House of Commons
Tuesday 27 October 2009
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
business before questions
Leeds City Council Bill (By Order)
Consideration of Bill, as amended, opposed and deferred until Thursday 5 November (Standing Order No. 20).
Reading Borough Council Bill (By Order)
Consideration of Bill, as amended, opposed and deferred until Thursday 5 November (Standing Order No. 20).
Oral Answers to Questions
Communities and Local Government
The Secretary of State was asked—
Contingency Arrangements (Fire Service)
The making of contingency arrangements for emergencies, including industrial action, is the statutory duty of individual fire and rescue authorities.
As a member of a fire service family, I know that nobody joins the fire service to earn a lot of money; they do it because they believe that it is a very important public service. In an answer to a previous question, the then Minister indicated that his Department did not keep copies of existing contingency plans, which must vary widely from one authority to another. Will the Minister therefore take a view on whether firefighters should be obliged to cross the picket lines of another fire and rescue authority?
I do not follow the connection between the main part of the hon. Lady’s question and the second part. Fire plans are the responsibility of the fire and rescue authorities. The Audit Commission reviews those plans, as it reviews other things covered by the comprehensive performance assessment—of course, we are always in close contact with the Chief Fire Officers Association on those issues.
The Secretary of State will be aware that, in protecting the lives of our constituents, firefighters provide a service that is second to none in this country, and we congratulate them—the number of them who have died in recent years is a tribute to the sacrifice that is made. The Secretary of State will be aware also of the recent dispute in South Yorkshire, which arose as a result of management seeking to impose new work schedules and conditions on firefighters, so will he join me in urging management to seek a negotiated settlement rather than provoking industrial action?
I join my hon. Friend and, indeed, the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson), who asked the first question, in paying tribute to firefighters and the role that they play. Under all such circumstances, including the one to which my hon. Friend has referred, negotiated ways forward are preferable, and mechanisms exist through which arbitration, mediation and conciliation should and could be explored.
I begin by welcoming the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett) to her new Front-Bench role. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, in the event of fire service strikes, there are no contingency vehicles, because the green goddesses have been sold off to places such as Albania and Peru, and that there are no contingency contracts outside London, because of the collapse of Project Fireguard? The Secretary of State seems unaware that his predecessor told me that no contingency plan was held at the centre, which surely cannot be an adequate state of affairs.
The hon. Lady is well aware that the responsibility for contingency plans lies with the fire and rescue authorities, and a moment ago I explained the relationship between central Government and that responsibility. It is perfectly true that the world has moved on since the era of the green goddesses, when the armed forces were expected to step in and provide nationally organised contingency cover. I always regret any local disputes that arise, but in those circumstances we have seen the use of locally made contingency arrangements, and, as far as I have been able to tell, they have operated satisfactorily.
Nothing seems to exist, therefore, at the centre. As the threat of fire service strikes continues, our country faces a winter of discontent, with rubbish piling up in the streets and Christmas post gathering dust in sorting offices. With no leadership and no authority, this Government have become a sitting target for their union paymasters, so will the Secretary of State now accept that in the event of further fire service strikes, contingency staff must be allowed to cross the picket lines?
The hon. Lady would obviously like there to be such a winter, because she would love to see anything that might damage this country. However, a decision was taken quite deliberately a number of years ago to make it clear that responsibility for contingency cover lay locally with the fire and rescue authorities, and that is the strategy that has been pursued. Based on that strategy, the Audit Commission reviews the quality of the arrangements that are in place, and we have a close relationship with the chief fire officers. I must say that, in so far as I can see, the strategy of local responsibility for contingency arrangements is the correct one.
Reference has been made to the dispute in South Yorkshire, where we have had one day’s strike and more are threatened. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that, however good the contingency arrangements, they cannot give the public the same protection as a fully functioning fire service. Will he therefore publicly encourage both sides to take a step backwards, the management to withdraw their highly controversial dismissal notices, the unions to withdraw their threat of strike action and both to go together to the joint secretaries, with the possible help of ACAS, to try to get a considered, negotiated settlement?
My hon. Friend makes a good point in a measured way. As I said earlier, there are various routes—he mentioned two, and there may even be others—that would lead to arbitration, mediation and conciliation, with the opportunity for both sides to find a way forward that avoids the need for industrial action.
We have set up a working group, led by my ministerial colleague Lord McKenzie, which is examining a wide range of issues in relation to wardens and sheltered housing. The group includes a range of organisations such as Help the Aged, Age Concern and the National Housing Federation, and it is working on a series of projects, including looking at different ways of providing support to older people, and highlighting the pros and cons of those different approaches. We will evaluate the overall benefits to residents of each one.
Sheltered accommodation wardens in Castle Point, as elsewhere, are unsung heroes. Does the Minister agree that they are worth their weight in gold, since their small cost saves millions of pounds in social and health care costs that would arise were they to be disbanded or inappropriately used? Will he look carefully at this and ensure that wardens are protected in our sheltered accommodation?
I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the job that wardens do; they provide a crucial, valuable and, in many cases, life-saving service. I also pay tribute to all those who care for older people, including those providing floating support in the community. I assure him that we will keep this issue under very close review—as he knows, because only last week he was raising the concerns of people in his constituency in debate. On a general point, exactly how these services are provided should be a decision for local authorities, not dictated by me or by other Ministers in Whitehall.
