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Marine and Coastal Access Bill [HL]

Volume 706: debated on Monday 12 January 2009

Committee (1st Day) (Continued)

Amendment 16

Moved by

16: Schedule 1, page 217, line 14, at end insert—

“(3A) The MMO shall, no later than seven days after sending the report to the Secretary of State in pursuance of sub-paragraph (2), send a copy of the report to the Scottish Ministers, who shall lay a copy of the report before the Scottish Parliament no earlier than a copy is laid before each House of Parliament.”

In the absence of my noble friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, I move the amendment and also speak to Amendment 17. Both amendments address devolution and the annual report. Amendment 16 refers to the report as it affects Scotland and Amendment 17 as it affects Wales. They are similarly worded.

The amendments address the annual report and its consideration by the devolved Administrations of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. I hope that the Minister will address this as a piece of housekeeping rather than as something extremely controversial. The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly already have marine powers vested in them from legislation that went through 10 years ago. It is important that the MMO, as it operates in England, co-operates closely with the devolved Administrations, which will hold similar functions.

We feel that it is extremely important that, as it says in Amendment 16,

“The MMO shall, no later than seven days after sending the report to the Secretary of State in pursuance of sub-paragraph (2), send a copy of the report to the Scottish Ministers, who shall lay a copy of the report before the Scottish Parliament no earlier than a copy is laid before each House of Parliament”.

Similarly, Amendment 17 states:

“The MMO shall, no later than seven days after sending the report to the Secretary of State in pursuance of sub-paragraph (2) send a copy of the report to the Welsh Ministers, who shall lay a copy of the report before the National Assembly for Wales no earlier than a copy is laid before each House of Parliament”.

It is important that close co-operation occurs between the MMO and the devolved Administrations of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. There is every incentive for this to occur. The functions of the MMO are similar as regards the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. We feel strongly that such co-operation would ensure that the functions of the MMO are carried out across the United Kingdom to the satisfaction of all concerned. Therefore, it is very much in the interests of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly that the information in the annual report is laid before them to keep them fully informed of the overall picture and to enable any matters which cause concern to be addressed immediately. I beg to move.

The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, promotes transparency between the various Executives of the United Kingdom. My noble friend Lady Carnegy has assiduously raised the various slightly difficult areas that occur in this regard and has properly drawn noble Lords’ attention to the fact that this whole area is being considered by the Calman commission. We shall be interested to hear what it has to say on the subject.

We were encouraged to hear the Minister say that his department will produce a full briefing. At 11.37 am today it kindly sent me a brief introduction to the subject. As noble Lords will be aware, the Scotland Act laid out pretty clearly what was to be considered as the Scottish zone of the marine environment, reinforced in detail by the Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order 1999.

Scotland has for some time administered a number of the issues in UK territorial waters adjacent to Scotland. A great many of the powers we are discussing were devolved under the Scotland Act modification order 1999/1756, which covered many things including nuclear installations and forestry but particularly the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985.

Since then we had had interesting exchanges with various Ministers on renewable energy, designation of a renewable energy zone and the transfer of specific powers contained in Part 1 of the Electricity Act 1989. Perhaps the Minister can say whether the Government have identified any new powers that will be required to make the powers of Marine Scotland—if that is what it is called—adequate to be a parallel organisation to the Marine Management Organisation. It is of some interest that the Marine Management Organisation will cover electricity generation only up to 50 megawatts capacity, which will probably cover most of the renewable energy available at any site around this part of the United Kingdom. It seems that the Scottish Executive will be able to choose its own generating capacity figure. There is far more renewable energy generating capacity at some Scottish sites than in a lot of other areas.

On the amendment, ensuring that the Marine Management Organisation sends a copy of the report to the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales no earlier than a copy is laid before each House of Parliament will help to provide clarity, but it will also help to give the Scottish Executive the chance to see whether their proposals for marine management are keeping up with those in the rest of the United Kingdom. In that way, I support the amendment.

Briefly, I support both amendments in the group, which were introduced by my noble friend Lord Livsey and spoken to eloquently by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. I think that it is going to be a typical pattern of Committee stage of the Bill that pretty well every bit of the Bill that we come to will have a cameo Scottish and Welsh debate as part of it. The devolution thread goes right through the Bill, and the way in which the devolution settlement is evolving and, to some extent, the way in which this Bill evolves it, cannot be avoided. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, will be able to be here for a lot of it, because she is obviously very interested and she will not let us forget it, even if we wanted to. It is absolutely crucial.

I want to do two things at this stage. First, I thank the Government for the changes that they have already made to the Bill from the draft Bill and from previous proposals to take account of this extremely complex situation—the situation in Scotland, Wales and England differs in different ways in almost every part of the Bill. Secondly, I very much look forward to the document, which I am told will be quite a meaty and, which might well occupy much of our reading next weekend. We look forward to that very much, because we absolutely have got to get this right. This House that has the opportunity to make sure that it is right, because of the more detailed way in which we can discuss this and probe it as it goes through. I wish the Government best wishes on this, but they have got to get it right, and if we think that they are not getting it right we will not hesitate to challenge what they are putting forward.

First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for introducing this group of amendments, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, for his comments, which were very helpful. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that it may be helpful if, in addition to sending out a paper this week, I arrange a meeting for all Peers, perhaps early next week, so that we can have a discussion outwith the Chamber and we can give as much information as possible. I recognise that this is a very complex area, which has moved on, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, suggested, since the draft Bill was published.

