Clause 44
Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords]
10:30 am

Marine policy statement

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Richard Benyon (Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Newbury, Conservative)

I beg to move amendment 9, in clause 44, page 27, line 2, leave out ‘contributing to’ and insert ‘furthering’.

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Roger Gale (North Thanet, Conservative)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 29, in clause 44, page 27, line 16, at end insert—

‘(4A) In this Part “sustainable development” means the maintenance or enhancement of the purposes underlying the designation of the MCZ, in accordance with section 117.’.

Amendment 1, in clause 2, page 2, line 5, leave out ‘making a contribution to the achievement of’ and insert

‘taking reasonable steps, consistent with the proper exercise of its functions to further’.

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the MMO has a duty to ‘further’ sustainable development. This gives the MMO a sufficiently robust objective to be responsible for ‘furthering’ and not just ‘making a contribution to the achievement of’ sustainable development.

Amendment 2, in clause 2, page 2, line 24, leave out ‘contribution to the achievement of’ and insert ‘furthering of’.

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the MMO has a duty to ‘further’ sustainable development. This gives the MMO a sufficiently robust objective to be responsible for ‘furthering’ and not just ‘making a contribution to the achievement of’ sustainable development.

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Richard Benyon (Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Newbury, Conservative)

For the benefit of the Gallery, we all need to keep our voices up. Any of us who attend the 1922 committee in this room know that it is impossible to hear from the back, and I shall therefore try to ensure that people in the Gallery can hear me.

Clause 44 outlines precisely what a marine policy statement is and our amendment seeks to ensure that it includes a duty to further sustainable development, rather than merely contribute to it. “Contributing to” infers a finite involvement in sustainable development, while “furthering” signifies a continuous effort towards its achievement, which is what is needed for the effective management of, and planning for, our seas. As the marine policy statement is to be the overarching policy that will inform marine planning in all UK waters, it is crucial that we endow it with a sufficiently robust objective.

The purpose of amendments 1 and 2 is similar to that of amendment 9. They relate to part 1 of the Bill, but have been grouped with amendment 9 because they refer to exactly the same wording, but in the context of the creation of the Marine Management Organisation. They will ensure that the MMO has a sufficiently robust objective to be responsible for “furthering” rather than

“making a contribution to the achievement”

of sustainable development.

“Making a contribution” is relatively benign wording, and “furthering” would make it a more important statement in the context of sustainable development. The MMO is being marketed as the one-stop shop for marine management, and as such should take a leading rather than a contributory role in sustainable development.

10:45 am
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Andrew George (St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

Amendment 29 has been tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, and its purpose is to probe what we mean by sustainable development. While I appreciate and very much support the intentions behind amendment 9, it presupposes, as does the Bill, that we know what we are asking the Bill to achieve in terms of sustainable development.

On the DEFRA website, sustainable development is defined very much in global terms:

“The goal of sustainable development is to enable all people throughout the world to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life, without compromising the quality of life of future generations.”

I agree that we need some basic conceptual terminology that can take us forward in a debate without having constantly to redefine what we mean. The term “sustainable development” is broadly understood, albeit that it is rather fluffy at the edges. The concept is that it does not compromise the ecology of the resource that we are trying to protect while at the same time allowing some development within the environment. However, nowhere in the Bill is there any definition of how we achieve the balance between development and conserving that ecology resource.

The Minister’s argument for not including a definition of sustainable development is that it would lock the Bill into one definition, which could not be updated in the light of future developments. I understand that, but it must be possible somewhere at least to establish a  benchmark below which sustainable development will not allow the ecological resource to fall. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to acknowledge that sustainable development must mean that we are trying to achieve at least the maintenance, if not the enhancement, of the marine conservation zone.

We have to begin by acknowledging that the purpose of designating a marine conservation zone is to protect something that it is there and, because past activities within it may have degraded the marine biodiversity of the area, to enhance it. We certainly do not want to allow that marine ecology to fall below its current level. It is not asking too much to expect the Minister to acknowledge that that is what we are trying to achieve. If he is not prepared to accept a definition in the Bill itself, I hope that he will at least reassure me that there will be strengthened wording in the guidance that will accompany the Bill.

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Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

None of us wants to see almost the first decision of this Committee to be caught up in controversy or unnecessary division, but the Minister will have to give some ground on this issue. I remind the Minister and the Committee what the Joint Committee said about this issue. The Whips may also want to bear in mind that the names of three Labour Members are attached to the recommendation. Page 22 of the Joint Committee report reads:

The Environment Agency argued that the MMO should have a duty to further conservation of marine flora and fauna and to secure compliance with the Water Framework Directive requirements and objectives in transitional and coastal waters.”