I never thought that I would stand here and say that I agree entirely with the points made by the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), but I do—although I have to say that in Ealing, North we have heroes and heroines. May I ask my hon. Friend to make every endeavour not to repeat the compulsory competitive tendering mistakes of the past and to recognise the importance of added value in terms of individuals’ quality of life and health? I urge him to take that into consideration during the review.
As the Minister has said, there was a useful debate on this matter last week in Westminster Hall. As well as paying tribute to the work of wardens, does he agree with Imogen Parry of ERoSH—the Essential Role of Sheltered Housing—who said:
“Many residents are pleased with changes that have been made to their support services, including a move away from resident warden services, particularly…when they have been fully involved in the process”?
Does he agree that it is consultation, first, last and always, that matters with elderly and vulnerable residents?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. This is not a party political matter. He makes some serious points about consultation. Residents and those affected by any changes in the services they receive should be properly consulted about those changes. There should be proper and meaningful consultation before changes are made, and people’s views should be taken properly into account.
Planning (Open-cast Mining)
All relevant environmental issues were considered by the independent inspector and the Secretary of State.
I am grateful for that reply, but I was not going to ask about the specific planning consents that the Minister has referred to. None the less, that is relevant in the sense that if he lived in Scotland or Wales, no open-cast planning consent would have been given to his local authority because of the 500-metre buffer zone requirements, whereas in England only 250 metres is required. Does he think that that is fair?
I know that this is a controversial issue in Shropshire, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not going to turn it into a party political row, especially since my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright) has been working just as hard as he has to represent constituents on this subject. Just because we do not have a blanket policy on buffer zones in England, it does not mean that the impact on nearby housing and other environmental matters are not taken into account during the planning process—in fact, they are the key issues that are considered.
On the narrow point about planning guidelines and applications, is the Minister aware of the widespread concern that there are proposals to put them only on the internet in future and not to print them to be published on lamp posts and hedgerows or in local papers? Will he assure me that the Government and his Department will seek to maintain printed publication of planning applications, so that all our constituents can see them in their local papers?
Regional Spatial Strategy
To date six regions have published their final revision to their regional spatial strategies: the east of England, Yorkshire and the Humber, the north-east, the north-west, the east midlands and the south-east. The west midlands is taking a phased approach to the full revision of its RSS. Phase 1, covering the black country, was finalised on 15 January last year. I expect to consult on any proposed changes in phase 2 in the new year. The south-west strategy was due to be published last summer, but in light of a legal judgment on a sustainability appraisal, we have agreed to do some further work and consultation. We aim to publish it in 2010.
Given that the south-west RSS consultation has had, as one civil servant put it, more responses than any other planning proposal in British history, most of them raising objections, is it not about time that the Secretary of State listened to what those people are saying, took up our proposals, scrapped the RSS and gave those powers back to locally elected councillors?
No, I do not agree, for the same reason that the Home Builders Federation said what a threat the Opposition’s policies were to housing and growth in this country. The Government’s view is that regional spatial strategies are a vital tool in ensuring that there is sufficient housing for our families and children in the years ahead and that there is scope for industrial development and growth. The Opposition, in the middle of our current economic difficulties, are causing enormous damage and uncertainty through the ludicrous letter circulated by the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) on their behalf.
Twenty per cent. of Gypsies and Travellers have no legal camping place, which is why my constituents in Thornley are seeing large numbers of Travellers camping in the centre of their village, causing much tension. Do the Government have any plans to provide funding for legal camping sites in future? What pressure can my hon. Friend place on local authorities to follow their own guidelines, and will he or one of his team meet me to discuss the matter further?
I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss two things: first, ensuring that his local authority and the police are using fully the extensive powers that now exist to move on illegal encampments without undue delay; and secondly, using the money that is available to enable new sites to be created, which gives the police even stronger powers to move people on quickly.
Will the Secretary of State help me to explain to my constituents why the people of Suffolk cannot have their own spatial strategy instead of having to have one that is driven by Stevenage and Luton, neither of which is anywhere near nor has any of the same problems as them?
The right hon. Gentleman has considerable experience in these matters, and he will understand that providing sufficient land to house the people of this country in future is a challenge that has national, regional and local dimensions. His party’s policy of removing entirely any sense of national or regional consideration, or considering the interests of families that will need homes in future and people who need jobs now, is absolutely wrong.
Warwick district council has just finished its consultation period on its options within the RSS, which are being clearly rejected by the community. I believe that the council needs to reconsider and return with alternative proposals. Will my right hon. Friend support my suggestion to the regional Government office that the council be given some extra time to work on that without jeopardising its additional grant?
I set out a timetable earlier suggesting that in the next phase of the west midlands RSS, proposed changes would be published for consultation in the new year with a revision later in the year. I hope that that gives scope for proper discussion of these important issues in the way that my hon. Friend wants, but if he has further concerns, I invite him to write to me about them and I will give him more details on the likely time scale.
It is quite understandable that people look at these issues from a local point of view and at questions about what communities want to see in an area, but I say to the hon. Lady—I hope that she will explain this to her constituents—that we need to ensure that we have sufficient land for housing, growth, economic development and jobs for the future. That cannot be a purely local decision; it must have regional and national elements. I hope that she is not joining with the incredibly damaging position of Conservative Front Benchers in saying, “Jobs don’t matter. Housing doesn’t matter. Growth doesn’t matter.” All they want is local populism. There are difficult choices to be made, and we need political parties in this country that, unlike the party opposite, will face up to those difficult choices.
