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Marine and Coastal Access Bill [HL]

Volume 711: debated on Monday 8 June 2009

Third Reading

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, have consented to place their prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Before Clause 23, insert the following new Clause—

“MMO’s role in relation to applications for development consent

(1) The Planning Act 2008 (c. 29) is amended as set out in subsections (2) to (6).

(2) In section 42 (duty to consult about proposed applications for orders granting development consent)—

(a) the existing provision is renumbered as subsection (1);(b) in that subsection, after paragraph (a) insert—“(aa) the Marine Management Organisation, in any case where the proposed development would affect, or would be likely to affect, any of the areas specified in subsection (2),”;(c) after subsection (1) insert—“(2) The areas are—

(a) waters in or adjacent to England up to the seaward limits of the territorial sea;(b) an exclusive economic zone, except any part of an exclusive economic zone in relation to which the Scottish Ministers have functions;(c) a Renewable Energy Zone, except any part of a Renewable Energy Zone in relation to which the Scottish Ministers have functions;(d) an area designated under section 1(7) of the Continental Shelf Act 1964, except any part of that area which is within a part of an exclusive economic zone or Renewable Energy Zone in relation to which the Scottish Ministers have functions.”(3) In consequence of the amendments made by subsection (2) of this section—

(a) the heading to section 43 becomes “Local authorities for purposes of section 42(1)(b)”, and(b) the heading to section 44 becomes “Categories for purposes of section 42(1)(d)”.(4) In section 55 (acceptance of applications), in subsection (5), in the definition of “local authority consultee”—

(a) for “section 42(b)” substitute “section 42(1)(b)”;(b) for “section 42(c)” substitute “section 42(1)(c)”.(5) In section 56 (duty to notify persons of accepted applications)—

(a) in subsection (2), after paragraph (a) insert—“(aa) the Marine Management Organisation, in any case where the development for which the application seeks development consent would involve the carrying on of any activity in one or more of the areas specified in subsection (2A),”;(b) after subsection (2) insert—“(2A) The areas are—

(a) waters in or adjacent to England up to the seaward limits of the territorial sea;(b) an exclusive economic zone, except any part of an exclusive economic zone in relation to which the Scottish Ministers have functions;(c) a Renewable Energy Zone, except any part of a Renewable Energy Zone in relation to which the Scottish Ministers have functions;(d) an area designated under section 1(7) of the Continental Shelf Act 1964, except any part of that area which is within a part of an exclusive economic zone or Renewable Energy Zone in relation to which the Scottish Ministers have functions.”(6) In section 102 (definition of “interested party” etc)—

(a) in subsection (1), after paragraph (b) insert—“(ba) the person is the Marine Management Organisation and the development for which the application seeks development consent would involve the carrying on of any activity in one or more of the areas specified in subsection (1A),”;(b) after subsection (1) insert—“(1A) The areas are—

(a) waters in or adjacent to England up to the seaward limits of the territorial sea;(b) an exclusive economic zone, except any part of an exclusive economic zone in relation to which the Scottish Ministers have functions;(c) a Renewable Energy Zone, except any part of a Renewable Energy Zone in relation to which the Scottish Ministers have functions;(d) an area designated under section 1(7) of the Continental Shelf Act 1964, except any part of that area which is within a part of an exclusive economic zone or Renewable Energy Zone in relation to which the Scottish Ministers have functions.”(7) The Secretary of State must give guidance to the MMO as to the kind of representations which may be made by the MMO under—

(a) Chapter 2 of Part 5 of the Planning Act 2008 (c. 29) (pre-application procedure), or(b) Part 6 of that Act (deciding applications for orders granting development consent).”

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 22. A number of amendments were tabled on Report with the aim of ensuring that the Marine Management Organisation’s role in relation to applications to the Infrastructure Planning Commission is enshrined in primary legislation, rather than secondary legislation as the Government had intended.

Noble Lords will recall that at the end of debate on Report I undertook, given the importance of the arguments made, to take the matter away to see whether we could come up with alternative amendments that would appropriately reflect the MMO’s important role in making representations to the IPC. The amendments that we have brought forward today are designed to reflect the MMO’s role at three stages in the Planning Act process: first, the pre-application stage when a developer is considering putting in an application for development consent to the IPC; secondly, notification that an application has been accepted by the IPC for examination; and lastly, the examination process itself. Since it is important that the MMO, as a key player in the marine regulatory environment, is made aware of all proposals which could impact on the marine area, we are amending Section 42 of the Planning Act so that developers must consult the MMO on any proposed development that would or would be likely to affect the marine area. The MMO will therefore be made aware of, and have the opportunity to input and comment on, such proposals at an early stage. Secondly, we are amending Section 56 of the Planning Act to ensure that the MMO is formally notified of any accepted applications in the marine area. Thirdly, we are amending Section 102 of the Planning Act to make the MMO an interested party where the IPC has accepted an application in the marine area.

The amendment to Section 102 ensures that the MMO is involved throughout the examination of those applications and that therefore it will have a key role in advising on any necessary marine licences which the IPC will deem as part of any consent issues. A consequential minor amendment is made in my Amendment 22 to Schedule 8 so that the descriptions of the various marine areas we are inserting into the Planning Act are consistent with the existing language in that Act. In addition, the new clause we are inserting into Chapter 4 of Part 1 requires the Secretary of State to give guidance to the MMO on the kinds of representations it may make under Parts 5 and 6 of the Planning Act.

Given that both the IPC and the MMO will be newly established bodies which must work closely together on marine-related developments in order to carry out their respective roles, we consider it appropriate to place a duty on the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the MMO on its role in relation to development projects subject to IPC consent. This guidance will clarify how the MMO will need to use its marine expertise; for example, to inform licence conditions, make representations on the marine parts of coastal projects, and ensure that proper enforcement can take place. This is in addition to the general guidance which the Secretary of State can give to the MMO under Clause 37, such as on enforcement and planning.

In our debates since Committee and on the Planning Bill there has been considerable interest in the respective roles of the MMO and the IPC. All noble Lords have a desire to ensure that the two bodies should work together and be seen to do so. We are confident that these amendments are an appropriate reflection of the key role the MMO will have as a centre of marine expertise and the enforcement body for the majority of marine consents in advising both developers and the IPC on major infrastructure projects in the marine area. I beg to move.

My Lords, I should declare my interests. I have been a local councillor for at least 10 years and I am a member of the Game Conservancy Trust, the Countryside Alliance, BASC, and other organisations that I cannot remember as I have only just recalled that I had to declare my interests now, but I can assure the House that they have not changed since last I gave them.

I thank the Minister for tabling these amendments, which are a result of meetings we had following the discussion on Report of the MMO’s formal role in decisions about large infrastructure projects at sea. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who, with great foresight, raised this issue during proceedings on the Planning Bill last year. These amendments ensure that, as we hoped then, the MMO has a statutory role in the decision-making process. We are therefore pleased finally to welcome them.

However, we and noble Lords from all sides of this House have eagerly awaited the establishment of the MMO for a long time now. At Second Reading last year, we welcomed the Bill as the vehicle for delivering a champion of the sea. Unfortunately, as debates progressed, it became clear that our idea of a champion was rather different from that of the Government. The list of responsibilities that the Government intended to carve out from the MMO and either keep under direct government control or leave with alternative organisations grew to include some six or seven major areas. DECC keeps control over all the land gas installations at sea and Natural England sets up marine conservation zones, to name but two. I will not list them all, but the IPC keeping control over large energy installations was another example and the one we are discussing now.

The amendments, therefore, do not go as far as we would have liked. We would prefer the MMO to have proper control over its waters. However, we appreciate that the Government will not shift their views on that and will accept the amendments as the best we can get for now.

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, made a few wide-ranging remarks there about the Marine Management Organisation and its role, with many of which we have great sympathy, but at Third Reading we are dealing with the specific amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. As this is a House of Lords Bill, I have no doubt that there will be plenty of opportunity in the House of Commons further to discuss the role of the MMO, but it has been strengthened and clarified as the Bill has gone through this House not just by some of the amendments tabled but in what has been said about it and the commitments that have been given. It is clear that the Marine Management Organisation will be a major organisation in its own right with a great deal of influence, so we have made some progress, but there is opportunity for more progress in the House of Commons.

I welcome the amendment. It may not have gone as far as we would have liked, but it accurately and genuinely reflects the commitment that the Government made on Report. In particular, it sets out fairly clearly the role that the Marine Management Organisation will have when applications for development consent are made to the Infrastructure Planning Commission. That is the minimum that we wanted in the Bill: to give the MMO that very clear role. That is there. When you are dealing with national quango-type organisations such as this, how much influence one has and how much another has depends to a large extent on the people running the organisations and the credibility and influence that they carve out for themselves. There is a lot to play for but, nevertheless, the amendment is welcome. I think that my noble friend Lady Hamwee has one or two other questions to ask, but, for the moment, we welcome the amendment and support it.

My Lords, I have one question and two declarations of interest—as vice-president of the Town and Country Planning Association and joint president of London Councils. I apologise if, when I was distracted as the Minister was introducing his amendment, I missed the point, but will he remind the House whether the Marine Management Organisation will be a statutory consultee, as it were, through regulations under Section 7 of the Planning Act in connection with national policy statements? I think that he dealt with development rather than with the overarching national policy statements, which are of course separate from the marine policy statements under the Bill.

My Lords, first, I warmly welcome the support of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for this government amendment. I welcome him back to his place. We missed him very much in the concluding stages on Report and it is good to see him looking so well.