Britain has signed up to the water framework directive, so we are going to have to go down this road anyway. The Government really should not be willing to push back on the issue. On page 22 of the Joint Committee, recommendation 39, which a number of us put our names to, states:

“We have no doubt, from the weight of the evidence received, that the statement of purpose of the MMO is ambiguous both in terms of the draft Bill and in the policy framework which the Government envisages.”

I do not believe that anybody here wants the statement of purpose to remain ambiguous. It may be, as the hon. Member for St. Ives has said, that that can be resolved in guidance. It may be that that can be resolved if the Government accept the amendment which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Newbury, and to which my name is attached.

Finally, recommendation 40 states:

“Beyond this high-level objective, we also consider that clear duties should be set out on the face of the Bill to ensure that the new organisation works to meet the aspirations which Parliament has set for it. We recommend that these include a duty to further sustainable development and we suggest that this be based on the eco-system approach to managing the marine environment.”

The arguments are overwhelming, and I will be very interested to hear the Minister’s response.

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Charles Walker (Broxbourne, Conservative)

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the Bill needs to have real teeth. The Bill needs to be the champion of the marine environment. In the future, when we see projects that may make perfect economic sense, we want to  be able to say, “No. They make economic sense, but the cost to the marine environment is too high.” That is what I, and the hon. Member for Reading, West, are seeking to achieve as part of the Committee. The sea— the marine environment—needs a real champion. It is time for the House and its Members to step up to the plate and ensure that that is exactly what happens.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

I am very glad to begin with the part 3, which concerns the new system of marine planning. That is a key manifesto commitment, and the marine planning proposals form the heart of the Bill. This strategic approach to how we manage what goes on in our seas is absolutely fundamental to our deliberations. Let me recap, because the issue goes to the heart to the debate that we have just had and the very worthwhile contributions that we have just heard.

What we have done in the Commons and the other place is clarify the arrangements for scrutiny of the draft marine policy statement by the approved legislatures, including Parliament. We have placed a requirement in the Bill for the draft marine policy statement to undergo an appraisal of sustainability. We are also able to commit to carrying out a strategic environmental assessment, as the hon. Member for Broxbourne has mentioned, of the draft marine policy statement as part of that appraisal of sustainability. We have placed new reporting duties on marine plan authorities. As we will discuss, in the other place we decided to accept the duty placed on marine plan authorities to seek to ensure that marine plans are prepared for all marine regions, where the marine policy statement governs planning.

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Charles Walker (Broxbourne, Conservative)

One concern relates to the Severn estuary barrage. I am afraid and concerned that, very early on, the MMO will be overridden to allow the barrage, in its worst construct, to go ahead.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

Within the Bill there are provisions to ensure that that sort of cross-border working operates effectively. We also need to ensure an effective relationship between the marine planning system and the terrestrial planning system, and between national infrastructure projects and what we need to do to conserve the very best of our seas. We will return to point, which is valid, as the Committee proceeds.

I return to the amendments, which are worth while and which explore the crux of the issue. Amendment 9 relates to whether we use the words “contributing to” or “furthering”, which was subject to a great deal of debate in the other place. The amendment, tabled by the hon. Members for Broxbourne, Clwyd West, East Devon, Newbury and Upminster, proposes replacing

“contributing to the achievement of sustainable development”

with “furthering”. Committee members will be aware of the extensive discussions in the other place on very similar amendments, which related to the MMO’s general objective in clause 2. I accept that this context is slightly different—we are talking about wording that defines the permitted content of a document rather than an objective intended to inform an organisation’s actions. However, to some extent, that is part of the problem with the amendment.

To explain, policies set out in a document cannot themselves further sustainable development, unless applications are made and decisions are taken in accordance with those policies that result in real changes in activity in the marine area. In the same way, the MMO alone will not be able to achieve sustainable development, because there are so many other actors and regulators in the marine area that also need to contribute. We need to do this together, and that is part of the essence of the Bill.

The purpose of the marine policy statement, which we are talking about here, is to ensure that the actions of all those public bodies and regulators are aimed at the same objective. We share that same objective here, which is each organisation making its individual contribution to achieving sustainable development in the marine area. Clause 44(1)(a) makes it clear that each and every policy in the MPS, if implemented, contributes to sustainable development

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Charles Walker (Broxbourne, Conservative)

Will the Minister, at some stage in Committee, define “sustainable development”? We have sustainable communities and all sorts of “sustainables” but it is almost becoming a glib phrase. What is it?

