Wednesday, 15 December 2010.
Arrangement of Business
Before the Minister moves the Motion, I remind noble Lords that the Motion before the Committee will be that the Committee do consider, rather than approve, the draft United Kingdom marine policy statement. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.
Draft United Kingdom Marine Policy Statement
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I should like to say how pleased I am to open this debate on the United Kingdom marine policy statement. Having been in the House for some 32 and a half years, I think that this is the first time that I have ever taken part in or opened a debate on a policy statement of this sort. It is nice to know that there is always something new that one can do, particularly as the marine policy statement is a landmark, not just in the implementation of marine planning but in the implementation of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 as a whole, an Act which was supported by all parties and all others—or stakeholders, as we have to call them—who were involved.
The current system for managing our seas is seen as inconsistent and failing to consider fully the cumulative impact that we have on the marine environment. Regulators and industry consider the current system to be burdensome and a barrier to economic development. The Marine and Coastal Access Act enables the introduction of marine planning—a means to move away from the old consent-led approach and towards the strategic, integrated and transparent management of our seas. The new marine planning system will be based on openness, a clear evidence base and joint working among Government, regulators, industry and communities. Our ambition is to enable economic developments in locations that maximise benefits and minimise environmental impacts and to empower coastal communities to help shape the management of their own marine resources.
The marine policy statement is also the first step in implementing marine planning. The MPS is unique in its purpose and UK status, will ensure a consistent approach to the development of marine plans across the United Kingdom and will direct decision-makers and users towards more efficient and sustainable use of marine resources. The MPS will help achieve the UK Government vision of having,
“clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas”.
The marine policy statement includes a wide range of activities and sectors, from renewable energy and oil and gas to nature conservation, fishing, recreation and tourism. The marine policy statement sets the economic, social and environmental framework that applies in the UK marine area. Within that framework, it sets out the policy context, direction and considerations that must be given to each activity when developing marine plans or taking licensing decisions.
While the marine policy statement brings together a range of policies, we are here today not to debate the individual policies but to discuss whether the draft marine policy statement is fit for purpose. We strongly believe that it is. The marine policy statement has been developed over the past four years throughout the passage of the Marine and Coastal Access Act and is a product of comprehensive joint working across Whitehall and the UK devolved Administrations.
The marine policy statement is not just a product of government but a product of all interested parties in the marine environment. Engagement has been thorough and ongoing and has been informed by a statement of public participation to explain transparently how and when contributions could be made. Regional and national stakeholder workshops have been held and a discussion paper, which was issued in March 2010, enabled stakeholders to influence the development of the marine policy statement. Officials are currently considering responses to a further consultation that closed in October 2010, and they are discussing the results directly with those stakeholders as well as with policy-makers, including in the devolved Administrations.
Crucial throughout its development has been the idea that the marine policy statement should respect the devolved nature of many aspects of marine planning and the importance of consistency being achieved. The marine policy statement does that through identifying activities to which a degree of priority should be attached. However, the statement does not say which activities should take priority over others, as that can only be determined by each Administration when considering specific geographical areas in the marine planning process.
By adopting the marine policy statement, the devolved Administrations will be able to plan holistically for their inshore and offshore marine regions, including for retained functions. A number of administrative safeguards exist to ensure effective and co-ordinated cross-border planning, and all issues will need to be agreed by the Secretary of State. The aim is for all United Kingdom Administrations to adopt jointly the marine policy statement by March 2011, when work starts in earnest on the first marine plans.
As required by the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, the marine policy statement and the marine planning system as a whole must contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. The marine policy statement has been developed alongside an appraisal of sustainability, which assessed the likely economic, social and environmental effects of the statement and reasonable alternatives, with a view to promoting sustainable development. That extensive process means that the marine policy statement achieves the ambition set for it.
Marine plans will be developed in accordance with the marine policy statement and they, too, must contribute to sustainable development. As such, they will be subject to a sustainability appraisal, strengthened by the full engagement of national and local interested parties and integrated with terrestrial planning.
Marine planning is new and has the prospect of delivering huge benefits, yet we are the first country in the world to introduce such a comprehensive approach. In order to explain how marine planning will work, each Administration is in the process of developing guidance and working together to ensure that cross-border planning can be taken forward. In England, a consultation has just closed on the marine planning system in order to establish a baseline of understanding among stakeholders and relevant delivery organisations. The Marine Management Organisation will now be taking matters forward as it begins marine planning in spring 2011, starting with the first two plans in the east inshore and offshore areas. In 2013, our collective ambitions for the management of our seas will be a reality: the first marine plans will be in place. As the marine policy statement is finalised and marine planning unfolds, we will continue to work with and listen to stakeholders to ensure that we achieve our ambitious aims, both at national and local levels.
I look forward to this debate and to responding in due course to the various points raised. I beg to move.
First, I welcome this draft marine policy statement as a concept. I also welcome the fact that it is a draft, and the reasons for that will become apparent as I continue with my comments. I particularly welcome the opportunity for a plan-led approach to marine areas. The Minister quite rightly said that the marine policy statement is a landmark. I hope that my noble friend will not take the quite critical remarks that I am about to make as criticism of the effort to move forward in this area; they are meant to be constructive criticism, because we are at a draft stage.
