New Clause 2 — Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 3:53 pm on 26th October 2009.

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'(1) The authority for an IFC district may, with the approval of the Secretary of State, enter into an agreement with an eligible body authorising the eligible body to perform any function of the IFC authority-

(a) either in relation to the district or in relation to specified parts of that district;

(b) subject to paragraph (a), either generally or in specified cases.

"Specified" means specified in the agreement.

(2) For the purposes of this section and sections [Eligible bodies], [Variation, review and cancellation of agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]], [Agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]: particular powers] and [Supplementary provisions with respect to agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]]-

(a) any reference to a function of an IFC authority includes a reference to a function exercisable by a person authorised, appointed or employed by the IFC authority;

(b) any reference to an agreement is to an agreement under this section.

(3) The Secretary of State's approval may be given-

(a) in relation to a particular agreement or in relation to a description of agreements;

(b) unconditionally or subject to conditions specified in the approval.

(4) An agreement under this section may not authorise an eligible body to perform any of the following functions-

(a) any function whose performance by the body would be incompatible with the purposes for which the body was established;

(b) functions under section 171 (accounts).

(5) An agreement under this section does not prevent the IFC authority from performing a function to which the agreement relates.

(6) The maximum period for which an agreement under this section may authorise an eligible body to perform a function is 20 years.'.- (Huw Irranca-Davies.)

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Members Estimate Committee, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 3- Eligible bodies.

Government new clause 4- Variation, review and cancellation of agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies].

Government new clause 5- Agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]: particular powers.

Government new clause 6- Supplementary provisions with respect to agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies].

Government amendments 6 to 8

Amendment 27, in clause 184, page 117, line 27, at end insert-

'(2A) The provisions in sections [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies], [Eligible bodies], [Variation, review and cancellation of agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]], [Agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]: particular powers] and [Supplementary provisions with respect to agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]] shall apply to Welsh Ministers in relation to Wales.'.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

I shall speak to new clauses 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, and amendments 6 to 8.

Part 6 will replace sea fisheries committees with inshore fisheries and conservation authorities-IFCAs-in England. These will have a duty to manage sea fisheries sustainably, balancing socio-economic benefits with protection of the marine environment. They will have more money and strengthened powers, while retaining local involvement in decision making. Under the current Bill model, IFCAs will lead on marine species management in the inshore area, including in estuaries. The Environment Agency will lead on protection for salmon, trout, other migratory species and freshwater fish in estuaries and as far out as the 6 nautical mile limit.

As many hon. Members are aware, in January we launched a consultation on options for the number of future inshore fisheries and conservation districts. Following that consultation, I am happy to confirm that 10 IFC districts will be established, and the new IFCAs will be established with full powers and duties in April 2011. The Department will carry out more detailed consultation in 2010 to establish the exact landward and seaward boundaries of the new districts. I know that that announcement will be welcomed by all Members of the House.

During a useful Commons Committee discussion on part 6, concerns were raised by a number of Members that the Bill as drafted did not provide sufficient flexibility to ensure the most joined-up inshore fisheries management, particularly in areas such as estuaries. In Committee, considerable pressure was exerted on us to amend the Bill so that IFCA functions can be delegated to the Environment Agency in particular, so that marine fisheries in estuaries could be managed in the most efficient way.

To address this, we have tabled new clauses 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 and amendments 6, 7 and 8, which provide the option for IFCA functions to be delegated to the Environment Agency and to neighbouring IFCAs. An order-making power is provided to add to the list of eligible bodies so as to enable delegation to be made to other, named public bodies. Bodies can also be removed from the list.

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Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Opposition Whip (Commons)

Will the Minister be kind enough to explain briefly why he has chosen the Environment Agency rather than the Marine Management Organisation for this function?

