Committee (1st Day)(Continued)

– in the House of Lords at 4:13 pm on 12th January 2009.

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Amendment 2

Moved by Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

2: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, at end insert—

"(1A) The purpose of the MMO is to represent the public interest in the marine environment."

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Spokesperson for the Home Office 4:35 pm, 12th January 2009

I begin by declaring some interests that should stand for the whole Committee stage. I am vice-president of Wildlife and Countryside Link and vice-president of the Council for National Parks. I am a member of Devon Wildlife Trust and my husband is a member of Devon County Council, representing it on the sea fisheries committee. He is also the Environment Agency's flood defence chair for Wessex and chairs its coastal partnership for north Devon and north Somerset. Further, I apologise for being unable to speak on Second Reading, and I hope that the Committee will forgive me for that.

This debate is now about the general objectives of the Marine Management Organisation. I have taken the wording for my amendment from the statement of the Joint Committee on the draft Marine Bill, of which I was honoured to be a member, which states:

"In our view the MMO should be, and be seen to be from the outset, the owner of the public interest in the UK marine environment".

That objective should be in the Bill. It is important that the MMO represents the public interest in the marine environment. The previous debate was helpful in setting the scene for what the MMO's objective should be and I hope that the Conservative Front Bench will see merit in debating these issues as they are at the heart of what this Bill is trying to establish.

The Minister explained that the overarching role of the MMO is to resolve the tensions that exist in the marine environment. He is right that there are a lot of tensions. He mentioned a few and I am sure that noble Lords are well aware of them. Some are historic, to do with a healthy ecosystem and the issues over-fishing, and some are new—for example, issues of renewable energy. Marine energy has a very strong future, as it should, because after all the UK has some of the best renewable energy resources in the world. At a time of climate change it would be totally irresponsible to squander them. Their exploitation will bring a lot of new issues to the fore; that new tension that will have to be managed. The scale of dredging is phenomenal, which I am sure we will discuss later. It has been licensed in the past, more or less satisfactorily, but the advent of the MMO and a new licensing regime will be helpful.

There are lots of other slightly lesser issues but nevertheless, there are tensions around recreation and the water-based sports that are often the public's first introduction to the sea. I do not think that the MMO can just be a manager of bureaucratic processes. Contrary to some of the opinions expressed in the debate on my noble friend's first amendment, I think that the body needs a vision. Whether we call it a champion or a steward it needs to have the objective of making the marine environment as valued to the people of the United Kingdom as the special—terrestrial—landscapes that exist.

In 2007, a Natural England survey produced some shocking conclusions: 44 per cent of the population of this country think that the area under the sea is utterly, generally or mostly barren and only 10 per cent expect a rich landscape including plants, animals and features. That 2007 survey gives us a starting point for why the MMO needs to be far more than the Bill envisages. I think noble Lords would agree that the public interest is strong, but interest among the public is not very strong. The reason why we need to involve the public in this debate is well put in the United Nations' website on the Convention on the Law of the Sea. It states:

"Life itself arose from the oceans ... Not only has the oceans always been a prime source of nourishment for the life it helped to generate, but from earliest recorded history it has served for trade and commerce, adventure and discovery. It has kept people apart and brought them together".

I shall not continue to quote the website, except to say that it regards the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as,

"the most important international achievement since the approval of the United Nations Charter in 1945".

It has generally been hailed as that by world communities.

This important, landmark Bill is the UK's version of that convention, which is why the body tasked with overseeing it deserves better than the current wording. If we were dealing with a perfect marine environment, the wording would be satisfactory, but we know that it is not perfect. It is exploited well beyond its limits in some ways. Fishing is an issue that will raise tensions very high. However, it is not the only issue; there are also issues of renewable energy and pollution. On many beaches, there are as many bits of plastic as there are pebbles, which gives an idea of the extent of the pollution. The Marine Conservation Society has done some good survey work that has highlighted the extent of macropollution, which involves buckets and bits of plastic that one can see washed up, and micropollution—tiny bits of plastic that are ingested by living organisms and have begun fundamentally to change the environment in which such organisms live. We have all of that to contend with.

The MMO needs to be visionary. It needs to engender knowledge in the public, who have an innate love of the sea. We need to move to a position where everyone is able to take a strong part in the improvement of the sea. That includes an educational role and an international role. In evidence to the draft Bill Committee, the then Minister, Jonathan Shaw, and Hilary Benn made the point that it is ultimately for the Government to represent the UK's marine interests abroad, but I am sure that the Minister will agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, who has championed this point vociferously, particularly in the committee, that a lot of fundamental work needs to be done at international and EU level, and the head of the MMO will well be well placed to undertake that role. None of that is envisaged in the Bill.

In summary, the Bill needs to lay down in the strongest possible terms a general objective for the MMO. For that reason, I hope that noble Lords will consider supporting the amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Eden of Winton Lord Eden of Winton Conservative

I have much sympathy with what the noble Baroness has said and understand why she wants in the Bill reference to the public interest in the marine environment. However, I am worried about that and want to explain briefly what my worries are.

I regard the primary purpose of the Bill to be the establishment of marine reserves. I hope that nothing is done during the passage of the Bill that weakens that primary objective. It is urgent that we press on with the establishment of marine reserves. If we try to make the MMO an organisation that satisfies every conceivable side-interest that could become involved in marine activity, we may end by weakening our principal objective.

I know that it is important that we consider the impact of renewable energy, of dredging and of public enjoyment of the marine environment—all matters about which the noble Baroness spoke—but we must consider their impact on the establishment of marine reserves to try to rescue from extinction many species of fish and marine animal life, which are now placed at real risk.

The biodiversity policy officer of the Marine Conservation Society stated in a report in the Daily Telegraph of 9 December:

"We have dithered while Rome burns. Marine reserves are a cost-effective way to achieve benefits for wildlife and the fish species that rely on habitats are being protected for the long term".

That is so vital and so important that I hope that nothing that happens during the passage of the Bill will detract from our pursuit of that objective.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

My noble friend is quite right: one could quite easily expand the purposes of this body until it bursts. It must have clear purpose; we must be clear what that is; and the Bill must say so early on. A quango is not the right body to represent the public interest; that is Parliament's job. Elected people represent the public interest. A quango may argue until the cows come home about what is the public interest, and there is no way to resolve it. I am not sure that this is the right answer, although I understand what the noble Baroness and her colleagues on the Front Bench are so keen to achieve. We must be careful. This is a management body—that is what it says here. It either is or is not a management body. If we do not want it to be one, we must say so, but the matter clearly needs management and it seems to me that the Bill is not far off in saying so.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

It is hard to argue with the noble Baroness's introduction of the amendment, but the MMO has such a multiplicity of functions that to single out this aspect, however key, may give it focus but limits the range and scope of the issues which the MMO will address. My noble friend Lord Eden gave voice to similar sentiments, and we heard similar expressions from the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy. I am sure that we will return to many issues throughout our debates that will show the breadth of the Bill and the issue of marine conservation zones, as my noble friend Lord Eden mentioned.

It may help to consider exactly what we mean by the public interest. More to the point, how can the public interest be determined in a democracy other than by Parliament? We therefore return again to the relationship, which we discussed during the passage of the Climate Change Act, between people, Parliament, government and a public body. We drew attention to this because we wanted to get right the relationship with the Committee on Climate Change. How right the noble Baroness was to draw attention to the key role of public opinion in helping to form the public interest there. I accept that she seeks to get this balance right in the rather different context of this Bill, but I hope that our work on the detail of the Bill will be the most effective way of achieving this.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

The criticism of my noble friend's amendment is that the term "public interest" may not be sufficiently wide. There can be only one alternative to public interest, and that is private interest. Private interests are certainly involved in this area—fishing, the development of energy resources and so on—but surely the MMO's purpose is to deal with those private interests on behalf of the public and therefore to represent the public interest.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Energy and Climate Change, Minister of State (Department of Energy and Climate Change), Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality) (also in the Department for Energy and Climate Change), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

It is a great pleasure to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, to our debates. In a sense, this discussion has followed on very well from the discussion on the first amendment and the essential nature of the Marine Management Organisation and its appropriate accountability through Ministers to Parliament.

There can be no doubt that it is in the public interest that we bring the Bill to Parliament today. That is why we want a marine management organisation to be established. It will make an important contribution to protecting the wider public interest, and will do so by discharging the responsibilities that are laid down in legislation. It will have to work within the parameters set by both the marine policy statement and the guidance that the Secretary of State will give to it, as described in Clause 2. There is no doubt at all that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lord, Lord Eden, are right. The noble Lord referred specifically to his legitimate concerns about marine reserves, which are among the very important issues and pressures with which the Marine Management Organisation will have to deal. The noble Baroness raised two other issues: dredging and renewable energy. All those matters are important.

The Marine Management Organisation will be faced with a number of competing users and interests in the marine environment. That is why we believe the public interest is served by creating this new organisation, which will work within a new strategic framework for marine planning, with new bodies to deliver it, together with a range of other functions.

In addition to the guidance that the Secretary of State must give in relation to the contribution that the Marine Management Organisation is expected to give to sustainable development, which we will debate later today, the marine policy statement, which we will debate under Part 3, enables the Government to take a broad strategic view across a range of government policies in the marine environment. It will then be up to the Marine Management Organisation to produce plans within that context. As its expertise develops it will become a strategic delivery body in the marine environment. The status that will be given to the MMO as a non-departmental public body gives it that degree of independence which is clearly essential, but ensures that it will remain answerable to Parliament through the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

As a non-departmental public body, it is axiomatic that the MMO must carry out its functions in a way that serves the public interest. As the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, reinforced by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, in the end, that public interest duty lies primarily through the Secretary of State's accountability to Parliament. It is within that context that the Marine Management Organisation has to operate. While it must operate within the public interest, it is with Ministers, through their accountability to Parliament, that the overriding public interest responsibility must lie.

