[2nd Allocated Day]
[Relevant documents: Report from the Joint Committee on the Draft Marine Bill, Session 2007-08, HC 552-I and -II, and the Government response, Cm 7422. Ninth Report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Session 2007-08, on the Draft Marine Bill: Coastal Access Provision, HC 656-I, and the Government response, Cm 7422.]
Further consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 31, page 2, line 26, leave out ‘contribution to the achievement of’ and insert ‘furthering of’.
Amendment 25, in clause 12, page 8, line 10, leave out from ‘capacity’ to the end of line 13 and insert ‘of less than 1MW.’.
Amendment 26, in clause 13, page 9, line 12, leave out from ‘capacity’ to the end of line 15 and insert ‘of less than 1MW.’.
Amendment 45, in schedule 1, page 229, line 18, leave out paragraph (1) and insert—
‘(1) The MMO shall pay such remuneration and allowances as are commensurate with those of directly employed DEFRA employees.
(1A) The MMO shall negotiate staff remuneration and allowances with the recognised trade unions.’.
Amendment 46, page 229, line 23, leave out from ‘The’ to end of line 25 and insert—
(a) pay allowances or gratuities as it may determine to or in respect of any person who is or has been an employee of the MMO;
(ab) ensure that all current and future MMO staff are entitled to membership of the civil service pension scheme;’.
Government amendment 4.
Here we are at the last stage of the marathon passage of this Bill—well, we hope that it is the last stage, but that is of course dependent on another place. Hopefully, we will co-operate and get the Bill on the statute book as soon as possible.
Amendments 30 and 31 seek to address an imbalance in the Bill between clauses 2 and 44. The Minister will remember the lengthy debate that we had on this subject in Committee. I am sure that I do not need to remind him or the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that our amendment 9 was successful in Committee in changing the wording of clause 44 from “contributing to” to “furthering”, which is why the imbalance exists.
Owing to the way in which amendments 1 and 2 to clause 2 were grouped in Committee, they were not voted on, but I think that the Minister will agree that, on that issue, the voice of the Committee had spoken. It was unfortunate that amid the parliamentary process, the Committee was largely unaware that it was voting on only one group of amendments. I am aware that the Government seek to overturn the changes that amendment 9 made in Committee, and the Minister will explain his reasoning and I shall listen with interest. However, I must tell him that I feel very strongly about this issue, and I shall return to it in a moment.
The point has been repeated, on numerous occasions and from all parts of the House, that the Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to introduce a landmark piece of legislation on important conservation measures that will take us closer to a sustainable future for our oceans and the communities that they support. This legislation has the potential to be groundbreaking, and that is the basis on which we seek to make the amendments before us. Sustainable development is an important concept and the key to how we move forward on fisheries management and planning. We believe that “contribution to” suggests a finite involvement in sustainable development and simply does not go far enough. “Furthering” would signify a continuous effort to achieve sustainable development, and that is what is needed for the effective management of, and planning for, our seas.
Some will say that I am playing with semantics, but as you know, Mr. Speaker, words mean everything when we structure legislation. It will be revisited in many generations’ time, long after we have left the House. Indeed, yesterday, we debated legislation that was dated 1771, and I hope that the legislation before us, even if it does not have that longevity, will certainly be important in future generations. It is vital that we get the wording right, not just because the Bill may be open to challenge from various sources, but because of the message that we must send out. I shall return to that point, too.
Our amendments would ensure that the Marine Management Organisation had a sufficiently robust objective: to be responsible for furthering, rather than making a contribution to the achievement of, sustainable development. As I said in Committee, the MMO is marketed as the one-stop shop for marine management, and as such it must take a leading rather than a contributory role in sustainable development.
Several hon. Members, some of whom are present, pointed out that the Bill had first-class legislative scrutiny, and I agree that the Joint Committee produced an excellent document. It is worth looking at recommendation 12, on page 95 of its report, which states that
“clear duties should be set out on the face of the Bill to ensure that the new organisation”—
“works to meet the aspirations which Parliament has set for it. We recommend that these include a duty to further sustainable development and we suggest that this be based on the ecosystem approach to managing the marine environment.”
The Joint Committee could not have been clearer in that excellent piece of work. A number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), were party to that document, and I urge the Minister to consider it in the context of this argument.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very strong argument, which I support, as I did in Committee. “Contribution to” raises various questions: is it a leading contribution; is it a significant contribution; and where are the other contributions going to come from? It raises also the question of whether the simple offer of a contribution will be effective at all. Indeed, the Government have not properly addressed whether the so-called contribution, which they suggest the MMO will make, will be significant at all.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments; he puts my point of view very well. As I said, the wording matters. This provision is at the very start of the Bill, and it sets out the duties and obligations of an organisation that we are creating to be, in the words used in the House of Lords, the standard bearer for our seas. If we give it a weakened duty, we diminish the organisation and send out entirely the wrong message.
Amendments 25 and 26 are worthy of comment. They would lower the threshold for the number of energy projects that will be overseen by the MMO, rather than by the Infrastructure Planning Commission, from 100 MW to 1 MW. That would allow the IPC to take decisions on the majority of marine renewable projects, leaving only a very small segment to the MMO. As I made clear in Committee, we believe that the MMO should have available the necessary expertise and resources to decide on a full range of marine activities. I have tabled another amendment—I will return to it in a moment—that seeks to strengthen the MMO’s knowledge base. It is crucial that the MMO is used to provide advice and direction on marine and coastal applications for energy projects that impact on the marine environment if it is to live up to its potential role as the standard bearer for our seas.
It is no secret that Conservative Members are no great fans of the IPC. All sorts of interested parties, bodies and organisations get involved in the planning process on land, and the IPC is a new addition to that mix. We have doubts about its democratic accountability. That is its main problem on land, and it is even further removed from the interests of sea users. We do not want more powers to be sucked away from the MMO by the IPC even before the new organisation’s vesting date. I will listen to comments made on the amendments, but as things stand I do not feel inclined to support them.
The two amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) are interesting because they refer to staffing issues in the new organisation. I will listen very carefully to his points. Several people are extremely unhappy about the way in which the Marine and Fisheries Agency is migrating towards the MMO. There are extremely difficult questions of morale to be addressed. Back in May, the website had a page advertising for a new chief executive; those details are still there today. I am keen to meet this new chief executive, whoever he or she may be, as well as the new chairman, who is probably an excellent person—certainly so on the basis of his CV, which I have read. I wish them well. Nevertheless, why do we not have a chief executive in place? Is there some legislative barrier, or is it merely because the right person cannot be found? I hope that the Minister will address that key point.
The Minister’s decision to locate the new headquarters on Tyneside may or may not have been right; I have no comment to make on that. However, I know that a great many staff do not want to move to the new headquarters. I gather that of the 200 or so people in the organisation, 10—known as the Tyneside 10—have agreed to move. I hope that the Minister can tell us that more people have decided to do so, because we need their expertise and knowledge if the organisation is to hit the ground running with good morale, a good sense of purpose and clearly defined duties. What about the people who work at the 18 coastal locations? I understand that they will not be transferred in their existing civil servant posts. Perhaps the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington will tease out some of the answers.
I know that there is considerable unhappiness in the organisation, and it is in the interests of all of us that the move is done properly and that any problems created by how it has been handled are rectified. We need that so that we have people of real expertise, knowledge and drive ready to start work immediately, and so that the organisation can hit the ground running at its vesting date, which I understand is still planned to be April.
Amendment 39 builds on our attempts in Committee to expand the skills that the new organisation will be able to call on. It is intended to ensure that the MMO is given adequate access to specialist knowledge in order to carry out its diverse range of functions. We raised the issue of expertise in the MMO in Committee, pushing for a chief engineering adviser to be appointed alongside a chief scientific adviser. Our amendment was unsuccessful, but we hope that the appropriate range of expertise will be housed in the MMO. If that is not achieved, amendment 39 would ensure that it could source advice and guidance from other bodies that had the expertise that it was lacking.
Furthermore, it is important that the MMO has the capacity to process the often very technical information that it needs to carry out its functions. Many marine users are concerned that the MMO may not have the understanding of the diverse range of issues affecting the marine environment that it needs to manage it effectively. It is therefore important to ensure not only that consultation occurs but that information is shared and expertise pooled. There are no added cost implications at this stage—
Order. I feel sure that I misheard the hon. Gentleman when he referred to amendment 39, which I think was not selected. I know that he would not knowingly speak to an amendment that was not selected, and I feel sure that he is in fact focusing his remarks on amendments 30, 31, 25, 26, 45 and 46, and possibly Government amendment 4.
I apologise, Mr. Speaker; my understanding was that it had been selected, with a very late phone call to the Clerk’s office. I may have been misinformed on that.
In that case, I shall make a further point on the other amendments, which links in quite well with what I have been saying. It is important that the MMO has the breadth of knowledge that it needs. The Minister might be able to let us know whether she feels it will have the power to call on expertise when it needs to.
Government amendment 4 is effectively intended to counter a gain that we made in Committee on an important matter. As I said, this is rather more than just semantics. The Government may have thought that they were right back in July in Committee to oppose the changing of the wording in the Bill to “furthering” from “contributing to”. If that is the case, I strongly believe that they are wrong now. This is not just about the powers with which we charge the new MMO, it is about the message that is sent about the Government’s intentions towards sustainable development, to which the Minister has the opportunity to state her Government’s commitment.
It is worth considering for a moment what we mean by sustainable development. As far as I am concerned, it is a pattern of resource use intended to meet human needs while preserving the environment, so that those needs can be met not only in the present but for future generations. I also like the definition used by the Brundtland commission, which described it as development that
“meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
In the run-up to Copenhagen, when the Government have given some mixed messages such as their commitment to a third runway at Heathrow, here is a golden opportunity to make a real and genuine step forward. I urge the Minister to take the opportunity to leave the word “furthering” in the Bill and not to reverse the change made in Committee.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon), whose arguments I listened to carefully today and in Committee. I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s response to my comments. Having been incredibly helpful to him yesterday, I am minded to be slightly less helpful today. I, and my colleagues who similarly failed to support the Government on this issue in Committee, have problems standing on our heads. I do not seek to speak for my colleagues, but myself and others—I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) and for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead)—were members of the Joint Committee on the draft Marine Bill. As we have said, the Bill has been extensively scrutinised, and I would like to think that the Government’s response to how this excellent Bill can be made into a brilliant Bill will weigh in the balance some of the wise recommendations that came out of that pre-legislative scrutiny exercise conducted with Members of the other place.
On the Joint Committee’s report, I remind the Minister of those who have argued the “furthering” case, and I am a signed-up member of the “furthering” tendency. Page 22 of the report states:
“The Environment Agency argued that the MMO should have a duty to further conservation of marine flora and fauna and to secure compliance with the Water Framework Directive requirements and objectives in transitional and coastal waters.”
On the same page, the Joint Committee recommended:
“We have no doubt, from the weight of the evidence received, that the statement of purpose of the MMO is ambiguous both in terms of the draft Bill and in the policy framework which the Government envisages.”
I do not think that any of us would want to put our names to this groundbreaking and long-awaited piece of legislation if it had any ambiguity in it, particularly in respect of such a fundamental component of delivery, which the MMO must surely be. As the hon. Member for Newbury said, the final recommendation stated quite clearly that we should include a duty to further sustainable development.
My problem with why the Government find that difficult concerns the lawyers’ argument that it would not be compatible with 70 other pieces of legislation. Hang on a moment! Are we in this place to make legislation that is only compatible with legislation that went before? If that is the case, how do we ever establish precedents? How do we ever move the policy agenda on? I am concerned about the future of our seas, certainly in terms of generating a sustainable harvest of fish for the planet to feed on and benefit from. There might be only 50 years of life left in the oceans if mankind carries on exploiting them at the current rate. We must also consider the impact of climate change and population growth. All those factors tell me that I do not want to listen too carefully to arguments from lawyers about precedents concerning 70 other bits of legislation that go back to God knows when.