Perhaps I might come back to say a little more about the changes that have occurred, but first I shall deal with the amendments. The MMO is being set up to deliver functions on behalf of the UK Government but, in the main, it will deliver marine functions in the waters around England, because many of the functions across the Bill are delivered in their waters by the devolved Administrations. The MMO will deliver marine planning, marine licensing, fisheries management and nature conservation and enforcement throughout the waters off England.

In addition, it will enforce nature conservation provisions in the waters offshore of Wales out to the median line. But some of the functions may be matters relating to, perhaps, implementation of EU or international obligations, which would require the MMO to take a co-ordinating role on behalf of the UK Government. In such cases, we would expect the MMO to undertake consultation with whoever might be affected throughout the UK area and include such matters as was necessary in its report. Since the MMO will be acting in relation to England or the UK, it is entirely appropriate in all cases for it to report to this House and the other place.

The MMO has no functions within the devolved competence of Scottish or Welsh Ministers, and it is not appropriate for the activities that it carries out on behalf of the UK Government to be subject to scrutiny by the Scottish Parliament or the National Assembly for Wales. The MMO may, by arrangement, carry out functions on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive or the Welsh Assembly Government at their request and with our consent, but Scottish Ministers will have their own delivery body in Marine Scotland. I do not imagine that noble Lords would expect that body to present its annual report to this House or the other place. The Welsh Assembly Government will also have their arrangements for accountability for delivery, which I would not expect to be reported to this House.

However, I recognise that this will take place within the overall context, and I fully accept the comments of all noble Lords on the need for close co-operation between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations to make sure that this works. There was a meeting, to which I referred, of Ministers from the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. This was reported on 23 November 2008. As a result, the UK Government and the devolved Administrations committed to working together constructively to ensure that there is a joined-up approach to the implementation of new marine legislation. All agreed on the importance of ensuring that the UK’s seas are managed in a co-ordinated manner for the benefit of stakeholders throughout the UK’s seas. That also reflects the fact that the marine environment is a complex mix of devolved, non-devolved and retained matters.

Work has been done since the draft Bill—

I referred in my speech at Second Reading to that joint ministerial meeting. One can well see that at that meeting it was agreed that all devolved matters could be left to Scotland to deal with. One of the puzzles is whether the organisation that we are setting up will have to deal with non-devolved matters. At what point was it decided that those should be brought within the powers of the Scottish Executive? Given what the Minister said earlier about having a role in the European and international spheres, does that mean that the Marine Management Organisation will become the main negotiating body for the common fisheries policy?

No, I do not think that it means that at all, but we are able to give the MMO certain functions that fall to the Secretary of State, who can ask it to take on those responsibilities.

I said at Second Reading that this is not a departure from the devolution settlement and that the arrangements to be put in place are entirely consistent with the devolution settlement. It is just that the discussions and the agreement between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations have been very fruitful and provide confidence that there will be co-operation between all authorities to ensure that there is appropriate integration. However, it is not a departure from the devolution settlement.

Overall, this group of amendments has been very helpful. I will ensure that we have further opportunities to discuss the details of the settlement but I hope that the noble Lord will agree that it is not appropriate for him to push these amendments. The MMO will be dealing with either English or UK matters, and therefore it is appropriate that its annual report should be made just to this House and the other place.

The Minister’s answers were very helpful except for his last sentence, which negatived the upshot of my amendments. I am very pleased that the full briefing will become available and I am sure that we will be able to iron out one or two things in our discussions. However, it seems to me that there is a great deal of agreement and that one should not make waves if some details need to be resolved. As a result of the Government of Wales Act 1998, for the past 10 years the Assembly has had responsibility for fisheries, inshore matters and all kinds of things under 20 Acts of Parliament. I am sure that there will be a level of co-operation and on this occasion I am very happy to put something forward for Scotland. I have worked in Scotland twice and am married to a Scot, so I well understand the situation there. I believe that my noble friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness will be here when we next debate this matter but, at this point, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 16 withdrawn.

Amendment 17 not moved.

Amendment 18 not moved.

Schedule 1 agreed.

Schedule 2 : Minor and consequential amendments relating to the MMO

Amendment 19 not moved.

With regard to Amendment 20, for the record I should point out that there is an error in the Marshalled List. The amendment refers to page 219, line 7. Having said that, I assume that the amendment will not be moved.

Amendment 20 not moved.

Schedule 2 agreed.

Clause 2 : General objective

Amendment 21

Moved by

21: Clause 2, page 2, line 2, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

“(1) The MMO’s general objective is the promotion of sustainable development of the marine environment.

(1A) It is the duty of the MMO to secure that the general objective is so exercised that the carrying on of activities by persons in the MMO’s area is managed, regulated or controlled in a manner which is consistent and co-ordinated (see subsection (2)).”

I believe that my amendments in this group do much the same as those tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. There is a major point of difference between the Government and the Opposition on this issue, and it is perhaps unfortunate that we are dealing with it at this time of night because I know that a number of noble Lords are interested in the outcome of this debate. Both I and, it appears, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, feel that the current drafting, in which the MMO is tasked with,

“making a contribution to the achievement of sustainable development”,

is inadequate. Making a contribution is not enough. My Amendment 21 would seek to make the promotion of sustainable development the general and overriding duty of the MMO. We and many stakeholders in this area feel that there needs to be a clear and unambiguous statement that the management of the marine environment should be towards that end.

This Bill was introduced in your Lordships’ House with the claim that it heralds the start of genuine progress in the management of our seas. That is good but if, as the generalised wording of the clause suggests, the Government have such a low expectation of the MMO, I have great concern over whether any real progress will be made. The lack of positive edge in the current drafting suggests that we could be looking at just another addition to the already excessive numbers of quangos that have proliferated under this Government. If the MMO is unable to make a difference in this sector, why do we need another body? The Bill needs to make it clear that the MMO is intended to, can and will make a difference.

