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Marine and Coastal Access Bill [HL]

Volume 707: debated on Wednesday 28 January 2009

Committee (3rd Day)(Continued)

Amendment 85A

Moved by

85A: Clause 42, page 21, line 38, at end insert—

“( ) In determining the policies that are to be stated in an MPS, the policy authority must have particular regard to—

(a) the need to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and(b) the need to maintain a secure and safe supply of energy.”

Amendment 85A would insert a little more detail into the Bill. I am very grateful to the Minister for his very full explanation of an MPS, how it will evolve and the background against which it will be considered. I hope he sees this as an opportunity to elaborate on the somewhat more truncated debate that we had just before dinner.

Marine policy statements, which are established in Clause 42, are apparently intended to contain the answer to several questions that we have already asked the Minister about how the relevant bodies will balance the competing interests of those involved in the marine environment. Much as our Amendment 33 highlighted the working of the Marine Management Organisation, the policy authorities that we are considering now are, of course, subject to similar conflicting advice and lobbying from various stakeholders. As with the MMO, the priorities that policy authorities will give to the various interests are of the utmost importance to those who have an interest in this area. The Government have laid out some of their intentions in the glossy publications that are littering my desk—it is not difficult to litter my desk as it is littered most of the time—but priorities can be changed and pamphlets can be reprinted. Ministers and Governments come and go, as we know. Government press releases in no way replicate the certainty and security that clearer legislation would provide.

The two concerns highlighted by the amendment—reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring the security of our energy supply—have both been very much in the forefront of people’s minds recently. With the recent difficulties over gas supplies from Ukraine, our warnings about the vulnerabilities of our energy network are finally finding a more sympathetic audience on the Benches opposite. Energy security has risen up the Government’s agenda. Similarly, the Government have recently come round to a more accurate appreciation of the importance of addressing climate change. But this may not last. Once people start turning off their central heating for a few months, or once the taxes that this Government will impose to pay for their solutions to the credit crunch start to bite, those priorities will be replaced by others. If the Government allow their commitment to addressing climate change to be weakened, it will be disastrous. The Government are relying on private investment into the energy market to supply the secure, low-carbon energy we need. Without legislative certainty, how can the Minister expect businesses to stump up the cash that is needed? Investors will be looking for commitment that is enshrined in law.

The list of areas which the policy authorities should rightly be forced to have regard to is much longer than the two I have laid down. Indeed, if we go back to Amendment 33, we see a list of some 10 factors. I do not seek to write the detail of marine policy statements in these amendments, but the two that I have indicated are key factors which the MPS should be obliged to address. It is an opportunity to enshrine these two factors into the legislative process that we have today. Notably, the Government have commitments in the area of marine conservation as well, but the two I have highlighted link up with two of the Government’s recent Acts—the Climate Change Act and the Energy Act—and because of commercial uncertainty, they particularly need legislative safeguards. These amendments link these two important Acts, which we supported. The lack of any detail in the Bill on current and future government policy will be counterproductive and will make any government commitment to a meaningful marine policy weak and susceptible to change. I beg to move.

I am very conscious that, having missed the whole of the Committee stage so far because of the clash with the Grand Committee on the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill, taking place in the Moses Room, I may well fall into the trap of repeating arguments which have already been made or showing how little I have understood, because I have not had the opportunity of listening to the previous stages, nor, indeed—through illness—of reading Hansard. I start with that apology and ask for forgiveness in advance if I appear to be particularly thick on some of these issues.

I am, of course, aware that there have been debates on sustainable development and what that means in this particular context, and that there will be more. I was immediately struck by the noble Lord’s choice of these items, which seem to undermine the notion of sustainable development in that they focus on a very important part of it, but at the risk of dismissing another part. Recently we have spent a lot of time on Bills—particularly the Planning Bill—considering the danger of creating lists. I do not know whether two items constitute a list; they probably constitute an inchoate list.

It will be welcome if I support the noble Lord, but it might not be as welcome in half an hour. Who knows?

In that case I will certainly rise to support my noble friend’s two amendments. While I accept the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on lists, it is important that this Bill has regard to some things that are crucial at the moment. One of these is climate change and the other is security of supply. When the Joint Committee took evidence, I questioned the then Minister for Energy and the Defra Minister about the way the Government’s thinking was going. We had talked about being able to get energy from different sources, including wind, wave, tide and all the others that go with them. I questioned the Minister at that stage on the role that nuclear power could play. This is hugely important.