The marine policy statement is of course a follow-up, as the Minister said, from the Marine and Coastal Access Act, which itself followed the draft Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, who will speak later, chaired the Joint Committee on the Draft Marine Bill with such skill. In both the Joint Committee and the subsequent discussion in both Houses, there was a very in-depth discussion on what was needed in marine areas and where the conflicts lay. There are conflicts in the environmental, social and economic demands for dredging, spawning grounds and so on. However, the draft marine policy statement does not really reflect the depth of our discussion but starts almost from a point before any of those debates took place.
In my view, a policy document should lay out the choices that need to be made and should then say which one the Government are likely to choose. The point of having a consultation on a draft policy is that people can react to the choices that are likely to be made. A policy document is, if you like, a route map that gets you from A to B by a chosen route, but it allows others to argue that a different route would be better. The draft marine policy statement is more a description of the landscape than a route map and it is quite hard to discern a firm policy in it. The Minister gave a clue as to why that might be when he talked about across-Whitehall work. I fear that, where the departments started out with a very firm view, the need to arrive at a consensus has meant that those views were watered down until we are left with, in many cases, a series of platitudes.
Only when we get to the summary of the appraisal of sustainability do some of the options start to be laid out—or even an example of what the options would be—such as in alternative proposal 6 on page 86, where the option of multiple uses is discussed. That is my first problem with the draft marine policy statement. It would be good if the Government asked departments to decide which policy would take preference. The Minister may say that that is for the more detailed marine plans, but I believe that the marine policy statement is meant to be an overarching policy document so those details should appear in the MPS.
For example, the marine policy statement talks about the integration of marine planning with terrestrial planning regimes. That integration will need to be considerable because the marine plans will apply up to mean high water, which in many cases is right up river estuaries and into some of the busiest areas of use. Therefore, shipping might need to be balanced with environmental demands such as migrating birds as well as with recreational activities and so on. The draft policy statement says:
“marine planning systems will sit alongside and interact with existing planning regimes … both systems may adapt and evolve over time”.
That is an example of a platitude. The statement needs to specify who will resolve any disagreement where those plans sit alongside but come into conflict. Will it be for the Minister to resolve the conflicts that will undoubtedly arise?
Another example might be a marina development, which may be highly desirable socially and economically but possibly undesirable in environmental terms. The terrestrial planning system—which has the biggest vote, if you like—may be vociferous while the environmental side may have much less of a voice. What happens when the two regimes cannot agree?
To take another example, a wind farm at sea might be said to concern only the marine planning system, but the amount of terrestrial servicing that such wind farms need is substantial, so the effect on terrestrial planning could be considerable. Integrated coastal zone management is a very good idea and has been a good start, but integrated coastal zone management has no powers and no resources so it will not bail us out.
Box 1 in chapter 2, which deals with the vision, lists the “high level marine objectives”, which the Minister went through. I do not know whether his order was random or particular because he started by referring to the economic and the social objectives. Does the marine policy statement have to stick with the high-level objectives as laid out in box 1, or is there room for manoeuvre? Let us remember that a lot of the drive for the marine Act came from the environmental sector and from the fact that entire species and ecosystems were being wiped out. Besides the need for a planning system for marine areas, the drive for a marine Act was to preserve and to recover a network of coherently viable ecosystems in the seas around our coast. That ambition is not realised at all in the high-level marine objectives, although Chapter 3 suggests that that issue is an important objective. I do not find much synergy between those two chapters and I wonder which takes priority.
Paragraph 2.5, “Economic and social considerations”, tries to be all things to all people. It talks about,
“building strong local communities and improving access to, and enjoyment of, their marine areas … marine planning will contribute to securing sustainable economic growth both in regeneration areas and areas that already benefit from strong local economies, by enabling the sustainable use of marine resources”.
That sounds wonderful. My problem is that those things will often come into conflict. That paragraph is one example of the starting point that I mentioned before the Act went through, which was before we came to understand that the policy could not be all things to all people. Very hard choices will have to be made.
Noble Lords who speak today will no doubt talk about some of those hard choices, but one that concerns me is marine protected areas. In any consideration of areas that represent something valuable in ecological terms—we are trying to create a network of ecologically coherent zones—some activities will have to be banned. That will not be economically or socially desirable, but it will be necessary if we are to recover the ecosystems at sea.
The other side of the argument is that we are a busy shipping nation and there are pinch-points for shipping. Something not mentioned in the document is the great intensity of shipping in the Channel, where—this is a fact, I think, that I picked up from somewhere—there are more serious accidents than anywhere else in the world. Clearly, shipping is incredibly important to this nation, so it may be that a designated environmentally protected area occasionally has to give way to shipping interests. That is the type of thing that should be laid out in a proper policy statement, which would state that, in those cases—although it would be a hard choice—a plan should come down on the side of the argument that, for example, we depend on international shipping.
I wish to make a couple of other points of detail. As regards ports and shipping, safe marine navigation is incredibly important, as I have said.
One of the best sections in the document is paragraph 3.5, “Marine aggregates”, which contains the surprising statement:
“In addition there are no practicable alternative sources to marine aggregate for the maintenance of coastal defences required for climate change adaptation”.