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

Indeed. That goes to the heart of the problem with putting a definition of sustainable development in the Bill. Years ago I was lecturing on the subject and we looked at various definitions. Everybody knows the triangle of sustainable development—economic, environmental and social—but there are varying definitions of what it means. Do we have weak or strong sustainability? Jacob’s definition varies from others. The problem is defining it now, when sustainable development is a changing concept. We understand the broad parameters, and I can give the hon. Gentleman and Committee members our definition.

What do we mean by sustainable development? The UK Administrations have adopted five shared principles that set out the basic framework for sustainability: first, living within our environmental limits; secondly, achieving a just society, which means a just society for all those concerned with marine conservation and for those whose livelihoods depend on the sea; thirdly, a sustainable economy; fourthly, good governance of the marine environment, which is what the Bill is about; and, finally, there is sound science. Those five principles underpin what the UK Administrations have collectively signed up to. Hon. Members may not have seen the document yet, but we have also expressed those principles in our high-level objectives for the marine area, which we set out recently and will underpin the marine policy statement.

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Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton, Labour)

I have been looking at “Our seas—a shared resource. High level marine objectives”, which seems to set out what the Minister is saying. What status do the objectives have? I am struggling to understand what harm there would be in accepting the amendment.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

Indeed. I am happy to proceed on that point because it is a vital argument that needs fleshing out. I shall turn to the legal status of the  objectives in a moment. As my hon. Friend knows, we have tried to bring forward a lot of guidance as we have debated the Bill.

The debate over “furthering” or “contributing to” the achievement of sustainable development is, in some ways, a misunderstanding of what sustainable development means. It is not a state of being in one time; we cannot say, “Today we have achieved sustainable development, so we’ve done with it,” or, “Our seas are in a state of sustainable development, let’s sit back.” Instead, sustainable development must be seen and defined as an ongoing process of ensuring that all our actions, including decisions on development and conservation in the marine area, are sustainable in the long term.

The wording of the Bill makes it clear that each policy and each action by all public authorities must pull in the same direction, making its own individual contribution, right across the board to ensure that the marine area is used in a sustainable way.

Concerns were expressed in the other place that the obligation for a marine policy statement to

“contribute to the achievement of sustainable development”

could be met simply by including policies on the establishment of marine conservation zones. I want to make it clear that that is neither our interpretation nor our intention. Members of the Committee should have received a copy of the high-level marine objectives, to which I have referred. As I pointed out, those objectives have now been agreed by all the various UK Administrations and Ministers, and they will underpin the MPS as we take it forward.

11:00 am
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Hugo Swire (East Devon, Conservative)

I am sure that the Minister agrees that the harnessing of wave power and tidal power is in its infancy in this country but it is likely to grow. Those forms of power would be regarded as sustainable development and sustainable energy. However, does he not see that, further down the line, there will be increasing tension between the commercial needs of the developers of wave power and wind power and the marine conservation zones?

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

No. What I see in the Bill is the opportunity to streamline decision making. The agreed marine policies for the high-level objectives and marine policy statements, followed by the marine planning from the four Administrations around the UK, will give clarity and certainty. In addition, the MMO and the way in which we are reforming licensing will provide a much more streamlined process, so that people will know where marine conservation zones are and where there are areas in which we need to protect important flora, fauna and so on. The Bill should enable better, more streamlined decision making and that is why it has been broadly welcomed by those who are interested in development, as well as by those who are interested in conservation.

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Charles Walker (Broxbourne, Conservative)

I promise that this is the last time that I will interrupt the Minister, because I know that he wants to make progress; I am sure that all parties want to make progress. He said that decisions will be based  on sound science. On that basis, I cannot see how the Severn estuary barrage can progress beyond the point where we are now. The Severn estuary is one of the most precious environmental sites in Europe and indeed the world, and he has just acknowledged that that status will be a major factor in the decision-making process. Can he therefore tell the Committee here and now that the Severn estuary barrage, as currently envisaged by the DTI or whatever it is called now, will not go ahead?

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

All I can say is that the hon. Gentleman will know that, under European habitats directives, our concerns are to ensure that if any of the five and a half ideas on the proposals that exist were to proceed, they would do so in the light of the very special environmental status that the Severn estuary has.

I wanted to address the issue that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton about the legal status of the high-level objectives. The statement of the UK Government with the devolved Administrations within those high-level objectives is a statement of policy, and the MPS will be based on the framework laid out within that. It does not have the legal status, as she will know, of being part of primary legislation, but that is material to the debate that we are having. It is pertinent that we have chosen to bring that statement forward during the course of our proceedings, to clarify our intentions.