Clearly, if nuclear energy came in more quickly, we would not be faced with some of the very difficult choices that the Government currently face. In other words, would a Severn barrage be necessary if there were enough nuclear supply? Would more wind farms be really necessary? As the Minister knows, I raised in this House about a month ago the question of production from wind farms. During the winter, over Christmas when it was so cold and there was very little wind, the person from the association acknowledged that wind power needed back-up. It could not produce the energy that we needed at that time. Although the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is not minded to support this amendment—perhaps because of the list—it is enormously important that we consider it in the overall context of climate change and energy security.

I may be misjudging the noble Baroness, but perhaps she is trying to reconcile the balance between that and the protection of wildlife and the environment. She and I—and, I am sure, my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach—are very conscious of the needs of wildlife. All of us on the Joint Committee particularly tried to strike a balance on that.

I am perhaps slightly promoting nuclear because that in itself does not raise the difficulties that, for example, the Severn barrage would for wildlife and conservation lower down the river, or some of the enormous wind farms that are proposed out at sea, which could affect wildlife in its entirety. I am not wedded to one particular way, but my noble friend’s amendment has given us a chance to think a little wider, and would be a welcome addition to the Bill by making us think again about our responsibilities to our communities. I still think that the Government’s main responsibility is to defend them and to feed them and, having done that, to make sure that communities have enough energy to be able to have a daily living. That is the reason for these amendments at this stage of the Bill.

The Minister may not be able to take them on, but I hope that he takes the drift and the thrust behind them, because we clearly have responsibilities to ourselves as humankind and, as I would put it, to God’s creation, the natural life. There is a balance to be struck somewhere and I commend my noble friend on his amendments.

The furthest that I could go towards agreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, is to say that we should certainly aim to harness as much as we can the renewable elements of marine energy. She has prompted me to get to my feet to question a couple of things. First, she said that marine wind farms would damage wildlife; actually, the evidence so far from the Thames array and the initial assessments of other wind farms suggests that the pillars on which they sit are likely to create extra habitats. Even the RSPB does not argue that they damage birds, so I wonder just where the damage to wildlife that she foresees will come from.

Secondly, the case has not been proven for nuclear, although I do not want to get into that debate now. The noble Baroness mentioned the Severn barrage and big offshore wind farms, such as the one likely to be built north of Lundy. If a project went ahead—I am not a solid barrage supporter, but we must harness the power of the Severn by some tidal method, whether by tidal lagoons or the softer tidal reef that was referred to—and if the large wind farm is built, the grid will not support a developed Hinckley or any other nuclear power station in the south-west. That will be automatically ruled out. I simply ask the noble Baroness: is it not better to have a free source of energy from the waves, the tides and the wind than one that will cost us for ever, because we will have to dispose of nuclear waste?

One of the problems with this amendment—I have raised this before—is that a lot of the planned energy-producing projects that have been mentioned, like the Severn barrage or the larger wind farms, will not come under the scope of this Bill; they will come under the Planning Act.

It may seem a bit novel, but I should like to address the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach. Much as I admire him and support many of his amendments, this is not one of them. First, I thank the Minister for his useful note on the marine policy statement that he circulated a few days ago, because it encapsulates how I feel—that by highlighting renewable energy, climate change and energy security we are putting the emphasis in the wrong place. You might have expected that I would feel like that because of the statements I made when we were talking about the objectives of the MMO and the need for the marine Bill to focus on what it started off being about—the conservation of the marine environment.

Indeed, I was delighted to see from the Minister’s explanatory note on marine policy statements that it will set out the UK’s vision for the marine area as a clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse sea within the framework of sustainable development. The marine policy statements should focus on that. They will have to say important things about a whole variety of policies, but if the Bill gives special consideration to climate change and energy security, that will downgrade some of these other very important objectives that the marine Bill was originally intended to promote. Much as I believe in the importance of tackling energy security and climate change, I would hesitate to elevate them above other objectives.