That sweeping statement assumes that we will continue to maintain hard coastal defences, whereas I thought that, in many cases, we are now more interested in managed retreat. The document also lists a number of potential impacts of dredging and aggregate extraction, which include,
“loss of seabed habitat; impacts on fisheries”.
However, the comprehensive list that is given does not refer to the fact that the process of extraction may by its very nature threaten coastal defences. The document states that it “may alter coastal processes”, but that is very unspecific. That may seem a small detail, but it is important, given that we are spending more and more money on coastal defences. We need to ensure that we are not defending areas on the one hand while adversely affecting them on the other.
A great deal could be said about fisheries, which I hope other noble Lords will speak about. I hope that the Minister will address my fear that the draft marine policy statement does not contain hard choices and that the problem will be rectified in the final—as opposed to the draft—statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this debate on the draft marine policy statement. I declare an interest as chair of the Living with Environmental Change partnership, which comprises a research programme of 22 funders, of which Defra is one. I am also a past chair of the advisory committee of the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. The way in which this agenda has been pushed forward since the passing of the Marine and Coastal Access Act is commendable. From March to May we had the pre-consultative exercise and we have now had the consultation itself. I understand that workshops on it have been held and I fully subscribe to that process. It is a good opportunity for the community to become well informed about the issue and contribute to the consultation exercise. The initial summary of responses was received in November.
The Minister asked whether the draft document was fit for purpose. My noble friend Lady Miller has explained her concern that it does not do enough to determine issues of conflict and to point out where the rub should lie. She is right to say that the document is strong on platitudes—for example, the phrase in Chapter 2, which is very commendable as far as it goes, but states:
“Marine plans will be based on a sound evidence base”.
Thank goodness for that, because if they were not we would be in trouble. The evidence base comprises not just scientific advice—this is spelt out in the report—but comes from a range of sources, including existing plans, the people who live or work in the plan area, scientists, statutory and other advisers, industry and marine users. This is all part of the evidence base. That is why I caution my noble friend Lady Miller to make sure that we do not just assume that environmental interests, which were the driver for the original Bill, are setting the agenda. However, it is perfectly accurate to say that report after report has pointed out the parlous state of our marine environment. That is why we needed legislation, and why Defra is progressing with it. The latest state of the seas report, Charting Progress 2: An assessment of the state of UK seas, reminds us, if we needed reminding, the extent to which man’s activities are impacting on the marine environment, marine species and habitats, which are under pressure, declining or damaged. That can be taken as a given; it would not be unduly contentious to say that the evidence base has already established this. My noble friend Lady Miller is right to say that we should stick that into the draft MPS and move on, while recognising that socioeconomic and other issues will be part of the evidence base.
I will refer to the evidence base that we expect will be generated by science and scientific advisers. Here, we cannot overstress the importance of long-term monitoring. It is a very unfashionable area of science. Whenever a new, attractive idea comes up that is likely to win a prize, there is never any new funding, so money is taken from an area of science that is less attractive and recycled into the new project. However, long-term data collection is the key to determining how one manages the marine environment. That is true of the terrestrial environment, too, but it is particularly true of the marine environment because there are so many variables and because we do not know a lot about large areas of it. Some surveys date back to the early 20th century. That is something that we need to redress, and it can be redressed only by expensive infrastructure and the use of remote satellites, buoys and the like. It is very important not just to maintain the data collection, but to compare it with the trajectories of previous reports.
The UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy community reports to the Marine Science Co-ordination Committee and provides a platform for addressing the research that is necessary to fill the gaps in our knowledge about how natural and anthropogenic pressures impact on marine ecosystems. If marine planning is to be successful—and we earnestly hope that it will be—it must be informed by up-to-date, nationally consistent data on a much wider variety of variables than is required for its terrestrial equivalent.
The draft MPS refers appropriately to the requirement to ensure that the process of developing marine plans must be based on an ecosystem approach—that is, an approach that ensures that the collective pressures of human activities are kept to levels that are compatible with the achievement of a good environmental status that does not compromise the capacity of marine ecosystems to respond to human-induced changes. We do, whether on land or sea, alter the environment. An ecosystem is no longer sustainable, and we get into trouble, when its natural resilience is compromised. It is critical to be able to anticipate that tipping point. Again, it comes back to a good understanding of science and, above all, to data collection.
We need to put in place a network of ecologically coherent MPAs, including marine conservation zones, to address the threats to marine biodiversity and to deliver effective nature conservation. In order to achieve this, marine conservation zones must be identified using scientific advice of the highest quality. A marine science base and a comprehensive marine programme will be critical. I am concerned that this is going to be difficult because of the cost of maintaining marine science, and I hope the Minister can assure me that that is a threat I need not worry about.
Lastly, I would make the observation that with marine planning comes a whole new discipline for planners. It is a young discipline and it needs recruits of an appropriate technical and professional capacity. We will need more university courses to produce marine planners who understand the sort of conflicts referred to by my noble friend Lady Miller, and on a different technical level we will need national vocational qualifications for marine survey that build on the existing qualifications.
