and a pretty swift timescale. We have been hanging around for quite a long time and, as the noble Lord pointed out, the pressures for use of the sea as a resource and for the development of alternative energy sources are becoming ever more pressing. We need to move rather fast. There is no mention of a timescale in the Bill. There needs to be a swift timescale. The authority needs to publish a programme for reaching the point where that coherent network has been created. There also need to be absolute timescales for decisions being made by the appropriate authority, so that when the first six-year review comes up we are not sitting here with very few designations having been made. That was the sort of programme that we saw for the Natura 2000 series in terrestrial habitats, and it worked perfectly well. I say with some pride that I was chairing English Nature at the time when we did it. That could perfectly well happen in respect of marine conservation zones.
I mentioned that sites should be properly managed. The statutory conservation agencies should be required to set conservation objectives right at the start as part of the designation process and to have a role in co-ordinating the management schemes for each of the marine conservation zones. It is not simply the process of excluding; there will be competing demands within these zones and they will need management. This is the sort of process that currently happens on land with Natura 2000 sites and SSSIs. I am sure that we could replicate it at sea. We also need clearer powers of prevention of damage or destruction of designated features in a marine conservation zone and proper enforcement measures. We need to spread the very welcome general enforcement power for impact on designated features to include reckless damage and disturbance, as it is often difficult, as has been proven on land, to prove intent in damage. We need a slightly broader statement of that general power.
The marine conservation zones will be the equivalent of our protected areas on land—our sites of special scientific interest or our habitats regulations sites. They will be the jewels in the crown and the most important part of that underwater new country. Noble Lords know how concerned we are on the terrestrial habitat about the wider countryside—some of the common habitats, species and landscapes that we see across the countryside. We need a similar mechanism for looking at the non-designated areas in the marine environment. That is where the marine planning system needs to be specifically tasked. It needs to cover the whole marine environment to make sure that, as the pressure on marine resources increases, areas are identified that are suitable or unsuitable for particular activities. Conflict can therefore be reduced as far as possible, development can go ahead in the right places and conservation can happen in the right places, much as the planning system over the past 60 years has worked on the land.
I am proud of the planning system in this country, which has produced one of the most democratic local institutions. I believe that there are ways in which we can replicate that in the marine environment. We need to ensure that the planning system looks at the whole marine environment so that those competing uses can be allocated space in ways that prevent conflict. Conflict costs time and money. It creates winners and losers, whereas we want everyone to win.
Ministers can draw up a marine policy statement and marine plans. This should be a requirement, as it is on land, not a discretion. The statutory nature conservation agencies, including Natural England, should be asked not just to monitor the condition of the marine conservation zones but to monitor and report on the condition of the whole marine environment, much as they do on the whole of the natural environment on the land. We can learn from long experience in terrestrial conservation and bring that experience in to strengthen this Bill.
Turning to my other major preoccupation, I was amazed that I did not get a single briefing from anybody banging on about access and nature conservation. I do not know what to draw from that. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, talked about survivors of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill and I bear that badge with pride. There must be something cyclical about this. The last night of the CROW Bill was, if I remember, the US presidential election and here we are again. There must be a link between choosing US Presidents and access Bills in this country.
I feel like the Ghost of Christmas Past because it appears that almost everybody has now been mollified—although I note that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, expressed concern about disturbance to wildlife—about the impact of coastal access provisions on wildlife. Reading the accompanying documents and particularly the Natural England draft scheme, we see strong assurances both in that scheme and in supporting legislation about appropriate assessment of habitats regulations sites, about proper assessment of the environmental impacts of proposals and about appropriate monitoring to ensure that damage is not taking place. I am still have concerned, however, because the scientific evidence is increasing that linear access through narrow corridors—such as there will be, even with the elbow-room, or spreading-room, provision—has a disproportionately disturbing impact on breeding and foraging birds. It may not be gross; it may not be that you will not see birds there ever again. It may mean, however, that regular disturbance will decrease their feeding and breeding success and that there will be a gradual decline over a period of years.
We will have to watch like hawks the operation of the Natural England draft scheme to ensure that a proper baseline is established for some of these sensitive species and that the scheme is rigorously applied in assessing the environmental impacts. The understandable wish to get near-universal access to the coast around this country should not be at the expense of the long-term viability of some of those populations of species, particularly coastal wading birds, which are the most internationally distinctive feature of biodiversity in this country. So watch this space. I am not sure that much can be done in the Bill to strengthen that; I simply want to put on record my belief that careful implementation of the access provisions in the Bill will be important.
Other issues will no doubt be mentioned by other speakers, such as the need to study the remit of the Marine Management Organisation and of the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities to ensure that stewardship of marine resources is absolutely at the heart of those bodies. We need to toughen the Bill to ensure that the statutory conservation bodies are statutory consultees across all the Bill's provisions rather than just some of them. Stronger environmental safeguards and wider consultation are needed on all the marine licensing provisions. Other smaller issues will arise.
As many noble Lords have said, and will no doubt repeat, this is a long-awaited, much worked-over Bill. It is much better than it was initially but it can still be improved.
Lord Davies of Coity (Labour)
My Lords, I am delighted to contribute to this important debate. The Marine and Coastal Access Bill is long awaited and is to be commended. Our maritime heritage is so rich and unique that it must be protected. Our fisheries, coastlines, ports and harbours are extraordinary resources that we as an island nation have always treasured. We must preserve the seas and coastal environment and guard them for the use and enjoyment of future generations.
I draw attention to the importance of protecting existing marine facilities and the environment of the estuaries and stress the need for clear understanding of the obligations imposed by this legislation. I shall illustrate that point by referring to the ongoing and important debate on the use of the Severn estuary as a renewable energy resource.
The Bill contains provisions designed to safeguard the marine environment. Clause 99 even goes so far as to prevent licence holders from carrying out approved activity by enabling the issuing of stop notices. By virtue of Clause 108, the Secretary of State can intervene only in issues designated as national security matters. Part 4 deals with marine licensing and Clauses 66, 67 and 68 set out the need to have regard to the protection of the environment, to protect human health and to prevent interference with legitimate uses of the sea.
Further guidance on the meaning of "environment" helpfully says that it includes the local and global environment, the natural environment and any site of historic or archaeological interest. "Natural environment" includes the physical, chemical and biological state of the sea and the seashore. "Legitimate uses of the sea" mainly, but not exclusively, concerns the safe navigation of ships. These are most important provisions, which I fully support, but I seek clarification on how they might work in practice.
My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who introduced this important debate, has an unenviable task. In addition to his responsibilities at Defra, he represents the Government in your Lordships' House on renewable energy and carbon savings. I am very concerned about the potential conflict that will arise if the Government decide to proceed with environmentally damaging marine policies when to do so flies in the face of the Bill's purpose. That may be a hypothetical point but I should be interested to hear how the Government would deal with such a conflict in practice, should it arise.
That brings me to the massively controversial scheme to build a barrage across the Severn estuary. Supporters claim that such a barrage can contribute 5 per cent of the UK's renewable energy-generating capacity for electricity. That may or may not be the case, but this is not the occasion on which to dwell on such issues. I shall save my comments on that for a more appropriate time.
However, the overwhelming evidence of comprehensive and widespread damage across every category set out in Clauses 66, 67 and 68, together with the limited powers to prevent such damage offered by Clause 99, deepens my concern. All the environmental agencies and representative bodies believe that a barrage would be an unmitigated ecological disaster. I have statements from the RSPB, Friends of the Earth Cymru, the World Wildlife Fund, the National Trust and the Wye and Usk Foundation. Water quality, flooding and sewage are other very real concerns. The archaeological damage would be immense and the interruption to navigation on the Severn could be fatal to the ports of Bristol and Gloucester. The Government's advisers, DTZ, have said that the barrage would threaten thousands of jobs and create an economic deficit of around £500 million.
Where does the balance lie? If the Government are really serious about this Bill, as I believe they are, they must declare now that they will not immediately undermine it by promoting such schemes as the Severn barrage, whatever our energy experts or climate change philosophers argue.
To conclude, this is a courageous Bill, which I support. It is of paramount importance for the conservation of our marine resources. However, the Government must recognise their overwhelming obligation, however inconvenient, to enforce the legislation, even if it means killing off one of the schemes favoured by another part of government. That is the dilemma that the Government face.
Baroness Byford (Conservative)
My Lords, it is just over a year since we were at the start of the Climate Change Bill and the intervening months have seen also the passage of the Planning Bill and the Energy Bill. All three will have considerable influence on the implementation of this Marine and Coastal Access Bill. As a member of the Joint Committee on the draft Bill, I can attest that under the expert and business-like chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, the main issues were thoroughly explored. I compliment him on his leadership, which enabled us to cover the main territory and examine many of the side issues without wasting time on dead-ends; not that there was any time available for dead-ends, as the Government gave the committee a mere nine weeks in which to study the implications of this major and fundamental legislation.
My noble friend Lord Taylor in his contribution in the debate on the gracious Speech and again today enumerated the delays to which this Bill has been subjected. I endorse his comment and hope that time taken in preparation will smooth its passage. Among the areas on which I believe we shall concentrate are, first, the points where the Bill may conflict with other legislation, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity; secondly, the issues affecting the setting up of the MMO; thirdly, the areas of government operation which may be affected by the Bill's provisions, but which are not specified; and, lastly, the contentious issues about the coastal path.
On the front of the Bill is the statement by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, stating that, in his view, its provisions are compatible with the Convention on Human Rights. In regard to Part 4, I wonder: no appeal and no compensation. That is a matter for another time.
The MMO will have to make a contribution to the achievement of sustainable development. That is not defined in the Bill, but the notes explain that in taking decisions, the MMO will have to take a balanced view, having considered potentially adverse effects. The Secretary of State will issue guidance on how it should be done. What will be the duty of the MMO when the Secretary of State, acting under the Energy Act or the Planning Act, wants to do something which the MMO not only knows is wrong, but has, at a lower level or in a smaller way, already rejected? Should not the Bill carry a duty on the Secretary of State to consult the MMO in all matters which potentially affect sustainable development?
Many organisations have contacted Members in both Houses to raise the possible discord of oil and gas developments being authorised under the Petroleum Act; barrages, bridges and tunnels getting the go-ahead via the Transport and Works Act; and, of course, the larger renewable installations proceeding via the Planning Act. Is it possible, for example, that the MMO may reject an application for 10 or a dozen wind turbines only to see a development of 100 being given permission for that same area and its surrounding seas?
A similar set of concerns applies to marine planning. What mechanism will ensure that the marine policy statements agreed under this Bill will be acknowledged, never mind followed, by other departments with an interest in marine matters? Would the Navy, for example, forbear using sonar causing underwater explosions in areas where the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs decides that whales and dolphins need peace and quiet? How will the marine strategy be integrated with river basin management plans, regional spatial strategies and local development frameworks? Will the Government set up a hierarchy of decisions or will planning delay caused by the public's right to inquiry merely be supplanted by that arising from the public policy paralysis? Will the Government continue their fixation with consultation and if so, who will be the stakeholders and who will be entitled to respond to the consultation? I am not expecting the Minister to answer these questions today but we will need to discuss them in great detail in Committee.
The finer details of setting up the MMO are not specified in the Bill but I recall some of the issues that arose when MAFF and parts of other departments were subsumed into Defra. Will there be another situation where salary levels in one department are noticeably higher than those in another? Will the post-holders in that department have to reapply for their jobs, or will they just be moved or automatically given new jobs? Will the top jobs be open to all-comers or are they reserved for named staff in existing posts? And should parliamentarians and politicians be concerned with any of these issues?
The MMO has a responsibility out to the 200 mile mark at sea—page 14, paragraph 78 of the Explanatory Notes—for the enforcement of marine nature conservation and national and EU fisheries provisions. What will happen to the existing arrangements; for example the memo of understanding between the EA and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency governing enforcement between sea and land-based pollution? Will the MMO take over the direction for the four emergency towing vessels that operate around the clock to help prevent groundings and other problems that might result in oil spillage? Will the MMO take over responsibility for the fishery protection vessels and any naval deployments relating the fisheries provisions? The enforcement of the EU ban on bottom-trawling in the high seas is another issue. Who takes responsibility for that? Will the MMO have a role in preventing pollution at sea from the sulphur content of marine diesel, which I understand contains some 15,000 parts per million compared with the mere 10 parts per million of our forecourt diesel? How and when will these matters be decided?
Finally, there is the question of coastal access. Coastal paths exist already. I declare an interest in that I have a home in Suffolk which stands less than 200 yards from the sea. I and other members of my family enjoy walking along the dunes for miles on tarred roads, over heath land and along the seafront itself. Access to that system of paths and roads is easy to the point where one does not even have to think about it. Surely it will be possible for a coastal path all around the country to cover many miles of sea frontage without any formal access to the hinterland. In some places, this may not be a problem because the hinterland itself will be open-access. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has just said, there are implications for the wildlife features based there.
When the hinterland is laid to grass or cultivated, particularly where it houses livestock, the general public will have no rights of entry or thoroughfare. There are implications for safety, the treatment of emergencies and the response to weather conditions that are not covered in the Bill. As I said earlier, there are no appeals and no compensation.
That leads to considerations of liability. The seaside is not a playground. A sandy beach with a lifeguard, under constant observation by the police and coastguard and with lifejackets every few yards, can still be the scene of death and tragedy. A lone walker on a lonely cliff-top path without any of those amenities will carry a vastly greater risk. I wish to be certain that those who own the land over which the path progresses will not find themselves caught up in the distress of walkers, whether to rescue them or to pay for any injuries.
The Bill has to be made to work the first time round and completely so, as I suspect we shall not have a Bill like it again in the near future. As it stands, in spite of the work that has been done in advance, there are issues around national, regional and geographical boundaries that must be resolved before implementation is attempted. I was interested that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his introduction, referred to the fact that there had been agreement, and I would be grateful if he could tell us a little more about the agreements that have been reached in this regard. I believe that Natural England has too much unregulated power. Insufficient recognition has been given to the fact that the interface between the sea and the land involves action in and on the former that has profound implications for the latter and its population.
I welcome the Bill but we must make ensure practical solutions to enable business, preserve fishing, allow recreation and most importantly, protect the sea and its natural wildlife and habitats. Overall, the Bill is missing someone who is champion for the seas.
Baroness Hamwee (Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, for me, it is a case of, "New readers, start here", as it is clear that many noble Lords have contributed substantially to this Bill. I am no expert in marine matters, although my noble friend on the Front Bench reminded me that I should declare an interest as I live on—or by—the tidal Thames. Like others, I am a veteran or survivor of the CROW Act, and more recently of the Planning Act—I cannot quite get my head around the fact that that is no longer a Bill.
This Bill raises many points of principle, as well as connections with that earlier legislation. I was thinking a few days ago how I might start this speech, and thought, we are an island and a seafaring nation. But my roots are not in that, and I suspect that many noble Lords have roots that are not those of the old British bulldog caricature of our nation. Our nation has changed. Certainly, it is one that holds property interests dear, as we saw from the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.
Perhaps the most interesting philosophical issues are those that arise from the notion of sustainability and its component parts. Almost every briefing that we have mentions the clause providing that regard must be had to economic and social consequences when considering the designation of a marine conservation area. It is clear to me that that does not give equal weight to the three component parts, but I wonder how far it is possible to legislate for a precise and unchanging balance, not least because society's standards, expectations and aspirations change. Sometimes that means a particular duty on Parliament—usually the Government or maybe a quango—to give weight to issues that do not have the loudest voices clamouring for them. I hesitate to say this, with a geographer on my Front Bench, but external conditions also change. We hear about the possibility of the Gulf Stream moving, which would have major implications for the seas as well as the land.
None of that means that I will not support a duty to promote sustainable development where it is necessary. The Government were right in the then Planning Bill to put climate change in the context of sustainable development. However, I know that not everyone shares that view. I am sure that we will debate this issue, not least because of the renewable energy targets.