Does the Secretary of State not realise that it is the lack of transparency and accountability in the process that frustrates people so much? I shall quote to him the comments of the planning inspector in relation to the south-west draft RSS:
“The emerging RSS has reached an advanced stage...and so its policies may be given significant weight.”
Why is a draft document that has not been signed off been given such importance when planning appeals are being considered?
The reality is that we have moved from the previous guidance to the regional spatial strategies and are now going through an extensive and, I believe, open process of consultation, as those strategies are developed. As the new leaders boards come into place, that will provide a further degree of oversight and scrutiny to the process. Inevitably, people will not always like what is in the strategies, but I reject the hon. Lady’s contention that there is something secretive about the process. As the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) said earlier, there have been masses of public representations, a great deal of debate and a great deal of openness.
Given the curtailed debate last week on clause 67 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, will the Secretary of State ensure that planning guidance to the new regional development agencies on the regional spatial strategies will give weight to environmental as well as economic concerns?
Indeed. My hon. Friend might be interested to know that the draft consultation paper and guidance on implementing the new strategies include an important quote about sustainable economic growth. It says that sustainable economic growth means
“economic growth that can be sustained and is within environmental limits, but also enhances the environment and social welfare, and avoids greater extremes in future economic cycles.”
Will the Secretary of State accept that his strictures might have a little more weight if his own Government were not failing by delivering less housing than at any time since the war? Before he misrepresents other people’s policies, will he consider withdrawing the guidance on the use of the draft strategy, which has been described by planning experts as
“driving a coach and horses through strategic environmental protection.”?
I tell the hon. Gentleman that it was not me but the chief executive of Taylor Wimpey who described his party’s policies as “scary as hell”—I hope that that does not breach any parliamentary code—because of the uncertainty being created. The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing has made available significant additional new money to kick-start private sector housing schemes and to get new social housing under way—all measures that his party has opposed in saying that our Department’s budget should be cut and that there should be no fiscal stimulus. He cannot criticise our record, and he has to admit that he would do far, far less.
Regional Spatial Strategy
We have decided to carry out additional sustainability appraisal work to appraise alternatives to the areas of search for strategic development introduced or amended by our proposed changes to the RSS. It is expected that this additional work will be completed early in the new year. We will then decide what action we need to take to complete the strategy in the light of the appraisal’s findings.
The hon. Gentleman knows from the strength of my previous answers why I think that that would be absolutely disastrous. If the policy put forward by his spokesman were put into practice—the policy of abandoning the strategies and failing to make available the land needed to house families in this country or to create the possibility of jobs or economic development—it would be an absolute disaster. I will do everything that I can to prevent that from coming about.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that when we talk about the regional spatial strategy, we are talking not just about house building, but about other key issues, such as transport? I have just had an Adjournment debate on the redoubling of the Kemble to Swindon line. If we do not have regional co-ordination, transport will be one of the great losers. Is that not a strong argument for regional government and regional accountability?
My hon. Friend is right. I have probably made my attack on the Opposition too narrow. The reality is that they would not just sweep away land for housing and jobs; they would sweep away all regional transport planning. They would also sweep away the regional development agencies, which have been so crucial in pushing economic development, particularly over the past year.
Planning Policy Guidance
No recent changes have been made to planning policy in respect of rural areas.
May I bring to my hon. Friend’s attention the fact that Kent science park has recently been allowed to extend on to green land? That was done with his Department’s knowledge and before the transport analysis had been done in respect of exit 5 of the M2. Will his Department do some joined-up thinking, so that transport is taken into consideration before more is done on green land?
I wonder whether the Minister will answer the question that the Secretary of State ducked twice, which is this: why is the south-west spatial strategy, which has been roundly condemned up and down the peninsula and which has now gone back to the drawing board, still being used in guidance as a basis for planning in the rural areas of the south-west?
I would not want to tear the Minister away from Dudley at a weekend, but will he come the short distance up the M42 to North-West Leicestershire to meet me, Mr. Steve Leary and the Minorca open-cast protest group to look at the impact of the application on the eastern fringe of the large village of Measham? He might then give a different answer from the one that he gave to question 3 a moment or two ago.
On 11 July 2007, the Prime Minister told the House:
“I assure the House that we will continue robustly to protect the land designated as green belt.”—[Official Report, 11 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 1450.]
The day before, his official spokesman told the Lobby:
“We are not proposing any changes to our very robust protection of the green belt.”
Why then are regional spatial strategies, which are signed off by Ministers, currently deleting the green belt across the whole country?
That is nonsense. We have not changed our policy on the green belt and we have no plans to do so. Green belt has actually increased by 34,000 hectares since 1997, while 80 per cent. of development takes place on brownfield land. The hon. Gentleman should be telling his constituents and the rest of the country why the Conservative party has adopted a policy that is anti-growth, anti-housing and anti-doing anything to get us through this recession.
Council House Building
All local housing authorities in England are eligible to bid for the programme. Last month, I announced grants for 49 successful councils that, in this financial year, will start the biggest council house building programme in this country for nearly two decades.
Is the Minister aware that, despite the long waiting lists for housing in Liverpool, the city council, which holds no housing stock itself, has made no application under the rules? It has, however, recently managed to appoint a new assistant executive director of housing at a salary of £102,000 a year, plus a 10 per cent. bonus. Does my right hon. Friend think that that is in the spirit that the Government are trying to foster in relation to accommodating people in need of housing? Does he also agree that it is typical of Lib Dem authorities?