The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), has been superb throughout consideration of the Bill, but—here is a challenge for him—I need him to be even more superb and come up with some very convincing arguments, if he is to tempt me to follow him into the Lobby.
I, too, rise to speak in favour of amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon), although I shall make a few comments on other amendments in passing. He suggested that the debate might be interpreted as a semantic one about the difference between “contribution to” and “furthering”. He also suggested that people might not necessarily know the difference. Fundamentally, “contribution to” suggests that the MMO might play a subordinate role to others, but I think that in most people’s minds, “furthering” indicates the concept of the MMO making a significant, leading contribution.
If the argument is that the difference between contributing and furthering is merely a semantic issue, it should be no skin off the Government’s nose simply to accept the amendments, arguing that the difference between the two expressions is semantic in any case. I therefore hope that the Minister will listen to the arguments, including the well-argued case that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter).
Given the efforts and the contributions made in establishing the Bill—the work in the Joint Committees, the campaigning and the strong public support—it is clear that the Government are being sent a message. I hope that they will be receptive to that message, although they do not seem to be very receptive at the moment. The MMO needs a firm steer, not simply a limp expression of warm hope, which is what the Bill appears to be giving with the words “contributing to”. I hope that the Government are receptive to that and to strengthening the clear intention in the Bill for the MMO to take a much more significant role than that suggested by “contributing to”.
As I said, the current wording raises a number of questions. If the relevant authority is making a contribution towards the “achievement of sustainable development”, one must ask whether that is a leading contribution, and if not, who is making the leading contribution? Is that contribution a significant contribution, and if not, will it in fact be an insignificant contribution, without any assessment of its value? It may be a contribution, but frankly it might not make a great deal of difference. There is nothing in the explanatory notes to indicate who else will be contributing towards the achievement of sustainable development. At the end of the day, some serious questions arise as a result of the Bill’s warm but rather weak wording on the consideration of the fundamental objectives of the MMO.
The explanatory notes make it clear that sustainable development, as Ministers perpetually remind us, has three core elements. Paragraph 46 says:
“This may be necessary to ensure that an appropriate balance between environmental, social and economic considerations is reached”.
Therefore, not only does the Bill refer to the contribution made towards the achievement of sustainable development, but the environmental goals that underpin this important legislation make it clear that that means a contribution towards a three-pronged balance in any case—an important balance, as I argued in debate only yesterday. I hope that the Ministers will reflect on the strong feelings that resulted in a Government defeat in Committee. I hope, too, that the Government will not be churlish enough to press their amendment 4, because in effect they would thereby be showing disrespect to the considered views expressed in Committee, when the issue was given very close scrutiny.
In passing, let me say that I support the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). The letter that has been circulated between him and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), raises questions about the reassurances that I have received about the transfer of undertakings to members of staff who move from the Marine and Fisheries Agency to the MMO. The wording of the letter does not provide the reassurance that the staff who are being transferred have a right to expect. I wish the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington well in his efforts in that regard.
I will listen to the views of those who have tabled amendments 25 and 26, but I am not yet convinced that a strong argument has been made for effectively handing over planning powers to the Infrastructure Planning Commission. I have some concerns about the potential impact of those amendments, because the specialist knowledge that will be held by the Marine Management Organisation cannot simply be put aside, which is what would happen if the amendments were to be accepted. I hope that the Government have listened to my points.
I shall address my remarks to amendments 30 and 31 and Government amendment 4, in particular. Government amendment 4 seeks to restore the status quo ante following the first meeting of the Public Bill Committee, at which the meaning of “furthering” was discussed. At the time, I suggested that it might be a good idea to look at the provisions in paragraph 7 of schedule 5 to the Bill concerning sustainability appraisals, and at the extent to which the issue might be resolved—for this Bill, without any read-across to other legislation—by amending that schedule to make clear the points that we were discussing. Such an amendment might also make clear the intentions of the Bill on sustainability, particularly in the context of sustainability appraisals. At the time, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) said that that was a good suggestion, and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) said:
“I commend the approach outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test.”––[Official Report, Marine and Coastal Access Public Bill Committee, 30 June 2009; c. 19.]
I note that more in sorrow than in anger.
When the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) replies to the debate today, she might like to put on record the reason why that approach has not been examined to the extent that it might have been, although I appreciate the efforts that both Ministers have made to find the best approach, following our debate in Committee. I do not think that they have failed to take careful note of what was set out in Committee, or to exercise proper diligence in following up inquiries on the outcome of the votes taken in Committee.
Instead, this is a question of how the particular wording of the amendment tabled in Committee—and alternative wordings—fits in with wider issues in other legislation. It is also a question of the extent to which amendments already made to the Bill strengthen and underpin the sustainability aims in the first place. I am willing to be persuaded this afternoon that restitution of the status quo ante—if it has been undertaken—has been based on a clear examination of all the alternatives and how they fit into the wider aims and how the Bill sits with other legislation. That is not a nugatory point, because the way in which it fits in with other legislation is important.
Although it is certainly true that we are shaping legislation that departs substantially from the past, it is nevertheless the case that the Bill’s proper reference to other legislation is a necessary part of its success as a piece of legislation. If it can be genuinely shown that that is indeed a major consideration, I, for one, would be happy to say that a proper examination, as was undertaken in Committee, had been carried out, which would explain why the Bill has the outcomes that it does.
I expect that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to do that—or something like it—in her summing up, which I will listen to carefully. It is necessary for her comments to be placed very carefully on the record on Report, so that we are all clear about this matter.
My hon. Friend is making a very sound contribution to the debate. We also need to have cognisance of the underpinning agreements between the different UK Administrations. One of the Bill’s benefits is that it is a UK sign-up. We have now adopted five shared principles, defining sustainability as living within environmental limits, achieving a just society, a sustainable economy, good governance and sound science. Those five principles are now expressed in our high-level objectives for the UK marine area. Rather than being only warm or wishy-washy, we are quite definitive about what we mean by sustainable development. I hope that that explanation helps.
I thank the Minister for that intervention, as it underpins one of the central points of this debate: the extent to which the Bill’s pillars relate to other pieces of legislation. The Bill relates to less than the totality of the UK, so those pillars also have to support other legislation being enacted in other UK legislatures. If that form of high-level understanding of the overall effect of the Bill can be crystallised, as the Minister has just described, it appears to go a long way towards affording an understanding of why the Bill is to be written, if it is to be written, in this particular way.
The hon. Gentleman raised this issue in Committee in the context of schedule 5, when the Minister responded by suggesting that it would be considered. Was the response in the Under-Secretary’s intervention just a few moments ago the first time that the hon. Gentleman had heard anything about the result of the Government’s undertaking to investigate this matter with the devolved Administrations?
No, that was not the first time I have heard that. I have discussed this and associated matters with my hon. Friend the Minister on several occasions—and, as I have emphasised this afternoon, I am happy that he has applied due diligence to the undertakings that he gave in Committee to look carefully at the alternatives that had been suggested and then present proposals based on that careful examination.
I hope and expect that this afternoon, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to reflect those considerations when she replies to the debate, but if that does not happen, I fear that we shall return to the position that pertained in Committee. It was clear that a number of Members on both sides of the Committee were not convinced by the argument that had been advanced about the exact wording of the Bill. Some wanted a different wording, while others wanted provisions elsewhere in the Bill to be amended to enable the wider sustainability objective to be underlined. If, and only if, that objective can be underpinned and those pillars can be set up this afternoon, I will be happy with a wording that reflects the intention of the Government amendments.
Amendments 25 and 26 seek to reduce the point at which the Marine Management Organisation has an overview of applications for offshore energy projects, effectively—although the Bill does not actually say this—from 100 MW to 1 MW. Members have already expressed concern that that might strip the MMO of the ability to give serious consideration to an essential component of marine environment management—offshore energy installations. I personally consider that concern to be misplaced, not because it is not a proper concern, but because of the way in which offshore energy is developing.
I think we all know that prospects for the development of offshore energy, overwhelmingly that of offshore wind power, are enormous and potentially glowing. We are already the leading country in the world in offshore energy installation, and there are substantial plans in the pipeline and on the drawing board for the installation of up to about 30 GW in the medium and long term. We are now in phase 3 of the licensing arrangements for offshore zones for the installation of wind farms. With the emergence of each of those arrangements—from phase 1 to phase 3, and including the revisiting of phase 2 in relation to additional licensing—the size, ambition and extent of those offshore wind installations have increased.
Phase 1 licensing involved the development fairly close to the shore of a relatively small number of turbines, each of which was also, by current marine standards, of a relatively modest size. Both the commissioning and building of further developments, such as the London Array and the licensing of deeper sea offshore wind as we move into phase 3 licensing, indicate that the number of turbines per wind farm and the size of those turbines are increasing substantially. We can draw two conclusions as to what that means in relation to the planning regime for offshore wind in particular. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) may have a fair number of comments to make about marine current technology and wave technology, and I shall not intrude on what I suspect he will say, except to note that an enhancement in size will not be the pattern followed in those technologies, at least in the immediate future. Indeed, it is likely that a number of those technologies will in the foreseeable future be well below the 100 MW limit, and will therefore come within the purview of the MMO under the terms of the Bill at present.
It is, however, extremely unlikely that in the immediate future many, if any, applications for offshore wind in the marine environment will come before the MMO, for the simple reason that the clock would be turned back in terms of the development of offshore wind if there were a number of applications below 100 MW—which amounts to perhaps 10 to 15 turbines under current arrangements—which would come within the purview of the MMO. Overwhelmingly, those applications will therefore come within the remit of the Infrastructure Planning Commission. The IPC will therefore have to be properly geared up to assess the planning processes for future offshore wind applications and the detailed considerations relating to the marine environment to which those planning processes give rise.
The issue is not so much that the IPC will not know what it is doing in relation to offshore wind, and that there will therefore be a problem if it is given most of the planning remit for future offshore wind, but that there will, in theory at least, be two bodies geared up to have detailed knowledge of offshore wind, one of which will have a large number of applications before it and one of which will have no applications before it. What does that mean in terms of the consenting regime for offshore wind? Will it parallel the regime for onshore wind?
For the foreseeable future, the vast majority—indeed, probably all—onshore wind applications will be below the level that would bring them before the IPC, and local authorities will still be concerned with the planning regime. As we know, however, there are no local authorities for the marine environment. There is one landlord of the sea bed. A number of important considerations have to be taken into account, but they are not parallel with those for onshore wind.
Is it not possible that the hon. Gentleman is looking at this down the wrong end of the telescope? The IPC will, as long as it is allowed to exist, have plenty to do in connection with land-based issues. We are creating a new organisation for the management of the seas. Should we not be thinking that the MMO should be responsible for developments of higher megawatt output, rather than be limiting it, because there can only be added overlap between the two new organisations that we are creating, and that will be complicating and will diminish the importance of this new organisation, as well as the IPC?
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, to the extent that it would be possible to say that the whole offshore wind consenting regime should fall under the MMO’s purview. That would result in a parallel IPC for offshore matters in some instances, to go alongside the IPC’s onshore role in major infrastructure planning considerations and major national strategic inquiries. I suggest that if he were to go down that route—although he may have it in mind not to do so, because he is not too keen on the idea of the IPC in the first place—the interesting logical considerations of making the non-existent IPC responsible for offshore as well as onshore decisions might cause his synapses to fuse. Assuming that there was a logical consideration, that the IPC would continue, and that it would not have any responsibility for very large offshore marine installations, we would be in danger, in the opposite way, of creating two parallel planning problems.