For that reason, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment. I do not disagree with her general comment about the pressures on our marine life and marine environment or the tensions and pressures that the Marine Management Organisation will have to deal with, but that has to work within the parameters set down by Parliament in the directions and guidance given by Ministers and the marine policy statement. For that reason, I resist the noble Baroness's amendment.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Spokesperson for the Home Office

I am very grateful to Members of the Committee who have spoken. To the noble Lord, Lord Eden of Winton, I would say that perhaps I did not emphasise enough that the establishment of the marine conservation zones is a crucial part of the Bill. Until they are established, until marine areas have a healthy eco system and until we can see high level reserves to preserve the best and most precious things, and lower level reserves to preserve the others, we would not be in the slightest bit reassured by anything else in the Bill. Just over the water from where I live, Lundy is the first highly protected marine no-take zone in Britain. Having seen some of the small effects around, and the experience of, Lundy, I can say that these reserves will work in a surprisingly short time.

I shall deal with some of the criticisms of the amendment, which in one way are hard to understand. It is difficult to represent the public interest in marine areas simply because no people live offshore. My noble friend Lady Hamwee put it beautifully when she said that the amendment deals with private interests on behalf of the public. That is because there is no public representation of marine areas except for coastal ones, with the complexities of which we shall no doubt deal later. Therefore I would say gently to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, that there are no people to deal with these issues in the same way as they would be dealt with in the terrestrial environment. Nevertheless, we had much bigger aspirations for Natural England when it was established than seems to be the case for the Marine Management Organisation.

Before I withdraw the amendment, I refer noble Lords to the general objectives of the Marine Management Organisation set out in Clause 2, which really are pretty bureaucratic. Subsection (1)(a) states that the body should exercise its functions,

"in a manner which is consistent and co-ordinated".

That is necessary but not really a high-level objective. Subsection (1)(b) provides that the body should contribute,

"to the achievement of sustainable development".

Again, this is a duty that we lay on every public body that we choose to create because it is so important. I shall endeavour to think of a more acceptable way of phrasing this amendment, and I accept the Minister's comment that the public interest is represented through Secretaries of State to Parliament. Nevertheless, he needs to think of how this body could better engage with the public, and to that end I refer him back to the comments of the Joint Committee, which cannot be bettered: the body must be seen to do so from the outset.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Spokesperson for the Home Office

I am grateful to the Minister. I sense that a small chink has opened up to suggest that between now and the Report stage, he might join me in discussing a form of words that provide a more worthy objective in the purposes of the MMO. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Amendments 3 to 5 not moved.

Clause 1 agreed.

Schedule 1 : The Marine Management Organisation

Amendment 6

Moved by Lord Greaves

6: Schedule 1, page 212, line 22, leave out "5, nor more than"

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government 5:00 pm, 12th January 2009

In the curious way of these things, we now move away from discussing major issues of principle and get on to what might be called the Committee nitty-gritty. In addressing Schedule 1 we leap to page 212, where we shall stay for a while before going back to page 2. In moving Amendment 6 I shall speak also to Amendments 8 to 11 in the group. They refer to the membership of the Marine Management Organisation, and all are probing in nature in order to discuss the size of the organisation and the purposes of its members, as well as what expertise and skills they should have.

Amendment 6 seeks to remove the provision that the membership should be between five and eight, which with the chairman would be a range of six to nine, and replaces it with a provision that there should be nine or more members. The Government also suggest that, despite these clear and restrictive numbers being in the Bill, the Secretary of State can nevertheless change them to anything else if they do not turn out well. Amendment 10, by seeking to remove that, again probes exactly what the situation should be.

Amendment 8 probes the question of the skills and experience required. Paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 says that,

"the Secretary of State must have regard to the desirability ... of securing that a variety of skills and experience is available among the members".

I want to delete the words,

"that a variety of skills and experience is available among the members", and insert a much stronger wording, so that the paragraph would read: "As far as is practical, the skills and experience of the members cover the full range of functions of the MMO".

It is interesting to go back to the useful draft document on the MMO, which the Government have kindly provided, to look at what the Government believe to be the experience and expertise required by MMO board members. The Government refer to three pillars of sustainable development: economic, environmental and social. Under "economic", they suggest that experience of aggregate extraction is relevant, along with experience of renewable energy—which is very different—fishing, ports and harbours, and shipping. These are all economic factors and they are all very different. Somebody with experience of renewable energy will not necessarily know about shipping. Under "environmental", the Government suggest experience of habitats, fish stocks and water quality, which seems to understate what is required. We need to think about questions of conservation and biodiversity, particularly the proposals for conservation zones, and questions of the geology and geomorphology of the seabed. Under "social", they list, for example, heritage, recreation and defence. Clearly, somebody who is expert in heritage is not necessarily expert in defence. Indeed, that would be very unlikely. Recreation is different again.

These are 10 examples, although they are not exclusive. How is the board of this organisation to get the experience and skills that it requires if it has only six members? Six seems to be very much on the low side. I understand and accept that you do not want a big public meeting every time the board meets. The body has to be relatively small, but the numbers that the Government are proposing seem a little restrictive.

I am grateful to the Conservative Members for adding their names to Amendment 9, which refers to the need for experience and knowledge of marine science—that is not on the Government's list—and marine conservation.

Amendment 11 is slightly different; it probes remuneration and allowances. The Bill says that the Secretary of State may specify the level of remuneration and allowances of members of the board. This is a probing "may/shall" amendment. It is the first of the Bill, but no doubt there will be many more. Perhaps there will be some "shall/may" ones as well. Is it the Government's intention that the Secretary of State shall specify the remuneration and allowances? If so, why does the Bill not say so? The first question, then, is will they be paid? The assumption is that they will. Secondly, who will decide what they are paid? The assumption is that it will be the Secretary of State. Will the Minister confirm that? Thirdly, how much will these lucky people be paid? I do not imagine that we will get a clear answer to that today, but perhaps we will. Perhaps there is a scale on which these things are done.

These are nitty-gritty amendments that refer to the membership of the board, but the board and the people on it are going to be very important if this is to be successful, and it is right that the Committee should probe the matter.

Photo of Earl Cathcart Earl Cathcart Conservative

I declare that I have been a local councillor for 10 years and a member of a number of conservation and sporting bodies, including the Game Conservancy Trust, the BASC and the Salmon and Trout Association.

While we sympathise with the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, regarding the number of people on the board of the MMO, it raises the question of just how many people should be on it. I think that he was trying to probe that very thing. We are all in favour of the MMO having sufficient membership that its work can be carried out effectively and efficiently. I agree with the noble Lord that having only between five and eight members seems to be on the low side. I recall that when the Housing and Regeneration Bill and the Planning Bill set up organisations last year, they proposed more than a minimum of five members for such bodies.

Nevertheless, the removal from the Bill of the number of members is potentially dangerous. The MMO must not become just another quango filled with paid bodies without enough work, although I am sure that it will not. How many people does the Minister think will be needed on the board, and where does he feel the optimal ratio of manpower to workload might be? He might not be able to answer that, because at this stage he does not know what workload will be put on the MMO.

Amendment 8 seems sensibly to change,

"a variety of skills and experience", into "skills and experience" that will,

"cover the full range of functions of the MMO".

That organisation has a broad remit, which makes it all the more vital that the relevant skills and experience are there to cover all aspects of the MMO's duties. A variety is certainly useful but, if the MMO is to carry out its duties fully and effectively, it needs a full remit of skills.

I am also happy to support Amendment 9, to which we have put our names, to ensure that when appointing the chair or members of the board of the MMO the Secretary of State has regard to the desirability of making sure that there is sufficient scientific representation. The functions of the MMO as defined in Clause 2 make it clear that it would be advisable and wise to have those with experience in marine science and/or marine conservation on the board. The MMO is concerned with helping to secure the achievement of sustainable development and it would seem wrong to attempt to do so without a proportion of the board having appropriate knowledge and experience in that area.

We do not think that the Government are in any way against having such people on the board; indeed, perhaps the Minister will tell us that those were exactly the sort of people to whom the phrases,

"experience of, and ... some capacity in, some matter relevant to the exercise of the MMO's functions", or,

"a variety of skills and experience", were supposed to refer. Nevertheless, we are happy that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has sought to have this more specifically defined. It is vital to ensure that the MMO can carry out its functions to the highest standards. How important does the Minister regard the presence of those with knowledge of and experience in marine science on the MMO board? If he considers it to be important, why has that not been defined in the Bill? It is difficult to see what could be gained from that omission but easy to see how much effective marine management could be put at risk. Perhaps the Minister could clarify that.

Amendment 10 would remove the Secretary of State's power to amend the numbers on the board of the MMO. That lack of flexibility could be damaging if changes needed to be made to streamline, strengthen or improve the MMO's functioning. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

Photo of Lord Eden of Winton Lord Eden of Winton Conservative 5:15 pm, 12th January 2009

I welcome the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in that it opens up the question of the ideal size of the board of the MMO. I strongly support the amendment spoken to by my noble friend, because there should be somebody with knowledge of marine science and marine conservation on the board. That seems to be absolutely vital and should go without question. However, if there is any doubt, it is desirable that it be written into the Bill.

That said, I favour a smaller board. If we are to try to make the board representative of particular interests within the public domain, it will be very large indeed and endlessly increase in size. Worse, the quality of its debate, discussion and decision-making will decline. I certainly do not want to see special interests represented on the board simply because they are special interests. I favour a smaller board with the power to co-opt others should the need arise on specific occasions. I hope that that is the direction in which the Minister will take us.

Photo of The Earl of Selborne The Earl of Selborne Conservative

I support Amendment 9. I should, however, declare an interest as chair of the advisory board of the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. It goes without saying that there simply must be marine science and conservation expertise on the committee. However, I agree with my noble friend who has just spoken that we are always at this game, trying to ensure that our own interests are represented on such a committee—I remember a debate of this kind taking place in relation to the climate change committee. If every interest is to be represented, the committee becomes unwieldy. I hope, however, that the Minister will give a firm assurance that it is inconceivable that marine science would not be one of the represented areas of expertise in the Marine Management Organisation.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Non-affiliated

I support the view that this body needs a strong focus on marine science and environmental conservation science—when I come to talk about my Amendment 28A, your Lordships will better understand why. In a body such as this, which is aimed at bringing together a whole variety of competing interests and developing some sort of consensus if possible, there will be a need to make sure that, if consensus and agreement are not possible, it makes decisions on the basis of good evidence and scientific information, rather than simply of voting power. For that reason, I used to be attracted by the idea of a smaller rather than a larger board. However, perhaps I could give the Minister the benefit of a little knowledge gained from recent personal experience setting up an organisation in his former field of health, the Care Quality Commission. Having gone for a smaller board there, I regretted deeply the proposition. With issues as complex as the marine environment, there is a range of different perspectives—not necessarily interest groups or stakeholders, but perspectives that need to be represented around the table when decisions are being made. I would therefore favour a board that is bigger than five, and probably bigger than eight, but that has an upper limit, because it needs to be effective and to be able to resist through a statutory limit on its size pressure for every interest group under the sun to be represented on it.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

I agree with those noble Lords who have talked about perspectives, as the noble Baroness just did. It would be a mistake to try to see interest groups represented. After all, what are the staff and consultants to the organisation, and so on, to do? An organisation is almost bound to fail if it relies primarily or only on the expertise of individual board members. We are talking about something much more than this.