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

That is a good point. The Bill is future-proofed, in that the Secretary of State, with the agreement of an IFCA and partners on the ground, could agree in future to delegate to another body. That could be the MMO, another IFCA or the Environment Agency. It could be another body which, at this moment, I cannot imagine. We have future-proofed the Bill, but we have also made it clear that the Secretary of State can waive that delegation power. The purpose of the measures is to give that flexibility, recognising, as has been the focus of the Bill, that there will be local solutions on the ground. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

I have no quarrel with or opposition to what is proposed, because it seems a sensible redistribution of functions to bodies best able to perform them. However, I should like my hon. Friend's assurance that fishing, which has been excessively heavily burdened with regulations, will not be burdened with further regulations as a result of this reorganisation.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

My hon. Friend, who is a stalwart advocate of the fisheries not only in Grimsby, in his constituency, but throughout the UK, is right to raise the issue of fisheries' regulation, but I assure him that the proposed changes would provide flexibility to ensure that the best organisation had responsibility for forward fisheries management locally and regionally. The proposed changes would not add any bureaucracy or regulation, and he can report those assurances not only to his constituents, but to sea fishermen throughout the UK.

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives 4:00 pm, 26th October 2009

Do the Government's proposed changes risk causing an unintended consequence? Sea fisheries committees already co-operate informally across borders, and they can assist each other, for example, with monitoring and enforcement measures. No formal agreements exist, but would the proposed changes require IFCAs to introduce such agreements?

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

No. The Bill includes a provision to formalise agreements on working across estuaries or water areas, but existing voluntary arrangements and the ability to work together across areas, including on enforcement and so on, will continue. The proposed changes would not hamper that arrangement, and we would not want that to happen. However, they are designed to respond to the concerns, rightly raised in Committee, that the demarcation of IFCAs and the Environment Agency represented a somewhat rigid approach to who was responsible, not least in upper estuary areas. The sole purpose of the proposed changes is to introduce flexibility; it is certainly not to override the effective existing partnerships with sea fisheries committees and others.

The Bill already provides for MMO functions to be delegated to relevant bodies, including IFCAs, and our proposed changes would provide for a similar model of delegation for IFCA functions. I shall turn to the key elements of that delegation. First, the delegation of functions would occur from an IFCA to an "eligible body" in relation to any specified areas of an IFC district. Secondly, any delegation would require the Secretary of State's approval, and it would be carried out only where there was agreement between the IFCA and the relevant body. That is important, because, to take up the hon. Gentleman's point, I should say that through that mechanism we are looking for collaboration and partnership, not an imposed solution. Any delegation would have to be by agreement and on the approval of the Secretary of State.

Thirdly, "eligible bodies" could include any neighbouring IFCA, given the example of working in partnership, and the Environment Agency. Fourthly, the Secretary of State could also, by order, add additional eligible public bodies that had a purpose or function that was connected to the inshore marine area. Finally, the proposed changes include a requirement for the Secretary of State to review all those agreements at least every five years, and to cancel agreements if appropriate in the light of such reviews. None the less, under the terms of the Secretary of State's original approval, it would be possible to waive that requirement.

Let me make it clear, however, that we do not have specific expectations about when the option of delegation will be applied; that is not for us to decide in the Chamber. If the proposed changes are accepted, the issue will be looked at in detail by IFCAs and the Environment Agency. However, the proposed changes would provide useful additional flexibility, as the Committee asked for, and would future-proof the Bill. For example, they would allow one IFCA to exercise management right across an estuary, even if a local authority boundary split the estuary; and, they would allow for the Environment Agency to manage all fisheries in upper estuaries where marine species are insignificant.

I hope that the proposed changes provide reassurance that the Bill will allow fisheries management to be carried out as flexibly and efficiently as possible in inshore areas and, in particular, in estuaries. That issue exercised many Committee members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) and for Reading, West (Martin Salter), who are in the Chamber, and others. The proposed changes would benefit the users of the inshore marine area and the regulators.

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Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

If an IFCA delegated a responsibility to another body, such as the Environment Agency, and subsequently wanted to take back that power, would it have to wait for the review that the Minister mentioned, or would it be able to do so with the Secretary of State's permission?

