Clause 43: Preparation and coming into force of statement
Moved by Baroness Hamwee
85C: Clause 43, page 22, line 19, at end insert—
"(2A) Where a policy authority, as defined in section 42(4), decides not to prepare an MPS jointly with the other policy authorities, they must publish notice in each of the Gazettes (as defined in section 46(9)) of their intention not to prepare an MPS and provide their reasons."
Amendment 85C is grouped with the Question on Clause 43 stand part and with Amendments 86E, 86F and 86G. The amendments, as distinct from the Question on clause stand part, have been suggested to us by the Link Coalition, the membership of which I explained in our previous Committee sitting.
These amendments would strengthen the provisions for a marine policy authority to opt out of or withdraw from a marine policy statement. Under the Bill as drafted, individual Administrations can opt out of preparing and adopting a marine policy statement with the other devolved Administrations and the Secretary of State. As it is suggested that there should be an incentive in the legislation for what one might call "political buy-in" to the marine policy statements, we believe that the devolved Administrations should be allowed to do things as they see fit. We do not want to be too heavy-handed about this. However, when an Administration do opt out they should be required to publish their rationale; and when an Administration have agreed to a marine policy statement in the first place, they should perhaps be prepared to stand by it. At any rate, if they are withdrawing, they should again publish a rationale in addition to the notice required by the Bill. A time limit between notification and actual withdrawal should also be prescribed to allow for negotiation and discussion.
I gave the Bill team warning that I was opposing the Question that Clause 43 stand part in order to ask the Minister for an update on the timetable for MPSs. At the end of our previous Committee sitting the Minister referred to the issue when he said that,
"2010 is a critical date".—[Hansard, 28/1/09; col. 336.]
However, he did not want to be too precise. Perhaps he can say more this afternoon.
I have used the term which is used in the Bill: "withdrawal from" the statement. Although I am beginning to understand Clause 46, it is still not an easy clause. I hesitate to say that because my noble friend Lord Greaves and I find this Bill—and we are both labouring on a different Bill in another part of the House, sometimes on the same day and sometimes on different days—though it is so much longer, a great relief because of the way in which it is drafted. I do not want to sound patronising but we find this Bill easy to follow and well drafted. We are extremely grateful for that.
The term "withdrawal" puzzled me at first because it is used in quite an old-fashioned sense here. I also had a little difficulty, and this is pertinent to Amendment 85C, with Clause 43(2), which says:
I suppose it is implicit in that that the invitation has been refused either outright or because conditions attached to it were unacceptable, or something of the sort. Those issues led to my confusion and, therefore, to some of these amendments. I beg to move.
This group of amendments follows on naturally from the discussions we had in our last day in Committee. I thank the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to probe this area. She is quite right that it is to be hoped that no authority would withdraw from an MPS, but that it would instead continue to operate in co-ordination with the Secretary of State and the other authorities. The requirement to publish any decision to withdraw is the minimum that one would expect from an authority taking such a drastic step. It would allow the public and other stakeholders the opportunity of identifying whether their authority was pursuing the wrong path. It is conceivable that the withdrawing authority will have a very good reason for doing so, but such a reason should be made public for a proper assessment.
Of course, even if there were a good reason for one authority to withdraw from the MPS, it would still be preferable for the MPS as a whole to be reviewed rather than for the authorities to go their separate ways. A compromise would be preferable. We therefore hope that the Minister will look carefully at Amendment 86F.
I should like to take this opportunity to probe a little more deeply the possibility of a partial withdrawal or opt-out by one country or authority. If, for example, one country agrees with the lion's share of the MPS but cannot agree on one point or section, can it opt-out of that section only and sign up for the rest of the MPS? That section would state that all other policy authorities agreed except for "country X". It could then state its preferred alternative policy for that section of the MPS. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response on the efforts to be made to keep everyone on board even if they perhaps do not agree with every provision.
Finally, I should like to probe the role of the MMO in the production of the MPS. Is it to have a role in preparing, reviewing and amending all compliance with the MPS? If not, should I add it to my list of areas where the MMO has no role? That would be number 6 on my list.
I approach Amendment 85C from a slightly different angle from my noble friend Lord Cathcart. Can the Minister clarify whether it would be correct to say that a policy authority that does not want to be part of the marine policy statement could not be a policy authority as defined under the Bill?
The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, seems to presume that different Administrations might think that they can produce a marine policy statement of their own and still be regarded as a policy authority. Surely the challenge for the UK Ministers, as much as for any of the others participating, is that they must sit down together and come up with a marine policy statement to which they can all adhere.
The critical issue for the Minister and his colleagues is to ensure that the marine policy statement is not a toothless wish list, somewhat on a par with the list of general objectives that were put forward for the Marine Management Organisation. What criteria do the Government have in mind as the framework for a marine policy statement?
I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate, particularly the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, who has answered the broad thrust of these amendments succinctly and accurately. The obligation on the authority is to reach agreement and to put forward a position from which withdrawal is not sought.
I do not know whether it is that the Liberal Democrats have been out of central government for more than a century, but I have to say to the noble Baroness that it is an odd administrative concept to say that there could be partial withdrawal from the position—that an authority could indicate that it does not subscribe to a dot or comma in the framework and therefore does not wish to be totally identified with it. That cannot be how anyone envisages this policy developing, as the noble Duke rightly identified. The noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, emphasised this fact. The obligation is on the authorities to reach a position in discussion and negotiation and to ensure that the strategies potentially provided for in these amendments are rendered quite nugatory. We oppose the concept of partial withdrawal and the idea that a marine policy statement can make any kind of sense when key actors are part and parcel of the process but indicate that they want nothing to do with it. It is clear that the authority's objective is to obtain a joint marine policy statement; that is its goal and intention. Of course I recognise that that is no easy task. However, I resist the concept that legislation should provide escape routes from developing a coherent, agreed policy. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the tribute she paid to the Bill's draftsmen for the work that has gone into its preparation. However, I shall not comment on the objectivity of her remarks as regards this measure, or whether she is contrasting it with another measure.
We have made it clear that the Bill as drafted offers a number of incentives to participate in drawing up the marine policy statement. The negotiated and agreed status of the MPS provides all Administrations with the ability to influence its development and to be fully participative in the process by which it is established. Within that framework we do not expect any devolved Administration to withdraw from the MPS. In fact, I wonder what credibility a marine policy statement would have if a devolved Administration had sufficient objections to it for it to conclude that it wanted no part of it. The Government consider that these amendments are an insurance policy against failure. However, the objective of any Bill is to achieve the policy which the Government have identified as being in the public interest, and to provide proper arrangements whereby that objective can be realised.
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Surely he will allow that, in drawing up the marine policy statement, it will be possible to have certain specific exceptions built into the original statement to which the parties agree, although I suppose you would have to see what you ran into at that time. The amendment is concerned with somebody withdrawing from the measure. If somebody withdraws, will they no longer be a policy authority?
That is an interesting point. However, I am trying to establish the preceding point. Of course, we accept that the marine policy statement might recognise an authority's reservation about a part of it. However, that is vastly different from saying that the authority can withdraw from the statement. The concept of an authority publishing its negotiating disagreements must be foreign to any sound Administration and would surely put any Government in a very complex position.
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Is he really saying that if there is a serious policy disagreement between the UK Government here and the Scottish Government in Edinburgh, there will not be statements made to Parliament and lots of other means by which it is put in the public realm? The idea that these things will not be published is surely not the case in the real world.
Exactly, and if they are going to do that, and nothing on earth will stop them—nor would anyone in this House wish to stop them—why do we need an amendment which paves the way for them to do it when, quite clearly, it will be done anyway? That is part of the give and take of negotiations on the marine policy statement. The noble Lord will recognise that, in resisting the amendments, the Government are merely asking why we need amendments to a Bill that is descriptive of the negotiating process when we are talking about serious authorities, with serious responsibilities, which know how to make themselves accountable to the public, because they all are accountable. Therefore, they know the circumstances in which they have to make their positions clear.
I resist the amendments because they seek to introduce into primary legislation what is effectively the development of a policy. That is an administrative and political exercise and need not be enshrined in every detail in statute.
I apologise to the noble Earl. He asked me that specific question and I ought to have answered it. In responding to the major issues, I missed this very important issue. The first marine policy statement is being worked on, and it will be worked on before the Bill becomes law and the MMO is set up. Of course the MMO, once it has been established, will always be consulted as an interested party on the development of the MPS.
I find the concept of an obligation to reach agreement quite strange. On partial withdrawal, the Minister chastised me as being negative, and said that it really is not a sensible proposition. If partial withdrawal is not possible, there would be total withdrawal if the parties are not in agreement. In response to his challenge to my political philosophy, I say that perhaps he is too used to polarised politics to understand that situation.
The amendments are not descriptive; they are quite clear. They are not narrative, and they are fairly precise. The Government think that by identifying their objective, the objective will happen. I had better not at the very start of today's proceedings rise too much to what we have just heard. It was not a terribly satisfactory response; nor do I think that the answer to the noble Earl was one that he will feel entirely happy with. It seems to have come out as something of an afterthought. Of course, the MMO will be consulted when it is relevant. I dare say we will come back to that, if not to the amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I tabled the amendments to probe a little further the differences between the procedures set out in the Planning Act 2008 and this Bill. In particular, Amendments 85CA and 85DBA concern a sustainability appraisal when the marine policy statement is produced or reviewed. When I read Clause 44, on the review of the MPS, it surprised me that it consisted of only one sentence. That prompted me to look at the Planning Act, which devotes almost a whole page to reviewing a national policy statement. I then tried to identify the differences or omissions when comparing the national policy statements and the MPS.
My first amendment, Amendment 85CA, concerns the need to,
"carry out an appraisal of the sustainability of the policy", when preparing the MPS. I know that Clause 42(1)(a) says that the MPS must state,
"general policies ... for contributing to the achievement of sustainable development in the UK marine area".
I apologise to the Committee if it seems that this amendment goes over old ground, but my comments are important in relation to preparing the MPS and, therefore, relate to this clause.
I have two points. The first concerns the word "contributing", rather than "promoting", and goes back to our debate on Clause 2. I do not propose to regurgitate those arguments, other than to say that this overarching policy document, the MPS, should be subject to stronger wording than just "contributing to ... sustainable development". For example, the marine conservation zones will satisfy the current requirement in the Bill, as there is no doubt that they will contribute to sustainable development. The Bill effectively says, "So that's all right then. We've made our contribution and we can do what we like with the rest of the seas". I know that that is not the Government's intention, but that is the effect at the moment. There should be something stronger in the Bill.
My second point concerns the wording that the MPS must state "general policies". It struck me that the marine policy statement might end up being as woolly as we agreed that Clause 2 was on the objectives of the MMO. The marine policy statement should be a robust document with strong policies clearly set out.
When I was a soldier, we were taught that, before carrying out an operation, the officer commanding had to give his orders. The first and most important part of giving orders was to say what the mission—the prime objective—was. The mission statement had to be clear, concise and, if possible, in one sentence. It would be followed by a detailed method of achieving the aim, so that all those taking part in the operation were left in no doubt as to their role and the part that they were expected to play in achieving that single objective. An example of a mission statement might be, "We will attack and capture the enemy position on top of that hill". That is clear, concise—it is one sentence—and leaves no doubt as to what the objective is.
I would expect both Clause 2, on the objective of the MMO, and the aim of the MPS to be just as concise. For example, the aim of the MPS might be, "To set out policies to ensure that the marine environment is protected while allowing human activity to continue". It would then be followed by concise and robust methods of how that was to be achieved and would leave no doubt to all those involved in the marine area of their duties and expectations. Therefore, I have concerns when the Bill talks of general policies. That is too woolly and wishy-washy. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the MPS will be concise and robust.
The next two amendments concern requirements when reviewing the MPS and were triggered when I read the single sentence in Clause 44. The Planning Act requires that, before a statement is amended, an appraisal of the sustainability of the policy set out in the new aim must be carried out. Secondly, the Act states that a statement can be amended only if the relevant consultation, publicity and parliamentary requirements have been complied with. We should like to ensure that these two requirements are replicated in a review of the MPS.
Paragraph 2(1) of Schedule 5 states that,
"'relevant document' means ... amendments of an MPS", but it is not clear that a review includes the provisions laid out in these two amendments. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm that that is the Government's intention. If it is, should that not be made clear in the Bill? I beg to move.
When I first looked at the amendments in the group, I thought that they were fairly simple and straightforward, and I have been slightly amazed at the wide-ranging speech of the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, in supporting them. However, we have considerable sympathy with what we understand to be the aim of the first two amendments, Amendments 85CA and 85DBA. I am not sure that they are in exactly the right place in the Bill but I shall be very interested to hear what the Minister says in response to them.
The third amendment in the group, Amendment 85DBB, appears to be in the wrong place. The noble Earl did not seem to speak to it, so I shall not comment on it further. I think that we will be discussing these matters two or three groups ahead.
The main point in the very interesting general comments of the noble Earl concerned the compatibility of this Bill and the Planning Act, and, in particular, whether the regime and rules for the marine policy statement will effectively be the same as for national policy statements under the Planning Act or whether the MPS will in some ways be different. That theme has run through quite a few of our discussions; it is a fairly fundamental issue that the Minister needs to get a grip on, not least so that we understand the position.
As the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, was generous enough to acknowledge, we have been around this course before. We debated it in the context of Clause 2 and, I think, on one or two other occasions. At that time, we sought to make it clear that we do not in any way, shape or form contend with noble Lords about the objective of ensuring that sustainability forms a significant part of the Bill and an obligation in the marine policy statement. There is no question of any division between us in our desire to make that clear. The difference is that the noble Earl wishes to amend the clause and we are not convinced that that is necessary. It is not that we take the amendment lightly. After all, it strikes at the heart of a significant objective of the Bill and a very important consideration.
We have consulted very thoroughly. I refer to the noble Baroness's earlier comment that the draftsmen have worked on the Bill with some care. We asked whether the Bill needed strengthening with the kind of amendment that the noble Earl has put forward here and the answer was clear. As we made explicit in earlier debates, the Bill is drafted to ensure that the achievement of sustainable development in the UK marine area is an important part of the Bill. The MPS should contribute to guaranteeing that that objective, which is a serious obligation, is realised. If the MPS does not make this contribution to sustainability, it is not a marine policy statement under the Bill. The MPS will have an impact assessment, too. I am in no way critical; I am entirely sympathetic to the objectives of the amendments but I am saying merely that the Bill delivers them, so the amendments are not necessary.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said that we will discuss the concept behind the third amendment later. I hope that the noble Earl will accept the obvious point that he is not just pressing at an open door; it is a door that we have already gone through to reach exactly the objectives that he seeks to achieve. The Bill is drafted in those terms and he should have no anxiety about or need to press the amendment. I therefore hope that he will withdraw it.
I shall narrow that point. We went back and talked to parliamentary counsel about the drafting of the Bill in terms of awareness and appreciation of the crucial point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, on the Bill hitting the objective of sustainability. To be viable, the marine policy statement would require that to be hit. We are entirely secure that the Bill delivers that, which is why I responded with such confidence. I was not talking about extra consultation at that point.