Eight is a low number and it seems odd that the Government want to impose such a low ceiling at this early stage, particularly as the Secretary of State has the right to move all these things around. There are skills and qualities beyond expertise that need to contribute to the workings of the board—things such as judgment and openness to other people's areas of knowledge, as well as having enough knowledge to understand what is being discussed without necessarily being expert in the subject. I think, too, that the dynamics of a board composed of different numbers needs to be one consideration. A board of five would probably behave a bit differently from a board of eight and certainly very differently from a board of 12 or 16, so I question whether it is sensible to put such a low ceiling on the number.

When we debated the Planning Bill and the Housing and Regeneration Bill, to which the noble Earl referred, we were told that these schedules were very much in standard form. However, comparing this schedule to those pieces of legislation, I do not think that this is completely standard. For instance, last year the Government resisted a restriction on board members serving for more than a total period of however many years. We have 10 years here and the IPC has five to eight years, whereas for the Homes and Communities Agency the period is unlimited. As for my noble friend's amendment to paragraph 11, on remuneration, I had a look at comparable provisions, under which the HCA may pay its members whereas the IPC must pay them. If we are supposed to have consistency, as we are told we should, I wish that we could actually have it.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Spokesperson for Constitutional Affairs

I shall contribute briefly, not least because I wanted to congratulate my noble friend Lady Hamwee on spending her birthday in your Lordships' House, which shows great self-sacrifice. I have no particular interest to declare, although if under one of our later amendments we add the Youth Hostel Association to one of the schedules, I will. At this stage, however, I come to the matter dispassionately, without any special interest, except that for a number of years I represented the most beautiful coastal constituency in the United Kingdom.

These are probing amendments, as my noble friend Lord Greaves said, but they are none the less significant. The nature of the MMO lies not just in how we describe it and the semantics that we discussed under the previous sets of amendments, but in the type of people whom we expect to go on its board. I have served on a number of public bodies and have advised a number of others and I take seriously the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. It is difficult to think of any organisation with as wide a remit as this legislation gives to the MMO that would be able to cope with all those responsibilities and have that wide range of perspectives to which my noble friends have referred with a maximum of perhaps only nine members—eight members and the chairman. On a practical point, after my experience of the organisations that I have served and advised, I think that having such a low ceiling on the number, simply with regard to retaining a quorum when you have a lot of business to deal with, seems ill advised to say the least.

The range of expertise to which my noble friends Lord Greaves and Lady Hamwee have referred is itself a significant pointer to what we should be doing, but there are simple practicalities. The dynamic of an organisation as small as might be supposed from the text of the Bill would lead to an unfortunate type of body, which would not be seen by the public whom it is serving to represent them sufficiently

It is also essential that we pass Amendment 9. I think that there is unanimity across the Chamber that that measure should be firmly in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will respond positively to our amendment on that.

Finally, on payment, I had not spotted the discrepancies with other legislation that has gone through your Lordships' House in recent months, a matter to which my noble friend Lady Hamwee referred. It is odd to have this curious "may" popped in when surely it will be a matter of "shall". Why do we not start at the outset, as my noble friend Lord Greaves said, trying to get the "may" and the "shall" sorted? We might save ourselves a great deal of time later in Committee.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

I support my noble friend's amendment and especially its mention of,

"knowledge of marine science or marine conservation".

I sat in on the committee and, apart from some of the organisations fighting for a place to represent themselves in the MMO in their own right—probably more than 20 thought they should have a place—the overriding theme was the recognition of the need to have scientific knowledge on the board. I can only reinforce what was said earlier when we debated and looked at the legislation in great detail, and stress the importance of having a representative with that ability.

The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, made an interesting observation on quorums. I remember taking another Bill through—I do not remember exactly which one—and one of my colleagues, who sits on the Labour Benches, saying that reaching a quorum was one of the difficulties facing the quango board on which he served. As only a small number of people served on that board, it was pushed to reach a quorum if somebody was off sick or away on business. I am sorry that I cannot quote who said it or the name of the Bill. There is clearly a risk for very small quangos of not being able to get their business through. However, on the broader issue, the feedback we received when we looked at the Bill in great detail was that we need representation from marine science or marine conservation. I therefore support my noble friend's amendment.

Photo of Lord Oxburgh Lord Oxburgh Crossbench

I do not think that I have any special interest to declare except that in the distant past I was a member of the council of the Royal Society. It is important that scientific advice is available to the board, and I am not sure that the wording of the amendment goes far enough. At Second Reading I emphasised the complexity of the marine environment. It is not clear whether there is any such beast as "marine science". What one would really like to see is a range of scientific expertise available to the board when it is making its decisions. We do not want a token scientist on the board. I hope that the Minister, perhaps at a later stage, will consider providing assurances or wording in an amendment that indicates that a range of scientific expertise will be available to the board and that the board should not be simply a grouping of commercial interests and a token scientist.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

It would be wrong for me to anticipate my amendments, which will follow shortly. Perhaps I may just draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, to them, and hope that he will speak to them with equal warmth when the time comes.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Spokesperson for the Home Office

We have heard that the board will be small, but it would be helpful if the Minister could say something about what arrangements, if any, the Government have in mind for regional representation. I am not advocating a system that allocates places to a member from the south-west, a member from the north-east, and so on, as that would be far too limiting given what other noble Lords have said about the need for scientific expertise and perhaps for representation of commercial interests. However, I would like to hear the Government's thinking on whether, and how, the MMO will devolve its powers, perhaps on a regional basis.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative 5:30 pm, 12th January 2009

Listening to this extremely interesting and important debate, my mind goes back to the wisdom in the earlier intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, when she talked about this body being a referee. The Minister said that that is not exactly what it is, but there is an element of that. The job will be the reconciling of conflicting interests. There was an earlier suggestion that the public interest and private interests were sort of opposites. That is not necessarily the case, but there will be all sorts of different interests. The important thing will be that this body is able to understand properly what those interests are and what they are saying, and come to a conclusion that works in practice.

That must happen. As we all know, it will not happen if people are just sticking up for their own interests. Those of us who have chaired such bodies—and several noble Lords have spoken from that perspective—know that you need people who are good at reconciling interests and getting the necessary information, people who are good at identifying and understanding the interests and then discussing and reconciling them. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, had considerable insight into that. That would obviously happen more easily if the body was not enormous, but there must be enough people there to get an understanding.

As one would expect, the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, was trying to visualise how the necessary information could be put before the board. It may be that it will have to bring people in when it is discussing the different interests. I have chaired a body that had to do that in a different context. The really important thing is that the membership must be capable of doing this job. As for size, that will have to take into account the quorum issue. The body will have to include a wide spread of understanding but also be able to bring in the necessary information. The Bill has not quite faced up to that, but perhaps this discussion will help the Minister to grasp the issue and improve upon it.

Photo of Lord Greenway Lord Greenway Crossbench

I remind the Committee that the Joint Committee recommended that the MMO should establish a scientific advisory panel. According to the Government's response, that is perfectly possible; it is merely a decision for the MMO board. Marine science will be covered, but that does not necessarily mean that we must have a marine scientist as a member of the board.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Energy and Climate Change, Minister of State (Department of Energy and Climate Change), Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality) (also in the Department for Energy and Climate Change), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

This has been an interesting and helpful debate. The Government will of course reflect on the views expressed as we take forward—assuming the legislation is passed—the establishment of the MMO board. I also take this opportunity to inform Members of the Committee of the timing of the board's appointment and the process whereby that will be undertaken. I understand from the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that some of these amendments are probing amendments.

First, board members will be appointed by the Secretary of State in line with the Commissioner for Public Appointments' code of practice and in line with the Nolan principles. Because we wish to establish the MMO as quickly as possible after the legislation has been enacted, we plan to appoint what has been described as a skeleton body for the MMO consisting of a chairman, chief executive and board. That would allow it to focus on the preparation and establishment of the organisation, working with the Government to establish its framework including its structure, governance arrangements and financial systems, and agreeing objectives, targets, performance measures, resources and all the things that come with being a non-departmental public body. The hope would be to make appointments in autumn 2009. At the pace we are going today, that might prove to be a departmental autumn, but we must hope that that will not be the case. The aim is essentially that the skeleton body will have been in place for approximately six months before the vesting of the MMO in April 2010.

We have had an interesting debate on the numbers of ordinary MMO board members to be appointed. As Members of the Committee will know, the Bill allows a range of five to eight members in addition to the chair. If I included all the various interests and considerations that noble Lords have expressed this afternoon, we would probably already have reached a board of 20 or more. On the other hand, the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, has put it very well. The calibre required of those who will have to exercise their judgment when faced with all the pressures and interests wishing to influence the MMO indicates that one would ideally have a small board. I am sure that those of us with experience of public bodies will have worked on both small and larger boards. I accept the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, but, in the main, smaller boards work more effectively. That is why we went for the range of five to eight.

There is a range rather than a specified number because it is normal practice when setting up a new organisation to specify the approximate number of members that should comprise its board. However, there must be a minimum number for it to operate effectively and have sufficient breadth of expertise and skills. It is envisaged that the MMO board should comprise eight ordinary members plus a chair.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Shadow Minister (the Olympics), Culture, Media & Sport, Shadow Minister, Northern Ireland, Shadow Minister, Wales

I apologise for having been in and out this afternoon. What will be the quorum for a board of five, for example? Knowing a little about quangos and public bodies, it seems to me that to get more than 70 per cent as regular attenders is quite difficult.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Energy and Climate Change, Minister of State (Department of Energy and Climate Change), Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality) (also in the Department for Energy and Climate Change), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

Paragraph 19 of Schedule 1 says:

"Subject to the following provisions of this Schedule, the MMO may regulate—

(a) its own procedure (including quorum), and(b) the procedure of any of its committees or sub-committees (including quorum)".