Another philosophical issue arises from Part 9. The briefings that we have had made much of the dangers to walkers from mud flats and salt marshes. I have no doubt that there are dangers, but should they defeat the objective of access to the coast? Do we want to be such nannies that we cannot leave it to walkers to assess the risks? Risk is a matter that, until recently, we have not talked much about, and something that people of my generation were never trained to assess. It would be dangerous if the Bill gave the message that access means that a route is approved for holiday strollers in flip-flops.
A greater difficulty that has already been alluded to is "access to the access"—in other words, routes from inland to the coast. We must ensure appropriate safeguards. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that we would have to watch "like a hawk". I do not know whether she realised what she had said: no other noble Lord appeared to register it, but noble Lords are expert at keeping straight faces.
There are many resonances for those of us, both inside and outside Parliament, who considered the Planning Bill; for example, in the creation of marine policy statements and how they would fit in with national policy statements. The noble Baroness rightly said that we had to consider the sea as a whole, not in separate precious little parts that might tick boxes in some people's minds.
Clauses on the marine policy statement consultation say that the marine plan must conform with the MPS,
"unless relevant considerations indicate otherwise".
That is less than strict conformity with the MPS. Presumably it is less than general conformity. What is a "relevant consideration"? One clause is headed "Relevant matters", but I am not sure whether those are the same things.
In normal life, a relevant consideration would be cost, and, as always, resource issues arise from the Bill. I am also intrigued by the interaction between the Marine Management Organisation and the Infrastructure Planning Commission. I expect that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is armed with a list of assurances given by the Government during the passage of the Planning Bill.
I am unclear, no doubt because of a lack of preparation on my part, about responsibilities for what the non-technical among us would call beaches—the bit between the land and sea—and about the responsibilities and conditions for licensing. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to land-based pollution. I need to do a great deal more work to understand how all the responsibilities fit together.
Those of us who felt strongly about the accountability issues that arose in consideration of the Planning Bill will, I am sure, find issues in this Bill, too. However, given the level of support for the Bill, the responsibility of this House is to get it right; not to discard the work that has been done, but to use it as a basis to tease out unresolved issues.
The Earl of Shrewsbury (Conservative)
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. In doing so, I declare an interest as a member of the Salmon & Trout Association and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and as a supporter of the Deveron, Bogie and Isla Rivers Trust. For most of my life, I have been a keen game angler, so I find this afternoon's discussion way above my head, as I am a simple fisherman.
I wish briefly to raise the subject of the coastal waters of the east coast of Scotland and the various threats to marine life, migratory fish and other wildlife in that region. I believe that my comments also relate to many other rivers and their estuarial and coastal waters in England and Wales but, having fished for well over 30 years on the river Deveron on the east coast of Scotland and having gained some knowledge of that river, my comments will be based primarily on my experience of that region in the north-east of Scotland.
The river Deveron rises in the heather-clad Cabrach hills and flows steadily through mainly rolling agricultural land and is joined by the rivers Isla and Bogie on its journey to the North Sea at Banff in the lower part of the Moray Firth. In the past, the Deveron was well known not only as a world-class sea trout river, but also for her substantial summer and autumn runs of grilse and salmon. The Moray Firth is a spectacular ecosystem. Indeed, it is a marine super-system, rich in wildlife including whales, porpoises, bottlenose dolphins and a wide array of smaller creatures and seabirds. It is, or used to be, a rich feeding ground and the home ports of many fishing fleets stretched from the north of Inverness to Peterhead and Fraserburgh. These days, much of that fishing industry has sadly gone. Into the firth flow some of the great rivers of Scotland including the mighty Spey and the Beauly. Migratory fish pass through the firth on their journey south to the Tay, the Tweed and other great rivers on the eastern seaboard of England.
On the subject of sea trout, I can do no better than quote from a paper produced in 2005 by various experts in that field, including Scotland's network of fisheries trusts, RAFTS, which covers 90 per cent of the country. Those trusts have more than 50 biologists and scientists working to enhance and restore fish stocks. Since that paper was written, sea trout stocks have declined even further, and the species should be viewed as being at serious risk. Indeed, on a prime lower beat of the river Deveron, the annual sea trout catch plunged from 268 in 1985 to 147 in the 2000 season, completely collapsed in 2003 to 14, and was 33 last season. Many of the fish are so thin that they resemble pipe cleaners. The paper is called Observations on sea-trout in saltwater in Scotland and beyond.
"In saltwater sea-trout are opportunistic and often voracious feeders ... Sand eels are a staple part of their diet and it is certainly likely that relatively poor marine survival of sea-trout in Scotland over the past three or four years is possibly due to some extent to the declining availability of this vital prey species as a result of higher sea surface temperatures and commercial fishing pressure ... Sea-trout are subject to predation by a wide range of animals including other fish, fish-eating birds, dolphins and seals. As seal numbers burgeon in Scotland, the inshore feeding habits of sea-trout make them particularly vulnerable ... There is little doubt that seals could have a substantial impact on both sea-trout and salmon smolt runs".
Further evidence of the demise of sand eel stocks, as touched on briefly by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, comes from Dr Richard Alderson as reported in the Salmon Farm Monitor in December 2005. I quote:
"The North Sea sand eel fishery has now closed but until it closed upwards of 800,000 tonnes of sand eels were being taken each year, for at least the past 20 years ... The depletion of sand eels by industrial fishing is directly linked to the gradual decline over the same period of both wild salmon and sea-trout. When smolts leave their freshwater environment to go to sea, they do so in late April/May when there will be the greatest abundance of sand eels there for them to eat. If there are no sand eels, or not enough sand eels, then these wild fish starve to death or are eaten by something larger than they are".
In conclusion, I hope that I have demonstrated that enormous damage has been done over the past years by man to this wonderful eco-system. Through this Bill, we now have a golden opportunity to strive to improve the situation and to build for the future. I will ask the Minister three brief questions. First, what steps are Her Majesty's Government intending to take to enhance and improve the population of sand eels in the coastal waters of eastern Scotland? Secondly, will they consider the creation of coastal conservation areas for sand eels and other food chain elements? Thirdly, bearing in mind that sport fishing for salmon and sea trout on the east coast Scottish rivers contributes considerably and vitally to the local rural economy and that the main predator of such fish is the seal, what action, if any, are the Government or the Scottish Executive taking to control the seal population to sustainable levels and what do they intend to do in the future?
I support the Bill. I think it is an excellent Bill, but it needs to have real teeth. To do nothing is not an option and it would be unforgivable to let this opportunity to repair the damage of the past, done by man, slip through the net.
Lord Oxburgh (Crossbench)
My Lords, I too welcome the Bill. A century ago the waters around our islands were places where hardy, professional fishermen made a tough living and where our parents and grandparents regarded the ferocity of the seas from the safety of Victorian piers and promenades. There was greater popular enthusiasm at that time for the health-giving properties of cold sea water and bracing sea air than there is today, but that was before the days of central heating and cheap flights to the Costa Brava.
Today it is a different story. A UK population that is roughly twice what it was a century ago and advances in technology that make our surrounding seas much more accessible mean that the pressures on our coastal environment, particularly the coastal seas, are enormously increased. At sea, we have seen the development of major oil and gas fields, of seabed pipelines, of networks of submarine telephone cables, of a profusion of commercial and private leisure craft and the development of a fishing industry, both domestic and foreign, that is so efficient that, if unconstrained, our fish stocks would be wiped out in a decade.
The new century brings new challenges as well: marine wind farms and the possible commercial deployment of devices to harness the energy of tides and waves. Furthermore, the abandoned gas fields of the southern North Sea are likely to be the sites in which carbon dioxide, trapped at fossil fuelled power stations, will be stored. Even further ahead, the North and Irish Seas are likely to be the routes of major electrical inter-connectors that link remote offshore and near-shore land-based renewable energy sites to the south, where much of the energy is consumed. We are going to be making very full use of our neighbouring seas indeed.
As my noble friend Lady Young pointed out, all of this is happening in an environment in which there is a complicated and subtle interaction between the plants and animals in, around and abovethe water. The complexity of this environment means that we have to treat it with enormous care and that the risk of unwittingly doing serious damage to systems that we do not understand is real. Not very long ago, a seafloor cable was laid across the mouth of the Wash. It appeared to be located where it could do little damage. Only subsequently did it emerge that it had disrupted the life-cycle of shellfish, which, in their mature state, were found in beds sometens of miles away.
Whether we like it or not there has to be a coherent and internally consistent regulatory system for this complex and important part of our immediate environment on which we are imposing an increasing load. The present Bill seeks to provide such a regulatory framework through the Marine Management Organisation. Unfortunately, this does not mean that the myriad of competing interests will necessarily be easier to reconcile, but the decisions of the MMO should at least be made in a fuller understanding of their wider consequences for the various competing interests and for the marine environment itself. These competing interests will also have to recognise that, very often, there is no best or even good answer to the problem of competing agenda, but simply one that is, at least, fully informed and, one hopes, the least bad.
I have a couple of specific points on the Bill today. Both have been touched on by other speakers. The first is the welcome inclusion of sustainability among the objectives of the MMO. It would be highly desirable for the Bill to make it clear that this did not simply mean the sustainability of the UK marine environment but included sustainability in the broader national context. One could, for example, imagine a situation in which meeting a national requirement appeared to have some adverse consequences for the local marine environment. It might be the need for a new submarine cable to bring ashore electricity produced in an offshore wind farm. It would be unfortunate if the MMO interpreted its remit so narrowly that it disregarded national need as well.
Similarly, if we deploy wave energy machines offshore, we should not be surprised if the clean sandy beaches, inshore of the wave farm, are no longer quite so sparkling clean. It is the energy of the waves that washes away the mud and, if we extract the energy offshore, the less may be available inshore to clean the beaches. As they say in Yorkshire, "You don't get owt for nowt". This means that we have to recognise the wider environmental implications of any development. In this context, it would be useful, as both the noble Baronesses, Lady Byford and Lady Hamwee, on the Benches opposite pointed out, to be clearer about the relationship of the MMO with the Infrastructure Planning Commission set up under the Planning Act.
The present Bill is a long one and I cannot claim to have read every word, but I was not able to find any reference to the point raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Byford and Hamwee, with reference to chemical or physical pollution of the marine environment and whether this comes from land sources or sources at sea. At present, these are the responsibility of a diversity of organisations and it would be useful to have it clarified at some stage whether these responsibilities would be, in part, subsumed by the MMO or whether this is an interface that the MMO has to manage.
In conclusion, I repeat that I have no doubt that this Bill is needed but, once more, the devil will be in the detail. I declare an interest as President of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, as a director of Falck Renewables but, above all, as an enthusiastic walker who is overjoyed at the prospect of a continuous coastal path, although I recognise that it may be a long time in coming.
Lord Whitty (Labour)
My Lords, like most noble Lords, I welcome the Bill. Others have said it has been a long time coming, but it is worth it. We have had from my noble friend the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, a vision of how we need to manage the coastal and marine environment and also a reflection of the complex eco-systems involved and the many pressing, different requirements that we are placing on them from renewable energy through to the need for recreation. This is an area where there are conflicting pressures and we need institutions which can balance and reconcile those pressures. In some cases, difficult and often unpopular choices may have to be made.
Just to confuse my noble friend the Minister, I am going to work backwards through the Bill and my points and focus first on Part 9 on coastal access. I do so largely out of nostalgia. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, many noble Lords in the House today are survivors of debates on the then CROW Bill. I was the poor Minister who had to steer that Bill through those difficult days. I never let on to the House but I had been instructed by the business managers not to lose a vote during the Bill's passage because we had run out of time in another place. That meant that some rather odd compromises were established in the Bill, with some consequent inconsistencies in the legislation's delivery and application.
I hope that the same does not apply to this legislation. However, I think that the general welcome given to this Bill indicates that we are in a different era. As noble Lords will recall, a number of vested interests opposed aspects of the earlier legislation, and many of them had valid arguments. We have to recognise that the interests of conservation and habitat as well as those of agriculture and other businesses have to be taken into account when we are defining access provisions. However, those interests must not be allowed to override or detrimentally compromise the clear and visionary objective of providing access to our coastal paths. We in the south-west have led the way in establishing a path around almost the entire south-west coast, and that has not proved all that difficult or conflictual. We have to extend that to the rest of the country. I therefore congratulate the Government on this aspect of the Bill.
Like other noble Lords, who are rather closer to fishermen than I am, I have a number of points on fisheries, which present some difficult jurisdictional issues On balance, the Bill's institutional provisions probably improve the current confusion about responsibilities, but they by no means entirely remove it. I would prefer the Environment Agency—although this is not necessarily its view—to have a larger role in overseeing all aspects of fisheries, estuaries and inshore seas. However, I recognise that, in default of such a change, the Bill makes some useful proposals. The first is to modernise the sea fisheries committees whose performance has been differential across the country and jurisdictions often unclear. The new IFCAs, with enhanced duties, should cover the effective monitoring and management of stocks. It is vital that their formal membership and staff are sufficiently on the ball to contribute to proper ecosystem-based approaches in this area.
There are also demarcation issues. There will have to be proper working arrangements between the new IFCAs and the Environment Agency, particularly with regard to fisheries and estuaries, so that there is a clear boundary upstream, where the EA is the responsible body for all fish species, and downstream where the IFCAs manage the sea fisheries. It is important that the IFCAs, like the EA, should have an explicit duty to promote sustainable development. I think that that requirement runs through the Bill as a whole. Although it is difficult to define sustainable development, that is a clear theme and context in which all the organisations should work. That should be consistent across all the organisations on which the Bill lays down duties.
I should like to raise another issue which may not be within the direct scope of the Bill, and I apologise to the Minister for not raising it with him in advance. One aspect of sea fisheries responsibility and some failures of the regulatory framework were brought to our notice by the tragedy in Morecambe Bay. There was confusion about which authority was responsible for regulating cockle-picking activity. The sea fisheries committees had some responsibility, as did the Health and Safety Executive, the police, the local authorities and, in a minor capacity, the Environment Agency. The totality of that operation clearly failed in that case. There have since been better efforts at co-ordination and enforcement has improved. However, does the Bill make clear where jurisdiction for regulating mud-flat activity now lies? If not, what regulation covers it?
More generally, I welcome the measures to modernise legislation on migratory and freshwater fisheries legislation. It is some time in coming. Like other noble Lords I can recall discussion of the salmon and fisheries review eight or so years ago, which is when I first realised how much fisheries expertise there is in this House. I hope that we can draw on that expertise in considering this legislation. However, jurisdiction issues arise even in this Bill, and I am not sure that the fish completely understand that. One example which has been drawn to my attention is that the Bill will extend the Environment Agency's responsibilities to lampreys and smelts but not to shad except in various minor capacities. There is a broader confusion about who manages the various flows of fish. I hope that the flexibility which the Bill provides on future jurisdiction changes is sufficient, because we are unlikely to get further primary legislation to correct it. Co-operation between the authorities is important, but it is even more important to set out clear responsibilities in the first place.
My last group of points relates to the Bill's planning provisions and the potential conflict with renewable energy, a point on which the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, has just spoken. I accept that the creation of a new Marine Management Organisation is probably sensible. That organisation will need both a clear demarcation and close working partnerships with other organisations, including the Environment Agency, Natural England and the sea fisheries bodies. That is obvious. However, it will also need close relations with the planning authorities on land.
One planning issue where such controversy and lack of jurisdictional clarity may well arise is renewable energy installations. A clear reference to the climate change objectives has been omitted from the Bill. There have already been objections to offshore wind farms from, on the one hand, conservation bodies, and, on the other, shipping, fishing and MoD interests. That is partly why such a limited number of wind farms have been commissioned. Admittedly, those objections and inhibitions are greater on land than they have been offshore, but nevertheless the degree to which we have been able to invest in renewable energy has fallen foul of our planning system. That will be even truer in developing tidal and wave-based energy generation located at sea.