That is so, but the noble Baroness will be all too well aware of the consultation preceding the development of the Bill, in which this was a clear objective. We merely sought to reassure ourselves once the noble Earl had tabled his amendment that there was sufficient substance to give additional clarity and support to the concept of sustainability. We are confident that the Bill is correctly drafted and does not need the amendment.
Will the Government set out in some form the difference between national policy statements and marine policy statements and how they will be dealt with procedurally and otherwise? That would be extremely helpful.
I know why, for the best of reasons, the noble Lord was not with us on the previous occasion but I seem to recall this issue having arisen before. We indicated that we were positive in relation to that concept. However, if I am wrong, I reassure him now that we agree with his point and will certainly do that.
That was an interesting debate, on which I have a number of points to make. First, if I were cheeky enough to ask Members of the Committee to write down what they think is the objective of the marine policy statement, having read the relevant clause, we would get a number of different answers, as the Bill is far from clear. Secondly, the Minister did not address the review of the MPS, which was the subject of my second and third amendments. There is no requirement in the Bill that policy authorities must carry out an appraisal of the sustainability of the policy when reviewing an MPS. Thirdly, the Bill still does not set out clearly that policy authorities may amend the MPS only if consultation, publicity and parliamentary requirements set out in Schedule 5 have been complied with in relation to the proposed amendment.
Perhaps I was too brief when I referred to the impact assessment. I was indicating the process of review in these terms and of course any amendments to the marine policy process would also have to go through adequate consultation. Perhaps I was remiss in not being sufficiently emphatic about the impact assessment. It is a clear part of the MPS process.
Amendment 85CA withdrawn.
Clause 43 agreed.
Clause 44: Review of statement
Moved by Baroness Hamwee
85D: Clause 44, page 22, leave out lines 26 and 27 and insert—
"(1) For so long as an MPS is in effect, the policy authority must keep under review each of the matters referred to in subsection (2).
(2) The matters are—
(a) the effects of the policies in the MPS;
(b) the effectiveness of those policies in securing that the objectives for which the MPS was prepared and adopted are met;
(c) the progress being made towards securing those objectives.
(3) The policy authorities must from time to time prepare and publish a report on the matters kept under review pursuant to subsection (1).
(4) After publishing a report under subsection (3), the policy authority must decide whether or not to amend or replace the marine plan.
(5) The first report must be published before the expiration of five years beginning with the date on which the MPS was adopted.
(6) After the publication of the first report, successive reports must be published at intervals of no more than five years following the date of publication of the previous report.
(7) Any reference in this section to the replacement of an MPS is a reference to preparing and adopting, in accordance with the provisions of this Part, a fresh MPS which replaces an earlier MPS as determined by section 43(3)."
I shall speak also to Amendment 85DC. I cannot claim the credit for the drafting of either of these long amendments. The first comes from Link Coalition and relates to the timetable for the review of a marine policy statement. It would leave out the moderately open-ended and brief provision that the policy authorities,
"must review the MPS whenever they consider it appropriate to do so".
The amendment replaces that provision with a longer one providing for a periodic report on the matters kept under review, the first report to be published within five years of the MPS and then at five-yearly intervals thereafter. This is because of the desirability of a long-stop date for a review rather than the open-ended term "periodically". The amendment would add the same provisions for monitoring, review and update as are included for marine plans in Clause 58, although after a five-year rather than a three-year period.
Amendment 85D is lifted from Section 11 of the Planning Act 2008, which deals with the position after a material change that was not anticipated when the statement was created. The Planning Act provides what should then happen as regards the NPS—the national policy statement. There should therefore be a similar provision in the case of an MPS—a marine policy statement. The terminology is as exact as it can be, changing "N" for "M". I beg to move.
Again, I agree with the general thrust of these amendments and I hope that the Minister will carefully consider the noble Baroness's concerns. Every five years is certainly not too often for the MPS to be reviewed. In five years, if everything has gone as the Government think it will, the MMO will be up and running, the marine plans should be rolled out, and the marine conservation zones will be designated by the time of the first review.
Any mistakes in the Government's policy, or corrections needed to the legislation, must be identified and fixed as soon as possible. The Government have made the point about the need for flexibility several times, and it is true that there will be many developments over the next five years, such as new marine conservation research, new European and international legislation or new technology for producing renewable energy, that could necessitate a rethink of the authority's approach to marine planning. I hope that the Government already have the intention of reviewing the marine policy statement every five years, and if they do, I cannot think what possible objection they could have to putting the duty in the Bill.
The Minister may say that the Government do not want to put too much detail into primary legislation. As it stands, Clause 44, entitled "Review of Statement", is a two-liner, but the Planning Act devoted a whole page to the review of a national policy statement. I am sure that the Minister would want to be as consistent as possible. I know that he was not involved in the Planning Act but, if he has not already done so, he might like to look at Section 6 of that Act. Does he envisage the possibility of reviewing only part of the MPS? Section 6 of the Planning Act allows for part of an NPS to be reviewed, so it should be made possible to review only part of the marine policy statement. After completing a review of all or part of the MPS, the Secretary of State must do one of the following things: amend all or part of the MPS, withdraw that statement's designation as an MPS, or leave the statement as it is. That comes straight out of Section 5 of the Planning Act.
The noble Baroness raised an interesting point about what happens to ongoing planning decisions in the event that the MPS is under review. The way the Bill is drafted suggests that the original MPS continues until the procedure for amending it is completed. That implies that in the mean time the flawed policy will continue to be applied, even though there is general awareness of its shortcomings. I look forward to hearing how the Minister envisages the statement continuing to operate when under review. Surely it would be preferable to suspend those activities affected by the review until such time as the matter has been resolved. By the same token, as I argued earlier, it should be possible to suspend only that part of the MPS affected by the need for change.
I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken on these amendments. Of course we want the MPS to be a settled statement of our policies for contributing to the achievement of sustainable development in the UK marine area. We want industry and commerce to be able to rely on the MPS in planning their business and investments, and we do not want to undermine that trust by creating the impression that everything in the MPS is subject to revision every five years, which is what Amendment 85D suggests. That is also the reason why we do not want to create doubt over the status or future of the MPS by enabling all or part of it to be suspended indefinitely in the manner in the new clause inserted by Amendment 85DC. The Committee will appreciate that if these amendments were accepted, they would produce real uncertainty about a crucial area of policy. A policy may indeed be subject to review but there is a world of difference between it being subject to review and then possibly, after consultation, being improved, and a hiatus occurring in which the policy is suspended and everyone has to cope with what has gone by as being unsatisfactory and what is to replace it having not been agreed. Again, I emphasise that that is an unrealistic perspective to include in legislation.
Of course we understand the necessity for revision. Of course we appreciate that changes will occur, but that is a little different from what would be required if the amendments were passed. I assure the Committee that the Government are committed to the concept of a regular review and report on progress in meeting the MPS objectives in two ways. First, the requirements of the marine strategy framework directive, which must be transposed by July 2010, include a duty on member states to report on progress towards achieving good environment status every six years. A separate report by the UK as a whole will inevitably cover much the same ground as any report on the effectiveness of the marine policy statement in achieving the objectives, especially as compliance with the marine strategy framework directive will be one of those objectives. So we are committed by external obligations to review the position every six years and make clear how policy is developing.
Also, Clause 58, which the amendment closely mirrors, imposes a monitoring and reporting requirement on marine plans. It also requires those reports to set out the progress being made in the marine region towards achieving the objectives in the marine policy statement and for reports to be presented every three years. Of course the Government have taken into consideration the constructive intent behind the amendments: that there must be a clear strategy for review of the effectiveness of the MPS. It will be monitored and reported on directly in the way I described.
On Amendment 85D, as I said, our primary concern is to preserve the confidence of decision-makers and investors in the MPS. I recognise the objectives and motivation behind the amendment based on Section 11 of the Planning Act, but national policy statements under that Act are different from what we are considering in the Bill. There is no direct equivalent in the MPS. National policy statements will be used primarily by one body—the Infrastructure Planning Commission—making its decisions on a small number of applications each year on nationally significant infrastructure projects. The marine policy statement will be relevant to any decision by any public authority capable of affecting the UK marine area. That is a very different concept. That is why drawing parallels from the Planning Act is not directly relevant.
If we were indefinitely to suspend the operation of all or part of the MPS, we would create the very uncertainty that would be bound to be deleterious to the wider community. The danger would be that confidence in the whole MPS would be eradicated. Moreover, Clause 44 currently enables any policy authority that has prepared and adopted the MPS to review it at any time, although without affecting its operation. The amendment proposed by the noble Baroness would require the joint agreement of all the policy authorities to the suspension. As I have indicated, we see great dangers in the concept of suspension and wish to resist them. We are not unaware that the concept behind the proposal is that the policy must be subject to analysis and review. I have indicated how that will happen, and I hope the Committee will appreciate the administrative reasons why we find the concept of suspension difficult to accept.
The noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, asked whether a review of part of the MPS would be possible. There is a duty to review the MPS if any change is considered appropriate. If that change had an impact on only part of the MPS, we would review only that part, so a partial review in that sense is possible.
I hope that noble Lords will feel that the Government have considered the intent behind their amendments, and that they will accept that the structure that we have for review and the problematic aspect of suspension mean that the Government have got this particularly important issue right in the Bill. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Until the Minister got into some of the detail of suspension, after his initial blanking of it, I thought that it was a very good job that he was not on the government Front Bench during consideration of the then Planning Bill, because, as I said, this is a direct lift from that Bill. One sometimes wonders whether departments have thorough enough discussions with one another. Of course the situations are not absolutely directly equivalent, but the marine policy statements are the basis for the marine plans and are therefore close enough to warrant my consideration of the detail of what the Minister has said—this is quite an interesting situation—and perhaps to revisit this at the next stage of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill.
On Amendment 85D, I do not believe that a five-yearly review means a five-yearly revision. Indeed, the Minister talked about impressions that were given. I do not think that it would create any impression that would in any way undermine confidence, which he also talked about, any more than the looser provision for review in the Bill. Perhaps this amendment could also be tweaked. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 85D withdrawn.
Amendments 85DZA and 85DA not moved.
Clause 44 agreed.
Clause 45: Amendment of statement
Amendments 85DB to 85DBB not moved.
Clause 45 agreed.
Amendment 85DC not moved
Schedule 5 : Preparation of an MPS or of amendments of an MPS
Moved by Baroness Hamwee
85DD: Schedule 5, page 226, line 37, at end insert "or revision"
In moving Amendment 85DD, I will also speak to Amendments 85E to 85H and 89C to 89F. My noble friend Lady Miller also has two amendments, and there is a government amendment, in this group.
Amendment 85DD would amend Schedule 5 by extending the statement of public participation provisions to a revision of the marine policy statement.
The words "relevant document" are defined in paragraph 2 of Schedule 5, which includes amendments of an MPS. Assuming that a revision leads to an amendment, revision is a distinct step. The word "review" might have been better for the purpose of the amendment. Making that distinction has led to my amendment to the Bill.
On the back of that, I should like to ask the Minister a question about paragraph 1 of the schedule, which is relevant to understanding what we will be debating. I noticed this only this morning. Paragraph 1 states:
"Before any policy authorities publish a relevant document, they must comply with the requirements ... of this Schedule".
In this modern usage of the words, "any policy authorities" and the word "they", is "they" singular in this case? I assume that it does not mean that if,
"any policy authorities publish a relevant document", all policy authorities,
"must comply with the requirements".
A definition of "relative authorities" kicks in further on. I was a bit confused by the wording at the beginning of the schedule.
My other amendments in this group come from the Link Coalition. I hope that it is not thought that we are in any way in its pockets or are just acting as a mouthpiece. We happen to share most of its views, but Members of the Committee will not be privy to a few exchanges where, on this Bill and on other Bills with the same organisation, we have said "Sorry, we do not agree with you. These are our amendments now".
The Bill leaves open the details of the public participation process and allows for flexibility. But the UK is under an obligation to make specific provision for public participation in respect of environmental plans and so on under the Aarhus Convention, including the following requirements: reasonable timeframes for different phases with sufficient time for effective participation, early public participation when the options are still open and due account to be taken of the outcome of public participation. Whether or not those requirements were in the Aarhus Convention, which this country has ratified, it is all a good thing. An obligation to produce guidance on minimum requirements might also be desirable to ensure that there are minimum standards and consistency in this area.
There should also be an obligation to have public meetings and a requirement to include information about public meetings in the SPP—I am doing what I hate in that I am being reduced to acronyms because it is too tempting—and a provision for interested persons to object to the statement if they think that the process of developing the marine policy statement and the involvement of the public is in some way unfair. There are similar provisions relating to marine plans.
The Planning Act 2008, which we will inevitably pray in aid on many occasions during this part of the Bill, has extensive provisions about public participation, albeit that they are not precisely in the form we would have liked to see. So the overall question is: why not here?
I welcome government Amendment 89CC, but it is quite limited compared with the amendments in my name. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has raised some interesting points and I look forward to hearing the Minister's response. While we are on the matter of the statement of public participation, I should like to seek clarification in a number of areas. First, am I correct in assuming that there is just one SPP for the whole of the UK and not separate ones for each of the devolved powers? Secondly, paragraph 5 of Schedule 5 talks about a "proposed timetable". Can the Minister enlarge on this? There was some debate about it when the Planning Act was being discussed, particularly on allowing sufficient time for the consultation process. Thirdly, I could not agree more with Amendment 85F tabled by the noble Baroness, which states that there "must" be public meetings on the consultation draft.
I rise to speak briefly to my amendments grouped with those of my noble friend, and I am grateful to her for raising the profile of this issue. My amendments seek to address the really quite odd words used by the Government in paragraph 4(3), which states:
"The relevant authorities must publish the SPP in a way calculated to bring it to the attention of interested persons".
My proposal is to substitute the phrase "in a way calculated" with "so as". The Government's phrase seems a little mealy-mouthed. Does it leave some form of loophole so that if they do not bring the SPP to the attention of interested parties they can say, "Well, we calculated it would, but actually it did not"? I am concerned that this is quite a difficult area in terms of public participation because it concerns the marine environment, one where people do not actually live. That is wholly different from an SPP in the terrestrial context; it really is a bit of an unknown quantity.
My second amendment asks for an,
"assessment of the effectiveness of the methodology adopted".
I am not sure that that would need to go on for ever, but at the beginning of the process it would be useful to know that the way in which people were consulted on the SPP has been properly evaluated and that any changes to improve the process have subsequently been made. That is the purpose of this amendment.
Public participation is very important indeed to the integrity of the processes for developing both the marine policy statement and subsequently the marine plan, so this is a welcome debate. A number of specific questions have been put to me, and perhaps I may answer those first.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked whether the word "they" used in paragraph 1 of Schedule 5 is meant to be singular or plural. Our response is that it means all or any of those who are going to publish, and I have been advised that as a matter of law, singular implies plural and vice versa—I am sure that that has satisfied her. I should also direct the noble Baroness to the definition of "policy authority" in Clause 42(4). I know that she was not able to be present when we debated it, but that clause defines policy authorities as,
"(b) the Secretary of State;
(b) the Scottish Ministers;
(c) the Welsh Ministers;
(d) the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland".
Perhaps I may also refer her to Clause 43(1) which makes it clear that an MPS,
"may only be prepared by—
(a) all the policy authorities, acting jointly,
(b) the Secretary of State and any one or more other policy authorities acting jointly"— which allows one or more to duck out of the process—
"or, (c) the Secretary of State".