The intention is that it would be for the MMO to decide on this quorum. I am sure that we can rely on the good judgment of those appointed to come to a sensible conclusion on that.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

From what the Minister has said, there is no specific quorum at all. It could ultimately be just one or two people, which is surely not desirable.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Spokesperson for Constitutional Affairs

I do not think that any of us were asking the Minister to micro-manage. However, he might indicate what public body of a similar status could be as small as six—five plus the chair—and in what circumstances the Minister would expect a quorum to be, perhaps, as small as two. Those of us who have served on such bodies have never experienced anything of that size, and have certainly always found it difficult to maintain a quorum when the board is quite a bit bigger than that.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Energy and Climate Change, Minister of State (Department of Energy and Climate Change), Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality) (also in the Department for Energy and Climate Change), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

I shall resist answering that question. It is sensible for the board to come to a view on what the quorum should be. It is not for me to say in Parliament how many members I think would constitute an appropriate quorum. It is perfectly appropriate for us to expect the MMO to come to a reasonable view on that matter.

We have looked at the number of members on other boards. We think that the number specified in the Bill is about right, but we have allowed for discretion should the board's size or remit change in the future. If the organisation were given more functions, which the Bill allows the Secretary of State to do, paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 allows the Secretary of State to vary the number of members in paragraph 3(1) by order. I resist the noble Lord's amendment to remove that discretionary power. Whatever figure is decided on by Parliament, it is sensible, subject to parliamentary processes for bringing an order before Parliament, to have a discretionary power to vary the number according to circumstances that might arise.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

Will the Minister share with noble Lords the Government's thinking on the maximum number or ceiling? It will be hard to consider an order to vary the ceiling without knowing the starting point for it. As I said, to impose such a low figure at the very start could unnecessarily hamper the effectiveness of the organisation. I do not think that the Minister has shared with us anything more than that the Government have thought about it and this is the conclusion they have come to.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Energy and Climate Change, Minister of State (Department of Energy and Climate Change), Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality) (also in the Department for Energy and Climate Change), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 5:45 pm, 12th January 2009

That is a very reasonable line to adopt on many matters. It is expected that when the MMO is up and running it will have a board of nine people comprising a chair and eight ordinary members. We do not think that is an unreasonable number to steer the organisation and do all the things that a governing body is expected to do. My experience of public bodies is that, provided you have a reasonable number of people to do the job required, the smaller the number, the better that is. Essentially, that is the philosophy encompassed in the Bill.

Amendments 8 and 9 relate to the experience of board members. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said in his introductory remarks, paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 ensures that in appointing members to the MMO board, including its chair, the Secretary of State should have two considerations of equal importance in mind. The first is the relevance of the potential candidate's expertise and experience to the MMO's activities. To assist the MMO in fulfilling its objective, that relevant expertise and experience should as far as possible be drawn from one or more of the pillars of sustainable development; in other words, board members should have experience of environmental, economic and/or social issues. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, read out some of the categories that might come within those broad pillars. The second consideration is the need to ensure a proper balance of skills and experience so the board functions effectively and adds value to the organisation as a whole. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, expressed that very well. Of course, that experience is important, as is regional balance, but in the end the key consideration is the calibre of the people to be appointed and the judgment they exercise. As we heard in our first two or three hours of debate, this job will be a very challenging one which calls for people of the highest calibre to be appointed. That must be a prime consideration, albeit we need to ensure that those high calibre members come from a variety of specified backgrounds to ensure that the board works as effectively as possible.

I listened with great interest to the argument that the Bill should specify that someone with experience in marine science or marine conservation be appointed to the board. I understand why noble Lords might support that. However, I have reservations about specifying a particular expertise which should be given priority over all other experience. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, some of the potential technical difficulties of drafting an amendment capable of being put into practice. Of course, I fully accept that this organisation needs to have people with very good scientific knowledge and background. I refer noble Lords to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, in which he referred to the recommendation that a scientific advisory board should be established to advise the MMO board. That might well be the most appropriate way to ensure that the board has the scientific expertise that is required given that such a board—certainly the Government are strongly of the view that such a board should be established—would consist of representatives of major government and independent scientific bodies. There is no doubt whatever of the need for the organisation to have scientific expertise available to it.

We then come to the interesting question of remuneration and allowances and, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, to the first "may/shall" debate on the Bill. I believe that the wording is unexceptional. The Bill permits the organisation to pay such remuneration and allowances as the Secretary of State may determine. The noble Lord invited me to say what rates the Secretary of State may determine. Alas, I am not in a position to give further information on that other than to say that the rates of remuneration will be appropriate; in other words, they will be sufficient to provide reasonable remuneration to those who give their services but they will not be astronomical or unreasonable. I understand that the level of remuneration will be determined by the Secretary of State on central guidance from HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office. I reassure the noble Lord that it will be broadly in line with that paid to board members of other non-departmental public bodies. The intention is to ensure that board members will be so remunerated. In those circumstances we do not think that it is necessary to make any changes to the Bill as it now stands.

This has been a very interesting debate. I shall reflect on the points that noble Lords have raised. It is absolutely right that we should ensure that this new organisation has a board of the highest calibre but I am reluctant to expand the board's number or to guarantee that a particular expertise or person from a particular specialist background will be on it. However, I understand the points noble Lords have made about the importance of scientific expertise being available to the board and of ensuring that, whatever background members of the board come from, the key thing is the personal qualities they bring to board considerations.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Spokesperson for the Home Office

Will the Minister reply to my question about the different regions? Obviously, they are vastly different. I was not by any means saying that every region should have a representative, but I am sure that the Government must have considered this and had some thoughts about it. Will the Minister share them?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Energy and Climate Change, Minister of State (Department of Energy and Climate Change), Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality) (also in the Department for Energy and Climate Change), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

I thought that I did respond to that briefly at the beginning. Our prime duty must be to ensure that we get people of the highest calibre. That must be the first consideration. I cannot give a guarantee from the Dispatch Box that there will be a scientifically regional balance on the board. Of course, one would hope that the board members will come from a variety of backgrounds and that there will be a reasonable geographic spread, but I cannot give any commitment on that basis, because the calibre of the people appointed must come first.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. I was a bit worried about plunging—if that is the word on a marine Bill—into the nitty-gritty of Committee, but the debate around the Chamber has shown that these are important issues. There is one issue that we need to knock on the head straight away. My noble friend Lord Tyler said that the most beautiful coasts in Britain were in Cornwall in his former constituency. I say to my noble friend that he ought to get up north a bit more, and then keep going, because by far and away the most beautiful coasts are in Scotland, as I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, will agree. The further north you go, the better it gets.

There has been quite a lot of consensus around the Committee putting pressure on the Minister on two issues. I shall come back to that when I comment on what he said. I particularly thank the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, for taking our amendment seriously after the knock-about on our first group of amendments, which got a different reaction from the Conservative Front Bench. We are back into proper Committee now, and that is fine.

On representation of interests, which was originally raised by the noble Lord, Lord Eden, I do not think that any of us is suggesting in these amendments that there should be direct representation of interests on the board of the Marine Management Organisation. Various contributors, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee, talked about the presence of a range of expertise and experience and a range of perspectives. These are different from direct representation; you do not have to be representing an organisation to know a lot about it and to have experience of it. That is the issue that causes us concern; that a board of only six members, including the chair, would not be enough.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

I am very grateful to the Minister for repeating that, because that was a particular thing that he said that I picked up and want to come back to in a minute. I thank the Minister for treating the amendments with great care and for the detailed answers that he has given.

We would expect the quorum to be a third, which is normal in most public bodies. Again, that is a concern if the body is too small, but I accept what the Minister said, that the organisation will decide for itself. As for the expectation that there will be nine members, including the chair, that is a valuable statement from the Minister, because to some extent it sets aside some of the concerns. I say to the Government—the Minister said that he would reflect on this—that if it is their intention that it should be nine, it would be sensible, if they are putting a range into the Bill, for their expectation to be at the centre of that range.

Who knows what circumstances might occur where it would be valuable to appoint an extra person, or to reduce the size, if the size was at the bottom of the range? There does not seem to be much sense in saying that the range would be five to eight, or six to nine including the chair, and then saying that the expectation is that the body would be at the top of that range from the very beginning. The sensible thing to do would be to put a range in the Bill in which what the Government want to do is at the middle of the range. Perhaps we can have some discussions and think about that. That seems to be the common sense thing to do; to allow flexibility without having to go through the whole rigmarole of the Government coming back with an order and having to present it to Parliament and so on.

The assurances by the Minister on Amendment 9 about scientific and conservation expertise are valuable. We will come back to this issue as the Bill goes through Committee, and I think that the Minister will be pressed to give these kinds of assurances on several more occasions. It may be that we will want to find a form of wording that is appropriate to legislation, which I am sure could be found for a later stage. We will consider that and reflect on it.

On the remuneration question, the Bill says that the MMO "may" pay and the Secretary of State "may" decide what it will be. The Minister has made it absolutely clear that the MMO is going to pay its members and that the Secretary of State will decide what the remuneration is, so I do not understand why the Bill does not say what is actually going to happen. Perhaps expecting legislation to say what is going to happen is an idealistic point of view.

The Minister will do a bit of reflection, we will do some reflection, and Members of the Committee will do some reflection on these issues, some of which may come back for further debate on Report. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 6.

Amendment 6 withdrawn.

Amendment 7

Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach

7: Schedule 1, page 212, line 28, at end insert—

"Nomination by other bodies

The Committee on Climate Change or the Infrastructure Planning Commission may nominate a member for considertion by the Secretary of State under sub-paragaph 3(1) above."

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

I shall speak also to Amendments 19 and 20. I hope that the amendments reinforce many of the arguments made in Committee this afternoon.