I hope that I have made clear our perception of the MMO’s role. Our amendments would put our views into the Bill to ensure that the MMO is empowered and acts with authority across its responsibilities. My Amendment 47, to which I am also speaking in this group, would leave the duty of consistency and co-ordination untouched. Ensuring that the management of the seas is consistent and co-ordinated is of great importance. The marine environment is an interlinked ecosystem, as the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, makes clear. Good policies in one area could be made useless by a lack of co-ordination with another area. Consistency will also reduce the cost and bureaucratic delays currently weighing on those who seek to apply for various licences. With a clear and universal system across the MMO’s area, the greater efficiency will also benefit the marine environment.

Finally, my third amendment in this group suggests a definition for “sustainable development”, as does that of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. My amendment was suggested by the British Wind Energy Association and the noble Lord’s amendment by an alternative stakeholder. I do not suggest that Amendment 181 is better than Amendment 180. Indeed, there are great merits in the noble Lord’s alternative. By tabling my amendment I was hoping to highlight the continuing debate over just what sustainable development means. Without a proper understanding of what the Government want to achieve, it will be no surprise to find that many organisations expected to work towards its achievement will be working at cross purposes with each other.

I do not agree with giving the natural environment a statutory priority, as suggested in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Our later amendments show that we believe that the MMO will have to represent a very broad range of interests of which the natural environment is of course an important one; but to give it priority would turn the MMO into yet another conservation body rather than the overarching management body that we are seeking to establish.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, also raises an interesting and commendable question in Amendment 49. We will go into greater detail about the many issues we think the MMO should rightly have regard to when my noble friend the Duke of Montrose discusses Amendment 33. Climate change is obviously one of those issues, an issue which we have included in similar wording in that amendment. I will not try to anticipate what my noble friend will say on that group, but climate change should of course be considered. The current drafting raises the question of why the Government envisage the MMO only,

“making a contribution to the achievement of sustainable development”.

From what the Minister has said so far in Committee, the MMO is to be the one-stop shop for managing all marine activities. With all its power, if it is still unable to have a leading rather than a contributory role in the achievement of sustainable development, I do not have great hopes of seeing a change for the better any time soon. I beg to move.

I must advise the Committee that if Amendment 21 is agreed to, I will be unable to call Amendments 22 to 30 inclusive owing to pre-emption.

I shall speak to my Amendments 25, 26 and 44, which are grouped with Amendment 21.

Amendment 25 returns us to the objective of the MMO. I should like to ask the Minister about the big political consensus which I think has been achieved on all sides. Did the Labour Party members who signed up to the manifesto, the RSPB, the World Wildlife Fund, wildlife trusts members and the public, including Surfers against Sewage, campaign so hard for the Marine Bill simply in order to have an organisation that could manage the bureaucracy a bit better, or did they do it to promote a healthy marine ecosystem? I strongly suggest that they were motivated by the latter. The degree of consensus between those bodies was considerable. If the Bill stays as it is, they will be disappointed. The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has a lot to commend it, and I am looking forward to hearing her speak to it. However, when push comes to shove, a decision will have to be made. That is why her amendment is important. Parliament should guide that decision and establish the priorities.

My Amendment 26 attempts to address what sustainable development means in this context. Consistency is probably the last thing we want. Sustainable development in a marine conservation zone should mean that the environment has priority over everything else, but in a less protected marine conservation area it will sometimes have priority so that recreation and so on can still occur. The economic factors will be far more important in a marine area outside a conservation zone which is used for a number of other purposes, such as renewable energy, dredging or perhaps a combination of uses. So consistency should not necessarily have the high priority that the Bill suggests. It would be better to consider that sustainable development may mean different things in different areas of the sea. I do not feel that that is recognised in the current wording.

Amendment 44 requires the Secretary of State to give guidance that pays attention to the primary objective of the MMO to promote a healthy marine ecosystem throughout UK marine waters. If the Secretary of State is accountable, he needs to be clear about where the priority lies.

I support my noble friend’s original amendment. The general objectives in the Bill are a little woolly, loose and not clearly defined. The words in Clause 2(1)(a),

“in a manner which is consistent and co-ordinated”,

could mean many different things to different people. Those in Clause 2(1)(b),

“with the objective of making a contribution to the achievement of sustainable development”,

could mean different things to people in different parts of the country, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said.

The MMO is faced with a difficult task. It is being asked to consider sustainable development, to accept the existing business and resource demands on the ocean and, at the same time, to protect and preserve the things that we want to preserve. Let us consider the fishing industry. We need to have fishing, but we do not want to over-fish or we will have no fishing industry. It is the same with plants and with species about which we do not know much. The amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Taylor is very specific. If the Minister is not able to accept it, I hope he will give it serious thought, as it is very important.

At Second Reading, I also raised the interplay between different departments and the MMO and what demands would be made of it by different Acts. I hope that at this stage the Minister may be able to say a little more about that. I know that he and the committee recognised that the MMO can be successful only if it is reviewed by all departments, because so many departments will cut across the work that it is required to do. It will be faced with the question of where sustainability should have economic preference. The example of Lundy Island was given earlier. What is happening there is very exciting. When we come to later debates about areas and zones, we will go into more specifics.

What worries me, and what worried me when I was on the Joint Committee, is that the Bill is a skeleton and a lot is due to come out in secondary legislation. My noble friend Lord Kingsland mentioned the question of scientific needs. I hope that he returns to that later. The Government's response to the committee’s suggestion that a subcommittee be established was, I think, that that would be left to the MMO. I respond: really? I thought that we as parliamentarians were supposed to set the ambit within which Bills work and that it is then for organisations, rather like our magistrates, to be faced with making judgments on what the law says. I fear that the Bill is very general and a little bit woolly, and I would like it to be much more clearly defined.

