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For the reason I alluded to in answering the previous question, the fundamental responsibility rests in the context of the CFP, because this is not of itself a fish-stocks management Bill. We all have a
responsibility to make sure we have regard to the sustainability of our fish stocks, however. Although the fundamental arena in which we have to do that is the CFP, this Bill will make the UK the first country to adopt such a wide-ranging approach to marine management, and it will set the scene for what we hope will be radical reform of the CFP in time.
Mr. Jenkin: Is the Secretary of State aware that the WWF tried to mount a prosecution against the failure of the CFP, but that there is no locus for any non-governmental organisation to sue anybody for the failure of the CFP to conserve fish stocks? Is that not a complete and abject denial of accountability?
Hilary Benn: In the end, it is for the courts to determine whether cases can or cannot be brought, but that underlines the point that the hon. Gentleman rightly raises about the need to reform the system that determines the progress we make, or do not make, in ensuring our seas are managed sustainably. That framework is the CFP, which is why reform is needed so much.
Dr. Whitehead: I thank my right hon. Friend for his great generosity in giving way once more. On the designation of different parts of the sea bed for different uses and the multiple use of some areas, will he ensure that multiple use is determined at the time of designation, rather than afterwards? In other words, if there are multiple designations such as for wind farms and a marine conservation zone, will he ensure that they are made at the time of the initial designation and not considered subsequently?
Hilary Benn: I am sure that we will look at that question in Committee. The purpose of the Bill, however, is to give us a range of ways to protect what we seek to protect, so that at one end of the spectrum we can say that nothing can happen at all and at the other end of the spectrum we can say, All these things can happen except this one. That depends on what we are trying to protect, and the flexibility that is to be found in the Bill gives us the means to achieve all those things.
Hilary Benn: If the right hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I am going to make some progress, as many Members wish to speak and I am conscious of the time. I would just add that the documentary The End of the Line which has been seen in recent weeks makes the point about how much we are currently taking from the sea, and the publication last week of the new climate projections makes us think about the impact of a changing climate on our seas. My point is that the Bill is not just right, it is also very timely and I should like now to turn to its provisions
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way before he leaves that very important point. A lot of people welcome the Bill but they want some reassurance that it will protect the right areas to the right standard. As he said, it is a permissive Bill.
Can he give us some idea of how many marine conservation zones there will be and how intense the protection will be?
Hilary Benn: I am not going to give the right hon. Gentleman a number now as it would not be wise to do so. I know that there has been a campaign regarding the percentages of the seas that should be so designated. The right approach is to look at the evidence, look at the science, find out what is therewe know some things already, but there is a lot, as the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge, that we do not yet knowand work from the bottom up, rather than artificially sticking into the Bill a percentage at the beginning, which would be the wrong way to go.
The Bill clearly places a duty to designate an ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones, and gives Ministers the power to protect them in an appropriate way, having regard to what one is seeking to protect.
Part 1 and schedules 1, 2 and 3 will establish a new independent body, the marine management organisation, to draw together many of the activities covered in the rest of the Bill. The MMO will be responsible for drawing up marine plans, issuing marine legislation licences, continuing the marine and fisheries management currently undertaken by the Marine and Fisheries Agency, and enforcing marine legislation.
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): Constituents of mine who work for the Marine and Fisheries Agency have come to see me about transferring to the MMO. Apparently, they will lose their civil service status, which has not happened with jobs transferred to other non-departmental public bodies. Could my right hon. Friend look at that, because in the current economic climate those people are understandably fearful of losing their status?
Hilary Benn: The MMO is going to be established as an NDPB precisely to give it the independence that many of those who have long advocated the setting up of the MMO have said it should have. The staff will transfer with contractual terms and conditions applying at the time of the transfer, and they will be eligible for the civil service pension scheme. Staff will be able to apply for other civil service jobs and a number of other safeguards will be applied, including the Secretary of States having to approve any changes to the terms and conditions that might be made. I hope that that offers some reassurance to members of staff who have expressed those concerns.
The MMO will be an NDPB precisely so that it reports formally to Parliament through the Secretary of State. It will act as the Governments strategic marine delivery body, be a centre of marine management expertise and play an important role in making representations to and advising the new Infrastructure Planning Commission. Changes to the Bill made in the other place mean that the MMO has been made stronger. Its
role in the planning legislation development consent process will be set out in primary legislation through amendment to the Planning Act 2008.