I return again to the nature and construction of the board. This may have some bearing on the way in which we return to our previous debate at a later stage. I apologise for referring to past legislation, but we frequently commented on the interlocking legislation from the previous Session; the Climate Change Act, the Energy Act and the Planning Act, which are now being followed by this Bill. In particular, the Committee on Climate Change and the Infrastructure Planning Commission will have responsibilities that interact with each other and with this organisation.

The three amendments relate to the working relationship between three organisations that are undoubtedly going to have a great deal of impact on each other's areas and duties. There are several later groups of amendments that we will come to that deal with similar issues, especially between the IPC and the MMO. I will save my remarks about some of the more obvious overlaps between these organisations until that time. However, I am sure that noble Lords agree that it will be critical for these three organisations at the very least to work well together. My amendments suggest a system of mutual nomination for the membership of the boards that would allow the relevant experience and expertise to be applied across the board.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Energy and Climate Change, Minister of State (Department of Energy and Climate Change), Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality) (also in the Department for Energy and Climate Change), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 6:00 pm, 12th January 2009

I agreed with everything that the noble Lord said, except on the terms of his amendment. He is absolutely right that in taking forward the Bill we will frequently refer to legislation passed in the previous Session, the Energy Act, the Planning Act and the Climate Change Act. That is right because they do, indeed, come together in many areas. The noble Lord is also right to refer to the importance of the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the Committee on Climate Change. They will have a crucial role to play in relation to major infrastructure planning decisions and the advice to the Government on climate change. We have already seen, under the expert chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Turner, just how far-reaching, important and significant the advice of the Committee on Climate Change has been. Equally, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, we will discuss the relationship between the IPC and the Marine Management Organisation regarding the giving of planning consents in relation to offshore renewables. There is no question that there needs to be a consistency of approach and for those organisations to be seen to work together.

However, I have considerable doubts about whether that is best achieved through nomination rights for consideration for appointment—and I take the amendment to refer to nomination, rather than automatic appointment. Apart from the issue of whether noble Lords accept the numbers of members of the board specified in the Bill, should we agree to additional nomination rights? I would have thought that given the importance of the IPC and the CCC, it would be very difficult to turn down those nominations for board membership. It would certainly crowd out the board in terms of other appointments.

I also wonder whether, as we debated in the previous group of amendments, if a person was nominated either by the IPC of the CCC, and then appointed, there would be a danger that they would be seen as the representative of the Committee on Climate Change or the Infrastructure Planning Commission. That would detract from the corporate role that we envisage the MMO board having to play, whereby, although people might come from different backgrounds, when they sit around a table, their job is to come together as a corporate organisation, not to represent special interests.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the noble Lord's intention to ensure that there is co-ordination between the IPC, the MMO and the Committee on Climate Change and that they work together. However, I doubt that the amendment is the way to do it.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

I am increasingly anxious that the letter that the Minister promised about interaction between the devolved Administrations in relation to the Bill should come to us quickly. For example, the Infrastructure Planning Commission does not relate to Scotland at all. The Scottish Parliament would have nothing to do with the Planning Bill. It is difficult to envisage how this will work. When we discussed the membership of the organisation, the Minister kept saying that we did not want regional representation; but, if we do not look out, one can picture a situation in Scotland whereby something is turned down by what will be seen as a bunch of Englishmen. One wants to avoid that, if possible, however great the Englishmen may be. We have a problem and the sooner we clarify the relationship with the devolved Administration, the easier it will be for those of us who think from that perspective to be of assistance to the Committee. I hope that the Minister will do that quickly. However, the amendment would mean that, from the point of view of major planning infrastructure projects, Scotland would not be involved.

Photo of Lord Oxburgh Lord Oxburgh Crossbench

I am very much in sympathy with the amendment, but, on this occasion, the Minister is right, because, for the general reasons we discussed earlier, the balance of the organisation will be important. It is hard to put together a football team and fill all the appropriate positions if other bodies effective pre-empt some of them. I have experience of other bodies that were put together in that way; if, as the amendment suggests, some way could be found for those bodies to feed in suggestions, that would be fine, but ultimately, because one is putting together a coherent group with a range of expertise, it would not make sense for individuals effectively to be nominated by external bodies who would do so in ignorance of the other nominations that had been made.

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Spokesperson for Wales

I agree very much with what has just been said. There is a conflict of interest about the nominations that would accrue for the MMO board. I can see that the "guardian of the environment" function of the MMO would be weakened if it was compromised by nominations from the IPC and the climate change body. I also sympathise with what the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, said about devolved matters. I have a couple of amendments that we may reach this evening that may cover some of that issue.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

I thank the Minister for that, because it will be useful. I hope that the Chamber will forgive me for tabling these amendments and finding that they have been widely spoken against. However, with some justification, it is correct to focus the Chamber's attention on the interaction between these three bodies, which will exist for a common purpose and with similar objectives. I shall seek leave to withdraw the amendment, but I suggest that the process of appointing the skeleton board may well involve consultation with the Committee on Climate Change and the Infrastructure Planning Commission. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 7 withdrawn.

Amendments 8 to 11 not moved.

Amendment 12

Moved by Lord Kingsland

12: Schedule 1, page 215, line 5, at end insert—

"( ) In appointing other employees, the MMO must ensure the employment of sufficient persons with scientific capability or expertise for the exercise of its functions."

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

This group of amendments takes us back to our earlier debate about the relationship of science to the organisation. I should start by declaring an interest: for the past seven years, I have been chairman of the board of trustees of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. Until 2002, it was a Government-owned institution. I hasten to add that I am not a marine scientist, so I do not need to debate with the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, about whether I would have, if I were a marine scientist, a right to exist or not. Indeed, the fact that I am not a marine scientist is the main, perhaps the only, reason why I was appointed to the post in the first place.

Although this group of amendments starts with Amendment 12, I want to begin with Amendment 28, which relates to the general objectives clause, Clause 2. To put the amendment in perspective, it is worth reading the clause to the Committee. I am concerned only with subsection (1), which states:

"It is the duty of the MMO to secure that the MMO functions are so exercised that the carrying on of activities by persons in the MMO's area is managed, regulated or controlled—

(a) in a manner which is consistent and co-ordinated ... and

(b) with the objective of making a contribution to the achievement of sustainable development ...

Any reference in this Act to the MMO's 'general objective' is a reference to the duty imposed on the MMO by this subsection".

Amendment 28 seeks to add a further paragraph—paragraph (c)—which reads:

"with regard to the best available scientific evidence".

In other words, it would lay a duty on the shoulders of the MMO,

"to secure that the MMO functions are so exercised that the carrying on of activities by persons in the MMO's area is managed, regulated or controlled ... with regard to the best available scientific evidence".

I believe that this amendment flows ineluctably from the fundamental activity in which the MMO is to be engaged—that is, assessing the impact of human activities on a particular sector of the waters around our country. Therefore, the starting point in any decision of the MMO is: what is the state of the biodiversity of that particular section of water? It must ask: what is going on on the surface, what is going on in the water column and what is going on on the seabed? Until it knows the answers to those questions, it cannot go on to make an assessment about the desirability or otherwise of particular economic or other activities taking place there. Therefore, any decision by the MMO will be based on science, and if it does not establish with the best science available at the time the most likely situation, it will be incapable of fulfilling any of its other tasks.

The other two amendments in this group flow from that. Both concern the way in which the MMO would acquire the appropriate scientific information. Amendment 12 deals with the desirability of the MMO having a sufficient number of skilled scientists with the capability or expertise to exercise the judgments to which I have just referred. The word used in the amendment is "must", not "may". A related obligation is set out in Amendment 41, which concerns the other means by which the MMO might acquire the appropriate scientific information. It reads:

"In seeking to secure the duty mentioned in subsection (1)(c), the MMO must consult with any relevant government or independent scientific bodies".

Both those amendments address what I consider to be the weaknesses of Clause 23, which is entitled "Research". I apologise for again testing the Committee's patience by quoting the Bill. Subsection (1) states:

"The MMO may (whether alone or with other bodies or persons)—

(a) undertake research into any matter relating to its functions or its general objective, or

(b) commission or support (by financial means or otherwise) research into any such matter".

I do not need to read out subsection (2) because it is not germane to the point that I am trying to make. How can the MMO undertake research into any matter relating to its functions if it does not have the appropriate expertise among its employees? Equally, if it has certain expertise but not the particular expertise relevant to the decision that it has to take, surely it must—not may—go outside to get the appropriate scientific information.

The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, expressed doubts about the existence of marine science and I can understand why he did so. Only a tiny proportion of the oceans around our country have been subject to traditional marine scientific analysis. Most people have to rely on predictions rather general scientific knowledge. We now have the capacity, through satellites, to examine quite intimately and very quickly what is happening on surface waters. We also have the ability, through geophysical information, to draw from the contours of the base of the continental shelf certain conclusions about the kind of biodiversity that exists there. As many noble Lords know, there are also experts called marine modellers who are tasked with making these predictions. This is as much a form of forecasting as it is traditional scientific analysis; and for the first 10 years of the MMO's life decisions about the impact of human activities on biodiversity in a particular area will depend heavily on assembling what we know and then forecasting in the way that I have described.

That leads me to my final point, which is not directly affected by these amendments. If the MMO is to be increasingly effective, a very powerful priority will have to be to assemble and spread as widely as possible data on what is going on in the sea, together with marine monitoring. That is dealt with in later clauses and I do not intend to go into it now but it is a related issue. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Eden of Winton Lord Eden of Winton Conservative 6:15 pm, 12th January 2009

I support what my noble friend has said. It is extremely important that relevant scientific evidence is available to the MMO, but to my mind the most important point is that the evidence should be "objective". One problem that has already been mentioned in relation to the forthcoming activities of the MMO is that they will be arraigned by a vast conflict of interests. All sorts of bodies will be representing their views and opinions on what is or is not taking place in the ocean around our shores. Therefore, as my noble friend said, the MMO will have to base its decision on an independent judgment, and the evidence, scientifically based, should be as objective as is possible to find.

Happily, today there are in existence distinguished people who have almost made it their lifetime's work to study and analyse what is taking place in the sea around us. Evidence of the success that can be achieved by the establishment of marine reserve areas is already available to us in considerable abundance. One of the most notable is on the northern coast of America—California, in particular—where a vast area that has been set aside has yielded extraordinary results.