Although, on balance, I agree with my noble friend Lord Davies of Coity in his scepticism of the Severn barrage, I think that we need greater clarity in how we deal with such major propositions—which have an immense impact on the ecosystem but which could also make an immense contribution to greener energy. I am not sure that the Bill fully achieves that clarity. Conservation and other issues are clearly important in the siting of wind, tide and wave installations, but, again, it is a question of balance and how the balance is achieved. The same applies to a limited extent to some of the aspects of installations designed to adapt to climate change, in particular flood defences, as well as to aspects of installations meant to mitigate climate change.
We will therefore need to clarify a number of jurisdictional issues during the Bill's passage. Other noble Lords have already referred to pollution controls; I would also include waste controls as an example of where it is not always clear where the geographical or jurisdictional dividing line arises.
Those, however, are essentially matters of detail which the Government already have in their sights. We in this Chamber may be able to contribute in that. I think that all noble Lords should be able to support the Bill's vision and the work which has gone already into it through the pre-legislative process and consultation, albeit the time for that has in some ways been curtailed. It has led to a much better Bill than would otherwise be before us, but we can make it better still. I congratulate the Government on having got so far, but this House will have quite a job to do in later stages in tidying up these untidy points.
Lord Geddes (Conservative)
My Lords, I wholly endorse the last remark of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. This House will have quite a job in tidying up the Bill, laudable though it is. It will lead to the largest shake-up in the protection of the marine environment in this country's history. We are an island. That is a truism. Because of that, the measures have a significance beyond those that normally might be considered more important. As the Minister said, the Bill is ambitious and wide-ranging. It is certainly both of those, but as many noble Lords have already said, it is also more than a bit scant on the detail and the devil is always therein.
With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, I am disappointed at the unfortunate position in which the authorities seem to have put the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. Having chaired the Joint Committee with considerable aplomb, I hoped that he might have spoken number 4 and not number 17 on the list, which is where he is. It would have helped the House a great deal to get the chairman of that committee's reaction to the Government's responses.
I will concentrate on just two or three fairly significant points but do not intend to even attempt to trawl right through the Bill. Defra's first major response to the Joint Committee concerns its request for more guidance to be put in the Bill. Defra has rejected this. This is a great misfortune and I hope that the Minister—who has heard this already from others—will hoist that on board.
Regarding the marine conservation zones, the committee's views on the need to strengthen those seem to have struck a chord with Defra. It has promised to bring forward a range of provisions to give greater powers and enforcement measures regarding these marine conservation zones, but again we come to detail: this needs watching by ports and shipping in particular. Although Defra has taken care to flag up the importance of always considering socio-economic factors—indeed, it suggested that the weight behind such priority might influence the choice of MCZs—it has promised some control over ministerial powers to designate MCZs. However, one has to be extremely careful that, with great respect to the noble Baroness, the pendulum does not swing too far for the environment versus the practicality. I keep coming back to that word "practicality". It is a balancing act, but I am sure that the Minister is only too aware of that.
Continuing on these marine conservation zones, Defra still does not appear to want any clear markings and identifications of site boundaries. It looks, therefore, as if harbour authorities will be expected to advise shipping on the zones' locations. I will not elaborate on that, but that seems an unsatisfactory position, not least because any of those who might infringe would simply say, "We did not know where the zone was, so how could we possibly have broken the law if the zones were not specifically identified?".
As has been said, MMOs must be adequately resourced. There is a real fear, reading through the Bill, that they will not be. They must have harmonious working relationships with other regulatory and public bodies, not least the Infrastructure Planning Commission. With regard to marine spatial planning, what is said in the Bill seems eminently sensible, but it is so important that marine plans are consistent with other planning instruments, including the national policy statements. A statutory review procedure for testing marine plans, prior to their approval by the Secretary of State, should be created, to ensure that all interested stakeholders have an opportunity to outline how the regional marine plans impact upon their interests.
There is another small but important point on the MMOs. The interchange in roles between the Marine Coastguard Agency and the Marine Management Organisation is still being discussed. To my reading and with my experience, they still seem unclear.
We come to coastal access—and unlike the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I will try to stick to the sequence of the Bill. With an estimated budget of £50 million, spread over 10 years, there are serious concerns that the coastal access project will prove to be underfunded and, as a result, of poor quality. I hope that those fears are not justified because I like the idea of such access. But again one comes to the detail. What happens, for instance, with a major port with designated expansion areas—let us say, already approved by the local authority? Will the coastal access be allowed to go through those putative areas for port enlargement or not? If it will be, what happens when the port gets enlarged? There are so many detailed questions which need to be answered.
Defra, as I understand it, has rejected the proposal to allow Natural England to put forward coastal access schemes only by approval through an affirmative resolution of Parliament. As some noble Lords have said already, and as I am sure others will say after me, is seems dangerous to put an enormous onus on Natural England. I am not at all sure that it is the right body to fulfil that task.
Finally, on appeals, Defra has rejected the introduction of the appeals process for landowners and occupiers. I confess that its arguments on that are flimsy at the very least. Any appeals process is fundamental to the rights of the citizen. I know this has already been mentioned this afternoon. It must surely be for Parliament to approve a firm mechanism in primary legislation rather than allowing Defra and Natural England to come up with an order that may suit their convenience but which diminishes the current rights of land owners and occupiers under the dreaded CROW Act. How I hate that particular acronym—the acronym itself, not what is behind it. Equally, there is no framework for compensating landowners who might suffer financial loss. That needs to be looked into.
I apologise to the Minister if I have appeared critical. I have been. However, I repeat that the Bill is to be hugely welcomed. It needs a lot of work, but we are a maritime nation and it is in our interests to protect our marine environment. I wish the Bill well, although it may go through some slightly rough water in its passage.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth (Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I certainly welcome the Bill, but, as has been said time and again during this debate, there is no question that there will have to be quite a number of amendments to it. The White Paper initially set out some principles on the planning system, the licensing of marine developments, the protection of natural resources and the changes to the management of marine fisheries as well as the introduction of the Marine Management Organisation. There is a danger that the Bill, with its 301 pages, could become a nightmare of acronyms, and we must be very careful how we use them. My late father, who died when I was three, was a master mariner. I wish that he could be here now because I am sure that he could advise me.
I want to put the Bill into a Welsh context. It provides that the objectives of the MMO for sustained development and for the organisation's management will be set by the Secretary of State. That will not be the case in Wales, where the proposals will be for Welsh Assembly Government Ministers. With regard to marine conservation zones and IFCAs, there will be quite a number of different aspects from the fallout of the Bill in Wales. I am sure that the principles will be the same, but the mechanisms may not be.
I welcome the speeches made, particularly those by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury. I, too, am a very keen fisherman. However, I think that they said everything that needs to be said. There is a huge conservation issue there. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned shad; perhaps if we have a Severn barrage, they will become extinct in that area. All sorts of similar issues have already been covered.
I wish to concentrate on the Welsh Assembly Government's views as well as those of the Countryside Council for Wales, which has studied the Bill in great detail. The Welsh Assembly Government have produced a consultation document, which proposes,
"bringing the existing sea fisheries management and enforcement functions in-house to the Assembly and integrating Seas Fisheries Committee (SFC) functions with those of the existing Assembly sea fisheries enforcement team. This proposal involves abolishing SFCs"—
which, as has been said, have not functioned all that well, particularly recently—
"and revoking some of the Environment Agency's (EA) sea fishery powers in Wales".
The potential problem is funding these functions as they will be carried out in Wales. There are particular concerns regarding by-laws which may well be lost as a result of the Bill and need to be re-enacted. There may be a case for providing statutory instruments for Wales to secure existing by-laws for fisheries.
The Welsh Assembly Government's proposal for the management and enforcement of sea fisheries in Welsh waters states in its first paragraph that,
"the Welsh Assembly Government assumes full responsibility for the management and enforcement of sea fisheries around the Welsh coast".
I welcome the creation of that Welsh marine area. Indeed, many of the matters to which I refer are the business of the Welsh Assembly, not necessarily Westminster. However, it is necessary for me to enlighten Members here as to what is going on. The coterminous nature of Wales and England means that the same functions and principles will have to be carried out. I sincerely hope that there will be a great synergy between these functions in both Wales and England.
I have a huge amount of material about this issue, but I hope that I have pointed out some of the principles which will be taken into consideration in the Welsh Assembly. I refer in particular to the conservation aspects: the marine conservation zones will be very important, as will the IFCAs, which will occur in Wales.
Some noble Lords may remember that almost exactly 12 months ago I was fortunate enough to win the ballot to have a debate on the possibility of a Severn barrage. The Wales Environment Link is concerned about how the devolved functions of a Marine Management Organisation in Wales will be carried out. It believes that a statutory requirement on the appropriate authority in Wales to designate MCZs, as well as on an English authority, will be necessary. I have a great deal of sympathy with that view.
During my speech on the Severn barrage a year ago, I said that the Severn estuary,
"is designated as a special protection area for avian features under the EU bird directive and as a possible special area of conservation. SAC status also applies to the River Usk, the River Wye and the Mendip limestone grasslands. There are local conservation sites too, including 26 SSSIs, one national nature reserve, eight local nature reserves, one historic landscape and four wildlife trusts".—[Hansard, 13/12/07; col. 376.]
That is just for good measure. Those are the sort of planning issues which will have to be addressed in England and Wales, should we have a barrage.
A key question arises on conservation and the powers of the MMO and IFCAs in relation to the Infrastructure Planning Commission. The IPC was only recently established in the Planning Act 2008. Which body will have the final say on environmental protection? Will it be the MMO or the IPC? If we consider the possibility of a Severn barrage being constructed, we have to think about the implications in planning terms.
If the Bill contains strong enough powers on nature conservation, we may be able to address concerns regarding the MMO and the IPC on a level playing field. But I fear that at present there is not a level playing field in this respect. That is one of the key reasons why we have to strengthen the Bill considerably to achieve an outcome which is fair, objective and not submerged under a steamroller from the IPC.
Lord Montagu of Beaulieu (Conservative)
My Lords, I must declare an interest: I was lucky enough to inherit one of the most beautiful beaches in England. I am happy to support this Bill. Everybody, I think, agrees on the importance of the coast for environmental reasons, but rarely do people understand why such beautiful areas still exist. They are there today because our ancestors let nature take priority over building and development. Today we can enjoy these areas thanks to our forebears' policies. Some noble Lords will obviously have been, in their time, to seaside resorts that are not beautiful.
I welcome the Bill, which is concerned with safeguarding the marine habitat. Our coastline is continuously and irreversibly affected by climate change, so conservation regulations must relate to the predictably changing environment and not simply aspire to maintain the status quo. However, there are some important principles at stake. If an individual's right to the private enjoyment of his land is taken away by the state, there should at least be some independent appeal system and provision for compensation. At present, this Bill puts Natural England in the role of prosecution, judge and jury, with the agency's masters at Defra determining any appeals. This sets a dangerous precedent and is hardly democratic.
Marine conservation areas must recognise the needs of commercial and leisure use, as well as safeguarding the marine habitat. As someone who welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors every year to his estate, and provides footpaths for them, I am concerned about attempting to create unrestricted and continuous coastal routes, including estuaries. It would be better to recognise that now and make provision for it in the Bill. This could also assist land occupiers and businesses whose livelihood is threatened if a coastal footpath goes straight through their premises, rather than taking an alternative route. I applaud the clause concerning waterside businesses, such as marinas, boatyards, harbours, gardens, caravan sites and historic houses. They will welcome the potential simplification of essential licensing through speedy and inexpensive procedures—for example, granting permission for maintenance dredging. Finally, whatever route is arrived at must be suitable for year-round use. Creating alternative routes in winter will cause uncertainty and difficulties of signage.
The principle of this Bill makes for a complex piece of legislation. It is important to consider fully the detailed implications, rather than rushing its implementation. However, I support the Bill, which, once implemented sensibly, will see the end of friction that has occurred from time to time with some bodies. I think that we all want the Bill to be a success. Maybe "partnership" is the right word to talk about.
Lord Hunt of Chesterton (Labour)
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, whose work to preserve part of the coast in Hampshire has been an inspiration. I welcome this Bill, as do other noble Lords, as well as the process of pre-legislative scrutiny. Some were disappointed that not all our suggestions were taken up, but if you are a realist you would not expect that anyway. Nevertheless, some were taken up.
I declare an interest as an academic interested in the atmosphere and the ocean. I am also a former head of the Met Office. On the timescale of this House, marine issues are evidently becoming important, as this is the second major debate on marine issues in the last 10 years. If one wants to go back to a serious debate on marine issues, perhaps one must go back to April 1853, when Lord Wrottesley gave a long and learned disquisition on the nature of the Gulf Stream. I do not think that I have ever read a better description of the Gulf Stream. The point about his great analysis was that we did not understand the Gulf Stream as well as the Americans did, which is why their ships were able to cross the Atlantic faster than ours—they followed the Gulf Stream exactly. To catch up with the Americans, we needed the Met Office. That was the debate that established the Met Office. The first head of the Met Office was the illustrious Admiral Fitzroy. I shall come back to the United States and the prominence of marine officials in a moment.
The purpose of legislation, as the Minister said when we began, is to institute political measures that will materially improve people's lives, our culture, the strength of society and—as a necessary condition, we now know—the natural state of our planet. Therefore, as with climate change legislation, this Bill's Explanatory Notes might well have started with a clear statement to the effect that the state of the marine environment is unsatisfactory and getting worse. This was clearly stated on
"Make provision in relation to marine functions and activities",
I would add the words, "in order to return the seas to ecological health". That is the purpose of the Bill. Of course, many Bills do not have that kind of direct statement, but surely legislation should say why it is needed. Mr Richardson's other important point on that day in our pre-legislative committee was, positively, that through strong, scientifically directed measures, ecological health could be restored. That is, obviously, the purpose of the Bill. Indeed, the UK has excellent marine scientists, engineers and technologists, who will be able to achieve this goal. The Bill might state this more clearly.
It is important to recognise that the situation that we face in the deteriorating marine environment is shared by most other major countries. Around the United States, the condition of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico is serious, as is that of the Baltic, the Mediterranean and the Yellow Sea in China. I was in Hong Kong last week, where the serious nature of the problem there was depicted. We are in the same position as other countries. All these countries recognise, too, that this situation is compounded by such effects of global warming as the acidification of the sea, sea-level rise and so on.
In dealing with climate change and previous environmental problems, legislation has been strong and visible through measures that have been introduced, with clear areas of responsibility and leadership. In that respect, the Bill creates the Marine Management Organisation. The question is whether the MMO will provide the kind of leadership and co-ordination that other major environmental agencies have had and continue to have in the UK. I am thinking of organisations such as the Environment Agency—it was good that we had a former director of the Environment Agency here this afternoon—the Food Standards Agency, the Met Office and now the climate change committee.
The issue was discussed with the Secretary of State at the pre-legislative scrutiny committee. He gave an ambivalent answer on whether the head of the MMO would be the champion of the seas. However, on
This responsive co-ordination leadership role is particularly important, as we are in a situation when things are changing. One of the features of sea-level rise is that it leads to much more rapid changes in, for example, the bathymetry—the depth of the ocean. We cannot rely on checking this once every 100 years, as sometimes is the case; we need to have satellites to do it every year, as the Dutch and Belgians are doing in studying their coastline. As my noble friend Lord Whitty and the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, recognised, measures for adaptation and mitigation along the coast will have an important impact on the environment. Therefore, the MMO will have a high-level, responsive and co-ordinating role. There have been noises saying that this is the job of the Minister, but I believe that Ministers are very busy and will not be able to do it. We need to have the kind of official leadership that we have seen in these other bodies.
