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The hon. Gentleman makes many interesting points about renewable energy, but to return to the amendment, we are talking about which agency is best
equipped to deal with the developments to which he refers. I am sure that he agrees that a number of the developments will have an environmental impact, whether it is a tidal barrage, which his hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) mentioned recently, or another system. Is the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) saying that the MMO should not be qualified to talk about them, because it will be too weighted towards conservation issues and include too much greenery, in which case it must be dealt with by a much more austere organisation, such as the IPC, which will consider the matter in the round, within a national framework and alongside all such policies? If he is, I profoundly disagree. The conservation impact is absolutely vital, and that is why the MMO is better placed to deal with it. The MMO has the right momentum for increasing the amount of renewable energy that we produce.
Dr. Turner: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I do not entirely agree, because that is a false conflict. I am talking only about the deployment of machinery that has been demonstrated to have little or no environmental impact in its own right. We should not give the MMO the job of consenting to such deployment, because there is a very real fear that it will not have the engineering expertise to deal with it, whereas the IPC will. Is it sensible economically to set up two structures with lots of experts or to have only one? There is no way that the MMO would be excluded, in any event, because it will still be a statutory consultee that looks at environmental impact assessments.
The hon. Gentleman asks whether I think that the MMO might be too green and too weighted against energy installations. He has a point there. The tidal stream turbine had a very rough passage in getting environmental impact consent, and very nearly did not get it. The assessment and monitoring process cost £4 million-25 per cent. of the cost of the whole project. The investment climate in the industry is appalling and the market is very difficult, because there is not enough support for new and inherently somewhat expensive technologies; adding a crippling burden of costs in environmental consenting creates a risk of strangling it.
Andrew George: I presume that the hon. Gentleman is not saying that his proposal would result in a lesser need for environmental impact assessments for such projects. As well as the two projects that he mentioned, off the north coast of Cornwall there is a substantial wave hub project that has recently got the necessary consent to proceed. It is a very exciting project. The route by which it received its necessary planning consent demonstrates the need for a range of Government agencies and a range of interests to come together in order ultimately to make a decision about such consents within the marine environment. One element that was not considered sufficiently in the planning process was the interests of Trinity House and maritime safety, because the wave hub will be slap bang in the middle of a shipping lane. That can be overcome. However, the primary point is that these issues are best handled by the MMO and are not to be superseded by what is otherwise a land-based Government agency such as the IPC. Does he agree that it is a question of bringing all the agencies and interests together and ensuring that decisions are taken within the marine conservation context?
Dr. Turner: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right that we must have coherence. I am not, for one moment, diminishing the role or importance of environmental impact assessments. However, it is unfortunate that some conservationists and animal or marine ecologists are blind to the fact that the most important threat to ecosystems, apart from bad fishing practices, gravel extraction or whatever, is climate change. That is what makes renewable energy installations totally different in kind from any other socio-economic use. Provided that their immediate ecosystem impact is benign, which by definition it should and can be, such installations also bring wider environmental benefits and are a weapon for climate change mitigation. I do not wish that to be undermined.
I would be perfectly happy with the MMO if I could be certain that it would have the ability to carry out economically and quickly the consenting process on the relatively modest projects in question-£15 million or so at a time. However, history does not give me that confidence.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I have been following the hon. Gentleman's argument closely, but as I understand it, the IPC was set up and its commissioners chosen to consider a small number of very large applications. I think that he is suggesting that it now take on a much larger number of small applications. I am not sure whether the structure would allow that.
Dr. Turner: I do not believe that there is any problem with the structure. The number of applications in question would not be great, and given the technologies concerned, they would be strategic. If we are to have a gigawatt-scale industry, we have to go through the initial phase up to the first 100 MW or so without impediment. If there is undue impediment, that phase will not happen and we will miss out on the climate change mitigation benefit and fail to exploit the enormous energy resources that nature has given us. Others will reap the benefit, and it will be a tragedy and detrimental to our marine environment. That is the basis on which I am arguing.
Under my amendments, the MMO would have a critical role, and no one is suggesting that it should be shoved aside. The most important thing is to have coherence and consenting procedures that are fit for purpose. If the electrical consenting is all done by one organisation, we are much more likely to get that. The MMO will be involved even in the larger projects that are referred straight to the IPC, because it will carry out the environmental impact assessments. Nobody wants to sideline it, but I am trying to put the critical mass of expertise and the efficiency of decision making in the right body, so that it works properly. That is the main nub of the argument.