This has been an extremely interesting and wide-ranging debate. I wondered how the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, would get food security in, but she managed it just at the end of her contribution. On the one hand, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, suggested, perhaps many of the offshore renewable developments might not fall within the remit of the MMO but will go over the threshold and be considered by the Infrastructure Planning Commission. None the less, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has done us a great service by introducing some of the considerations that inevitably lie within the marine planning environment, albeit that they are not the only considerations, which is the essential point of the argument.

In terms of commercial certainty, I agree that we require a huge amount of investment in energy over the next 10 or 20 years. We are talking about tens of billions of pounds. As much stability and certainty as possible is conducive to that investment. The Government have provided a good framework and certainty for companies to invest, through recent planning legislation and the Energy Act. It is also clear that we need a lot of renewable energy. The provisional European target for this country is 15 per cent of energy by 2020, which equates to about 30 or 33 per cent of electricity generation. The figure at the moment is that about 5 per cent of electricity is generated through renewables, so we must see a huge expansion, in which offshore has a major contribution to make, as I hope will marine energy, if we can take advantage of the technological lead that the UK has at present. Many lessons can be learnt from previous situations in which the UK has had a technological lead but has not translated it into major development with a positive impact on jobs, skills and future investment.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that the Climate Change Act, with our commitment to an 80 per cent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2050, sets out this country’s determination to play our part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in mitigating climate change and in giving international leadership, particularly as we move towards the critical talks in Copenhagen. On the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, nuclear has a major role to play in the future, but I do not see it as a substitution for what we hope to achieve in renewables. We wish to see a balance.

I am grateful to the Minister for that. I see a balance, too, but I believe that nuclear could play a bigger part and help us in conserving our wildlife. That was why I raised the matter in the committee when we had the opportunity to talk to Ministers about it. It seemed to me then, as a mere Back-Bencher, that we have one department doing one thing and another doing another thing, and then this Bill comes through. Clearly, if we can have a concerted effort, we can have better solutions. Personally, I do not rule out a barrage, but I think that it brings problems with it. On the construction side, there is clearly a climate change/emissions balance; whatever construction goes ahead, one is clearly looking for such a balance. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, that I was not suggesting that the nuclear station should be down at Hinkley, when other sites not in sensitive areas would not fall within the remit of these discussions. We recognise the serious future demands for us to produce enough energy, particularly from renewables. However, when I was listening to what was going on in the committee, it seemed that nuclear was not included, when I felt that it could, perhaps, contribute quite well.

I certainly accept that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, was not suggesting Hinkley as the only site, but at least two of the sites are on the Severn. That would create the same grid problems, particularly as Scotland has counted itself out. Even if you accept the economic case, which I do not, or the energy efficiency case, which I do not, the number of sites is limited.

Life has moved on a bit since the committee met, because with the takeover of British Energy by EDF and its firm proposals on new nuclear—with the first new station coming on stream in 2017, if I remember rightly—I have every confidence that we will see the kind of developments that the noble Baroness wants. There are also indications that other companies are interested in investing in new nuclear. On the other hand, we know that all but one nuclear power station is due for decommissioning by 2025, so the new developments taking place will tend to replace existing nuclear development. That is why it is important to do everything that we can to encourage renewables, too. There has to be a balance.

The noble Baroness raised a question about the grid. Access to the grid is a very important matter. Having met a number of renewables companies, I know that there is concern on that. She will know, however, that there has been a transmission review by Ofgem and that we are clearly exercised by the issue of access to the grid. We wish to ensure appropriate access to it, particularly where offshore renewables are likely to be developed.

On the Severn tidal power issues, noble Lords may have seen the announcement on Monday, when the Department of Energy and Climate Change produced a shortlist—essentially, a mixture of barrages and innovative lagoon schemes. Importantly, we also announced £500,000 of new funding to further develop embryonic technologies such as reefs and fences. The progress of those technologies will be considered before decisions are taken on whether to go ahead with a Severn tidal power scheme.

It is interesting to reflect on what my right honourable friend Ed Miliband said in making that announcement. He said:

“We have tough choices to make. Failing to act on climate change could see catastrophic effects on the environment and its wildlife, but the estuary itself is a protected environment, home to vulnerable species including birds and fish. We need to think about how to balance the value of this unique natural environment against the long-term threat of global climate change. It is vital we seek public views and collect all information we need to make sure our climate change actions are ambitious yet fair”.