While we consider the situation in the sea at present we are naturally confronted by the evidence of the hideous destruction of marine animal life and the serious risk at which many species, some of which are well known to us, such as skate, the leatherback turtle, sturgeon and others, face. That is known. The Bill will establish an organisation that will bring about action based on that knowledge, and it is that knowledge that will have to be made available to the board of the MMO. I hope that the Minister can assure us that it will listen not only to representations from special interests' groups but will consider objective analysis presented by scientific expertise.

N

It is pleasing to see someone advocating wise use of marine habitats. I also would like to see the implementation of marine reserves around the coast not only to protect marine life but to sustain the long term future of the fishing industry, it is proven that reserves are of benefit to commercial fisheries, the reserve at Lundy doubled the number of lobsters within in it, and the overspill has supported an increase in catches, this has occurred in only a few years the increased size and related spawning from the reserve can only bode weel for the future.
I am trying to get my authorities in Jersey to consider 1 percent of our waters being set aside for reserves, sadly there is no great political will to do so, which is a shame as I believe it would have great tourist and educational value here.
I have contacted the British Irish Council whose memebers have reserves to ask about the situation here but again it would appear no great political will.

Nicolas Jouault

Submitted by Nicolas Jouault

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Spokesperson for the Home Office

I would like to be able to support the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, in his Amendment 28, as his aspiration is correct, but the Minister will remember from the report of the Select Committee in the other place, Investigating the Oceans, that the funding and progress of research have been extremely limited. The amount of seabed that has been mapped and the amount of resource to speed up that mapping—I am talking just about vessels, but the noble Lord referred to satellites, and even satellite time costs—are such that I do not think that we can include such an amendment in the Bill. The MMO will simply be unable to look for that evidence for several years yet. I ask the Minister whether the mapping of the seabed will be speeded up before designations of the marine conservation zones, for example. If not, it will be difficult for those zones to be designated at all. This area is one of my greatest concerns about the Bill. We have good aspirations but we simply do not know much about what is on the seabed or in the water column over the vast areas that we are talking about.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

Will the Minister comment on the phrase "consistent and co-ordinated" in Clause 2, to which the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, referred? It is essential that work should be co-ordinated both as a snapshot and over time, but "consistent" could raise issues, which I hope the Minister can dispose of. The definition is not set out as exclusive, but as research continues and knowledge expands, and perhaps as judgments and assessments develop, decisions may not be consistent with decisions taken five or 10 years previously—indeed, one would not want them to be. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that. I am not seeking to unravel the general thrust but would like a common-sense assurance.

Photo of Lord Geddes Lord Geddes Conservative

I warmly endorse my noble friend's amendment on two grounds. I suspect—although I hope that I am wrong—that the Minister will say something on the lines of, "Of course, the MMO will consult the best possible scientific expertise available". When an organisation is set up with the burden that the MMO will have, it is extremely important that the "best available scientific expertise"—I am deliberately using the wording in Amendment 28—is there for the MMO to consult. It will not be good enough to say at this stage that that is what is intended. The burden on the MMO will be huge.

I have some outdated experience, gathered when I had the enormous privilege some 35 years ago of working in a somewhat junior capacity in an association chaired by the redoubtable Commandeur Jacques-Yves Cousteau. He taught me in a very short time more about the potential of the marine environment than anybody could. I am not a marine scientist—I am not even a scientist—but even at that age he made a huge impression on me, none of which has left me. I urge the Minister, even if he cannot accept the specific words of my noble friend's amendment, to take the intent extremely seriously. I repeat that the burden on the MMO will be very great. If we do not get it right at this stage, there will be problems in the future.

Photo of Lord Oxburgh Lord Oxburgh Crossbench

I add my support to the amendment. Whether the wording is right or not remains to be seen, but the important element is that this organisation will need a substantial science base, partly because the consequences of most of the activities that it seeks to regulate are not seen on the surface. Indirect geophysical and surveying techniques are needed to see what is going on. There has to be a substantial science base within the organisation, which the amendment would ensure. The other general point is that in the exploitation of the marine environment there are some commercial interests and lobbies. I hope that it is not thought in any sense that I am against that, but the consequences of commercial activity have to be understood. If there are good arguments against them, or indeed for them, they have to be properly marshalled from a technical point of view. For that reason it is extremely important that the scientific expertise that is available to the organisation matches the commercial pressures to which it will undoubtedly be subjected.

Photo of Lord Greenway Lord Greenway Crossbench

On the question of mapping raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in chairing the Joint Committee I had the advantage of being present all the time. She may not have been there when one of our expert advisers showed us that, as I understood it, the basic knowledge of the seabed is much more widespread than any of us thought at the time. We are lacking the detailed work that requires special techniques. That is very expensive, as we need ships with side scan sonar and all the rest. However, basically we have a good idea what happens on the seabed, although we are lacking the detail, which will take time to get.

Photo of The Earl of Selborne The Earl of Selborne Conservative

I follow that contribution also as a member of the Joint Committee, although not quite as good at attending as our chair, who led by example. The Select Committee in the other place drew attention to the parlous state of marine science in this country, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred. Funding comes from a number of sources—it is appropriate that it should—such as Defra, the Natural Environment Research Council, the devolved Administrations, the conservation agencies and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. All of these need co-ordinating and will impinge on the activities of the MMO and the functions specified in the Bill. It is essential for this organisation to be plugged into this research with expertise at all levels: employed staff, board members and the scientific advisory committee. We all welcome the Minister's assurance that that scientific advisory committee will be put in place. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, who pointed out that a fundamental understanding of the state of the marine sciences—how they are emerging and how they can contribute to fulfilling the functions in the Bill—is critical. I welcome the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Kingsland, particularly Amendment 28, which extends the objectives.

Photo of Earl Cathcart Earl Cathcart Conservative 6:30 pm, 12th January 2009

We, of course, agree with the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Kingsland, which follow on from Amendment 9. That amendment was slightly shot down by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, who said that it was not nearly strong enough and that the MMO must have proper scientific advice available to it to deal with all the technicalities. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said on Amendment 9 that the Joint Committee recommended a scientific advisory panel. With these amendments, my noble friend Lord Kingsland has amplified the theme and I think that they have support from all round the Committee. I hope that the Minister will accept them but, if he cannot, perhaps he will take them away and see whether he can draw up something in better form and come back to the Committee with it.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Spokesperson for the Home Office

I am sure that I did not attend the Joint Committee as perfectly as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, but I was there when Defra showed a film modelling how it is filming the seabed and I followed that up with various people. I retain serious concerns about the fact that what is now mapped is small. I draw the Committee's attention to paragraph 66 of the Joint Committee's report, which refers to the difficulty in sharing data because of the way in which, even when the data are held by government agencies, costs are recharged and so on. That paragraph spells out the difficulties that the MMO may face unless the Government resolve the issue of scientific data being freely available to it.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Energy and Climate Change, Minister of State (Department of Energy and Climate Change), Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality) (also in the Department for Energy and Climate Change), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

This has been an interesting debate. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has laid these amendments to ensure that the MMO operates on the basis of the best available scientific evidence and that, in carrying out its business to fulfil its part of its duty, it consults any relevant government or independent scientific bodies.

I fully accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Eden, that, although the MMO will be called to make judgments, part of its work will be receiving representations from different interests, because inevitably many tensions will come to the fore in the work of the MMO board. We do not see it as an organisation that will simply listen to vested interests and then come to a judgment without giving due regard to the scientific evidence on which it ought to be made. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, was concerned that the burdens on the organisation might mean that it would not pay due attention to the scientific evidence. I reiterate that we expect—indeed, will require—that this new organisation operates on the basis of the best possible scientific evidence in carrying out its functions. Our expectation is that the MMO will always operate on the basis of the best available evidence. The guidance that the Secretary of State will issue to the MMO will make that very clear. The existing agency—the MFA—bases its decisions on the evidence; the same will apply with the MMO. However, I am not sure that it is necessary to include that in the objectives of the organisation. I assure noble Lords that we would expect the MMO to continue best practice on consultation by consulting the relevant scientific bodies and whomever it needs to consult to carry out a particular function.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

I apologise to the Minister for intervening at this stage and breaking up the flow of his eloquence, but he has kindly given way. The reason why I believe it crucial to have this expression in the duties in Clause 2 is that the scientific obligations on the MMO are of a different order of magnitude from the obligations that it has in relation to all the human activities that may or may not take place in a particular sector. If the Minister glances at our obligations under OSPAR and under the new European Community directives, he will see that this is also the case under those. I know that the draftsmen will be taking into account those obligations as our debate continues.

In my submission, the starting point is the scientific position. Until the MMO has established the best available scientific evidence, it cannot go on to make an assessment about the damage or otherwise that particular human activities would do. That is the reason why it is not just a question of having regard to the scientific evidence; the scientific evidence plays a fundamental role in a way that no other evidence pertaining to any particular column of water does.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Energy and Climate Change, Minister of State (Department of Energy and Climate Change), Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality) (also in the Department for Energy and Climate Change), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

Of course, the Marine Management Organisation must take objective decisions on the basis of the best available evidence in the context of the guidance given to it by the Secretary of State and the marine planning statement. However, I still think that there are always risks in establishing a list of factors that have to be taken into account. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, knows the risk of lists. He says that in the case of his amendment there is, in a sense, no higher duty and that it warrants greater consideration than any other matter. No one would disagree that scientific evidence is critical to the decisions, but I am wary of going down the route that he suggests in terms of the drafting of the Bill. I hope that he will accept that the Government wish to see scientific research and evidence developed on the marine area. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, made an important point about our current knowledge. Of course, we want to see the Marine Management Organisation make its decisions on the basis of the best available evidence, but I am cautious about accepting the noble Lord's amendment as he has proposed it. There is the same risk with the noble Lord's amendment on consultation. If we single out scientific bodies in primary legislation above other interests, we may well exclude organisations that the MMO ought to consult in other cases because we specify in the legislation that it is that class of bodies that have to be consulted.