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

No, we would not want to have to wait five years for a review. It would be within the Secretary of State's power to revisit the decision, and if the arrangement were redundant or were not working, or if there were a local desire for a different configuration of fisheries management, that could be reviewed at that time. That flexibility exists. The five-year review offers the opportunity to consider how all the arrangements are working. With those comments, I commend Government new clauses 2 to 6 and Government amendments 6 to 8 to the House, and I look forward to hearing from Mr. Williams, if he is lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.

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Photo of Richard Benyon Richard Benyon Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It is a great pleasure to have the Bill back on the Floor of the House. I hope that the constructive relationship that we have established across the House is maintained as we work towards introducing important legislation governing the future of our marine environment.

New clauses 2 to 6 and amendments 6 and 8 relate to the delegation of functions by IFCAs to other eligible bodies. When this issue was raised in Committee, not least by Martin Salter, the Minister committed to bringing something back on Report. The amendments will ensure that IFCAs are able to delegate elements of inshore fisheries management to other bodies. We believe that power over fisheries management needs to be returned to as local a level as possible. Fishermen, scientists and conservationists who work at the local level know how to manage our marine environment best and should be trusted with managing its future. We therefore see an important role for IFCAs in the future of fisheries management, but it is imperative that they represent the diverse range of interests that often play a role in our fisheries. The old sea fisheries committees that IFCAs will replace have, on occasion, been accused of being unrepresentative, especially of interests such as recreational angling. IFCAs must have a new, more representative membership.

IFCAs will not always be best placed to carry out certain functions, some of which could be managed by other organisations or by agencies that have more relevant knowledge or are simply better placed to perform them. It is important that IFCAs are flexible and are able to delegate their functions where necessary or sensible, and we therefore support the proposed measures. It is crucial that the relationships between the Environment Agency and IFCAs, Natural England and the Marine Management Organisation are clear in the Bill.

In Committee, we spoke about wanting to avoid a turf war. I apologise again for suggesting that it might be a surf war, and I promise not to suggest that IFCAs should be fit for porpoise; I shall try to keep the puns to an absolute minimum. How those organisations relate to each other is vital. Ultimately, it should be up to IFCAs-not, as the Minister says, to the Government or Government agencies-to decide how to devolve relevant powers to as local or relevant a level as possible. It should also be for IFCAs to decide where the correct balance of those powers lies. We are broadly supportive of the measures, and we look forward with interest to hearing what the amendment of Mr. Williams reflects about the Welsh dimension to this issue.

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives

I am pleased to have this opportunity to reflect on the Committee stage of the Bill. The debate has been very constructive across parties, and I congratulate both the Ministers who served on the Committee on the manner in which they discharged their duties. I look forward to hearing further constructive debate today.

Turning to the Government amendments, I welcome the Minister's confirmation the establishment of 10 IFCAs. As he knows, I have been campaigning for that for some time to reflect the significant local engagement through the sea fisheries committees. That is such good quality and value that it would have been a great disappointment had the Government decided to go for the original proposal in the Bradley report, which was significantly to reduce the number of IFCAs compared with the current range of sea fisheries committees. I should declare an interest in the sense that two sea fisheries committees operate in my constituency-in west Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly, with the latter having a distinct and important role in protecting not only marine conservation but a sustainable fishing industry in its own area, apart from that around mainland Cornwall.

I would be grateful if the Minister would expand a little more on the make-up of the IFCAs, to which Mr. Benyon referred. Who will sit on them, and how will marine conservation and commercial interests be balanced when they are first established? Given my intervention, the Minister will recognise that there are already good, well-established working relationships, certainly between the sea fisheries committees and, I would argue, between those committees and the Environment Agency. Many of those relationships work well because they are informal. He assured me that the amendments will not in any way curtail or discourage the informal arrangements that have already been established, and would no doubt continue to be established, between the eligible bodies, including the Environment Agency.