The need for the synergy that I have referred to between renewable energy and the highly sensitive areas that will be designated as MCZs is now accepted by Natural England, and it has to happen. I am concerned that if the conservation lobby has too much influence and the balance is tilted too much in its favour, that synergy may be lost. It could be self-defeating.
May ask my hon. Friend, as I did my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) earlier, whether he believes the problem might be resolved through the fact that Natural England,
which has responsibility for developing the proposals for MCZs along with the Finding Sanctuary project in the south-west of England, has come to agreement with the Renewable Energy Association about how to bring coherence to the proposals? I absolutely agree with the basic premise of what he is saying about that coherence.
I am fairly sure that the Government will resist my amendments stoutly-Governments generally do-as they are attached to structure that they have in the Bill. I put it to my hon. Friend the Minister, however, that if he has got that wrong-if arrangements are such that the consenting process is unduly onerous on, and expensive for, the small and medium-sized enterprises that are developing what will become a critical, strategic industry-and helps to strangle that industry at birth, he will have some accounting to do. I expect to hear some fairly secure assurances from him that that will not be the case; otherwise I urge him to accept my amendment.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Ann McKechin): I commend this interesting and well-informed debate, which has been on a number of important clauses that we discussed at length in Committee. We have also had an opportunity to consider further some of the Bill's very important provisions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) rightly brought our attention to the value and experience of the staff who will form the MMO and of the existing staff at the Marine and Fisheries Agency, and to the obligation that we owe to them for their service. I am grateful, therefore, for his comments, despite the slightly disparaging ones that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) made about lawyers-I shall try not to take that too personally.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington reflected the concerns raised by the departmental trade unions about the change of status involved for those staff. As he is aware, a constructive discussion on that subject was held last week with the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), and I am happy that he read the latter's letter into the record.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington raised some other points. It is Government policy that non-departmental public bodies, such as the MMO, should be staffed by public servants. That is an important factor in ensuring their independence from central Government, and it is vital that the MMO is seen as an independent marine manager delivering Government policy as a whole. I would like to reassure the House that we have put in place safeguards to ensure that the terms and conditions of pensions will carry over when staff transfer, that the provisions will apply to new staff and that the MMO staff will be able to apply for civil service jobs.
As my hon. Friend correctly said, the pay will mirror DEFRA pay in 2010, although the MMO board will wish to reflect on future pay arrangements to attract
staff of the right quality and experience. However, any changes would require consultation and negotiation with the trade union representatives and approval by the Secretary of State.
My hon. Friend also raised the issue of access to gateway. The civil service gateway gives access to all civil service jobs, not just to those in DEFRA. The MMO will apply to civil service commissioners, via the Cabinet Office, for accreditation for MMO staff. Providing the MMO continues to meet the criteria for accreditation, there is no reason why MMO staff should lose the benefit of access to civil service jobs via the gateway scheme.
Ann McKechin: I was coming to the hon. Gentleman's points on that subject. As he is aware, no appointment has been made, as yet, for the chief executive. A recruitment exercise took place earlier this summer. It is not that there were no suitable candidates, but that for a number of reasons we were unable to make a formal offer. I can advise him that a further recruitment exercise has just closed. Interviews are scheduled for early November, and the chief executive will be in place ahead of vesting. In the meantime, an interim senior manager has been appointed to work with the chair designate and officials on the work needed for vesting the new organisation.
Recruitment for the new headquarters and the retention of staff have been prioritised in business areas where the MFA fulfils key statutory or customer delivery functions, including marine licensing, fishing vessel licensing and the management of fish quotas. The recruitment programme was designed to deliver high-calibre staff to the organisation using objective assessment methodology, as well as technical fit, and to be phased in to bring staff into critical teams as early as possible. More than 40 members of staff have been recruited, and we are bringing them into the MFA in teams. Training for the first three teams started on 5 October. The second phase of recruitment is now under way, and we expect to bring in those members of staff from the end of November onwards. An extensive training programme targeted at the needs of individual teams is under way. Following formal training in London, the trainees are now working on a one-to-one basis alongside existing staff, who are also in London.
Once handover is completed and signed off to the satisfaction of MFA directors, there will be a period of dual running, with staff operating from Newcastle in tandem with staff in London. To ensure business continuity and a smooth transition in that period, we will ensure that there is a clear process of training, knowledge transfer and dual running. The recruitment programme to replace staff is now well under way and largely complete in Newcastle. Twenty-five members of staff
have been recruited to date, and training and handover are now under way in London. I hope that those assurances will persuade the House that we have put in place a procedure that will allow us to recruit the necessary staff of appropriate experience and that there will be a smooth transfer from the MFA to the MMO when the power is vested in it.