Like my hon. Friend, I was disappointed that Liverpool did not bid. I was disappointed that it chose not to see the chance to build new council homes for people in the city as a priority, and that, like other flagship Liberal councils in Hull and Newcastle, it did not bid. I am, however, able to ensure that other parts of the housing investment programme mean that, whatever stance the council takes, there will be investment in Liverpool. Last month, I visited a very good Kickstart scheme in Gilead street, where more than 50 new homes will be built as a result of the investment that we are ready to put in to help private developers to kick-start sites that have stalled in the recession.
We expect local authorities to assess the demand for housing as part of their strategic role. As part of trying to encourage the building of the homes that we need, and of getting the country through the recession, I was able to put together an extra £1.5 billion over this year and next to build the affordable homes that we need in this country. I am happy to say to my hon. Friend that the Yorkshire region is already benefiting from more than £63 million.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the investment that the Government are putting into Yorkshire and the Humber. I am sure that he is aware, however, of the disappointing statistics for 2009 from the National House-Building Council, which show that the number of new houses completed in the region is down by more than 50 per cent. What plans does he have to kick-start affordable housing and to create jobs in the local construction industry, especially in semi-rural areas such as the Calder valley?
The £63 million that I have been able to release since June for affordable homes in Yorkshire and the Humber will lead to 6,000 extra affordable homes, and I hope that there will be more to come. The housing need there, as in other regions across the country, requires the Government to play their part alongside the private sector, if we are to see the affordable homes that we need being built.
Because of excessive Government housing targets, there are plans for some beautiful countryside in Micklethwaite in my constituency to be concreted over so that houses can be built on it. If the Government are so obsessed with affordable housing, why do they not ensure that more houses are built in those parts of Yorkshire that have cheaper houses, rather than in beautiful countryside in my constituency?
I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman can stand up in this House and suggest that there are no young couples, no families and no elderly people in his constituency who need homes. That is why we are ready to invest in this programme, not only in his constituency but right across the country, and it is why the Government must play a leading part in it.
Housing Pledge (Apprenticeships)
Last month, I announced that all future rounds of funding for house building in this country—under the new housing pledge and the affordable housing programme—will require those taking the Government grant to have in place apprenticeship schemes. This means that, over this year and next, we will be able to create an additional 3,000 apprenticeship places across the country.
I recently visited the further education college in my constituency. It is getting a new campus, and it will train the new generation of construction workers. While I was there looking at the new building, however, I was lobbied by some of the mature students. They asked whether there would be any jobs for them, and whether there would be any homes for them. In west Cheshire, 13,000 people are waiting for housing. What more can be done to encourage local authorities to bring forward their surplus sites?
If my hon. Friend wants to take a message directly to her own local authority, it should be this. It should bid for the funds we are making available for building; it should drive a harder bargain with its private developers; it should encourage housing associations in the area to build more homes; and it should be ready to give the go-ahead to sensible developments that will lead to the sort of homes that people need in my hon. Friend’s area and to house building that can bring jobs for the people she was talking to at her local college.
As regular revaluations of the business rate system are required by statute, no impact assessment for 2010 is necessary. However, an impact assessment of the proposed 2010-11 transitional relief scheme, which caps revaluation increases at 5 per cent. for small properties and 12.5 per cent. for larger ones, was published on 8 July.
With next year’s revaluation set to hit smaller businesses disproportionately, not least because of the severe recession and debt problems, does the Minister, who I wish well in her new responsibilities, agree that it would be sensible, pragmatic and right to make small business rate relief automatic to every eligible firm?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about small businesses. I am glad to say, particularly when I know that his constituency has many empty shops as retailers have been badly affected by the recession, that retailers will be largely unaffected. They should see a reduction in business rates of 1 per cent., while in industry and manufacturing we will see a fall of 3 per cent. in business rates.
The Minister says she is concerned about the impact on small companies, but a report from Westminster city council today includes a survey showing that one in three businesses facing large rates rises believe that they will go bust as a result of them—with a devastating effect on jobs and communities. Nationally, there are 700,000 companies, most of them small ones, facing rates rises; what assessment has the Minister made of how many of them will go bust as a result? If Westminster city council can do it, why cannot she?
I can assure the hon. Lady that we are very concerned and actively watching the situation with small businesses, and that much of what is coming from the press and the Opposition at the moment is exaggerated. For example, the hon. Lady says that businesses in Westminster are facing rate rises of 10 per cent., but our calculations show that, with inflation and relief, none will face more than 3 per cent.
Local Spending Reports
The first local spending report was published on 29 April this year, following the first phase of our consultation on this topic. The report is available on the DCLG website.
I thank the Minister for that response, but it has been estimated that unelected quangos now spend £64 billion a year—equivalent to more than £2,500 for every single household. Why are the Government so reluctant to fulfil their pledge and allow local spending reports to publish figures on quango expenditure in local areas?
The Government are not reluctant to allow quango expenditure to be included in local spending reports. In fact, what we want to do is develop local spending reports to include this amount, but we have to look at the cost-effectiveness of doing so, and we are not in a position to include quangos at the moment.