In summary, I congratulate the Government on their progress to date and on producing a marine policy statement in draft, but I hope that we do not forget the need to foster the underpinning disciplines for marine planning.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for introducing the debate. Having been away for several days, including the weekend, I only realised on Monday that this debate was to take place and therefore, although I have had a brief look through the Government’s draft marine policy statement, I confess that I have not read it in detail. I must also confess that from what I have read, a lot of it is a little confusing and there is an awful lot of verbiage. I think that it could have been considerably simplified. That apart, on what it covers, it is reasonably comprehensive. Certainly, my friends in the marine industries are supportive of the general content. I also welcome the Minister’s words telling us that work is due to start on the marine plans in March.
In some ways the document is far-sighted, and I particularly welcome the fact that under paragraph 3.3 dealing with energy, particularly renewable energy, mention is made of the potential of tidal and wave energy. I have always been a proponent of this type of energy because energy from wind farms is to some extent overrated. I am glad that this document looks ahead because as time goes on and more development takes place, we may well find that energy, particularly that derived from tides, is much greater than anyone realises. Indeed, some people are already projecting that up to 20 per cent of the country’s energy needs could come from tidal sources. I recognise that this is an early stage in its development, but it is something that certainly we should take note of.
I turn now to references to ports and shipping, particularly in paragraph 3.4. I welcome the decision that,
“the decision-maker should take into account and seek to minimise any negative impacts on shipping activity, freedom of navigation and navigational safety. In particular, international maritime law should be respected”.
I declare a non-pecuniary interest as an Elder Brother of Trinity House. We are particularly concerned with navigational safety, so I am delighted to see that that wording is in the document. Obviously the increased development of offshore wind farms will have a possible impact on navigational safety, so it is something that we should watch very carefully. Incidentally, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, mentioned the Dover Strait. I do not have any figures to hand to contradict what she said, and certainly in days gone by the strait used to be the worst area in the world for collisions, but since measures were taken to separate the main traffic lanes going east and west or north and south, the number of collisions has reduced dramatically. I would think that there are other areas around the world which could be equally as dangerous, if not more so.
I turn now to ports. I understand that there is some concern that arguments on the potential of port development are expressed in too one-sided a way, with only a brief reference to the positive economic benefits and much more apparent weight given to possible environmental disbenefits. The ports feel that there is a need for a more even-handed approach, which brings me back to the lengthy arguments that we had during the passage of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, when we discussed sustainable development at great length, and how the different factions could come to an agreement. When the Marine Management Organisation starts planning, it will come across these problems and will have a lot of work on its hands.
I will say a brief word about paragraph 3.6 on marine dredging and disposal. It would be more accurate to describe this as “navigational dredging and disposal”, to make it absolutely clear that we are talking about navigational dredging. This paragraph should make reference also to the need to support existing and future port development.
I turn now to the recreational side of the boating business, covered by paragraph 3.11. The British Marine Federation represents the leisure maritime industry. It feels that there is a possible case here for separation. The boating industry refers to those who own a boat, or go in other people’s boats, for pleasure, whereas the tourism side refers to people who go on holiday to beaches and perhaps take a short trip in a boat down the coast. These are separate activities and the latter is small compared with the overall marine leisure boating industry.
Most maritime interests are concerned that the designation of marine conservation zones is being taken as a pre-emptive, stand-alone exercise that is not part of the marine planning process. They feel that it would be much better if this were dealt with in the whole marine planning process.
As I hinted a few minutes ago, marine plans will be the key at local level. That is when the nitty-gritty of this exercise will start. The Marine Management Organisation will take forward these plans and will have a tough job on its hands. All of us who were involved in the Joint Committee that looked at the Marine and Coastal Access Bill recognise this. We were also concerned that the MMO would not be properly funded. I hope that the departures of the chairman and chief executive after only a few months in post were not as a result of fiscal concerns.
This document is a good way forward. It can be tweaked a little, but I would like to see it accepted as soon as possible, and for us to get on with the planning process.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his forward-looking presentation of the document that he has given us. I congratulate this and the previous Administration on carrying forward this proposition. My noble friend Lady Miller was concerned about the difficulty of getting agreement between different departments. This document has also had to contend with the challenge of getting the agreement of the devolved Administrations. It is a triumph for the long-forgotten Joint Ministerial Committee, along with its supporting cast, which was revived to implement matters in this field. It is becoming more significant as we deal with climate change and the negotiation of the common agricultural policy. All these matters bridge the devolved Administrations.
I was very interested to hear my noble friend say that he hoped the adoption would be by March 2011. Considering that what we have today is a draft for consultation, and presumably it is simultaneously being considered by the other Administrations, this is a useful moment to air a number of issues, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and others have done today.
Several respondents to the consultation have expressed concern about the interaction of marine planning with terrestrial planning. When earlier planning acts were drawn up and their extent was defined as England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, was there any stipulation that these measures were confined only to the terrestrial part of the United Kingdom, or could some of the provisions be taken to apply to terrestrial waters at the same time? Somebody might raise that as an argument. It has been explained to me that the planning Acts are almost entirely to do with development, and it has been drawn to my attention by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation that in Scotland the harvesting of food is exempt from the definition of development. The federation is anxious to know whether this provision would have any read-over into the maritime area, which might make a rather interesting conflict with some of the efforts to control what is being done.