I hope that, if the Minister is unable to accept my noble friend’s amendments, he will at least consider them, because we need greater clarification and direction. If he says, “That is what the Government will give in guidance”, we do not have that guidance before us at the moment, so we cannot as parliamentarians make a judgment. It is up to us to insist that the Government should give us greater clarification.

I will not respond to the other amendments in this group, but I strongly support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Taylor.

I have the terrible feeling that I am about to make a Second Reading speech, which is rather sad at this hour, but we are at the heart of what this Bill is all about, so such a speech is deserved.

I am sure that the Government have great ambition for the Marine Management Organisation. If they had not, they would not have gone to the lengths that they have to devise a hefty Bill, to go through a draft Bill stage and have pre-legislative scrutiny, and so on, but you would not guess that from the way in which the organisation’s general objective is described. I was imagining myself trying to sell that general objective to a group of disparate staff from across a wide range of organisations coming together to form the Marine Management Organisation. To be frank, the way in which the general objective is described is distinctly unthrilling. It would be very difficult to get staff fired up to it.

The basic misunderstanding was touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. For many years now, the environment and conservation movement in this country has been campaigning for a marine Bill, which it regards as its marine Bill. The marine Bill was put together to meet a real need: the increasing degradation of the marine environment and the fact that we have no instruments similar to those already used in the terrestrial environment. That is what the marine Bill was intended to be.

Somewhere along the road, we have got a bit lost and have ended up with, as the general objective shows, a loosely glued set of functions to be carried out, under paragraph (a), in a co-ordinated way and, under paragraph (b), in a way that makes some wishy-washy and indeterminate contribution towards sustainable development. That is not what the Government need or indeed the marine situation requires. Therefore, as a very minimum, given that the Bill is where it is, the amendments that would require the sustainable duty to be more positive and proactive should be supported.

I heard with sadness what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, said about my cherished Amendment 28A, which says that,

“in the event of an irreconcilable conflict arising from the delivery of this objective the natural environment must take precedence”.

I shall try to justify that and see whether I can change the noble Lord’s mind, and perhaps that of other noble Lords.

The Marine Management Organisation will sit in a position of strong conflict. It will be surrounded by competing claims for the use of the sea for the natural resource extraction of both fish and marine aggregates, for coping with climate change in the form of new kinds of renewable generation, and for conservation of the marine environment. It will have a pretty difficult job and it will be more than just a referee; the Minister has already assured us of that tonight. It should have a much more positive role, first of all in the three arms of sustainable development. However, even given the sustainable development principles, we should remember that at the very genesis of the words “sustainable development” at the Rio summit there was also the invention of the precautionary principle that if you do not know how much this will screw up the environment, do not do it until you do—those are the technical terms.

It is therefore not unreasonable to suggest that if the Marine Management Organisation, in carrying out this disparate range of grouped-together functions, concludes that one cannot achieve a truly sustainable solution to a particular question—in other words, one that delivers equally for the environment, for the economy and for social welfare—it will need to make up its mind as to which one will get pre-eminence and which other two will necessarily take a slightly less prominent place.

The natural environment is the only one that can be the default outcome for a whole variety of reasons, one being that healthy ecosystems in the marine environment are a hugely important foundation of economic and social success anyway. If we screw up the environment, it will be difficult to have marine activities that can be either economically or socially beneficial. Fishing is one prime example of that.

However, this is not just about whether we preserve marine species, because as well as seeing huge declines in some marine species—again, fisheries are an example—we are seeing increasing evidence of seabed habitat destruction by mechanical means, of water quality degradation and of the offshore eutrophication of the marine environment. There are clearly big system issues, which are demonstrating that the environment is already in trouble, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, said. Therefore, the Marine Management Organisation needs to be able to say with some legitimacy, “We are very sorry. In this particular circumstance, this cannot be done without damage to the environment. Therefore the environment must take precedence, because it is already in trouble”. The reality is that, once we have damaged irretrievably some elements in the marine environment, they do not recover. We know that from other places in the world where that has happened. We have seen the collapse of marine ecosystems, and all the benefits that people want to gain from those systems have collapsed with them.

There is a precedent for having a kind of irretrievable breakdown of marriage clause where sustainable development is concerned, although, when it was first introduced in the case of national parks, it was not recognised as such. Those who are old enough to remember the old national parks legislation will know that it was very much about sustainable development. It was about conserving and enhancing natural beauty, promoting understanding and enjoyment, and economic and social well-being. It was about environment, economy and social principles, but in the early days of the national parks it became clear that on many occasions it could not deliver all three. Natural beauty and the conservation of the countryside had to come first because the whole point of the parks’ existence was to make sure that that resource was available for future generations.

Although that was recognised in the early 1970s, it was not until the Environment Act 1995 that the Sandford principle—the default principle that says that, if you cannot do everything, you have to at least ensure the basic stock of preserving the environment—went into law. In legal terms, that is a comparatively recent development. If it is right for national parks, I believe that it is right for the Marine Management Organisation. On the vast majority of occasions, we should encourage the MMO to seek that truly sustainable solution that combines environment, economy and social principles. However, when it cannot do that, the bit that will not come back if you hit it is the environment.

Perhaps I may encourage the Minister to consider this as a principle. I recognise that I may not yet have persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, but if we considered this principle we would have done something significant today for the marine environment, which was our primary objective 15 years ago when we first tried to introduce such a Bill.