I hope that putting all this together with paragraph (1) makes it clear to the noble Baroness.
As to the question raised by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, we are talking about one marine policy statement and one statement of public participation. It is a part of the challenge to which the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, referred earlier of ensuring, wishing, expecting and hoping that the UK Government and the devolved Administrations work together. The incentive is that if one of the devolved Administrations does not take part or withdraws, they will lose their influence over the marine policy statement. Taken by and large, and in the light of the discussions that have taken place between Ministers and officials in all the relevant Administrations, we believe there is a general recognition that, while it will be challenging and there will inevitably be tensions, there are powerful incentives to make people want to come together so that one marine policy statement covering the whole of the United Kingdom emerges.
In ensuring that that happens and that it is as effective as possible—that it is not, in the words of the noble Duke, motherhood, apple pie and little more—the public participation part of the process will be very important. It will be a document in its own right and it is intended to place into context how it will be used. So anyone who has an interest in or is affected by a proposed marine policy statement or a marine plan will be able to take part in the process. Clearly, although we are debating Schedule 5, Schedule 6 contains similar provisions for marine plans in relation to the statement of public participation.
On Amendments 85E and 89C, we would argue that the statement of public participation gives guidance for public participation by setting out how the plan authority must involve people in the development or revision of the MPS and marine plans and the timetable for taking it forward. This would include details of when the plan authority proposes to publish the draft MPS or plan for public consultation. However, we have already given a commitment, which I am happy to reiterate, that we will produce, consult on and publish guidance to the MMO on the expected standards of stakeholder engagement and public participation it is expected to meet when preparing marine plans.
All policy and marine plan authorities will be subject to the various legal obligations on public access to information and participation in decision-making arising from both European and domestic legislation. I can confirm that that will include directive 2003/35/EC, providing for public participation in the drawing up of certain plans and programmes relating to the environment, and directive 2001/42/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment, otherwise known as the SEA directive, which requires public consultation to be held in relation to proposed plans and programmes which may have significant environmental effects. We believe that the requirements are already in place and that we do not have to reiterate our duty to comply with them in preparing the SPP.
Amendments 85EA and 85EB seek to alter the provisions in paragraph 4 of Schedule 5 which relate to the publication of the statement of public participation. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in particular, referred to that. The current text of paragraph 4(3) requires that the relevant authorities must publish the SPP in a way calculated to bring it to the attention of interested persons. The current wording supports the intention that we have set out, which is to place the authority in no doubt that we want an active process, designed to ensure that interested persons are engaged. We have made it clear that as well as any person who may appear to the authority to be likely to be interested or affected, we want to engage the attention of members of the public.
The second amendment would place a requirement on the authority that the effectiveness of the process used to gain the attention of interested persons should be assessed, and that assessment published. We are not anticipating that the development of an SPP for an MPS—I am falling into the same trap that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, fell into—will be a frequent occurrence, for the reason that my noble friend Lord Davies gave. We hope that a marine policy statement will have a good life before needing to be amended or replaced. Clearly, the authority needs to be aware of the most relevant way available at the time of bringing an SPP to the attention of interested persons. Most consultation and engagement processes result in a summary of that public consultation being made available, and lessons are learnt for the next exercise. Certainly, we have learnt that through the development of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill.
We have already given a commitment that guidance will be provided to the Marine Management Organisation on the standards of consultation to which we expect it to adhere. I know that the devolved Administrations also have standards of public consultation and engagement. My whole experience of government suggests that we are engaged continuously in a programme of consultation and engagement. That is right, and it will happen in relation to the arrangements as regards marine policy statements and marine plans. For that reason, we do not really see the benefit of putting the additional requirement on the policy authorities into the Bill.
On Amendments 85F and 89F, the statement of public participation will be a living document that will be updated throughout the process of preparing each marine policy statement or plan to take account of any change in priorities, needs and circumstances. This is designed to enable those with an interest to be clear about the anticipated process, consider the involvement that they want to have and plan ahead for it.
Amendment 85DD seeks to ensure that an SPP is prepared for revisions to a marine policy statement as well as the marine policy statement prepared originally. The entire process for the preparation of, and amendment to, a marine policy statement is set out in some detail in Schedule 5. Clause 45 enables the policy authorities that originally prepared the MPS to amend it by following exactly the same procedure, as set out in Schedule 5, as was used to prepare the original marine policy statement. This is reiterated in paragraphs 1 and 2 of Schedule 5, which state that, before any policy authorities publish a relevant document—in this case, the marine policy statement—or any amendment to it, as referred to in paragraph 2 of Schedule 5, they must comply with the process set out in Schedule 5, including preparation of an SPP, before they adopt and publish the amendment. I hope that that reassures the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in particular, that amendments to an MPS will be prepared in the same spirit of openness and participation as the original document. I very much take the point that she has raised.
I understand that during public consultation there was concern about the lack of express provision requiring the policy or plan authorities to consider any representations made to them about the quality of the statement of public participation. I reassure noble Lords that, although there is no specific provision in the Bill, there is nothing to prevent anyone from making representations to the policy or marine plan authority about the SPP. If such representations are made, they will be considered. Paragraph 6 of Schedule 5 and paragraph 7 of Schedule 6 place a duty on the policy and plan authorities to revise the SPP if they are satisfied that that is necessary.
In response to Amendments 89D and 89E, it may help if I explain the reasoning behind the current reference to public meetings in paragraph 5 of Schedule 5 and paragraph 6 of Schedule 6. From studying international experience and from our experience of holding a number of roadshows during the development of the marine Bill, we fully recognise how useful it is to hold one or more public meetings as part of a public consultation. It is clear that that can be very helpful in enabling some groups of people who would not ordinarily respond to written consultations to make their voices heard and get involved in shaping policies that will affect them. With this in mind, we included a specific reference to the holding of public meetings in these two paragraphs as part of the general public consultation on a draft MPS or plan.
I know that we are being invited to compare this Bill with the Planning Act—it is fair game, as only recently did the latter pass through your Lordships' House—as well as to make comparisons between this approach and that in, let us say, the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which required the holding of a public inquiry or hearing in response to any objections raised about a proposed local plan. We think that those types of public hearing are more akin to the independent investigation process, which we set out later in Schedule 6 and to which we shall return, because we have tabled some amendments in relation to it. We want to do all that we can to ensure that anyone who wishes to make representations may do so. Paragraph 8 of Schedule 5 and paragraph 12 of Schedule 6 require that any representations be considered by the policy or marine plan authority when it is considering a final text. Public meetings are clearly one way of enabling debate and engagement. They can be extremely helpful, but they are not the only, or sometimes not even the best, way to ensure that people are able to participate. For that reason, we think it odd to require the holding of a public meeting but not other means of enabling participation. We would not want to single out public meetings as the primary—
Is it not a fact that in any democratic discussion what is unique about a public meeting is that there is an interplay of views? It is very difficult to think of any form of consultation in which it is absolutely impossible not to hear other points of view and to respond to them. Why do we meet in your Lordships' House if it is not important to see the way in which a debate and a discussion go? All other forms of consultation tend to be in a single direction. For that reason, the Minister is perhaps underrating the value of public meetings in this context.
I certainly did not seek to give the impression that I did not understand the importance of public meetings and what I suppose the noble Lord would call the benefit of debate. There is no question but that they can in many cases be extremely useful. All I am saying is that they may not in every circumstance be the only or the best way to ensure participation. We do not want to single out public meetings as the primary specified way by which interested parties may make their voices heard. Nothing that I have said has sought to undermine the effectiveness of public meetings, but they are not the only way, and sometimes may not be the appropriate way, to ensure participation. There has to be some discretion in the way in which these matters are taken forward.
My own amendment—Amendment 89CC to Schedule 6—is minor and technical. It makes it clear that the timetable for the statement of public participation for a marine plan must include the consideration of representations made about the consultation draft. This was included in the equivalent paragraph in Schedule 5 on the statement of public participation and we would like to replicate it here for consistency.
I realise that I have responded at some length, but ensuring that the statement of public participation is right and rigorous is important. We think that the provisions here will allow that to happen.
I thank the Minister for the detail in which he has dealt with this series of amendments. I am not entirely sure about this, so much of what I have to say is to clarify my own thinking on the matter. As I understand it, although the legislation talks about "an MPS", it is rather specific. The schedule refers to a singular, definite policy statement because there is only one in existence at any one time, although there may be variations of it. Therefore, the use of the indefinite article may be confusing. I hope that I am right in believing that there can be only one marine policy statement in operation at any one time.
Furthermore, there can only be one MPS for the entire United Kingdom. I have only one question to ask on that. What happens if any of the relevant authorities seek to negotiate a variance that applies only to its areas of responsibility? Is that envisaged within this legislation, or will there be great lacunas where it has not been possible to reach universal agreement, so that the marine policy statement will not necessarily address any area on which unanimity has not been possible? If there can be variance, that makes a slightly different document from that which perhaps the Minister had implied would exist.
We return to the important question of the practicality of the arrangements for ensuring that there is one marine policy statement for the whole of the United Kingdom that is owned by all the policy authorities—in other words, Ministers in the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. What the noble Lord is saying, and what the noble Duke was saying earlier, is that they would be very worried if the price of agreement led to such a watered-down marine policy statement that it was hardly worth the biscuit. I entirely understand that. Clearly, there would be negotiation. Indeed, officials have started working, as my noble friend said, and are already in preliminary discussions about the development of a marine policy statement.
I cannot stand here and say exactly what will be in an agreed marine policy statement. What I can say is that there is very little point in going through all this process and producing something that in the end is simply not worth it. Clearly, there will be some trade-offs. I am sure that there will be some hard discussions. The UK Government want a marine policy statement that is owned by the devolved Administrations as well. Equally, if one of the devolved Administrations does not join in or leaves the process and does not adopt it, they will lose a considerable amount in terms of their own influence on the statement. For that reason, I am confident that what will be produced, albeit as a result of negotiations—clearly, there will be some compromises—will be one marine policy statement. I am confident that we will do everything that we can to ensure that. From all that I have learnt about the attitude of the devolved Administrations, I am sure that everyone recognises that it is in everyone's interest to produce a statement of which everyone has ownership and which really is meaningful.
I am sorry to come back to the Minister, whom I thank for giving way. We should not plan for failure. Indeed, the whole process must be based on a sense of common and shared objectives, with the devolved authorities participating as equal partners in the development of a policy for the whole United Kingdom. On the other hand, a vacuous compromise would not serve the marine environment at all.
I was seeking to probe the Minister on what happens if there is dissent. Is it possible, for example, for a wording to be framed within a policy statement taking a slightly different attitude in response to a devolved authority's position, point of view and even interests, rather than seeking universal application of principles that would be ultimately vacuous and without the drive behind them that the legislation will need? After all, the marine policy statement is a statement of principle; it is in many ways a core document. I am not trying to put the Minister on the spot. I understand his position. However, I think that he can understand that the statement should be bold and courageous. I would not want it to sound vacuous simply because it was founded on compromise.
This is an important discussion, although the noble Lord will understand that I am a little wary of going too far down this pathway. There is not much point in doing this if all that comes out is a vacuous statement of motherhood and apple pie that does not give people clarity or the clear principles applicable to the whole of the United Kingdom under which the marine policy arrangements will take place. Of course, there will be a different emphasis within that context among the different Administrations. I am sure that, as part of negotiations, some recognition will be given to those differences, provided that they take place within the overall principles to which all parties will sign up.
I cannot go much further than that, except to say that I agree that we want a clear marine policy statement with clear principles and not one that is achieved through woolly negotiation leading to woolly words. However, we must have some fallback for failure. The guarantee for the UK Government is that, if the price of agreement was to make the marine policy statement so meaningless that it was not worth it, the Secretary of State could publish one. I hope that that would be very much a last resort, but it is there to avoid the very problem that the noble Lord has raised.
We will just have to accept that we are going to use acronyms and hope that readers will understand.
On paragraph 1 of the schedule, the Minister referred to the earlier definition. That did not deal with the point, but his point on Section 43 probably does—certainly the point that there is one MPS. However, I think that it would be better to make that terminology absolutely clear. If we have struggled a little, perhaps it will not be crystal clear to new readers. It is not the most important point in the Bill and readers will come to the correct conclusion eventually, but starting off correctly and clearly is always helpful.
I am grateful to the Minister for the assurances that he gave a few minutes ago. Many of us have said that it is sometimes helpful to try to conceive of the almost inconceivable situation of a not-quite-so-good Government and of how it would feel if roles were reversed. Assurances from the Dispatch Box are always welcome but it is better to spell it all out in legislation—provided that that does not give us a whole bible—because different people with different priorities might be running these things at some point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 85DD withdrawn.
Amendments 85E to 85JA not moved.
Moved by Earl Cathcart
85K: Schedule 5, page 228, line 31, leave out sub-paragraph (6)
When taking the Planning Bill—it is now an Act—through this House in the previous Session, one of the most important debates we had was on the parliamentary scrutiny of national policy statements. The amendments in this group give the Committee the opportunity to revisit some of those arguments in relation to marine policy statements. The amendments are designed to probe the period in which the MPS will be put out for consultation, and the knotty question of whether the statements should be finally approved by Parliament.
First, the Bill gives the policy authorities complete control over the period that a policy statement will be put out for consultation. Paragraph 9(6) states on page 228:
"The relevant period is the period specified by the policy authority in relation to the consultation draft".
Given our debates on the Planning Bill, I anticipate that the Minister will draw our attention to the possibility that statements may contain anything from a small tweak to existing policies to a major reworking that would naturally require a more thorough consultation. This amendment seeks to probe the length of time the Minister anticipates that consultation will need to last.
Secondly, as regards parliamentary scrutiny, in the Planning Bill our view was that policy statements should be subject to a resolution of both Houses. The Minister argued very hard that they should not, but I am afraid that we were not convinced, and therefore are not convinced in this instance either. The main argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, was that it was for the Government to decide policy and for Parliament to decide law. Since the statements are policy, she considered that Parliament's role of commenting on them was sufficient, even generous. No doubt the Minister will repeat that argument in this instance. However, this comparison is rather simplified and does much to explain the recent trend we have seen under this Government for legislation which is designed to give them as much freedom as possible in an area, rather than to indicate what the power will be used for. This Bill represents another step down that road. It is the first time that I have heard a Bill being referred to as a framework and the speaker intending it to be a positive adjective. I am afraid that I do not see the empowerment of the Executive to do what they like as a positive step. I would prefer to see legislation tied more closely to specific policies to ensure the proper scrutiny of both the implementation and the objectives.
All this, of course, is tied up in the desire for flexibility. The Government appear to believe that it does not matter if they have not got it right the first time, because the Bill gives them the opportunity to have another stab at it without having to go back to Parliament again. Perhaps it is this attitude that has led to the remarkable increase in judicial reviews in recent years.
When defending the Government's position on what is now the Planning Act, the Minister compared policy statements to White Papers, which departments produce regularly without parliamentary input. This is perhaps an accurate description, since the Parliament website definition of a White Paper contains the phrase:
"A White Paper will often be the basis for a Bill to be put before Parliament".