One very important point raised in the other place concerned expertise in marine science and the importance of access to data, which goes back to the point made by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). Marine science and research is very important as it is the basis on which we make and will make so many of our decisions affecting the seas, and it will have a crucial role to play in enabling the MMO to make the best decisions possible. For that reason, we will ensure that the MMO has access to the best quality expertise, which is why the Bill now requires the MMO to appoint a chief scientific adviser.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): There is concern, however, that the MMO will not have enough resources and manpower to carry out this very challenging work, and to be the champion of the seas that we all want it to be.
Hilary Benn: The Marine and Fisheries Agency has roughly 100 staff at head office and 100 out in the coastal offices, but the MMO will have 240 to 250 staff, so that is an increase. Of course, we will keep the number under review as the MMO seeks to take up the responsibilities that the House will, I hope, place on it by agreeing to the Bill.
Part 2 and schedule 4 set out the UK marine area, which is used in subsequent parts of the Bill to define where certain activities may take place. Part 2 also allows for an exclusive economic zone to be designated and amends the Government of Wales Act 2006 to insert a definition of the Welsh zone. Further functions in relation to fisheries matters may then be transferred to Welsh Ministers by an Order in Council. That provision will bring Wales into line with Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): The MMO will have additional resources, but where measures are devolved to the Welsh Assembly Government, will the additional resources be handed on to that Government, so that they can carry out the work? There is concern in Wales that there will be duplication, and that instead of having a one-stop shop for licences, as is proposed, there will be gold-plating by the Welsh Assembly Government.
Hilary Benn: Matters that fall within the purview of the Welsh Assembly Government are for the Welsh Assembly Government, as my hon. Friend will know. It is for them and the other devolved Administrations to decide how they will use their resources, but the MMO will be available, as a source of expertise, to those who want to make use of its knowledge. The aim of the one-stop-shop approach is to try to make the process more streamlined and more sensible for those who seek to undertake development in the seas. That is why the Bill, quite uniquely, has managed to draw a wide range of support, both from those who are passionate about protecting biodiversity and the wonders that lie beneath our waters, and from those who are trying to earn a living from the seas. That goes back to the point about the balance that the Bill seeks to strike.
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): Does the Secretary of State not agree that more could be done in the Bill to address the issue of ship-to-ship transfer, and incidents such as that involving the Napoli in my constituency, in areas that are extremely sensitive? Why has he not adopted the European idea of having places of refuge that can be taken into account when such accidents happen?
Hilary Benn: As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, the ship-to-ship transfer regulations are currently under consultation in respect of the relevant Department. That would seem an opportunity to pursue the important point that he raises about making sure that the regulations are fit for purpose.
Part 3 and schedules 5 and 6 will introduce a new system of marine planning which is designed to help us to manage the competing uses of the sea. It will help public authorities and those using our waters to co-ordinate what they do, while enabling the Government to insist on a sustainable approach. A marine policy statement will be prepared and agreed by the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, setting out policies and priorities for the whole UK marine area. Since the Bill was first introduced, we have clarified the process for scrutiny of the draft MPS because we believe that it is important that all UK legislatures have time properly to consider it. After full consultation with everyone who has an interest, a series of marine plans will be prepared that will apply the policies in the MPS locally. Marine plan authorities will have to report to Parliament every six years on how they have used their powers, and on their future intentions. That will allow a clear picture of progress on marine planning to be available to all of us.
Part 4 and schedules 7, 8 and 9 will introduce a simplified, fairer and more transparent licensing system to permit activities in our seas and to set out any appropriate conditions that are needed to protect the environment or human health, or to prevent interference with other users of the sea. That will replace the current licensing and consent controls. The changes are intended to provide greater certainty to operators about the timing and outcome of licence applications and will make it easier for licensing authorities to make decisions that are consistent with the marine policy statement and the marine plans. They will also provide a wider range of enforcement options; taking people to court will not be the only sanction available.
Lembit Öpik: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for coming back to the general concern that I raised earlier. He may want to write to me on this rather technical question. Could people who are involved with extractive and other potentially damaging activities that take place in areas that in the Governments judgment should be protected use the mechanism that he mentions to make their case clear? Can they be confident that the considerations that he mentions will be balanced against economic considerations in a reasonable way?
The Bill also tightens up the procedures for dealing with harm caused by licensing offences and the rules governing putting things right when damage has been caused. We have placed a clear duty on the marine licensing authority to notify local authorities of applications
they receive for activities in their areas, and that will be welcomed. The Bill also ensures that the order-making power covering exemptions for activities that will not need a marine licence will be subject to the same principles that licensing authorities must have regard to when determining licensing applications.