That is because offshore wind involves not only the installation of wind turbines, but the cabling that takes the turbines to land, the landing facilities on the land itself and, to a considerable extent, the grid structure that takes whatever is landed properly into the national grid. As hon. Members also know, the National Grid Company is pursuing a strategy for 2020 to strengthen the national grid substantially, precisely to take on board those strategic aspects of landing. Currently, point-to-point arrangements are in place, but my view is that they will develop into cluster arrangements in due course. If we are talking about integration, getting all that right, both from the land and from the sea, could be an integrated function for the IPC.
Going down the route suggested by hon. Gentleman, whereby a series of large applications is considered by the MMO but as soon as the land is involved they are considered by the IPC, could result in a dangerous division in our consideration arrangements, particularly in terms of the overall picture of the sea, the land and the energy supply. The opposite view, which is that it probably would be a good idea to try to integrate the planning regime for offshore wind energy management as far as possible, precisely because of those considerations, probably represents the better way forward—so long as one agrees that the IPC should continue at all.
I hear what my hon. Friend is saying, but there are at least some Labour Members who, because of its willingness to engage in conservation and wider environmental issues, would much prefer the MMO to examine issues such as the Severn barrage than give the job to the IPC, which might make a purely economic judgment on that monstrosity. Does he understand that some of us would like the MMO to have a view on this and other related marine issues?
I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, but I do not see a contradiction between making the IPC responsible for planning major strategic offshore developments and incorporating those developments in marine and national planning statements, as those statements should define the framework within which the IPC, the MMO or any other body undertakes such work. The important point about the Severn barrage, offshore wind energy generation and the land side of offshore wind is that how such developments work within the marine and national planning policy statements will define how they are undertaken. Anything else is likely to lead to a fractured approach to renewable energy generation offshore, with potential conflicts between elements of the land side of those operations—something that is especially true of the Severn barrage. Therefore, the relevant planning bodies must undertake detailed consideration and analysis to make sure that the policy statements are right.
The hon. Gentleman is making a sound contribution, but the point that he appears to be making might undermine the MMO’s ability to assess the merits of marine planning applications. One problem is that the IPC could take such applications out of the strategic context, and another is the implication that the MMO may not have the technical competence to assess them. My hope is that the MMO will work in concert with the IPC and the Department of Energy and Climate Change. I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman’s argument, because surely there will be formal communication between those agencies and the Department.
The hon. Gentleman anticipates what I was about to say, which is that the MMO must have great expertise on a number of these matters anyway. That includes the marine policy statement, to whose operation it is very much a party. Calling for a more coherent planning regime for offshore renewable energy development does not cut the MMO off from playing a serious role in considering those planning applications. It has a strategic role in the management of the sea bed and conservation zones as well as other aspects of the marine policy statement, so it has to be centrally involved in the planning process.
The amendment would mean that there would not be two specific planning regimes, with one stopping at a wholly theoretical point. Instead, it would establish a unified regime for major planning consents, encompassing both offshore developments and the onshore operations that are an essential part of them.
The amendment would not take away the MMO’s central role in planning considerations, but it would make sure that this country’s ambitions for the offshore generation of renewable energy were properly aligned with the delivery of that energy into the grid in the best possible way.
I am following carefully the case that my hon. Friend is making, which has some merit. Has he taken into account the Renewable Energy Association’s code of practice, and its joint statement with Natural England? As such a code of practice has been developed, and was published in September, does he agree that Natural England could be the bridge to cope with the scenario about which he is expressing concern?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, which is incorporated in the view that in all these matters, bodies charged with a substantial role in the stewardship of the natural environment onshore and offshore should have a central role to play in the overall planning of both those environments. The question of how that is to be secured does not necessarily relate to the narrow issue of what considerations relate to planning permission and what follows it, but relates to the wider issue of how those bodies play a central role in the planning and stewardship of the natural environment, particularly as defined by the policy statements that will be issued, and under which those bodies will work—in conjunction, as it happens, with the IPC—on major strategic projects.
In a sense, the policy statements trump the activities of the IPC because they are concerned with wider issues than is the IPC, and the IPC must have regard to those statements in its own considerations, as will Natural England and the MMOs.
I follow the logic of my hon. Friend’s argument, but given my earlier comments, does he see merit in the REA advancing the case for the MMO as a statutory adviser and formalising the MMO’s role in relation to the Secretary of State in the MCZ designation process, and its relationship to the policy statement?
I see no contradiction between that role and the role of the MMO, for example, in designations of marine conservation zones, and the narrower planning issues that I am raising in connection with the amendment. On the contrary, I would welcome that role for the MMO in MCZs, and in the wider context of the stewardship of the sea around our coast. As I emphasised, the amendment would not excise the role of the MMO in the development of offshore energy, or the role of Natural England in planning onshore. The challenge is to get things right in terms of resources, the narrow issue of planning, and the linear planning that is inevitably involved in these processes.
Does my hon. Friend agree that as well as the narrower planning issues, as he describes them, and the importance of the stewardship of the marine environment, it is vital for us to remember the innovative nature of renewable technologies and the role that the marine environment can play in stimulating the development of renewable energies and the generation of green jobs in areas such as Brighton and Hove, and in his own area?
Indeed. My hon. Friend underlines the enormous changes that are taking place in offshore energy production, with the installation of devices out at sea. As she knows, licensing in the English channel brings enormous opportunities for the landward side in servicing, fabrication, transport, installation and landing. I am particularly concerned about the integration of those two things. If we have a point at which that development and those opportunities stop because of an artificial divide between what happens in one place and what happens in another, we risk holding back some of the additional opportunities available—so the point that my hon. Friend makes is important.
I believe that one way or another, when the Bill is law it will be necessary to consider carefully how those various elements of the planning regime articulate together. It may well be that amendments 25 and 26 do not pass into law—that is just possible—and I must take account of that in what I say. Assuming that that is the case, I hope the Minister will tell us how we can best integrate the offshore and onshore planning arrangements so that the development of offshore wind and other forms of marine energy is enhanced rather than impeded—but enhanced with a proper regard for its place in the marine environment. How can that best be done under the arrangements in the Bill, and how can we best ensure the delivery of the opportunities for UK renewable energy that my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Ms Barlow) and other hon. Members have talked about this afternoon?
I wish to speak to amendments 45 and 46, which are in my name.
On Government amendment 4, I echo the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) regarding the performance of the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies). I have had limited dealings with him on the Bill, and I rarely compliment Ministers in this place, but may I place on record that in his dealings with the Public and Commercial Services Union parliamentary group and me, he has shown utter courtesy and creative engagement? On that basis, may I also say, on Government amendment 4, that it may well be that the making of a Minister is ensuring that the clammy hands of the lawyers are removed from his throat? This may well be the opportunity for him to demonstrate similar creativity as he showed in his munificence to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West.
As has been mentioned, the Bill subsumes the Marine and Fisheries Agency into a new non-departmental public body, the MMO—the MFA becomes an NDPB called MMO, if people can bear with me. I am equally interested in the application of the Cabinet Office statement of practice and the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 with regard to the staff involved in the transfer.
Obviously, all hon. Members across the House, have welcomed the legislation and to implement any form of legislation, we need good civil servants who are committed to their jobs, expert in their field and properly supported, and who have high morale and the confidence of the Ministers involved. MFA workers who are now being transferred to the MMO have expressed concerns about their future status, pay, pensions, job opportunities and career paths. As a result of those, on behalf of the PCS parliamentary group, which I chair—it is a cross-party group of hon. Members who come together with the PCS to discuss its members’ concerns—I tabled amendments 45 and 46.
The issue was raised by my noble Friend Lord Rosser in the other place, who spoke about the 200 to 250 staff who will be transferring. Many of those people are experts in their different fields. They are committed and proud to be civil servants. They chose to be civil servants not only on the basis rewards of their jobs—their work is rewarding—but on the basis of their conditions, pay and secure pensions. It is important that, whatever we do, we do not destabilise the organisation, reduce morale or demotivate the staff. We must therefore address the issues of concern that members of staff have raised.
Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the hurt that was felt was caused by an apparent lack of engagement and a failure to realise the true professionalism of many people working in that sector of the civil service? It is not a well known part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but the staff carry out invaluable work. It is good to hear what my hon. Friend says about the meeting last week, because it is only right and proper that these people are appropriately rewarded according to their status. I hope that that will be the case in the future.
I concur, and that message has been relayed to staff at the meetings that they have had with the Minister. I am pleased that the Minister has let the staff know that they and the work that they do are valued, and will be valued in the new organisation.
I seek to amend schedule 1 of the Bill which deals with the establishment of the new organisation. Amendment 45 relates to the pay of MMO staff and would ensure that their pay remains on DEFRA pay scales and would be negotiated in the future by recognised trade unions. In this instance, the bulk of staff are organised within the PCS. Amendment 46 relates to the pensions of MMO staff and seeks to ensure that the transferred workers retain entitlement to the civil service pension scheme and, crucially, that new staff would also be entitled to enter the civil service pension scheme, avoiding a two-tier work force.
I am pleased that the Minister met the trade unions and the members of the PCS parliamentary group last week. Following that meeting, the Minister wrote to me and I have placed a copy of the letter in the Library and ensured that Opposition Members have received a copy. I shall read into the record the Minister’s responses on the issues that we raised with him as they relate to the amendments. It is important to put on the record for members of staff the commitments that the Minister has given.
With regard to staff transfers and the two-tier work force, the Minister has helpfully sought to reassure staff in the following terms:
“I would like to reassure you that we have put in place safeguards to ensure that terms and conditions and pensions will carry over when staff transfer from the Marine and Fisheries Agency and that these provisions will apply to new staff.”
That is exceptionally helpful. There were concerns that new staff would have different terms and conditions, but that clarifies the Government’s intentions.
With regard to pay, the Minister says:
“It is intended that the MMO will mirror the Defra Pay Award in 2010. This along with any other proposals to change the terms and conditions of employment would require formal consultation and negotiation with the recognised Trade Unions. In line with Cabinet Office guidance, provision has been made in the Bill that will require changes to the terms and conditions of Marine Management Organisation staff to be approved, through the annual pay remit process, by the Secretary of State of Defra as the sponsoring Department.”
That is crucially important to provide reassurance to the staff that their pay is secure in the coming period and will be subject to the normal negotiation position.
I have been asked to inquire of the Minister what assurances can be given that pay for comparable grades will be maintained with DEFRA rates after 2010. It would be helpful if we could have some commitment from the Government on the importance of maintaining the link between comparable grades so that the pay of MMO staff does not fall out of step with pay in the mainstream Department.
The intention is clear from the Minister’s letter, which I have read into the record today, and it would be an extraordinary act of bad faith if that intention were not implemented. I have no doubt that the Minister is being straightforward in his commitments on this. It is one of the matters that will be monitored in the future and, despite all the compliments that have been paid to the Minister today, if it is not adhered to, I will return to the subject.
I applaud the representations made by my hon. Friend and others on behalf of the PCS and the work force of the MFA in their transfer to the MMO, and I can assure him of my categorical follow-through on the undertakings within that letter. I echo his view that if any Minister, myself or any subsequent Minister, were to renege on those undertakings, they would be acting in bad faith, so he has my clear commitment.
That is straightforward, and I welcome that commitment. I reiterate that the longer-term future is important for the organisation and its ability to connect with the mainstream civil service, and that future pay arrangements must not be allowed to fall out of step with the main DEFRA rates of pay.