What we have here is the opportunity for the Government to produce White Paper after White Paper, with no need ever to turn that policy into legislation that is then subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Does the Minister really think that essentially taking the whole future of marine planning out of the hands of Parliament is a responsible action?
"The policy authority must lay a copy of the consultation draft before the appropriate legislature".
Sub-paragraph (8) goes on to define the "appropriate legislative body" as,
"in the case of the Secretary of State, either House of Parliament".
It goes on to refer to,
"a committee of either House of Parliament".
This Bill starts its passage in this House for a good reason. I am sure that this House would be disappointed if it felt that continued involvement would be denied to it. Will the Minister confirm that this means both Houses of Parliament, rather than just one of them? I beg to move.
In speaking to this group, in particular I shall speak to the three amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness. First, I give apologies from my noble friend that he is not able to be in London today. Therefore, I perhaps have to act as a surrogate Scot for the occasion. I can sing "Flower of Scotland" with the best of them, and at rugby matches I probably would do. I had better not pursue that much further, before I am set upon.
In this group, we have Amendments 86FA, 86GB and 89M. I shall speak first to the first two of those, which are on a slightly separate topic relating to when a relevant public authority withdraws from an MPS. The purpose of the amendments is to give a locus to the appropriate legislative body to be involved before a relevant public authority withdraws from an MPS. A "relevant public authority" is the Secretary of State, Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers or, in the case of the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The scheme for approval of an MPS is set out in Schedule 5. Paragraph 9 provides for the consultation draft to be laid before the appropriate legislature before a final text is adopted. Paragraph 9(3) defines the appropriate legislatures, and is replicated in Amendment 86GB. In Paragraph 9(4) an appropriate legislative body or committee thereof can make a resolution or recommendation in respect of the draft to which the public authority must respond. Given the involvement of legislatures in the adoption of an MPS, these amendments are intended to facilitate involvement prior to withdrawal; indeed they give the relevant legislatures the right to veto withdrawal, thus enhancing parliamentary oversight, which is arguably lacking in the Bill, although we would not entirely go along with the arguments put by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart.
Amendment 89M covers the ground of the noble Earl's amendments. It is a question of parliamentary scrutiny or, possibly in the noble Earl's case, of giving the various Parliaments and legislatures the ability to approve or disapprove a marine policy statement by affirmative resolution. Our amendment is intended to address the parliamentary deficit in the current proposals, although I notice that in the Government's response to the Joint Scrutiny Committee report on the draft Bill, they promise that they will bring forward legislation to put in the Bill the same system that applies to national policy statements in the Planning Act. It would be very helpful if the Minister told us more about this and, in particular, gave us an assurance that those government amendments will come before the Bill leaves this House. This is an important matter for this House, as the noble Earl said. It is not just a matter of legislation, but a matter of the involvement, powers and influence of this House. We want to see that legislation before it goes to the other place, otherwise the Minister might find that we write it for him, and perhaps he will then have to change it again when it goes to the other end. It would be far better if the Government could bring those amendments here.
The marine plan authorities are all UK or devolved government bodies, but the involvement of the Houses of Parliament, devolved Parliaments and Assemblies in overseeing the exercise of the powers in relation to the development of marine plans is lacking in the Bill. Schedule 6 makes provision for public, not parliamentary, consultation. Our amendment does not require parliamentary scrutiny, but makes it permissive. In other words, if the Scottish Parliament, for example—I speak in my role as an honorary Scot—wishes to make standing orders or devise procedures which would require Scottish Ministers to present a marine plan to Parliament for scrutiny prior to adoption, it will not vitiate the procedure set out in the Bill, nor the validity of the plan. We are saying: give each of the legislatures the ability to scrutinise this legislation, and to do it properly, but leave it to each legislature to devise the means of scrutiny through their own standing orders, or whatever. That would seem to be in the spirit of devolution.
On that basis, and on the basis of our detailed discussions on the then Planning Bill, we cannot support the proposals put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, that the marine policy statement should be subject to an affirmative resolution of this House and the House of Commons. These are complicated matters and they may be evolving. They concern the nature of government and Parliament at the UK level. They are to do with the functions of government and of Parliament. Our view is that on matters such as this it is indeed the job of Parliament to legislate, it is the job of government to decide policy, and it is then the job of Parliament to scrutinise that policy.
In recent times, the balance of power between the Executive and the legislature—between the Government and Parliament—may have been shifting too far to the Government and too far away from Parliament. On the other hand, the scrutinising procedures of this House and the House of Commons have certainly developed, improved and been extended in recent years. In a number of instances, they have been proved to be more effective now than they used to be, not least in the pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill. Therefore, these matters are evolving and they may evolve in future, but our view is that it is certainly not for this House to try to rewrite the rules on the basis of a single Bill, whether it is the then Planning Bill or this one. There are certainly major issues and principles here which at the moment mean that we cannot support the Conservative amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has pointed out that this matter is complicated and confusing. I was certainly confused when I first read the amendment, and I am very grateful that he explained in some detail what he meant by a public authority. The amendment says:
"It shall be competent for the appropriate legislative body to make provision requiring the relevant public authority".
I thought that perhaps he meant the relevant policy authority, which means the Secretary of State. Certainly in this section we are looking at the place of the legislatures in monitoring the progress of marine policy statements, which will be important. However, we need to see what holding these legislatures have and in what form the notice will come to them. This raises the important issue of the incorporation of views expressed in the marine policy statement by representatives in the various legislative bodies.
Perhaps I may add to what has been said by my noble friend Lord Greaves and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart. I draw attention to Amendment 89BZA, which concerns the marine plan for the Scottish offshore region. I should like to ask the Minister a number of questions. Does the Scottish Parliament currently have a legislative competence to establish Marine Scotland with a remit in respect of the offshore area? I am married to a Scot, have worked in Scotland twice and was even at Murrayfield on Sunday, so I sympathise with the objectives in Scotland. If the answer is that the Scottish Parliament currently does have a legislative competence in that regard, what is the basis for it? If it does not, does the Bill confer powers on the Scottish Parliament to have such a competence? Again, if it does not, will UK Ministers bring forward amendments to the Bill to give the Scottish Parliament the required competence to legislate for Marine Scotland to have an operational remit in the offshore area?
The amendment also focuses specifically on a biodiversity duty. The duty to further the conservation of biodiversity is set out in Section 1 of the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004, which is of course Scottish legislation.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am a little confused because, so far as I understand it, the amendment that he is speaking to has not yet been moved and is not in this group.
It is like the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill, which we considered in Grand Committee yesterday. We had lots of lists of groupings and they were all different.
Perhaps the noble Lord can tell us to which amendment he was speaking so that we can clarify the matter.
We are debating the fifth group, comprising Amendments 85K, 86, 86A, 86FA, 86GB and 89M. The noble Lord's amendment will be debated later, as he has certainly raised an interesting point.
The role of Parliament in scrutinising the work undertaken in the development of a marine policy statement is very important. I was surprised at the criticism of the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, of the construct of the Bill. There clearly is a balance between over-prescription within legislation which we all believe will last for a very long time, given the average length of time that marine legislation is usually in force, and the ability to make changes through order-making powers. I realise that there will always be an argument about whether we should be more precise in primary legislation or whether the House is content to allow certain issues to be left to secondary legislation.
We have tried to get the balance right and, on parliamentary scrutiny, I think that we have. The scrutiny role of your Lordships' House is a matter of great importance to all of us. Paragraph 9(2) of Schedule 5 states:
"The policy authority must lay a copy of the consultation draft before the appropriate legislature", which,
The schedule shows the method used to consider the draft and respond to it. Paragraph 9(8) makes it clear that,
As the noble Earl said, the paragraph later refers to an "appropriate legislative committee", which means,
"in the case of the Secretary of State, a committee of either House of Parliament".
As is often the case—it happens with decisions on pre-legislative scrutiny—there would be discussions between the House authorities and the usual channels on how the MPS would be considered. I would be very surprised if your Lordships' House did not play an active role in that, given its expertise.
Amendment 85K would remove the link in paragraph 9(5) between the period of public consultation and the time available for scrutiny of the draft marine policy statement. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred to it because of the changes made to the planning legislation to deal with this point. I want to make it clear that we had not intended to curtail the legislatures' time to consider the marine policy statement; we were concerned to ensure the timely production of the MPS. While we do not wish to create undue delay in the process, we do not want to be so rigid as to inhibit Parliament's opportunity to give appropriate scrutiny to it.
In our debates on the Planning Act, my noble friend Lady Andrews faced similar amendments and agreed additional time for consideration of national policy statements. Therefore, with the leave of the Committee, I would like to take the amendment away and bring it back on Report. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that Members of the Committee would first like to see what the Government are proposing in this House. A legitimate point is being raised through Amendment 85K.
Amendment 86 requires marine policy authorities to lay a copy of the final version of the marine policy statement before the appropriate legislature as part of the adoption process. In Schedule 5, we set out in detail the process of preparation of the MPS. There is a long journey between the preparation and adoption of a final text, made more complex by the necessary input from the devolved Administrations, as we have discussed. Until an MPS has been jointly published by the policy authorities, or that joint publication has at least been agreed upon and arranged by all the relevant policy authorities, it is not certain that any version of the MPS individually adopted by a policy authority will in fact be the final version. Clearly, we need to give time to those who have adopted the text to consider it, and for those who have not to have the opportunity to come on board. It is an iterative process.
Given the role of Parliament and the other UK legislatures in scrutinising the draft marine policy statement, we are of course happy to commit to laying a copy of the final MPS before both Houses of Parliament and the legislatures of the other participating Administrations as part of the publication of the final document, which must happen as soon as reasonably practicable after the MPS has been adopted in its final form by the last participating policy authority. We recognise the need to ensure that Parliament and the legislatures have access to the final MPS as early as possible.
Amendment 86A, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, requires that each legislature approves the marine policy statement before it can be adopted by the policy authority. Similarly, Amendments 86FA and 86GB would require the approval of the legislature before a policy authority may withdraw from a MPS.
Clearly, Parliament and the devolved legislatures will have an important role to play in the scrutiny of the marine policy statement. In paragraph 9 of Schedule 5, we provided for a formal legislative scrutiny process, but that is not the end of the story. This Parliament and the devolved legislatures may choose to debate any subject at any time, or to ask dedicated committees to carry out detailed scrutiny into any matter of their choice. Any resolutions reached, or recommendation made, whether as part of the process under paragraph 9 or otherwise, will have to be taken very seriously by this Government and by the devolved Administrations.
What is more, I am quite sure that Members of this House, the other place and the devolved legislatures will be lobbied by individuals and organisations with an interest in the MPS. Indeed, we have already seen that from the lobbying that has taken place on the Bill, and we have seen the insight and expertise that external voices have brought to our debates. I am sure that that will help future scrutiny of marine policy statements.
However—and here we come to the disagreement—the Government do not think it appropriate to treat a statement of policy as though it were draft affirmative secondary legislation by requiring legislative approval of its adoption or withdrawal. I know that that was discussed by the Joint Committee and that the Joint Committee proposed that the MPS should be subject to affirmative resolution. The MPS is not a statement of policy by the UK Government only; it involves each Administration. If, as we hope, the single MPS covers the whole of the United Kingdom, with ownership by the devolved Administrations, then it will require the legislature of each devolved Administration to approve the policy of the other.
I was interested in the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. We are always in danger of replicating what was said on the Planning Act. During the passage of that legislation, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to good scrutiny as being an iterative process. We believe that we have provided the right process. It is substantially similar to that set out in the Planning Act for national policy statements. We think that pressing for approval of policy documents through the equivalent of the affirmative resolution procedure is not the right way to ensure effective scrutiny. We believe that it is for Ministers to make decisions on policy and that they then need to be accountable to the appropriate legislature for those decisions, which is very different from requiring the approval of the legislature before they can make policy decisions in the first place.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, is not in his accustomed place. If he were, he would be quoting from his committee's report, which states:
"We asked the Secretary of State whether he felt the MPS should attract Parliamentary scrutiny; he replied 'if the Committee wanted to suggest a process for Parliamentary scrutiny I would welcome it—I do not have any problem with that at all [...] but we have nothing to fear and everything to welcome from there being scrutiny of the MPS'."
I am not sure that that completely meets the point that the Minister has been making this afternoon.
The disagreement between us is about the distinction between scrutiny and Parliament having what can only be described as a legislative role in approving the marine policy statement. The Government are very clear that parliamentary scrutiny is important to this process. That is why this schedule makes provision for allowing that to take place and why we have agreed to take back the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to ensure that Parliament has enough time to do it. The distinction is between effective scrutiny and decision-making. We believe that the decision-making falls to Ministers.
I am sorry to add to the number of contributions made from these Benches, but I have been prayed in aid. I am glad that we have been consistent on this. When we reached this stage in the passage of the Planning Act, we had the detail regarding scrutiny. That is the distinction. The Minister, John Healey, had undertaken a considerable amount of work, although there were views in this House about the role of this House. That is the distinction. I hope that will satisfy my noble friend. We were assured of the level and detail of scrutiny which was being put in place. Nothing that has been said from these Benches or by the Minister is inconsistent with the other statements from these Benches or the Minister—though I think that there is a difference between us and the Conservative Front Bench, which I hope my noble friend will feel is comforting.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that. I am delighted that I prayed her name in aid on that important matter.
I turn to the circumstances in which a policy authority may feel it necessary to withdraw from the marine policy statement. This relates to the first group of amendments that we discussed today. I very much doubt that any policy authority would take that decision lightly. As I said, it will have severe consequences, not just for its effect on marine planning powers of the devolved Administration but for decision-makers who are using the marine policy statement to inform their work.
Clearly, we hope that that would not happen, but, equally, we need to make provision for what would happen if an Administration felt it necessary to withdraw from the marine policy statement. If that happens, they must be free to take that decision, and then to be answerable to the legislature in the normal way. I rather doubt that we should legislate to require them to seek legislative approval before they take that decision. It is the same argument. Although it would be a grave decision, none the less, it is surely a decision that should fall to Ministers to take—albeit that they will undoubtedly be subject to extensive scrutiny within the appropriate legislature.
I turn to Amendment 89M, which would make any marine plan subject to the appropriate legislative scrutiny process. Previous amendments in this group would give Parliament and devolved legislatures the final say on whether an MPS should be adopted. As I said, we do not believe that it is right to treat the MPS or marine plans as if they were akin to secondary legislation. Those arguments apply as much, if not more, to marine plans as they do to the marine policy statement. Marine plans raise additional issues that militate against parliamentary involvement in their adoption, amendment or withdrawal. One of the key benefits of marine plans is that they will stimulate ownership of the marine environment and enable people to shape what happens there. They will be the first opportunity for organisations and local coastal communities to have a real say in what happens at sea, how it affects them and what our priorities should be in future.
In general, those with an interest in marine issues will have a much greater opportunity to shape what happens than they do now. A separate legislative scrutiny process, with the ability to approve or withdraw plans, might send out the wrong message that the plans are not really part of a process that allows people to get fully involved and that is subject to scrutiny, but in which, finally, Ministers must make the decision. I know that we will come to this in a few moments, but I also point out that there is provision in Schedule 6(13) for an independent investigator to be appointed to look into the proposed plan. If certain proposals in a draft plan appear controversial or unpopular, investigation by an independent person is probably the best way to get to the bottom of the issue and find an appropriate and satisfactory solution.