I know that the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, and his noble friend have been concerned about the issue of the relationship between the MMO and the IPC and would prefer the MMO to be responsible for all consents in the offshore regime. We have disagreed on this matter. We believe that, for nationally significant infrastructure projects, it is right that the IPC should be responsible, but I hope that this amendment will provide some comfort to the noble Lords. Since it is likely that most offshore consents will still fall to the MMO, because they will lie below the threshold of 100 megawatts and less, the MMO will develop considerable expertise in this area. It is also worth pointing out that the MMO will then be responsible, even when the IPC has consented, for ensuring that conditions are met. The MMO can also, under certain circumstances, issue additional requirements. There should be no doubt that the MMO, in relation to the consent regime, will have a major role to play.

We have also debated the general role of the MMO, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, expressed concerns that the MMO was not going to be the champion of the sea, which was required. However, I think that the MMO is going to play a very substantive role. We have also made the role of the MMO much clearer, thanks to the debates in Committee, and we welcome the changes made at the beginning of the Bill in relation to that. I am confident that the MMO will have a very significant role to play and I am confident that this amendment will help it. The answer is no to the specific question that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised. Other than that, I welcome the support given for the amendment.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Clause 67: Notice of applications

Amendment 2

Moved by

2: Clause 67, page 44, line 10, at end insert—

“(2A) If the activity in respect of which the application is being made is proposed to be carried on wholly or partly within the area of a local authority in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, the appropriate licensing authority must give notice of the application, or require the applicant to give notice of the application, to that local authority (whether or not notice has been published under subsection (1)).”

My Lords, I shall move Amendment 2 and speak to the other amendments in this group, particularly Amendments 2 to 9. There was extensive discussion in Committee and on Report on the people and bodies likely to be interested in a marine licence application and the way in which they should be made aware of, or consulted on, these applications. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, voiced the feeling that licensing authorities should have a duty to make local authorities aware of the marine licence applications that they would be likely to have an interest in. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath gave assurances during those debates that relevant local authorities would always, as a matter of course, be made aware of such applications by a licensing authority. It is very much the standard practice now, as far as the Marine and Fisheries Agency activities are concerned.

However, we agreed to reflect on the discussions which we had in the preceding stages of the Bill and to look again at the provision before we reached this point. Amendments 2 to 9 are a reflection of our further consideration. They provide that, where the activity is carried on wholly or partly in the area of a local authority, the licensing authority must give, or require the applicant to give, notice of the application to that local authority. This new requirement is in addition to the general requirement to publish notice to any interested persons, and I hope that it will be seen as meeting the anxieties that were expressed when we debated this at earlier stages.

The amendments will have the effect that the requirement to give notice to the local authority applies even if notice has been published more widely under subsection (1). As with the existing requirement to publish, the licensing authority may either give notice to the local authority itself or require the applicant to do so. In practice, the licensing authority may decide to require the applicant to publish notice under subsection (1) but choose to give notice to the local authority itself. Alternatively, there might be circumstances in which the licensing authority would want notice to be given to the local authority in question even when notice of the application was not to publish more widely. One example of this might arise in licensing a burial to be conducted at sea. We believe that the amendments as drafted properly account for the democratic responsibility which elected local authorities have for their areas while maintaining an efficient and flexible method of bringing applications to the attention of all bodies likely to be interested in an application.

However, the amendment does not reveal the full story of the close relationship that we intend the Marine Management Organisation to build with local authorities in coastal areas and which will be of the greatest importance to the delivery of much of the content of this Bill. We have heard adequate testimony both in Committee and on Report that there is a wealth of experience, expertise and local knowledge in coastal local authorities which the MMO will necessarily draw upon. In particular, local authorities will have a fundamental part to play in the development of marine plans in coastal areas, particularly in recognition of their continuing responsibility for granting development consents in the area between mean high water spring and low water mark. Their role in preparing shoreline and estuary management plans as well as being representatives of the local community on the development of marine plans from the earliest possible stage to help interpret terrestrial plans will be of very great importance. They will assist integration at the coast and enable local interests to be fully reflected in marine plans. All this is key to the success of the implementation of marine planning as we envisage.

To this end, we are working with the Local Government Association’s special interest group on coastal issues to ensure that the processes we put in place enable this important level of involvement and participation for the MMO to work with local authorities. I hope that the House will feel that government Amendments 2 to 9 respond to the anxieties which have been expressed during the passage of the Bill.

Amendment 10 relates to factors which licensing authorities must have regard to when making activities exempt from the need for a marine licence using the exemptions order-making powers under Clause 73. We had constructive discussions on this issue on Report, and there was general agreement that the power to make activities generally or conditionally exempt from the marine licensing regime should not undermine the purposes of the licensing regime itself; that is, to protect the environment and human health, and to prevent interference with legitimate uses of the sea while taking into account any other factors and authority it thinks relevant.

In the light of the Government’s policy to this effect and in the wake of the clear agreement expressed across the House during our discussions on Report, we have tabled this amendment. It mirrors the wording used in Clause 68 and makes it a requirement in the Bill that all licensing authorities must have regard to these factors when deciding to make an order exempting activities from the need for a marine licence. I beg to move.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a farmer, grower and landowner, a member of the NFU and of various conservation bodies. Before I respond to the Minister’s introduction of the amendments, I join him in welcoming back the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who is in his place today. We missed him in our debates on the last two days of Report stage.

I thank the Minister for tabling this important group of amendments. They reflect our debates in Committee and on Report about the useful role that local authorities could play in support of the objectives of the Bill. I am grateful to him for listening to our concerns.

My Lords, I feel I ought to welcome my noble friend Lord Greaves as well. I missed him, too.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for sparing time last week to meet the LGA special interest group. As is so often the case, there was a large array of officials there, which was very helpful. We had plotted that I would use the amendment to ask the Government to give a wider statement on how they viewed the role of local authorities, but the noble Lord, Lord Davies, has rather pre-empted that. However, I invite him to say anything more that he feels needs to be said.

Last week we discussed Clause 16, which deals with the bodies to which the MMO can delegate functions. I was taken aback by the technical reason bowled straight at us at the meeting as to why the MMO, which has delegated functions from the Secretary of State, cannot itself delegate onwards. I understand the principle, but I had not realised that the MMO and the Secretary of State were in that relationship. If the Minister can explain that on the record more coherently than I can, it will help those who refer to Hansard. I have already had an e-mail from someone who was at the meeting saying, “Could someone confirm what actually happened at the meeting because I feel pretty baffled by it”.

Local authorities have expressed the feeling—and I agree with them—that they have an important role to play at the table, as they put it, with the MMO. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in particular, had some very useful ideas as to how the importance of the involvement of local authorities can be recorded, as no one seems able to find a way of doing so in the legislation other than in the licensing part. One idea was that the Explanatory Notes, when the Bill becomes an Act, should deal with the issue and perhaps give examples of local authority good practice.

I thank the Minister and his officials for their explanations and the time that they have given. I wait with interest to learn what more can be done to confirm that essential role.

My Lords, if I fail to welcome back the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, he might take it in the wrong manner. I welcome his return to the Bill. He has put a lot of work into it, and we welcome him back.

I shall make one comment and ask one question. I particularly welcome Amendment 10; it is good to have it written into the Bill. We discussed it at great length earlier and it is quite right that we should have it. My question relates to “any local authority”. It may well be that I have slightly misunderstood, but does “local authority” include at parish council level, or does it refer only to tiers above parish council level? Clearly, if parishes are not included, it would seem sensible that they were. I remind the House of my interests, which are on the Register.

My Lords, I am very grateful for everybody’s kind words. When I attended last night’s counting of the European ballot papers in Pendle, a representative from the Conservative Party came up to me and shook my hand, saying, “I’m very glad to meet you, Lord Greaves. I have been hearing good things about you”. I said, “Oh—where does that come from?”. “From Lord Taylor”, he said.

Being praised by Conservatives, my Lords, is a bit like being approached by Greeks bearing gifts. Nevertheless, I am grateful and thank your Lordships very much, but I was following your proceedings closely from over 200 miles away. When I last spoke, I was so keen to get involved again that I forgot to declare my interests which are, as I have declared previously, mainly my membership of recreational and conservation organisations, particularly my involvement with the British Mountaineering Council and the Open Spaces Society.

On this amendment, all I want to do is thank the Government for tabling it. Again, it is in line with their commitments on Report. It effectively puts into the Bill—in their own words—what our amendments tabled on Report said on the position of local authorities and their rights as statutory consultees in relation to licensing matters. We are grateful that the Government have recognised the special position that democratically elected local authorities hold, as opposed to all the other organisations that will be consulted or may appear in secondary legislation. Again, I thank the Government.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for welcoming the amendments, although he presumes too much. I am, of course, pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is restored in health, but it goes much too far to say that I welcome him back while deliberating on this Bill. It is all right for the noble Lord, Lord Taylor; the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has caused him marginal trouble. I assure him that that has not been the case as far as the Government are concerned, so I cannot fully associate myself with such remarks.

My Lords, while not wanting to cause any trouble at all, that is the greatest compliment I have had for a long time.

My Lords, we are in danger of forming an all-party alliance which, I guess, is only possible for a day or so after elections have been conducted and certainly not before. I do, of course, respect the contributions to the Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. On the role of local authorities, we were, as I indicated in my opening remarks, responding, as constructively as we are able, to points that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, had made in Committee and on Report.