Local Government (East Anglia)
There will be an opportunity for delegations, including local authorities, to make oral representations to Ministers once the independent boundary committee’s process is concluded, following the outcome of the ongoing Appeal Court case.
Is the Minister aware that these proposals have been met with overwhelming opposition throughout Norfolk and Suffolk? She mentioned the case in the Appeal Court. Why is the boundary committee spending tens of thousands of pounds on appealing against the earlier judgment? Surely the time has come for her to tell the boundary committee to put a stop to these discredited proposals.
Obviously, we are awaiting the outcome of the Appeal Court hearing. The hon. Gentleman asked why the process was taking so long; I assure him that we will act as quickly as possible to bring it to a conclusion following the outcome of the hearing. Until then, it would not be appropriate for me to comment.
Does the Minister accept that the Government’s proposals will place a financial burden on all households in Norfolk for something which—as my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) pointed out—local people simply do not want and do not need?
As I have said, while the boundary committee process is ongoing, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on particular patterns of the proposals. I should add, however, that there is clear evidence that unitary local government can bring substantial efficiency gains, which can then be used to improve services or reduce council tax. I know that that is not a policy followed by the hon. Gentleman’s party.
Wirral Borough Council (Asset Review)
Through the advancing assets demonstration programme, which my Department funds, support has been given to Wirral borough council and its community partners since mid-2008 for implementation of the strategic asset review. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his sterling campaigning work, not least in regard to saving library services.
Initially, Wirral council provided little information for community groups on its strategic asset review and transfer, and even fewer resources. That has caused concern to constituents of mine who want their local halls to be preserved and to prosper. What advice can the Govt provide in terms of benchmarks, management structures, finances and experience elsewhere?
This is an important development, which is why, between 2007 and 2011, we shall have invested £5 million in it. A number of organisations are supporting Wirral, including Community Matters and the Development Trust Association. All those organisations can provide access to practical advice and guidance, as well as links to other organisations throughout the country and case studies.
I understand that Wirral has made it clear that it is prepared to consider undertaking capital works to upgrade buildings and providing revenue support thereafter, but if my hon. Friend continues to be concerned, I shall be happy to meet him to discuss the matter.
The Government’s policy is expressed in “Planning Policy Guidance 2: Green belts”, which was issued in 1995. It has served the country well, and the Government have reaffirmed that there are no plans to change green belt policy.
There is a presumption against inappropriate development on green belt land. Such development should not be approved except when any harm to the green belt would be clearly outweighed by other considerations, and when there are very special circumstances to justify development. Green belt boundaries can be changed only in exceptional circumstances, through the development plan process, which must involve robust public consultation and independent scrutiny.
I am sure that, like me, the Minister welcomes the display of people power which overwhelmingly rejected a ludicrous proposal to build 18,000 homes on greenfield land south of Northampton without any real thought being given to infrastructure or, indeed, to job growth. Will he now tell us when he will scrap the quango which the Government set up five years ago, and restore planning powers to local councils?
It is a great shame that the Opposition take every possible opportunity to argue against proposals for housing, growth, strengthening the economy and taking Britain out of recession. They ought to be using this Question Time to explain why the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) said that she would revoke the regional spatial strategies, why she urged Conservative town halls—even before the passing of primary legislation—
Free Swimming Scheme
There are regular discussions across Departments on the free swimming scheme. Of the 553 eligible local authorities, 260 are offering free swimming under the free swimming scheme, and 4.5 million people have used the programme across England.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Speaking as somebody who used to work as a lifeguard, I would love for her to name and shame the councils who are not fully participating in this scheme and give them a great big kick up the bahookie so that they get their act together and provide the scheme to both pensioners and the under-16s.
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that this scheme particularly benefits older people, as do the steps we have taken on free bus passes and winter fuel payments. She is right to say that where there are, for example, Liberal Democrat councils such as that in north-east Lincolnshire which are not taking advantage of this, we should make sure that the public know that they are not providing what is a very welcome service to older people in their area.
I want to ensure that local authorities have the ability to respond to local needs without unnecessary bureaucracy, so today we are publishing our proposals to allow councils and their communities to make certain byelaws without seeking Government approval, and to have them enforced through fixed penalty notices. I will also consult on proposals to repeal or streamline more than half the consent regimes—regimes whereby councils have to seek my Department’s permission before acting.
Cheshire East council has recognised a problem raised recently by one of my constituents, which is that 30 per cent. of street lighting in the Crewe and Nantwich area does not meet British safety standards regarding spacing. What can the Secretary of State do to help this relatively new council improve that statistic in respect of what is a very important community safety issue?
It is particularly important that we continue to have in power a Government who want to invest in public services, because the sorts of cuts proposed by the hon. Gentleman’s party would not have helped his local authority. I will be happy to enter into correspondence with him about this particular case. This problem has been tackled in some parts of the country with Government support through private finance initiative consents for renewables street lighting. I am not familiar with the details of the case the hon. Gentleman raises, but I am more than happy to take it forward with him.
That is a very interesting question. I made my view clear in the summer, which is that we think the current legal framework, allowing the option to go for mayors where communities wish it but not imposing it, is about right. I was struck by the fact that the Opposition, while being committed to decentralisation, said that their first act in power would be to legislate in this place to force people to have referendums on mayors whether they liked it or not. That is a very odd sort of decentralisation.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Regional Economic Development and Co-ordination gave an excellent answer to a similar question a little earlier. We are awaiting the result of the boundary committee appeal hearing. Once that is received, Ministers will be able to proceed, as we would have done previously, to take an appropriate decision.