This is an important matter because we need parliamentary scrutiny; it will aid the development of a rigorous process by which the marine policy statement and marine plans are agreed and adopted. We think that the Bill is right in emphasising the role of Parliament in scrutiny rather than as a legislator, but I accept that we have not got it right on the timing available to Parliament, and I will bring back a government amendment at Report to try to deal with that matter.
I am grateful to the Minister for what he said about our amendments. I shall refer his comments to my friends in Scotland and Wales and take further advice. What he said was helpful. I have one further question, however.
On marine plans and the role of the Assemblies and Parliaments, that role might be different in some respects in Wales and Scotland than in England. There is no reason why they have to be identical. One reason is that we in England expect a number of marine plans for different parts of the coast, but there may be just one marine plan each for Scotland and for Wales. That is highly likely in Wales and quite possible in Scotland, I would have thought, so perhaps the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly could get involved without necessarily having a final veto or having to give their approval. They may want to be involved in the process of developing marine plans, and there is no reason why they should not in a way that would probably not be appropriate in England because of our different circumstances.
On the other matters, we look forward to the Government's amendments on Report.
On the scrutiny of the marine policy statement by this Parliament, I can only echo the words of my noble friend Lady Hamwee for the second, or perhaps the third, time this afternoon. It would be extremely helpful if, again by Report, we could have the sort of information about national policy statements that we had during consideration of the Planning Bill.
I certainly undertake to write to noble Lords in the light of this debate with any further information that I can give on that matter. I sense that the noble Lord is looking for more detail, if I can give him that, about public participation in the SPP and how that leads to parliamentary scrutiny.
That is probably right. The Committee is interested specifically in the role that this House will have in that parliamentary scrutiny, as it was in the scrutiny of other matters.
I will try to give that information. However, it is often not for the Government to say how Parliament will determine how it scrutinises the Executive. Clearly much of that scrutiny falls to be decided quite appropriately by the parliamentary authorities and the usual channels and in discussions between both Houses.
That is a very refreshing statement from a government Minister, but the reality is sometimes different because the power of the Government and the usual channels and parliamentary procedures are not clearly discrete; they get all mixed up and muddled.
The noble Lord cannot get away with that. He speaks as though his own party were not part of the usual channels. My experience is that they are only too much part of them.
That may be a compliment to those on these Benches in this House. I am not sure that it is entirely true in the House of Commons, but I do not want to get too far into discussing House of Commons procedures and practices here.
I am genuinely grateful for what the Minister said, and we look forward to hearing from him further. The problem is that unless we, and I am sure the Conservatives, are satisfied about these matters, we will bring them back on Report. The fewer things that we can bring back on Report, the more time we will have to concentrate on the things that we really have to concentrate on.
That was a very good debate. I thank the Minister for agreeing to reconsider Amendment 85K on the relevant period for the consultation draft. If I heard him rightly, he said that the final text would be laid before the appropriate legislature for scrutiny, as per our second amendment. However, the Minister's response to our third amendment, Amendment 86A, was rather predictable. It was what we guessed it might be in moving the amendment. It is further complicated by the devolved issues, which makes it a can of worms. If I heard the Minister correctly, he said that if you have got the sheep in the pen, you do not want anyone opening the gate again. So one must not let the devolved powers have the ability to overturn something that has already been agreed. I will look at what the Minister said.
I need to make this clear. The noble Earl referred to the final text for parliamentary scrutiny. That is not exactly right. The provision here is for the draft to come before Parliament and the legislatures, and for Parliament to be able to conduct scrutiny properly and respond. I said that when all the work has been done, and after the MPS has been adopted, that information will also be made available to Parliament. It will then be open to Parliament to call Ministers to account, in whatever way, if it does not like the final policy; but by then the policy will have been adopted. However, any appropriate Select Committee can at any time summon Ministers to account for what they do, and further scrutiny can take place then. But it is not as though the final document will be laid for further scrutiny under the Bill.
I thank the Minister for correcting me. I will need to read exactly what has been said in this useful and wide-ranging debate before proceeding further. Perhaps we will need to come back to the point. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 85K withdrawn.
Amendments 86 and 86A not moved.
Moved by Baroness Hamwee
86B: Schedule 5, page 229, line 20, after "practicable" insert ", but not longer than three months,"
In moving Amendment 86B, I shall speak also to Amendments 86C, 86D and 86K. I hope that this is a much more straightforward matter than the previous one. These amendments concern the timetables for the adoption and publication of the marine policy statement and marine plans. The Bill provides for certain things to happen,
"as soon as reasonably practicable", which is a phrase used in three places. My amendments propose long-stop periods. The terms "reasonable" or "reasonably" are subjective. They can depend on particular circumstances and, more important, can be too easily abused. My proposal may not give precisely the right periods, but it will give the Minister the opportunity to explain why, other than good will, long-stop periods are not spelt out in the Bill.
Amendment 86D would provide for an authority to publish "their"—not "its"—reasons for not adopting the final text in the circumstances of the paragraph. Despite some of the exchanges that we have had today, I would hope that an authority would publish its reasons, or even "their" reasons, for not doing so. I beg to move.
I join the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in expressing concern that the terms "reasonably practicable" and "reasonable period" are neither strong nor clear enough. Could the Minister tell us how he would define these terms? Does he have a suitable timeframe in mind? If so, does he not agree that it would be better to put it in the Bill? Moreover, I suggest that if he cannot tell us how he thinks these terms should be interpreted, a similar problem will be had by all who are trying to follow them.
I also agree with the noble Baroness and with Wildlife and Countryside Link that, if the terms are defined, we may end up with a problem whereby the documents go into limbo between adoption and publication. On our last day in Committee, the Minister gave a full explanation of MPSs and assured us that they would provide a unified context and framework for decision-makers. It is therefore important that the MPS comes into effect as soon as possible. The Minister said that he did not want to be "too precise" about the timetable, but that 2010 is a "critical date". While he cannot be too precise about the timetable for the preparation of the MPS, could he give us some indication of the time needed for the transition between adoption and publication?
I am sorry that the words,
"as soon as reasonably practicable", do not enjoy universal approval among noble Lords. My noble friend has reminded me of the great Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which uses the phrase. Only last year the UK Government won an important case in Europe to protect the wording on the grounds that it indicates a sensible and proportionate approach. There are good reasons why that kind of wording can be used in legislation.
I understand that noble Lords want to know what is meant by the use of this phrase. The problem is that I do not want to be pinned down, because the whole point of using this terminology is to make it clear that something should be done as soon as possible but that the timing has to take account of practical considerations. In most cases, the period will be considerably less than three months and I am happy to make a commitment to publishing as soon as it is reasonably practicable to do so. I fully take the point that, once a marine policy statement or plan has been adopted, it is in no one's interest to delay its implementation, but it is always possible that an unforeseen problem could cause a delay. If that were to happen, the imposition of a time limit would serve only to force the publication of an MPS or plan before it was reasonably practicable to do so. Noble Lords will also be familiar with the tendency of time limits to gradually become the length of the expected delay, despite the best intentions of all concerned. For those reasons, I urge noble Lords to consider that this is not a bad way to deal with the issue, particularly with my assurance that we would wish to see the document published as soon as possible.
On Amendment 86C, if for whatever reason a policy authority has participated in preparing the MPS but has not adopted the final text, it is allowed a reasonable period in which to do so before the other policy authorities may go ahead and publish without it. This amendment would specify a six-month period. As I have just explained in relation to the proposed three-month time limit, we do not want to encourage or fall into delays. We are fully committed to concluding these final stages of negotiation as quickly as possible so that we can enjoy the benefits of having a marine policy statement in place. However, imposing a time limit of six months within which a policy authority should adopt the statement would not necessarily serve to speed up the process. What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances. In most cases, we would hope that it would take considerably less than six months for policy authorities to adopt the MPS but, if it were reasonable in the circumstances to take longer, the imposition of an arbitrary time limit could serve to lock out those policy authorities that quite reasonably had not yet adopted the MPS.
Here we come to the rub of our previous discussions, where the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, in particular was concerned that, in the desire to achieve a marine policy statement to which all policy authorities had signed up, the result would be a superficial agreement because what was produced would represent the lowest common denominator approach. A time limit might have the effect of prejudicing the negotiating position of policy authorities that had yet to adopt the marine policy statement. There is also the risk of a deadline leading to last-minute compromises that do not really deliver the goals of any Administration. It could even lead to policy authorities feeling pressured into adopting a marine policy statement with which they were not happy. Indeed, I am reminded of what happens in the august surroundings of European Council of Ministers meetings, which some of us have enjoyed and taken part in.
Amendment 86D raises an issue that my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham has already discussed in relation to the giving of reasons for opting out or withdrawing from an agreed marine policy statement. The absence of duties to prepare an MPS or sanctions for opting out should not be taken as a lack of commitment; it simply reflects the reality of legislating to produce an agreed document between four Administrations, each with their own slightly differing competence and responsibility and their own directly elected legislatures, which may espouse very different policy ideas from our own. We would certainly urge the Committee to respect the ability of each of the UK Administrations to develop policy in relation to these matters within their competence and to decide when and how they should enter into agreements and compromises with the others. In other words, we do not want to set up legislative impediments that might get in the way of good, hard agreements. For that reason, we hope that noble Lords will not take us down that route.
This is not something on which one would go to the stake, although I would say that, while the terms "reasonably practicable" or "reasonable" may be appropriate in one context, that does not necessarily mean that they are appropriate in every one. I have heard what the Minister had to say and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 86B withdrawn.
Amendments 86C and 86D not moved.
Schedule 5 agreed.
Clause 46 : Withdrawal of, or from, statement
Amendments 86E to 86GZF not moved.
Moved by Baroness Hamwee
86GZG: Clause 46, page 23, line 29, leave out paragraph (b)
The amendment seeks clarification of Clause 46(8), which provides for the consequences—or perhaps I should say the non-consequences—of withdrawal from an MPS. The situation spelt out in the introductory lines provides that withdrawal does not affect the continuing validity or effect of a marine plan and, I understand, that if there is a plan it should continue in effect. There are matters of certainty which are important, but I am unclear as to the justification for paragraph (b). That states that the withdrawal does not affect the construction of a marine plan until such time as a new MPS governs marine planning for the area. It seems odd that if there is no marine plan in place, the MPS from which there has been a withdrawal should continue to apply to the construction of a marine plan. I am aware that I may have misread the situation but I would be grateful for the Minister's explanation. I beg to move.
Clause 46(8)(b) seems to state that the construction of marine plans must not be delayed or interrupted even though the MPS is no longer relevant for a particular country withdrawing from the MPS, or for all countries if the Secretary of State withdraws from the MPS.
I wish to make two points. First, Clause 49(5) states:
"A marine plan must be in conformity with any MPS"
I know that the next subsection exempts it if it has been withdrawn, but the overriding intention is that the marine plans must conform to the MPS. However, if the marine policy statement is withdrawn, I do not understand how the marine plans can be finalised and adopted because, without any MPS in existence because it has been withdrawn, they cannot possibly conform to it. Can the Minister explain how he sees this working, or have I missed the point?
My second point goes back to what I said on Amendment 85C. I tried to explore the possibility of a partial withdrawal or opt out from the MPS by one country or the Secretary of State and, when he responded, the Minister was resolute in his rejection of this possibility. Clause 46 states that if any policy authority that has adopted the MPS decides to subsequently withdraw from it, it can do so. It seems highly unlikely that a policy authority, having already adopted the MPS, is suddenly going to come to the conclusion that it wants to withdraw from all of it. It would be a sorry state of affairs if it came to that. More likely, the policy authority would want to withdraw from a particular section or sections while still being content with the lion's share of the MPS.
So I ask the Minister again: should it not be possible for a policy authority or the Secretary of State to withdraw only from those sections of the MPS about which they are concerned? This would make more sense of continuing with the construction of any marine plan, which could then be finalised once the new revised sections of the MPS have been agreed and adopted. I look forward to the Minister's response.
I am grateful to noble Lords. I tender two apologies. The first is for the rather piratical guise that I have taken on board. This is a reflection of the fact that I have a slight eye complaint which is causing me great difficulty in referring to my notes. As the Committee knows, without the support of the Box, we Ministers at the Dispatch Box have difficulties. My other apology is for being somewhat abrupt earlier. That was occasioned by the fact that I was unable to consult any of the documents as fully as I would have wished when I was replying to earlier issues. I am therefore more than grateful that we have the chance to revert to those issues again in this clause and for me to make them clearer than I did earlier today. I hope to demonstrate to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that her well intentioned amendment is unnecessary, and to assure the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, that we have got it right.
Of course it is possible for a policy authority to withdraw from an adopted MPS. I was seeking with the earlier amendments not to provide in legislation the levels of support for that possibility which appeared in the earlier amendments. Quite clearly, we look upon withdrawal from the MPS as the last option to be taken; it will be behoven on the authority concerned to do everything it can to ensure that that does not happen. However, in the event that a policy authority does withdraw, the clause helps us to be clear on how marine plans which have been prepared and are in existence would be affected by any such withdrawal.
As I indicated in my earlier but all-too-brief response, it is important that plans—which, after all, will have taken a number of years to develop and will include local policies and objectives—are allowed to continue. It is important that decision makers should have certainty while discussions are continuing over whether a new marine policy statement should be drawn up. We discussed earlier the issue of certainty for all those involved.
We consider that plans are unlikely to change a great deal over time because the nature of the environment, the location of coastal resources and the potential suitability of an area for certain kinds of activities are unlikely to change drastically within a limited time span. It is more likely that we will amend the plans in order to expand opportunities and to provide more detail on what is beneficial to communities.
There may be several reasons why a marine policy statement may need to be amended—for example, if one or more policy authorities decided to withdraw from it; if there was an agreed change to objectives and policies; or, as we were reminded in discussions on the Bill, if new research indicated that information contained in the MPS was either incorrect or out of date. So, while the MPS may be amended from time to time to reflect current UK policies—this is the point where I seek to meet the noble Earl and the noble Baroness—plans will need to remain operational. They will have a direct influence on the day-to-day licensing of activities in the marine area while they are under reconsideration. Paragraphs (a) and (b) are there to guarantee that decision-makers know that if they are considering a marine plan and its implications, they can still interpret it in the light of the policies contained in the withdrawn marine policy statement until the new one is adopted. In other words, it is to ensure that there is not a hiatus between two marine policy statements. Until the new one is adopted, the old one will continue to govern the actions of authorities even if it is subject to the strains and stresses of change, particularly change occasioned by the anxiety of an authority over whether or not it should continue to be signed up.
In response to the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, the Bill does not allow a policy authority from a part of the MPS. The MPS is a joint document and must be agreed in its totality, but policy authorities could agree to amend it. We expect that over time, some process of emendation might occur but not as dramatic as that envisaged by the argument that an authority would seek to withdraw totally from something of such significance to which it had signed up hitherto. The marine plans have to be interpreted under the existing MPS, whatever reservations authorities might have, until the new one is in place. That is what Clause 46(8)(a) emphasises. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel reassured.
The noble Lord has the Committee's sympathy for his eye problem. He looks extremely dashing with his black patch, although anybody reading Hansard might wonder about the reference to piracy in this debate about the high seas.