Pensions is a crucial issue that has been raised by members of staff, and understandably so. Let me again read into the record the Minister’s commitment in the letter. He says:
“The MMO has been accepted, in principle, into membership of the Civil Service Pension Scheme. This will mean that MMO staff will see no change in the provision of their pension including the provision of pension statements and the facility to seek advice from the pensions provider.”
The concept of “in principle” acceptance into the scheme is fairly straightforward in ensuring that the processes of transfer are undertaken, as has happened with regard to other agencies in a similar position.
The other issue that the staff have understandably raised relates to career progression and the potential for career paths. This is a small organisation with some specialist members, but many will want to pursue their career path back into the mainstream civil service at a later stage in their career, so it is important that they retain that opportunity. Otherwise, this Government and future Governments will always have the problem of recruiting and retraining staff over a period of time. We raised with the Minister the question of access to the civil service gateway, the facility that enables staff to apply for vacancies on a civil service-wide basis, and in his letter the Minister said:
“MMO staff will retain access to the Civil Service Gateway which advertises civil service wide vacancies. To allow Non Departmental Public Body staff to apply for Civil Service vacancies, the Civil Service Commissioners and Cabinet Office have developed an accreditation scheme for Non Departmental Public Bodies. Once the MMO is vested, the MMO will apply for accreditation enabling MMO staff to apply for civil service posts via the Civil Service Recruitment Gateway as if they were Civil Servants.”
I see no problem in terms of the accreditation at a later stage. That is merely a formality.
One or two points of clarification that we raised with the Minister at our meeting last week were not addressed in the letter. One concerns whether MMO staff will have access to the DEFRA network for job vacancies, which I think is a simple procedural point. On the commitment given today, would the Secretary of State’s approval be required to remove access to the civil service gateway? In other words, are staff fully protected in terms of their access to the gateway? Would the specific intervention of the Secretary of State be required to deny them that access at a future date?
I reiterate that there are real concerns, anxieties and insecurities among staff about this transfer. I still cannot fully understand why, unlike other NDPBs, the staff are not allowed to retain full civil service status. The staff are still confused about why they are classified not as Crown servants but as public servants. However, it is clear that the Government have taken a view on that matter. Through the PCS parliamentary group, we have sought to secure as many commitments as we possibly can to give the staff in the new organisation every encouragement and every form of security and confidence that we can, so that they can rise to the challenges of the future. I believe that the organisation has a dedicated group of staff who will rise to those challenges, but they need the commitments and the confidence and security that, I hope, the Minister’s letter will give them today.
Other hon. Members have already spelled out what my amendments will do. They are very simple. Their effect is to give the IPC consenting powers over any renewable energy installation with a capacity of more than 1 MW. That might seem like a technical change, but it is much more than that, as I hope to demonstrate.
I warmly welcome the Bill. It is crucial to the future management of our seas and to the conservation of the ecosystems, but it is equally critical in the mitigation of climate change. Our offshore waters offer one of our best bastions of defence against climate change, so it is crucial that this Bill does not put in place anything that will obstruct that.
In this country, we are blessed by having in our coastal waters the richest natural energy source from wave and tide that can be found pretty much anywhere in the world. It would be a tragedy if we did not harvest that energy, which is worth many gigawatts. That source could produce just as much energy as the proposed new nuclear power stations and would in the process give us an industry, which exists only at the moment in small and medium-sized enterprises that are deploying the first commercial machines, that could produce thousands of jobs and billions of pounds-worth of turnover and export potential. It could be the UK equivalent of the wind turbine industry in Denmark and Germany. There is a big prize out there and if we fail to grasp it, that will be extremely sad. Let us consider the value of renewable energy projects. This country benefits from only about 10 per cent. of the added value of wind projects. If we develop wave and tidal power properly in this country, we will get virtually all the added value and that value will be enormous.
So, why am I worried about the distinction between the MMO and the IPC? The MMO will not be dealing with offshore wind applications. Round 3 offshore wind applications will all be for installations that are bigger than 100 MW. The only applications that will come within the remit of the MMO will be the wave and tidal stream applications. For the foreseeable future, there will not be that many of them and they are bound to be for installations with capacities of less than 100 MW, as the industry has to go through its initial growth stages. There is no short-circuiting that process. Moving from 1.2 MW commercial-scale tidal stream power to the tens and twenties and finally up to 100 MW-plus will be tortuous and difficult. That process is not one that we went through with wind in Britain, because it did not happen in Britain—it happened in Denmark, Germany and Spain. It did not happen in Britain for a host of reasons, with which I will not detain the House.
Tidal stream and wave technologies are at the same crucial stage as wind technology was more than 25 years ago. We could have had the wind industry then, but for a whole host of reasons we lost it and it went abroad. That is the very real risk to wave and tidal stream technologies at the moment.
I remember the work that my hon. Friend and I did on that very issue on the Environmental Audit Committee. Will he confirm his belief that, if those opportunities are grasped, the UK could become a global leader in wave and tidal power, and that that will be beneficial to the marine ecosystems around our coast, as well as to the economy and to the future of climate change?
My hon. Friend has jumped to a point that I was working towards, but I shall turn to it straight away.
There is an obvious synergy between the marine conservation of ecosystems and the deployment of renewable energy in those locations. Of course, I am talking only about technologies of machinery with an environmental impact that is totally benign. There are only two at the moment. First, there is Pelamis, the sea snake, which is anchored, and that is about the limit of its environmental impact. Secondly, there is SeaGen, the tidal stream turbine, the first of which is operating in Strangford lough in Northern Ireland. That lough is one of the most environmentally sensitive sites in the country, and would obviously be characterised by the MCZ designation. However, the turbine has no measurable environmental impact: it is totally benign. If we deployed those machines in a marine conservation zone, we would achieve a synergy between ecosystem conservation and energy production, because by definition the presence of a tidal stream farm or wave farm would inhibit the other socio-economic uses of those waters, such as fishing, ballast, oil, gas or anything, and therefore help with ecosystem and fish conservation.
The hon. Gentleman makes many interesting points about renewable energy, but to return to the amendment, we are talking about which agency is best equipped to deal with the developments to which he refers. I am sure that he agrees that a number of the developments will have an environmental impact, whether it is a tidal barrage, which his hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) mentioned recently, or another system. Is the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) saying that the MMO should not be qualified to talk about them, because it will be too weighted towards conservation issues and include too much greenery, in which case it must be dealt with by a much more austere organisation, such as the IPC, which will consider the matter in the round, within a national framework and alongside all such policies? If he is, I profoundly disagree. The conservation impact is absolutely vital, and that is why the MMO is better placed to deal with it. The MMO has the right momentum for increasing the amount of renewable energy that we produce.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I do not entirely agree, because that is a false conflict. I am talking only about the deployment of machinery that has been demonstrated to have little or no environmental impact in its own right. We should not give the MMO the job of consenting to such deployment, because there is a very real fear that it will not have the engineering expertise to deal with it, whereas the IPC will. Is it sensible economically to set up two structures with lots of experts or to have only one? There is no way that the MMO would be excluded, in any event, because it will still be a statutory consultee that looks at environmental impact assessments.
The hon. Gentleman asks whether I think that the MMO might be too green and too weighted against energy installations. He has a point there. The tidal stream turbine had a very rough passage in getting environmental impact consent, and very nearly did not get it. The assessment and monitoring process cost £4 million—25 per cent. of the cost of the whole project. The investment climate in the industry is appalling and the market is very difficult, because there is not enough support for new and inherently somewhat expensive technologies; adding a crippling burden of costs in environmental consenting creates a risk of strangling it.
I presume that the hon. Gentleman is not saying that his proposal would result in a lesser need for environmental impact assessments for such projects. As well as the two projects that he mentioned, off the north coast of Cornwall there is a substantial wave hub project that has recently got the necessary consent to proceed. It is a very exciting project. The route by which it received its necessary planning consent demonstrates the need for a range of Government agencies and a range of interests to come together in order ultimately to make a decision about such consents within the marine environment. One element that was not considered sufficiently in the planning process was the interests of Trinity House and maritime safety, because the wave hub will be slap bang in the middle of a shipping lane. That can be overcome. However, the primary point is that these issues are best handled by the MMO and are not to be superseded by what is otherwise a land-based Government agency such as the IPC. Does he agree that it is a question of bringing all the agencies and interests together and ensuring that decisions are taken within the marine conservation context?
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right that we must have coherence. I am not, for one moment, diminishing the role or importance of environmental impact assessments. However, it is unfortunate that some conservationists and animal or marine ecologists are blind to the fact that the most important threat to ecosystems, apart from bad fishing practices, gravel extraction or whatever, is climate change. That is what makes renewable energy installations totally different in kind from any other socio-economic use. Provided that their immediate ecosystem impact is benign, which by definition it should and can be, such installations also bring wider environmental benefits and are a weapon for climate change mitigation. I do not wish that to be undermined.
I would be perfectly happy with the MMO if I could be certain that it would have the ability to carry out economically and quickly the consenting process on the relatively modest projects in question—£15 million or so at a time. However, history does not give me that confidence.
I have been following the hon. Gentleman’s argument closely, but as I understand it, the IPC was set up and its commissioners chosen to consider a small number of very large applications. I think that he is suggesting that it now take on a much larger number of small applications. I am not sure whether the structure would allow that.
I do not believe that there is any problem with the structure. The number of applications in question would not be great, and given the technologies concerned, they would be strategic. If we are to have a gigawatt-scale industry, we have to go through the initial phase up to the first 100 MW or so without impediment. If there is undue impediment, that phase will not happen and we will miss out on the climate change mitigation benefit and fail to exploit the enormous energy resources that nature has given us. Others will reap the benefit, and it will be a tragedy and detrimental to our marine environment. That is the basis on which I am arguing.
Under my amendments, the MMO would have a critical role, and no one is suggesting that it should be shoved aside. The most important thing is to have coherence and consenting procedures that are fit for purpose. If the electrical consenting is all done by one organisation, we are much more likely to get that. The MMO will be involved even in the larger projects that are referred straight to the IPC, because it will carry out the environmental impact assessments. Nobody wants to sideline it, but I am trying to put the critical mass of expertise and the efficiency of decision making in the right body, so that it works properly. That is the main nub of the argument.
The need for the synergy that I have referred to between renewable energy and the highly sensitive areas that will be designated as MCZs is now accepted by Natural England, and it has to happen. I am concerned that if the conservation lobby has too much influence and the balance is tilted too much in its favour, that synergy may be lost. It could be self-defeating.
May ask my hon. Friend, as I did my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) earlier, whether he believes the problem might be resolved through the fact that Natural England, which has responsibility for developing the proposals for MCZs along with the Finding Sanctuary project in the south-west of England, has come to agreement with the Renewable Energy Association about how to bring coherence to the proposals? I absolutely agree with the basic premise of what he is saying about that coherence.
Yes, I am aware of that agreement, and I use it as support for my case, with which it is perfectly consistent.
I am fairly sure that the Government will resist my amendments stoutly—Governments generally do—as they are attached to structure that they have in the Bill. I put it to my hon. Friend the Minister, however, that if he has got that wrong—if arrangements are such that the consenting process is unduly onerous on, and expensive for, the small and medium-sized enterprises that are developing what will become a critical, strategic industry—and helps to strangle that industry at birth, he will have some accounting to do. I expect to hear some fairly secure assurances from him that that will not be the case; otherwise I urge him to accept my amendment.