I want to turn to the amendment 9. Beyond the philosophical arguments about sustainable development and the wording of “furthering” and “contributing to”, there is a concern about the legal precedent that would be set by the proposed amendment. The drafting of clause 44 will almost certainly be familiar to members of the Committee from more than 70 other Bills and Acts, including, most recently, the Planning Act 2008 and the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill, which will shortly return to this House on Report. The drafting is a consistent use of a legal formulation relating to sustainable development that has developed over many years to form a legal precedent. I therefore have deep concerns that a different formulation in relation to the marine policy statement would imply to the courts that this Committee and Parliament intend the MPS to have a different purpose from the terrestrial planning documents, with which the statement needs to integrate and synthesise. There is therefore a genuine concern relating to legal precedent.

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Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

I am listening to the Minister’s argument with care. Will he quote the part of the Government’s response to the Joint Committee in which deep concerns were expressed, as I suspect that they were not expressed? If there are deep concerns, they relate to the advice given to us by the Environment Agency, which we charge with helping us develop policy, and to the concerns of the Committee itself.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

I will try to respond to my hon. Friend’s question if I am able to drag the Government’s response from some inspired corner. Certainly, our strong  advice is that, if the Bill took a different approach from the clear and well-understood legal precedent that has been established over a number of years, that would lead to a potential legal interpretation that the intention behind the provision differs from our interpretation of “contributing to” sustainable development in 70 other measures.

Following the concerns raised in the other place, we amended the Bill to place an express requirement on the policy authorities to carry out an appraisal of the sustainability of the policies proposed to be included in the MPS. That is significant, because the new requirement means that policies in relation to marine plans may only be included if the sustainability appraisal indicates that it is appropriate to do so. I can also confirm that, having carefully considered the points raised by their lordships during their debates, and in the light of the advice of our lawyers, the UK Government and devolved Administrations are now able to commit to undertaking a strategic environmental assessment of the draft MPS within the terms of the European Union directive on the strategic environmental assessment of plans and programmes. That is significant, because it bolsters and strengthens our approach to sustainable development. It also puts it in the context of the Bill and does not jeopardise it by overstepping the mark and setting up what would be a diversion from what has been established by legal terminology. I hope that I have clarified our commitment to ensuring that the MPS contains policies that, taken together across the board and individually, make a genuine and positive contribution to sustainable development in marine areas.

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Charles Walker (Broxbourne, Conservative)

A final point. The Minister is again rightly focusing on sustainable development. What will happen in those areas in which development has already been proven not to be sustainable? I am thinking in particular about fisheries. What will he do to redress the balance in such areas? Has he provided for that in his opening statement?

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

Not in respect of the amendments under discussion, but we will come to that issue, not least when we discuss aspects of conservation. Running through the Bill is the intention to protect our most special habitats and all the different types of flora and fauna on the sea bed. Socio-economic factors may also be taken into account. The hon. Member for East Devon has spoken about issues such as wind and tidal energy, and we must also consider marine stream energy, dredging, the laying of cables, oil energy and so on. The protection of the very best of our marine environment runs through the Bill; we will turn to that again later, but the Bill allows for socio-economic factors to be taken into account.

The issues covered by amendment 29 relate to the discussion that we have just had. The amendment was tabled by the hon. Members for St. Ives and for Brecon and Radnorshire, and seeks to place a definition of sustainable development in the Bill. It provides, for the purposes of part 3, that sustainable development means the conservation of marine flora or fauna, marine habitats or types of marine habitats, or features of geological or geo-morphological interest. Since the marine policy statement to be prepared under part 3 sets the context for all marine plans and all decisions by public authority, whether those decisions are taken under the Bill or  under the exercise of any other powers—that is what the Bill does—the amendment would effectively mean that the objectives of any marine plan or any decision that could affect the marine environment should be conservation and conservation alone. The policy of conservation alone would apply to the whole UK marine area, not just those areas identified as requiring designation as a marine conservation zone. Naturally, in the light of the discussions we are having—and this goes to the meat of the Bill—what I cannot do is support an amendment that would undermine the entire purpose of the marine planning system and, perhaps, even the entire Bill, which is meant to help us ensure that the marine area is managed in a way that is sustainable over the long term. That cannot simply mean conserving or enhancing natural features, important as that is. The marine resources around the UK are also vital for our economy, and it is not necessary or appropriate to cease our exploitation of them. That would not benefit anyone.