On the particular points that were raised, on the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, the tiers above parish councils are defined in Amendment 9. The noble Baroness will appreciate that we are talking about local authorities, but I understand her point about parish councils, and no local authority will be able to meet its requirements regarding these developments without respecting the position of the coastal parishes within its framework that may be affected. Our points about the more formal issues of consultation are directed to local authorities, although the noble Baroness accepts that we are concerned that notice is given to all who might have an interest. In some cases, one can anticipate a particular parish council having possibly the most specific and even among the most important of interests. We would not expect anything other than them being involved in the exercise in those terms.

On the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, Clause 16 allows further delegation of only the functions that are delegated to the MMO in the Bill. That does not include planning and licensing, which are functions that the devolved authorities and the Secretary of State have. The MMO cannot devolve the responsibilities of the Secretary of State or the devolved authorities; they cannot be devolved further. In all other areas, though, it is expected that the MMO will be able to delegate extensively. I hope that she will accept that on the basis on which it is intended.

She invited me to dwell further on the issue of the contribution and role of the local authorities. With the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, back in his place, does anyone think I am going to dare to dwell on those matters? We have had intensive discussion about these issues. I know that the noble Baroness could pester me from now until a long time in the future about the crucial position that the local authorities occupy with regard to this legislation. I am not denying that; but I am shying away at this late stage from reopening the debate on how we could more effectively describe the role of local authorities. This legislation sets out the framework within which to operate, and, after the discussions we have had in Committee and on Report, we now have a framework that safeguards the proper interests of the local authorities while ensuring that the principal operations of the MMO and others concerned with the implementation of the policy under the Bill are also safeguarded.

Amendment 2 agreed.

Amendments 3 to 9

Moved by

3: Clause 67, page 44, line 11, after “The” insert “appropriate licensing”

4: Clause 67, page 44, line 11, after “unless” insert “(a)”

5: Clause 67, page 44, line 12, at end insert “(but see subsection (6)), and

(b) notice has been given under subsection (2A) to any local authority to which notice of the application is required to be given by virtue of that subsection (but see subsection (7)).”

6: Clause 67, page 44, line 13, leave out subsection (4) and insert—

“(4) If the appropriate licensing authority—

(a) publishes notice of an application, in pursuance of subsection (1)(a), or(b) gives notice of an application to a local authority, in pursuance of subsection (2A),the licensing authority may require the applicant to pay a fee towards the reasonable expenses of doing so.”

7: Clause 67, page 44, line 20, leave out “This section” and insert “Subsection (1)”

8: Clause 67, page 44, line 25, at end insert—

“(7) Subsection (2A) does not apply in the case of any particular application and any particular local authority if—

(a) the appropriate licensing authority considers that notice of the application should not be given to the local authority, or(b) the Secretary of State certifies that in the opinion of the Secretary of State it would be contrary to the interests of national security to give notice of the application to the local authority.”

9: Clause 67, page 44, line 25, at end insert—

“( ) In this section “local authority” means—

(a) in relation to England, a county council, a district council, a London borough council, the Common Council of the City of London or the Council of the Isles of Scilly;(b) in relation to Wales, a county council or a county borough council;(c) in relation to Northern Ireland, a district council.”

Amendments 3 to 9 agreed.

Clause 73 : Exemptions specified by order

Amendment 10

Moved by

10: Clause 73, page 48, line 24, at end insert—

“( ) In deciding whether to make an order under this section, the appropriate licensing authority must have regard to—

(a) the need to protect the environment,(b) the need to protect human health,(c) the need to prevent interference with legitimate uses of the sea,and such other matters as the authority thinks relevant.”

Amendment 10 agreed.

Clause 122 : Creation of network of conservation sites

Amendment 11

Moved by

11: Clause 122, page 80, line 9, leave out from beginning to “the” in line 10 and insert “When complying with the duty imposed by subsection (1),”

My Lords, I shall speak also to a series of government amendments grouped with this one. Before I do, though, I return to the debate on the first group. When I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that the MMO will not be a statutory consultee under Section 7 of the Planning Act, that is the position at the moment. I am glad to report, though, that regulations will be made under this clause in due course when they will then be consulted on. That probably gives the noble Baroness a better answer than the first effort.

We spent some time in Committee and on Report debating the Part 5 provisions and how they can be further strengthened. We have listened carefully, and I have been able to lay before your Lordships a number of amendments in response. The question of commitment to a network that is ecologically coherent has exercised your Lordships in a number of debates since Second Reading and Committee. We have explained why referencing the term “ecological coherence” in the Bill is not the most effective way to ensure that a network is delivered. Without revisiting those arguments, I commend my Amendment 12, which responds directly to the concerns raised by noble Lords.

The crux of the issue lies in the fact that noble Lords were concerned that a lot of trust was being put into non-statutory guidance on the selection of marine conservation zones. While the Bill sets out conditions that our network must meet, and the MPA strategy and guidance underpinning the selection of marine conservation zones sets out the principles of ecological coherence in more detail, there is concern that the Government are not being clear enough about the overall guiding principles for the selection of marine conservation zones to ensure that these sites, together with other types of marine protected areas, deliver an ecologically coherent network, based on our current understanding of that concept.

For this reason, I have tabled a series of amendments which will require the appropriate authority—Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers and the Secretary of State—each to lay a statement before the relevant legislature. The statement is to set out the principles that each will follow in contributing to the UK network and may also set out any other matters that they consider might be relevant. The statement must be made within two months of the commencement date for the nature conservation provisions set out in this Bill and must be kept under review and updated in accordance with any future changes to the design principles.

The Government would use this statement to set out their intention to use the principles of ecological coherence and to say what those principles are. The design principles are described on page 30 of the recently published draft strategy for marine protected areas. The amendments ensure that if any changes are made to the design principles driving the network, a revised statement must once again be laid before the appropriate legislature. I am confident that the amendments will allow scrutiny of the design principles for the network. Most importantly, they respect the evolving nature of the concept of ecological coherence. They will allow us to ensure that the design and designation of the network can reflect the latest scientific evidence and adapt with our understanding of ecological coherence.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, for his input on the issue of recreational vessels and, more specifically, for ensuring parity in the by-law restrictions placed on recreational and non-recreational vessels. I promised to consider this point on Report and now table Amendments 14, 15 and 16 to meet the concerns that were expressed then.

The Government are firmly committed to ensuring that marine conservation zones are effectively protected. It is important, as the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, said on Report, that MCZs can be defended from excessive recreational use if considered necessary. However, we do not want deliberately to preclude other vessels from similar restrictions if they could also cause damage. We have sought advice on the extent to which we can prohibit all vessels entering marine conservation zones. Having carefully considered the advice, we believe that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea allows the Government, in certain circumstances, to restrict entry into or passage through marine conservation zones by all vessels and not just recreational ones.

Amendment 14 to Clause 128 therefore removes “recreational” from subsection (3)(b), ensuring that, if the conservation objectives for a site require it, the MMO can make by-laws which restrict all vessels entering into or moving within marine conservation zones, provided it complies with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. As we have removed reference to “recreational vessel” in Part 5, I have consequently tabled Amendment 16 to Clause 146, which removes the definition of “recreational vessel”.

I am confident that these amendments address noble Lords’ concerns and ensure that we are not placing disproportionate restrictions or burdens on recreational vessels. Instead, we have now ensured a system where we can focus on furthering the conservation objectives for a marine conservation zone and, where necessary, restrict all vessels entering sites.

I have also tabled Amendment 15 to Clause 140. Following the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, in Committee, we have also looked again at this aspect of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Our analysis of the text is that it is only once we have declared an exclusive economic zone that we can apply the general offence to vessels from third countries. The amendment therefore applies the general offence of deliberately or recklessly damaging a marine conservation zone to third-country vessels once the UK has declared an exclusive economic zone. Part 2 of the Bill gives us the power to declare such a zone.

There are then a series of minor and technical amendments to Schedule 11. The effect of Amendments 23, 24, 25 and 26 is to adapt provisions on MMO by-laws and Welsh Minister orders for the protection of European marine sites so that they could apply more logically to such sites. These amendments do two things. First, they ensure that by-laws may be made for the protection of European sites, rather than for the furthering of conservation objectives which do not necessarily exist for these sites. Secondly, they more selectively apply the by-law provisions of Part 5 to the European sites. In particular, the power to make interim by-laws in Part 5 is not relevant in the European site context, and so is not needed.

I hope noble Lords will think that these are helpful amendments, which very much respond to our debates on Report. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing forward these amendments. The successful establishment of an effective conservation zone is one of the fundamental aims of this Bill and perhaps the most difficult to achieve. The designation of a network is similarly crucial to the effectiveness of the zones, but as debates have shown, there is still much uncertainty about the way this will be done. Indeed, as the Minister reminded us, we spent a considerable amount of time seeking to bring the concept of ecological coherence to the designation of MCZs.

The amendments bring some much needed transparency and therefore some effective accountability to the whole designation process. Likewise, the later amendments also assist the process of by-laws on all vessels. We therefore welcome the amendments.

My Lords, I think my maritime interests are generally well known around the House, but they are on the record and they are non-pecuniary. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for being as good as his word and agreeing to look again at the amendments I moved at an earlier stage which aimed to meet the concerns of the boating authorities that recreational vessels were being singled out above other types of vessel when it came to by-laws restricting their entry into marine conservation zones.

As the Minister said, he and his team have looked again at UNCLOS and have come round to my way of thinking, and for that I am most grateful. In fact, the government amendments achieve very much what I was seeking to achieve, and I am grateful for that.