However, it is important that the value of those arrangements, particularly in monitoring enforcement, should not be overlooked. For example, the vessel that is used in Cornwall, the Saint Piran, often undertakes work for the Devon sea fisheries committee, and goes to the Isles of Scilly as well. In fact, this summer the Secretary of State joined me on board the Saint Piran and saw its excellent work. The work of that vessel is largely governed by an informal arrangement between the sea fisheries committees. It would be a great pity if those informal agreements and arrangements were undermined by the terms of the amendments. I look forward to further reassurance from the Minister on that.

Broadly speaking, the amendments assume that we are talking about agreements, not disagreements; indeed, they are about aiding and encouraging formal agreements between the eligible bodies. However, they do not foresee the possibility that there may be disagreements between bodies in areas that border each other, such as the upper estuaries, which the Minister described. Can he point me to elements of the amendments that might help to resolve any disagreements that arose? Similarly, he referred to the five-year review and the 20-year length of the agreements as set out in new clause 2. It would be helpful if the Minister explained a little more about why the Government have resolved to use those particular lengths of time. What would happen if a dispute between organisations that had established formal agreement occurred long before the five-year review period was up?

I have asked some probing questions to seek clarification from the Minister on measures that the Government have brought forward entirely properly, the spirit of which I strongly support. I look forward to his response.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West 4:15 pm, 26th October 2009

I support the Government's new clauses and consequential amendments, and I thank the Minister for responding positively in Committee on 7 July to my amendment 51, which had the support of my hon. Friend Linda Gilroy, the hon. Members for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) and for St. Ives (Andrew George), and Mr. Walker, who is sometimes my fishing partner.

It is good that the Government have listened and recognised a clear flaw in the original concept of IFCAs-that they would have had responsibility right up to the tidal limit, even though they are primarily about sea fishery interests for recreational angling and for commercial and conservational purposes. It was always somewhat absurd to suggest that the River Thames at Teddington should be patrolled by the local sea Fisheries committee. We would never have seen a boat from a sea committee or an IFCA on the tidal Thames there, the tidal Severn at Gloucester or, I am sure, the tidal Trent at Collingham, just outside Nottingham. I am pleased that our representations have been listened to.

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Photo of Richard Benyon Richard Benyon Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on a potential problem, which is defining exactly where estuaries finish and the sea begins or vice versa. Does he have a clear definition in his mind that would identify clearly where all types of estuary start and finish, and where the responsibilities of the organisation in charge of them should therefore lie? Perhaps the Minister should respond to that point.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

I thank the hon. Gentleman, for whose support in Committee on this matter I was grateful. The reason why it is not possible to draw a defined line on the map, and why we must have definitions of the upstream limits of commercial fishing interests, is that those limits vary from estuary to estuary. On the River Humber, for example, the commercial fishing interest is many miles upstream, whereas on many other estuaries, particularly on the south coast, it is barely upstream at all. The decision has to be made on a case-by-case basis. Our debate in Committee was excellent and instructive about how Parliament can apply its collective knowledge to that difficult and not easily surmountable problem.

I obviously support the Government's proposals, as they are based on the points that we raised in Committee. The power to delegate to the Environment Agency is the obvious route forward, and there could be other delegations if appropriate. I say to Bill Wiggin that it is slightly bonkers to query a delegation to the EA on freshwater fishery management, given that it is the agency responsible for that. We are not likely to delegate the matter to the United Nations or anybody else. That might explain why he is no longer the Opposition spokesman.

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Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Opposition Whip (Commons)

It is no good the hon. Gentleman attacking me, because after my intervention I heard the Ministers say, "Good question." Perhaps he should speak to his colleagues on the Front Bench.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

I am happy to attack any Member, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. Far more importantly, I am happy to play my part in ensuring that what started life as an excellent Bill will be an absolutely brilliant one.