I also reflect on the message from the Welsh Assembly Government Minister for the Environment, Sustainability and Housing, Jane Davidson, who said:

“Harnessing the power of the Severn Estuary tides could make a significant contribution towards achieving the UK targets for renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions, but we must ensure that environmental issues are taken fully into account”.

That fairly reflects the balance here. In view of our previous debate about devolution and the concern that this will not all hang together, it is good that we have had the same response from the Welsh Assembly Government in respect of the Severn. That encourages me for the future.

Perhaps I should now turn to the amendment. In preparing a marine policy statement, we must consider an extremely wide range of issues and policies. The intention is to bring together all policies capable of having an impact on the marine area. This is the first time that that has occurred and, at the end of it, we want a coherent and integrated statement of policy that will make a real contribution to the achievement of sustainable development in the UK marine area.

Clause 42(1)(a) explains that the marine policy statement will state general policies that contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the marine area. To do that, the policy authorities will need to consider a wide range of factors when drawing up the statement, such as the legislative commitments, national policies and targets relating to the marine area covering sectors ranging from fisheries, oil and gas, offshore energy and ports. They will need to consider information and trends on different uses, the resulting pressures and likely changes. They will need to consider how to deal with interactions in uses and what guidance to provide to decision-makers to help them to resolve priorities. They will also need to consider the interface between the land and sea and the policy on regional and international interfaces.

Naturally, some policies feature higher in our consciousness than others at any given time. Mitigation of climate change and security of energy supply are foremost in our minds and they will be two major considerations when the MPS is being prepared. As the noble Lord knows, the Climate Change Act imposes a duty to lay before this House and the other place a programme of policies and proposals that contribute to the achievement of sustainable development and set out how we will respond to the risks facing the UK as a result of climate change. Clearly, those policies and programmes will need to be reflected in our marine policy statement. The same applies to our policies on energy and security of supply. We are already engaged in producing national policy statements under the Planning Act that will set out policies on national energy infrastructure.

We do not dispute the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions or of ensuring a secure energy supply for the UK. As a Minister in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, I know that that goes to the heart of what the department is about and why it was established. Our concern, which the noble Baronesses, Lady Miller, Lady Hamwee and Lady Young, identified, is that we fear that the amendment would change the overall context and focus of the marine policy statement by setting the contribution to the achievement of sustainable development within the specific context of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and securing energy supply.

As I said, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the security of energy supply, alongside all the other important issues, such as conservation, marine industries, marine heritage and coastal communities, ought to be considered in the round. The duty contained in the marine policy statement and the fact that it must contribute to sustainable development set the right context and balance.

Although we have spent some time on particular debate, it is an important one, as it goes to the heart of what marine planning statements and marine plans are about. On that basis, it has been an extremely useful debate.

Perhaps because we are post-dinner, the Committee has, at times, seemed to be all over the place and has taken a bit of a walkabout. I feel like the chap at the sheepdog trial, with everyone scattered all over the place. However, we all know that we are not very far apart on these issues. There must be possibilities for achieving what all we want from this Bill.

As I think the Minister accepts, I was genuinely trying to be helpful in tabling these amendments. The Bill needs to have clear statements. I could have produced, as the Minister well knows, an Amendment 33-type list, which would have included all the factors referred to by the noble Baronesses on the Liberal Democrat Benches. However, the Minister advised me that that was not a good idea. Two does not really constitute a list, just the beginning of one.

I sense that this almost takes us back to Clause 2. Here we see the dilemma. Noble Lords are not satisfied with Clause 2, because it has a lot of technical language. They are not satisfied with the words, “contributing to … sustainable development”. The noble Lord is trying to put a bit of flesh on that, but we immediately run into problems, because he has picked two particular issues, whereas other noble Lords would like to see others included. We find it difficult to put a definition of sustainable development in the Bill, for reasons that I have given in the past two days. I do not pretend that this is easy. I know that noble Lords around the Committee are working hard to come up with some other definition. All I can say is that the Government would be happy and willing to talk to noble Lords on this matter. I recognise that there is concern, particularly about Clause 2. However, it is not easy to find a resolution.