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue, and I pay tribute to the work that she has done on behalf of her constituents in terms of the financial services industry, not only in our region but particularly in her constituency. I understand from yesterday’s announcement that the 190 people employed in Halifax who would be covered by the proposed takeover will be transferred under TUPE arrangements to the new employer. I hope that that gives her some reassurance.
It is not for me to make such an assessment, but I must say that anybody who proposed doing away with regional development agencies, regional spatial strategies and all the things that enable us to have economic growth would be an enormous threat to the future of this country.
We are looking at methods to help in this revaluation process, but I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman on his specific question.
That use of the word “arbitrary” was wrong; the housing ambitions that the Government have set out stem from a hard-headed analysis of how many homes need to be built over the next 15 years or so to ensure that the population of this country is adequately housed. The Conservative party is wrong to describe the targets as arbitrary. By denying the need to provide homes for the families of this country, it is the Conservatives who are such a big threat.
Slough borough council is one of the authorities that over the past five years has built more than 1,160 affordable homes, yet it has not bid, although it would like to do so, for the funds available for house building. That is because it is small, because it is not a building authority and because it is already using the land that is appropriate. Can the Minister find ways to help small authorities such as Slough borough council to bid to build more homes, which the residents in my constituency need?
All local housing authorities, including Slough’s, are eligible to bid for the new programme that is in place for council house building. I have to say that Slough’s authority has done a magnificent job, particularly in the past couple of years, in finding the scope within the town to build homes that people in the area badly need. Where the national Government can support the authority, we will do so, and I am always ready to talk to my hon. Friend or her local council leader about how we can do so.
I never refuse a meeting with a Member of this House, and I shall not refuse the hon. Gentleman. I have made it clear to the House that the Government are totally committed to completing the Decent Homes programme, but the judicial review that his authority is pursuing at the moment is getting in the way of our being able to have the sort of discussions that he wants to encourage us to have.
Given the depressed state of the housing market and the problems being experienced in the construction industry, will the Minister give me an assessment of the potential impact of any delays in the implementation of the regional spatial strategy?
The short answer is that the impact could be very serious, because the new homes are badly needed in my hon. Friend’s region. Moreover, the investment in them helps to create the jobs that keep in people in work, and the apprenticeship schemes that will give people the skills needed in the future.
Obviously, I do not know the details of individual constituencies, but I want to reinforce one point that needs to be made. The business rate revaluation does not raise extra money: rather, it introduces a fair distribution of rates each time a revaluation takes place. That brings winners and losers, so we always put in place transitional arrangements to soften the blow or ameliorate the rate of benefit. Business rates are often described in this House as some sort of penal attack on particular businesses, whereas the revaluation is a fair adjustment, moderated over time. We shall continue with the process and, in government, the Opposition would have to do something very similar.
There is widespread agreement that the housing revenue account system is not fit for purpose, so I give the review that is under way a warm welcome. The Treasury has proposed taking an extra £7 billion dowry from councils, but does my right hon. Friend agree that that would prevent them from implementing the Decent Homes standard, and that it could be seen as a tax on council house tenants?
What I have launched is not a review of the housing revenue account system but a plan to dismantle the system that has been in place for more than 20 years. That system has held councils back from being able to build and maintain homes at a decent standard. It is not just that there will be enough money in the system to ensure that all councils can maintain all their homes to a decent standard, because in fact there will be more money for those purposes over the next 10 to 20 years. I am now doing the detailed work with those local authorities that want the reform, which will replace the old system with a structure that will give authorities control over their own rents and housing. That will enable them to provide better services for tenants in the future.
The panel appointed by the Secretary of State to examine the west midlands regional spatial strategy has now reported. In my constituency of Solihull, we had an agreed new homes target of 7,600, but now we find that that target is 10,500. That will almost certainly mean that we will have to lose great swathes of our green belt. Will the right hon. Gentleman describe how it is desirable, or even possible, to override the plans and wishes of Solihull’s—
As I have tried to make clear a number of times this afternoon, the examination process means that local plans that take only the local perspective into account have to be tested against regional and national housing need. The examination process takes place in public, and when revisions are made it is because the evidence in favour of the need to provide land for housing wins out. It is difficult to conceive of a different system. The only possible alternative would involve the abandonment of any national or regional targets, but that would undoubtedly lead to a massive collapse in house building and a massive under-provision—
Was my right hon. Friend the Housing Minister as angry as I was to learn that, notwithstanding 23,000 people looking for affordable homes in Liverpool, the Liberal Democrats rejected a project for 60 new homes by a housing co-operative on the grounds that there was no such need in the city?
I have said how disappointed I was that Liverpool city council is not taking advantage of the central Government support that we are prepared to give to deal with some of the very serious housing problems in that city. I will continue to do what I can to assist, but it would help if the council started to play its full part and do some of the heavy lifting that it should be doing already.
Does the Secretary of State accept that if his Government go ahead and scrap the £15 excess payments of local housing allowance, all that will result is rent inflation and no savings to the public purse? Will he agree to work with his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to rethink the proposal?
Recent statements by the Local Government Association have echoed the view of the Fire Brigades Union that the fire control project is now out of control and should be abandoned. Does the Secretary of State accept this? If not, why is he the only one out of sync with the people who work in the service and the people who run the service?