I commend this interesting and well-informed debate, which has been on a number of important clauses that we discussed at length in Committee. We have also had an opportunity to consider further some of the Bill’s very important provisions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) rightly brought our attention to the value and experience of the staff who will form the MMO and of the existing staff at the Marine and Fisheries Agency, and to the obligation that we owe to them for their service. I am grateful, therefore, for his comments, despite the slightly disparaging ones that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) made about lawyers—I shall try not to take that too personally.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington reflected the concerns raised by the departmental trade unions about the change of status involved for those staff. As he is aware, a constructive discussion on that subject was held last week with the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), and I am happy that he read the latter’s letter into the record.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington raised some other points. It is Government policy that non-departmental public bodies, such as the MMO, should be staffed by public servants. That is an important factor in ensuring their independence from central Government, and it is vital that the MMO is seen as an independent marine manager delivering Government policy as a whole. I would like to reassure the House that we have put in place safeguards to ensure that the terms and conditions of pensions will carry over when staff transfer, that the provisions will apply to new staff and that the MMO staff will be able to apply for civil service jobs.
As my hon. Friend correctly said, the pay will mirror DEFRA pay in 2010, although the MMO board will wish to reflect on future pay arrangements to attract staff of the right quality and experience. However, any changes would require consultation and negotiation with the trade union representatives and approval by the Secretary of State.
My hon. Friend also raised the issue of access to gateway. The civil service gateway gives access to all civil service jobs, not just to those in DEFRA. The MMO will apply to civil service commissioners, via the Cabinet Office, for accreditation for MMO staff. Providing the MMO continues to meet the criteria for accreditation, there is no reason why MMO staff should lose the benefit of access to civil service jobs via the gateway scheme.
I was coming to the hon. Gentleman’s points on that subject. As he is aware, no appointment has been made, as yet, for the chief executive. A recruitment exercise took place earlier this summer. It is not that there were no suitable candidates, but that for a number of reasons we were unable to make a formal offer. I can advise him that a further recruitment exercise has just closed. Interviews are scheduled for early November, and the chief executive will be in place ahead of vesting. In the meantime, an interim senior manager has been appointed to work with the chair designate and officials on the work needed for vesting the new organisation.
Recruitment for the new headquarters and the retention of staff have been prioritised in business areas where the MFA fulfils key statutory or customer delivery functions, including marine licensing, fishing vessel licensing and the management of fish quotas. The recruitment programme was designed to deliver high-calibre staff to the organisation using objective assessment methodology, as well as technical fit, and to be phased in to bring staff into critical teams as early as possible. More than 40 members of staff have been recruited, and we are bringing them into the MFA in teams. Training for the first three teams started on 5 October. The second phase of recruitment is now under way, and we expect to bring in those members of staff from the end of November onwards. An extensive training programme targeted at the needs of individual teams is under way. Following formal training in London, the trainees are now working on a one-to-one basis alongside existing staff, who are also in London.
Once handover is completed and signed off to the satisfaction of MFA directors, there will be a period of dual running, with staff operating from Newcastle in tandem with staff in London. To ensure business continuity and a smooth transition in that period, we will ensure that there is a clear process of training, knowledge transfer and dual running. The recruitment programme to replace staff is now well under way and largely complete in Newcastle. Twenty-five members of staff have been recruited to date, and training and handover are now under way in London. I hope that those assurances will persuade the House that we have put in place a procedure that will allow us to recruit the necessary staff of appropriate experience and that there will be a smooth transfer from the MFA to the MMO when the power is vested in it.
On amendments 30 and 31, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) commented about the extensive period of reflection that we have had since our discussions in Committee. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been in discussion with a number of different parties. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test that our comments are based on that careful reflection and on ensuring that the Bill not only is as strong as possible, but will deliver on the ambitious priorities that we set out as part of our manifesto obligation.
The MMO’s general objective was subject to extensive debate in the other place and in Committee in this House. Lord Hunt of Kings Heath went into great detail in the other place about why we consider amendments requiring the MMO to “further” the achievement of sustainable development, rather than to “make a contribution” to it, to be inappropriate. I do not want to repeat at length what has been said before, but I do want to make a few key points to reinforce the reasons why the Government cannot support the amendments.
As was said on Second Reading and in Committee, we already have a strong objective for the MMO. That was strengthened by the package of amendments that the Government introduced on Report in the other place, with the support of Lord Taylor of Holbeach and Earl Cathcart. That package introduced a new power to enable the MMO, in pursuit of its overall objective to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, to take any action that it considers necessary or expedient for the purpose of furthering any social, economic or environmental purposes.
That package also provides for the Secretary of State to give guidance to the MMO on its sustainable development objective—guidance that will make clear the Government’s view of the MMO’s role and the principles that it should follow in fulfilling its overall objective on sustainable development. The guidance, which is in development, makes clear the MMO’s strategic direction, based on the high-level marine objectives, which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary explained earlier, and the clear legislative framework set out in the Bill. Those elements will be reflected in the objectives to be set and agreed for the MMO, as set out in its corporate plan and subject to regular performance review by the Secretary of State. Parliament will receive an annual report so that it, too, can judge the performance of the new body.
It is important to note that the vast majority of interested parties, as well as the industry sectors and other interests involved in lobbying on the Bill during its passage through Parliament, now accept that the balance that we have achieved is about right. We have received letters from a number of groups and organisations supporting the current position in clause 2, including the Renewable Energy Association, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and the UK Major Ports Group. I was pleased to learn that the group of environmental non-governmental organisations known as Wildlife and Countryside Link is no longer pressing for a change to clause 2. I hope that hon. Members will agree that that is a wide spectrum of interests in the marine environment.
I acknowledge that that is a very wide group. These matters have been quite controversial, however, and the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Will the Minister go so far as to agree that there might be a case for early post-legislative scrutiny of the Act? I appreciate that the policy statements have yet to be developed, but that would be one way of ensuring that these matters work.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We want to get on with the real work and get these plans and policies into practice. Given the huge interest in these matters in civil society, however, I am sure that the various Select Committees and all-party groups, which are very active in the House, will scrutinise the legislation from day one. That is absolutely right, because they will ensure that the Government live up to the principles that have been outlined in the course of our debate here and in the other place over the past few months.
The Minister is certainly making a fair fist of moving towards allaying the concerns that a number of us raised in Committee. She mentioned the coalition of support for the Government’s strengthened position—I accept that they have strengthened it and moved towards “furthering”—but will she tell me whether the WWF is part of that coalition, or whether it is still pressing, as I believe it is, for the text of the original amendment to be written into the Bill?
As far as I am aware, the wording of that clause is not currently part of that organisation’s briefing on the Bill. As far as I understand it, it is not pushing it heavily, but I cannot comment on every lobby group that has approached us. As my hon. Friend can imagine, we have been approached by a considerable number. I hope that the MMO’s objective, coupled with the guidance, will ensure that the interests of all those organisations is taken properly into account by the MMO in reaching its decisions.
I cannot see how amendments 30 and 31, tabled by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon), would make a practical difference to how the sea is managed. The words “making a contribution to” are appropriate, given that the MMO, working within the framework of a UK-wide marine policy statement, will not be able to achieve sustainable development on its own. While the MMO will have a key role, the achievement of sustainable development in the marine area will be a partnership effort by all those who have a say in how the seas are managed. That includes other delivery bodies, regulators, the devolved Administrations, and the vast range of users of the sea and its resources.
Many of the MMO’s partner organisations that will be carrying out functions under the Bill, such as the Environment Agency and Natural England, have a duty to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development under their own parent legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West mentioned the position of the Environment Agency, and I would like to clarify that point for him. The agency has now changed its position and is no longer convinced that there is any need to change the Bill as it is currently drafted.
What harm would it do to make the changes as proposed by the hon. Member for Newbury? If the Minister is insisting on pressing ahead with Government amendment 4 and rescinding the decision taken in Committee, will she answer a question that I raised earlier? Of course the MMO will make a contribution, but will it be the leading contribution, as we would all expect? The other agencies that the Minister mentioned will clearly make contributions, but will the MMO be making the leading, co-ordinating contribution?
I shall explain in detail why I believe that the amendments would not strengthen the Bill. As a former practising solicitor, I have to say that I do not want the Bill to create a lawyers’ charter, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want that either. That is why I want to make it clear that the current wording is important. Other partner organisations, such as the Environment Agency and Natural England, have a duty to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development under their parent legislation—including the Environment Act 1995, the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998, the Energy Act 2004, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, the Energy Act 2008 and the Planning Act 2008. None of those is an old piece of legislation; they are all relatively current. There are also terrestrial planning bodies and regional development agencies that, in turn, have similar obligations placed on them. It is important, in my view, to the desirability of integrating marine and terrestrial planning that we have a degree of consistency. This is not about a lack of ambition, as some have alleged. Indeed, the work of the Environment Agency demonstrates how much can be done under the existing formulation.
Introducing a different duty for only one of those bodies would lead, I believe, to a lack of clarity, which could well have unintended consequences and end up being a lawyers’ charter, which all of us—including even those involved in the legal profession—want to avoid. Indeed, the hon. Member for Newbury himself pointed out the dangers yesterday when he referred to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and lawyers dancing on the head of a pin in trying to describe where a garden finishes and a park begins.
That is precisely why we have tabled Government amendment 4, which will undo the change made in Committee to clause 44 and restore the wording that came to this House from the other place. It is my firm belief that the marine policy statement should set out the policy authorities’ general policies for “contributing to” the achievement of sustainable development in the UK marine area. I have considered carefully the arguments put in both Houses in support of the current wording, but I am not persuaded. Speakers in both Houses have made much of the need, with which I wholeheartedly agree, to ensure that there is no inconsistency or incompatibility between the marine policy statement and the national policy statements that will guide decision making by the Infrastructure Planning Commission.
Similarly, my ministerial colleagues in the other place and I agree entirely with those who wish to have effective integration of marine and terrestrial plans, yet the current wording gives the marine policy statement a different goal from that of terrestrial planning documents, which would make that integration even more difficult. It may be that, semantically, there is little practical difference between “furthering” or “contributing to” the achievement of sustainable development, but that itself is part of the problem. If Parliament, after such extensive debate, insists on the use of “furthering”, then marine planners and ultimately the courts will have no option but to assume that a difference was intended—yet no one seems sure what that difference should be in real terms. “Contributing to the achievement of sustainable development” is a long-established concept in terrestrial planning and other contexts, yet “furthering” is entirely untested. I do not believe that we should create uncertainties like that.
In Committee, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs promised to look into the possibility of inserting a reference to “furthering” into a paragraph in schedule 5 that requires the marine policy statement to undergo an “appraisal of sustainability”. I can advise my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test that that initially seemed like a good way of emphasising the forward momentum we expect from the policies in the MPS.
There is an area of doubt, so that possibility cannot be overruled. My hon. Friend raises a point that is worth considering. That is why I do not believe that such an amendment would be helpful. It would run the risk of confusing the well-understood process of “sustainability appraisal”, which has been established in other contexts for some time. I promised to consider this change, as did my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, on the condition that in our common aim of securing a robust statutory commitment to progress in achieving sustainable development, we
“must not challenge what has been established by some quite significant legal precedents”.––[Official Report, Marine and Coastal Access Public Bill Committee, 30 June 2009; c. 19.]
Unfortunately, amending paragraph 7 of schedule 5 may do just that, and it is for that reason alone that I have not tabled such an amendment.
Government amendment 4 is simply about restoring consistency with other legislation; it is certainly not about a lack of ambition. Let me be absolutely clear: the goal of the policies set out in the marine policy statement is to make a real, positive and ongoing difference to the achievement of sustainable development in the UK. These policies must make long-term environmental, economic and social sense. By ensuring that the MMO and other public bodies make decisions in accordance with the MPS, we aim to establish real progress and improved sustainability. Accordingly, I urge Opposition Members not to press their amendments to a Division, and to support Government amendment 4.
