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Marine Management Organisation

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 19 June 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) for what reasons the proposed Marine Management Organisation will not have responsibility for the registration of fishing vessels; (211557)

(2) what consideration he has given to transferring (a) regulation of offshore oil and gas licensing, (b) regulation of ship-to-ship oil transfer, (c) regulation of merchant shipping and (d) registration of fishing vessels to the proposed Marine Management Organisation; and if he will make a statement.

The proposed Marine Management Organisation will be the Government's regulator of most activities in the marine environment—with some exceptions, as set out in the policy document published alongside the draft Marine Bill.

The Marine Bill White Paper published in March 2007 explained that the current system of licensing oil and gas infrastructure and activity works well, and there is no compelling evidence that integrating it with others would achieve any benefits. The Government therefore intend the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR) to remain responsible for delivering this service.

Similarly, careful consideration has been given by DEFRA and the Department for Transport (DFT) to the relationship between the MMO and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)—an executive agency of the Department for Transport, responsible throughout the UK for implementing the Government's maritime safety policy, including the co-ordination of search and rescue at sea, ensuring that ships meet UK and international safety rules, and the environmental control of shipping in UK waters.

It is important to maintain the MCA as a separate organisation with a clear, single focus on shipping and maritime safety. The regulation of merchant shipping (including ship-to-ship oil transfer) sits firmly within the MCAs remit.

DEFRA and DfT officials are currently considering whether the MMO should take on responsibility for the registration of fishing vessels which is currently delivered across the UK by MCA alongside the registration of non-fishing vessels.

Part 1, chapter 3 of the draft Marine Bill provides flexible arrangements to enable the delivery of marine functions by the MMO. This provides a flexible tool which could enable any Secretary of State to enter into an arrangement with the MMO to deliver any marine functions in the future were this considered the most effective and efficient delivery mechanism.

The MMO will need to develop effective working relationships with a range of other bodies with responsibilities in the marine area—including the MCA and BERR. We envisage Memoranda of Understanding being drawn up between the MMO and these other bodies to clarify how they will work together.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether he plans to employ consultants to advise on the creation of the Marine Management Organisation. (211558)

DEFRA is seeking to follow best practice in establishing the Marine Management Organisation, taking into account the lessons learned from the establishment of other non-departmental public bodies, including Natural England. This includes ensuring appropriate expertise is available and may include the use of consultants if appropriate.

Consultants are currently engaged in providing an independent recommendation on the location of the headquarters office of the Marine Management Organisation.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what steps he plans to take to protect staff of the proposed Marine Management Organisation from personal litigation arising from their discharge of Government functions; (212010)

(2) what assessment he has made of the implications for staff of the proposed Marine Management Organisation of being post holders in the organisation rather than Crown servants; and if he make a statement.

The proposed Marine Management Organisation (MMO) will be an Executive non-departmental public body (NDPB) and its staff will be public servants. Staff within core Departments and the Marine and Fisheries Agency delivering functions that will transfer to the MMO are civil servants.

Staff transferring to the MMO would do so under the Cabinet Office Statement of Practice using TUPE principles and there would therefore be no detriment to pay or terms of employment at the point of transfer. Any future changes would only happen through proper consultation with the relevant trade unions.

The staff of the MMO will have the opportunity to work within an organisation making a significant contribution to the sustainable management of our seas—through the first marine planning system of its kind in the world, streamlined, modern and fit for purpose licensing regimes and effective, joined up enforcement. The Marine and Fisheries Agency is working to prepare itself as an organisation and its staff to form a solid foundation for the MMO.

When acting in the course of their duties for the MMO employees will be unlikely to face personal litigation, in the same way that civil servants are unlikely to. Decisions taken are on behalf of the MMO so any potential claim would lie against the MMO not an individual officer. Civil servants only enjoy immunity where Crown immunity applies in specific circumstances—they have no general immunity.

The draft Marine Bill does however give specific immunity to Marine Enforcement Officers appointed by the MMO and other enforcement officers. These officers need to be protected when they carry out inspections and investigations out at sea and on land to prevent their freedom to perform their duties being hampered by a fear of legal action being taken against them. The immunity applies so long as the enforcement officers are acting lawfully within their powers.

This mirrors the position for existing officers, for example, British Sea Fisheries Officers (BSFOs).