I have Amendments 27, 46, 85, 89 and 180 in this group. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, half apologised for making what she said was a Second Reading speech. It was not that at all. It was absolutely pertinent to Clause 2, which is entitled “General objective”. As she said, this is right at the heart of the Bill. It is clear that there is a great deal of disquiet around the Committee that so far what the Government have set out is not as satisfactory as it might be. In fact, it is unsatisfactory in two ways. First, to quote the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, it is a little woolly. I shall use slightly stronger language: it is weak and feeble. No matter what the role of the MMO is thought to be, it is set out here in a weak and feeble way.

Secondly, my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, addressed more eloquently than I can the degree to which the MMO is an organisation which, when the chips are down, puts conservation first. It is clear that there are different views around the Committee, but a general view is that it needs strengthening, although there may be differences on the extent of that. I do not think that anyone will disagree that the primary purpose of the Bill is to put the seas around these islands into a much better state as regards eco-systems, biodiversity and marine environment. The general objective under Clause 2 is the main purpose for having this organisation and a new marine planning system and for bringing together all the marine licensing systems and regulations, but that is not done in a sufficiently satisfactory way.

The Joint Committee suggested that the purpose of the Marine Management Organisation as set out in the Bill is ambiguous. We cannot let the Bill leave this House in an ambiguous state. Some people will go more for development, or perhaps sustainable development, and others will go more for conservation. Whatever we think the Bill should say, it should be set out much more clearly than it is. As noble Lords have pointed out, Clause 2 as it stands—setting out the general objective—really does not fit the Bill.

No one disagrees with the fact that the functions of the MMO are clearly set out in the Bill. We might disagree about the way in which those functions are to be exercised, but we know that they cover marine planning, regulation and licensing. But the Bill says that the primary objective is the duty to ensure that those functions,

“are so exercised that the carrying on of activities by persons in the MMO’s area is managed, regulated or controlled—

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

Of course it should be, but that is a managerial point, not a primary function of a body. It does not say what the MMO should be consistent and co-ordinated about. The subsection goes on to provide that the functions are exercised,

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

The Government point out rightly that it would be wrong to say that the objective of the organisation should be to achieve sustainable development. Putting in legislation aims that may or may not be achieved is never a good idea. They can be objectives, but to say that a body has to do something is unrealistic. Further, lots of other organisations working in the marine environment will affect whether sustainable development is achieved or the level is increased. The MMO cannot do this on its own, and that is absolutely right. But to use that excuse to say that all it has to do is make a contribution towards sustainable development is weak and, as the noble Baroness said, a little bit woolly. Other amendments in the group make the modest suggestion that the Bill should provide that the MMO will further the achievement of sustainable development by promoting it rather harder than simply making a contribution.

If this clause is weak and feeble, managerial in tone and lacking in the broader vision and purpose we talked about earlier, what should it say? It should use stronger terms than “making a contribution to”, so Amendments 27 and 46 provide other wording. Amendments 85 and 89 apply to later parts of the Bill in relation to the marine policy statement and marine plans. However, whatever wording is used, it ought to be consistent across the Bill.

We could talk for ever about the question of defining sustainable development, but the Government have provided a definition in the United Kingdom sustainable development strategy which has the advantage that it can evolve over time and is not written into legislation. However, referring to it in legislation seems to be a convenient way of pinning it down. It may be that the definitions proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, are better, and these matters can be discussed. What is absolutely clear is that the commitment to sustainable development ought to be stronger than it is here. However, on its own, sustainable development is not enough. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, there are occasions when we will not want any development, full stop. What will be wanted is a fairly draconian form of conservation. As my noble friend Lady Miller said, this area covers a spectrum of circumstances. It is not a question of having one policy to fit all the seas around Britain. That could not possibly work. It is more a matter of noting the circumstances of each marine locality and implementing the policies needed for that particular place. Some places will need pretty hard-line conservation. Other areas will clearly need development, which must be as sustainable as possible.

Across the whole of the British seas there is a balance to be found. The Government will say that they always try to find the right balance whenever there is a problem. That is absolutely right across the whole of the British seas. There has to be a balance between the different aims, between different kinds of commercial activity, between energy, fishing, dredging and navigation, which is not really covered at all by the Bill. There has to be a balance between those and conservation objectives. Overall, whether we like it or not, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is right. The condition of the British seas has to improve dramatically. If it does not dramatically improve, most of the other activities—or certainly many of the other economic and commercial activities—will not be viable. That, fundamentally, is why conservation has to come first overall, but it has to be balanced.

Within each locality the policies will be quite different. You do not have to put conservation first everywhere. You do not have to put economic activities first everywhere. There is a kaleidoscope, a pattern of different activities that can take place within the seas around these shores. It is a matter of locality and scale. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that there are some places—more, perhaps, than some people would like—where conservation has to come first, no matter what the circumstances and consequences, because of the conditions in that area. There are many other areas where that is not the case at all, and you can choose. You can say that you want some conservation areas, but they might be somewhere else. There is a great role for planning in this area.

What am I saying? First, the Marine Management Organisation must have a clear leadership role, and that is not set out in the Bill at the moment. Secondly, there has to be a strength of commitment to conservation, which is not set out in the Bill at this moment. Neither of these points is set out clearly in the objectives in Clause 2. The Government have said that the Bill is a world leader. It is the first Bill of this sort anywhere in the world or, perhaps, in Europe. That is a matter for congratulations, but unless it delivers what has been promised and what is expected, there will be deep disappointment. This is not to deny the social and economic objectives; it is simply to say that the fundamental purpose of the Bill is to improve dramatically the environmental and ecological condition of the British seas and sea bed. Unless the Government can put that in the Bill, everything else may turn out to be, in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, “just a little bit woolly”.