The other feature of the MMO raised strongly in the pre-legislative scrutiny committee was that it should be a champion for the freeing-up of the exchange of data. The only way in which people will understand and be able to respond is if we have the data. The committee heard from witness after witness that currently there is considerable blockage by fees and bureaucracy.
What level will the new head of the MMO be in the Civil Service? Will he be grade 3, 2 or 5? That makes a big difference. Unless he or she is at this kind of level, he or she will not be able to have the role that all sides of the House want.
If we cross the ocean and look at the United States, we see that it has a very senior official responsible for the oceans. I know his name, but nobody knows the names of the people responsible for marine policy in the UK. Until recently, Vice Admiral Lautenbacher, a prominent person, dealt with these major issues. As other noble Lords have said, it is important that the UK, with its strategic interests in oceans globally as well as regionally, should be moving in this direction. The United States also has an ambassador for the oceans and fisheries in the State Department, who goes around speaking the truth, as it were, about the terrible state of some of the ocean areas of the world. The Foreign Office has not reached that point yet.
The evidence in the United Kingdom and Europe is that marine officials are not being encouraged to speak out, even about these technical issues. Mr Richardson of the European Commission commented after his rather strong—for a European civil servant—statement about the state of the marine ecology that this was his last official engagement and that he was retiring that day. That spoke volumes.
My second question is whether, since the MMO is a non-departmental public body, its director will be able to speak out responsibly on marine environmental issues in the way in which the directors of the Environment Agency and the Food Standards Agency are able to do. That does not detract from ministerial responsibility; obviously, Ministers are responsible for strategic issues and particular issues of public interest. I will give noble Lords some context. When I was appointed head of the Met Office, the first question that I asked the Permanent Under-Secretary at the MoD was whether I could speak out on scientific, technical and operational issues. He said, "Yes, but if I hear you on the radio complaining about your budget, you will be fired", so it was very clear. I hope that the MMO will have similar freedom.
The Bill, following many years of discussion and the excellent report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, proposes to set up a network of marine reserves as the means to restore our marine environment. This policy, as witnesses explained, will have to be administered flexibly but within a clear strategy. There will be some parallels with the national parks, which have been a great UK success—many countries have followed them. The parks have had to operate in a diplomatic way with allowance for many different types of activity, depending on their effects on the environment. We have been hearing about those policies with regard to the sea this afternoon.
There will have to be continuing monitoring, as the sea is changing rapidly, using remote sensing and extensive communication with stakeholders, including the public. A meeting will be held in Portcullis House in January or February on remote sensing and monitoring the marine environment, as that issue came up in the pre-legislative scrutiny committee. We now have new techniques.
It is also important to notice how successful reserves have been in other countries, where they have been welcomed by fishing interests. For example, fishermen in New Zealand line up their boats alongside the edges, as it were, of these marine reserves. The lobsters and so on are developing well in the marine reserves and the fishermen have a good basis for working. Therefore, if administered well, these reserves can be of great benefit both for nature and for fishing interests.
Some organisations are calling for a target in terms of the area occupied. I agree with the Secretary of State's remark to our committee that the targets will need to be considered by the organisations involved and agreed by the Minister. Surely the outcomes from these policies can be defined in the legislation—for example, in terms of the ecological health, to use the EC word, of the whole coastline. Will the Minister consider introducing indicators as part of the objectives in, for example, biodiversity and the state of the fish species and ecological health generally? Will the MMO and/or Defra be responsible for establishing targets for the improvement of such indicators? The point is that we know what they are now; they are going down at the moment, in the words of the officials. We want to hear every year where the indicators are going and when, we hope, they start improving. The blue signs on our beaches have been an important indicator of how this kind of approach can work. Giving responsibilities for broad objectives for environmental monitoring and improvement is the surest way to effective and transparent administration. This legislation is a start, but it needs to become clearer.
Finally, as a former councillor, although not a maritime councillor, I am quite sure that the local authorities should be closely involved in establishing coastal footpaths. I welcome the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. I hope that that can be worked into the Bill.
Baroness Hooper (Conservative)
My Lords, this is a large Bill. It has been through lengthy consultation and scrutiny phases, and it covers many key areas of interest. The debate so far has been fascinating. A number of the major issues that the Bill covers have been dealt with and a number of queries have been raised. I look forward with great interest to hearing the poor Minister responding to all these queries at the end of our debate.
My focus is in the area of conservation of cultural heritage and the maritime historic environment. This is in part because in the Council of Europe I serve on the committee for culture, education, science and sport and we have looked at such issues as marine archaeology, historic wrecks and training in the skills required to safeguard that part of our heritage. A wealth of international research and experience is available in this area. If, as the Minister said, we are the first country to introduce such ground-breaking legislation—I am sure that that must be the case—I can assure your Lordships that there will be a great deal of international interest in our debates and in the way the Bill goes through in its final form.
My focus is also partly because we had anticipated that a heritage protection Bill would appear in the Queen's Speech, which of course might otherwise have been the appropriate vehicle to provide protection for marine heritage. Failing that, it will have to be provided in this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said at the outset that the Bill is two Bills run together. Perhaps when it leaves your Lordships' House it will be three Bills run together.
Those are the reasons for my focus, which has been borne out by the fact that hardly anyone in the debate so far has mentioned this particular and very important area. I appreciate that there are references in the Bill to sites of historic and archaeological interest. I think that they are mentioned in Part 4, concerning marine licensing, in Parts 6 and 7, in relation to fisheries, and in Part 9 on coastal access. Yet, they are mere references and are inadequate. I hope that that can be rectified during the passage of the Bill and we can have rather more definition.
As there is no clear definition or inclusion of them in the Bill, I take as my starting point the English Heritage definition of the marine historic environment as,
"made up of those surviving maritime buildings and structures on the coast edge [which] include prehistoric fish traps, lighthouses, chapels, harbours and evidence of land claim from the Roman period onwards".
I would add that there are other objects beyond shore level that include historic wrecks and finds of that nature. The question is, therefore, whether the marine conservation zones, which have been designated primarily to protect marine biodiversity and for wildlife conservation, can also be prayed in aid to cover heritage issues. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.
It seems to me that in not including sites of historic and archaeological interest within the definition of marine conservation zones the Government are missing a golden opportunity to extend protection to our marine cultural heritage similar to that given to sites on land. The lack of consideration given to cultural heritage issues in the Bill is of great concern to various organisations such as English Heritage and other agencies and NGOs.
In addition to making the definition clear, it will be necessary to ensure that the Marine Management Organisation is adequately resourced and empowered to acquire the essential spatial data to enable satisfactory completion of all marine planning and licensing requirements for such areas. I should be grateful if the Minister could respond to that issue.
Attention must be given to ensuring that the policy objectives set out in the proposed marine policy statement include cultural heritage to support adequate marine management. There should also be formal recognition by marine conservation zones of statutory duties such as those provided by the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 or the Protection of Military Remains 1986 to ensure that conservation objectives are set that support integrated management.
In spite of the fact that time was short between the announcement of the Bill and Second Reading today, I think we have all probably received helpful briefings from a number of organisations concerned with the repercussions of the Bill. In my own focus area, as well as English Heritage, I should like to refer to the help of the English National Parks Authorities Association and the National Trust, which have provided expert views. Other briefings on nature conservancy, energy and fisheries underline what a wide-ranging Bill it is and what a lot of detail there is to process. I thank the Minister too for providing briefing in the form of slides and the draft document on the Marine Management Organisation, which will be useful today and for the remaining stages of the Bill.
Aside from my particular focus on maritime heritage, I will refer briefly to two other points. One is the question of access, which I suspect will occupy many hours in Committee. I must admit at this stage to considerable sympathy for the case made by horse riders. Why should they not have the same right of access to coastal areas as walkers? The other issue was raised at the outset by my noble friend Lord Taylor. It concerns the scope for lack of consistency given the rights of the devolved Assemblies to make variations to the arrangements. Alongside the variations between devolved areas we also have the problem of the timeframe as the Bill allows Natural England and the Secretary of State to fulfil the duty in stages over a number of years. That means that the duty can be fulfilled on certain parts of the coast before others. There is no set time limit for completion of the duty, which seems to me to be a recipe for inconsistency and confusion. I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify how that will work.
As other noble Lords have said, the Bill is welcome. It is very important that we focus on this crucial part of our heritage and I hope that my focus area will receive its due consideration.
Lord Greenway (Crossbench)
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming the fact that we are at last discussing this important Bill, which has been eagerly anticipated for a good number of years. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, it has been a long time in gestation and has been the subject of a number of consultation processes culminating in the publication of the draft Bill earlier this year.
As the Minister and a number of noble Lords have said, I had the honour of chairing the pre-legislative scrutiny committee of both Houses that was set up last May to take a close look at the draft Bill. Our report was published at the end of July. I would like to take this opportunity of thanking the members of the committee who are taking part in the debate this afternoon. I know that others are unavoidably unable to be with us today, but we look forward to hearing from them during the later stages. I express my special, personal thanks to our principal Clerk, Charlotte Littleboy, from the other place, who was ably backed up by our own Ed Ollard, together with a whole body of other Clerks and assistants. Without their application and diligence the committee would never have been able to complete its deliberations within the specified time frame. I also thank our three specialist advisers, Professor Laurence Mee; Dr Susan Gubbay; and Captain Dennis Barber, whose wide-ranging expertise and advice was greatly appreciated.
If I might return to the committee's allotted time frame, of which mention has already been made. Our report made no bones about the fact that we considered a little over eight weeks insufficient time for proper scrutiny of a very large draft Bill. Twelve weeks is regarded as the customary minimum. We were only able to fit in eight sessions of oral evidence, and we had numerous pieces of written evidence as well. The Government have—I think—taken cognisance of the fact that we were not given enough time, and I hope that this will not happen in future.
The Joint Committee's major concerns related to a seeming lack of duties in the Bill; a lack of parliamentary scrutiny of marine plans; a lack of transparency; and funding, which has been mentioned by noble Lords. Our report contained 96 recommendations, and, while it would have been too much to hope that all would have been accepted by the Government, I am gratified that a good many of them appear to have been accepted. I take it that there will also be more acceptances coming forward in secondary legislation and further guidance.
I will say a brief word about funding. It was made clear to us during our deliberations and, since then, in guidance and impact assessments that there is money put aside to ensure that the Marine Management Organisation and others will be able to do their job properly and will have enough staff. An addition sum of, I believe, £80 million has been put aside to cover the increase in the size of the Marine Management Organisation as things developed. In view of what has happened in the economy over the past month or so, are the Government confident that such sums will still be available?
Like other noble Lords, I shall mention the most controversial part of the Bill and the only one that led to some dissent in the Joint Committee—Part 9 on coastal access provision. This is a manifesto commitment that has been tacked on to the Bill by the Government in the absence of any other suitable vehicle. I have always felt that the coastal path is strictly a land matter and not a sea matter. In some ways, I am disappointed that it is part of this Bill. The provision was looked at in great detail by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in another place, as well as by the Joint Committee. As we heard earlier, both concluded that an independent appeals mechanism was needed, although this has been resisted by the Government. I have no doubt that we will return to this in Committee. The Joint Committee also thought that compensation might well need to be payable in certain cases, but it must be done in a transparent way. Again, that is something that we might return to. I mentioned funding just now. Is £50 million enough? It might be enough to set up the coastal path, but who will be responsible for maintenance thereafter?
The Secretary of State said:
"For the first time in our history all of us will be able to walk the length of the coast and get close to the sea right around England".
In answer to a question that I posed to him, if my memory serves me correctly, he watered that down slightly by saying that at least it would be a joined-up route. It quickly became clear to us that there would be a large number of detours in this route, for reasons of safety, particularly with regard to commercial undertakings such as ports and oil refineries, certain MoD land and areas such as wetlands, which could be potentially dangerous, as well as risking damage to wildlife habitats. At the moment, parks and gardens are exempt. We will have a lot more discussion about private gardens. What interested me was that, of the few small examples that we were shown of the proposed path, even in a place where one would have thought that the path would have been able to go very close to the sea, it was in fact a quarter of a mile or so inland. I hope that the public will not be disappointed when they see where the route will go.
Coming back to what I regard as the true marine part of the Bill, I welcome the proposal to set up a new organisation to manage our marine environment, the Marine Management Organisation. I was led to understand that this was perhaps just a working title. Have the Government had any further thoughts on this? Might they come up with something rather less prosaic? I have argued in this House for a separate ministry of the sea, but it always fell on deaf ears. The Marine Management Organisation is definitely a step in the right direction.
A number of noble Lords, such as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, have spoken about a "champion of the seas", but the Government have made it plain that the MMO will be a delivery body rather than a campaigning body and that, if any championing is needed, it will be done by Ministers. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I think that this is a pity. Ministers tend to come and go, sometimes rather quickly, and they also have other responsibilities, whereas the chairman of the Marine Management Organisation, who will have to be chosen with extreme care, will be in an admirable position, with all the information and knowledge that accrues to the organisation, to act as a champion and, if not a champion, as a guardian of our seas.
We are an island nation, and our marine interests are many and varied. It will be no easy task for the new body to carry out its duty of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development by drawing together all the disparate strands of the marine sphere. It will also have to deal with other government departments, devolved Administrations, local authorities and local interest groups such as coastal partnerships, as well as taking into account existing and future commitments under EU and international directives and agreements. Its effectiveness is crucial, and I hope that the arrangements being made by the Government to transfer staff and resources will be sufficient and that the transitional arrangements will be as smooth as possible.
The committee thought that the marine policy statement should be produced by the Government as soon as possible, and the Government are aware of that and have agreed to produce it within two years of the Bill becoming law. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, I was interested to hear the Minister say that broad agreement had been reached between the devolved Assemblies. That was one of the worries that we had in the Joint Committee, because it was not clear to us what was happening in Scotland. If things have moved forward and general agreement has been reached, I can only welcome that. The marine policy statement, as the Minister said, filters down into local marine plans. I very much welcome the Government's acceptance of our recommendation concerning the need to ensure compatibility between marine and terrestrial plans.
The simplifying and speeding up of the licensing process has been looked for in the marine sphere for quite a number of years, and it is to be very much welcomed. The Government talk about the MMO being a one-stop shop but, as has been mentioned, we have the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which will deal with the larger developments such as port developments and the larger wind farms above 100 megawatts. It is important that the relationship between the Marine Management Organisation and the Infrastructure Planning Commission is as watertight as possible. I know that the Government are working on that, and perhaps the Minister can tell us a bit more about that. I am not certain how many wind farm developers will opt for sites below 100 megawatts, on the basis that the larger the site, the greater the subsidy. We will have to wait and see. The Severn barrage, which has been mentioned by noble Lords, would certainly come under the Infrastructure Planning Commission and not under this Bill.
Another activity that will need licences is dredging. Maintenance dredging is a vital aspect of our ports and harbours as well as the leisure industry, for boat yards, marinas et cetera. These previously unlicensed activities will be subject to requiring licences under the Bill before any decision is taken to exclude them. The anticipated increase in applications is still causing some concern, despite the one-year grace period proposed by the Government.
Another main plank of the Bill broadly welcomed by all concerns the establishment of marine conservation zones. I am pleased that the Government have acknowledged the need for these to be managed within a wider network of ecologically coherent marine protection areas rather than stand-alone sites. In the case of limited knowledge, some may need to be designated on the precautionary principle. All sites should be designated on best scientific evidence, but they will obviously vary in the degree of protection required. It is right and proper that a due balance is struck between conservation and the legitimate activities of users of the sea, whether from the commercial, energy or leisure sectors. The right of passage of commercial shipping must be taken into account, a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, and I know that the leisure boating organisations are also concerned. What will be the position, for instance, of heavily used waterways such as those separating the Isle of Wight from the mainland?