It is worth restating that we need a system of fire control that can operate over more than one fire and rescue service and that is able to provide efficient communications, particularly on major incidents where appliances and staff may be drawn from a variety of different fire and rescue services. The fire control project is designed to enable us to achieve that. We continue to work with the LGA on the implementation of the project, and I understand that we, and people at local level, will need to work with the FBU on the details of implementation, but the need for this type of control system, which goes beyond individual fire and rescue services, is, I believe, unanswerable.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have already given you notice of this point of order, which concerns the transfer by Departments of oral questions after they have been printed on the Order Paper, after the Department has been recognised as having departmental responsibility, and after approval by the Table Office—I realise that that is not a foolproof service. Last week I tabled an oral question to the Department for Communities and Local Government, which appeared on the Order Paper on Wednesday 21 October as Question 2. By Thursday the question had been withdrawn and transferred to the Department for Children, Schools and Families. My question was about local authority care homes and the security of those in their care. I need your help, Mr. Speaker, as to whether there is a way in which, before oral questions are shuffled, the relevant Department’s parliamentary team can see the list and transfer any question at that point. However, once a question is printed on the Order Paper for oral answer, I believe that the Department should be stopped from denying responsibility to answer.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman both for his point of order and for giving me advance notice of it. I note what he has just told me, but there is a procedure in these matters, of which I think I should remind both the hon. Gentleman and the House. I appreciate the difficulties that Members have in identifying which Minister is responsible for certain issues. However, it is for Ministers and not for me to decide who will answer a question. Whether it will please the hon. Gentleman or not is uncertain, but I must suggest to him that he seeks the advice of the Table Office in drafting questions for oral answer to reduce the risk of those questions being transferred.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There has been mention outside the House, as you know, of senior Ministers in the House of Lords answering questions from Members of this House. There has been no discussion whatsoever in the House, but some of us have followed with interest the discussion that has occurred. I take it that if such questioning of senior Ministers who are Members of the House of Lords took place—obviously there would have to be a debate in the House first—it would be in Westminster Hall, and certainly not in this Chamber. If such a procedure took place, there should be no stopping the Department concerned from being subject to questions in the ordinary way, or of replies to questions from being given by Ministers who are Members of this House.
That is a most interesting point of order from the hon. Gentleman, but there are quite a lot of ifs in it. What I must say to him is that he will be aware both that this is a matter under active consideration—I am happy to confirm that—and that it has also been the subject of an earlier point of order, not least raised the other day, if memory serves me, by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), to which I had the opportunity to reply.
I can say to the hon. Gentleman not what form a change would take, but that the issue is under active consideration and that before any change were made, the House would of course have an opportunity to consider it. I feel sure that he would want to contribute to that consideration.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you say it is “under active consideration”, do you mean it is before a Committee? I have checked, and it is not before the Procedure Committee. Is it before the Modernisation Committee? Who, precisely, is considering it?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his supplementary point of order. Unless I am much mistaken, I think he first entered the House in 1966, so he has vast experience of matters appertaining to the House, and indeed to the country. He will therefore know that a matter can be under active consideration in a whole variety of ways, including by people within Government Departments and in other respects than simply in the form of consideration either on the Floor of the House or by a Committee. I leave it to his very versatile imagination to consider in what way these matters might be being addressed.
Further to my earlier point of order, Mr. Speaker. I clearly did not make the situation clear enough. I not only consulted the Table Office, but it actually drafted my question. The situation was nothing to do with the drafting, because I went to the Table Office beforehand and my question was actually drafted there. However, the Table Office could not guarantee that it would stick. I am saying that once a question goes on the Order Paper and once there is an agreement by the Table Office and the printer to print it, the Department should be stopped from moving it. It has become a norm for Departments not to answer questions by constantly moving them.
What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is as follows: first, my understanding is that he—I am being very helpful to him, so he should be pleased with this—was advised that the risk of the transfer of his question was low. It is true enough that the Table Office is not able to offer, and never has done, a guarantee that a question will not be transferred. He was advised that the risk was low, but the risk nevertheless existed, and risk is that of the hon. Gentleman, not that of the Table Office.
Secondly, there is no current plan to adopt the change of policy that the hon. Gentleman wants. It is a matter that could be considered by the Procedure Committee and a request to that Committee could be made by any Member. I just have a hunch that he might want to be in the queue to make that request.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I asked a named day question of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government for answer yesterday—the question, quite simply, was what planning controls there are on the erection of mobile telephone masts—so that I could follow it up today at oral questions. Instead of getting a proper response, I got this:
“I will answer this question shortly”,
which of course would be too late for today’s Question Time. Are you able to help me, Mr. Speaker, in getting proper answers on time?
I am not entirely clear off the top of my head what was the time lag between the tabling of the question and the provision of what might be described only as a holding reply, and that makes it difficult for me to give an answer that would be to the satisfaction of the hon. Gentleman. It is nevertheless an opportunity for me to reiterate that in general terms, and certainly after a period of days has elapsed, it is frankly unsatisfactory for Ministers simply to provide holding replies along the lines of, “I will reply as soon as possible.” What we want, as quickly as possible, is a substantive reply from the Minister to the hon. Member who has tabled the question. I hope that that at least partially satisfies the appetite of the hon. Gentleman.