I am puzzled. In the terrestrial planning world, we are used to what planners call "emerging policies". This is not neat; it does not fit logic entirely. If we read the clause outside that context, however, it is logical. But those who are used to creating strategic plans, development plans and applying for development consent or planning consent are used to policies emerging and to older policies not always being cut off but becoming less important as they are superseded. That is not necessarily nice, neat and logical to those who come from different backgrounds but that is the way it is. I find it puzzling that that is not being read over into the marine planning system. I will read what the Minister has to say. I think that this might be one of those issues which could benefit from a bit of discussion between now and Report. I do not want to make too heavy weather of it, but it is important that the regimes are understood.
The noble Baroness is talking about the terrestrial planning process. We have discovered that in the Bill the word "planning" is used as something rather different, and licensing is the area. I do not know whether that adds anything to her argument.
I am grateful for that intervention. Indeed, all may become clear after reading the next instalment. I leave it at that; I remain puzzled but hope that that does not continue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 86GZG withdrawn.
Moved by The Duke of Montrose
86GA: Clause 46, page 23, line 30, at end insert—
"( ) Where any authority considers another constituent authority is failing to comply with the conditions of the MPS, they should have the power to convene a meeting of authorities concerned to resolve the matter."
Up to this point, we have quite rightly and properly been considering what form an arrangement of this level of complication requires if it is to work when all the parties are being reasonable and complying with what is required in terms of discussion, publication, notice and all the strictures that are laid down. We have even been discussing whether we can include arrangements for those who are forced to change by outside circumstances.
The question I wish to address is what is needed so that the legislation will be meaningful when the years have passed and all the parties to the agreement have changed. My amendment explores what happens when a policy authority fails to comply with a marine policy statement as opposed to announcing its wish to withdraw from it. This is one circumstance in which I do not see it as in any way appropriate that there should be a hierarchy of authority in passing judgment on whether there has been an adequate level of compliance. The Secretary of State may retain overall power in a great many areas of the Bill, but a mechanism for what one might describe as whistleblowing should be available to all parties, as compliance is vital to the integrity of the marine policy statement for everybody.
Holding a policy authority to account is not always easy. As the Minister has been at pains to explain, it will have been subject to scrutiny from its appropriate legislatures at certain stages, and the transparency provisions should go some way towards the public being aware of what can be expected. However, planning is a complex and often technical area where only similarly involved bodies will have a genuine appreciation of whether there has been a failure to comply.
As things are developing at the moment, I have had a brief discussion with one person who has had some involvement with the thinking behind the proposed body, Marine Scotland. It sounds as if the thinking is that Scotland might want to pursue policies that are much greener than those currently described in the Bill. So far, so good. But that is not to say that a succeeding Administration in any one of these disparate parts of the United Kingdom might want to do much less. The easiest way is to implement a policy of procrastination or of just ignoring previous undertakings. I should be interested to hear from the Minister how much one policy authority may be permitted to involve itself if another avoids fulfilling the terms of a marine policy statement to which they are both signed up. I beg to move.
I support my noble friend's very important amendment. Those of us who have worked with MAFF and Defra over the years are well versed in the complaints and arguments that one country has against another. I am thinking of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland complaining about the way in which provisions are interpreted here in England, where one country has a different set of rules within the overall framework. There is no reason to suppose that the same problems will not arise, as my noble friend has indicated, when the four home nations set about conforming to a marine policy. There must be a mechanism for one or more of those who feel aggrieved to demand a discussion about what is happening. It would be wonderful if it were not needed, but we cannot assume that that will be the case.
I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, always speaks good sense, and we listen to what he says with great care. His arguments are reinforced on this occasion by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford.
I acknowledge the good intention behind the amendment in trying to provide a mechanism, in support of the marine policy statement, whereby UK authorities can work through any difficulties that they may have. However, I have difficulty with the concept of putting into the Bill an express power for one UK Administration to call a meeting in order to hold another to account. That would make it explicit that one Administration had taken the initiative by calling the other to the meeting. I am not sure that that sends out the right message about how our colleagues in the devolved Administrations are expecting or are expected to work together; nor would it send out a good public message to dramatise things in quite this way.
In any case, we do not need a specific mechanism in the Bill. As the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, will know as well as anyone in the Committee, there already exists in the concordats that the UK Government have with each devolved Administration a mechanism for resolution of difficulties such as this. Beyond that is the joint ministerial committee, which has an express remit to consider disputes between UK Administrations. It is an accepted agreement that all the UK Administrations will generally support the positions reached by the joint ministerial committee.
We are not talking about a trivial matter. When we debated the concept of withdrawal from the MPS earlier, I emphasised—I am sure that the Committee agrees with me—that it would be a matter of last resort and certainly significant enough for us to expect it to be resolved through the mechanisms that are crucial to the resolution of significant issues between the devolved Administrations and the Government. If one of the Administrations, in their capacity as a policy authority, no longer supported a particular policy in the MPS, and no agreement to amend the MPS could be reached, we would have to bear in mind the primary responsibility of devolved legislatures and Administrations in those fields that are devolved to them. We cannot tie an Administration into conformity and compliance with a document designed to implement a policy that they have indicated they no longer support—hence the difficulties envisaged by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, in his amendment.
For the MPS to work, we need to be supportive of the independence that exists throughout the UK Administrations, which is why the Bill states that policy authorities have to be notified before a notice of withdrawal is published. We would expect this notification to enable a period of negotiation if appropriate, which might indeed involve what the noble Duke suggests; that is, meetings and correspondence between officials and Ministers to resolve matters where possible. We have the mechanism for resolving an issue that would have real substance to it if it meant withdrawal from the MPS.
The amendment's limited framework would risk damaging the good-will basis on which the MPS is agreed. It could make it more difficult to negotiate in relation to the MPS in future, because we would be telling the parties what they must do. The conduct of negotiations between the UK Administrations and the process by which they may come together to resolve any difficulties are matters of judgment and policy related to the nature of the problem, public interest in it and its significance. We should not prescribe them in primary legislation. If we had no mechanism at all for resolving an issue of this importance, that might be required, but, as I have indicated, the wisdom with which the devolution settlements were constructed means that there is provision for how matters need to be worked through. Putting an injunction in the Bill is not conducive to the good relationships that we need continually to work through in the devolution settlement. I hope that the noble Duke will therefore withdraw his amendment.
I must thank those who have supported me on this amendment. My only quarrel with the Minister is that we are primarily passing legislation here, not sending messages, but I know that Governments have always to consider these points. I thank the Minister for persevering in spite of his difficulties; it is most useful to have him here explaining the Government's position. I think that he is saying that, if one of the Administrations, whether south, north, east or west, fall down, there will be a sort of get-together and others will say to them, "Look, you really ought to post a notification that you wish to withdraw from this". Perhaps he has confidence that the relevant channels have enough power to bring that about. However, as the Bill stands, it falls to the Administration who wish to withdraw to post a notice and otherwise continue with the marine policy statement despite the fact that they are perhaps not complying with it. We shall read the Minister's full answer but, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 86GA withdrawn.
Amendment 86GB not moved.
Clause 46 agreed.
Clause 47 : Marine planning regions
Moved by Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
86H: Clause 47, page 24, line 13, at end insert—
"( ) A joint planning commission shall be established for the Bristol Channel."
The amendment takes us to Chapter 2, which deals with marine plans. Clause 47 deals with the marine planning regions. The Bill makes no provision for a shared region such as the Bristol Channel. The amendment is far from hypothetical. I shall take a moment to spell out some of the practicalities.
Yesterday, the Minister's honourable friend Huw Irranca-Davies visited us in north Devon to open the new Appledore fish processing plant at the new fish dock. It is a multimillion-pound project. The Minister spoke extremely well and said that he was pleased to open the plant in partnership with the Bideford Trawlermen's Co-operative, the South West of England Regional Development Agency and Torridge District Council. It has been funded Objective 2 European money and government money, so it represents a true partnership. The Minister rightly spoke of the bright future in which the Government and all those other partners had invested.
However, that future will need very careful planning. I do not want by bringing up these issues to suggest that my support for the Bill is any less: I want merely to illustrate just how careful the planning needs to be, particularly in the Bristol Channel. The area is one of the richest for biodiversity, because, as the Minister will know from our previous discussion around Lundy, it contains the first no-take zone, which is likely to be enlarged. It contains an awful lot of other areas that are likely to be designated as highly protected marine conservation zones. It is an area where the Government are consulting on all kinds of marine energy projects, such harnessing the tidal power of the Severn and wave power from the Atlantic. North of Lundy will be the Atlantic Array, which will be one of the biggest wind farms in Europe. The shipping lanes to Bristol are extremely busy and well used. I am happy to say that the area is very popular for recreational activities such as surfing and sailing, as well as all sorts of other things.
I return to fishing. There are the south Wales fishermen and the north Devon fishermen, and two sea fisheries committees, each dealing with their particular region. If life were perfect, it would not be difficult for those two sea fisheries committees. However, I will give a small illustration of how far from perfect life is for them. A poster has been put up in south Wales addressed to fellow anglers and small boat commercial fishermen saying that the north Devon fishermen have been taking all their bass. The South Wales Sea Fisheries Committee and the Devon Sea Fisheries Committee have been very conciliatory. They are trying their hardest to resolve the situation, as is the Welsh Assembly Member, who I believe is going to meet the sea fisheries committee. I mention that simply to illustrate that the pressures between recreation and commercial fishermen, together with all the other things that I have listed, mean that the marine area is under great pressure. Psychologically, it is almost an enclosed area.
My amendment asks the Minister whether it would not be better to have a joint planning commission for the Bristol Channel rather than giving both authorities the headache of trying constantly to resolve the inevitable tensions that arise. I hope that some of what I have mentioned gives an illustration of how life is already difficult. What we should not do with the marine Bill is make life any more difficult. As we legislate, we should be trying to resolve such difficulties.
We will be discussing other estuaries in later clauses, which might require a different, microcosm approach to planning. However, the Bristol Channel is dealt with by the Welsh Assembly and the English authorities, so it is very different. I am not qualified to talk about the Solway Firth, but I am sure others are. My purpose in moving the amendment is to ensure that we aim as we legislate to make life easier for such areas and not more difficult. I beg to move.
"A joint planning commission shall be established for the Bristol Channel".
Amendment 86J, which relates to the same clause, states:
"Sub-regions of the marine planning region may be defined at any time".
I agree with the desirability of establishing a joint planning commission for the Bristol Channel. Many points have been made, especially on the tidal range, which clearly is the same on either side. The demarcation between both sides of the Bristol Channel must be respected. Clearly, the 12-nautical mile limit will have some objective part to play lower down the channel. At the same time, agreement jointly on planning issues is highly desirable. We must also respect the profound differences on each side of the channel, especially from an environmental protection point of view.
Amendment 86J helps to respect this by creating sub-regions, which would greatly take account, for example, in the Wye and Usk estuaries, which already have environmental protection, of migrating fish. If one contrasts that with the situation in the Somerset Levels on the other side of the Bristol Channel, one can see that there are very great differences. Clearly, sub-regions within the proposed commission would be highly desirable.
The Minister has discussions with Welsh Ministers in the devolved Assembly. Where is the current Welsh zone delineated in the Bristol Channel? Perhaps he could enlighten us as to what kinds of discussions have taken place to try to ensure co-operation among those who live on both sides of the channel.
I am pleased to speak to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, as it rightly draws attention to an area that will potentially suffer from all the conflicts of interest, confusions over responsibility and lack of communication that we are concerned the Bill might be ignoring. The development of the Bristol Channel and the possible building of a Severn barrage have been contentious for a while now, involving a bewildering array of public bodies, non-governmental agencies and industry bodies.
The noble Baroness is quite right to say that any final decision must involve the proper consultation of all those involved and should have a clear and objective understanding of the costs and benefits. However, I am not sure that relying on setting up a new joint planning commission, which is what the amendment proposes, is the best way of ensuring this. It could be; after all, the development of the Bristol Channel may be unusual in its complexity. However, it is not unique, and I hope that a final decision can eventually be made once the feasibility study is completed under the planning structures that are already in place. I am sure that joint working will be a feature of management between all competent authorities within the United Kingdom. Legislating for a successful formula is probably not the best way of bringing it into being.
This has been a good debate. I ought to start by emphasising the importance of marine plans. They will guide decisions on licensing applications and other issues and, I hope, provide users of the sea with more certainty. Clearly, the process of developing marine plans will bring together coastal managers and users' communities and enable them to work together and shape the direction of plans from an early stage. We want people to be offered a chance to be involved in the planning process. A participatory planning approach from an early stage will be laid down within the statement of public participation, which we have already discussed. We hope that potential problems and conflicts between marine users will be highlighted at an early stage in the development of marine plans, thus giving much greater opportunity to resolve those kinds of issues and preventing unnecessary delays.
I fully accept the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that in relation to those potential conflicts the Bristol Channel presents some very real challenges. I also accept her point about the strategic importance of the Bristol Chanel to the UK Government, to Wales and to people living in the region. It is important that we get this right in terms of consistency of approach. There is no disagreement with her at all about what she is seeking.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, referred to the work that my other department, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, has been doing, although with a great deal of input from Defra in relation to Severn tidal power and the feasibility study that has been undertaken. We will shortly publish an interim three-month consultation seeking views on a proposed shortlist of five schemes. As part of that, we are keen to consider innovative schemes that may be less environmentally damaging. However, we acknowledge that the tidal reef and tidal fence are not sufficiently developed technically for more detailed evaluation. We are committed to considering their progress before taking a decision in 2010, after a second public consultation on whether or not to support a Severn tidal power scheme. An additional £500,000 of public funding is being provided to help their development alongside the feasibility study.
That focuses attention on the substantive point of the noble Baroness. The desire and need for a consistent approach to planning across the administrative borders is well taken. It is in the interest of both the UK and Welsh Assembly Governments to ensure that technical and legal differences in legislative and policy competence do not give rise to problems for those working in and enjoying the marine area. The noble Baroness gave a good illustration with some of the problems that the fishing industry can encounter if it perceives a difference in approach between two different Administrations. The point is well taken.
On the other hand, as the noble Lord made clear, we must also respect the devolution settlement. If the Bill does nothing else, it certainly does that. That is why my response may be a little disappointing to the noble Baroness. However, I say at once that we fully intend to work co-operatively with the Welsh Ministers to produce a coherent management framework for the Bristol Channel. I would be happy to follow up with a letter on how these discussions have gone so far. I assure the noble Lord that fruitful and constructive discussions have taken place, and we want to continue that.
We want to provide a seamless experience for users of the Severn estuary while respecting the competence of each Administration to develop and implement policies for their parts of the UK. This debate on the Bristol Channel could easily be a debate about the boundaries between Scotland and England. Indeed, we shall come on to a discussion on that later.
The Bill provides a number of reassurances that neighbouring planning authorities will need to co-operate with each other. Before planning commences, notice of intent to plan must be given to any neighbouring planning authority; that is in paragraph 1 of Schedule 6. Steps must be taken to ensure that plans are compatible with any other related marine plan area or land plan, as in paragraph 3 of Schedule 6. There are various other reassurances in that schedule about the involvement of interested parties in consultation.