On drawing up the marine plans, I would certainly associate myself with the briefing provided by the Wildlife and Countryside Link along with other links that there are arguments for the use of the precautionary principle. However, one of our difficulties, as some noble Lords have pointed out today, is that plans will cover vast areas where little detailed knowledge exists, and it will be essential that the responsible bodies take rapid steps to consolidate data in areas where they think restrictions on existing or proposed activities might be required.
I was much encouraged by the reply I received last year from the then Government on the designation of special areas of conservation. At that time it was also pointed out that there were five offshore marine sites under consideration. It would be interesting to know whether this subject has been taken forward over the following year. Can my noble friend the Minister give the Committee some idea of the timescale that the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy—which the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, referred to—is aiming to meet? The paper says that it will provide a network by 2012. Will it also produce a general designation of our whole sea areas, or are its efforts concentrated on the areas that we think are most likely to need protection?
In terms of the precautionary principle, I would also like to see it limited to the first few years—it might be the first five years, I do not know—of any marine plan. As the document says, new areas and changes in management are to be led by a sound evidence base. However, I am again inclined to agree with the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation in its concern that there must be a clear understanding that any sound evidence which is invoked must exceed a test of the balance of probabilities.
Perhaps the other thing that could be considered is that there should be a period for review of the plans, as knowledge and data are bound to lead to new perspectives as the whole thing goes forward. One thing that puzzled me—perhaps it is simply one’s lack of knowledge—is the stipulation that there should be protection not only for designated archaeological sites, which one can understand, but for undesignated archaeological sites. Who is to say what is an undesignated archaeological site, and who is to know what is an undesignated archaeological site?
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their progress in this matter. The marine policy statement will be critical for effective planning at all levels. Marine plans will then be developed under and guided by the marine policy statement. But marine plans are not forecast to be completed for all UK waters until at least 2020. This marine policy statement will therefore be particularly important in areas where no effective marine plans exist at the time decisions are being made in relation to marine licensing and regulating sea users. We therefore need a strong marine policy statement to guide decision-making across the UK waters.
I have a number of concerns with the document’s drafting, and any criticism should be taken in a constructive manner. First, it comprises simply a collection of existing sectoral policies and objectives and does not set any strategic direction or policy prioritisation or provide a clear steer for marine plan authorities or marine decision-makers. Secondly, it does not achieve its legislative purpose of clearly identifying policies which will ensure that the marine planning system contributes to the achievement of sustainable development. It fails to adopt strong sustainability by recognising that ultimately all economic and social activity is dependent on the natural environment, its resources and the ecosystem services it provides. The Government’s work on the Charting Progress 2 assessment of the state of our seas needs to be referred to more extensively in the marine policy statement. It clearly illustrates how our marine environment is being utilised at an unsustainable rate, with habitats and species generally in decline. Environmental limits based on strong science need to be clearly recognised in the marine policy statement.
Thirdly, there is also a problem specific to England. The aspirational nature of the marine policy statement, which includes only high-level policy statements and objectives to allow for UK-wide application, creates a gap between the marine policy statement and marine plans and decision-making. This should be filled by some form of national strategic planning, as is proposed in Scotland and Wales. Strategic planning benefits any planning system by providing a framework for cross-boundary co-ordination, harmonisation of standards, comprehensive assessment of environmental capacity and space for public discussion of these issues.
Fourthly, the way in which reasonable alternatives have been treated in the appraisal of sustainability of the marine policy statement is not satisfactory and is not in full compliance with the EU Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive and regulations. Only the marine policy statement and no marine policy statement alternatives have been fully addressed. In reality, the appraisal of sustainability has actually assessed only one option—that is, the marine policy statement as drafted. All reasonable alternatives should be fully—“fully” is the key word—and properly assessed in compliance with the EU Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive and regulations. I could elaborate on that but time does not permit me to do so.
The marine policy statement will be critical for effective planning at all levels. It should be a policy driver and set the direction for marine planning, which the current draft does not achieve. It is not, in my opinion, sufficiently prescriptive or robust.
My Lords, I wish to speak briefly in the gap. Like others, I congratulate the Government on taking this process forward so soon in their term of office, following on the notable initiatives of the previous Government in this sector, including the base legislation on which these activities are built.
I have two interests, one of which is the European common fisheries policy—I have tabled an oral Question on that for Wednesday of next week, so I will not pursue that matter this afternoon—and the other of which is covered in chapter 2 of the marine policy statement, which deals with marine conservation zones and marine protected areas and what will be done to develop those in a proper and sustainable way.
I have two worries in that regard. First, I worry that a bit too much emphasis may be being given—pace my noble friends on either side of me—to recreational aspects. That point is picked up to some extent in the section on noise in chapter 2. The impact of noise on marine life is not yet fully researched or understood, but it is likely—it appears to be the case—to be very damaging indeed. We do not fully comprehend the effect of noise on marine communication systems; the impact may even be to the point of bringing some life to an end.
My second point concerns sustainable conservation of fish stocks. Much of our fishing removes from the sea the adult fish on which the future development of fish stocks depends. If we do not have the adult fish, we do not have the breeding stock. It is very important that that is fully understood.