I thank the Minister, because I was just going on to say that the phrasing in Clause 42(1)(a)—

“contributing to the achievement of sustainable development”—

is the very wording that we condemned in Clause 2. We said that it was not strong enough and not what the Bill should be about. This is not what the marine planning statement should be about, either. It should be a bit more beefy. The idea behind the amendment derived from a concept that the Committee has accepted before, which is that this Bill is part of a daisy chain of legislation: the Climate Change Act, the Energy Act, the Planning Act and now the marine Bill all coming together.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, was concerned that the marine planning statement could not consider marine development over 100 megawatts because a national planning statement would deal with that. I would like the Minister to say, if he is able to, that the marine policy statement would have to incorporate even those things on which it did not make the final determining factor. Marine policy statements should have a policy on all activity. Indeed, Clause 42(1)(a) talks about,

“the achievement of sustainable development in the UK marine area”.

I have read this carefully and I do not think that the fact that these matters are not within the competence of the MMO excludes the marine policy statement from considering them.

I am not sure that that is what the noble Lord said. I thought that he meant the power to give consent in relation to offshore renewables that went above the threshold which fell to the IPC. The marine policy statement will, I suspect, be a rather more general statement. As I have said already, I expect and confirm that it will be consistent with any national policy statement on renewable energy. The IPC will also be informed by advice that it is given by the Marine Management Organisation.

I am encouraged by the Minister’s comment, because it removes some anxiety that the marine policy statement would not necessarily be comprehensive in the marine area. It reinforces the argument—a very good thing—that the MMO has a key role in the policy decisions that affect even the elements that currently under legislation fall to the IPC. It is very important that we emphasise this.

This is an important area of the Bill. I hope that noble Lords who have somewhat criticised my particular focus recognise that it has a purpose.

I apologise to the noble Lord for intervening, but I have been thinking about what the Minister just said and would like him to elucidate one point. He said that the marine policy statement would cover renewable energy. Would it not cover all energy, including oil and gas?

I was attempting to respond to the debate, which has essentially been about renewables. The marine policy statement will be very wide and will embrace many factors. Our slight contretemps is that, within this and alongside it, there are the provisions of the Energy Act and the thresholds under which certain nationally significant infrastructure projects—I hope that I have the terminology right—fall to be decided by the IPC. One achieves consistency through both the marine policy statement and the national policy statement. As I said in debates on the Planning Bill, we must ensure consistency between the two.

It has been useful to have that further elaboration, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, for making that clear. Indeed, my amendment does not actually say “renewable energy”; it talks about:

“the need to maintain a secure and safe supply of energy”,

which is absolute across the board.

Encouraged by the Minister, I suspect—at least, I hope—that we will come back to this area, because it will tie up with any amendments to Clause 2. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 85A withdrawn.

Amendment 85AA

Moved by

85AA: Clause 42, page 22, line 2, after “MPS” insert “or in another MPS”

In moving Amendment 85AA, I will also speak to Amendments 85AB and 89AA.

This is an almost seamless continuation of the previous debate. I tabled these amendments to understand how the consistency between the various marine policy statements and the national policy statements will be achieved.

The Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, referred to Clause 2, which is about the Marine Management Organisation. One question here is about how the MMO will be involved in the creation of the marine policy statements. But that is not the focus of these amendments. I appreciate that there will be marine policy statements for discrete areas, although I noted that the Minister was referring to “the” statement. I am not sure whether he anticipates that there will be several or one, but I am particularly concerned about conflict. The MPSs must contribute,

“to the achievement of sustainable development in the UK marine area”.

I was in the Moses Room so I missed the debate on Clause 40 and my noble friend Lady Miller’s amendments exploring where the boundaries are. I will read that with interest. I wondered after I had tabled the amendment, and too late to do anything about it, whether I should have included as an issue here that we are talking about sustainable development in the UK, period, or of the UK, including the marine area.

There seem to be a number of examples of possible conflict. In the best of all worlds, there will be no conflict. The policy statements under this legislation and under the Planning Act will emerge with no inconsistencies between them. But how do we get from here to there? Energy is an obvious area where there could well be conflict. A development, such as a wind farm or barrage, in one geographical area may affect another geographical area. A development which will contribute to the reduction in emissions may be good for everybody on the land but may raise issues about the effect on the immediate marine environment. Access to the grid was also referred to in the previous debate.

I am pretty sure my amendments to Clause 42 are not the answer but at least they enable me to raise the question and to probe the Minister’s optimism. Amendment 89AA is essentially the same point as applied to marine plans rather than marine policy statements. I beg to move.