Ms Sally Keeble: As my right hon. Friend knows, my constituency, although about as far from the sea as one can get in the UK, has a keen interest in environmental issues. People are concerned that the network of marine conservation zones should be comprehensive and allow for the proper movement of marine wildlife. In addition, will inland areas be consulted about the development of the marine plans, because people in those areas have a real interest in protecting the marine heritage and environmentthey enjoy and benefit from it as much as everyone else does?
Hilary Benn: I am keen that anyone and everyone who has an interest has an opportunity to express a view during consultation on carrying through the provisions of the Bill. Even if my hon. Friends constituents live a little way from the sea, they have exactly the same interest in ensuring that the aims of the Bill are achieved, and I would welcome their views alongside others.
The Government are committed to protecting biodiversity, which is why the Bill will put a clear duty on the Secretary of State, Welsh Ministers and Scottish Ministers to designate marine conservation zones. The powers and duties in the Bill replace, and greatly improve on, the current power under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to designate marine nature reserves, and existing marine nature reserves, such as Lundy and Skomer, will automatically become marine conservation zones.
The designation of these protected areas is designed to safeguard rare, threatened and representative species of plants and animals, and allow the recovery of some areas to a more natural state. The zones will be designated on the best available scientific evidence, but as we have already discussed, the Secretary of State may also take into account the social and economic consequences of site designation. This part of the Bill is all about creating an ecologically coherent and well-managed network of marine protected areas. This will include marine conservation zones as well as European and Ramsar sites, and sites of special scientific interest. Following debate in the other place, Ministers will now have to lay a statement setting out the principles that will underpin this network. This statement will show how we intend to create that ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas for the UK.
Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): There is considerable consensus on this Bill, as the Secretary of State has said, but he will be aware that several campaign organisations have made it clear that they would like to see the provisions on the designation of marine conservation zones enhanced by allowing for the designation of highly protected areas within those zones. That may be an issue for debate in Committee, but I would appreciate his comments on why the Government are resisting that proposal.
The simple reason, as I tried to explain earlier, is that the Bill in its current form gives the Secretary of State the ability to do precisely what the
hon. Gentleman and the campaigning organisations have requested. The flexibility of the provisions means that we can have highly protected areaswhich would mean saying nothing can happen here, as I said earlierand we can fit the restrictions placed on an area to the objective that we are trying to achieve. The statement that will now have to be laid will enable Ministers to set out clearly the principles that will underlie the taking of decisions about marine conservation zones. Those, and the changes that have been made in the other place, are all about responding to the point that has been made, and the Bill is in the right place as far as achieving that objective is concerned.
Part 5 will not only fulfil the UKs commitment under the convention for the protection of the marine environment of the north-east AtlanticOSPARbut make progress on meeting our requirements under the marine strategy framework directive.
We are also working with Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee on four regional projects throughout England, bringing together local industries, fishermen and wildlife groups. Those will play an important part in identifying potential marine conservation zones and ensuring that all stakeholders have a chance to express their views.
The Bill also puts new duties on public authorities to further the conservation objectives set for marine conservation zones. For example, they should not authorise activities or development that carry a significant risk of hindering these conservation objectives, thus providing better protection. There will also be powers for the MMO to make byelaws and interim byelaws to protect sites, and potential sites, from otherwise unregulated activities that may cause harmthat is a power to act. A general offence is also included to deal with acts of deliberate and reckless damage to a marine conservation zone.
Part 6 and schedule 14 will replace sea fisheries committees with new bodies, which will be called inshore fisheries and conservation authorities in England. They will have a duty to manage sea fisheries, balancing socio-economic benefits with protection of the marine environment. They will have more money and strengthened powers, while keeping local involvement in decision making. IFCAs will be very different from the sea fisheries committees that they replace, because, significantly, they will have a new duty to protect the marine environment and promote its recovery from the effects of sea fisheries exploitation. In Wales, Welsh Ministers will take on responsibility for inshore sea fisheries management.
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): Has the Secretary of State noted the concern expressed by the Wildlife Trusts of Wales and similar conservation bodies that the IFCA model does not apply in Wales and that consequently the powers are centralised in the hands of Welsh Ministers without any duties being expressed and without any scrutiny on the part of the Welsh Assembly?
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