Finally, I express the wish that any future publication should have less colour and less gloss and more direction and firm action.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the opportunity to debate the draft marine policy statement and I agree with others that it is a very useful moment to do so at the conclusion of this phase of the consultation process. This has not been a long debate, but it has been a thoughtful one. A number of challenging issues have emerged and searching questions have been asked. I will try not to ask the same questions as those asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and others, but those issues are none the less important and should be addressed for the benefit of the House.
Obviously, the marine policy statement raises issues that are important to the country as a whole. I do not know whether it is still true that the UK is the EU country with the longest coastline, but our coastline is certainly long and we all have a huge interest in the health and quality of our marine environment. There are also important economic considerations: our fishing industry, which has been mentioned; the link with food supply and food security; the important energy sector, with coastal oil and gas; and the increasingly important alternative energy sector—not just wind but tidal energy—which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. In addition, there are port activities, which have also been referred to. There is also aggregates exploitation and indeed, coastal tourism, which is important to our economy and involves access to our coasts and the enhancement of coastal and marine heritage assets.
All those are important national issues, but they are obviously issues with strong local and regional dimensions. Such issues will be of great interest to communities around the country, especially to those areas affected by, for example, offshore energy developments—either welcome or unwelcome—and will have an impact on the future health of our coastal resorts, many of which have gone through difficult economic times in the past 20 to 30 years. Those areas are interested in the issues of economic regeneration and the importance of tourism for the future.
For all those reasons, a marine planning process of the kind that we are considering is extremely important. Obviously I welcome the fact that the work that the Government are doing is very much a continuation of the work of the previous Government—as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Eden of Winton—and follows the welcome passing of the Marine and Coastal Access Act. There is a need to ensure that that Act can be implemented as successfully as possible.
Not surprisingly, given the nature of the subject and the fact that there are diverse and sometimes conflicting interests involved, a number of concerns have been expressed in the debate that it is important to consider. As a result of the consultation, there certainly were requests for more detail on different aspects of the marine policy statement, particularly on the precautionary approach and how that will work in practice. Many speakers referred to how conflicts will be managed. Although we hope that decisions will be based on sound science, we know that that will not necessarily resolve all the conflicts on its own. How such conflicts will be managed is an important aspect.
How to link local marine plans to wider objectives, how to make effective decisions until the marine plans come in, the perceived lack of guidance for marine plan authorities and how to prioritise between different policies and activities are all matters that came up in the consultation and that need further attention in order to take forward the work.
Like other noble Lords, I have received background information for this debate from interested organisations, including the RSPB, which raised a number of issues. Again, I will not repeat those, but I hope that the Minister is aware of the submission and will respond to at least some of the points. There are a great many issues to take forward. The Minister mentioned that the marine policy statement will be adopted by March 2011, which was also referred to by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. That is an ambitious timetable, which I would not dissuade the Government from but will mean that a lot of work must be done.
Some participants in the debate commented on the nature of the documentation. I rather agree with those comments. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, talked about “verbiage” and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, talked about the documentation providing a not-very-clear road map. I do not think that the document is very user-friendly. I am not making a party-political point, because the documentation reflects both work produced by the previous Government and work taken forward by this Government. It is important for documents to be as clear as possible for the wider public. If concerned residents of a coastal town looked at the document, they would not find it clear. Acronyms do not help, although I do not know what the alternative to them is, because it is difficult to repeat the long names of organisations. For example, it is important to realise that the HRA is not the Human Rights Act but the habitats regulations assessment. Other such acronyms need to be looked at carefully.
I gather that further meetings are planned to respond both to the issues in the marine policy statement and to the concerns that people have raised. One or two meetings that have been held were well attended, in particular by organisations. I am glad that the task of getting the message out and starting a discussion in the country is being undertaken. Most of the responses have come from organisations—which I suppose is not surprising—but many interested individuals who are perhaps involved in marine economic activities or concerned about environmental issues will also want to be involved. In the consultation summary of responses, some environmental NGOs expressed disappointment that the consultation for the scoping stage of the appraisal of sustainability was not broadened to include individuals. Perhaps that can be addressed in later discussions on the issues.
This Government, and the previous Government, both wanted the marine planning system to be, as the policy statement says,
“Participative and informed by data provided by consultees, stakeholders, regulators and relevant experts”.
I encourage the Government to go down that route. If we are to get a sense of ownership of the plans and the planning process, it will be important for the participation procedures to be as effective as possible. That includes parliamentary involvement. There will be interest in both Houses in monitoring what happens in taking forward the marine policy statement and in implementing effectively the marine planning system and other provisions of the Marine and Coastal Access Act.
Obviously, the overarching principle of sustainability is something that we all feel strongly about, but the interpretation of that principle can give rise to difficulties. That is another example of where the devil is in the detail. In that regard, I know that Wildlife and Countryside Link sent us its views on the marine policy statement, and I hope its concerns can be addressed. In particular, that organisation is concerned that the MPS does not achieve its legislative purpose of clearly identifying those policies that will ensure that the marine planning system contributes to the achievement of sustainable development. The noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, raised some of those points, which it is important that we consider.