By way of digression, Sam Coates's comments in The Times today suggested that the amount of parliamentary time given over to the Bill was a complete waste, as it was dull and boring. I would suggest that correspondents take another look at Charles Clover's film and book, "The End of the Line". They should consider the fact that 99.4 per cent. of the world's oceans are vulnerable to commercial exploitation and that by 2050, unless action is taken on the conservation measures that are in the new clauses and the Bill, we will see a wholesale collapse of fisheries stocks across the planet. This is groundbreaking legislation and today's debate is one small step to ensuring that this excellent legislation is improved still further, and I am delighted that the Minister has felt able to respond to our concerns.

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Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

I shall make only a brief contribution. I have served on the Bill in all its forms for about 18 months and I must say that I am extremely pleased that the Government have introduced new clause 2. In four years of being a Member of Parliament, I have never been so over-excited as I am now about this clause. I agree with Martin Salter that it would be ridiculous if he and I were pike, perch or chub fishing on Teddington weir and a marine fishery officer's boat came sailing past to check our licences. The measure is common sense-we have had an outbreak of common sense in this place-and Sam Coates of The Times, far from criticising it, should be celebrating it in his column tomorrow.

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Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Independent, Castle Point

The inshore fleet in the Thames estuary has acted responsibly, building conservation for many decades, and I have been representing their interests and approaching the Minister about this matter for some time. Will he confirm when he sums up that Essex and Kent fisherman will have representation on IFCAs to protect their fishing and conservation interests? Will he also confirm that the fishing interest on IFCAs will be balanced with other interests, not marginalised?

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Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I, too, have taken great pleasure in being part of the Bill, because it is hugely important to protect the marine environment on which so many of our people depend for their employment and which makes an important contribution to biodiversity locally, nationally and internationally.

I rise briefly to speak to amendment 27, which is in my name. Having said that, I welcome Government new clauses 2, 3 and 6, which are based on the amendment that Martin Salter tabled in Committee. The Minister at that time gave a commitment to look at the aims and purposes of that proposal and to see whether it could be worked into the Bill.

If the new clause had been tabled in the form of the proposal made by the hon. Member for Reading, West, we might have sought to amend it following certain things that have been brought to my attention. The current proposals mention allowing IFCAs to enter into agreements with other bodies to allow the latter to take on some of the duties and powers of the former, but only with the permission and agreement of the Secretary of State. The Welsh Assembly Government have made it known that they want to take on the role of the IFCA for Wales, and it seems inappropriate for them to have to seek the permission of the Secretary of State to enter into such agreements.

We are talking about the very important species that live some of their time in the oceans and some of their time in fresh water-diadromous fish. They are particularly vulnerable, because they can be badly affected by over-fishing as they approach our shores. However, they can also be badly affected because their spawning grounds could be detrimentally affected by practices farther up the rivers. Therefore, my amendment goes to the heart of the matter in giving the Welsh Assembly Government the powers to allow Welsh IFCAs to enter into agreements to transfer responsibilities and duties that the Secretary of State has in relation to IFCAs in England. It is a simple amendment, but it would clarify the devolved powers that the Welsh Assembly wishes to take on.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

I thank hon. Members for the spirit in which we have begun this debate. It is reminiscent of the approach that has been taken throughout this Bill-constructive engagement and an attempt to improve the Bill. I welcome the support that we have heard for these amendments, especially from Mr. Benyon. He and others, including Andrew George, made the valid point that IFCAs need to be representative. That will be achieved. IFCAs are a mutation of the role of the sea fisheries committees, and they will have added duties and responsibilities-everyone agrees that that is the right approach-but they will need to be properly representative.

Clause 151 provides that the membership of IFCAs will include the Marine Management Organisation, the Environment Agency and Natural England, which will each have a statutory seat. Those seats will be set out in the order establishing each IFCA, in order to maintain some flexibility. Around a third of seats will be allocated to local authority members, under clause 151(1)(a), and the constituent upper and single-tier local authorities in each IFC district will be set out in the order establishing each individual IFCA. The balance of seats will be appointed by the MMO and will include members

"acquainted with the needs and opinions of the fishing community of the district".

I want to see all the varied interests of the fishing industry properly represented.