The Government were reluctant to follow the committee's recommendation to place a timetable in the Bill for setting up a network of conservation zones—a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone—but I welcome the inclusion of a duty on Ministers to report progress on developing the network of marine protection areas to Parliament in 2012 and at least every six years thereafter. This will be linked to a further duty, following on from another of our recommendations, on the nature conservation bodies to monitor and assess the condition of marine conservation zones.
I will not say anything in relation to fisheries; that has been well covered. The role of enforcement officers was another thing that taxed the Joint Committee. We were concerned about where these people would come from, and I am gratified to see that the work will be initially undertaken by existing British sea fishery officers, who will be transferred to the MMO. The Government seem to be aware of our concern and are taking a closer look at the training of these people.
The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, also mentioned the omission of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency from the draft Bill. This was another of our concerns, and we wondered whether it might be involved in enforcement. Although it is primarily concerned with safety at sea, there will be significant geographical areas of overlap in the spheres of operation, and I wonder if the Minister can shed more light on what progress, if any, has been made with regard to the role of the MCA.
I reiterate my support for this important Bill, which is probably in a much better state in view of the many consultations and the long gestation than many of the Bills that come before your Lordships' House. I look forward to an interesting Committee stage, during which, I hope, it will be possible to tease out more details of the Government's intentions. There is no doubting the enormity of the task that lies ahead of the Marine Management Organisation and, to a certain extent, other government departments. The former will have to locate some tricky tightropes. The Bill is, however, a most promising start to the better planning, conservation and management of our seas.
Lord Cavendish of Furness (Conservative)
My Lords, it is a pleasure and a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and, having heard him and the tributes that have been paid to him, I can see how well deserved they are along with the thanks owed by your Lordships to him and his colleagues who have done so much work.
This is an important Bill and one that in the round I support with enthusiasm. Even where I have misgivings, I think it is capable of improvement. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, I found the Minister's enthusiasm infectious. We can all share the sense of vision that he provided and I congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill. I am delighted that a number of my noble friends and other noble Lords have been critical in detail: they have mastery of which I am not capable and my approach will be rather broader-brush.
This measure will have a profound impact on my family, my family business and the lives of everyone who lives near me on the shores of Morecombe Bay in Cumbria, especially the farmers and the local fishing community. I therefore declare an interest, or rather a series of interests. I have a beneficial interest in several miles of estuary coast—the salt marshes, adjacent land and associated rivers. Ownership of this interest extends in certain areas and very unusually to what would normally be perceived as the seabed. The only other case of this in the country is my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.
A further interest ties in with land ownership: as a family company we have been involved with bringing farmers together, especially since the foot-and-mouth crisis, with a view to producing specialist food of high quality. There has been a considerable investment in production and marketing. A case in point would be the lambs which are finished on the salt marshes. They produce an unusual meat, which deservedly commands a premium. The process is supported by environmentalists and there are parallel initiatives with non-intensive beef on the immediate hinterland of the coast. It is thought good practice for such cattle to poach newly formed wetlands, to make them rougher still. There are a number of these initiatives which, although they do not amount to a great deal, give encouragement to farmers in what is still a very discouraged sector. Those interests could be damaged by this Bill but, if handled with intelligence and sensitivity, they need not be damaged.
For the next point I want to raise I am required also to declare an interest. I am involved with the work of the South Cumbria Rivers Trust, of which I am president. The trust warmly welcomes this Bill, especially in so far as it affects migratory salmonids and eels. The trust is mainly concerned with what happens in river and lake habitats. Among the river trusts throughout the country, a hugely valuable stock of knowledge and understanding has accumulated through their own work and through the partnerships they have built with the Environment Agency and others. I was pleased to hear my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury speak on that subject.
A great gap in knowledge occurs through not knowing what happens at sea. We feel that, as a consequence of this measure, that gap will be closed to the huge advantage of both river and still-water fisheries and associated wildlife. Among the numerous species whose exploitation will apparently be controlled under this measure are sand eels. If I am right about this, there is much to celebrate. Apart from the benefits to bird life, the restoration of sand-eel populations will give an enormous boost to migratory fish, especially to sea trout, which is one of the species worst affected by over-harvesting of sand eels. I would not claim to be an expert on the common or European eel. Suffice it to say that it is thought to be 90 per cent less common than it should be in our inland fisheries. It is not clear why that is the case, but again exploitation, and especially exploitation of the juvenile population, seems to be the chief suspect. These small, transparent creatures, sometimes known as glass eels, are regarded in some countries as a tremendous delicacy and therefore command huge prices.
I am sorry to go on about this minority fish, but at various stages of its life the eel is an important source of food for all sorts of species. Young eels are an important part of the brown trout's diet and adults have an even greater significance. It is believed that the whole cycle of predation has been distorted by the shortage of eels. For example, the otter will take an eel in preference to a game fish. If it cannot get an eel, the balance is upset. The protection that many experts believe will be offered to eels by the Bill may not appear significant on the face of it. However, when one starts to consider the downstream effects of restoring the balance of just one species, one sees that the benefits to the natural world increase exponentially to the point where it becomes highly significant.
While I am hugely encouraged by the advances offered by the Bill, they will count for nothing if glass eel exploitation is not controlled in the rivers. The Environment Agency is quiet on the matter, by which I mean its website has collapsed, as it very often does. I do not know what its current position is on this, but it used to offer very cheap licences to harvest these creatures. I believe that the Environment Agency has powers to act under Clause 7, but will it be compelled to act? It would be pointless if one part of the Bill was negated by the absence of action in another area.
My final personal interest stems from my company's efforts to control access to the foreshore in order to protect local fishermen when the gangs famously raided the cockle beds of Morecambe Bay, and our subsequent attempts to co-ordinate local fishermen into forming groups which could regain the initiative and fish responsibly and profitably thereafter. It has been slow and frustrating work. They are rather tribal and whenever we have a meeting they finish up by saying how much they hate each others' guts. I still hope to draw them together. It seems to me that the Bill makes it far easier for such groups to come together and for sustainable fisheries to result from that.
I am bound to say how deeply shocked local people were at how the local agencies of the state effectively turned a blind eye to the most monstrous abuses perpetrated by these foreign cockle gangs. Laws and regulations in respect of trespass, marine regulation, health and safety, conservation, trading standards and anti-social behaviour were all wantonly broken pretty much with impunity. Many local people felt that this contrasted with the officiousness with which authority bears down on the smallest and often unintended transgression on the part of ordinary, mainly law-abiding people. I say that because the success of this measure—and it deserves to be successful—will depend as much on the way in which it is applied as on what appears in the Bill. That point was made powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I say this with regret, but the clear perception is that the plethora of powerful agencies that impact on our lives in rural Britain gets daily less lovable, and therefore less loved, and worse, less trusted. The weaker and more vulnerable the citizen, the more harassed he feels.
Only last week, a man listed for me 32 different badged officials who are entitled to come on to his coastal farm in order to inspect one aspect or other of his very straightforward agricultural operation. It is to be hoped that this Bill will not spawn another army of public sector officials; it will be largely self-defeating if it does. Still, it is interesting to reflect that if the Bill had been in force in February 2004, the lives of 23 Chinese cockle pickers might have been spared. It is hugely significant.
Given the interests I have declared, I hardly think I would be believed if I were to say that I warmly welcome the part of the Bill dealing with coastal access. I am concerned that there has been a missed opportunity and that a continuous coastal walk is perhaps not what people most want or need. That is based on my own experience and on the evidence I have trawled through. It is my contention that with the very limited budget proposed more could be done for the majority of people who want more access to the coast and a better experience when they get there.
I acknowledge, of course, that the term "coastal access" has a very attractive ring to it, and that when people are asked what they would say to being offered vastly increased rights over other people's land, their reply is likely to be something of a no-brainer. The reality, of course, is that much of our coast is ugly, dangerous, inhospitable and virtually incapable of being maintained in a safe state. I looked through much of the pre-legislative scrutiny. Like my noble friend Lord Taylor, I do not know why it falls to Natural England to do the job set by the Bill. I should have thought that nothing in Natural England's predecessor's existence suggested that it was qualified to do it, and the new lot have hardly got their feet under the table. As a former local government person, and therefore prejudiced, I should have thought that local government had the experience, authority and, in large measure, the trust to do the job.
This should be a good moment to face up to the self-evident truth that man and the natural world are terribly ill-suited to each other's company. Perhaps that is the rationale of the Bill; both man and the natural world have legitimate but conflicting claims. There can be no "winner takes all" and therefore a balance has to be struck, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, pointed out. The measure might work but leaves out owners and those who derive their livelihood from the land. The notion that marathon walkers will help the economy through tourism is a canard. However, benefits could accrue to the economy if we stopped the war of attrition against farmers. Given the state of the pound, it is time to consider whether we could not become a little more self-sufficient as regards food production.
The overwhelming majority of people who will wish to walk the coast will be law-abiding and welcome. In 35 years, I cannot think of a single complaint made locally against the Ramblers; I certainly have none. I suppose that I could make the mild suggestion that the loveliness of the countryside is not enhanced by the much favoured synthetic primary colours that seem to be the uniform of many walkers. The problems in the country are twofold. The first lies with those who take advantage of the new rights to come on to private land with the intention of poaching, vandalising and stealing. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is not in his place because when I objected that crime was a threat during the right to roam debate, he made quite a joke of it. His light-hearted encouragement has borne fruit; rural crime is increasing. He is entitled to laugh if I lose a few thousand pounds worth of kit, but for a struggling farmer it is a very serious matter indeed, and it happens.
I have an even greater worry concerning the damage innocently inflicted on land by people who do not understand the dynamics of the country and leave gates open with catastrophic effects. Fire is another great danger. Asking for a robust appeal system, as has emerged in consultation and in the pre-legislative scrutiny, sounds too much like special pleading from me, and I shall leave that to others. I have tried, and so far failed, to find a continuous route over my stretch of the coast. The nearest I came to it, according to a back-of-envelope calculation, would result in there being little change from the whole £60 million allocated if it were to be a safe and happy experience. Others might do better. A sensible solution in my case would be to upgrade the old and absolutely beautiful coastal way a little way inland, enhancing, as I have already suggested, the access to various places which are fit for purpose on the coast. That would be much more cost-effective. However, I keep an open mind. The important thing is for these matters to be discussed. It would be disastrous if measures are imposed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who, sadly, is not in her place, spoke about risk. I agree with her that we have become far too risk averse. However, it is one thing for her to advocate risk and quite another for her risk to become my liability as she sinks in my local quicksands. I will be tremendously keen to pull her out if I am there. I have rescued at least six people from the quicksands or from being overwhelmed by the tide. Local fishermen have got lost in the fog and become disoriented. This very weekend, I watched a 9.4 metre tide—imagine where that comes to in your Lordships' House—which came in not when it was scheduled to, but as I have never seen it come in before. It has to be accepted that it is a dangerous environment.
Can the Minister tell the House what liabilities landowners and land users face as a result of the Bill? In the private sector we have to have a risk assessment merely to blow our noses. Has the Minister done his risk assessment and what was the result? Does he accept that lives will be endangered through this Bill?
I shall close on a positive note. The Bill offers a huge potential for good and I wish it safe passage.
Lord Burnett (Spokesperson in the Lords (Planning), Department for Communities and Local Government; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my interests declared in the Register. Also my law firm has a planning department and acts for a number of aggregates companies, some of which are marine aggregates companies.
Like many other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and his committee on the excellent work that they have done. This is a lengthy Bill and the committee had much work to do in a very short time. The Bill has been welcomed, although, as my noble friend Lord Greaves and others have said, there is much more to come by way of secondary legislation and guidance. Nevertheless, the Bill is intended to be a framework and we should endeavour to ensure that it is clear, certain and consistent. Policy objectives should be well thought out, evidence-based and co-ordinated.
The creation of the Marine Management Organisation to lead and to be responsible for the integrated and co-ordinated management of the UK seas is welcome. The MMO must be funded properly, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said, so that it attracts to itself individuals of high calibre and experience to fulfil its important roles. The fact that membership of the board of the MMO is to be drawn from a wide representative pool is also welcome. The burden of work during the transition period should not be underestimated. The MMO will have to deal with, for example, the marine aggregate licence renewals and the round 3 renewables programme, to name just two matters.
The development of a strategic marine planning system has broad support. The marine policy statement should be clear and robust in setting the policy environment, priorities and objectives against which plans should be developed. The plans are unlikely to be right first time and they should be capable of being amended on proper and cogent evidence and during the plan period. We cannot risk the awful interregnum that used to exist with local plans, when they were set in stone for the plan period, which meant that planning policy was stifled and any changes in the plan period were extremely difficult to process. Licences should have sufficient flexibility to take into account, for example, the different environments being worked, whether offshore or estuarial, and the different problems and risks involved.
The proposed designation of marine conservation zones is welcome. Proposals should be formed by an evidence-led approach and should take into account the socio-economic interests of the immediate area and the country as a whole. Noble Lords have referred to the difficult balance to be struck between planning and development. It is not easy. We certainly need to protect our environment, our seas and our estuaries. That is a high priority. We also need to ensure that producers can operate reasonably and responsibly.
Lord Berkeley (Labour)
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, on his excellent work with his committee. I declare an interest as a commissioner of the harbour authority in the port of Fowey in Cornwall. I welcome the little bit stuck at the end of the Bill—Schedule 20 —which, if enacted, will bring into force changes to the Harbours Act 1964 in respect of harbour revision orders. I have made several attempts to promote a Private Member's Bill to get that changed. Your Lordships have always been very kind and passed it, but it always got stuck at the other end. It is good to see that those provisions are now in this Bill and I trust they will stay there.
I shall focus on two specific issues: offshore energy and marine navigation aids. On offshore energy, the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, spoke about the planning issues, but it is worth reminding your Lordships that the government target is that 15 per cent of all our energy requirements by 2020 should come from renewables. At the moment, I think that the figure is 2 per cent. It looks as though much of the difference between those two figures must come from offshore energy.
Although welcoming the Bill, the energy producers are worried about whether the proposed marine planning framework will take full account of sustainable development needs. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, the word "sustainable" has a very wide definition. If the Marine Management Organisation is to act as a marine planning authority, it will need not only an effective remit, but a necessary level of energy expertise. The Minister has said that it will be the strategic delivery authority, which is good. To do that effectively, however, it needs to have teeth and expertise in energy. Will the MMO be fit to deliver? Clearly, it should have conservation expertise, but it also needs to have experience of energy and to be committed to tackling climate change and promoting sustainable development to that end. I do not think that any of these major offshore or less major offshore developments for energy will happen without that.
I am unclear about the relationship between the independent planning commission and the MMO. I trust that they will be able to draw on the same advice and expertise. Perhaps my noble friend could explain how the two fit together. The same issue cascades down to the national policy statement for renewable energy, which we debated at length under the Planning Bill, and the marine policy statement. I hope that they will have similar policies and that the marine policy statement's objectives will not be too vague. I suggest that they must provide enough certainty for companies to wish to invest and to have some comfort that they will be able to get a return from their investment. I look forward to comments from my noble friend on that issue.
I turn to something that is not in the Bill but which I think should be, although I have not worked out how; perhaps it could be added to the functions of the MMO in Chapter 2. This concerns lights and navigation aids to ships using UK ports. Such ships pay into the General Lighthouse Fund for the maintenance of the lights in the UK and, of course, they contribute to the cost of maintaining lights in the waters of the Republic of Ireland, which is an anomaly dating from when the Republic gained independence in the 1920s. However, under that principle, I do not see why ships coming into UK ports do not contribute to the maintenance of lights in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany or Norway. If our shipping lines are going to act as charitable institutions, why stop at Ireland?
I have raised this issue once or twice before in this House, as have other noble Lords. It is good that eventually the two Governments—the Government of the Republic and our Government—commissioned the Brooke report, which was published on
"The analysis of the impact of the current funding arrangements and the findings of this report suggest that the GLF"—
the General Lighthouse Fund, to which all ships coming into UK ports contribute—
"may be contributing around £8.5 million per annum to the funding of lights in the Republic".