The noble Baroness raises a number of important points. I am sure there is no intention on the Government’s part to produce inconsistent policies, but with so many departments involved and different marine policy statements and national policy statements being produced, it would be extremely surprising if Ministers did not occasionally feel that their desired outcomes did not mesh as well as they had hoped with statements already produced.

I am in a slight muddle and I need clarification. The Defra document, A Strategy for promoting an integrated approach to the management of coastal areas in England, says on page 12:

“The UK Marine Policy Statement,”—

in the singular—

“to be agreed by Government departments and the Devolved Administrations, will articulate our joint vision and objectives”.

It seems to say there is going to be just one marine policy statement, one document, for all the devolved powers. The dilemma is that Clause 42 refers to marine policy statements, which confuses me. The Minister also talked about marine policy statements on the last amendment, which makes you think, “Hang on, there is going to be more than one”. Then you wonder whether they will be like national policy statements, where there will be 12 or 15—one for renewable energy and one for airwaves, et cetera. So I am afraid that I am slightly confused. It is probably my fault and it probably is crystal clear to other Members of the Committee, but I am afraid not to me. I should like clarification on that.

Will the Minister please give the Committee a little more detail on how he envisages the statement or statements being produced? Will they be drafted in the separate departments and circulated to others for approval? How will the different departmental responsibilities be resolved where the statements overlap, bearing in mind that at least six government departments are involved in the marine area? Any contradiction between marine policy statement or statements will, I hope, be spotted by the MMO before any real confusion is caused. Where marine policy statements interlink with national policy statements, the results could be more damaging. I hope that the Government will consider carefully the noble Baroness’s amendment.

Again, this continues our discussion of marine policy statements. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that in the debate just before the break I outlined some of the points she raised. I understand the problems that she and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, have had, so I will just briefly set out for them that, essentially, the marine planning system is a two-stage approach: first a UK marine policy statement and then a series of marine plans to apply the policies in the policy statement to particular geographical areas. Decisions on licensing and consents in the marine area will then have to be taken in accordance with the marine policy statement and the plans.

The marine policy statement is to be agreed by the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, to which the noble Earl referred. I will come to the question of one policy statement in a moment. The UK Government and the devolved Administrations are called the policy authorities in the Bill. They comprise the Secretary of State, Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers and the Department of Environment in Northern Ireland. The Bill does not change the devolution settlement, but it provides for a form of executive devolution, which will allow the devolved Administrations to produce comprehensive plans with the agreement of the Secretary of State.

I reiterate that the marine policy statement will cover the whole of the UK marine area. If, as we intend, all four Administrations agree the marine policy statement, there is no question that we will deliver consistency throughout the United Kingdom. Significant incentives are built into the system to encourage co-operation between us, but it is a fact of devolution that we cannot require other Administrations to agree with us. Therefore, we have to provide for devolved Administrations to opt out of the marine policy statement and for the Secretary of State to work alone if that is necessary. Clearly, that would be a matter of great regret and would diminish very much what we hope to achieve through the legislation.

The purpose of the noble Baroness’s amendments is to ensure that, should there be a conflict between the policies laid down in the MPS and another MPS or with any national policy statement, the policy in the MPS always takes precedence. Partly, the noble Baroness is debating the MPS, but she is also taking us back to a significant debate we had last week about the relationship between the MMO and the IPC. However, that is to misunderstand the purpose of the subsection, which is to promote internal consistency within the marine policy statement and to specify what should take precedence if there is an apparent conflict within the statement, rather than dealing with conflicts between the MPS and external documents.

Turning to Amendment 85AA, and in response to the noble Earl, it is important to emphasise that there will only ever be one marine policy statement at any one time, anywhere in the UK marine area. Clause 43(3) makes clear that a later MPS will always replace an earlier one, so that it is not possible to have two at the same time. This is to ensure clarity for decision makers. An MPS either exists and guides decision making in the region that has adopted it, or it does not.

Amendments 85AB and 89AA take us into familiar territory, and concern the need for consistency, and the relative importance of the MPS, marine plans and national policy statements in the marine area. This falls outside the scope of the two subsections that are the target of these amendments. Clauses 42(3) and 49(6) are about internal consistency within the MPS or plan, not about consistency and conflict resolution with other expressions of policy. I have said a number of times that we are fully committed to ensuring consistency between the marine policy statement and the national policy statement. I hope that I have clarified the position for the noble Baroness and that she might consider withdrawing her amendment.