This could well be the last time I speak on this Bill. I must confess that when I was asked to chair the Joint Committee looking at the draft Bill last year, I never in a million years thought that I would still be discussing it more than a year later. I must express my gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Davies of Oldham, for their unfailing courtesy and helpfulness during the many long hours that we have discussed the Bill. I can only commend their stamina and fortitude.

My Lords, I think we support that, and may say so in greater detail later as I do not think this is the last time I shall speak. On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I welcome the amendments. They are in response to the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, which we very much support. The legal advice that the Government have received is welcome indeed.

The network of marine conservation zones was one of the major debating points as the Bill went through your Lordships’ House. I have no doubt that it will also be one of the major debating points in the House of Commons, when it gets there. The amendments are a very welcome move towards the kind of strengthening that my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer was asking for. Again, as with the Marine Management Organisation, I do not think it is just the changes that have been made in the Bill. The explanations that have been given and the understanding of how it is intended to work have very greatly strengthened confidence that the system is going to work. We will see, but the debates that have taken place, the explanations that the Ministers have given and the briefings that have been provided have been extremely helpful.

We can send this part of the Bill on its way, with greater confidence that marine conservation zones—and particularly a coherent network of marine conservation zones—will be put into place and will work. We have more confidence in that than we had when we started the Bill some six months ago. I welcome that. Thank you again.

My Lords, I warmly support the words expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, in appreciation of the work of the Ministers in charge of the Bill. At the same time, I should also like to extend congratulations to those who have laboured behind the scenes in doing some extremely skilful drafting work, some of it fairly rapid, in bringing the amendments forward in the way that they have done.

I am greatly encouraged by these amendments and by the words that the Minister used when he talked about the evolving nature of the concept of ecological coherence. It is important that the legislation should contain sufficient flexibility to allow improvements to be generated as further knowledge is gained from the experience of the establishment of the marine conservation zones.

The Minister referred to one other thing that was not totally clear to me. He talked about guarding against “excessive recreational use”. I wonder how that is to be assessed. It seems to me that the most important thing is to have a very alert monitoring system so that there is effective policing as life goes on, so that those who are responsible for adjudicating in these matters or for policing the operation of the MCZs are ahead of the game and know when action is necessary, because in order to introduce the necessary action a certain amount of time will have to have passed.

With those words about welcoming the amendments and my slight concern about the interpretation of excessive recreational use, I again thank the Ministers very much indeed for the wholly constructive way in which they brought this measure to the House.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken for the generally warm welcome that they gave to this group of amendments. I am also very grateful for their generous comments about the officials working on the team. They very much appreciate those comments, which I of course endorse.

The noble Lord, Lord Eden of Winton, spoke passionately on these matters, particularly in Committee. He still has one or two concerns but I think that we have gone as far as we can to reassure him about our commitment to MCZs and to ecologically coherent networks. I think that he is right about flexibility. The construct of the Bill as it now stands allows flexibility for adjustments to be made as we gain more experience and as more scientific knowledge becomes available. I agree with him about monitoring, which is very important indeed, and it will be important that the regulatory authorities can respond quickly and effectively in the light of that monitoring. I absolutely endorse that. We will ensure that the spirit of that is conveyed to those who will have the very grave responsibility of taking these matters forward in future.

Amendment 11 agreed.

Amendments 12 and 13

Moved by

12: Clause 122, page 80, line 12, at end insert—

“(5A) Before the end of the period of 2 months beginning with the date on which this section comes into force, the appropriate authority must—

(a) prepare a statement setting out such principles relating to the achievement of the objective in subsection (2) as the authority intends to follow when complying with the duty imposed by subsection (1), and(b) lay a copy of the statement before the appropriate legislature.(5B) A statement prepared by the appropriate authority under this section may also set out other matters relating to the achievement of that objective which the authority intends to take into account when complying with the duty imposed by subsection (1).

(5C) The appropriate authority must—

(a) keep under review any statement it has prepared under this section, and(b) if it considers it appropriate in consequence of a review, prepare a revised statement of the principles referred to in subsection (5A) and lay a copy of it before the appropriate legislature.”

13: Clause 122, page 80, line 13, at end insert—

““the appropriate legislature” means—

(a) in relation to the Secretary of State, Parliament;(b) in relation to the Welsh Ministers, the National Assembly for Wales;(c) in relation to the Scottish Ministers, the Scottish Parliament;”

Amendments 12 and 13 agreed.

Clause 128 : Byelaws for protection of MCZs in England

Amendment 14

Moved by

14: Clause 128, page 85, line 20, leave out “recreational”

Amendment 14 agreed.

Clause 140 : Exceptions to offences under section 138 or 139

Amendment 15

Moved by

15: Clause 140, page 93, line 19, at beginning insert “Until the coming into force of the first Order in Council made under section 40 (the exclusive economic zone),”

Amendment 15 agreed.

Clause 146 : Interpretation of this Chapter

Amendment 16

Moved by

16: Clause 146, page 96, leave out lines 27 to 29

Amendment 16 agreed.

Schedule 1 : The Marine Management Organisation

Amendment 17

Moved by

17: Schedule 1, page 222, line 11, at end insert—

“( ) An order under sub-paragraph (1) must not amend paragraph 3(1)(b) so that it provides that there may be fewer than 5 ordinary members.”

My Lords, this comes back to a small but important issue—the size of the board of the Marine Management Organisation. It is identical in meaning to an amendment that I moved on Report. The only difference is that it uses words that Government draftsmen prefer rather than those that I had written. That seems to be perfectly reasonable.

We had a long discussion in Committee about the size of the Marine Management Organisation. As set out, there will be at least five and not more than eight members, plus the chairman; so the total will be between six and nine, including the chairman. There was discussion about whether this was big enough, and what the right size was. The Government made clear their intention that the size will be eight plus the chairman, at least in the beginning. The amendment I moved on Report stated that the provision that the Secretary of State has in the Bill to change the range of five to eight, plus the chairman, should not be used to reduce the size below five, which would not be satisfactory. That is the point I put forward on Report and that is what I put forward again in the amendment. I thank the Government for their assistance in drafting the amendment. I beg to move.

My Lords, lest it be thought that I was a little churlish earlier when referring to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, let me say how delighted I am to see him in his place, moving an amendment with which the Government agree completely.

Amendment 17 agreed.

Schedule 4 : Exclusive economic zone and Welsh zone: consequential amendments

Amendment 18

Moved by

18: Schedule 4, page 234, line 21, at end insert—

“(1B) Subsection (1A) does not have effect in relation to an Order in Council to the extent that it contains provision made by virtue of paragraph 4 of Schedule 3 (functions exercisable beyond the territorial sea).””

My Lords, Amendment 18 corrects an unforeseen anomaly that has arisen in connection with the transfer of functions in respect of the Welsh zone that will be created by Clause 42. The policy intent is that where a function in the area of the Welsh zone beyond the territorial sea is transferred to Welsh Ministers under Section 58 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, the transfer will be restricted to functions connected with fishing, fisheries and fish health. This is spelt out in the amendment to that section contained in paragraph 9(2) of Schedule 4.

However, that provision could be read as contradicting the existing provision in paragraph 4 of Schedule 3 to the Act. This provision provides that the power in Section 58(1)(c) to direct that functions relating to Wales must be exercised after consultation with Welsh Ministers also applies in relation to certain specific environmental protection functions exercisable in relation to an area defined in the Act as “Welsh controlled waters”. “Welsh controlled waters”, like the “Welsh zone”, include that part of the sea adjacent to Wales that is beyond the seaward limits of the territorial sea, and we want to ensure that our fisheries restriction is not read as contradicting this separate power. To rectify this, an additional subsection (1B) is being inserted into Section 58 of the Government of Wales Act. Let me reassure noble Lords that this amendment is purely minor and technical. I beg to move.

My Lords, this is a useful tidying up amendment, as the current text might have been interpreted as interfering with powers that might be available to the Welsh Government beyond the territorial sea.

During the debate on amendments that the Government introduced on Report, we were quite involved with seeing that the Welsh Assembly Government were given adequate powers, in particular relating to the management of fisheries, some of which extend beyond the territorial sea. This takes us into the area of the different zones that have been determined as part of devolution under the Bill.

I thank the Minister for a very useful and lengthy briefing that I have only just received on cross-border powers and arrangements. It was phrased in relation to the Solway Firth but must apply equally to the Bristol Channel and the northern boundary of the Welsh inshore area. The point is clearly made that because the MMO, which will be operating in the English sphere, is a “non-departmental public body”, whereas Marine Scotland is an arm of the Executive of Scotland, and in Wales the Executive will also be taking charge, it is not appropriate for them to form a joint subordinate body. Perhaps the Minister can explain some of what that paper contains or make sure that its content is contained in a paper available to all those who have to work with these cross-border arrangements, as it goes into great detail of how it would all need to be worked out.

The introduction of the Bill has given a great deal more significance to the meetings that take place under the Joint Ministerial Council. I think we are all glad that there was much agreement at that level as there could have been trouble otherwise, but it raises the question of what weight and authority we in Westminster need to give to the deliberations of this body, and whether the Joint Ministerial Council itself recognises that Westminster has overall control.