Any marine plan for the Bristol Channel will affect both Welsh and English interests. Both we and Welsh Ministers will of course consult widely on both sides of the border when time comes to plan in the Severn. Cross-border groups, such as the Severn Estuary Partnership, have long experience of bringing together diverse interests and working together across the border, and I assure the noble Baroness that their advice will be invaluable in helping to ensure that Welsh and English proposals for the Severn are coherent and workable for sea users.
As for why the Bill makes no provision for joint planning, I earlier implied that it is because of the need to respect the devolution settlement. Our problem may seem technical but is actually substantive. Any cross-border planning power or joint plan authority would give each Administration an effective power, by refusing to adopt the joint plan, to prevent or limit the discretion of the other authority to adopt policies in relation to their own part of the region, or the Bristol Channel in this case. In this case, it could affect the adoption of policies by the UK Government on the English side of the Severn estuary, and the adoption by the Welsh Ministers of their own policies in relation to the Welsh side. Legislative provision requiring such a joint plan authority would need to be acceptable both to UK Government and to the devolved Administrations but, as I have said earlier, the situation may arise in our other border estuaries with Scotland. This is not something that we have sought to cover in legislation, preferring to commit to working together, especially in cross-border situations.
Another problem is that the region belonging to the joint plan would have to be defined in the Bill. We do not want to specify the Bristol Channel as a specific marine plan area in the Bill. This is partly because the seaward extent would be unclear, but also because we might want the opportunity to consider all the other factors that might influence the location of plan boundaries within the Severn.
Nothing in the Bill prevents two authorities from choosing to plan for adjacent regions at the same time, making use of the same cross-border advisory groups. However, the end result would always be two separate marine plans. We must follow the devolution settlement and the respective statutory responsibilities of the UK Government and Welsh Administration.
I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that that is not just a pedantic point. It goes to the heart of how the Bill has been constructed. If she were then to say, "Well, accepting that, how can you assure me that the two bodies will work together?", of course the proof will be in the eating. However, from all that I have learnt in the preparation of the Bill, and from meetings and discussions that took place last autumn between the devolved Administrations and the UK Government, there is no doubt about a commitment to working together and ensuring that there is coherence. That is not to say that it will not be difficult; particularly in the Bristol Channel, it will be a challenge. However, there is no reason why we cannot succeed. One must respect the devolution settlement in the requirement of the two bodies to be able to produce their own marine plan. I hope that it will be done with absolute consistency so that users of the sea will be in no doubt about the coherence of the plans that are ultimately adopted.
I thank my noble friend Lord Livsey for his support in speaking to the amendment. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for contributing. He is quite right that this is about the complexities, and absolutely not just about the barrage and the planning for it.
It is not for my department to ask the Welsh Assembly that question. We should certainly be working with Welsh Ministers, and officials should be working together. I have already promised to follow up the question about how well we are working together.
Unfortunately, we still come back to the problem that, because of how legislation is set out and the requirements of the devolution settlement, we will still have to end up with two plans. The question is whether we can make them consistent. That is the challenge.
I thank the Minister for that reply and for going into some detail on my amendment. He rightly anticipated that I would be disappointed with his reply, as Defra had accepted the Severn Estuary Partnership's proposal to establish the Bristol Channel Strategic Coastal Group to look at coastal issues and coastal flooding. That relatively new group is operational and covers an area from Hartland Point to Sharpness and, on the Welsh side, out to St Ann's Head, including Lundy. He mentioned the difficulty around seaward extent but I had hoped that the establishment of such a group might set a precedent that could be followed through into the establishment of a commission.
The noble Baroness will be aware of the difficulty that I have with her proposal. However, it may be helpful if I undertake to set out in more detail for her and other noble Lords how we think work on the two plans might be undertaken so there is a consistency of approach. I do not know whether she would find that helpful.
That is a tremendously helpful offer. I realise that I am being slightly obtuse because I cannot see why we could not ask the Welsh Assembly whether it would welcome such a commission.
I do not want to prolong this. I am sure that discussions will continue to be held on how we can ensure that this measure works coherently. Clearly, if we or the Welsh Assembly Government have ideas about how collaboration may be most effectively undertaken, they should be put on the table and considered. The issue we have is about changing the legislation. We think that we have to stick to the mantra of two separate plans because of the separate statutory responsibility. I have no doubt whatever that any constructive ideas that are put forward about how we can work together will be seriously looked at.
Amendment 86H withdrawn.
Moved by Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
86J: Clause 47, page 24, line 13, at end insert—
"( ) Sub-regions of the marine planning region may be defined at any time."
This amendment should prove a little simpler because we shall not be looking at devolution issues. It attempts to address the complex matters that we have spoken of, particularly those arising in estuaries, whether big estuaries such as the Thames estuary or small ones such as the Camel estuary, which goes past Padstow. I tabled the amendment because there is no obvious provision in the Bill for a sub-regional approach to be adopted. Estuary forums have carried out valuable work in bringing together all the interest groups within an estuary, including local authorities—many more than three or four may be involved in the Thames estuary—and in creating a joint approach to the planning of their region. Therefore, I hope that a sub-regional approach will be permitted in the Bill. I shall not outline again all the complex issues that arise with regard to estuaries because everything that I said on the previous amendment applies to this one. I beg to move.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for moving the amendment and opening up this part of the Bill. I hope that my reply will be suitably constructive and will at least indicate that we have thought very seriously about the points that she raised.
As it stands, Clause 49(1) already enables designation— or, more correctly, identification—of marine plan areas within a marine planning region. Each marine plan may cover the whole or part of a marine plan authority's region.
Each plan authority will need to determine the appropriate area to be covered by individual plans within the limits of the regions for which it is responsible. It is up to the planning authority to decide how it wants to subdivide its own region or regions. In deciding, it needs to take account of various factors including ecosystems, bio-geographic areas, current administrative boundaries, existing management processes, the information known about natural resources, the data available, the patterns of human activities and where marine planning can add value. For instance, areas of high activity such as busy ports and estuaries will be prime candidates for these smaller, more detailed plans, which can then abut a marine plan for a wider area. I am in no doubt that these smaller areas would fall within the particular type of circumstances which the noble Baroness indicated in her amendment. The most important thing will be to plan at a scale appropriate to the characteristics and impacts on the area being planned for, and we are committed to doing so throughout the Bill.
Identification of marine plan areas will need to be informed by good science and evidence and carried out in consultation with local regulators and other people with an interest. The Government are carrying forward work based on previous comments from the public and interested bodies to determine the criteria to be used for deciding the scale and scope for each individual plan area and the criteria for considering the order in which plans are developed. As we said in the response to the pre-legislative scrutiny report, for which we were grateful, we will want to consult further on this matter.
Some have already suggested to us that the plans should be "nested" or tiered—one plan perhaps for a wider area with more strategic content, and one in a smaller area within that with more detail. We are content to allow for this flexibility for the future; we do not want to rule it out. As for our current intention for the marine regions which are the responsibility of the UK Government or the MMO, however, we think that a single layer of plans for any given area of sea would be better. More than one layer of plans in a single area would mean that a decision-maker has to look at, and decide in accordance with, additional documents. Multiple layers of plans could also increase the scope for potential conflict between the layers, no matter how efficient the planners are.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. In the terrestrial planning system the kind of complications that he suggests would occur—if they are complications—are commonplace. It is absolutely commonplace in that system to have a local plan, for example, and within it not only area action plans but all kinds of other documents that are part of the local development framework. The system set up under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act provides for planning at a local level. It does not cause vast complications, because people do not have to access plans in different places; they are all together in one place and they complement each other. There is no real complication with this at all.
The noble Lord will recognise one complication—namely that terrestrial planning has a rather longer history than marine planning. We are involved in an interesting and challenging area which does not have quite the depth of experience, nor the authority with which to carry out the exercise, as the terrestrial area. I am not so sure that we can readily apply the read-over from the Planning Act, although I recognise the value that we can derive from the experience that led to that Act. Frankly, we are concerned with the development of incremental planning; it will build up over a period of time. It is not that we put in legislation anything that adds rigidity to the position. As far as possible, we have some element of recognition of the complexity of the position and there will be the necessity for build-up through experience.
Of course I accept the point that the noble Lord has outlined. I know him to be a far more experienced planner than I have ever expected to be. He will appreciate that there is a challenge in the Bill that is not altogether foursquare with the terrestrial experience. That is why we have created the framework in the Bill. The noble Baroness was keen to explore whether we would recognise that different areas of marine activity have vastly different intensities, and therefore that we need concepts of variable planning and how it locks together. I hope the noble Lord will accept that this is no easy matter. It is challenging and we will have to learn through the development of experience. I hope he will recognise that in the Bill we have the structure to make the necessary plans. However, we are bound to approach it with a certain degree of flexibility and with perhaps not quite the certainty that he might wish for now and have expected in the Planning Act.
I thank my noble friend Lord Greaves for his support. He is absolutely right that terrestrial planning has strategic planning and local development frameworks, that below them you can have parish plans, and that they all nest together. I am slightly hopeful about the Minister's words. I shall carefully read in Hansard his comments on how the plan's detail will depend on the complexity of the issues addressed. I want to see exactly what he said because it was a key statement.
I am concerned that in areas with greater pressure—those areas nearer the coast facing the more complex issues we have mentioned—there will need to be more than just compatibility with the terrestrial plans. That point is still being lost in this debate, but we will come back to it. The Minister thinks that there can be a marine plan and terrestrial plans and the two will sit side by side in parallel, but, in fact, they will need to be integrated. The only way to integrate them is to legislate for that in the Bill.
Defra has done a lot of work on an integrated coastal management scheme and its strategy for promoting that is a good one. The only weakness in the whole thing is that it thinks, as the Minister repeated, that you can have two planning systems running in parallel and it will produce an integrated coastal planning system. It will not. If you want to integrate things you have to make a mechanism whereby they can be integrated. At the moment, that is what the Bill lacks. As I say, we will come back to it. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 86J withdrawn.
Clause 47 agreed.
Clause 48 agreed.
Clause 49: Marine plans for marine plan areas
Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach
87: Clause 49, page 24, line 29, leave out "may" and insert "must, by 2012,"
We have already gone into great detail about the requirement to produce a marine policy statement. It should therefore come as no surprise that Amendments 87, 87A and 87B address concerns that there should also be a requirement for a marine plan authority to prepare a marine plan. This is not an unreasonable expectation. All of us are anxious to avoid marine drift, and if a marine plan authority is not to produce a marine plan, one might ask: what is it for?
I know that the Government are keen on flexibility, but surely the Minister must agree that, without a duty on the relevant authority to draw up the plan, the Marine and Coastal Access Bill loses some of its force. We have called for this Bill for a very long time. We do not want to see a Bill that is weakened by language which only allows things to happen rather than propelling them to do so. While I obviously support the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Young, I prefer my drafting, because it calls into question the idea of a specific timetable allowing for the production of a marine plan. This is perhaps the "reasonable time" that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, refers to in her amendment. Does the Minister agree that this is a reasonable expectation?
I should also like to probe the length of time that the Minister thinks it might take the marine plan authorities to produce their plans. Does he think that 2012 gives them ample time? If so, why does he not want to put it into the Bill? The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, seems sensibly to demand that if, as the Bill stands, a marine plan authority may prepare a marine plan for only part of its area, there should be a duty to report on the status of marine planning across the region. This would be crucial to keep track of the extent of planning, specifically so that areas that seem to be lagging behind could perhaps be encouraged to extend their plans. However, we would take this one stage further. Amendment 88 demands that there should be a duty on the marine plan authority to create one plan or several across the entire region.
It seems clear to me that the goal of sustainable development will be achieved with greater success and ease if it is imperative that the plans cover the whole area. There is a danger in the Bill that plans may be produced only for busy coastal areas without making provision for the region as a whole, for example by making plans for the Thames and Humber estuaries and—if I may say so, bringing it near to home for me—for the Wash, but not for the North Sea in its entirety. This sort of partial planning undermines the objectives of the MMO as a whole.
We on these Benches think that plans must be made in a proportionate manner, varying with regard to the amount of information available and the necessary detail. This would mean that there could be comprehensive plans across the whole marine area, without taking up too much unnecessary time or effort for plans that will remain less detailed. Furthermore, it is crucial that the marine plans are produced in co-ordination with the designation of marine conservation zones. Perhaps the Minister can elaborate on how this is expected to work and what sort of timescale he feels would be appropriate. I beg to move.
I wish to speak to my Amendments 87B and 88A. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for endorsing much of what I had planned to say. This is a sort of twin-track set of amendments; one is to get the marine planning authorities to make some plans, which seems fairly basic, as the noble Lord said, and the other is to make sure that there is comprehensive coverage of the whole UK marine area within a reasonable timeframe.
My two amendments propose that an authority must have a duty to make plans within a reasonable time and that, if it has not completed the coverage of marine plans, there should be an annual report that describes what still needs to be done and ponders somewhat on the reasons why there is delay. I hope that the Minister will recognise that the amendments have support across the House. They are pretty reasonable, because I recognise what the Government have said in response to the Joint Committee, which said that it was more important to get marine planning and plans right rather than meet a deadline. Amendment 87B does not have a deadline, but simply has gentle encouragement and provides for public exposure when planning authorities are not quite hacking it fast enough.
I know that the Minister is somewhat reluctant to take comparisons between terrestrial experience and marine experience, but there is no doubt that in some of the earlier decades of the terrestrial planning process there were inordinate delays in preparing plans. That created either huge planning blight or uncoordinated development problems. We really should as a civilised nation perhaps learn from the past 60 years of the terrestrial planning process and let it inform our approach to marine planning.
The comprehensive planned coverage of the marine area is important. The Marine Management Organisation cannot make consistent and defensible decisions about licences, for example, if it only has partial coverage of plans. You could see a sort of Klondike effect in areas where there was no adequate plan, whereby anyone who wanted to do anything despoiling immediately rushed towards them—"Over here, boys, there's no plan here". We could see kind of sink areas whereby activities that are not allowed in areas covered by plans suddenly pop up in areas that have no plans yet written for them.
There is also a risk, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, that everyone pays attention to the busy areas close to the coasts, where there is lots of interest, but difficult and tricky conservation and exploitation issues are likely to come up in some of the most far-flung and extreme edges of the marine area, which otherwise might be neglected. They will be the most difficult areas to gather evidence for. Therefore, it is more important to get started on some of those areas early, so that the evidence base for what sensible decisions would look like can be gathered first.
If we do not get pretty comprehensive coverage in a reasonable timeframe, we will have some difficulty in reaching the deadlines of the European marine strategy framework directive, which requires that strategies are produced for all the seas, and marine planning is the mechanism by which that happens in practice. The Government need to apply their mind to the fact that the marine strategy framework would be very hard to achieve without comprehensive coverage of plans.
I know that the Minister will give assurances that everyone will press on with plans, but in some of the previous debates about the devolved Administrations I was not sure that he had any confidence that he could make anything happen in them. The overreliance on good will in this Bill is becoming a bit thin.
I must respond to that. I have shown great confidence that the arrangements will work, but because of the devolution settlement they are not something that we can simply legislate for. We can devise incentives that will make people want to work together. From all the discussions that have taken place, I am confident that there is good will on the part of the UK Government and the devolved Administrations to do so.