The Joint Committee certainly suggested that there should be a duty on the MMO to further sustainable development, and that there should be a definition of sustainable development in the Bill. In their response, the Government started by saying that they agreed that the MMO should have a duty in relation to sustainable development, but they did not like the way that we had laid it out. They felt that the language in the draft Bill, which used the word “contribution”, was right. This was partly for the reason just given by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. The MMO, on its own, will not be able to achieve this; many other bodies are involved.

I think we have a difficulty here because it seems that the degree of sustainable development that the MMO must achieve is going to depend on the guidance set out by the Secretary of State. Whether the Government have it in mind to tighten up on these definitions and on the amount of sustainable development that should be included in those guidelines is a question that only the Minister can answer. Perhaps he does not yet know. It is difficult to discuss this in advance of knowing what the guidance on sustainable development will be.

I shall refer briefly to Amendment 28A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I had not intended to speak on this group of amendments but I strongly endorse the point that she was making that there will be occasions where, frankly, the various objectives will be irreconcilable. It is important that in those circumstances there is some sense of priority. I speak from practical experience: I was vice-chair of the National Parks Committee in the 1960s when, although it was implicit that conservation of the natural beauty and experience of the countryside was to be our top priority, it was never explicit in the legislation. We had constant problems as a result.

Between then and the 1980s, however, when I was a consultant to the Countryside Commission on national park policy, that changed. The National Parks Board in the 1980s and since has had a clearer hierarchy of priorities. It is critical that the MMO has that sense of priority, because no one else will. There will be plenty of other people fighting for causes that we are all aware of; there are competing claims, such as the fishing industry or the extractive industries, and other people will be able to fight the good fight on their behalf. However, only the MMO will have that sense of clear guidance—if it is in the Bill. Unless Clause 2 is specific, in the way that noble Lords on all sides of the Committee have been indicating in this debate, it will be difficult to have that sense of guidance. Also, the expectations of the many organisations that have campaigned for this legislation for many years now will not be met unless that sense of priority is built into the Bill. I strongly support the noble Baroness’s amendment.

This has been an interesting and informative debate. I say in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, who found Clause 2 “woolly”, that I know that Members of the Committee feel that Clause 2 in particular does not quite capture the critical role of the Marine Management Organisation. Although they are rather critical of the drafting of this part of the Bill, I should say that the reason why it is drafted in this way is by no means a lack of ambition regarding the MMO’s importance and role. As the Committee will know, drafting legislation is a complex art in itself and the complex nature of the various functions that we need this body to perform makes it difficult to give it a simple, punchy purpose.

I understand what the noble Baroness is saying about wishing to give a clear message, but we have to reflect that the MMO is not a single-sector organisation or one that should deliver one pillar of sustainable development above another. We are not starting from scratch but welding together a range of new and existing functions, some in existing legislation and some used by the devolved Administrations to deliver in their areas of responsibility. It is not even the case that the geographical ambit is the same for all the activities that the MMO will assume responsibility for. That is a general introduction to why Clause 2 appears as it is, but I reiterate that that does not mean that the Marine Management Organisation will not play a critical role.

I turn to the amendments that would replace “making a contribution to” with “further” and “promote”. Those words were carefully chosen when the Bill was drafted and they run through our proposals. As the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Greenway, suggested, this wording was chosen in part because the MMO, even working within a UK-wide marine policy statement, will not be able to achieve sustainable development of the marine area on its own. While the MMO will have an important role to play in contributing to the achievement of sustainable development, it will also be dependent on the actions of others, including other regulators, delivery bodies, devolved Administrations and the many users of the sea and its resources.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, suggested a way out for me in being much more precise about what guidance the Secretary of State will give, because Clause 2 contains provisions for the Secretary of State to give guidance to the MMO on its responsibilities in relation to sustainable development. However, he also anticipated that I am not really in a position to go very much further forward, partly for the good reason that the guidance will be informed by debate in your Lordships’ House and the other place. I can assure noble Lords that the guidance will be robust and make abundantly clear to the Marine Management Organisation its responsibilities.

On the question of “making a contribution to” as opposed to “further” or “promote”, I make it clear that achievement of sustainable development of the marine area will be a partnership effort by all with a stake in our seas. It will be guided by policies in the marine policy statement and ultimately the relevant marine plans, both of which have sustainable development at their core. These policies will then be implemented through the decisions that determine whether something happens in our seas.

Plans will guide decisions taken not just by the MMO but by all the public authorities operating in the marine area to ensure that the net effect is that all decision-makers pull in the same direction towards sustainable development—a partnership effort by all with a stake in the marine environment.

I am grateful to the Minister for explaining that, but if the various players who have responsibility are pulling in different directions, where does that leave the MMO? Does the matter in question come back to the Secretary of State to decide? Who carries the ultimate responsibility to try to make sure that all the players are working towards the goal that they are trying to achieve?

That is a fair question, to which I was going to come later, but I am quite happy to answer it now. In addition to its duties laid down in the Bill, the MMO will operate in accordance with the new marine policy statement, which we will discuss under Part 3. That will set out policies and priorities for the marine area and how it should be managed to achieve sustainable development. In addition, as I have indicated, the MMO will be given guidance by the Secretary of State on the contribution that the Government expect it to make to achieving sustainable development.