I will certainly withdraw the amendment. The determination of the Government to ensure consistency is not in doubt from what the Minister says. However, I am still a little unclear about how the legislation will support that. I appreciate that a good deal of debate has gone before this evening’s exchanges that I may be ignoring. I wrote down the Minister’s comment on the list of policy authorities:

“If, as we intend, all four Administrations agree”.

I thought I was the Pollyanna around here, but I am clearly in good company. I will read what the Minister has said, to make sure that I understand the process, as distinct from the intent. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 85AA.

Amendment 85AA withdrawn.

Amendment 85AB not moved.

Clause 42 agreed.

Before I call the next group of amendments, I have to inform the House that there is a printing error in the list of grouped amendments. Amendment 86GDE should read 86GZE.

Clause 43 : Preparation and coming into force of statement

Amendment 85B

Moved by

85B: Clause 43, page 22, line 12, leave out “may only” and insert “must”

I had worked out the printing error earlier. We are all accustomed to hunting round on the Marshalled List when we have long groups of amendments. It did seem that that was the likely explanation. Amendments 85BB, 85DZA, 85DA, 85DB, 86GZA, 86GZB, 86GZC, 86GZD, 86GZE and 86GZF are grouped with Amendment 85B. Amendment 85BA has been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach.

The first of the amendments comes from a coalition of organisations called the Wildlife and Countryside Link. It is appropriate for me to list at this point the members of that coalition: Buglife, the Herpetological Conservation Trust, the Marine Conservation Society, the RSPB, the Wildlife Trust, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and the WWF. Amendment 85B would impose a requirement to produce the marine policy statement, not just a power to do so. There is a concern that despite the enormous amount of work that has gone into the Bill to get it to this stage, without an obligation the MPS and the associated marine plans may not be produced.

In the previous exchange, we referred to obtaining agreement from all the Administrations. The Government’s response to the report of the Joint Committee indicated that it was their clear intention to create an MPS within two years of Royal Assent, as the Minister has just stated. We have been asked by the coalition to obtain an assurance from the Dispatch Box regarding the timetable rather than seek to put a specific date in the Bill. It may well reflect how misguided I am in the other amendments in the group when I read the comments on the last group, but Amendment 85DZA to Clause 44 would require every policy authority to review the MPS, not just the authority or authorities that prepared and adopted it, and that an authority which did not prepare it would have the power to delegate the function, so these two amendments should be read together.

I could not follow whether Clause 46 covered every permutation of policy authorities which could prepare the MPS, and, because I became so confused over that, I was not entirely satisfied about whether the Secretary of State might have—I shall put it this way—undue power as between himself and the devolved Administrations. The Minister will be familiar with our concern, which he may think stretches to paranoia, that the Secretary of State should not have more power than we think is proper. It occurred to me to ask whether the Minister has a flowchart to show the combinations of authorities which can prepare, amend and withdraw the MPS, and whether one policy authority can commit or overrule another.

The Bill is helpful in this respect. Clause 42(4) states that,

“‘policy authority’ means any of the following—

(a) the Secretary of State;

(b) the Scottish Ministers;

(c) the Welsh Ministers;

(d) the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland”.

I am grateful for that, but nevertheless I seek to understand how it will work with the other clauses because it means, as he says, any of them, which raises the question of the relationships between them. That is even more so if there is to be a single MPS, and is why I have tabled these amendments. They are not elegant, but I wish to raise the issue. I beg to move.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling the amendments. The most important is the first in the group. Amendment 85B would insert a duty on the Secretary of State and the policy authorities to produce the marine policy statement, rather than leaving it open as an option—although I am sure that that is not the Government’s intention. There is a strong possibility that disagreements and confusions will arise between the policy authorities when agreeing the UK marine policy statement, and any delay will presumably knock on to other critical parts of the Bill. So much cannot be done without the policy statement: plans cannot be produced, development cannot be authorised and conservation zones cannot be designated.