Amendments 25 and 26 would remove from the MMO two functions that we intend to give it on vesting. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test made a number of interesting comments—backed up by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner)—about the need for coherence in our planning policies, and I certainly do not disagree with that. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test also made an important point about the need to link offshore development in renewable energy with the infrastructure that is required inshore. As he will know, we expect the Scottish Government to make a decision this month about the Beauly-Denny connection, which is vital to allowing us to connect the considerable renewable energy sources that exist in the north of Scotland and in our seas. That is why it is important for us to have both the planning structure and the political will that are needed to enable us to make tough decisions.
The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil)—for the benefit of those who are not familiar with the Gaelic, let me add that his constituency is also known as the Western Isles—came in and then blew out. Unfortunately, he remained silent on why he thought that the Scottish Government rejected last year’s planning application for a wind farm in the Western Isles, which is truly the windiest part of western Europe and presented significant potential for further growth in renewable energy. It is regrettable that the decision went the wrong way.
We could talk for ever about planning issues, but I think it right to return to the specific provisions in the Bill. The Bill introduces a number of changes to the way in which we manage and consent to developments in the seas, which will greatly benefit the offshore renewable energy industry. The Government are already working with the sector to develop a marine action plan by next spring, which will deal with the development of both industrial capacity and technological capability, with deployment opportunities in the United Kingdom, and with any barriers to deployment. Members have rightly raised all those issues today.
The first batch of renewables has already been started.
Let me also clarify something that we said at the end of last night’s debate, when the noise level was particularly high. My hon. Friend asked about regional marine conservation zone projects. I can tell her that there are several pieces of guidance. The guidance that I mentioned yesterday, which deals with regional projects, will be issued by Natural England and the International Marine Conservation Congress. It should be released in draft before Christmas, and will ensure that project managers know what they need to do and when over the next two years.
I believe that my hon. Friend also referred to ecological guidance for the selection of sites within a network of marine protected sites. It will be published, but that too is a matter for guidance from Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. The timing is in their hands, but I am keen for them to issue the guidance as soon as possible. Obviously it must be fit for purpose, but it is important for my hon. Friend to be kept in touch about progress, and I will ask Natural England to write to her with the details. She also asked about the science base. I am told that we are currently appointing a chief scientific adviser.
Let me return to amendments 25 and 26. The substantial importance that the Government place on the offshore renewable energy industry when it comes to mitigating climate change, providing energy security and contributing to the economy will directly filter down into consenting decisions made by the MMO. In addition, the Bill makes a number of improvements to the consenting process. It provides developers of offshore generating stations with a capacity of 100 MW or less with a one-stop shop for the marine-based consents. These installations will need a marine licence as well as consent under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989. Sometimes a safety zone will also need to be declared around such installations to ensure navigational safety. Clauses 12 and 13 allow the MMO to do all those things for those geographical areas with one point of contact for the marine elements of their project. Further, not only will the MMO be a one-stop shop, but clause 78 allows the applications for the marine licence and the section 36 consent to be considered together through one set of processes and to one time scale.
I can assure my hon. Friend that we will be engaging with the renewable industries on this matter, but it is important that we have an entire skills set within the MMO so that it can deal with all the different features of marine life, including how to develop our renewable energy sources. Drawing an artificial distinction between engineering and science is not particularly helpful. We have a chief scientific adviser to the UK Government who is also our chief engineering adviser; that is one person. We believe it is important that the right skills set is brought out across the whole organisation’s staff to allow it to tackle these matters. That is the right way forward, rather than simply designing one or two particular posts, as my hon. Friend perhaps suggests. I hope my remarks have reassured her.
On amendments 25 and 26, I can give the assurance that the MMO will also be a robust decision maker. It will have the authority to make evidence-based, informed decisions in line with its sustainable development objective. It will take into account all relevant factors, and in the case of renewable energy installations, that will include the contribution they can make to mitigating climate change. The explanatory notes to clause 69, “Determination of applications”, make this very clear by saying that “environment” means both the local and global environment. Also, the Renewable Energy Association stated in a letter dated as recently as 22 October
“that the provisions of the Bill could bring tangible benefits to the wave and tidal stream energy sector”.
In respect of amendments 25 and 26, I hope I have reassured my hon. Friends of our commitment to ensuring that renewable energy is a priority for the Government throughout all the different pieces of legislation we are putting in place, and I urge them not to press their amendments to a Division.
The hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) paid great tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), calling him a superb Minister, but he also gave him a challenge, which was to think hard about the matters we have discussed in this debate. I regret that he and his colleagues have not risen to the challenge. I would, however, like to put on record at this stage my thanks to both Ministers—the hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—for their kindness and help in getting this legislation through. We worked very well together. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman will survive the plaudits that he received from the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), but I am sure they were none the less welcome.
The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) urged Ministers to reflect on the very strong feelings about this matter. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) made an interesting proposal in Committee which he raised again today. I remember thinking when it was first raised that it was an elegant solution, but I do not want commitment on this matter to be buried in the schedules to the Bill. The hon. Gentleman also defined concisely and clearly what he believes sustainable development to mean, and I entirely agree with him—but the Government feel that they have written this in stone, and they will not listen to the reasonable arguments put forward.
I am sure that a lot of organisations are happy to say that this is a question of semantics, but we think it is much more important than that. It sends a message beyond the confines of the Bill about what we believe sustainable development to mean in this crucial period leading up to the Copenhagen summit. It also matters in terms of the fulfilment of the Bill’s objectives. This is the court of Parliament, and we are deciding what matters in this area. This is not a question of bowing to the concerns of lawyers, which seems to have been too prevalent both in this legislation and elsewhere.
I am sorry that we have had to conclude this business on a negative note, because we have agreed on so much throughout, but I shall insist on pressing the amendment to a Division and I hope my colleagues on both sides of the House will support me in the Lobby.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, 26 October).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).
Exclusive economic zone and Welsh zone: consequential amendments
Amendments made: 10, in page 238, leave out lines 21 to 23 and insert—
‘(1) The Energy Act 2008 (c. 32) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 1 (exploitation of areas outside the territorial sea for gas importation and storage), for subsection (5) substitute—’.
11, in page 238, line 32, at end insert—
‘( ) In section 35 (interpretation of Chapter 3), in subsection (1), for the definition of “Gas Importation and Storage Zone” substitute—
““Gas Importation and Storage Zone” is to be read in accordance with section 1(5);”.’.—(Ann McKechin.)
Marine policy statement
Amendment made: 4, in page 27, line 2, leave out ‘furthering’ and insert ‘contributing to’.—(Ann McKechin.)
Regulations and orders
Amendment made: 9, in page 217, line 41, at end insert—
‘( ) section 141(4A);’.—(Ann McKechin.)
Amendment made: 14, in page 326, line 18, column 2, leave out ‘21’ and insert ‘22’.—(Ann McKechin.)
Queen’s and Prince of Wales’s consent signified.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Third time.
This Bill has long been campaigned for by many people—[Interruption.]
Order. If hon. Members are not staying for this debate, will they please leave quietly and not engage in conversations now that we are starting on Third Reading?
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
As I was saying, the Bill has long been campaigned for by many people. This is a moment for quiet celebration, but also for thanks to all those without whose efforts we would not be here. On Second Reading I paid tribute to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), and I am glad to see him in his place this afternoon. He has argued and worked for the Bill for many years, along with the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) and my hon. Friends the Members for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) and for Reading, West (Martin Salter). I also want to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), for High Peak (Tom Levitt), for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger), for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown), for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith), and others, as they have played such an important part in scrutinising the Bill.
I am also very grateful for the way in which Opposition Members here and in the other place have worked so helpfully and constructively to make a good Bill better. I especially thank the hon. Members for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) and for St. Ives (Andrew George). I also remind the House of the eloquent support expressed for the Bill on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert).
We should not forget the incredibly important pre-legislative scrutiny work of the Joint Committee, chaired by Lord Greenway. This is a good Bill, partly because it has been through that process. I also appreciate the work of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, chaired by the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), which looked at the Bill’s coastal access provisions.
I also want to thank my ministerial colleagues, including the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. Along with the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), she has double-handed the Bill through Committee and Report. They had valuable support from my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar). I also want to thank Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Davies of Oldham in another place, who have helped to put the Bill in the strong position that it is in today.
I am also sure that the whole House would wish me to thank my honourable Friend the Member for Ogmore. He has shepherded this Bill through the House with encyclopaedic knowledge, patience, courtesy, and, as we heard in the House yesterday, a great deal of common sense. His has been an outstanding contribution. On behalf of the ministerial team, may I say that we have been fortunate to have the support of an outstanding team of officials. It is a privilege to work with them.
I am also grateful for the co-operation of my colleagues in the devolved Administrations. We are committed to developing and agreeing a marine policy statement that will set out our policies for the sustainable development of the UK marine area. As the House will know, a series of marine plans will translate the policies in the marine policy statement into greater detail at the local level.
Each Administration will prepare marine plans in the way most appropriate for its marine planning regions. We are committed to ensuring that administrative arrangements will build on the cross-border collaboration already in place so that we have a joined-up planning process. Although in legal terms there may be two plans, there will be joined-up marine planning.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. I also want to thank the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who took time to meet me and two members of the Solway Firth partnership about the very issues that my right hon. Friend is raising. The Government’s proposals were warmly welcomed, and the meeting alleviated many of the fears and concerns that people felt. One plan for the Solway Firth comes from the Scottish Government and one from this House, but the Bill will enable much more consultation to be held. Many more people will be engaged in the process, and that has to be welcomed.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and he has played an important part in the process, not least by leading the delegation that met my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. I am pleased to be able to say that we are in the process of agreeing with the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment a joint statement on marine planning in areas bordering England and Scotland. Once it is agreed, I shall arrange to place a copy in the Library. Further detail will be set out in concordats that we are currently developing between our Administrations, and they too will be publicly available.
I believe that the Bill leaves the House better and stronger as a result of our deliberations. A number of amendments were made to the Bill in Committee, and there was further progress over the summer. In the past two days, we have agreed the most significant of those amendments. All the changes have resulted in a Bill that truly gives us the means to achieve sustainable development in our seas.
The Bill creates a framework with the new marine planning system that sets out, through the Marine Management Organisation, how we can balance our need for minerals, energy—because our seas are a great source of renewable power—food, trade, and recreation. We also need to protect the wonders that lie beneath our seas, which are among the richest marine environments in the world.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Severn estuary already has protection under the European habitats directive. In addition, the feasibility study for energy generation is considering certain proposals for the estuary, and those proposals will return to the House.
The Bill’s coastal access provisions, too, have been carefully scrutinised, and they mean that it will be possible for everyone to enjoy our unique and wonderful coastline. The Bill sets out the principle of what we are trying to achieve, but achieving it is, rightly, a matter for local proposal and discussion. I am sure that that will draw on a lot of common sense too.
We look forward to the Marine Management Organisation being vested in April next year, with a marine policy statement coming within two years of Royal Assent. The first marine conservation zones should be created in 2012, and we are planning to open the first new stretches of the coastal route to include one at Weymouth in time for the 2012 Olympics.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for taking this late intervention, but he spoke about the application of common sense to coastal access. Natural England has said that 37 per cent. of coastal pathways in the south-east are not yet legally secure. The Bill is intended to make them secure, but many of those pathways already have informal access. Common sense dictates that Natural England should follow that informal access and not lay down new access routes. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House about that?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but the Bill is designed to allow such matters to be addressed locally. I am sure that he will accept that there is no substitute for walking the route and seeing what is there on the ground. In that way sensible and pragmatic solutions to problems of access can be found, in keeping with the provisions of the Bill.