The devolved institutions surfaced during this debate. I note that the Fisheries Minister in another place talked about the need to have good co-ordination across the UK on fisheries and marine issues. Politically, that is something of a challenge given that we have a Conservative Fisheries Minister, a Sinn Fein Minister in Northern Ireland, a Scottish National Party Minister in Scotland and a Labour Minister in Wales. However, my impression is that the process is working well, and I applaud that. Such co-ordination will be important—I say that with a personal interest, as I come from the border area of the north-east of England. I remember that, when I first became interested in fisheries issues, I had a lot to do with an organisation called the Anglo-Scottish Fish Producers Organisation, which existed because fishing on both sides of the border was rather similar and there was a common marine area. I hope that in the new system the welcome existence of devolution will not be a barrier to joint working when that is clearly in the interests of particular communities and areas in the country.
The role of the Marine Management Organisation was mentioned during the course of the debate. In an earlier debate, the Minister and I both expressed strong support for the MMO and the work that it has to carry out, but some things are slightly puzzling to me. I understand that the MMO has designated the first two planning areas—east coast inshore and east coast offshore—and is busily planning at the moment, but this is in advance of the guidance under the marine policy statement. On what policy is planning being based at the present time? That is not clear to me. People need to know what is happening now.
I wish the MMO well in its tasks, but I understand that, as well as the change in personnel that was referred to earlier in the debate, there have been changes in the teams developing MMO planning policy and strategy. I hope that some of the staffing issues in the MMO are not going to prevent the effective action that we want to see.
I shall pick up the point that was made on the funding of the MMO. When the Minister and I discussed that at an earlier stage, he said that he would keep us informed about the situation affecting the MMO’s funding. I do not know whether he can comment on the question directly put to him about whether the departure of the chief executive and the chairman was related to funding, but it would be interesting to know that. There was general consensus that, as the organisation was set up recently when we knew of the financial crisis and its implications—in a lean and, I hope, fit-for-purpose way—for it to be subjected to any deep cuts would be unacceptable. There is a good case for saying that, as its budget was set up so recently, the MMO should be able to continue with a degree of certainty about its funding level.
Time does not permit me to deal with the issues surrounding fisheries policy, which are obviously related to the marine policy statement. A couple of weeks ago a very good debate was held in Westminster Hall on the common fisheries policy, and I hope that we will get an opportunity to debate that policy in your Lordships’ House as well. There are a number of important issues—regarding the regionalisation of the policy, whether there should be a move towards catch quotas and the move towards ending the annual wrangle in the EU about quotas—that need to be addressed. I will understand if the Minister feels that it would not be relevant to address those issues today, but again I hope that we will be able to consider them in some detail, particularly as we move towards the 2012 review of the common fisheries policy, which will be a key moment.
I agree with what the marine policy statement says on heritage protection, but obviously I hope that it takes into account existing activities. Even though this might lead to complications, I agree with the statement that,
“Many heritage assets with archaeological interest in coastal and offshore areas are not currently designated as scheduled monuments or protected wreck sites but are demonstrably of equivalent significance. The absence of designation for such assets does not necessarily indicate lower significance and the marine plan authority should consider them subject to the same policy principles as designated heritage assets”.
In conclusion, the debate has shown that there is general support for the overall approach, but we would like to see clarity about the way ahead, particularly so that those who will be deeply involved in these processes know what the priorities are and how the system will work. I accept that hard choices will have to be made and that conflicts cannot easily be resolved, but ultimately we all have a strong interest in a clean and safe marine environment and in a policy that is clearly sustainable over the long term. I am very supportive of the overall approach being taken, but I hope that some of the real issues and concerns that have been raised can be properly addressed.
My Lords, I am very grateful for all the comments made about the marine policy statement. Obviously we will take them on board and consider them as we turn the draft into a final report. I want to say a little about the parliamentary process because the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, requested a further debate, particularly on the common fisheries policy. I can assure her that my honourable friend Mr Benyon is, I think, still in Brussels at this moment for that rather ghastly extended meeting which goes on for a number of days when these matters are discussed. I am sure that he will take a robust line on behalf of the United Kingdom. However, it is a difficult process and whether we are to debate the issues is obviously a matter for the usual channels, but no doubt the noble Baroness will put on pressure as appropriate to achieve that.
I can also say that my honourable friend Mr Benyon has been before the EFRA Select Committee, which is how this draft statement was dealt with in another place. In this House it was felt appropriate to deal with it by means of a debate in this Room. That is how we have decided to deal with such policy statements. Whether that is appropriate or whether in the future we will have committees to look at these sorts of things, again that is a matter for others.
I was also interested, because it took me back a long way, to hear the noble Baroness talk about border-related problems. I can assure her that those problems are often even more complicated than she thinks. I can remember at the time of the devolution Bill my late noble friend, the great Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, discussing with me the problems of defining the border in places such as the Solway, which I know well, as the river and the sandbanks shift here and shift there. The border, as far as I understand it, is never quite clear, and this causes great problems in terms of who regulates fishing on either side of the river. It has also led to problems with the regulation of fishing where the tributaries of some rivers entirely in Scotland will be part of the English administration, and vice versa according to which rivers they are. The noble Baroness will know about that. That is just one of the problems of devolution but it is one that we have to live with. I am sure that we can all cope with it. I shall say just a little on the questions that my noble friend the Duke of Montrose asked about the devolved Administrations later when I come to deal with some of the points that have been raised.