If all decisions, as proposed in the amendment, had to be taken in accordance with documents concerned only with maintaining or enhancing the conservation of existing natural resources, how could we in future, for example, license any fishing activity, or dredging, or the development of renewable energy installations that might cause limited damage to existing natural resources? As an illustration, even the installation of a farm of wind turbines, to help us reduce our carbon footprint and combat climate change, involves activity that does not conserve or enhance the natural geology and geo-morphology. Clause 58(1) requires public authorities to take decisions in accordance with the MPS and with marine plans

“unless relevant considerations indicate otherwise”.

We have carefully structured these provisions on the MPS and marine plans so that it should rarely be appropriate for public authorities to rely on this exception. Licensing and other authorities must in appropriate cases be able to take account of the economic and social needs of the UK, and they would need to rely on relevant considerations and exceptions, as well as the MPS and the marine plans, but that would be increasingly undermined if the amendment were accepted. That issue was considered extensively in the other place and I stand by the arguments made there by my noble Friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. There are many different definitions of sustainable development, and there have been quite a few attempts to define what it is. I do not believe that the absence of a definition in the Bill is a problem. Having a definition in the Bill that might differ from how the term is used, for example, in international law might lead to inconsistency and challenge.

If development is to be sustainable, it must be sustainable not only for the environment but within the triangle I described earlier, which provides the basic parameters of sustainability and sustainable development. It has be sustainable for those humans who live and work in it, not least hon. Members’ constituents who rely on that environment. That is why the policy set out in the marine policy statement should contribute to environmental sustainability, including the need to designate an ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones and other designated sites, and protect our rare, threatened and representative species and habitats. It must also contribute to the sustainability of the UK’s economy and society. As my noble Friend said in Committee in  the other place, the UK’s present understanding of the meaning of sustainable development is set out in the UK sustainable development strategy. There are five shared principles which provide the framework for sustainability: living within environmental limits; and achieving a just society, a sustainable economy, good governance—in this respect, in a marine environment—and sound science. Those are good principles to underpin sustainable development.

11:15 pm
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Andrew George (St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

The Minister will understand that the purpose of the amendment relates to marine conservation zones, not marine planning as a whole. This is the most appropriate part of the Bill in which to mention sustainable development, so a definition is clearly required. My problem with the Minister’s response thus far is that he now appears to be replacing one piece of conceptual language—“sustainable development—with five competing pieces of conceptual language, which make the whole thing even less pin-downable, for want of a better expression. Whether we are “contributing to” or “furthering” something, the fact that that something is a set of five competing conceptual issues makes the whole process a great deal more frustrating—the Minister must understand that. It would be enormously helpful if he would at least attempt to pin this matter down a little more.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

I understand what the hon. Gentleman says, but this goes to the very heart of what we mean by sustainable development and how we articulate that in the Bill. Going forward on the principles that underpin sustainable development is a good approach. It would be a retrograde step to pin down one concept of sustainable development at the moment. Over the past 20 years, the definition of sustainable development has changed. Alternative definitions have been tried, then put back in the cupboard as new ones have come forward. However, the underpinning principles, difficult as they are, are the right ones. Those principles were originally defined in terms of the social, environmental and economic triangle and are enshrined in the agreement between the four Administrations. Here we have a different language, but it is about balancing the protection of our habitats and the protection of the constituents off the Welsh coast and the north-east of England who might want to bring forward energy projects. That is what sustainable development is all about; it is not purely conservation.

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Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire, Liberal Democrat)

Surely what the Minister says about the five principles that underpin sustainable development is similar to saying that the whole of a building is the foundations. The foundations are important, but we have to see what the building looks like and how we can use it. That is the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives. The underlying principles are one thing, but what sustainability is is another, and that is where we are trying to get to.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

I sort of see where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, but the foundations are critical here. As has been mentioned in the opening  comments, this is very much a framework Bill that puts in place the right mechanism to take forward the sustainable development of our marine environment. That is the core part of the Bill. We are not trying to paint the house, but to allow the marine plans to be brought forward, and the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities and the MMO to introduce byelaws. We have sound foundations and the Bill and the guidance that supplements it articulate exactly what we mean by sustainable development. I suspect that we might be dancing around a concept here—whether it is better to say “contributing to” or “furthering”—when actually we are aiming at the same end.

In terms of this second amendment, going down that line would lead to the opportunity of challenge, because it goes against what we have in 70 Acts. The agreed form of words, and what we mean by sustainable development, is well enshrined in law. I genuinely understand the purpose of the amendment. We are trying to get to the same end, but I am arguing that the measure will give us that end, particularly when it is underpinned by those principles.