The noble Baroness made the valid point at Second Reading and earlier in our debate today that a number of government departments will be concerned. She is absolutely right on that. Advisedly, I said that the guidance by the Secretary of State will be on the contribution that the Government expect the Marine Management Organisation to make. The marine policy statement will be a statement by the Government, so it will be informed by cross-government working to ensure that there is a co-ordinated government response, advice and statement. My understanding is that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be advised by a cross-government sponsorship group, to include senior officials from all departments with policy interests in the marine area, and will consult Cabinet colleagues as appropriate. The intent is clear: it is—to pick up the point that the noble Baroness raises—to ensure that there is consistency. She is right to make that point.

I thank the Minister for giving way, but there we have it: the marine policy statements can vary from Government to Government, and no doubt they will, and will have different emphases from different departments, as one has more clout than another. However, what we are talking about now is the legislation that is going through Parliament to protect marine areas and to guide subsequent government policy as to the will of Parliament on this legislation. That is why we cannot just sit here and wait for guidance to come from the Secretary of State on what is at the heart of the Bill.

I believe that the Minister’s department’s heart is in the right place and that he has to be guarded because of the cross-government interests, as he says. The Minister’s colleague Huw Irranca-Davies writes in the introduction to the recently published Defra report, Managing Our Marine ResourcesLicensing Under the Marine Bill:

“The changes we are making to the licensing and enforcement systems through the Marine Bill will … provide a clear proportionate regulatory system to protect the marine environment and allow low risk activities to take place where appropriate”.

It does not say “allow them to take place anyway” but puts the emphasis on protecting the marine environment. I gently ask the Minister to stick to Defra’s guns and to come down on the side of protecting the marine environment.

I do not think that anything that my colleague wrote in that report is at all inconsistent with the aim in the Bill that the Marine Management Organisation should contribute to sustainable development. Wearing my Defra hat, I am delighted that the noble Baroness is so enthusiastic for my department. However, she will know that—it is the very reason for the MMO being established, as noble Lords from her Front Bench have said—inevitably there are tensions. The MMO’s job is to resolve those tensions within the overall construct of the legislation, the marine policy statement and the guidance given by the Secretary of State. That is an entirely reasonable position for us to be in.

Does the Minister not understand that we are saying that we want more of that policy construct in the legislation and less of it to be dependent on the whims of a particular Secretary of State at any given time?

My Lords, I do not know anything about Secretaries of State and whims—I do not recognise that. There is always a balance to be struck between what should be in legislation and what should fall to guidance and secondary legislation. The Government believe that we have got the balance right and that the broad principles are here. We have the construct of the marine planning statements and guidance from the Secretary of State, which allows flexibility, which is also desirable. With the very strong statements that we are making and the duty laid down on the MMO to contribute to sustainable development, we think that we have got the balance right.

We believe that the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in seeking to give the MMO an expressly environmental purpose, would alter the character of the Marine Management Organisation. Our view is that the focus on sustainable development will ensure that that enjoys the confidence of all those with an interest in the sea. I have already debated with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, the question of the MMO acting to some degree as a referee. I am quite happy to accept that point. However, the provision has to be seen to be objective and to weigh up these different interests and balances within the guidance and within the marine policy statement.

We believe that emphasising—

Would the noble Lord give way for a moment? I know it is late at night. I will give an example that I was thinking of giving when supporting my amendment to crystallise for him in a practical way the situation that the Marine Management Organisation might find itself in. I will ask him to put himself in its shoes and think through what help he would need to be able to reach a decision that would not be hugely challenged and unsubstantiated. I hate to say that the ghastly example is the additional runway at Heathrow. Here is a real issue of major requirement and major demand—although, with the credit crunch, perhaps not for the next few years. There is a prediction that there will be huge requirement for additional air transport and the proposition is to create another runway at Heathrow. There are massive air pollution issues associated with that, apart from the amenity problems of additional flights and so on.

There is another proposition that says it should not be built at Heathrow but in the Thames estuary. I simply want to say the word “Maplin” for those noble Lords who are old enough to remember what trying to build an estuary airport involves. Just do not go there. There are other propositions that have good economic benefits and go for a more dispersed system—perhaps to build it at Gatwick and have a much more train-based feeder system into any additional airport. This is just the sort of debate that the Marine Management Organisation will be in with some very complex environmental, economic and social issues and no good answer. The only way that that decision will be adequately made in terms of Heathrow is by saying, “Look, we have to do this in a way that does not screw up the environment because that is not just for once, that is for ever”.

The Marine Management Organisation will be in that situation. The Minister Huw Irranca-Davies is very keen for this organisation to be a consensus-developing body, but when push comes to shove at the end of the day, as we have shown at Heathrow, there is sometimes a point where you cannot get a consensus and you have to have an overriding principle that says the first thing we have to protect for the long term is the environment. That is what is missing here.

The noble Baroness is laughing. We are old adversaries. I could not let the noble Baroness, Lady Young, get away with that. I understand where her heart is, and we have had many battles across the table in the past. To bring the third runway at Heathrow into this debate is stretching things a little. The noble Baroness is brilliant. She has done some fantastic work with the environment and I am a great admirer of hers, but I think that even by her standards that is raising the balloon a little high. I think that we should go to the Thames estuary for the third runway. Let us put that away; it is a personal issue. I think she knew that that is what I was going to say.

Perhaps I can give a slightly better, more relevant, example. The huge proliferation of wind farms has been concerning some of us. Some, who are keen on them, say that wind farms are a good renewable source of energy. However, Dr John Constable, research director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, was saying only on Saturday that wind farms grind to a halt; it has been too cold, so they did not circulate. He said that they are currently only generating to one-sixth of their capacity. In future, as we need more renewables, we will need more sources of back-up for when they are not working.