Closed Circuit Television (Monitoring and Promotion)
Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to impose a duty on public bodies to co-operate with the police and specified local authorities on the use of closed circuit television; to require certain users of CCTV to provide specified information to the police; to require insurance providers to promote the use of CCTV systems; and for connected purposes.
There has been and continues to be much debate surrounding the operation of CCTV systems in the UK, and it is a debate that we should welcome. However, I do not want to use this opportunity today to discuss the politics of Big Brother; rather I want to move the issue forward to how we can best regulate these systems and use them to provide legitimate protection of the public and of property, while at the same time ensuring that our civil liberties are protected.
It is estimated that there could be as many as 1.5 million privately operated CCTV cameras in operation in the UK today, plus another 400 publicly operated systems in operation in town and city centres. It is evident from that that CCTV is a fact of modern life and it is here to stay. The Bill provides proposals to ensure that the systems are used to their best purpose, which is to act as deterrents of crime and aids to prosecution.
No compulsory code or set of minimum requirements is laid down for the operation and maintenance of CCTV systems in the UK. That can cause particular problems for some police investigations in which CCTV footage is used as evidence, in particular for crimes that would be difficult to prove by any other means. While CCTV could and should never be an alternative to policing or crime prevention schemes, evidence suggests that it can and does bring forward prosecutions in cases where it may have been difficult to do so otherwise.
Public systems already have a primary purpose to provide public safety, and there is a need for those systems to be equipped to the levels suitable to provide recordings of a high enough quality to be used as evidence of crime. In Greater Glasgow, the Glasgow community and safety services oversee the use of CCTV systems in those public places to which there is unrestricted access, as well as co-ordinating action by the police, local authorities and major social landlords.
Despite that co-ordination, the cost of each fixed camera runs at between £3,000 and £4,000 a year, a total to which local authorities are not obliged to contribute. There are 16 separate public systems in use in Greater Glasgow, and Strathclyde police must contend with that. The different equipment and processes for each system make evidence gathering a lengthy procedure. Alongside that, all evidence submitted to the courts must operate under an analogue rather than a digital system.
Private systems which operate on private property that allows for a public presence, such as large bars and shopping centres, are usually put in place as property protection measures. As the number of systems is so vast, private recordings provide the majority of evidence in incidents of crime. The use of CCTV evidence is now a much more common means of pursuing prosecution in the UK; more so than the use of DNA material, for example. Its use as evidence results in more guilty verdicts, easing the burden on police time and the public purse by way of less expensive trials.
Recorded evidence can also help to prompt witnesses who may not have been aware that they were in the vicinity of a crime at the time, but who may hold crucial evidence. Another important aspect is that CCTV can be used to eliminate innocent people from police investigations, speeding up the overall process and lowering the cost. Yet, when dealing with a serious incident in which CCTV footage needs to be examined, police forces can and often do face an array of problems with the quality and accessibility of the footage that they require.
The lack of regulation means that, when dealing with a serious incident, police have to contact all public and private owners in the area. That is, first, to identify any owners of CCTV systems and, secondly, to check for footage worthy of submission as evidence. Problems also occur with the routine destruction of film. Police forces are unaware of how long owners keep their footage before it is destroyed, and the owners are not required to provide such information on a regular basis. That means that some evidence might be destroyed before the police can access it.
Some owners of small or more basic systems are not familiar with the mechanisms required to download data, for example, and in some instances it can take weeks to obtain the film evidence required. With some systems, the cameras do not work at all and no evidence can therefore be obtained. The problems caused by such disparities can directly affect the ability of the police to arrest perpetrators and bring forward a case for prosecution.
It would not be particularly burdensome to require those who operate CCTV systems to have to meet a set of standards of best practice and general maintenance, particularly when most of the private organisations that would be required to do so are likely already to be regulated by the local authority in some way.
For small businesses in particular, there is an issue regarding insurance. Some insurers require owners of CCTV systems to avoid undue bureaucracy and administrative expense. The Bill makes provision for that. Building on the recommendations of a recent Home Office report for a national CCTV strategy, the Bill proposes a voluntary code for businesses promoted by the CCTV user group, which would act as an industry body.
The Bill would impose a statutory duty on public bodies, such as local authorities, transport groups and housing associations, to work with local police forces to streamline public CCTV systems and, importantly, to impose a duty on local authorities to contribute to the costs of co-ordinating such systems. That would on the whole, provide greater efficiency and reduce administrative costs.
Large metropolitan authorities would no longer be required to foot the full bill for the co-ordinating of such systems when other smaller local authorities would be required to contribute. The Bill would also impose a duty on private organisations that control large areas open to the public in which they operate private CCTV operations, such as bars, clubs, cinemas and shopping centres, to provide local police with up-to-date information on the type of system they use, for how long they preserve film and how their system is maintained.
Lastly, the Bill would impose a requirement for insurance companies to promote an agreed code of practice with their business customers. CCTV can have a positive impact on the fight against crime and the fear of crime, but if we are to maintain the public’s confidence in CCTV, we have a duty to reassure our citizens that such monitoring is not only effective but worth the investment.
Question put and agreed to.
That Mr. Tom Harris, Mrs. Joan Humble, David Cairns, Dr. Alasdair McDonnell, Mrs. Jacqui Lait, Derek Twigg, Lembit Öpik, Norman Lamb and Meg Munn present the Bill.
Mr. Tom Harris accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 November and to be printed (Bill 153).
Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords]
[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?