I want to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, that the MMO needs to employ people who have the appropriate skills and expertise to carry out its functions. I sympathise with the intention behind his amendment. I undertake to ensure that recruitment of staff will be undertaken professionally. Work is already under way to identify the skills and expertise that the organisation will need to carry out the new functions, as well as to prepare for the robustness of the skills base as the existing functions of the current Marine and Fisheries Agency transitions to the Marine Management Organisation. Of course scientific staff will be necessary, but so will other professions and abilities, ranging from engineering, fisheries management, statistical interpretation, planning and economics, to social science as well as marine science and conservation.

In addition to the skills of the staff directly employed, the Marine Management Organisation needs to be able to call on expertise from elsewhere. For example, the current marine licensing operations are informed by science and evidence input from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science within my department. We intend that that key input should continue to be available to the MMO.

It may be thought unnecessary or not cost-effective for the MMO to set up similar expertise when existing expertise will be available to it. That will be a matter for the MMO in discussion with my department. What is not in doubt is that the MMO will have the expertise available either on staff or within the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science. Nor should there be any doubt that the Marine Management Organisation will understand the need to ensure that it has the high-level scientific advice appropriate to it.

We have already discussed our intention for the MMO to have a scientific advisory board. I have already said that we intend to ensure that the MMO has that. There is no disagreement between us about the importance of scientific evidence and of having the right expertise, whether it is employed by the MMO board or made available to it through other agencies. I accept the point raised by the noble Baroness about access to data. I am sure that we will debate that under future amendments.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, wanted reassurance on the question of consistency in Clause 2. She seeks a commonsense interpretation; she is right. I refer her to Clause 45, "Amendment of statement", and Clause 52, "Duty to keep relevant matters under review". I think that we get the balance right. Obviously, she would not disagree with consistency of approach but, equally, I am sure that she would recognise that the Bill contains provisions to allow for revisions and changes to be made from time to time on the basis of the best available evidence.

This is a very important matter. I understand the wish of noble Lords to ensure that the Marine Management Organisation makes its decisions on the basis of the best evidence. The construct of the MMO as provided for in the Bill will allow for that. I also understand that it is important to ensure that the MMO has the right expertise and scientific advice that can be brought to bear. We will certainly ensure that that happens.

Photo of Lord Oxburgh Lord Oxburgh Crossbench 6:45 pm, 12th January 2009

Will the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science receive extra resources to support the needs of the MMO, or will that be on a contractual, consultancy basis, as it might be with any other external organisation?

Photo of Lord Oxburgh Lord Oxburgh Crossbench

Perhaps I may elaborate slightly. There is a big difference between having your scientists in-house and on the team and going to an external organisation for which you pay for your science on a take-it or leave-it basis. It is very important in setting up this organisation that that distinction be recognised.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Energy and Climate Change, Minister of State (Department of Energy and Climate Change), Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality) (also in the Department for Energy and Climate Change), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

I understand that. These matters will have to be worked through by the MMO in discussion with my department and the centre, but I suspect that, in the end, we will see a number of approaches. One would expect the organisation to have scientific advisers on its staff; one would also expect it to have available the resource of the centre; and it may also need to contract out to other organisations. We should leave that as flexible as it can be. The key question is: will the best evidence possible be available to the MMO? The answer to that is in the affirmative.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Spokesperson for Constitutional Affairs

My question follows from the exchanges that have just taken place. I am the complete naive layman. I am a total non-scientist and regard scientists in rather the same way as I regard lawyers: with a degree of admiration, but not believing everything that they tell me.

The Minister has several times during this very interesting debate used the words "the best available evidence". "The best available evidence" is a matter of judgment. The Chamber will agree that scientists do not think the same things at the same time. We have to think only of the science of climatology, which has changed dramatically in recent years. Some scientists have led it; some scientists have held back. The idea that there is a body of science available to the MMO that is unchallenged from all sources is a naive assumption. Therefore, I am with the Minister. It is important that we recognise that the body of science will be available to the MMO. It is quite a different job for the MMO to have sufficient expertise—I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, just said—to use its judgment. That does not necessarily mean that we should follow the precise prescription suggested by several noble Lords. It is important to put on record—I hope that the noble Lord agrees—that the MMO must keep pace with changing science as much as to listen to scientists.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in this debate and to the Minister for his full reply. For clarification, is he saying that although he is not inclined to include my Amendment 28 in Clause 2, nevertheless we can read it as if the amendment were included?

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

Has the Minister received the best evidence available from his advisers?

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

I would have expected nothing less from him. It follows from what he says that I shall return to this matter on Report, because, with great respect to him, he has not met my fundamental argument, which is that in each case where the MMO exercises its judgment, its starting point must be the best available scientific evidence. I accept that there may be different views about what is the best available scientific evidence. Indeed, I am quite sure that people who apply for operational developments at sea will argue that there are different scientific views; but it is vital that the MMO is informed as to what the best available scientific evidence is.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Energy and Climate Change, Minister of State (Department of Energy and Climate Change), Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality) (also in the Department for Energy and Climate Change), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

The MMO must take its decisions on the basis of the objectives laid down in the Act in the context of the marine policy statement, which we will debate in due course, and the guidance mentioned in Clause 2(3). Clearly, the guidance that the Government will give to the Marine Management Organisation and the marine policy statement will be informed by the best available evidence. The MMO must operate within those parameters. It will be called on to make some very difficult judgments, and will work to the guidance and the marine policy statement. Again, one wants and expects it to take those decisions on the basis of the best available evidence. That evidence will probably come from a variety of sources. Like the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, I doubt that there will be unanimity about a particular scientific view, but it will fall to the MMO to decide. That is my problem with the noble Lord's amendment.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

That is a different argument from the one that the Minister deployed previously. I understood him to say that the expression "the best available scientific evidence" is insufficiently precise.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Minister, Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

That is precisely its intention. Its whole intention is to say that this consideration is above all other considerations; because the fundamental question is what impact certain human activities will have on the biodiversity of a particular slice of the ocean. The starting point for the MMO must be to decide what the scientific situation and the state of biodiversity are. How endangered are they? Until the MMO has answered those questions, you cannot say to the fishing interests, the energy interests or even to the renewable energy interests that they can do this or that. The MMO cannot move to that decision. That is why the scientific evidence is qualitatively different from all other forms of evidence. However, the Minister has shaken his head a sufficient number of times in the past 10 seconds to convince me that it is not worth my while pursuing this matter. Once again, I am very grateful to noble Lords, all of whom have informed this debate, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 12 withdrawn.

Amendment 13

Moved by Lord Greaves

13: Schedule 1, page 216, line 6, leave out sub-paragraph (3)

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

Amendment 13 stands all alone and lonely in a little group on its own. It may be that no one wants to be associated with the number 13; I do not know, but there we are. It is on slightly more down-to-earth and practical matters, and refers to paragraph 20 on page 216, which is about the delegation of functions by the MMO. I am using that abbreviation now, so there we go.

Paragraph 20 says:

"The MMO may authorise a committee, sub-committee, member or employee ... to exercise any of the MMO's functions".

This is a fairly normal procedure for any organisation that says to a group of its members, to another group of people or to someone whom it employs that they can have a delegated power to exercise its functions. So far, so good. However, I said earlier that I had an idealistic view that legislation should write down what will happen. I also have a perhaps naive view that I should be able to understand legislation before I am prepared to see it go through the House. I do not understand sub-paragraph (3). I understand what the words mean, but I do not understand how the sub-paragraph will work in practice. It says:

"No authorisation under sub-paragraph (1)"— that is, a delegation to these various bodies—

"prevents ... (a) the MMO from exercising the function itself; (b) a member or employee of the MMO from exercising the function; (c) the MMO from authorising a different committee, sub-committee, member or employee to carry out the function".

At a very simple level, it may simply be saying that it can revoke the previous delegation and delegate to someone else. However, it does not say that. It says that you can delegate the function to a committee, but a member can then exercise it. It is not clear at all what it means in practice. I think it means that having delegated the function to a committee, to a member of the board or whomever, the MMO can decide to delegate it to someone else who can then carry it out. That is obviously sensible; it is the normal world and how things work. One assumes that sub-paragraph (1) would include that anyhow.

The real danger with sub-paragraph (3) is that, if it means what it appears to mean on paper, two or perhaps five different lots of people could be delegated the same function and there could be total chaos. What does it mean? Does it mean revocation or that there could be massive duplication and confusion? The Minister will say, "Of course it will not mean that in the real world. That is not what we will do". I say that what we are going to do is what it says we are going to do. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Energy and Climate Change, Minister of State (Department of Energy and Climate Change), Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality) (also in the Department for Energy and Climate Change), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 7:00 pm, 12th January 2009

This matter is reasonably straightforward. Since the MMO board members alone cannot carry out all the functions of the organisation, it is incumbent on them to delegate the day-to-day management to the chief executive and staff, as is the case for any organisation, whether it is public or private. While the need for the board to delegate responsibility to others is clear, from time to time circumstances may change and responsibilities need to change with them. In such cases, the MMO board needs to have the flexibility to take back responsibility for certain matters or to give it to someone else. That includes asking other employees or members to carry out certain functions even if a different committee or employee has been authorised to do it. The allocation of functions is a matter entirely for the board whose responsibility it is to ensure that the organisation operates effectively. I do not think that this should cause the noble Lord undue concern. It is a perfectly normal process. I hope that this is set out in a way which clarifies that.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

I too had trouble with this paragraph. I waited to hear the Minister, who has not answered my noble friend's point about revocation. It seems to me that it would be possible to have multiple delegations of the same matter. It may be quite straightforward, but it eludes at least two Members of your Lordships' House at the moment.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

The paragraph allows the MMO to delegate to more than one person. It does not follow that because it delegates to someone new it has taken back the first, as the Minister seemed to suggest. The noble Lord asked whether that is what is intended. If it is as has been put by the Minister that should be said.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Energy and Climate Change, Minister of State (Department of Energy and Climate Change), Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality) (also in the Department for Energy and Climate Change), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

As the noble and learned Lord said, paragraph 22 states:

"The MMO may authorise a committee, sub-committee, member or employee of the MMO to exercise any of the MMO's functions".

I am sure that there could be certain circumstances when a number of employees would be so named. Circumstances also might arise where none of those employees could undertake that duty and another member of staff has to be so asked to do. In responding to the noble Baroness, I was saying that the MMO has to keep a record of any authorisations. In making any changes, whether it is an addition or a revocation, a record would be kept.