My Lords, I, too, welcome this amendment wholeheartedly. It is clear that some difficulties came to light in the debates that we had, particularly on cross-border issues. This appears to me to put the record straight. Indeed, the Government of Wales Act 2006 has been appropriately amended to take account of the developments in the Bill and I hope that this will satisfy the Welsh Assembly Government.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for commending the amendment, which I believe clarifies matters. I say to the noble Duke that I am happy to circulate the paper more widely. Clearly, there is a problem in relation to the desire to establish joint bodies and the conflict that thereby arises with the devolution settlement. However, we will do everything we can to ensure that the new arrangements work well together. I referred to the meeting of UK Ministers that took place in the autumn, which was very helpful in resolving some of the issues in relation to the Bill. That was a very positive sign.

As regards the British-Irish Council, this matter also concerns the Government of Ireland. Therefore, one has to be cautious about where Westminster comes into play in that, but certainly I agree that it is important that the outcome of those deliberations is reported back. The noble Duke raises a substantive point. As I had the responsibility of chairing the meeting of environment Ministers, I shall be happy to reflect on communicating the outcome of those meetings.

My Lords, does the Joint Ministerial Council include Ministers from the Irish Republic? I had understood that UK bodies were involved.

My Lords, I must distinguish between the meeting that took place last autumn between Ministers from the four UK Administrations, which specifically discussed this Bill and was helpful in allowing us to reach a very sensible outcome ensuring that there would be good co-operative relationships, and the British-Irish Council. I chaired a meeting of the latter body in Jersey a few weeks ago at which we discussed the marine environment and where we had many helpful discussions about co-operative approaches to tackling the marine environment. That meeting had the advantage of bringing in the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. As noble Lords will know, there is concern about that issue. Alas, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is not here to enliven our debates on these matters. I think that he described it as a great white area between Wales and Ireland in terms of regulation and enforcement. The outcome of the meeting last autumn was very encouraging, as is the determination that I see on the part of all Administrations, including the Irish Government, to ensure that we protect our marine environment. I take great comfort from that.

My Lords, I very much appreciate what the Minister has just said. It reflects the sensitivity with which he and his colleagues have treated the devolution settlement in Wales. The British-Irish Council is particularly important for resolving matters to do with the Irish Sea. Indeed, the Minister and his colleagues have moved this process forward to achieve a much deeper understanding and co-operation between all those concerned with the Irish Sea.

Amendment 18 agreed.

Schedule 6: Marine plans: preparation and adoption

Amendment 19

Moved by

19: Schedule 6, page 239, line 21, leave out “regional planning body whose area” and insert “responsible regional authorities whose region”

My Lords, I shall speak also to government Amendments 20 and 21. The first two amendments ensure that the Bill works effectively with the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill, presently undergoing scrutiny in the other place. Paragraph 1 of Schedule 6 to the Bill requires a marine plan authority to notify a number of “related planning authorities” when it begins to prepare a marine plan. One of these related planning authorities is a terrestrial authority responsible for planning at a regional level. Currently, that is the regional planning authority defined under Section 2 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. The House will, of course, be aware of the proposals in the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill to replace regional planning bodies with responsible regional authorities that comprise a local authority leaders’ board and the regional development agency. We therefore need to update the reference in the Bill to ensure that it continues to operate effectively once the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill completes its parliamentary passage and comes into force. I hope that the House will support these minor changes to paragraph 1.

The final amendment in this group, Amendment 21, is in response to the promise we made on Report to consider an amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. It required a marine plan authority to consider the extent to which matters raised in its representations have been resolved when deciding whether to appoint an independent investigator. At the time, her amendment was commended from the Dispatch Box because it reflected our intention that this should be one of the key factors in determining whether an independent investigation should be held. The Government have therefore tabled Amendment 21, which addresses this very point, although in slightly different terminology. It requires the marine plan authority to consider the extent to which any issues raised during the public consultation on the marine plan remain unresolved following the consultation and, therefore, should inform the decision to appoint an investigator. I beg to move.

Amendment 19 agreed.

Amendments 20 and 21

Moved by

20: Schedule 6, page 239, leave out lines 31 and 32 and insert—

““responsible regional authorities” has the same meaning as in Part 5 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (regional strategy).”

21: Schedule 6, page 244, line 27, at end insert—

“(c) the extent to which matters raised by representations falling within paragraph (b) have not been resolved,”

Amendments 20 and 21 agreed.

Schedule 8: Licensing: Minor and consequential amendments

Amendment 22

Moved by

22: Schedule 8, page 254, leave out lines 12 to 15 and insert—

“(c) an exclusive economic zone, except any part of an exclusive economic zone in relation to which the Scottish Ministers have functions,(d) a Renewable Energy Zone, except any part of a Renewable Energy Zone in relation to which the Scottish Ministers have functions,”

Amendment 22 agreed.

Schedule 11: Consequential amendments relating to MCZs

Amendments 23 to 26

Moved by

23: Schedule 11, page 267, line 35, leave out “Chapter 1 of Part 5” and insert “section 128”

24: Schedule 11, page 267, line 36, leave out “(marine” and insert “(byelaws for protection of marine”

25: Schedule 11, page 267, line 38, leave out “Chapter 1 of Part 5 of that Act” and insert “section 133 of that Act (orders for protection of marine conservation zones)”

26: Schedule 11, page 268, leave out lines 1 to 4 and insert—

“(3) The provisions of Chapter 1 of Part 5 of that Act relating to byelaws under section 128 or orders under section 133 apply, with the modifications described in paragraph (3A) of this regulation, in relation to byelaws made by virtue of paragraph (1) of this regulation or (as the case may be) orders made by virtue of paragraph (2) of this regulation.

(3A) The modifications are—

(a) any reference to an MCZ is to be read as a reference to a European marine site;(b) in sections 128(1) and 133(1), the reference to furthering the conservation objectives of an MCZ is to be read as a reference to protecting a European marine site; (c) the reference in section 128(3)(c) to hindering the conservation objectives stated for an MCZ is to be read as a reference to damaging a European marine site.”

Amendments 23 to 26 agreed.

Schedule 19: Schedule 1A to the 1949 Act

Amendment 27

Moved by

27: Schedule 19, page 300, line 35, at end insert—

“(12) The determination of the Secretary of State must comply with the recommendation of the appointed person unless, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, there are exceptional circumstances.”

My Lords, Amendment 27 stands in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I reiterate my gratitude to the Government and, in particular, the Minister, for their response to the recommendations of your Lordships’ Select Committee on the Constitution on the right of those affected to appeal to an independent person. Amendment 27—which, I emphasise, does not reflect the unanimous view of members of the committee—seeks to enhance and reinforce the other safeguards now written into the Bill to ensure that,

“the Secretary of State must comply with the recommendation of the appointed person unless, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, there are exceptional circumstances”.

Otherwise, why have an appointed person? Perhaps the Minister might add a word about the future role of the Planning Inspectorate in this context.

Amendment 27 would add transparency, fairness, stability and an element of predictability, although obviously not certainly, to the arrangements envisaged in the Bill and would accord with everyday common sense. The amendment would not of course dilute in any way the accountability of the Secretary of State to Parliament. I beg to move.

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, the chairman of the Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, in his thanks to the Government for agreeing that there should be a right of appeal. That has been the consistent line of the Constitution Committee throughout, and it is of the utmost importance that a right of appeal is seen to be transparent.

Having gone that far, I fear that I cannot agree with the noble Lord on this amendment. The procedures described in the clause state that, as in most planning considerations, a person is appointed to hear evidence. That is the basis on which the bulk of planning decisions are taken. Having heard admissible evidence, the planning inspector, in due course, makes recommendations to the Secretary of State for his determination. It is the Secretary of State’s decision, and his alone. He is accountable, in general, to Parliament. In particular instances, a rare procedure of having a parliamentary debate on the matter can be invoked.

I got into a great deal of hot water as a planning Minister for six years in Wales, when I determined, as regards the future of industrial development in Ebbw Vale, following the closure of the steelworks, that I had to overturn the recommendation of the planning inspector, who wanted to fill in various parts of the area with the odd bit of industrial development. I took the holistic view that the only way to give hope to that community was to ensure that particular land was designated on a sufficient scale to provide the basis for attracting industry, and that you would not achieve that in the same way if you were merely in-filling pockets.

In those circumstances, the decision of the Secretary of State would be limited, if this amendment were to be accepted, because he,

“must comply with the recommendation of the appointed person unless, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, there are exceptional circumstances”.

What on earth are “exceptional circumstances” in this context? If the amendment were to be passed and if exceptional circumstances can be defined, the decision would be taken away from the Secretary of State and his power would be extremely limited. First, this is not workable, and, secondly, it abdicates the responsibility of the Secretary of State, because such matters should be for his determination, and his alone.

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad. The background to Amendment 27 will be very familiar to your Lordships. As originally drafted, the Bill lacked an appeal provision for those affected by the coastal access duty. This was criticised by your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, chaired by the noble Lord. In Committee, many noble Lords suggested that an appeal procedure was necessary. To his great credit, the Minister listened. He and his hard-working officials tabled on Report the detailed amendments which are now Schedule 19 to the Bill, creating a right to have the matter considered by the person appointed. These provisions, however, have a serious defect. They leave it entirely to the discretion of the Secretary of State whether to accept or to reject the views of the person appointed—indeed the factual findings of the person appointed. There is no attempt in Schedule 19 to confine the power of the Secretary of State to overturn the recommendation of the person appointed to issues of policy or to cases where there are broader implications of the recommendation.

