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

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 26th October 2009.

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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) 4:00 pm, 26th October 2009

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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