However, I am very happy to look at this if Members of the Committee think that it is confusing or that we need further clarification. We need to clear this up. My advice is that this wording is used on a frequent basis, but I would be happy to look further into this.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

That is precisely the point I want to make. Earlier, I referred to Government arguments in the previous Session about the desirability of consistency in the schedules setting out the powers of various agencies across legislation. I entirely understand that. Here, it seems that someone has tried to reinvent the wheel on an occasion where it might have been better to follow a precedent.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

I do not think that any of us disagrees with what the Minister has said about the procedure which would happen if the MMO wishes, for whatever reason, to make arrangements for someone else, or another body or committee, to carry out a particular function. There is no problem about that. It says that the MMO can carry out the function, which is fine because that would simply be the MMO taking the function back and doing it itself. If an employee is off sick, resigns or whatever, another employee is allocated to do that job. There is no problem about that. Nor is there a problem if someone is over-worked and wants to allocate the function to one of the people who works for them.

The problem arises when allocating to committees, to sub-committees or to members of the MMO who have been given a particular job to do, and someone else is given a job under sub-paragraph (3) to do the same thing. It does not say that, under sub-paragraph (1), the original authorisation would be revoked. Sub-paragraph (2), referred to by the Minister, which states that a record must be kept, applies only to sub-paragraph (1) and not to sub-paragraph (3). We agree entirely with the Minister about how things should work.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Energy and Climate Change, Minister of State (Department of Energy and Climate Change), Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality) (also in the Department for Energy and Climate Change), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

That refers to the authorisation. We are in danger of getting ourselves in a tangle. Clearly, the circumstances may differ. There may be circumstances where, because of an emergency situation, a person has had to take out an action which was not originally covered by the authorisation, in which case one might assume that, it having been carried out, the original delegations will continue. There might be other circumstances where it might be reasonable to add more names to the list. There has to be flexibility in order for the organisation to decide that.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

No one is arguing about any of that. The tangle arises from this amendment. The Minister is in a tangle in trying to defend the wording. Will he please go away and get one of his draftsmen to write a paragraph that means in practice what he wants to happen? That is all we are asking. This is not a major issue of principle. There is clearly a case to be made that this paragraph is, in the Minister's words, "a tangle". Will he please take it away and look at it? The Minister is shaking his head.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

If Committee stage is to work, on things like this the Minister should go away and rewrite the provision. My final point is to ask the Minister to write to us providing the information about where this wording occurs in other legislation. He claims that it does. It would be interesting to know where. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 13 withdrawn.

Amendment 14

Moved by Lord Greaves

14: Schedule 1, page 217, line 10, at end insert "and how it has taken steps to deliver its general objective, in particular to further sustainable development"

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

Still on Schedule 1, we now move on to the annual report. I shall speak to Amendment 14, which is grouped with Amendments 15 and 18 tabled by the Conservative Front Bench. I shall not say anything about those until they have spoken to them. Paragraph 25 of Schedule 1 states that,

"the MMO must prepare an annual report on how it has discharged its functions during the year".

This amendment would add a reference to delivering its general objective,

"in particular to further sustainable development", which anticipates later amendments on furthering sustainable development. I therefore do not want to speak to that part now. Amendment 15 adds a reference to discharging its general objective.

Under Clause 2, which we have not yet reached, general objectives are set out at a higher level than the functions of the MMO. It would include the requirement that in the annual report the MMO should report on how it delivers its high level general objectives, which I have no doubt will be discussed in great detail fairly soon. I think that many noble Lords feel that the general objectives as set out at the moment are not strong or broad enough, but that is not the point of this amendment. It assumes that the general objectives are in place and that the annual report should refer to them rather than just to functions such as producing plans and the regulation of licences. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

I support Amendment 14 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and I shall speak to our Amendments 15 and 18. It is of the utmost importance to ensure that the MMO remains transparent and reports on the steps it has taken to achieve its general objective. Indeed, I feel that that the MMO should go further, and that is why Amendment 15 would place a duty on it to produce a report detailing its objectives for the new financial year, setting out a business plan on how it intends to achieve them and, most important, whether the objectives for the previous year were met. Paragraph 25(2) of this schedule already provides that the MMO must prepare an annual report. However, without the specifications set out in this amendment, there is a risk that a report might not include the vital information that anyone scrutinising the MMO would need. Does the Minister agree that this would be a disadvantage because weaknesses in the organisation might go unnoticed and unimproved.

The MMO will be a powerful body with a broad remit of functions and a high-profile central objective. It is therefore important that it is seen to be as transparent as possible. A report detailing objectives for the next year, how they are to be met and how the body fared in the previous year will help to make sure that it remains as transparent as possible and thus prevent it becoming just another useless quango. The marine programme plan would appear to be a suitable template for the type of report that it would be useful for the MMO to produce. It includes sections such as "progress so far" and how future progress will be measured, and "our future work programme—key milestones". These all contain detailed information with clear timescales showing both progress and objectives. Is this the sort of report the Minister hopes and expects the MMO to generate? How will he ensure that this happens?

The quest for transparency is also why we have tabled Amendment 18. It has been included to make sure that the Secretary of State has to present reports produced by the MMO on how it has discharged its functions throughout the year before each House of Parliament within 12 months of the end of that year. This is in order to ensure that reports do not get buried if they contain bad news. It is of the greatest importance to have specific timescales for such reports. Does the Minister agree that it is not much good making it compulsory to produce a report on the annual progress of the MMO if there is no requirement for it to be made available to both Houses within a sensibly limited timescale? How, for example, can the actions and achievements of the MMO be properly scrutinised if the reports which it quite rightly has to produce may not be available for many years? Can the Minister elaborate on what sort of the timescale the Government have in mind for placing copies of these reports before Parliament?

The success of the marine Bill and its commitment to sustainable development will necessarily depend in large part on the integrity of the MMO and its success in discharging its functions. It is therefore crucial that this large and important organisation is monitored and called to account for its actions, whether to praise its successes or question its failures. While the Secretary of State can play a part in this, does the Minister agree that parliamentary scrutiny is also very important? In order to carry out such scrutiny effectively, reports must be made available in a timely manner.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality), Department for Energy and Climate Change, Minister of State (Department of Energy and Climate Change), Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Air Quality) (also in the Department for Energy and Climate Change), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 7:15 pm, 12th January 2009

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, seeks to impose a requirement that the MMO in its annual report to the Secretary of State on the discharge of its functions should include the steps it has taken to deliver its general objectives, in particular to further sustainable development. I hope that I can reassure the noble Lord that the general objective of the MMO as defined in Clause 2 is inextricably linked to the discharge of its functions in that they have to be exercised in a manner that is consistent and co-ordinated, and with the objective of making a contribution to the achievement of sustainable development. Any organisation producing an annual report on its activities will necessarily set those activities in the context of its general objective, and to do otherwise would be to obviate the need for an overall objective. This will be no different for the MMO.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is seeking an amendment to the standard procedures for a non-departmental public body for presenting its annual report to Parliament. As is normal, the body concerned needs to report and be accountable through the Secretary of State to Parliament. The MMO is being set up to deliver functions on behalf of the UK Government. Some of those functions may be matters relating to the implementation of EU or international obligations which would require the MMO to take a co-ordinating role on behalf of the UK Government. In such cases, we would expect the MMO to undertake consultation with whoever would be affected throughout the UK area, and to include such matters as necessary in its report. So in all cases it would be appropriate for the MMO to report to this House and the other place.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, seeks to impose an additional requirement that the MMO in its annual report to the Secretary of State on the discharge of its functions should include the objectives it is setting for the forthcoming financial year, together with a business plan, and to include information on whether it has met its objectives for the year. In addition, a time limit would be placed on the production of the annual report to within 12 months. Any organisation producing an annual report on how it has discharged its functions must necessarily include information on whether its objectives have been met. This will be no different for the MMO. In addition, the MMO will be expected, as are other organisations, to prepare a business plan and a corporate plan for publication. These documents will be made available to the House, as they are for other such organisations. Should the Secretary of State perceive a need for any additional information from the MMO, Clause 27 places a duty on it to provide him with such information as he may reasonably require relating to the carrying out of its functions or its responsibilities generally. Such information is to be provided in the form or manner required by the Secretary of State, who may also require additional explanations.

On timing, we would expect an annual report to be produced well within 12 months of the year end, and we will make clear in guidance to the MMO that that is our expectation.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

I think the noble Lord will find that that is set out in Clause 28 rather than Clause 27. Without being nitpicking, there is a general requirement under Clause 28.

I am a little concerned about the reluctance to provide for a 12-month deadline in the Bill.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

I apologise to the Minister; I was trying to be helpful. I am also trying to be helpful in speaking to these amendments because I think that they would strengthen the Secretary of State's position in respect of the MMO. In dealing with the nature of an annual report, it is important that we should provide here in Parliament some of the issues we think it should address. A general principle, which the Minister has suggested is sufficient, may not be enough for Parliament, so I would suggest that Parliament should have an opportunity in enacting legislation to oblige the MMO to adopt a form of practice that I think it would consider to be satisfactory. I also regret that the Minister, while acknowledging that 12 months is a perfectly regular length of time for a report to be received within, is not prepared to see that in the Bill. I am grateful for the Minister's observations. No doubt we will discuss this matter again.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

There is some confusion between paragraph 28 of Schedule 1, which refers to the provision of account-type information to the Secretary of State, and Clause 27, which refers to general information. I think they both apply in different ways, and probably overlap. I was interested in the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and the Minister's reply. It seems that what we now have on the record is a very satisfactory assurance of what will happen and how it will work in practice. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, will have his own views on that in due course.

On my amendment, I heard what the Minister said. Clearly, "functions" refers to objectives. I do not quite understand why the Minister is opposing the idea that the Bill should say that there should be a report about the general objectives. This would particularly be the case if the wishes of some of us—expressed in later amendments—to expand those general objectives came about. For the moment, I certainly beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 14 withdrawn.

Amendment 15 not moved.

Photo of Lord Brougham and Vaux Lord Brougham and Vaux Conservative

Amendment 18 has been wrongly marshalled.

Amendment 18 not moved.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.22 pm.