As often occurs in planning matters, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, suggested, the noble Lord gave a very good example from his own experience. I entirely accept that in that type of case the Minister should have power to overturn the findings of the person appointed. Amendment 27 seeks to confine the discretion of the Secretary of State to overturn the recommendation of an independent person who has the statutory responsibility of considering representations and doing so in a context concerned with a person’s rights—here the right to property. This is particularly important when the Joint Committee on Human Rights has advised that a lack of an appeal to an independent person with a power to determine questions of fact would be a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

I thank the Minister and his officials for their considerable courtesy in discussing this matter with the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and with me during the past week. As I understand the departmental concern—the Minister will explain it more fully and more eloquently—it is that the Secretary of State must have the power to take account of the general implications for the coastal route. The person appointed is concerned only with the specific piece of land. The Secretary of State, however, needs to have in mind the broader picture.

I understand and accept that policy concern. I do not understand, however, why it justifies the breadth of the discretion conferred on the Secretary of State. On Report, the Minister told the House at col. 50 that it would be “extremely unlikely” that the Secretary of State would depart from the recommendation of the person appointed. Since the Minister recognises and accepts that it would be extremely unlikely for the recommendation of the independent person to be displaced, surely it is appropriate to include in the provision a sub-paragraph that recognises that matter and gives a degree of assurance to landowners and to all other interested persons.

Our amendment therefore seeks to make the position clear in this respect. If Amendment 27 were to be approved, the Secretary of State would still have ample power to overturn the recommendation of the person appointed in the type of case that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, envisages. That is a case where there is some policy concern and some general issue relating to the coastal route which has not been adequately addressed by the person appointed. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, asks, “What does ‘exceptional circumstances’ mean? It is a broad and general phrase”. Precisely so. The purpose of the amendment is to confer a discretion on the Minister to depart from the views of the person appointed but to do so only if there is something unusual or exceptional about the case and not simply because he disagrees with the person appointed on a matter of fact.

The Minister has tabled Amendment 28, which goes a long way towards meeting the points that I have raised. I am most grateful to him and his officials for listening and for acting on the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and by me. However, I have concerns about that amendment. It states the principle that the Secretary of State will be bound by the opinion of the person appointed but it makes this subject to four exceptions. Exceptions (c) and (d) are, I accept, principled exceptions. Of course it is right that the Secretary of State should not be bound by a finding by the person appointed which is made,

“by reference to irrelevant factors or without regard to relevant factors”,

or a finding that is “perverse or irrational”. That is entirely so. Exception (b) provides that the Minister is not bound by the factual conclusion of the person appointed if there is,

“insufficient evidence to make the finding”.

That, too, is principled if—and I should welcome the Minister’s assurance on this—it means that the Secretary of State concludes that the person appointed could not have properly made the finding on the evidence available to the person appointed at the time that he made his recommendation. That leaves exception (a),

“that the finding involves an assessment of the significance of a matter to any person with a relevant interest in land or to the public”.

That causes concern because it allows the Secretary of State to conclude that, even though the person appointed finds that the matter is of great importance to the landowner and even though that finding cannot be challenged under exceptions (b), (c) and (d)—in other words, there is sufficient evidence for the finding, it is based on relevant factors and is not perverse—he can still substitute his view for that of the person appointed on that factual matter.

I therefore prefer Amendment 27. It is clear, it is sufficiently flexible and it accords with the Minister’s assurance on Report that only in rare cases would the Secretary of State override the views of the person appointed.

Perhaps I may briefly mention two other matters. I understand that the Secretary of State will be making regulations to ensure that, if he proposes to depart from the findings of the person appointed, a fair procedure must be followed which gives the landowner an opportunity to address the issues before the Secretary of State. I should very much welcome the Minister’s confirmation that such regulations are intended to be made.

The second and final matter I ask the Minister to deal with is this: I understand that, contrary to the expectation he stated on Report, it is no longer envisaged that the person appointed will be a member of the Planning Inspectorate. Can the Minister clarify who will now be the appointed person or persons to perform this important function, and can he assure the House that they will be independent, and seen to be independent, of the Secretary of State?

My Lords, I, too, am a member of the Constitution Committee and during all our discussions on this Bill, I have emphasised the tremendous value of coastal access. I happen to live quite near a coastline in south-west Wales, and I have witnessed the enormous benefit, both in health and recreational terms, of coastal access. Like all members of the Constitution Committee, I felt strongly that there should be some kind of planning appeal procedure, though I did not want the old-fashioned kind, which has often led to interminable delays and been extremely expensive. I believe Ministers have come forward with a workable alternative appeal procedure, which I welcome and support. As other members of the committee have testified, we are indebted to the way in which Ministers have responded to the representations we have made. I am more than content that an appeals procedure is in place that is of a character which will not mean that coastal access is somehow continually delayed or prevented, while at the same time protecting the rights of citizens and property owners.

On the last point, I share the view of my noble and learned friend Lord Morris. Under his jurisdiction, when he was Secretary of State and I was a Minister in the Welsh Office, I came across cases where it was the view of the Secretary of State and the department that the Secretary of State should have the right to overrule planning inspection findings of one kind or another. I think that power must remain with the Secretary of State.

The question is whether we should limit it in the way Amendment 27 proposes, or in the way the Government’s Amendment 28 proposes. Given the fact that I, too, am not certain how one would define “exceptional circumstances”, I believe Ministers have responded to the points made by the Constitution Committee, as represented by Amendment 27, and I find Amendment 28 very reasonable. It comes a long way to meet the concerns of most of the members of the Constitution Committee. I, therefore, support Amendment 28 and, sadly, if Amendment 27 is pressed, I shall not be supporting it.

My Lords, on Second Reading I declared an interest as the owner of an estuary and some miles of Solent shore where for years my family has given public access, including a nature reserve. It did not feel right to intervene in Committee because of the extent of my knowledge of the situation. Now we are sending the Bill to another place, I want to say how delighted I am that progress has been made to make it a fairer and more workable situation. At an early stage, the Government stated that parks and gardens would be excepted, but later they retreated from this position and inserted the word “curtilage”. I fear that the reference to curtilage will lead to many time-consuming disputes. I therefore urge the Government to provide in another place that that is replaced with “parks and gardens”, which is much more understandable.

The Government have made a very welcome concession on the important principle of an independent appeal. I am most grateful. I welcome that, but we must ensure that the Bill has clauses that give weight to legitimate concerns, such as those of coastal owners and businesses.

The legislation has being drawn up on the assumption that rules and definitions of a coastal plan can be applied in the same way to a river valley. That is oversimplistic. Rivers are very different animals. They are often lined with high levels of residential and commercial property, while in other places there are sensitive nature reserves. Where a coastal path meets an estuary, for instance, I urge that the two sides of the river are as much as possible joined by one existing right of way. Sometimes, these will be further inland, but such a scheme would be much easier to implement.

Finally, I am deeply concerned that in the passage of the Bill the need to safeguard wildlife has been largely ignored. Our coasts and estuaries contain some very important havens for animal life, but their condition could well be threatened. Let us be honest and say that there is a clash between nature and government policy. On the assumption that Natural England will decide on the route, it must make quite sure that it does nothing that would harm natural life. I fear that it will be overruled by its political masters. At a time when bird numbers are diminishing and birds are becoming extinct, it is very important that we apply the Sandford principle, that nature should take precedence over humans.

My Lords, I oppose the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad; we are prepared to support the government amendments. If we go right back to the Bill's introduction to this House—and before, when we were discussing it in pre-legislative forums—a strong view was put forward by Natural England, the recreational groups and everyone else that we do not want the precise system of appeals that we have under the CROW Act, because they have been time-consuming, expensive and, in many cases, have not produced the right results. They are based on the appeal system under the planning system; the system is almost exactly the same. That may be appropriate for planning, but it has turned out not to be too good for CROW land.

The other side of the argument was that people with land rights ought to have a right of appeal to an independent tribunal where they can put their views forward and where their objections can be independently and objectively assessed in a fair, reasonable and transparent way.

I believe that both those points of view were correct. I had arguments with my friends in the recreational user groups, for example, because it seems to me as a Liberal that not having independent system of appeal was quite wrong. I believe that the government amendments that were agreed on Report go a long way to providing a system that provides both those requirements. I also believe that the amendments that the Government are putting forward today are a further step towards a system which is acceptable and workable. It clearly has to be both.

I listened very carefully to the case that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, put forward, which was persuasive as usual. His amendment talks about exceptional circumstances. The noble Lord said that it seeks to make the position clear. I do not agree that the words “exceptional circumstances” make the position clear at all, because there is no definition of what these are. He went on to say that it is a “broad and general statement” as to what they would be.

The Government seem to be putting this forward fairly specifically, and I welcome that. The noble Lord referred to four specific criteria. I find myself in a slightly difficult situation at the moment because I am speaking to a government amendment that has not yet been moved by the Government, and I do not wish to do that for them. B, C and D seem to be cases where the decision of the inspector is wrong, for the reasons set out, and that can be clearly established, but decision A, which the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, did not like, seems crucial because it introduces the concept of the public interest, as well as the private interest of the people with interests in the land.