That is perhaps a better example than that of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. It will be quite testing. Should we continue to build offshore, or even onshore, wind farms when there are alternative sources of energy to meet our needs? I was certainly taken by the article, and suspect that it is one of many that will appear. On this occasion it was because it was cold; normally it is because the wind is not blowing. Because it was cold the wind was not blowing, so the turbines have not been going.

There are real issues for the MMO to look at with regard to energy and renewables. Wind farms will in some ways bring benefits, and be considered sustainable development. On the other hand, they may jeopardise some wildlife and natural habitats that we are trying to conserve. I offer that to the Minister for another round-up.

As I was saying, I will not respond on Heathrow at all; that is way above my pay grade. No doubt we will come back to discuss it in due course. Indeed, given the Bill’s progress, it is quite possible we will have a decision on Heathrow before we come to the end of deliberations in your Lordships’ House.

The fact is that the judgment that must be made on sustainable development should be the prime consideration. Of course the MMO will need to make each decision that it is called upon to make based on the available evidence, but that will be in line with its general objective and polices set out in the marine policy statement. As Members of the Committee have suggested, the weight that different policies are given may change over time as our understanding of human natural processes and needs, and their effect on us and each other, increases. The MMO will need to be flexible and adapt to difficult circumstances as they arise.

Of course, determining where environmental consideration should take priority, or where social or economic matters should take precedence, must take place. Ultimately, however, a Government, accountable to Parliament, should make that decision. Part 3 of the Bill provides for a marine policy statement and a series of marine plans. These documents will determine what our priorities and objectives should be for any area of the sea at any given time.

The use of the term,

“the promotion of sustainable development of the marine environment”,

implies a new function for the MMO: pressing others to ensure that they carry out their functions in line with sustainable development principles. This takes us back to our debate on the first group of amendments. Of course, the MMO will be a highly responsible organisation. It will, as I have said, work on the basis of the best evidence available and have access to the best scientific advice it can get through its advisory board, staff it employs and my own department’s scientific resources as well as others.

As the Bill says, we think that it is reasonable, appropriate and proportionate to say that the MMO’s role is to make a contribution in this regard. The definition of sustainable development is highly relevant to this issue. Noble Lords seek to define that term. The noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Tyler, seek to insert in the Bill a reference to the UK’s sustainable development strategy. My answer to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, is that which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, gave; namely, that our understanding of the concept of sustainable development has evolved over time and continues to evolve. We think that it would be unwise to attempt to define this term in primary legislation where it could remain fixed for many years to come. That is why we have taken a conscious decision not to define sustainable development in other UK legislation.

Although I prayed in aid the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in arguing against the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that the same argument applies to his amendment. However brilliant the UK sustainable development strategy is, it is likely that the Marine and Coastal Access Act will outlive it. Who is to say that there will always be a policy document with that name? If the terminology changes, the reference could be confusing or become redundant. For that reason we are not keen on either of the amendments.

The noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Tyler, wish to require the MMO to have regard to the desirability of mitigating and adapting to climate change. I am entirely sympathetic with what they are seeking to do. I reassure them that the desirability of mitigating and adapting to climate change and the other issues listed in the amendment are among a large number of factors that will be taken into account in drawing up the marine policy statement.

Noble Lords who enjoyed taking part in deliberations on the then Planning Bill will know that the Planning Act 2008 places certain duties on Ministers in relation to climate change when drawing up and designating national policy statements. Noble Lords will also be aware that the Climate Change Act 2008 sets legally binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. To meet those targets the Government have to ensure that if a policy results in greenhouse gas emissions going up in one area, they must go down in another. We have to assess all new policies for their potential carbon impacts. Under the Act the Government are required to publish policies and proposals that will enable them to meet their five-year carbon budgets. During the passage of the Climate Change Bill we argued that the global nature of the challenge makes it hard to see how a general mitigation duty on a public body could be meaningfully applied. Therefore, we believe that within the context of this Bill and other legislation recently passed there is sufficient provision to understand and take account of the climate change issues the noble Lord raised.

This is a very important debate. It is almost a Second Reading debate because it goes to the heart of what the Bill is about and the role of the Marine Management Organisation. I understand the points noble Lords are making about the critical nature of the environment, but we have to be aware of the difficulties and tensions inherent in taking decisions on the use of our seas. We think that the reference to contributing to sustainable development places the Marine Management Organisation in the proper place to make its decisions within the overall context of guidance by the Secretary of State and the marine policy statement.

I thank the Minister for that response and for his good-natured tolerance of the discursive nature of our debate. This has been perhaps the most important issue that we have discussed in Committee today. Unresolved, I think that it will continue to trouble us throughout the Bill, as it lies at the heart of so many of the other amendments that we are to consider in the future.

It has been a good debate, not only making a formidable critique of the current wording of the Bill, but exposing, if I might quote my noble friend Lady Byford, the wooliness with which the Minister has tried to deal and has attempted to firm up. The debate has also exposed that there are subtle differences in various noble Lords’ positions. It does the Bill and your Lordships’ House credit that we are honest about these things but, notwithstanding that, there is a need to return to this wording. I hope that the Minister will accept that.

I listened very carefully to what the Minister said. At one point, he used the phrase, “does not quite capture”. The general objective should be a source of inspiration; it is “the vision thing”, as we are so often told. The Minister rather encouraged me by using the phrase, “the wording at the moment”. I hope that it is possible to return to this matter—

I was just about to depart feeling rather good. Let us hope that perhaps it is the wording for the moment, because while I shall withdraw the amendment, I am fairly certain that the Committee will wish to return to this issue. As I said, I think that we will find it cropping up throughout many of the amendments that we have ahead of us. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 21 withdrawn.

Amendments 22 to 30 not moved.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 9.52 pm.