I am sorry if I inspired the Minister's wrath, but I am sure that, being a reasonable man, he would recognise that my requirement for an annual report on the coverage of marine plans is simply a useful way of producing a kind of competitive spirit among the devolved Administrations, including the English Administration, to vie for being the first to the completion line of all the marine plans.
I beg the pardon of the Committee if I am slightly foghorn-like, if that is not too bad a marine analogy, but my voice is packing in.
We need to take a proportionate approach to different plans for different areas, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said. Some plans will need to be pretty complex, because there will be lots of activities and conflicts; indeed, we know quite a lot about those areas. In other parts there will be only a single issue, and that may well need to be the only issue dealt with in the plan. A duty and an annual check is not much to ask.
My amendment is a minnow in this group. The noble Baroness said everything and more that I would have wanted to say. I had not thought about the marine gold rush that she conjured up, nor had I thought about her amendment as an incentive, a lollipop or a carrot. However, I agree with her.
I shall speak briefly to my Amendment 87C in this group, which, again, talks of how much detail the plans will go into. Will the Minister comment on the statement on page 20 of AStrategy for Promoting an Integrated Approach to the Management of Coastal Areas? It states:
"Work is currently being taken forward which will consider mechanisms that will enable the Marine Management Organisation to develop Marine Plans with the full participation of coastal regulators, authorities and stakeholders".
Is he able to share with us anything about the work done so far, because the strategy was published a little while ago and presumably the work has carried on? It would be helpful to know where work on those mechanisms has reached. That would certainly answer some questions. What will happen, for example, if there is disagreement between a terrestrial planning authority and the MMO over a particular issue? They can have regard to, but may not like, each other's plans. What will happen then? Will there be a stalemate?
I support my noble friend's amendments. All of us around the Committee are agreed that there must be greater urgency in this section of the Bill, and that "may" should be changed to "must". I hope at the very least that the Minister will satisfy us in that way. I appreciate that my noble friend's amendment states that 2012 should be the date by which arrangements should be put in place. I lean a little towards the more "reasonable" timeframe in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, which may be more appropriate. If the Minister is unable to accept the 2012 deadline, there may be a good reason why not.
I was intrigued by the noble Baroness's scenario of, "There are no plans here—let's get on with it, boys". It was genuinely meant and it underlines some of the problems we face in this part of the Bill. We seek clarification on that. I hope that the Minister will not just say, "We want to remain flexible", because throughout the Bill some of us, while accepting that it needs areas of flexibility, have been concerned that it is so flexible that there is nothing solid there at all. That would fail the hopes and aspirations that people have for this Bill. I look forward to the Minister's response.
Presumably marine plans depend to a great extent on what is included in the marine policy statement, and the timing of that certainly exercised the Joint Committee. The Government's response was that they had hoped that the marine policy statement would be issue within two years of the Bill receiving Royal Assent. That takes us up to the end of 2011. Is it the Government's intention that people should beaver away on these marine plans and try to second guess what might be in the marine policy statement, or will people have to wait until it comes out?
There are enough questions there to keep the Committee, and certainly me, busy for a little while, but I shall do my very best to respond to them.
First, marine planning is essentially a process that will help us to be proactive about the way that we use and protect our marine resources and the interactions between different activities which affect them. The policies in the one, single marine policy statement, which will apply throughout the UK marine area, will be implemented through the more detailed provisions in the plans that we are discussing. Ultimately, the decisions that affect what happens where in our seas will be taken within this strategic framework, leading to more consistent and evidence-based decision-making.
As this short debate on this group of amendments has reflected, through our debates on the Bill we have all become aware of the range of interests in the marine environment and of how complex that environment is. The Bill will not make matters more complex; it will deliver better systems of marine management throughout the UK. The planning system is the concrete example of the tool that will bring together those different interests. Better planning will mean that more sustainable, informed licensing decisions can be made, as public authorities must take authorisation decisions in accordance with the marine policy statement and plans. The plans will raise awareness of the vast range of activities taking place at sea so that anyone with an interest can really appreciate the diversity of the marine environment and its resources.
I emphasise that we intend our system of marine planning to be a fully participatory planning system. The questions of who, where, when and how people can get involved will be laid down in the statement of public participation at the very start of the preparation of each plan. The involvement of all those with an interest will be encouraged and enabled from the earliest possible opportunity.
Business and industry will benefit from the clarity and additional information that the planning will make available, alongside the new joined-up licensing system. Through the marine policy statement, marine industries will also be able to see the strategic policies and objectives for the UK marine environment, and will therefore be able to plan their activities and future development in line with the overall aims.
Planning should reduce uncertainty for developers in the marine area, and the marine plans will apply the policy priorities set out in the marine policy statement to a specific area. We recently published our strategy for promoting an integrated approach to the management of coastal areas in England, and a copy was sent to all Members of this House. Within that document, we explain in more detail how marine planning will be integrated with planning and management mechanisms on the land side of the coast, a matter which I know greatly exercises a number of noble Lords participating in this Committee. A comprehensive planning system for land and sea will enable us to understand the cumulative effect of all our activities on marine and coastal areas.
Noble Lords have tabled amendments which set some detailed and interesting challenges within this general framework. I recognise the importance of those challenges but I think that they are supportive of the framework. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, questions whether the marine plan or plans can meet a certain deadline, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, requires an annual report to be made to legislatures.
I emphasise that marine planning is a new system for the UK. It will have a great deal of direct influence on what happens at sea and around the coast, and of course we want to get it right. We are fully committed to using the new powers that will be created in the Bill, when enacted, and we intend to create marine plans which will enable us to take a much more sustainable and coherent approach to managing our seas. The Bill enables marine plan authorities to prepare a marine plan consisting of the whole or any part of the marine planning region. We consider that to be the right approach.
As was said earlier in relation to a duty to prepare a marine policy statement, prescribing such duties in legislation is difficult and can lead to unwanted consequences. We consider prescribing details such as the area that must be planned for and putting a fixed deadline in legislation to be unwise. I listened very carefully to the deployment of the noble Lord's argument for a deadline of 2012, but there is a general anxiety about the risk of plans being rushed or compromised in order to meet such a deadline. A hasty plan would be likely to cause more confusion for decision-makers than no plan at all and, worse, it would have the potential to cause environmental or economic damage if insufficient time were taken to consider and understand the underlying data and likely effects of the plan's provisions.
We know from experience in other countries that developed marine planning systems often evolve during implementation. That is why I constantly refer—and I accept an element of criticism on this—to the necessity to retain flexibility to enable us to create sound plans which have the support of those whose communities, livelihoods and decisions will be affected.
We envisage that plans will be created through a gradual, phased approach. This is partly because there will inevitably be an evolutionary nature to this new system and partly because of the resources that will be available at any given time. That is why, in this process, we are notoriously reluctant to commit so far ahead to a fixed timing for all the plans. After the first few years, we will have a better idea of how longs things are taking and what problems may lead to delays. I give way to the noble Baroness.
I am sorry. I know that the Minister is having difficulty today, and I sympathise with him over the problem that he has with his eye. The comment that he made just now slightly worried me. He inferred that some of the plans would not be able to go ahead because of unknown resources. Is he indicating to the Committee that there are not enough resources or that resources have not been allocated for this work? Clearly, if the resources are not there, I do not see how we can move forward on this matter. Can he clarify that?
I am arguing the more general case that the totality of the planning system is bound to be a distant objective, and I am merely reflecting the fact that of course resources need to be devoted to it. However, the noble Baroness will recognise that there is a limit to—
Does the Minister understand that what is causing so much concern around the Chamber is his use of words such as "distant" objective? How distant is that? It might be 50 years. He also referred to "gradual" phasing. I think that phasing is acceptable to everyone but it is words such as gradual that are causing great concern around the Committee that the Government will simply not take this matter seriously.
We are taking the issue seriously but the Committee will recognise where our ambition lies with to regard to the Bill. A sound marine plan will take about two years to prepare and the Bill will not receive Royal Assent until the middle of this year at the earliest, but the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, would have the job completed by 2012. I am indicating that we do not consider that to be a realistic timetable.
I went to considerable lengths to say that the detail of each plan would vary according to the time available, the circumstances and the degree of knowledge. That is widely shared by the Committee. The concern of the Committee on this issue is that the Minister is advocating a policy of drift and these plans will be one of the main drivers of the policy. Without a legislative driver it will be all too easy for the Government to let the policy jog along.
We have no intention of letting the policy jog along. Nothing I have said suggests that the Government are in any way tardy or unenthusiastic about implementing the Bill. We are facing up to the blunt realities of the challenge that the Bill represents and the timescale. I am not saying that the Government are committed to making sure that the marine policy statement is in place by 2011, but the noble Lord's arbitrary deadline of 2012 as the time when the system must be completed is unrealistic and we cannot—nor could any Government—commit themselves to that position, given the timetable of the Bill becoming law and the necessary work that has to go on in terms of effective planning and consultation. Of course I understand the concerns of the Committee, which are shared by the wider community. We need to make as rapid progress as we can. We are fully committed to making use of these powers, but I do not think that the nature of the challenge that the Bill represents lends itself to an arbitrary deadline, and certainly not one as early as 2012.
On the specific question of planning for the whole marine region, noble Lords will recognise that Clause 49, as drafted, is sufficiently flexible to allow marine planning authorities to make a judgment about what will best suit them and their region. Until we start to create plans we cannot be sure how extensive the coverage will need to be, so it is better not to prejudge the issue in legislation by requiring total coverage. As there are different planning authorities round the UK—
The Minister is talking about whether it is practical to arrive at the system by 2012. The Government themselves have identified the issue of having enough marine planners. There has been quite a difficulty over terrestrial planners, so can the Minister give some indication of the development of the courses that will accredit marine planners and how much progress is being made? It will be impossible to start on marine plans until planners are in place.
Of course we command a great deal of expertise on marine matters but I shall probably have to write to the noble Baroness about its extent and definition. Certainly I do not have it at my fingertips, but even if I had I am not sure that I would be able to read it at this stage.
I understand what the noble Baroness is saying. I was not making resource constraints the determinant of the progress that we make; I was trying to identify that the Bill calls forth a significant commitment, and resources, and within that I indicated how unrealistic it would be for us to provide total coverage by 2012, to say nothing of the fact that there are different planning authorities around the UK. Each of them will have to decide where and when plans are needed and whether they intend full coverage of their planning area. We may be in a position to produce full coverage but I emphasise that the system is new and we may discover that for some areas, say 150 or 200 miles out at sea, planning may be excessive, uncertain or not helpful enough to warrant the activity needed to meet demanding objectives. We may plan for larger and for small areas in detail as we obtain more information. We may plan using a lighter touch as we get out to sea. Of course that is why we are asking for flexibility.
The Minister is suffering a little and we sympathise with him.
Does this not come back to the question that we discussed previously on the detail of planning required in different parts of the sea being different? There are places, such as around estuaries or areas of special conservation interest and so on, where the detail will be huge, and others where the detail can be superficial. In comparison with terrestrial planning that is normal, but it does not mean that we do not have comprehensive plans. The Minister said earlier that he wanted a comprehensive system for land and sea, which means a marine plan for everywhere, just as you have a local plan for everywhere on the land. But the plans deal with the issues to a greater or lesser degree of detail according to the circumstances in their area. That is not to argue against having a plan for an area; it is just that there is not as much in that plan.
I understand what the noble Lord is saying but he will recognise the Government's reluctance to commit themselves to the extent that is being demanded, particularly by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor—to the objective by 2012. We are dealing with a substantial number of uncertainties, not least the issue of the responsibilities of the devolved authorities. Of course I understand the noble Lord's point about the broad strategic framework and the detailed plans at local level, but he will appreciate that in building up that general picture we have to get a clear perspective on certain aspects of the component parts. They are quite challenging. His noble friend earlier raised the issue of the differences between planning around harbours and estuaries as opposed to other parts of coastal areas. They present different challenges and we have to take a range of important considerations into account when a great deal of the work involves a series of new concepts. I am merely seeking to illustrate why the Government have justifiable cause not to be tied to the arbitrary deadline of 2012.
I recognise the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in her amendment. I was not too sure that the absence of planning led to a Klondike position, but there is no doubt that Klondike was brought about by the absence of planning. There were rather more incentives for people to rush to that area than might be thought to be the case with regard to the marine environment. I know what the noble Baroness is driving at but we would need an overall planning position. However, she will appreciate that it is not conceivable that we shall be able to see plans evolve for each area at the same time so as to avoid disparities. The different priorities of the authorities concerned will be reflected, as will the challenge represented by the planning.
I have picked on the noble Lord in his hour of trouble, but I want to refer to the point of my amendment. Plans will have to roll out serially over time as we obtain information, as we head for the most important priority areas, and so forth. But it is not too much to ask of each of the planning authorities in that context, where the noble Lord has just stressed the importance of plans with their serial, evolving nature, to get a light-touch report once a year to discover how the authorities are getting on with them, where they are planning to go next, the likely timetable for the next set of plans or whatever. It would be a useful spur to the whole process, otherwise, a Bill that says only that they may plan will not get us very far.
The noble Baroness is being a little unfair to the construct of the Bill. She will see that Clause 52 requires that:
"A marine planning authority must keep under review the matters which may be expected to affect the exercise of its functions", including,
"the identification of areas which are to be marine plan areas".
Clause 58 requires that a marine planning authority must report at least every three years on the effects and effectiveness of each marine plan. I maintain that between them, these two duties seem sufficient to ensure that a marine planning authority keeps in mind the potential for creating more marine plans, which bring certain benefits, and provide the necessary stimulus to ensure that it does.
Of course, I have indicated that each marine plan will take around two years to prepare. A duty to report annually on progress would therefore seem to be somewhat onerous, particularly since the duty would not expire even with a whole region covered by marine plans on which reports were being prepared every three years. I recognise the great interest that the noble Baroness takes in these matters, but we are resistant to putting in the Bill the nature of her amendments.
A number of other points arose in the discussions. I do not have the figures that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, suggested I should have at my fingertips. We are discussing and working with the University of Plymouth—I cannot think of a more appropriate institution—to develop appropriate training for marine planners. We recognise the need and are approaching the university to develop training courses for marine planning. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, indicated that there is no way in which we can achieve those objectives without having such action in mind.
I therefore do not believe that the absence of a marine plan indicates that there is no policy framework at all for the area, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. The MPS will apply to the whole of the marine area, so that will provide a broad, overall context. I agree with him entirely that we ought to make as much progress as we can with the individual marine plans, but against the scale of the operation involved in the concept of the Bill, he, above all, with his understanding of development and planning, will recognise the challenge that faces government and all the authorities. I therefore hope that he, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, whose amendment has triggered this debate, and the Committee will recognise that the Government have taken into account the issues raised in considering these amendments and that where the Government are resolute in their stance against them—particularly the precise timescale in the noble Lord's amendment—they have thought about these issues seriously. His amendment has provoked a debate that obliges the Government to respond to this most important of all concepts with seriousness and urgency, but a deadline might be obstructive and unhelpful rather than constructive and helpful. I therefore hope that he will withdraw his amendment.
We have had a useful debate. I see the measure as being one of the prime drivers for action. The Bill is about a framework for the nature of that action, but time is the driver for achieving things. The noble Lord put the telescope to his blind eye and said that he could not see the signal. I regret to tell him that I seek to test the opinion of the Committee on this amendment.