It does what I have been trying to get the Government to do for some time, which they have been resisting in Committee and on Report—to relate the whole question of fair balance, which is the criteria they have got, between the perfectly proper interests of landowners and others with interest in land, the perfectly proper interests of recreational users, and the public interest in creating the coastal route. I have been trying to relate that concept of fair balance to the fundamental objectives of the coastal duty, as set out in Clause 289(2), which are the requirements to provide the route and the coastal margin or access land. The Government are now doing that. They are setting the work of the inspector and the decision of the Secretary of State on the basis of the inspector’s report, firmly in the context of the coastal duty. That is right and proper. Some of that is not and cannot be factual. It is a matter of assessment, opinion and judgment. That is where, surely, the Secretary of State ought to have discretion.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, referred to planning appeals. He is absolutely right. In the ward that I represent on the local council, two or three years ago there was an infamous planning application for a new housing estate, and the decision took about three years. The local council turned it down, it went to appeal, the inspector found in favour of the appellants, it went to the Secretary of State, who at the time was the Deputy Prime Minister, and it sat on his desk for about two years. Eventually, he overturned the decision and recommendation of the inspector. He did it, whether right or wrong, for reasons of overriding public, government and planning policy. Indeed, he did it for reasons which did not exist when the appeal took place. If the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, were to be accepted in its present form, it would leave it wide open for any landowner to seek to wreck the scheme and the coastal route proposals in any particular place. If we have an overriding coastal access duty to provide the route, it ought not to be open to one particular landowner to block one part of the coastline simply because it is not for his personal convenience.

I accept that cases will arise where people are aggrieved about the line of the route and the access land, but under those circumstances there must be an overriding consideration that the route should go through. People cannot be allowed simply to block it because they do not like it, and that is what would happen if we had CROW-type appeals. The Government briefing—again I run the risk of speaking to their amendment before they do—puts forward the case that the Secretary of State must have the right to look at a whole stretch of route and not the particular piece of land that is being appealed, which is what happens in CROW cases. The requirement that there should be consistency when it comes to headlands, estuaries and so on must be right. It cannot be open to objectors in particular places to argue a sui generis case for themselves independent of what happens with the rest of the route. Consistency is important. The idea that one narrow piece of land could be considered on its own and be binding on the Secretary of State is surely wrong. If the movers of the amendment are saying that these would be exceptional circumstances, they ought to propose the much clearer wording set out in the government amendment.

Facts are facts. Many of the decisions that will have to be made on where the access land should come from and where the route should go will be matters of judgment of the particular circumstances of the case. Attempts should be made to reach agreement between the parties, but where it cannot be reached, the overriding consideration should be that the public interest and that of this legislation must prevail. That is not the case in CROW appeals where the vegetation on the land is a matter of fact whether it is mountain, heath, moor or down. Opinions come into it, but the land is either heather or it is not, either crops are being grown on it or it is natural grassland. Factual decisions are much easier to reach, but they will be much more difficult to make on the coast. Therefore I am afraid that the amendment of the noble Lords, Lord Goodlad and Lord Pannick, although probably unintentionally, is a wrecking amendment. I am astonished at how far the Government have been able to go in order to satisfy the case put forward by the various committees on human rights and the constitution, and it is right that they have done so. They have gone 95 per cent of the way and there comes a time when people should say thank you very much rather than try to push for the extra 5 per cent that, in my view, runs the risk of wrecking this great project.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Goodlad for tabling the amendment and for giving us the opportunity to look at this point again. As chairman of the Constitution Committee, he has been extremely effective in pressing this issue. It was good to hear the contributions of noble Lords to this debate, particularly the contribution of my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who has a great interest in the coastal route and a great sensitivity about the way in which it can be constructed.

As I made clear on Report, I share the concerns of my noble friend Lord Goodlad about the possibility that the Secretary of State would be able to ignore the findings of the planning inspectorate and insist that the route be imposed even in contravention of a fair balance. The Government’s amendments in this group go some way towards alleviating my concern. I understand fully their desire to keep some flexibility, in the event a finding was perverse or otherwise fell into the reasons laid out in proposed headings (a), (c) and (d) of Amendment 28. As noble Lords have said, it is the Secretary of State who is ultimately democratically accountable and he must take the final responsibility.

I am still a little worried—and certainly much more worried by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who seems to have put his own interpretation on the amendments—by proposed heading (a). I understand that the significance of the unfairness should be a contributing factor. A minor breach of fairness is obviously less serious than a major breach and I can appreciate why such a consideration could potentially make for a decision to be ignored. The legislation would be better drafted to make it clear that heading (a) is applicable only when the breach is insignificant or minor.

The Government’s Amendment 29 reassures me a little. Proper transparency will help ensure sensible decision-making but I would not be surprised if my honourable colleagues in another place want to look carefully at these provisions once the Bill arrives there from your Lordships’ House. However, I do not wish to sound churlish when the great distance we have travelled on this issue has been a wonderful example of constructive debate. I thank the Minister and his department for moving so far.

My Lords, this has been an interesting and apt debate on which to end our deliberations on the Bill. Although we are disagreeing on the final wording in relation to the review process, we should not underestimate the amount of consensus that has been built. It is very important that, as the Bill leaves the House, we should reflect on that consensus. It has a further journey to travel in another place, where I am sure that our debates here will be reflected upon. No doubt there will be considerable scrutiny there too, particularly in relation to the review process.

I listened with great interest to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, and I know he is concerned about damage to the environment. I understand that concern. He made it clear that there is a real challenge for Natural England to ensure that damage does not occur to the environment. I agree that the responsibility on Natural England is weighty indeed. I am sure it will be aided by the significant role that local authorities are to be given, as we have debated in previous stages of the Bill.

I shall deal with Amendment 27 before turning to my amendments. I want to reiterate and assure noble Lords that the Secretary of State would not depart lightly from the recommendations of the appointed person. Section 52 of the 1949 Act requires the Secretary of State, before reaching a determination on whether to approve Natural England’s proposals with modifications, to consult Natural England and such other authorities and persons as he thinks fit. Paragraph 16(3) to (5) of new Schedule 1A gives the Secretary of State power to make provision in regulations about the procedure to be followed where he is minded to approve proposals with modifications other than modifications made in accordance with the recommendation by the appointed person and to apply any provision of Schedule 1A. Any requirement proposed by such regulation is in addition to the duty to consult under Section 52(1). I am happy to give an assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that the Government intend to exercise that power so as to provide for consultation before the Secretary of State decides to approve the proposals with modifications other than any recommended by the appointed person.

On the amendment of the noble Lords, Lord Goodlad and Lord Pannick, I, too, reiterate the particular thanks to the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, in enabling us to come more closely together, even if we have not quite reached agreement yet. However, we have concerns with Amendment 27. First, there is the use of the word “exceptional”. I understand the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, saying that it was a common-sense approach. Unfortunately, as my noble and learned friend Lord Morris has made clear, when it comes to legislation—indeed, as the Chamber has filled up with noble Lords who are, I am sure, taking a close interest in the Bill, the many of them who are distinguished lawyers will know this—the problem is that we do not really know what that word means. It could lead to actual uncertainty and disputes; that is one of our problems here.

Secondly, to preclude the Secretary of State from reaching his own view on where the fair balance lies would be inconsistent with his discretion to approve the proposals, with or without modifications, under the 1949 Act. Thirdly, the amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from achieving consistency of approach relating to Natural England’s proposals as a whole and to any other proposals. I think that was a point that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, made. It is nice to have the noble Lord on my side, if only, alas, on Third Reading. None the less, it is extremely welcome.

There may well be other parts of the route where similar considerations arise but which have not been the subject of objections. The question would then arise whether the decision of the appointed person relating to an objection to one part of the route constrained the Secretary of State from achieving consistency between that part and others where no objections had been raised, or constrained him to achieve consistency only in the manner of the appointed person’s decision relating to the objection. It would be difficult to require the inspector to consider everything that the Secretary of State takes into account. It would not seem appropriate to require the inspector to consider representations relating to other parts of the route that are not subject to an objection, but those representations might mention considerations relevant to maintaining a consistent approach to the route which is the subject of the report as a whole, or to the whole English coastal route.

I am grateful to noble Lords who have discussed my amendments. Amendment 28 deals with what happens when the appointed person considers a question of fact. It has been produced as a result of discussions that have taken place with noble Lords after the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, made his comments on Report; there have also been helpful discussions since then. The amendment means that where the report of an appointed person on an objection,

“contains a statement of a finding of fact, the Secretary of State in making the determination”,

would be,

“bound by that finding unless the Secretary of State is satisfied”,

either that it was,

“perverse or irrational”,

in one of the ways in which a court might find an administrative decision perverse or irrational on judicial review, and set it aside, or else that it,

“involves an assessment of the significance of a matter to any person with a relevant interest in land or to the public”.

That latter condition is necessary to ensure that the Secretary of State is not precluded from reaching a view on the significance to the landowner or the public of, for example, the proposed position of the route. It provides clarification that such an assessment is not to be treated as a simple “finding of fact” for the purpose of this schedule. It would be wholly inappropriate to include provision which constrained the Secretary of State’s discretion in relation to the essential question that he is required to decide—that is, where the fair balance lies—so that he was bound by the decision of the appointed person and thereby unable to ensure that the proposals submitted for his approval fit together properly and are broadly consistent in their overall approach and with that taken in any other proposals that he has previously approved. Again, that is a point that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, commented upon. That would be a recipe for unfairness and legal challenge to the overall result, in circumstances when the legislation had in fact tied the hands of the Secretary of State in relation to any matter that had been the subject of an objection and thus of a decision by the appointed person.

The conditions in headings (b) to (d) mirror the standard criteria governing the limited circumstances in which a court on judicial review can quash a decision on a finding of fact: that there was insufficient evidence to make it; that it was based on irrelevant considerations or failed to take into account relevant considerations; or that it was otherwise perverse or irrational. Of course, if the Secretary of State himself or herself makes an irrational decision in concluding that the appointed person’s finding of fact was irrational in one of these ways, the Secretary of State would be liable to judicial review.