The review concluded:
"The key next step is for the Governments concerned to enter into urgent negotiations ... with an aim of making early decisions and a lasting funding solution which meets these needs".
These urgent negotiations are welcome.
Several months later, I asked a Question about what the Government were doing to pursue those negotiations. My noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe replied on
Is there any legal or constitutional reason why the UK Government cannot give the Republic immediate notice that it will withdraw from the 1985 agreement and no longer wishes to subsidise navigation aids in the Republic? One solution is to amend the 1995 Merchant Shipping Act; I would be very pleased to put down some amendments if it was thought possible to achieve this. Also, before the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, discusses this in his contribution, let me say that any change to the subsidy would not require an end to the integrated aids-to-navigation services. It is a question of making sure that the contributions to Irish Lights, for example, reflect the proportion of lights in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
I hope that my noble friend can suggest how to take this forward. One idea that I had was to add it to Chapter 2 of this Bill. The MMO could be the authority to deliver some cost-effective and safe navigation aid services but with firm geographical limits. It is time that the Government became the champion for the UK economy in shipping and got on with this. It is worth mentioning that the General Lighthouse Fund is wonderful for the Government because the Government do not pay; they just receive the money and hand it out to other people, so there is no incentive to save money or be efficient. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend has to say on that issue.
To conclude, like other noble Lords I will be interested to see how the Planning Act and the Marine and Coastal Access Bill fit together in the policy statements and in relation to the independent planning commission and the MMO. It would be nice to see the MMO as a good one-stop shop. I worry about its relationship to the MCA, which has had some serious industrial relations problems recently. Do we need both? My noble friend Lord Hunt of Chesterton mentioned this. I hope that the MMO will have a more successful birth and growth into full adulthood than the MCA has had.
The Duke of Montrose (Shadow Minister, Scotland; Conservative)
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. When I hear him mention lights and signals, I immediately think that we are going to be dealing with railways, but we have just seen the width of his expertise and the areas in which he gets involved.
I welcome this Bill and the way in which it appears at the outset to lay the basic framework for a UK policy in marine matters. Events that I have come across do not seem to reinforce that proposal and I am a bit disappointed to think that the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, was perhaps kept in the dark as to what was going on in negotiations with the various devolved Administrations. I became aware that in June 2008 this legislation was the subject of a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Council, where government Ministers met with Ministers of all the devolved Administrations. The Joint Ministerial Council was originally set up under the Memorandum of Understanding with the Scottish Administration after the passing of the Scotland Act. This Bill covers many aspects that may have devolved implications and seems to be a prime candidate for this kind of consideration. It is bound to have an important and necessary part to play.
Can the Minister explain how this meeting came about? In the press release issued on
After these meetings, the press release from the Cabinet Office that came out on the day that I mentioned was, on the whole, carefully couched as to what actually took place in June. It said:
"The UK Government and the devolved Administrations have reached an agreement".
However, it went on to state:
"As part of the agreement more functions will be devolved to Scottish and Welsh Ministers".
This appears to exaggerate the role that the council is empowered to carry out. Unsurprisingly, the press release put out by the Scottish Government was considerably bolder. It said:
"Scotland is to take greater responsibility for its coastal waters which will now"—
and I emphasise the word "now"—
"stretch 200 nautical miles out to sea".
The Scottish press were quickly on to this and the news appeared in the headlines. This bears uncanny similarity to the issue of government policy appearing in the press before it has been brought before Parliament in Westminster.
The Scottish Government have put out for consultation a paper called Sustainable Seas for All, which quite properly talks of the Scottish territorial waters limit. Presumably, however, following on from the Joint Ministerial Council meeting, the area within the 200-mile limit is labelled as "Scotland's seas". This could be said to give the impression that there are no more UK competences left. Can the Minister tell the House whether the agreement of the Joint Ministerial Council is intended to be the settled policy in which we are supposed to discuss the Bill? I am all in favour of a rational distribution of powers. If there is not time today when the Minister winds up, perhaps when we are in Committee we will get a bit more detail on the rationale that is being followed in the proposal for a further devolution of powers and find out whether the Government have other areas in mind.
The Bill has many overlapping competences. Like other noble Lords, I have received many briefings from a wide variety of interests that are likely to be affected. I was interested to see in a short briefing that the CBI is counting on the Bill to provide a coherent regulatory framework. I am sure that that is what we all desire. It comes then as a bit of a shock to find that the response submitted by the non-departmental body—Seafish—to the joint committee carrying out the scrutiny of the draft Bill states:
"The Scottish Government is not going to participate in the development of the Policy Statement",
because they are looking for further devolution of conservation powers. That is presumably the marine policy statement, which, in the terms of the Bill, is said to extend to Scotland. Will the Minister say how he considers this attitude will strengthen the overall success of the conservation proposals? Does it mean that large sections of the Bill before the House are due to see a great many government amendments reducing the scope of the areas that apply to Scotland?
Apart from the issues arising over the coherence of the conservation measures, there are issues on how we hope to manage our relations in this area with the European Community. Noble Lords will be aware that at present, under a special EU derogation, the various parts of the United Kingdom have pretty comprehensive powers out to the six nautical miles boundary. Even as that legislation stands, the Bill recognises that the concept of marine conservation zones will have to extend beyond the six-mile limit to be meaningful. In the absence of that derogation, which is due to expire in 2012, any effective controls in our entire economic area to do with either fishing or conservation will first have to be drawn up and laid down by the European Community. Fishing or other boats with commercial interests from other EU countries will be bound by these regulations only. I was glad to hear the Minister describing this afternoon how plans for marine conservation zones are expected to follow and perhaps enlarge the European Community's areas of special conservation. That will be a start. However, if the degree of devolution that is envisaged takes place, does the Minister expect that there will still be a united UK approach in seeking the extension of powers in any extended areas that will be required should any part of the UK wish these to be put in place?
Perhaps a rather more serious issue, which, if it is not to appear in the Bill, will be absolutely key to securing the proper, just and fair economic and social consequences to which the Bill is committed to deliver in Clause 114—this is an area in which our fishermen's experiences have evoked bitter feelings—is the regulations for the enforcement of what the EU puts in place. If this is to follow the pattern currently practised for fishing regulation, all the efforts that we may put together here, whether to devolved Administrations or otherwise, will be just whistling in the wind and we will land up penalising our own citizens while others once again get away with whatever they want.
I have a serious question for the Government. Do they see themselves being able to continue working towards powers for a single policing force to operate in our own or even in all other European waters and to enforce the proposed regulations on all participants equally, or will we find that these moves towards the dividing of separate interests will dilute our effect within the Union? There are a great many other issues that we will face as we go further, but I look forward to following them up in the later stages of the Bill.
Lord Glentoran (Shadow Minister (the Olympics), Culture, Media & Sport; Conservative)
My Lords, I am speaking as the Opposition spokesman for Wales and for Northern Ireland and also, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned much earlier, as one of those ancient warriors who fought the battles of the CROW Act, with my noble friend Lady Byford, all those years ago.
I welcome the Bill, but in its present state, as other noble Lords have said, it is not fit for purpose. I assume that that is why it is starting in your Lordships' House. Where else to start a Bill of this importance and poor layout, which will give such opportunities if sorted out? There is no better place than your Lordships' House. I do not think that that would have happened at the other end, and I am certain that your Lordships will sort it out and send a very much better Bill back to the other place.
Briefly on Wales, the Bill confers significant powers on Welsh Ministers. For example, they will be responsible for the preparation of marine policy statements, acting jointly with all the other policy authorities or the Secretary of State, for the preparation of the marine plans for the Welsh inshore and offshore regions, for marine licensing, for the designation of marine conservation zones in the Welsh inshore region and for inshore fisheries in Wales. That is all well and good, but consistency and regularity of approach between the UK-wide authorities and the Welsh Ministers is of crucial importance in the context of the marine environment. The Bill, however, seems something of a mish-mash with, frankly, insufficient to help to ensure that consistency is achieved. This aspect will have to be significantly improved as it progresses through your Lordships' House.
My noble friend Lord Taylor has already referred to Part 9 and the provisions it contains for coastal access in England. With regard to Wales, Clause 300 seeks to confer new primary powers on the National Assembly for Wales to secure public access to coastal land. The memorandum prepared by the Welsh Assembly Government with regard to this provision points out that in Wales there is already a commitment to creating a new all-Wales coastal path by 2012. The memorandum also indicates that, given the fact that such a programme is already in place in Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government would wish to consider how provisions envisaged for England would need to be adapted to meet Welsh requirements and circumstances. I see the Gauls leading the Brits. We are also told in the memorandum that the Assembly Government foresee the need for future legislation in Wales to address the limitations inherent in the current devolved settlement and to improve flexibility to provide for a continuous route around the coast.
I would like to hear more in due course about the principles that will direct the Assembly Government in the creation of a Wales coastal path, and in particular the environmental considerations that it will be taking into account. The memorandum indicates that it would not be the intention of the Welsh Assembly Government that any measure should affect the position with regard to access to land used for purposes within the responsibility of the UK Government without the agreement of the relevant Secretary of State. That is particularly important, given the significant number of military establishments around the Welsh coast, to say nothing of such sites of economic significance as, for example, the LNG terminal in Pembrokeshire.
I can see nothing in the Bill, however, which formalises the requirement for the Secretary of State to be consulted. It is certainly the case that under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, the Secretary of State can issue a direction excluding or restricting public access in the interests of defence or national security. This power does not, however, extend to locations which may be of economic or other significance. These points need to be clarified and will no doubt be the subject of much further debate.
To summarise, I am pleased by the emergence of the Bill, but it must be regarded as work in progress that will no doubt be subject to significant further clarification and amendment in Committee. So much for Wales.
Northern Ireland virtually does not appear in the Bill, so far as I can see—and I searched quite hard. However, there are significant problems. Northern Ireland has a land border with the Irish Republic. Many noble Lords talked about the different NGBs and other groupings, such as local authorities, that will have to work with the MMO to make this work; but what about the international side? How wide is St George's Channel? I should know, but I do not. I would say, about 80 miles. So much for our 200-mile zone. What do we do? The Republic of Ireland is a foreign country, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has just pointed out, although we have many treaties with it. Scotland, too, is to some extent a foreign country in this regard, because it is doing its own thing. The devolved Government have the right to do what they want to with this Bill, which does not apply to Scotland. However, Northern Ireland is only 10 miles from the Mull of Kintyre. The power station in Belfast Lough is 20 miles from Wigtownshire. There are all sorts of problems to be sorted out about who is going to make decisions, where, and how.
I move on to one or two other points. Marine conservation and reserves are very close to my heart, because of the fishing industry in Northern Ireland and in Ireland as a whole. We must stop managing our seas by relying only on the licensing of the extraction of individual resources. We have to start managing the whole ecosystem. The key tool in the new management system that the marine Bill must establish is the marine reserve—and I mean the real marine reserve. Fisheries conservation that does not include highly protected reserves will certainly fail. For fishing to be sustainable, fish must have a chance to reproduce. By contrast, our current fisheries policy, as embodied in the EU's common fisheries policy, permits fishermen to fish spawning grounds, where fish collect, thus destroying their reproductive potential. Without creating marine reserves, we have no chance of restocking our seas.
At the moment, the UK Government are proposing to create only marine protected areas—MPAs—based on the EU habitats directive. These MPAs are not true marine reserves, because they will still permit fishing within their boundaries, and will not be linked into a network to produce an ecosystem that allows the fast reproduction of fish that we urgently need. The Government argue that the UK cannot establish no-take marine reserves, where fishing is prohibited, beyond the territorial limit of 12 nautical miles, because we have surrendered sovereignty over fisheries to the EU, and such reserves would violate the common fisheries policy. That is rubbish. Legal opinion obtained by MARINET asserts that this is untrue. So let us get on with putting in place proper fish conservation.
I will say a few words on access. I almost saw the ghost of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, hovering over the Minister, after nights and days sitting opposite him—whole nights and three-quarter nights. The first note I have made is that, as other noble Lords have said, the coast is dangerous. It is beautiful and tempting, but it is nature at its rawest in our part of the world, particularly on my side of the United Kingdom, the south-west corner. Almost every day we hear of disastrous accidents that might have been avoided, often involving experienced people. On Saturday, two experienced members of the BASC—experienced wildfowlers—nearly lost their lives, as my noble friend Lord Cavendish of Furness mentioned, because of the strange tide in Morecambe Bay. It came up half an hour early, and much faster than expected. Those people knew their business; they were experts who knew the mud flats.
If we are going to have access to a coastal path all round Britain, the Government must realise what the cost will be. The figure of £50 million over 10 years is peanuts, small change. No Government could start to put that together for £10 million a year over five years, or £5 million a year over 10 years, or whatever it is.
I spoke today to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. It is not political, but is spreading its wings to try to look after our beaches and protect careless holidaymakers. It is a charity and cannot be everywhere, so the number of deaths can be expected to increase. I read its literature every month. It is always rescuing, not big ships from the open sea, but people playing off beaches, such as canoeists and kids who have paddled out too far with their fathers. Having more people on unmanaged beaches would be disastrous. Access to our beaches has got to be managed. Maps must be made and proper rescue and emergency points set up, agreed together by the coastguard, the MMO and the RNLI. A number of detailed measures are required that will cost money every day of the year. Let no one go into this beautiful game of opening up our coasts to the public thinking that nothing will happen. There will be more accidents, because coasts are dangerous.
In Cornwall, two friends of my son's, who knew the countryside well, went to a party. My son got left behind while the others ran on. A bit of cliff had given way and one of the boys went over and was killed. That was one evening at a children's party; they were teenagers. It just happens, that is the way it is. The coast is a dangerous place and let us not pretend otherwise. Dogs, too, frequently run over cliffs; chasing rabbits or doing something similar. If they are not on a lead, they will go over a cliff. These are small points about access to the countryside.
We have heard from my noble friend about the more serious matter of dealing with landowners, to make sure that they do not suffer. My last appeal relates to the lack of an appeals system in the Bill. I hope that, by the time we have finished, we will have a robust appeals system for all those concerned with access to the coast.
Lord Tyler (Spokesperson in the Lords, Ministry of Justice; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I do not envy the Minister having to respond to this debate, because, as usual in your Lordships' House, not only has a great deal of expertise been displayed, but also a great deal of personal commitment. I share that, because the sea is somewhere in my blood. I suspect that it is in the blood of many Members of this House. I learnt to swim and sail soon after I learnt to talk and walk: fortunately, it was a bit later.
More significantly, I spent 14 years representing Cornish constituencies, which have some of the most dramatic, fruitful and admired coastlines in the United Kingdom. Visitors from all over Europe and further afield come to the south-west to look at our coastline. I am also a frequent and enthusiastic walker on the South West Coast Path, to which reference has been made this afternoon—some 630 miles of coastal path, which, unlike in many other parts of the country, is well established, and indicates the scope of what one is talking about when one refers to the coastline of the United Kingdom. My wife and I were among the first to take part in a charity walk last year organised by the excellent regional newspaper the Western Morning News, which demonstrated the success of the product of the National Trust's Enterprise Neptune, which was significantly and enthusiastically endorsed in 1965 and has rolled out since. I mentioned that to make a serious point: the South West Coast Path has a great many informal arrangements that work admirably because the local community bought into them. The community own it and feels it is theirs. We all welcome this legislation, but it is important that we are careful not to impose a new statutory regime that discourages people from thinking that it is their coastal path. I shall return to the access issue later.