The spirit in which the issue has been approached as it was scrutinised during the passage of the Bill will, I hope, have given hon. Members and others who have a great deal of interest in how it is progressed some confidence that that will be done in a common-sense way.
In talking about the plans for the new management arrangements, will the Secretary of State bear in mind that we were unable to debate the transfer of oil out at sea and the effect that that might have on those arrangements, because we did not reach that part of the Bill? I do not blame him for it, but that is the case. As my constituency is the only one that is affected by Russian oil coming in, it is a very great concern. We have an important maritime area and we want to feel that the Government and the new organisation are committed to providing protection.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that point and his particular constituency concern. As he is aware, there will be regulations. Although there was not time over the past day and a half to debate those matters here, there will be an opportunity to consider them with some care.
I express the thanks of the whole House to the many organisations outside the Chamber that have worked constructively with all of us on the Bill—bodies such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, WWF and Wildlife and Countryside Link, the heritage organisations, the representatives of ports, marinas, energy organisations and other marine businesses, and organisations representing commercial and recreational fishing, all of which have supported the Bill. That is a remarkable tribute to the legislation and what it contains. At the start of the process, some might have said that it would be difficult to draft a measure in which all those organisations felt that they had a stake and which they therefore felt able to support. But that is the case, because the Bill brings something of benefit to everyone.
Will my right hon. Friend also pay tribute to the Ramblers Association and the British Mountaineering Council—two other non-governmental organisations that have supported the Bill.
I will readily pay tribute to those organisations, and all the others that time does not allow me to list for the record, because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.
The Bill provides for streamlined regulation and better protection of marine wildlife, establishes an integrated planning system, and establishes the framework for managing our marine and coastal waters. It will give us better means to manage what we do in the seas around our island. In particular, it will help us to identify potential conflicts arising from the fact that we put competing pressures on our seas, and find a way of doing something about them before they become a bigger problem.
I think, therefore, that we as a House can look back with satisfaction on a good job well done, and look forward to a new era for our seas. I commend the Bill to the House.
In responding to the Secretary of State, I begin by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), whose private Member’s Bill in 2001 highlighted the urgent need for a marine Bill. Eight years later, I am sure he will share our pleasure that we are finally speaking in the Third Reading debate of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. I know from my own conversations with conservation organisations that they are anxious to see the Bill reach the statute book as soon as possible. We can all be pleased today that we have come another step closer to that.
The passage of the Bill, both in this House and in the other place, has been a good example of cross-party co-operation. I congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill. It is to the credit of hon. Members and the other place that party politics have largely been left to one side in a bid to create the best possible piece of legislation to protect the marine environment. We can all agree that the various amendments that have been made to the Bill have amounted to significant improvements. We now have an independent appeals process for those with concerns about coastal access, an emphasis on ecological coherence as a part of marine conservation zones, a stronger Marine Management Organisation and a sensible balance between socio-economic and environmental issues in the marine environment.
I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), for his management of the Bill, especially through Committee, and for the tireless work of his officials. The amount of consultation that he offered was welcome and led to the somewhat unusual case of our arriving at the end of the legislative process with a piece of legislation with which all parts of the House, as well as industry and conservation groups, are broadly happy.
I thank our colleagues in the other place, especially Lord Taylor of Holbeach and the late Lord Kingsland, for their excellent handling of the Bill and the steps that they took to ensure that it reached us in the form in which we now have it, much scrutinised. Lord Kingsland provided a remarkable insight during the Bill’s time in the other place, as he did with all the legislation on which he worked, and his untimely death this summer was a great loss to the whole of Parliament.
We are all fortunate, as the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) said, that the Bill received a high standard of pre-legislative scrutiny, and I thank the Joint Committee for their work. I should like to express my thanks to the Members of the Committee in this House for their examination of the Bill and the amendments that they made. I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) for his work on the Bill.
I acknowledge the important role played by the many conservation organisations that took such a keen interest in the Bill, such as WWF, the Marine Conservation Society, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Wildlife Trusts and other members of the Wildlife and Countryside Link, together with the Country Land and Business Association and many others, which have lobbied, given briefings and supplied evidence for the Bill. We have enjoyed an excellent relationship with these groups throughout the process and we look forward to working with them in the future.
This long awaited measure is the first step in the right direction towards achieving the goal of healthy, sustainably managed seas. It provides a once in a generation opportunity to protect important areas of the marine environment, and I am pleased that we have risen to the challenge. However, progress will be made only if the conservation measures in the Bill are implemented effectively. Throughout the passage of the Bill we have argued that the management of fisheries and the marine environment should not take a top-down approach.
With the creation of inshore fisheries and conservation authorities and their power to delegate functions, we hope to see better representation of the diverse range of marine users, as well as better use of expertise at a local level. With the creation of the MMO, the Opposition pressed the Government to ensure that adequate specialist knowledge and expertise is housed within the organisation as well as being sought from outside, so that it is appropriately equipped to deal with the diverse range of marine issues over which it will preside. We are pleased with the reassurances that we received from the Minister in this regard, and will work to ensure that they are delivered.
On marine conservation zones, we were pleased that we were able to achieve a balance between socio-economic and environmental considerations with which all interested parties were broadly happy. I appreciate that there is still some concern about exactly how competing interests will be balanced, but the bottom line should be that implementation of these conservation measures must be led by science. I am disappointed that, as a consequence of lack of time at the end of the debate, there was not more opportunity yesterday to discuss all the concerns about MCZs, particularly the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark).
The Minister advanced technical arguments why a power could not be given to the Secretary of State to designate a marine conservation zone for the protection of a whole ecosystem, but as Friends of the Earth said, that power could have been used to restrain damaging activities where a whole ecosystem could be put under threat. Given that the amendment created only a power, not a duty, I hope the Government noted the force of the argument.
Is it not disappointing that on two occasions, once today and once yesterday, when the Government have done so much on the Bill, they failed to understand that giving a commitment such as protecting an ecosystem is crucial for people outside to believe that we understand how all this works? To deny that is to say something very old-fashioned—that we can pick bits out and defend those, without understanding that the ecosystem as a whole is what we ought to be concerned to preserve.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. It was a shame that there were, apparently, reasons, I believe they were largely technical, why the amendment could not be accepted. It created a power for the Secretary of State to have regard to the issues of a whole ecosystem. It is true that rather too much of the work of nature conservation is process-driven, so we have to remember that creating a marine conservation zone is not an end in itself. We should be focused on outcomes and should, therefore, be looking for tangible results from the designation of those protected areas.
Overall, I believe that we were able to achieve a balance between the competing interests, but the designation of the zones should be a flexible and ongoing process that addresses the wide range of challenges facing the marine environment. The zones should reflect the dynamic nature of our seas rather than existing as token sanctuaries, and they should have the means available to amend their boundaries or designations where needed.
It was rather disappointing that Ministers just overturned changes that were made to the Bill in Committee in relation to the MMO’s role in sustainable development. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury said, the MMO should be a standard bearer for our seas and involved in actively furthering sustainable development, rather than simply contributing to it.
It is important to acknowledge that for the conservation measures within the Bill to be truly effective, they need to go hand in hand with fundamental reform of the common fisheries policy, which is key to achieving a sustainable future for our seas. Various elements of the Bill are reliant upon a decentralised and environmentally sensitive CFP. In its current form, the CFP has been as much of a disaster for our fishermen as for the environment. As right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House discussed yesterday, we must see fishermen as part of the solution to sustainable management of marine environment, and as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) stressed, it is important for us to work in close co-operation with fishermen, and at no stage should they be excluded from consultations or decision making.
The Conservatives are realistic and we understand that some decisions will not please conservationists, fishermen or local communities, but we believe that if they have been engaged in the decision-making process from the start, the measures in the Bill are far more likely to be successful.
We must not forget that another marine Bill is being developed in Scotland. It may be trite to say that fish do not recognise lines on a map, but we must ensure that we work constructively with the Scottish Government and other devolved powers, so that the management of the whole of the UK’s marine environment is joined up and coherent.
The focus that the Bill has received has shown that concern about our marine environment is not restricted to a few vested interests. Millions of people, including some from inland areas, have shown their concern for the health of the marine environment. Although the measures relating to that are clearly the most significant in the Bill, I do not want to neglect the coastal access element of it. We are generally supportive of the principle of increasing access to our coast and countryside, but we had concerns about the specific provisions for a coastal path. That aspect of the Bill has received a great deal of scrutiny both here and in the other place, and the measures before us today have been greatly improved in terms of safeguards and appeals. Our reservations over coastal margin, mapping, liability and future use of land have all been aired at length during the passage of the Bill, and although assurances have been given by the Minister, we will be keeping an eager eye on the development of the coastal route.
Much of the work now is in delivery—delivery of the MMO, MCZs and the coastal path. Natural England has been charged with a great deal of the responsibility for the implementation of the coastal route and MCZs. We would like to see much of the responsibility for the route devolved to voluntary access forums and local authorities. We believe that a top-down approach to coastal access is not the answer and that local groups are much better placed to designate and manage the shape of the route.
There needs to be full consultation at an early stage with all stakeholders to ensure that MCZs are robust and sustainable and that the principles of an ecologically coherent network can be set out quickly.
This is a long-awaited and important moment. We are very nearly at the end of the long process of ensuring the protection of our marine environment. The Bill is the product of a constructive legislative process that represents the kind of productive debate and discussion of which, too often, there is rather too little in politics today. We have a better Bill as a result, and I look forward, as I am sure many others do, to celebrating its inclusion on the statute book.
I may not be the obvious Member of the House to speak about marine environments or coastal access, because we have neither coast nor marine environments in my constituency. However, High Peak is the philosophical home of the right to roam: we had the Kinder trespass in 1932 and the first open-access land designated under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, and we have more open-access land than any other constituency in England.
High Peak is the birthplace of the right to roam, but it is also the birthplace of one Sir Martin Doughty. Martin was my constituent, and he died of cancer earlier this year. I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench would acknowledge that without him, there would have been no Marine and Coastal Access Bill. As the chair of Natural England, and of English Nature before that, Martin was largely responsible for working with various environment Ministers, including my right hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and others, to bring the measure about.
Before Martin was involved in English Nature and Natural England, he was the chair of the Peak District national park and the leader of Derbyshire county council. He was born and bred in High Peak and lived there his whole life. He lived and breathed the countryside and the natural world and explored it as often as he could with a passion and humour that was truly infectious. In the 20 years that I knew him, he was one of the kindest, most gentle and most principled people that I ever met. Everyone who came across him respected him and very soon loved him.
Martin was also a great socialist, who put principles into practice in a pragmatic, thoughtful and just way. A couple of weeks ago, 200 of us gathered on Kinder Scout on what would have been his 60th birthday. There were friends, neighbours, political allies and even some rivals, people from interest groups, Government agencies, local authority leaders and two of my colleagues, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith), who are sitting either side of me tonight. We went not only to remember Martin, but to dedicate Kinder Scout in his memory—it was created the 223rd national nature reserve on that very day.
The ambition to create a national coastal path that is accessible to walkers, climbers and others where appropriate is sound and it is right, and it is Martin’s achievement as much as that of any other individual, although he was never one to claim the limelight. I hope that my hon. Friends will consider calling all or part of it either the Doughty way or Martin’s way or something in his memory.
On Kinder Scout a couple of weeks ago, we sang to Martin’s memory. It will be of little surprise on the Government Benches that we sang “The Manchester Rambler”. I had the great privilege of meeting the author of that song, Ewan McColl, once, many years ago, and my constituency is mentioned several times in it. Ewan McColl was the press officer for the mass trespass in 1932 and Martin Doughty’s father was one of the trespassers.