The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, asked me if the exception in heading (b) means that the appointed person could not properly have made the finding on the evidence available to the appointed person at the time. The answer is yes, that is exactly what it means.

I hope that Amendment 29 further reassures the House. It means that where the Secretary of State does not follow a recommendation on a statement of fact—that is, in the circumstances noted in Amendment 28 that I have just described—the statement of reason required by paragraph 17(4) of Schedule 1A to the 1949 Act must also include the reasons for not following the recommendation. That paragraph relates to the statement of reasons that the Secretary of State must provide for his decision in relation to an objection when making a determination on a coastal access report.

I hope that I can clear up any concern about the Planning Inspectorate. The reason why the Bill does not make a direct reference to inspectors of the Planning Inspectorate is that we would not normally expect to be so specific in the Bill. I readily acknowledge the distinguished record of the Planning Inspectorate, but that inspectorate might alter, disappear or change its name at some time in the future. The current wording of the Bill preserves the ability to change the appointed person in the future if necessary, and it is worth bearing in mind that the Planning Inspectorate is not a body established by statute, so this flexibility is of particular relevance.

There may be cases where the Secretary of State might decide that the most appropriate person to refer objections to is someone other than the Planning Inspectorate. I acknowledge that the current wording gives us flexibility to do this, but, if that were to happen, I am happy to assure noble Lords that we would expect that person to be of similar independence and calibre. The intention, though, is that we would turn to the Planning Inspectorate.

At the end of the day, there is only a narrow gap between us. The Government have listened carefully, which is why we now have a review procedure. I hope that my amendment provides some reassurance too. The Bill has quite a long way to go, but this is a satisfactory outcome. I am grateful to noble Lords for their contribution.

My Lords, I warmly support government Amendments 28 and 29. I am extremely grateful to the Government for coming as far as they have, and I reiterate my particular thanks to the Minister for his unfailing courtesy during our proceedings in meetings and in correspondence. I hope that during the Bill’s further proceedings in another place, it may be possible to produce further refinements to these proposals to take account of the considerations expressed in this helpful debate, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 27 withdrawn.

Amendments 28 and 29

Moved by

28: Schedule 19, page 302, line 28, at end insert—

“(2A) Where a report required to be considered under sub-paragraph (1)(c) contains a statement of a finding of fact, the Secretary of State in making the determination is bound by that finding unless the Secretary of State is satisfied—

(a) that the finding involves an assessment of the significance of a matter to any person with a relevant interest in land or to the public,(b) that there was insufficient evidence to make the finding,(c) that the finding was made by reference to irrelevant factors or without regard to relevant factors, or(d) that the finding was otherwise perverse or irrational.”

29: Schedule 19, page 303, line 27, at end insert—

“( ) Where the Secretary of State was required under paragraph 16(1)(c) to consider a report and the Secretary of State in making the determination does not follow a recommendation in the report, the statement of reasons required by sub-paragraph (4) must also include the reasons for not following the recommendation.”

Amendments 28 and 29 agreed.

A privilege amendment was made.


Moved by

My Lords, it is worth reflecting that we are one week short of six months spent on our deliberations. I had thought that this might have been the longest-running Bill in the history of your Lordships' House. Alas, I am informed that the Animal Health Bill had its First Reading on 13 December 2001 and its Third Reading on 4 November 2002, but, although ours is not the longest-running Bill, my goodness me, we have certainly spent a long time at it.

I wish to thank noble Lords for their close attention to this vital Bill, which has been hugely enhanced by the deliberations and changes that have been made in your Lordships' House. It is a tribute to the effectiveness of your Lordships' House as a revising Chamber. I pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, whose committee made so many helpful recommendations. I am grateful, as I have already said, to the noble Lords, Lord Goodlad and Lord Pannick, and to other noble Lords who have represented other Select Committees which have deliberated on the Bill. I thank, too, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—many of whose amendments the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, courageously took on—and the noble Lord, Lord Livsey. I am grateful also to my Bill team, who have been a magnificent support.

Believe it or not, it is World Oceans Day today. This was proposed in 1992 by the Government of Canada at the Earth Summit in Rio and has been unofficially celebrated every year since then. However, as of today, the UN has officially declared it. I can think of no better day for this House to pass a Bill which I am sure will enhance the marine environment in many years to come. I beg to move.

My Lords, I echo a great deal of what the Minister said—I was going to make the six-month point before he pre-empted me. I think that we have had 17 sessions, and there has hardly been a sitting week when there has not been a day on the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. It has been an extraordinary marathon. During the passage of the Animal Health Bill the Liberal Democrat Front Bench consisted of my noble friend Lord Livsey of Talgarth and me, so I hope that the Government do not bring along any more Bills for us in the near future.

I understand that the Minister is moving out of Defra and is taking on greater responsibilities in DECC. We congratulate him on that and thank him—I believe, on behalf of the whole House—for his work during his time as a Defra Minister, which has not been as long as some. During my time here this House has benefited from some really good Defra Ministers, regardless of politics, and the Minister will go down in the record book as one of them, if only for this Bill if for nothing else.

I thank all Members of the House for their co-operation, which has been so important. That includes the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and the Conservative Front Bench as well as old sparring partners such as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. The Bill came to the House with great hope and expectation, but quite a lot of fear that the Government really did not mean what they had said while the Bill was in gestation. It had a huge amount of work done on it during the years before it came here, including in the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, on which I was privileged to sit. I believe that while it has been here, we have given it a very thorough scrubbing down. It has also been significantly improved, which is a tribute to the whole House. I am very pleased that we on the Liberal Democrat Benches have been able to contribute to that. I am very grateful indeed for the support I have had from our team, which has made my life a great deal easier. I include my noble friend Lord Tyler, who abandoned us after Committee stage for other places, as well as my noble friends mentioned by the Minister. I refer in particular to my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, whose expertise on the conservation side I found very valuable, and to my noble friends Lord Livsey and Lord Wallace of Tankerness for their Welsh and Scottish input. I will not say that my noble friend Lord Wallace is the predominant expert on Scotland in the House; I will say that no one is better than him. He knows as much about Scotland as anyone for obvious reasons.

The ministerial team, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, who has entertained us on a number of late evening sessions with his wit and his ability to talk about anything at any time of day or night in the hope that the rest of us go to sleep and do not pursue it further—I say touché to that—has been combative, has discussed and argued the case, and has then listened, understood and come back with compromise and consensus and understanding and explanation. They have been absolutely wonderful. Finally, I should like to say that the Bill team has been brilliant. Of all the Bills I have been closely involved with in the nine years that I have been in your Lordships’ House, this is the best Bill team I have ever come across. It is a huge team obviously, because it is a huge Bill—but they really have been good. The amount of work, effort and discussion that they have been prepared to put in—beyond the call of duty, outside the formal sessions—has been superb. That has been a major contribution to the fact that this Bill really is a good Bill leaving this House.

When this Bill finally gets through the House of Commons and becomes law, perhaps the Bill team leader, Mrs Linskey, might take six months off and write the definitive work on the relationship between devolution and the maritime environment. We send this Bill to the House of Commons with continued hope and expectation. All we can do is hope that the House of Commons will improve it further and then send it back to us for our final approval.

My Lords, I apologise to noble Lords who are here for the following programme for the delay but it is one of the delights of this House that, at the conclusion of the debates on the Bill, we have a chance to say thank you. I should like to start with acknowledging the role played by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, as principal Minister on the Bill. We are very sorry that he is relinquishing the Defra brief but he has been incredibly busy over these past few months, in particular with the responsibilities for this Bill.

I shall turn, if I may, to those to whom I owe the greatest debt—my own team. I have been really well supported, not only from the Front Bench but also from the Back Benches. I am grateful for the support I have had from my noble friends Lord Kingsland and Lord Goodlad and my noble friend Lady Byford. I thank my noble friend the Duke of Montrose and my noble friend Lord Cathcart for their particular support. Contributions from all parts of the House have greatly strengthened the quality of our debates, built as they have been on the work of the Joint Committee of both Houses, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, which has given an authority to much of what we discussed.

The Ministers have listened to the debates with respect and that respect is reciprocated. The noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Davies of Oldham, have, as I said, responded to our debates and listened to our concerns. The Bill is so successful because they have been prepared to listen and, more to the point, to act. They and the Bill team will be delivering the Bill in much better shape than it was when it arrived. After the debates in this House the Bill will move on with the authority of this House and in a much better condition. It is a great challenge to establish marine conservation zones for the first time and to establish the right of access around our coast. These are great challenges and the legislation has in some cases been very complex. I join other noble Lords in the thanks they have given. A long journey it may have been, but it has been well worth while.

My Lords, I should like to respond to the kind comments of both noble Lords. On the importance of the legislation, it is unlikely, as has often been said in our debates, that other marine legislation will be coming to your Lordships’ House for many a year once this Bill is enacted. It was therefore vital to achieve a consensual approach so that there was confidence in the shape of the legislation. I reiterate my thanks to all noble Lords who helped that to happen.

The Bill team has been magnificent; I very much echo the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Taylor. As for the six-month leave of absence, I doubt whether that is enough to write a treatise on devolution and the marine environment, although I suspect that there is a PhD in there for someone. Finally, I have had my noble friend Lord Davies beside me. It is the first time that I have worked with him on a Bill in detail. He has been a magnificent support. He does extraordinary service to the House and it is a real pleasure to have worked with him.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.