The Bill seeks to create a managed balance between potentially conflicting interests: short term versus long term; human interests versus the habitat for other species; visitors versus residents. It is an attempt at managed compromise. Noble Lords have asked where the socioeconomic issues come in to it. We must not forget them because we are dealing with people as well as the natural habitat. Coastal communities, and not just those in the south-west, suffer considerable problems from a surfeit of second homes and ghost villages in winter. They are not in the Bill, but they are relevant to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. If local working families cannot afford to live near the coast, they cannot provide the RNLI volunteers, the coastguard or the sort of people we will look to for the new regimes to run the new discipline that we are looking forward to in the Bill of trying to marry together the interests of the economy and the environment.
There have been many references to the CROW Act, but we need to learn from experience with other legislation; for example, the Commons Act and the newly enacted Planning Act. There are difficult issues, and the interrelationship between pieces of legislation is as important as the legislation itself. In that respect, I draw particular attention to the contribution made by the Joint Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. It did an enormous amount of valuable work. I have been going through the 96 recommendations, ticking off those where the Government have responded in the Bill and those that have been referred to by noble Lords but have not yet been dealt with. That will be an important checklist.
Part 1 is the MMO section. As many noble Lords have said, there is concern about what sustainable development means in terms of this critical responsibility of the MMO. What is its duty and who will decide if it is delivering within that concept? Who is going to make sure that the robust policies that the MMO is going to have to pursue are being properly fulfilled? Where is the parliamentary scrutiny? That was another point made by the Joint Committee. The contributions of a number of noble Lords on that issue were particularly significant, but the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, put his finger on the difficulty, the complexity and the interrelationship of all the species that operate in sensitive ways in the ecosystem of our coastline and our sea immediately off the coast. A difficult responsibility will be laid on the MMO, and I worry about the extent that we, as parliamentarians, will be able to monitor what it is doing, particularly during the transitional phase, to which reference was made by a number of noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said that he is not clear whether the MMO is to be a champion that will campaign or whether that is a ministerial role. That is not clear at the moment, and I hope the Minister will come back to that. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, suggested that there will be a need for expertise on renewable energy within the MMO. That is a significant issue, and when it is added on, we move on to other areas of concern to do with climate change.
I always learn something in a debate in your Lordships' House—that was not always my experience at the other end of the building—and I was fascinated to hear of the debate in 1853 about the Gulf Stream referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton—I must get the right Lord Hunt. That debate may not have examined the issue that I, living down in the far wild west of the United Kingdom, worry about because I have been told that the Gulf Stream may reverse so that global warming will make it colder to live in Cornwall. That is extremely worrying. If that was dealt with in 1853, that was well ahead of our current science.
Considerable concern has been expressed about the timescale for marine policy statements. One noble Lord suggested that the Minister previously said that he expects them within two years. That will be quite an achievement. What will the process of consultation and monitoring be if it is to be as speedy as that? Until it is there, it will be extremely difficult to see how the marine plan new developments will take place and how they will be compatible with and march alongside the terrestrial planning development schemes coming forward from planning authorities and the IPC. That has been a familiar cause for concern this afternoon.
Several noble Lords, including the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, in relation to Scotland, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in the case of Northern Ireland and my noble friend Lord Livsey in the case of Wales, mentioned that the interrelationship of marine policy statement development and the devolved organisations and Assemblies will be extremely difficult to achieve in that timeframe, let alone the interrelationship with the Republic of Ireland, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said.
I regard marine conservation zones as most critical in this part of the Bill. I hope the Minister will be able to indicate a timescale. As I understand it, by 2012 we will have all sorts of international obligations within the European Union and beyond, and therefore we need to have in place a pretty substantial network of MCZs by then. Building in the national visual experience to which the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, referred and the subsidiarity, the local input, during that process will be extremely difficult to achieve. I note that the CPRE suggests that the existing criteria for MCZs need to take into account a wider concept of the seascape—its word—of areas of sea and contiguous coastline and assorted land and tidal features on grounds of natural beauty and cultural, geological or archaeological heritage. The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, about the heritage was very fair on that because it is difficult to divorce those kinds of issues from the natural heritage. For example, the Jurassic Coast of Devon and Cornwall, the national parks and the world heritage sites all have a human element. Indeed, on the coastline of Cornwall, we still have some amazing relics of our great industrial revolution, which was long before the English one. The English were dancing about in woad when we were getting on with the business of developing tin mining. There will be issues that go beyond the present scope of the Bill, and I would like reassurance that they will be dealt with.
Renewable energy has come up constantly in this debate. It is extremely topical. Wave hubs—there is a wave hub experiment taking place off the coast of Cornwall—the Severn barrage or the reef project, which may be much more advantageous from an environmental point of view as well as from an economic point of view, and major offshore wind farms are being suggested. I took very seriously the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty—I am sorry he is not in his place—about the difficulties that might come from Part 6, which deals with inshore fisheries and conservation districts and authorities. There will be a tricky relationship—I think the noble Lord described it as a jurisdiction problem—in that context. It will be extremely important to make sure that there is good input from local fishing communities. Having represented them in the past, they are not usually backward in coming forward with their views. There must be the right machinery to make sure that their input is taken seriously by the new IFCAs.
Just in passing, it may have been the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who said that she thought the enforcement provisions in Part 8 did not look as substantial as they should be. We will learn from other legislation, particularly from experience in other forms of conservation and environmental legislation, what can be effective. Certainly, the reference to "intentional" damage sounds to me a bit weak. She suggested, in common with Natural England, that the word "reckless" would be a more effective way on which to base enforcement. There must be experience there that we can take advantage of.
On Part 9, we now reach the vital issue of coastal access. I have not heard repeated in the House this afternoon, the extremely important point made by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee of the other place,
"We are uneasy that the Bill places so much emphasis on simply trusting Natural England to 'get it right'"—
in terms of determining the alignment of the route and extent of spreading room—and that,
"The lack of a formal appeal process is a fundamental weakness of the Bill".
I know from my experience of that place that they will not let go on that point, so we might as well try to get it right at this end of the Bill before goes there. Otherwise, with a Government majority on that Select Committee, they will be determined that that point is not lost. I hope the Minister will take that on board. There will be important roles to play for local, elected representatives. Again, a number of noble Lords this afternoon have referred to the fact that there is expertise in our local authorities, particularly in the top tier ones. Cornwall is now going to be a unitary authority. There are going to be people there, not only in touch with local opinion on these issues, but with a lot of experience. If we just sweep that away and say that the quangos will do the work, the legislation will not work. It will not be bought into by the local communities that are most affected.
How soon can we expect definitive maps of the coastal access issues to be defined and agreed? Will there be government funding? We know from our experience from the CROW Act, and before that from the ways in which local authorities were given responsibility for public rights of way and bridleways, that they had a very significant responsibility but not the funds to fulfil that responsibility. That, too, seems to be an extremely important issue. Maintaining the coastal footpaths, as we have discovered with the South West Coast Path, can be an expensive business and needs to be constantly reviewed.
At the tail of his contribution, the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, was talking about the advantages and disadvantages of taking the marine section away from the coastal access section. There are advantages and disadvantages. I think we have got to live with the fact that they are together. We have got to get on with it. There is some real advantage in taking a comprehensive view of what is happening along our coastline, from both a human point of view and from the point of view of those other species with which we share it. That, in a way, is the logic for this combined Bill.
That this House is ideally placed rigorously to scrutinise a Bill of this sort, has been referred to. The devil will be in the detail. My noble friend Lord Greaves made that point at the outset. I like to think not of the devil being so much in the detail, but of sea monsters, like those who used to grace the medieval charts. There may well be unexpected conflicts. There will be some confusion. There are hidden threats in this Bill, where there are conflicts of interest. Simply because it does not raise great issues of political dogma does not mean that we need not take it very seriously indeed. As others will know, sometimes it is the Bills that do not have great political divides across this House or the other place that need even more attention; for example, the Child Support Agency was not controversial politically, but it has caused a great deal of problems since its introduction.
As with the CROW Act, the Planning Act and the Commons Act, we must do our very best to identify these detailed problem areas and expose them to a full scrutiny in the way that your Lordships' House does so well. Before the Bill finds its way down the corridor to the innocent, naïve mariners in the other place, who, lost without party dogma, may find it rather difficult to navigate this legislation.
Earl Cathcart (Conservative)
My Lords, I should declare that I have been a member of the BASC, the Salmon and Trout Association and the Game Conservancy Trust among others and I am a former councillor. This has been an excellent debate. I should like to thank all those who have contributed. It is good to see that nearly half the contributions have come from these Benches. This is the second Bill this year that I have been involved in that has had the benefit of pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee. I should like to add my voice to the many to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and his committee on their excellent report.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Geddes that it would have been preferable, if not courteous, to have heard the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, higher up in the pecking order. What he had to say was of great interest to this House. I was particularly interested in what he had to say about coastal access, but I will come back to that later.
As my noble friend Lord Taylor has said, the Bill is extremely thin on detail, in places deficient. Indeed, one could go further and say that it appears to give the fewest possible restrictions on anything the Government might choose to do in future, or on anybody who might be given the delegated powers. The Government have declared their intention to make everything clear in a blizzard of orders, guidance and memoranda of understanding, which will follow at some unspecified date in the future. This suggests to me that, after years of talking about their commitment to marine conservation, the Government still do not know the answers. Are they really expecting this House to give them these enormous powers without some better idea of what they intend to do with them? We will have to tease out their intentions in Committee. All of us, on all sides of the House, are desperately keen for a sensible marine policy that will promote sustainable development over all UK waters. However, there has been precious little indication that the Government are yet in a position to deliver that.
As has become clear in this debate, so much of the Bill is unclear. We will have a very full Committee stage seeking answers to our many questions.
There are fundamental questions about the role of the Marine Management Organisation. Two government organisations have likened it to a "champion of the UK seas"—a powerful, scientifically rigorous body that could make a real difference—or possibly just as one more public body, well intentioned but powerless to make headway against the myriad special interests that dominate this sector. Surely we already have enough quangos involved in this area.
At the moment, the outcome rests entirely on the guidance that the Secretary of State may, or may not, produce. That is unacceptable. There need to be strong and clear duties in the Bill. The promotion of sustainable development needs to be the overarching duty and needs to be clearly defined. The MMO's relationship with European, international and other UK bodies needs to be clarified. The Joint Committee report listed a bewildering array of bodies where there will be unclear and overlapping remits. If the Minister is unable to say how he intends the system to work, how can he expect effective memorandums of understanding to be drawn up?
The relationship with the Infrastructure Planning Committee was touched on when the Planning Act proceeded through this House last Session. We will certainly return to this in Committee. I was particularly interested in the contribution of my noble friend Lady Byford when she highlighted the possible conflict of this Bill with other legislation, namely the Planning and Energy Acts, and which should prevail. However, where it is clear that the MMO is the boss, safeguards must be written in to ensure a proper system of consultation. The MMO must also be suitably advised. Does the Minister intend to ensure that there are sufficient resources for a scientific advisory panel?
Consultation and clear relationships will also be needed when it comes to the devolved powers. It would be ridiculous for the MMO to establish marine policy up to the border with Scotland, only for an entirely inconsistent policy to be continued from there on, as ably argued by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose. I have no doubt that these devolved matters will be discussed at length at later stages of the Bill. There is a need for compatibility and co-operation with the devolved powers, not only with Scotland but also with Wales, as argued by my noble friend Lord Glentoran, whose future contributions will also be invaluable when it comes to Ireland.
The marine planning statements are another part of the Bill where detailed questions need to be asked. I understand that the Minister was seeking to have as much consistency as possible between this Bill and the Planning Act, in that there will be parliamentary scrutiny of the statements, which is reassuring. However, questions remain over the timetable of the statements. We hope that will happen as soon as possible as so many other provisions appear to hang on them. Once again, there is a remarkable lack of clarity as to their compatibility with the devolved equivalents.
On marine plans, we shall be looking carefully to ensure that they cover the entirety of the UK's seas, not just one or two experimental plans. There appears to be no timetable for the production of these plans. The compatibility between the plans and their neighbours, both across national and local boundaries, will be critical. There seems to be no exploration of the interaction between the various neighbourhood plans, both marine and land-based.
On marine conservation zones, once again there is no clarity on whether there will be management plans or, if there is a management structure, who will designate them, and on what grounds. Will it be the MMO or another body? If another body, will it have the necessary marine scientific expertise, and how on earth will the enormous overlaps of responsibility be handled? What will be the MMO's role? How long will it take before the zones are set up, and will the Government set up a scheme once and for all, or will the system be constantly added to?
The body that is given the responsibility for designating these zones has a very difficult task ahead of it. My noble friend Lord Geddes talked about the practicalities of balancing the needs of shipping with the aims of protective zones and the need actively to mark the zone boundaries. New restrictions are never popular and I hope that there will be a suitable system of consultation and stakeholder involvement to ensure that those who use the sea are able to contribute to the protection of it, from anglers to sailors and from fishermen to commerce. My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury talked of the need for zones to protect sand eels and their valuable role in the maritime food chain, to name but one interested party. Decisions must clearly be made on proper scientific evidence.
It is even unclear what zones are being contemplated. Are we talking about a network of no-take zones seeking to protect fish stocks, flora and fauna and aggregates? A network is certainly needed and we are glad to see it is one of the few things specifically referred to in the legislation. But why are we not looking at setting up a flexible and dynamic system of zones that can encompass all sorts of sites worthy of all sorts of protection, in addition to a network? Here I have in mind zones set up to protect our maritime heritage, whether of cultural, historical or architectural interest, as so ably argued by my noble friend Lady Hooper.
These zones will certainly need periodic review, not just on a national level, with the appropriate parliamentary scrutiny, but also on a local level. There must be allowance for the adjustment of zones that are not achieving what they were intended to, for small adjustments or even for the decision that the matter needing to be conserved is out of danger and restrictions can be limited or lifted.
There is also a great deal of confusion over where the zones will or can be set out. It is clear from the Scottish Parliament's briefings that it considers anything up to 200 miles fair game, but this confidence does not seem to be shared by the Government. Will the Minister explain the legal powers that the UK Government have to impose restrictions in the seas between six and 12 miles and between 12 and 200 miles? How will the zone restrictions be enforced? Will they be subjected to a strategic environmental assessment?
Finally, I should like to turn to coastal access. As my noble friend Lord Taylor said, we support the principle. Our concern is, once again, that of feasibility. The implementation of the CROW Act has given us a good idea of some dangers and pitfalls that need to be avoided. For example, the lack of proper consultation in establishing the CROW Act led to numerous appeals—more than 3,000, I believe—with all the associated cost and delay. It is extraordinary that the Government have decided that the solution is to abolish the right of appeal.
We would like to ensure a proper consultation and the statutory involvement of local authorities. This would ensure that the number of appeals is greatly reduced. Disputes will always happen unless a procedure is established whereby a fair balance is struck between private and public interests. I hope that my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu will feel able to contribute to the Committee stage. He demonstrates his ability to balance having 100,000 visitors to his lovely estate with managing its magical wildlife habitat. In the same vein, I am sure that the experience of my noble friend Lord Cavendish in Morecambe Bay, and with sand eels, will bring a valuable contribution to this Bill at a later stage.
There are many possible points of dispute. The route of the path is only one, although it will be one of the trickiest. There is also the need to avoid certain sites because of danger to the public, such as MoD land, industrial sites, mudflats and salt marshes, or because of damage to the environment such as nature reserves, or because of private rights, such as people's gardens or parks—an already contentious area, especially when you consider spreading them. Will the path, or alternative paths, be mapped clearly, showing the spreading room?
The use of the path has already been questioned. Will it be footpath only? Will horse use be voluntary or compulsory on parts of the path? Will that make those parts of the path a bridleway, with all the accompanying problems of motorbikes, quad bikes and 4x4s? What about dogs?