On amendments 30 and 31, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) commented about the extensive period of reflection that we have had since our discussions in Committee. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been in discussion with a number of different parties. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test that our comments are based on that careful reflection and on ensuring that the Bill not only is as strong as possible, but will deliver on the ambitious priorities that we set out as part of our manifesto obligation.
The MMO's general objective was subject to extensive debate in the other place and in Committee in this House. Lord Hunt of Kings Heath went into great detail in the other place about why we consider amendments requiring the MMO to "further" the achievement of sustainable development, rather than to "make a contribution" to it, to be inappropriate. I do not want to repeat at length what has been said before, but I do want to make a few key points to reinforce the reasons why the Government cannot support the amendments.
As was said on Second Reading and in Committee, we already have a strong objective for the MMO. That was strengthened by the package of amendments that the Government introduced on Report in the other place, with the support of Lord Taylor of Holbeach and Earl Cathcart. That package introduced a new power to enable the MMO, in pursuit of its overall objective to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, to take any action that it considers necessary or expedient for the purpose of furthering any social, economic or environmental purposes.
That package also provides for the Secretary of State to give guidance to the MMO on its sustainable development objective-guidance that will make clear the Government's view of the MMO's role and the principles that it should follow in fulfilling its overall objective on sustainable development. The guidance, which is in development, makes clear the MMO's strategic direction, based on the high-level marine objectives, which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary explained earlier, and the clear legislative framework set out in the Bill. Those elements will be reflected in the objectives to be set and agreed for the MMO, as set out in its corporate plan and subject to regular performance review by the Secretary of State. Parliament will receive an annual report so that it, too, can judge the performance of the new body.
It is important to note that the vast majority of interested parties, as well as the industry sectors and other interests involved in lobbying on the Bill during its passage through Parliament, now accept that the balance that we have achieved is about right. We have received letters from a number of groups and organisations supporting the current position in clause 2, including the Renewable Energy Association, the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and the UK Major Ports Group. I was pleased to learn that the group of environmental
non-governmental organisations known as Wildlife and Countryside Link is no longer pressing for a change to clause 2. I hope that hon. Members will agree that that is a wide spectrum of interests in the marine environment.
Linda Gilroy: I acknowledge that that is a very wide group. These matters have been quite controversial, however, and the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Will the Minister go so far as to agree that there might be a case for early post-legislative scrutiny of the Act? I appreciate that the policy statements have yet to be developed, but that would be one way of ensuring that these matters work.
Ann McKechin: My hon. Friend raises an important point. We want to get on with the real work and get these plans and policies into practice. Given the huge interest in these matters in civil society, however, I am sure that the various Select Committees and all-party groups, which are very active in the House, will scrutinise the legislation from day one. That is absolutely right, because they will ensure that the Government live up to the principles that have been outlined in the course of our debate here and in the other place over the past few months.
Martin Salter: The Minister is certainly making a fair fist of moving towards allaying the concerns that a number of us raised in Committee. She mentioned the coalition of support for the Government's strengthened position-I accept that they have strengthened it and moved towards "furthering"-but will she tell me whether the WWF is part of that coalition, or whether it is still pressing, as I believe it is, for the text of the original amendment to be written into the Bill?
Ann McKechin: As far as I am aware, the wording of that clause is not currently part of that organisation's briefing on the Bill. As far as I understand it, it is not pushing it heavily, but I cannot comment on every lobby group that has approached us. As my hon. Friend can imagine, we have been approached by a considerable number. I hope that the MMO's objective, coupled with the guidance, will ensure that the interests of all those organisations is taken properly into account by the MMO in reaching its decisions.
I cannot see how amendments 30 and 31, tabled by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon), would make a practical difference to how the sea is managed. The words "making a contribution to" are appropriate, given that the MMO, working within the framework of a UK-wide marine policy statement, will not be able to achieve sustainable development on its own. While the MMO will have a key role, the achievement of sustainable development in the marine area will be a partnership effort by all those who have a say in how the seas are managed. That includes other delivery bodies, regulators, the devolved Administrations, and the vast range of users of the sea and its resources.
Many of the MMO's partner organisations that will be carrying out functions under the Bill, such as the Environment Agency and Natural England, have a duty to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development under their own parent legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West mentioned the position of the Environment Agency, and I would like to clarify that point for him. The agency has now changed its position and is no longer convinced that there is any need to change the Bill as it is currently drafted.
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