On amendment 1, as I said on Second Reading, we already have a strong objective for the Marine Management Organisation. In the other place, Lord Hunt went into great detail about why we feel that amendments such as this, which require the MMO to further rather than to make a contribution to sustainable development, are not appropriate. I do not want to repeat what Lord Hunt said, but I will make a few key points to reinforce the reasons. First, we already have a strong objective for the MMO, which received much attention in the other place and was strengthened as a result of that scrutiny. We have brought in a new power that allows the MMO, in pursuit of its general objective, to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development and take any actions it considers necessary or expedient for furthering its social, economic or environmental purposes.

Secondly, the Secretary of State will give guidance to the MMO on how it is to ensure that it makes its contribution to the achievement of sustainable development. That guidance is currently being drafted, and it will be agreed by the cross-Government sponsorship group for the MMO. That guidance will then be subject to scrutiny by Parliament, ensuring that the MMO acts on behalf of all those with an interest in the seas.

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Roger Gale (North Thanet, Conservative)

Order. I really cannot have Members wandering about the Room chatting to each other—there are lovely green benches outside provided for that.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

Thank you, Mr. Gale. The guidance will be drawn up in the context of the high-level marine objectives and the draft marine policy statement, which will set out the four Administrations’ agreed policies for contributing to the achievement of sustainable development in the UK marine area. I therefore believe that it is through statutory guidance that the MMO’s role in relation to sustainable development will be laid out in detail.

Finally, I do not think that the amendment will make a practical difference to how the sea is managed. The words “making a contribution to” are appropriate, given that the MMO, working within a framework of a UK-wide marine policy statement, will not be able to achieve  sustainable development on its own, as I said earlier. Although the MMO has a critical role, the actual achievement of sustainable development in the marine area will be the focus of a partnership effort by all the agencies and authorities concerned with how the seas are managed. That includes other delivery bodies, regulators, devolved Administrations and the vast range of users of the sea and its resources.

The Government are confident that the package of amendments made on Report in the other place significantly strengthened the Bill, and we were pleased to hear those amendments being generally welcomed by all parties at that stage. Indeed, the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) said on Second Reading that he and his colleagues were pleased that the duty to require the guidance relating to sustainability criteria to be consulted on and laid before the House had been added to the Bill and that those criteria would be strengthened as a result. I think that those were appropriate words to say.

I understand why the amendments have been raised again, not least because Lord Taylor of Holbeach and Earl Cathcart in the other place put their names to the Government amendments on the MMO’s general objective. On those amendments, which strengthened what we have done, Lord Taylor said:

“It is clear from the addition of my name and that of my noble friend Lord Cathcart to them that they have our support... The other amendments in the group are also extremely welcome and go a long way towards addressing our concerns about the drafting of Clause 2. The Government have also decided that legislative consistency means that they cannot accept “furthering or promoting sustainable development” in the MMO's duties, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, the new power to further the three pillars of sustainable development will be critical to ensure that the MMO can make a real difference to our marine environment.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 May 2009; Vol. 710, c. 458.]

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Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

I am still waiting for the Minister to inform the Committee why the Environment Agency got it wrong when it said that the MMO should have a duty to further the conservation of marine fauna, for example, as I quoted earlier, and why the Joint Committee got it wrong. I specifically asked him to inform us what the Government’s response to the Joint Committee was, because he said in his response that that could seriously undermine the Bill. If it is as serious as he suggests, that will be reflected in the Government’s response.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point again. In the Government’s response to the Joint Committee, we ruled out defining sustainable development on the face of the Bill for the reasons I have laid out, but we did say that we would consider how to clarify the MMO objectives, which is what we did in the other place. I want to reiterate what we have done and how it has been welcomed. We responded to the Joint Committee not by defining it in the Bill, for all the reasons I have given, but by strengthening and clarifying what we would do in terms of the marine management objectives.

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Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

Will the Minister read out the Government response, rather than interpret it? I feel that it is the first time he may have seen it.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

No, it is not. Paragraph 3.1.9 states:

“We are currently considering whether and, if so, what changes could be made to meet Joint Committee and public consultation requests to clarify the MMO’s purpose and it’s general objective.”

We listened and brought forward changes on the back of that.

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Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

May I put it to the Minister that that hardly justifies the statement that the amendment, which has cross-party support and which would replace “contributing to” with “furthering”, seriously undermines the structure of the Bill? The Government response goes nowhere near that point. Does he not agree? The answer is yes.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

We responded to the Joint Committee by bringing forward clarification on what the MMO should do to contribute to the achievement of sustainability. There is also what we signed off on the high-level policy objectives and what will come through in the marine policy statement. My hon. Friend is right that the legal precedent aspect was not picked up at the time, but I am picking it up very quickly now. We are faced with a long legal precedent as sustainable development has been a concept for quite some time. It is enshrined within another 70 pieces of legislation and its interpretation in the law courts is very clear. Therefore, if we chose to adopt a different form of wording here it would be interpreted that we mean something different.