There are no doubt many other matters, but I will stop there. I have tried to highlight some of the issues that we think will need change or clarification. There are many that I have not had time to touch on. No doubt, they will all be discussed in Committee. I look forward to the Minister's response.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Labour)
My Lords, like the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, and the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, let me say that this has been a very good debate. The many matters that have been raised will ensure that the Committee stage is lively, interesting and no doubt informative. Noble Lords welcomed the Bill in general but went on to find aspects they asked questions about or disagreed with; that is entirely fair and consistent with the scrutiny of legislation in your Lordships' House. However, I think that ultimately there is consensus about the importance of the Bill as a whole and about its importance in protecting the marine environment and allowing its rich resources to be used effectively and to the great benefit of the people of this country. My noble friend Lord Davies of Coity put it very well indeed.
The noble Lords, Lord Taylor and Lord Geddes, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and other noble Lords were critical of what is now described as a framework Bill. It is a very long Bill to be thus described, although I readily accept that there is much to be done to fill in some of the questions about the guidance and orders that will follow it. There are two ways of looking at this: I consider that it has the necessary flexibility to allow for changing circumstances and to gain experience. The first point that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, made was that it had taken a long time for the Bill to come before Parliament. The time that it has taken has allowed it to become even better ordered than it would have been, but marine Bills do not come before Parliament very often. That is one reason why one is justified in having certain flexibility in a framework Bill to allow the legislation some flexibility for future development. The orders that will come from the Bill will themselves be subject to scrutiny. I have no doubt that the amendments that we will discuss in Committee and on Report will tease out some matters about which noble Lords want to be informed.
I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, not only for his excellent contribution to our debate but for the work of the Joint Committee and its members. I noted his comments on the short time allowed. All I can say is that the quality of the committee's work has not been dimmed because of the shortness of the time in which it had to operate. I am extremely grateful to him and to the members of the committee for their work.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred to something I am completely unaware of—a departmental turf war in Whitehall. I have the great honour to be a Minister in both the Department of Energy and Climate Change and in Defra, and, although the Bill is sponsored by Defra, the matters that it covers concern the Government as a whole. Of course, there will be some trade-off and tension, but we think that this model will enable us to get the correct balance, which is very important.
We heard from my noble friend Lord Whitty and the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, about one of the Government's aims in relation to climate change—increasing the use of renewables—in which marine, wave and offshore wind have a part to play. That must be right; we have a very challenging target. Equally, we want to do that in a way that will not damage the environment. The establishment of the Marine Management Organisation and the relationship that it has with the IPC and national policy statements gives us the best way to deal with that essential balance. The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, who is not in his place, talked about many of the pressures that one faces with the marine environment. He was absolutely right to do so.
I come to the Marine Management Organisation. My noble friend Lord Hunt set this debate the tremendous challenge of competing with the debate that led to the establishment of the Met Office. Whether or not the MMO will achieve the status and excellence of the Met, our debates will surely lay a good foundation. We can only hope. I know that there is great interest in the role and objectives of the MMO. I have no doubt that, on our first day in Committee, we will devote considerable time to discussing that. What is its role? Is it a champion of the seas, as some noble Lords asked? We see the Marine Management Organisation as the Government's strategic delivery body in the marine area, required to have regard to all aspects of sustainable development in carrying out its responsibilities. Of course, the Government must set the strategy, but within that the MMO itself will have a hugely important role to play in informing the strategy and in the responsibilities that are laid down in the Bill.
I know that the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, and others pressed the Government to define "sustainable development" in the Bill. Noble Lords who have taken part in debating other Bills that have recently been through your Lordships' House will know that the Government are rather resistant to doing so. This is not because sustainable development is not important. What we understand by sustainable development is a dynamic concept. One of the risks of putting too tight a definition in the Bill is that we may exclude many important matters. I should not pray the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, in aid, because he is not here, but he made a telling point about the need for a degree of flexibility.
I have no doubt that we will discuss the status and staffing of the MMO in Committee. On staffing and terms and conditions, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that no decisions have yet been reached, but she will understand that those are challenging issues. They are being faced by my department and the new Department of Energy and Climate Change. This always occurs when structural change takes place. On the question of status, I will not be drawn by my noble friend on the grading of the director of this organisation, but I understand his point about the need for seniority and status. I also understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, about the calibre and expertise of the people whom we wish to be board members. The noble Lord mentioned scientific expertise; a dose of common sense would also not go amiss. Clearly, we want the highest calibre of people around the board table, whether they are executives or non-executives. I say to my noble friend Lord Hunt that data are absolutely vital.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and other noble Lords asked about the relationship between the Marine Management Organisation and other bodies. I will come shortly to the Infrastructure Planning Commission. I recognise that, probably, of all the relationships, that is of most interest to many noble Lords. The noble Baroness is right: the MMO will have to deal with other delivery bodies and regulators to reduce the risk of overlapping functions or gaps in regulatory control. We are working on that to clarify roles and responsibilities. We intend to issue memoranda of understanding to ensure that the regulatory framework works effectively. This is not an untypical approach; memoranda of understanding work in other sectors. I have no reason to think that they will not work in this sector as well.
As for the Infrastructure Planning Commission—many of us debated this during proceedings on the Energy Bill—the Marine and Coastal Access Bill and the Planning Act 2008 have been developed in parallel. We expect and intend that the roles of the Marine Management Organisation and the Infrastructure Planning Commission will be complementary. The MMO will license most projects and developments in English territorial and UK offshore waters.
The Infrastructure Planning Commission will consider applications for "nationally significant" infrastructure projects, which means in the marine area the largest ports and renewable energy installations that will generate more than 100 megawatts of power. When the Infrastructure Planning Commission is the consenting authority, the Marine Management Organisation will lend its expertise to the Infrastructure Planning Commission and will act in a close advisory role on the marine aspects of each project. After, and if, consent has been given, the Marine Management Organisation will monitor and enforce consent conditions.
As noble Lords will know, and as I said in my opening remarks, we have instituted a requirement on policy authorities to review periodically the marine policy statement. We have made the marine policy statement subject to a similar parliamentary process as the national policy statement, and marine planning organisations are under an obligation to do what they can to ensure compatibility. Clearly, we have to ensure that there is consistency between the two statements. It would be nonsense, illogical and impossible for people working or wishing to invest, or concerned about the environment in this marine area, if there were not consistency.
Marine plans are another important area. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that decisions on marine plans have to be taken in accordance with marine policy documents unless relevant considerations apply. Essentially that means that there is a long established concept drawn for terrestrial planning that allows for new scientific data and knowledge, specific local characteristics or a new or unforeseen circumstance not envisaged when plans or the policy statement is drawn up to be considered. I can reassure the noble Baroness that we would not expect diversion from an MPS or a plan to be undertaken lightly. Decision-makers, for example, would be required to set out reasons for departing from a plan. Obviously, we will be issuing guidance to decision-makers on that very important matter.
On the question of marine heritage and archaeology, I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, made a very important point. I very much look forward to debating that with her in Committee.
We have had a very interesting discussion about the fishing industry. I will perhaps come on to one or two points later. We hope that the impact of marine planning will offer the fishing industry, as well as other marine users, the chance to have their say about how the seas should be managed. We hope that planning will bring efficiencies for the port industry by allowing stakeholders from all sectors and government departments to come together and ensure that at the earliest possible stage a discussion on port activities and developments is considered alongside other planned developments. It should be the same for the renewables industry.
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, and my noble friend Lord Whitty made some very telling points about the tragedy of the cockle fishers, the fact that we continually need to learn from that, and the hope and expectation that the legislation being brought forward today will enable us to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, was concerned about shipping. We recognise that the points he raised are very important and we will ensure that issues around shipping will be fully reflected in the marine policy statement and marine plans. We do not anticipate the establishment of a network of marine conservation zones as having any significant impact on shipping lanes.
The noble Lord, Lord Burnett, asked me about changing plans during the planned period. I refer him to Clause 50, which says that marine plans may be amended at any time using the same process as originally used to prepare the plan. As I have said, decision-makers also have the flexibility to depart from the provisions in the marine plans if relevant considerations apply.
On the question of nature conservation and the criteria for the designation of marine conservation zones, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Hamwee, made some very important points. Let me come to the issue of social and economic consequences. The reason it is highlighted in the Bill—and draft guidance made available this summer is being updated on that matter with a view to publication in the new year—is that taking account of socio-economic issues will ensure that we minimise the impact on social and economic opportunities in the marine environment while meeting our conservation priorities. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, put it well when she talked about changing societal views and the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, spoke of the balancing act to be made. I do not think it should excite deep concern in noble Lords that those factors are mentioned in the legislation. It is a perfectly legitimate matter to be considered as part of these arrangements.
As for the conservation objectives set for marine conservation zones, I can let the noble Baroness, Lady Young, know that the objectives will be set in the designation orders for the zones. The designating authorities will have the power to assign those zones and they must exercise that power to contribute to the achievement of an ecologically coherent network across the UK. Designating authorities will report on progress towards achieving a network in 2012 and every six years afterwards.
I recognise that we will have an interesting debate when we come to enforcement. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that the general offence of deliberate damage to marine conservation zones is intended to capture acts of vandalism that would not be caught by other enforcement provisions. Reckless damage or disturbance would be captured through the creation and enforcement of targeted by-laws. We think that will provide greater clarity for all sea-users.
Coming back to 2012—I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, raised that issue—we are well aware of our commitment through the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the Convention on Biological Diversity to contribute to a global system of marine protected area networks by 2012. We think that the duty of the Secretary of State to report by then on progress towards that is entirely consistent with that requirement.
Clearly, noble Lords are concerned about the depletion of fisheries and the need for conservation. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, and the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, among other noble Lords, raised such questions. I know that some groups have requested that the marine conservation zone mechanism should be used as a fisheries management tool and as a way of creating large no-take zones in order to promote the recovery of fish stocks. I understand that we will be discussing that more fully, but our intention is to designate marine conservation zones for conservation purposes and not for fisheries management. We think that the level of protection for a marine conservation zone will depend on the site-specific conservation objective. There should be no presumption that designation of a marine conservation zone will result in closure to fisheries.
The Earl of Shrewsbury (Conservative)
My Lords, let me clear my mind on this. The marine conservation zones are presumably outside the 12-mile limit and are way out at sea in the 200-mile limit, and so on. Is that the correct way to think about it?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Labour)
My Lords, I am not sure that it is but, rather than getting myself into too deep water, I shall write to the noble Earl. I am not at all sure that he has got that right. Certainly, the important point is that it would be wrong to presume that the designation of a marine conservation zone will result in closure to fisheries, notwithstanding the general concern that I share with noble Lords about the whole question of fish and conservation, which is crucial in terms both of sustainability and the environment and of the health of the fisheries industry.
My noble friend Lord Whitty made a number of important points, which I very much agree with, about the management of inshore fisheries and the new inshore fisheries conservation authorities. Before coming on to talk about coastal access and devolution, which are two important matters, I say to my noble friend Lord Berkeley that talks are continuing between this Government and the Irish Government on the extraordinarily important matter that he mentioned. As far as the question of unilateral action is concerned, I would hesitate in encouraging us to go down that route. My noble friend knew what I was going to say. We enjoy the benefit of an integrated and safe service of aids to navigation. Clearly, we wish to enjoy the strongest relationship possible with the Irish Government, so it is sensible to allow these interesting discussions to continue, rather than threatening unilateral action within the confines of the Bill.
Coastal access is very important and, in general, noble Lords support it. I believe it to be an important and worthwhile measure. I understand that there are some serious points that noble Lords will wish to debate. My experience of coastal paths is, like others', with the south-west path, which I have very much enjoyed walking on in the noble Lord's former constituency. Frankly, it is absolutely magnificent; it is wonderful that so many people are allowed access to that wonderful coastline. The path is integrated with public transport, although one sometimes has to walk a long way inland to find the buses. None the less, it does work, and it is the south-west that I tend to think of when I think of the coastal pathway. I understand the points raised by noble Lords that there are different conditions in different parts of the country. One has to be careful when walking around some parts of that path route.
Why is Natural England to be given the leadership role? Why can it not be left to local authorities? Last week, in the Queen's Speech debate, we were pressing the case for local authorities to be given absolute freedom. On Friday, in relation to waste, noble Lords wished to dictate to local government every single action that it was to take. We tend to move this way and that when it comes to the role of local authorities. It is necessary for there to be national leadership and consistency. That is why we believe that the prime duty must be placed on Natural England. I entirely accept that of course individual local authorities also have a critical role to play. This will not work effectively unless local authorities are fully involved. I very much took the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and other noble Lords about the need for local ownership. I fully reassure noble Lords that we expect and will require local authorities to be important partners in this process. Indeed, on the point raised by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, of how you ensure that walkers should gain access to and from the coastal path, I would say that not only landowners but local authorities play a vital role.
I understand the point about the protection of wildlife. As under the CROW Act, there will be flexibility and powers for Natural England to decide on any exclusions or restrictions. I also understand the concern about risks. I hope that we will not become such a risk-averse society that we are not prepared for people to walk along the coastal path. For landowners, there is a question of liability and I understand their concerns. The Bill proposes that the provision in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to limit liability related to natural features should be carried into the coastal provisions. We recognise the significance of non-natural features on the coast and we will be proposing to limit liability relating to non-natural features of the landscape as well. I hope that that will provide some reassurance.
Many noble Lords feel strongly about the right of appeal. Mention has been made of the appeal system that has been used in relation to CROW in the determination of more than 3,000 appeals. Of course, there are differences. The CROW appeal system was based on a matter of fact—whether the land was mountain, moor, heath or down—whereas the decisions of Natural England about proposing a route under this Bill are more about the application of policy to facts on the ground. We believe that the system of consultation and representations in the Bill, together with other safeguards, get to the heart of the requirement to strike a fair balance between the interests of the public and the interests of those with a stake in the land. I refer noble Lords to Clause 92, which sets out how representations can be made to the Secretary of State. I am aware, however, that we will be coming back to that point in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, asked about costs. He will have seen the projected figures in relation to coastal access impact assessment. I stand by those figures. I understand the pressures; equally, we have to ensure that the money is used in the most effective way.
As with coastal access, I suspect that we will discuss devolution in relation to every part of the Bill. Having been a Whip during some of our consideration of the Scotland devolution Bill, I very much look forward to that. As a general principle, the marine environment is a complex mixture of devolved, reserved and non-devolved matters. Devolution is a reality and this Bill contains a set of provisions that respect the current settlement. The agreement that we have reached with colleagues in the devolved Administrations means that the Bill before your Lordships' House delivers a UK-wide system of marine planning, with all four Administrations intending to develop and agree a marine policy statement to set a new strategic framework for the seas. That has the full support of all the devolved Administrations, who have committed themselves to delivering a coherent set of policies and systems across the UK for the benefit of stakeholders. That is a statement of principle.
I recognise that there will be tensions and that much work will be needed to ensure that this works in practice. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked about managing the marine area across territories between Scotland and Northern Ireland and between Wales and the Republic of Ireland. It is a good question. He knows that the Bill provides for a UK-wide marine policy statement. Clearly, wherever there are boundaries between different jurisdictions, the authorities on either side of a line will share a view on what the UK as a whole is aiming to achieve. As regards waters adjacent to the Republic of Ireland where it is not possible for us to legislate, there is nothing to prevent us from reaching agreement, and we would seek to do so.
The Bill does not devolve further powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is based on the existing devolution settlement. However, we have agreed to a form of executive devolution of some of the Bill's functions to provide for a more coherent delivery of the common objectives that we share. Of course, different countries will make different remarks and will have different ambitions, but I am satisfied that the four countries concerned recognise the need for consistency of purpose to make sense of the marine environment and all the other issues that we have discussed. The Government will work very hard indeed to ensure that we achieve that.
I am afraid that I have gone over my time. This has been a splendid Second Reading. It has raised a lot of interesting questions. There is a general consensus on the importance of the Bill and what it seeks to achieve. Legitimate questions have been raised about some of the detail. I suspect that we can look forward to enjoying one or two arguments in the next few months. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I very much hope that we shall enjoy further consensual debate in the future.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.