Later amendments will give us the opportunity to explore the detail of the MPS procedure, particularly the possibility of disagreement or derogation from the plans. At the moment, though, I shall focus on the possibility of early failure. It is clear that an MPS involving all the policy authorities acting jointly, as Clause 43(1)(a) makes possible, would be by far the best option, but the possibility of one or more authority taking their own route must be considered. My amendment in this group seeks to probe just what attempts the Secretary of State must make to ensure agreement. The term “invited” in subsection (2) is very vague. At what point is the decision made that a joint MPS is not possible?

I look forward to hearing from the Minister what stage the Government are at in the MPS’s development. Are they developing it together with the other authorities, or are they on their own at the moment, hoping that the others will sign up to it later on? I see no reason why this process cannot be started now, as it involves the Secretary of State, the Scottish and Welsh Ministers and the Department of Environment in Northern Ireland. How much time will the Government take to overcome disagreements between authorities? The Government have expressed their hope that the marine policy statement will be complete within two years of Royal Assent. Will that be postponed if agreement is hard to come by, or will they carry on regardless on their own?

This is a good group with which to end our deliberations today. It gets down to the nitty-gritty of how this is going to work in practice. I reiterate that we have every expectation that it will be possible to produce a marine policy statement embracing the whole of the United Kingdom with the support of the UK Government and all the devolved Administrations. If that is not possible, we have provision in the Bill to deal with that eventuality, but we are confident that it will be possible. Ministers always stand here and resist the use of the word “must”, but the noble Earl should be in no doubt that we are committed to preparing a marine policy statement; we want it to be jointly agreed and published by all the UK Administrations.

The noble Earl has reiterated the point that he made regarding the group that we were debating before when he asked about some of the practicalities of how this will be done. There has already been close contact with officials from all four Administrations and I assure him that that will continue. All the Administrations will have points that they wish to bring to the table and within the UK Government there are different departments. The aim, however, is to involve everyone as early as possible in order to get the kind of ownership, expertise and experience that will come from different parts of the country.

Our problem with the amendment is that it would go against the whole principle of how we should take this forward, by removing the requirement for the Secretary of State to invite the devolved Administrations to participate in preparing a marine policy statement. It would also be difficult and unusual to impose a statutory duty on all four policy authorities to jointly agree an MPS. It is possible that, despite our best efforts, agreement on an MPS may not be reached. It is difficult to place a requirement in law that all the policy authorities hold the same policies for marine matters. We have to have a construct in the Bill that encourages that agreement. The Bill has a fall-back position if it is not possible to reach agreement, but we must do everything we can to ensure that agreement is reached.

I understand why Members of the Committee are concerned. Bringing together the devolution settlement and our collective intention of making this marine Bill work and have consistency is clearly a formidable challenge. Only so much can be achieved by legislation. It also depends on the different parties working well together. All four Administrations have lots of incentives to make it work together. All the signs that we have seen in the past few months are positive in that direction. While I cannot stand here and guarantee that a marine policy statement will be produced that commands the support of all parties concerned, I assure Members of the Committee that we will work as hard as we can to achieve that. In so doing, we will want to work very closely and invite early participation of the devolved Administrations in the work that needs to be undertaken.

Before the noble Baroness responds, I totally accept what the Minister says: we are all trying desperately to ensure that we get a common, agreed theme. However, the Minister mentioned the fall-back position. Can he elaborate on that?

Clause 43 says:

“An MPS may only be prepared by—

(a) all the policy authorities, acting jointly,”—

that is the preferred option—

“(b) the Secretary of State and any one or more other policy authorities, acting jointly”—

which would apply when, perhaps, one policy authority has not been able to join in—or the Secretary of State. That is a fall-back position, but the problem with it is that, while a marine policy statement can still be prepared and published as a statement for the whole United Kingdom, it will not have as much force as one would like in those areas where the devolved Administrations have authority. That is why we much prefer to use Clause 43(1)(a): that the MPS,

“be prepared by … all the policy authorities, acting jointly”.

I well appreciate that the Government cannot require agreement in legislation or in fact. The Minister has referred to working between officials, but there are different political imperatives and priorities. I asked about the timetable. Can the Minister say anything about that at this stage?

It sounds like a good year. There is a lot that I have not been able to take into account—it is in Hansard but not yet in my head. My noble friend Lord Greaves has several times told the Committee on the local democracy Bill that he has been reading Hansard in bed. I do not intend to do that but I will read it before we resume the Committee stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 85B withdrawn.

Amendments 85BA and 85BB not moved.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 10 pm.