Clause 119
Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords]
6:00 pm

Consultation before designation

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Andrew George

Andrew George (St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

I seek the Minister’s reassurance on an issue here that is also relevant to clause 121. It comes back to a theme that I have mentioned before regarding consultation, particularly the requirement for consultation with coastal local authorities, which I do not think is emphasised sufficiently in the Bill, and the extent to which the encouraging words in the Bill can be made more robust or be tested.

Subsection (2) reads:

“The appropriate authority must publish notice of its proposal to make the order.”

I can see no reason why the Minister is not prepared to go further and state that it must publish notice and one of those locations where the notice must be published is within those coastal local authorities that are adjacent to the site designated in the order.

Subsection (3) reads:

“The notice under subsection (2) must... be published in such manner as the appropriate authority thinks is most likely to bring the proposal to the attention of any persons who are likely to be affected by the making of the order”.

How does one test the extent to which the appropriate authority has made sure that it has been brought to the attention of any persons? Are they fully aware of the kind of persons and organisations, be they bodies interested in industry, resource recovery, or marine science, such  as a dolphin-watching group, that might be appropriate and which perhaps should have been consulted at that stage?

The same question arises on subsection (4), which states:

“The appropriate authority must consult any persons who the appropriate authority thinks are likely to be interested in, or affected by, the making of the order.”

How does one test the extent to which the appropriate authority has fulfilled its job? There is no mechanism here to ensure that it has. If someone who believes that they should have been consulted wishes to complain or appeal against the manner in which the authority has discharged its duty here, there is no mechanism for them to raise any objection.

I do not want to stray into a debate on clause 121, but the principle applies to its subsections too. I simply want to draw that to the Minister’s attention, rather than having a separate debate on that clause. Clause 121(2) states:

“The authority may, before making that decision, give to any person the opportunity of... appearing”—

and so on. There is no reassurance. There is no means of testing or appealing against this. There is no requirement on the authority to go through any robust method of ensuring that its consultation methods are sufficiently comprehensive and robust.

12:00 pm
Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies

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

I want to assure the hon. Member for St. Ives that that is the effect of the clause. There is a duty in clause 119(1) for the appropriate authority

“to comply with subsections (2) to (9)”.

That includes, in subsection (2), to

“publish notice of its proposal to make the order.”

Under subsection (3) it must

“(a) be published in such a manner as the appropriate authority thinks is most likely to bring the proposal to the attention of any persons who are likely to be affected by the making of the order;

(b) contain a statement of the terms of the proposed order.”

That is the effect of the clause. It has flexibility but places that duty on the appropriate authority. Failure to publish and comply with those requirements will be a failure of that duty. I would not want to have an additional tier of monitoring and double-checking. Anybody not properly consulted—who has not been subject to the publication and distribution of the proposals and so on—has the right to take action. A duty to involve all interested persons is clearly stated.

Photo of Andrew George

Andrew George (St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

The Minister has said that there is an opportunity for an aggrieved interested party, who finds out that the order has been made but who has not been consulted, to take action. I can see nowhere in the Bill where action can be taken by an aggrieved party who finds out at the eleventh hour that something is going forward that might damage their interests or an interest they have in marine matters. It would be reassuring to know what action they can take, as it is not clear here.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies

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

The ultimate default position, if these duties have not been complied with, is under subsection (10) which says:

“If the appropriate authority fails to make the order before the end of the period...anything done by the appropriate authority for the purposes of complying with subsections (2) to (9)...is to be treated as not having been done.”

If the appropriate authority fails to engage properly with all the relevant persons who could be affected, subsection (10) says it has not complied with its duty and that proposal does not stand. There is also the option of judicial review. So there are safeguards. The essence of these MCZs, as we described earlier, is based on early engagement, the science being put in front of people, and a wide variety of proper stakeholders. If there is no proper publication, distribution and consultation, there are failsafes within the clause to say that the process falls.

Photo of Andrew George

Andrew George (St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

I apologise to hon. Members for becoming rather pedantic. My reading of subsection (10) is that it simply puts a timetable on the process, but the Minister has said that the fall-back position for anyone who feels aggrieved is to pursue the matter through law. All subsection (10) does is put a 12-month deadline for the fulfilment of all the other subsections up to subsection (9).

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies

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

I can confirm what I just said—the hon. Gentleman can look back and read through Hansard. I also draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to clause 122, which relates to the amendment, revocation and review of orders designating MCZs, where, if the process has not been properly followed, we can look at either revisiting the amendment process, or at rehearsing the proposal again. That is an important fall-back provision, because it puts the onus on those who bring the MCZs forward to engage all stakeholders properly and not leave anybody out. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 119 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.