Given that we are talking about the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, one verse stands out from the song—there is a prescient mention of the legislation that we are talking about. It goes:
“called me a louse and said ‘Think of the grouse’.
Well I thought, but I still couldn’t see
Why old Kinder Scout and the moors round about
Couldn’t take both the poor grouse and me.
He said ‘All this land is my master’s’
At that I stood shaking my head,
No man has the right to own mountains
Any more than the deep ocean bed.”
With that, and in the memory of Sir Martin Doughty, the founding chairman of Natural England and the moving force behind the coastal path, I congratulate Ministers on this highly significant and important piece of legislation and look forward to its enactment.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) and I am certain that his tributes to Sir Martin Doughty were well deserved.
This is a phenomenally important piece of legislation. In this brief contribution, I simply wish to convey this: I hope, after all the work in both Houses, that the Bill will prove in years to come to be fit for purpose, particularly regarding its original, central purpose, the future of the marine environment. It is a rich resource that deserves the protection that it will be given as a result of the legislation.
I am also grateful to the Secretary of State, and I concur with him and the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert). As a sponsor of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) in 2001, I have likewise been following this debate for many years.
I pay tribute to the Ministers—the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies)—for the manner in which they have managed and conducted the Bill through its various stages in the House. The Bill has a wet side and a dry side—port and starboard—meaning a part that deals with marine conservation and a part that deals with coastal access. Piloting such a large ship has been a very challenging task for both Ministers. It is also an issue that provokes enormous interest on both sides of the House, not only in those hon. Members with coastal constituencies, but in many who, while they have no doubt been lobbied, also have a deep interest because we are a maritime nation. It is not possible to talk about the sea and the coast without everyone in this country taking an interest.
This is a monumental and important Bill. It is not precisely as I would have designed it—I hope that that will not be a severe handicap to it—but I think that it will prove to be fit for purpose. I hope that two watchwords will be applied to the Bill. The first is balance, which runs like a common—or even a golden—thread through it. I proposed amendments to achieve balance in the designation of the marine conservation zones and in the operation of the conservation policies and byelaws, and I hope that in the implementation of the Bill and the operation of the MMO we will achieve the balance that we all wish to achieve.
The second watchword is consensus. Throughout the debate, there has been an assumption that conflict in the marine zone is inevitable—that fishermen are always in conflict with marine conservationists. Over the last decade, the fishing sector has increasingly worked with marine conservationists and other scientists and found common ground—
I strongly support what the hon. Gentleman says about balance. It is important not only for the fishing industry, but for the many stakeholders in the marine environment, such as the oil, gas and dredging industries. Does he agree that one of the themes that has emerged from the debate is that we should not be reactive in relation to conservation, but proactive? Inshore management presents a real opportunity to do that.
The right hon. Gentleman has tremendous experience in this area, and everyone who knows of his contribution to the debate on the Bill and the marine environment generally will appreciate that he talks with great knowledge of the subject. He is right in what he says about inshore management. I hope that the IFCAs will bring together the shared interest across all the sectors, including marine conservation, to pursue consensus to achieve the constructive outcomes that we all desire. I am confident that that will be the product of this Bill, because consensus is the way forward. Many fishermen are now recognising that they must work with others with an interest in the marine environment to achieve a sustainable fishing industry.
This is a welcome measure and I am sure that it will make a significant contribution to the marine environment and, in due course, to the sustainable development of our marine resource.
Order. We have to finish this debate at 7 pm and several hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I hope that they will all make brief contributions so that everyone may have their turn.
The Bill has been one of the most satisfying measures that I have been associated with in 12 and a half years as an MP. I am fortunate to have been involved since the early stages, including the private Member’s Bill that many hon. Members have mentioned. With 450 marine scientists and 1,500 environmental students in my constituency, a large cluster of marine science and technology organisations and now the first low-carbon economic zone designation in the country, which will put us at the forefront of renewable energy technology—especially wave energy—and climate change and marine technologies, it is no wonder that I have taken such an interest, and I will continue to do so.
The Bill has been amended and had clauses added, including those we have just debated, dealing with how to achieve the important balance that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) mentioned between social, economic and environmental tensions, which is of course the very reason for the framework that the Bill sets up. It will achieve that balance, and the assurances that the Minister has given that the five shared principles adopted by the UK Administrations are embedded in the high-level objectives will be an important aspect of that as the policy statements are developed. As the Minister acknowledged, it is likely that a range of Select Committees, including the Environmental Audit Committee, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the Energy and Climate Change Committee and the Transport Committee—perhaps even the regional Select Committees—and all the industry and professional associations and the academics who have lobbied long and hard for the Bill, will keep it under the microscope.
I drew some reassurance from the assertion made in Committee—and repeated yesterday—that not to create a coherent ecosystem would open up the Government to judicial review if they do not follow the science. However, I have to confess to a slight disappointment at one response to an intervention earlier. I will continue to look with great interest at the suggestion by the Renewable Energy Association that a chief engineering adviser is necessary. The association thinks that the appointment of a chief scientific adviser to the MMO is helpful in respect of marine conservation, but will not address the needs of an engineering discipline such as marine and renewable energy, and that is why the MMO should also be required to appoint a chief engineering adviser. Time will tell on that point, as on others.
Everybody will want to help make this globally ground-breaking framework work. The Minister and the civil servants have received many plaudits, which they richly deserve. The challenge will now be for the MMO to draw on the rich expertise that has been displayed throughout the formulation of the draft Bill and its various stages in both Houses. Whether as a legislator, a scrutineer, a constituency MP or someone who has walked 200 miles of the 600 miles of the south-west coast, I intend to try to play a small part in taking the framework forward.
I thank the Front Benchers and other hon. Members for their kind words. When my private Member’s Bill failed in the other place, I was in fact mightily relieved. It seemed like a simple idea at the time, but I realised that I had unearthed an issue that no private Member would ever be able to get on the statute book. I am pleased that all parties made a commitment to the issue, and it fell to this particular team to take it on. We have had a variety of sympathetic Ministers and Opposition Front Benchers. I pay particular tribute to the current incumbents on the Treasury Bench, who have worked hard, as have my hon. Friends on the Front Bench.
I also wish to thank the organisations involved, although it was their members—our constituents—who pushed this issue. I can remember many colleagues telling me about the masses of letters and e-mails that they had received on this subject. They were delighted to find out that we were supporting this Bill, and everybody has played a part in its progress. All those interested in the marine environment have worked hard to get to this point, and that should be recognised outside this House. I still have a couple of questions that time does not allow me to ask, so I shall write to the Minister and I hope that in his usual manner he will answer them.
We should feel proud. This Parliament, from 2005 to 2010—if that is when it will be—will be remembered for many things, and probably not all very kind things to those of us who have been here. But there is one thing of which we should all be very proud: this Bill. Every time that we look across the sea, or we are on the sea, we can feel that we have done our bit to protect it. I would sound only one cautionary note: it has been difficult enough to get this legislation, but the real, tough proof will be in making it work.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and to agree with his last point. I congratulate the Secretary of State and his Ministers on the Bill. I want to concentrate on the issue of coastal access. I cannot think of a better way of celebrating the 60th anniversary of the national parks than the designation of the south downs, which is now combined with the opening up of coastal access by the Bill.
I was Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality when we implemented the right to roam, and I experienced the enormous complexity of going beyond the legislation to do the work of opening up that access. It was not just the commitment of Ministers but the excellent work and commitment of officials at DEFRA who carried that through that allowed us to go so far so fast. That is no mean achievement, and the right to roam is now not as controversial as it sometimes was in advance of that legislation.
There will be similar challenges in implementing the coastal access requirement. I know what that entails and just how complex that can be, because for 10 years I took youngsters to work on the South Glamorgan heritage coast to open up access. The commitment to opening up coastal access is enormously beneficial, and that experience taught me how much the social benefits of such access mean to young people. When I see those youngsters now, as quite middle-aged adults, they always refer to that experience. There is something very important about the link to the special parts of our natural environment. The most single significant fact about coastal access was borne in on me when I opened both ends of the south-west way, with its value of £300 million a year to the local economy. It is about our natural environment, the benefit to society and the economy.
I endorse the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) about Sir Martin Doughty. He was a great friend and a wonderful human being, and I cannot think of a better way of making the link between people and the environment than a title such as Martin’s way for the coastal footpath. He is not just a local hero; for many of us throughout the United Kingdom he was one of those individuals whom we value because he made such a contribution to society. It is significant that, with my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) and for High Peak, we commemorated him on Kinder, where it was not just controversial but against the law to walk on the hills. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak made the link between the high hills of the country and the coast.
This is a significant piece of legislation, which I am sure we will value for many years to come.
I represent 74 miles of coastline, so for me this is an important Bill. I want to put it on record that I have a fundamental objection to the basis on which the coastal path is placed. It is entirely wrong and it will be very damaging in the future, but I recognise how we have reached this situation.
However, that is my only disagreement, because the main part of the Bill on marine protection makes a very important contribution. I pay tribute to a person who is no longer a Member of the House, Tam Dalyell, who represented West Lothian and who played an important part in supporting the original Bill—the Marine Wildlife Conservation Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall).
I supported two amendments, and it is in no spirit of party politics or indeed irritation that I come back to those in these last words. The promotion of sustainability must be at the centre of everything that we do, and the Government, in objecting to that, and indeed reversing the Committee’s decision, have done something very serious. By that very reversal they have suggested something that I do not think they mean but which could easily be used afterwards to stop actions being taken that should be taken. Sustainability should be our watchword. I remind the Secretary of State that his former leader, on becoming Prime Minister in 1997, said that he would put sustainability at the heart of all his policies. To have voted that down tonight was a mistake. It was also a mistake not to put on the face of the Bill the words about ecosystems, and that will prove to be so.
There is one other matter that I am sorry that we have missed. District councils feel that they have a particular role that was less than adequately recognised in our discussions, as they are very often the maritime authorities.
Altogether those are small things once one recognises this important Bill. It is important in recognising what has obviously been the input of civil servants to remind the Minister in future to avoid the temptation of “better not”. I suspect that some of the matters that we have pressed were not taken on board because somebody said, “Better not.” We need to be adventurous, and I hope that the new management arrangements will enable, at least in prosecution of the Bill, the adventure that is so important. It is the beginning of a new part of our history: the proper protection of the seas. I wish it well. This has been an exemplary procedure. I only hope that those who carry it through—that is where the proof, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge said, will be—will push the boundaries further with a spirit of determination in a way that most of us, on both sides of the House, would like them to do.
As the coastal path goes through the constituency of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) he will learn the huge benefits that will flow from it, as I have in my constituency where the 187 miles of the Pembrokeshire coastal path is seen as a huge economic benefit to the area as well as an opportunity for people to see some of the best maritime scenery not only in this country but in the world.
I congratulate not just the present team but the teams which, over the years, have worked on the Bill. I know, as a former Minister, that discussions took place with the devolved Governments on its detail, and it took a long time. Remarkably—it is remarkable—the industry and all the pressure groups have come together to achieve consensus and balance, and it took a lot of work to achieve that.
As well as the important features, such as the designation of marine conservation zones—which are vital and in the long term will have a huge impact on our ecosystems and sustainability, not just of those habitats but of the fishing industry, which will benefit hugely in the long term—the fact that we are now seeing our marine areas as an important source of energy in the future meant that it was vital to get the planning systems right for our offshore areas. It would have been catastrophic to meeting our climate change obligations if we could not develop renewable energy from our marine areas.
So, congratulations are genuinely deserved in this case. The Bill is a good example of cross-party and cross-interest working, admittedly over a long time. The gestation period has been long, but the birth that we hope to see shortly is well-deserved and its results will be incredibly effective, too.
Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 26 October).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Question agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.