We do not want the IFCAs to be unwieldy. As Mr. Williams knows, we love committees in Wales, but it is good to have them doing something instead of just existing, and IFCAs will need to be very effective and efficient. Also represented on the IFCAs should be

"persons with knowledge of, or expertise in, marine environmental matters."

The new IFCAs have been welcomed by a wide range of stakeholders. They will have a clear duty to ensure that the exploitation of sea fisheries resources is carried out sustainably, and they will have a greater focus than the sea fisheries committees on the impact of fishing activity on wider marine eco-systems. That is part and parcel of the Bill. Significantly, IFCAs will have a new duty to protect the marine environment and promote its recovery from the effects of exploitation.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

I thank the Minister for that clarification. He will be aware of representations from the Angling Trust, which broadly welcomes this Bill, that the current composition of sea fisheries committees has left the recreational angling sector very poorly represented. Will that wrong be put right? In addition, the current system allows local authority representatives to name substitutes, if someone cannot make a meeting. It is important that that right is extended to other stakeholders, who will have an active role to play in the new IFCAs.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

I confirm that what we all want-and what the Bill is designed to do-is to ensure that those interests represented on the IFCAs are genuinely representative. Where there is a strong recreational sea-angling fraternity-or sorority-in an area, it will want to have its say as well. Having that local determination and representing genuinely local interests is key, including in Newlyn, for example, where there are significantly different types of fisheries. Whether those involved are commercial or recreational anglers, they need to be able to have their say.

The balance of members appointed by the MMO to each IFCA will reflect the economic, social and environmental needs of that IFCA. Members will therefore be appointed according to the relevant expertise that they bring, which is the right way to proceed. The detail of the appointment process will be drafted in guidance, which will be helpful to members and which we will consult on in 2010. That will help to ensure that the membership of each IFCA has the right representation and knowledge across all the relevant sectors, exactly as I have been saying. Given the level of sea angling in the inshore area, however, we expect sea anglers to continue to be represented on IFCAs.

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives 4:30 pm, 26th October 2009

The Minister has mentioned Newlyn. He will be aware that there are conflicts between different fishing sectors operating within the 6-mile zone, and also out to the 12-mile zone, although we are primarily talking about the 6-mile zone. He has referred to clause 151, and although I do not expect him to prescribe the answers today, will he acknowledge that there are conflicts among recreational sea anglers, as well as among different inshore fishing sectors? That, too, needs to be resolved through the process that he is describing.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

I agree. There are, and will continue to be, different priorities in different parts of the fishing fraternity. However, one of the benefits of the consultation will be that those interests are genuinely represented in that process. That does not mean that there will not be difficult challenges that will require people to sit down and agree the priorities in their IFCA area. However, the important thing is first to ensure that the membership is properly representative and then to argue that out. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the worst possible way forward would be for a Minister to prescribe exactly who should be on or to say arbitrarily, "We'll make sure that we have one recreational sea angler, one rod-and-line angler," and so on. That is not the way, because things will differ among the 10 IFCA areas.

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Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Opposition Whip (Commons)

Will the Minister outline what people should do if they do not agree with the make-up?

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

Not only will the IFCA membership be decided in consultation, but everybody will have the opportunity to put their views forward. I am sure that some people will feel that they are not represented fully, but that can change from time to time as well. We are enhancing the membership of IFCAs, so that they will have more than the traditional expertise of sea fisheries committees. It is worth putting on record the fact that there is a genuine body of expertise in sea fisheries committees around the country, but we are talking about an enhanced role, with other people involved. Rather than having me prescribe what will happen, everyone will have the opportunity in the consultation to put in their two-penn'orth about who should be represented.

The hon. Member for St. Ives talked about disagreements, which touches on the point that Bill Wiggin has just raised. If there are disagreements, there is a duty in clause 169 for IFCAs to co-operate with other local bodies. We expect them to work closely together, as they do now. Local issues should be looked at locally, without nanny-state interventions or a Big Brother or big Minister stepping in. We are confident, by and large, that it will be possible to resolve such issues locally.