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Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test, Labour)

My hon. Friend makes a strong point about the comparative read-across of wording in the Bill with other pieces of legislation that have or may have a bearing on it. Schedule 5, however, is only relevant to the Bill and does not read across to other Acts. An amendment to that schedule, particularly to paragraph 7, could reflect the substance of this amendment. If he tabled such an amendment on Report he might secure a great degree of cross-party support.

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Roger Gale (North Thanet, Conservative)

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he cannot intervene on an intervention.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

I think that is a very good suggestion. I am minded to look at whether we can do that. Paragraph 7 in schedule 5 refers to the sustainability appraisal, which is what I have been talking about. There is a way to clarify this without setting out a different legal approach in the Bill.

Martin Salterrose—

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

Before I give way, my hon. Friend also mentioned the Environment Agency. Could I make a clarification here as things move on apace? My understanding is that the Environment Agency has accepted the strengthening of the MMO objective and it is no longer seeking any change to that objective. In fact, I was pleased to meet the Environment Agency in  the last week or so and I discussed that issue with them. The Environment Agency recognises how far we have come.

However, I am more than willing to take that point about schedule 5 away and consider it, because it might be a way forward. I think that we are aiming to do the same thing here; it is just that the way of doing it must not challenge what has been established by some quite significant legal precedents.

11:30 am
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Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

I commend the approach outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test. As a signatory to the amendment, I would be very happy if the Minister were to take that approach, assuming that we can build consensus across the Committee—judging by the body language of my colleagues, we might be able to do so.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

I have been through this matter in some detail, and I understand where the Committee is coming from. We need to get the approach right. However, we do not want to jeopardise the whole nature of the Bill, which is about protecting and conserving the very best of our marine environment while at the same time ensuring that our approach to sustainability does not unnecessarily jeopardise those who make a living from the sea.

It has been a very good debate. We will certainly take that point away and see what we can do. Meanwhile, I urge the hon. Member for Newbury to withdraw the amendment, for the reasons that I have set out.

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Roger Gale (North Thanet, Conservative)

Before I call Mr. Benyon to wind up the debate, do you, Mr. George, have anything further that you wish to add?

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Andrew George (St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

I am not sure whether I should come in before or after the hon. Member for Newbury.

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Roger Gale (North Thanet, Conservative)

Once I call a Member to wind up the debate, that is it.

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Andrew George (St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

Thank you for your guidance and advice, Mr. Gale. I am grateful to you for that.

Having listened to what the Minister has said, I regret to say that I am more troubled than I was when I raised the issue. During the debate, particularly with regard to the definition of “sustainable development”, the metaphor of building a house and having sound foundations was used by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire. I must say that the five pillars or bricks on which sustainable development and the policy of respecting and “furthering” or “contributing to” sustainable development are based are not really solid pieces of rock, so I am not reassured that we are building a sound and stable house. A lot of the issues are, in fact, shifting sands—they are rather woolly and fuzzy around the edges.

The emphasis on economic sustainability, for example, as opposed to promoting justice or not living beyond limits is important. Those concepts are all concepts that  could tilt the house one way or another, so that it becomes worse than the leaning tower of Pisa, depending on the shifting emphasis that is part of either the popular or political discourse at any particular time. Therefore, I must say that we are not building a sound house. The fact is that the five pillars or building blocks, as it were, on which sustainable development is to be furthered or contributed to are rather uncertain.

I agree with the Minister that the only rock among the five pillars—it is a very important rock, indeed—is that of sound science. Sound science is pretty immovable. Even these days, when there is apparently a growing enthusiasm for creationism, there is still the rock of sound science. Clearly it must be emphasised in the way in which this policy and the concept of sustainable development must be either furthered or contributed to.

Cynics will say that in a future scenario the Government could easily emphasise one concept more than another, and we could end up with, not a balanced objective outcome, but a politically driven outcome on sustainable development and on what that means for whether a development is permitted, licensed or protected.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

I am a little worried that we might be getting caught up in a subsequent debate on conservation and marine conservation zones. The essence of what we are debating is sustainable development and how we achieve it. That will go across the MMO, marine planning and so on—it underpins the Bill. There will be a different debate, when we come to marine conservation zones, about how conservation is shot through those and about how socio-economic factors may be taken into account. I am worried that here, in this debate, we may be misunderstanding the issue slightly and trying to enshrine in the Bill conservation rather than sustainable development, which would imbalance the Bill significantly. Marine conservation zones are a different debate.