I shall not address every point that has been raised because I would weary your Lordships and we would be here overlong were I to do so. However, there are a number of points that need addressing, the first of which is the whole question of the draft and what it looks like. I was grateful for the comment from my noble kinsman Lord Eden when he talked about needing less colour and less gloss in the document in front of us. I tend to agree. If we are being non-party-political then I should say that, like one or two other noble Lords, I can remember a rather good White Paper from the Labour Government in the mid-1970s called Food from Our Own Resources. That was back in the days when White Papers were produced on a smaller-sized paper—I cannot remember what size it is—and were literally just white papers. There were no photographs or gloss. Perhaps it is time, particularly in a department such as Defra, that we reverted to such an idea. I just put that forward as a suggestion. It will no doubt be vetoed and I will be told that it is far more expensive to do it that way, and that it is far cheaper to produce it, and people expect to have it, in colour. But I feed it through as an idea. If I had cross-party support from Peers, you never know, we might achieve something.
I turn to the draft itself, and I start with my noble friend Lady Miller, who talked about it needing further work. She said that it should set out options and that the Government should make clear what they tend to favour. We should also make clear that it should be a route map. She wanted the Government to face up to hard choices. I have to say to her that that is what government is all about: it is about hard choices and setting out priorities. My noble friend Lord Selborne commended the consultative process, which I think has worked very well, but he also agreed with my noble friend Lady Miller that the document is full of platitudes and needs more work. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said that there is too much verbiage—again I say that we might save a bit of money by cutting down on the verbiage—but that the document is reasonably comprehensive. Of course, there are tensions between cutting down on the verbiage and ensuring that it is comprehensive. That is just the spirit of a number of the comments that were made. I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, who also said that there is too much verbiage and too many acronyms—which, as someone who briefly served in the Ministry of Defence, I think are awful things. If we could get rid of acronyms, or at least if we knew what they meant, life would be a lot easier, particularly when reading some of the papers that one has to read.
I take on all those comments and criticisms. We will look at those matters when we come to produce the next version. This debate has been useful in dealing with those matters and dealing with the draft and I thank all noble Lords for their remarks. As I said, I would like to cover a number of questions, but I do not want to weary the Committee by dealing with every point raised as we would be here too long. The important thing is that we have those questions on record so that we in the department can take them on board and consider them when we produce the next version.
On the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, and the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, about the resources for the MMO—I should not slip into using acronyms, but as a group of experts we probably now all know that I mean the Marine Management Organisation—settlements on funding are still to take place, but I can give the noble Lord an assurance that the MMO is prioritising and protecting funding for marine planning. We will ensure that that continues to happen. As regards the departure of both the chairman and the chief executive, I am advised that that had nothing to do with funding. It is regrettable that those individuals had to go at the same time, but we are assured that the organisation will still be able to achieve all that it needs to do.
My noble friend the Duke of Montrose asked about the review and comprehensive monitoring of the marine plans. A new report on the plans needs to be produced every three years, in accordance with the Act. He and the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, also asked about the issue of undesignated archaeological sites, which relates to the sites where designation is being considered but not yet completed. Clarification on that is actively being discussed by officials.
My noble friend Lord Selborne asked about the evidence base. I certainly welcome his comments and I recognise the problems. Page 26 of the marine policy statement deals with that as well as with the high-level approach to planning. On the importance of co-ordination with the devolved Administrations, I refer him to page 22. The United Kingdom marine monitoring assessment strategy will be important in closing gaps, as will the marine plans themselves. The consultation on the marine planning system in England, as well as the MPS, stressed the need for a monitoring and review process, which still needs to take place.
Turning to the questions on the devolved Administrations raised by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, I accept that there are problems. The aim is for all countries jointly to adopt the marine policy statement, and we have been working closely to achieve that. We all have to work together, but in the end it is for the Secretary of State, who has a United Kingdom role on this occasion, to adopt the marine policy statement for it to be valid. If difficulties in negotiations arise, the marine policy statement can be adopted by some but not all devolved Administrations without that affecting its validity for the Administrations that adopt it. In the end, it is for the Secretary of State to make sure that adoption take place.
Lastly, the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, asked about the involvement of the coastal communities in the development of the marine plans. There has been extensive engagement—I thank the noble Baroness for her supportive comments on that—which will extend into marine planning as a whole. Everyone with an interest in a marine plan will be able to get involved in its development.
I said that I would not be able to answer all the questions that have been raised, but again I stress that this is all part of the process. The current marine policy statement is a draft for consultation, so we will take all the points that have been made by noble Lords into account as we develop the policy further. I appreciate that, as the noble Baroness put it, the timetable is tight, but it is always possible to achieve things in a relatively tight timetable, particularly when, as she knows, the matter has been ongoing for a considerable time. Before the election in May, the pre-consultation paper was published in March 2010 and this draft marine policy statement was published in July. There will be more to come, and we welcome the comments of the Committee. I beg to move.
Committee adjourned at 5.06 pm.