The hon. Member for St. Ives asked why we have chosen a five-year review and how disagreements will be resolved in between. New clause 4 says "no later than" every five years. A review could therefore be conducted sooner if, for example, there were representations from a relevant body, or if the Secretary of State decided, in respect of representations made to him, that there was a need to review the situation on the ground.

I welcome the support of Mr. Walker and his work on the issue over some time. It is pertinent that he has recognised that the new clauses and amendments deliver common sense-we cannot always say that about legislation, but they are common sense. My hon. Friend Martin Salter was challenged on the definition-I understand the point about the definition. This is a practical way forward. It will not be necessary arbitrarily to define the definition, because it will be known from the people who are out there doing the work and patrolling. The amendment will allow a local definition to be introduced. I welcome the support of my hon. Friend and others as the Bill went through Committee; it delivers common sense.

I welcome the intervention by Bob Spink, who is a strong advocate on behalf of his constituents and the fleet in his area. In the light of the comments that I have just made, I confirm that IFCAs will receive representations from fishing interests, and I have tried to make it clear that we want to ensure that those interests are genuinely represented, as clause 151(2)(a) provides.

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire referred to Wales, and I am pleased that it has arisen early in the debate. Who speaks for Wales? The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire rose to his feet. Nothing in the Bill requires the Welsh Assembly Government to obtain permission from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on IFCAs and delegations. The Bill does not require that, and I shall explain why.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for tabling amendment 27, which is pertinent. His intention is to allow Welsh Assembly Ministers the same flexibility as that prescribed for England in Government amendments to delegate IFCA functions. However, the stated intention of my colleagues in the Welsh Assembly Government, from the start of the Bill, was to take the same functions as IFCAs in-house and explicitly not to allow delivery of those functions by other bodies. That is the premise on which we proceeded.

In response to that, the Bill does not prevent Welsh Assembly Ministers from working closely with the Environment Agency to ensure good management of the inshore area, including estuaries. The Government of Wales Act 2006 and the Environment Act 1995 allow the National Assembly for Wales to pass secondary legislation at the request of the Environment Agency, and for agency officers to be cross-warranted to enforce against the legislation.

I do not believe that the amendment is necessary to allow better delivery of inshore fisheries management functions in Wales.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

I shall explain the contrast and then give way. That is not the case for the Government amendments on IFCAs. Welsh Assembly Ministers already have the power to make legislation on behalf of the Environment Agency and to delegate functions to the agency. That power would not be available to IFCAs in England without the amendments tabled by my hon. Friends in Committee, which we have introduced. I understand the intention in amendment 27, and it seems sensible, but raising the matter so late in the process, without the scope to be clear about how accountability of the functions could be ascertained, does not seem right. The Bill can and does deliver to Welsh Assembly Ministers the powers that they requested. I urge the House to leave further flexibility for delegation to be given due consideration by Welsh Assembly Ministers, and to be dealt with by other legislative means, at their behest rather than in the Bill.

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Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the Minister for spelling out the matter in such great detail. Is he saying that the Welsh Assembly has the power to make secondary legislation to achieve those powers, rather than having to return to this House for a statutory instrument to provide the powers?

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

No, that is not exactly the case. However, the situation on the ground in Wales means that by virtue of the function of the Welsh Assembly Government to take these powers in-house-the Welsh Assembly Government will effectively become the IFCA for Wales-they already have the power to make delegations. If they were to want such powers, they would indeed have to return here, and I am sure that, on these Benches at least, we would be open to that possibility. As I hope that I have explained, the history of the journey to reach this part of the Bill was very much predicated on, and reflects the initial concerns and interests of, Welsh Assembly Government Ministers.