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Andrew George (St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

I accept the Minister’s point, but the problem is that this is one of our main opportunities in Committee to debate the issue, to understand what is in the Minister’s mind and to discover what standards on sustainable development future Governments, the MMO and other agencies will be held to. I accept that we will have opportunities to come back to specific aspects of the Bill, such as the furtherance of objectives and programmes and the nature of licensing activities within marine conservation zones. Having said that, clause 44 refers to “sustainable development”. Whether we are talking about “furthering” or “contributing to” it, unless we are clear about what “it” is, I will remain troubled that we may be seeking to “further” a woolly conceptual issue. Frankly, whether we “further” or “contribute to” it is inconsequential in the scheme of things. The hon. Member for Newbury may wish to pick up on that point in his closing remarks.

In conclusion, I appreciate that we will have an opportunity to examine specific aspects of what “sustainable development” means and at getting the balance right—I accept that there is a balance. However, I remain more, rather than less, troubled as a result of the debate. I hope that the Minister will reflect on the matter. I also hope that we can discuss the issue as we proceed, and perhaps come back to the guidance and table further amendments on Report.

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Richard Benyon (Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Newbury, Conservative)

Beginning with amendment 29, tabled by the hon. Member for St. Ives, in the piles of documents on the Bill in my office, I have seen a definition of sustainable development somewhere—it could have been in the White Paper or the Green Paper. It involved flow charts and was as clear as some of this debate has been on the direction that this is going.

I agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for St. Ives, but I am concerned about how his amendment would impact on the Bill. Therefore, I am persuaded by the Minister’s arguments. The definition appears to ignore socio-economic principles. It would reduce the flexibility of marine conservation zones, and it ignores the role of marine planning in, for example, climate change mitigation and proposed wind farms. While conservation is the primary objective of MCZs, we should not completely ignore socio-economic elements.

I have been persuaded by many of the non-governmental organisations’ arguments. Indeed, as an old landlubber, I have been educated and even entranced by the information with which they have provided me about the diversity and beauty of our seas, and so much more. However, on the issue under discussion, the Bill is correctly balanced, and it would not be right at this stage to support the amendment, even though it is an honest attempt at trying to define sustainable development in accordance with section 117, which is important.

We have made progress on amendment 9, as well. Will the Minister assure us that he will follow the recommendation made by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test to use paragraph 7 of schedule 5 in order to meet the amendment’s objectives?

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

On the comments made by the hon. Member for Newbury and the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test, the issue is important in terms of not only legal precedent, as I have mentioned, but the devolved Administrations and others being content with our treatment of the Bill. On schedule 5, I will write to the members of the Committee to explain and clarify how we intend the Bill to drive sustainable development forward, and how that is linked to other related areas. That may be of significant help to members of the Committee in order to explain clearly how the Bill is underpinned by sustainable development.

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Richard Benyon (Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Newbury, Conservative)

If the Minister confirms that that will involve the insertion of words into paragraph 7 of schedule 5, I shall not press the amendment further at this stage, but I seek clarification. For example, he has talked about semantics in the sense that the document’s policies cannot “further”, but they can “contribute to” sustainable development. The Minister needs to provide more comfort on that. Also, will he clarify that he will come back to us on the legal advice that he has received? It may be that 70 Acts use the wording that he has proposed, but that does not necessarily prevent synergy with other types of legislation. Will he clarify whether schedule 5 will be amended?

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

Bearing in mind the work that has already taken place on the Bill, as well as the way in which the issue under discussion would impact not only on us, but also on devolved Administrations, which is  one of the key facets, I make it clear that we will not amend schedule 5, because that would not be right or proper. However, I am happy to explore the issue further with devolved Administrations and others to see whether there is any scope on the matter, and I will return with the results at a subsequent stage. I do not think that the Committee wants us, even when we take today’s debate into consideration, to make a decision that would lead to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland claiming that we had unbalanced what they considered to be a good and clear way forward on sustainable development. So I am happy to make that commitment, as opposed to saying that we will bring forward the amendment to schedule 5 now.

11:45 am
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Richard Benyon (Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Newbury, Conservative)

If the Minister will forgive me, going down the devolved route is a bit of a canard on this issue. I really feel that he has not quite given us the assurance we would require to get something in the Bill. We will be pressing our amendment to the vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 5.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Amendment 9 agreed to.

Clause 44, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Roger Gale (North Thanet, Conservative)

The Committee will note that throughout the selection list there are a number of clauses that do not have amendments. I propose to call those clauses by number and rattle through them. If any Member wishes to speak to any of those clauses, please indicate and I will then stop. Otherwise, I shall move them en bloc.