Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I am pleased to present this order to the Committee. It will be aware that my honourable friend the Parliamentary Private Secretary for the Natural Environment and Fisheries presented this statutory instrument in another place yesterday. As the Committee knows, better regulation across government and its network of delivery bodies is an important tenet of the coalition Government’s drive for responsible and accountable policy and delivery. This statutory instrument seeks to ensure, formally, that the Marine Management Organisation adheres to a common standard of better regulation by adding it to the existing list of bodies that are subject to the legislative and regulatory format of 2006.
The principles of better regulation stipulate that regulatory activities should be transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted. I am sure noble Lords will agree that these principles must underpin the effective working of all our public bodies. The MMO has been following these principles since vesting on 1 April this year. The framework document setting out its remit and corporate governance responsibilities, as agreed by the MMO and its sponsors, states:
“As a government regulator the MMO must have regard to the five principles of good regulation … The MMO will have a risk-based, proportionate, targeted and flexible approach to regulatory inspection and enforcement”.
Although the MMO already complies with this, it is nevertheless important to recognise formally its commitment to these regulatory principles.
The Committee will also know that the MMO is the Government’s key delivery body for marine policy, bringing together management for a number of marine activities including fishing, nature conservation, planning, licensing and enforcement. Delivering functions on behalf of a range of government departments, the MMO is jointly sponsored by the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Transport, the Ministry of Defence, and my department, Defra. The length and breadth of responsibilities that rest at the door of the MMO are huge and range from planning and fishing to aggregate extraction and pollution control. Its influence is felt not only locally but at a national and international level.
That is exactly what we—the Government, the Opposition and all parties—envisaged when the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 passed through Parliament. People right across the political spectrum worked together to put this important piece of legislation on to the statute book. For my part, now that we are in government we want to ensure that the legislation is enacted correctly. It is therefore right that the MMO adheres to the common standards of better regulation, and today this statutory instrument recognises its efforts. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing forward the order and for explaining it. From the outset, I can assure him of the support of the Opposition for the instrument. It is good that, as a result of the delay caused by parliamentary business, the MMO could be consulted; obviously, it is right to add it to the list of regulators and that it should have to meet the key principles of good regulation which the Minister has enunciated.
As he said, the MMO was created as part of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. It is a cross-cutting body that brings together key maritime decision-making powers—planning, regulating and licensing activity—in the marine area. It has the overarching emphasis on and duty to the promotion of sustainable development. Generally, I strongly agree with the Minister that the Act and the establishment of the MMO are good news for the public, particularly with the establishment of marine protected areas, which have been described as doing what national parks did for enhancing awareness of the natural environment and countryside but this time in the marine environment.
The role of the MMO is very important in fulfilling the terms of the Act. Not surprisingly, the Minister will understand that I, as a north-easterner, very strongly welcome the establishment of the MMO in the north-east of England, with its long maritime tradition, its superb Newcastle University marine research department and, indeed, allied facilities such as the very long-established research facility, the Dove Marine Laboratory at Cullercoats.
I am also glad that the Government have a strong commitment to the MMO. Perhaps, via the Minister in this House, I could congratulate the Minister in the other place who spoke to this order yesterday. He admitted that in opposition he had concerns about the MMO, but he said firmly that his reservations had been resolved after visiting the organisation and that he now had nothing but praise for the motivation of the staff and their determination to make it a success. I, for one, very much welcomed the remarks that the Minister in the other place made in Committee yesterday.
Not surprisingly, I have concerns about the effect of budgetary cuts on the organisation. It was recently established, and it was to be a lean, mean and efficient organisation without lavish start-up costs. For that reason, we are concerned that it should not bear the heavy brunt of cuts in current circumstances, and that it should have the resources to carry out its work and responsibilities.
The Minister in the other place gave some assurance yesterday that the cuts that might be asked of the MMO would be much less than those for other organisations in the department. At the same time, he indicated that further details would become available. I urge the Minister today to keep the House informed of the effects of budgetary cuts on the MMO and its ability to carry out its functions. Not surprisingly, given that the current Opposition were in government when the MMO came into being and were committed to its establishment and the effective workings of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, we will be watching this closely; we are anxious to make it a success. Having said those words, I am happy to support the Minister in what he has said today.
I thank the noble Baroness for her comments. We are grateful for them, particularly for certain points that she underlined, such as the fact that there is a duty on the MMO to promote sustainable development. We will ensure that that continues. I also thank her for emphasising its north-eastern connections. I might be from the north-west but these matters are still important to me. I will certainly pass her remarks back to my honourable friend, who will, I am sure, be very grateful for what she said in praise of him and what he said in another place.
The noble Baroness asked, in effect, only one question and that was about the spending review and the effect it might have on the MMO. She will appreciate that I cannot go into any further detail only 24 hours after my honourable friend spoke in another place, but I will make two comments, which I think my honourable friend made, to give her some assurance. First, we accept that the MMO is a new organisation and has been created as a lean and fit machine, as the noble Baroness described it. The implication behind this was that there might not be much fat on it. Its newness and the fact that it has further duties that it will have to take on next year will be taken into account as we develop the details of the spending review. Obviously, no part of government or Defra can be immune from that, but those two factors are relevant to any decisions that we make about the MMO.
Secondly, as an adjunct to that, the noble Baroness asked that we keep her and the House informed of any details of this. Again, I have given assurances that that will be the case in due course. I end by thanking the noble Baroness again for her contribution. I beg to move.