Attempting to unravel all this at such a late stage would be complex: it would involve more than amendment 27, as there would be a great deal of detailed read-across in respect of much of the Bill. We are now in the final stages-I hope so, Mr. Deputy Speaker-of this landmark Bill, and I do not want to revisit an issue as fundamental as this one, particularly when the trajectory that we followed was initially set by Welsh Assembly Government Ministers. Welsh Assembly Government Ministers have some flexibility to delegate functions, even though they are taken in-house, but the situation in England is very different. We need to provide this flexibility to the IFCAs we are setting up, so that they can work collaboratively on the ground.

To clarify, Welsh Ministers have the power to make orders that would assist the Environment Agency to undertake management functions on inshore fisheries. There is some flexibility, as I have said, but this would need to be brought back to this House to provide the sort of mechanism that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire is asking for.

With the assurance that what we have now is a genuine undertaking reached in discussion with Welsh Government Assembly Ministers very early on, which explains how we have got to where we are, and with the flexibility to take the matter in-house and to issue other ways of working to the Environment Agency, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel confident enough to withdraw the amendment. There may be a future opportunity to provide the sort of mechanism that he wants, but it is not appropriate right here or right now.

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Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the Minister again for going into so much detail, but he will understand that there are still some reservations about this, particularly the fact that the Welsh Assembly will have to come back to this place to assume powers that are now available to IFCAs-and only with the permission and consent of the Secretary of State. I understand the Minister's point that it would be a complex matter to table further amendments at this stage, but is there no possibility of doing so in the other place?

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

No, not least because, now that the Bill has come through Public Bill Committee and travelled through the other place with extensive deliberations having already taken place, the process of rewriting complex and detailed further amendments-not just the hon. Gentleman's amendment 27-would be extremely difficult, because of the scores of read-across issues. I have to say that that prospect is too nightmarish to behold at this stage. We are now at a certain point in the parliamentary cycle and at a certain point in the Bill's passage. If we were in the pre-consultation period-we should bear in mind that, with all the lobbying, the Bill has already taken six years or longer to get to this point-we might be able to build this concept into the Bill. As I have said, however, to unravel all that now would be to the detriment of the chances of this Bill ever succeeding.

Welsh Ministers will have the same level of powers to manage fisheries as will be available to IFCAs in England. In those cases where Welsh Ministers want to delegate functions to the Environment Agency, they would need to make orders on behalf of that agency-and they can. This would enable them to ensure good management of the inshore areas, including estuaries, in Wales. Welsh Ministers have argued in the past that the inability of the Environment Agency to introduce legislation for sea fisheries would interfere with the lead role in implementation of the water framework directive and make it more difficult for Wales to comply with WFD obligations. That relates to the quality of water, fish and invertebrate fauna.

It will be possible for Welsh Ministers to make statutory instruments on the request of the Environment Agency. Although this will not be as flexible as giving the agency direct powers to make legislation, the Welsh Assembly Government chose to bring inshore fisheries management powers in-house, thereby complicating any subsequent proposal to delegate them. The Welsh Assembly Government would effectively give the agency powers to make byelaws. The issue would require considered, careful exploration. In the time available, it would be extremely difficult to draft a sensible proposal, with input not only from the Welsh Assembly Government but from external stakeholders.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

May I throw the Minister another argument that he might wish to pray in aid? If the Welsh Assembly Government and Welsh Ministers are so concerned about the issue, why, when the Bill is one of the most scrutinised pieces of legislation before Parliament and spent the best part of a year in a Joint Committee, did we get not a peep out of the Welsh Assembly Government?

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment) 4:45 pm, 26th October 2009

My hon. Friend has made a helpful intervention. I would not want to say that the co-ordination with the Welsh Assembly Government has been less than exceptionally good throughout the Bill, but sometimes items come forward relatively late in the day, when the Bill has formed itself in a certain way and is hugely difficult to unravel. I hope that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, whose amendment is well intended, understands that such a change is completely infeasible at this time. However, as a result of the Bill, WAG will take IFCAs in-house and be able to delegate functions, by order, to the Environment Agency. They have flexibility, although it might not be as neat as they now want. However, they can get on with it, which will be a massive improvement.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 2 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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