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Andrew George: What harm would it do to make the changes as proposed by the hon. Member for Newbury? If the Minister is insisting on pressing ahead with Government amendment 4 and rescinding the decision taken in Committee, will she answer a question that I raised earlier? Of course the MMO will make a contribution, but will it be the leading contribution, as we would all expect? The other agencies that the Minister mentioned will clearly make contributions, but will the MMO be making the leading, co-ordinating contribution?
Ann McKechin: I shall explain in detail why I believe that the amendments would not strengthen the Bill. As a former practising solicitor, I have to say that I do not want the Bill to create a lawyers' charter, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want that either. That is why I want to make it clear that the current wording is important. Other partner organisations, such as the Environment Agency and Natural England, have a duty to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development under their parent legislation-including the Environment Act 1995, the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998, the Energy Act 2004, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, the Energy Act 2008 and the Planning Act 2008. None of those is an old piece of legislation; they are all relatively current. There are also terrestrial planning bodies and regional development agencies that, in turn, have similar obligations placed on them. It is important, in my view, to the desirability of integrating marine and terrestrial planning that we have a degree of consistency. This is not about a lack of ambition, as some have alleged. Indeed, the work of the Environment Agency demonstrates how much can be done under the existing formulation.
Introducing a different duty for only one of those bodies would lead, I believe, to a lack of clarity, which could well have unintended consequences and end up being a lawyers' charter, which all of us-including even those involved in the legal profession-want to avoid. Indeed, the hon. Member for Newbury himself pointed out the dangers yesterday when he referred to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and lawyers dancing on the head of a pin in trying to describe where a garden finishes and a park begins.
That is precisely why we have tabled Government amendment 4, which will undo the change made in Committee to clause 44 and restore the wording that came to this House from the other place. It is my firm belief that the marine policy statement should set out the policy authorities' general policies for "contributing to" the achievement of sustainable development in the UK marine area. I have considered carefully the arguments put in both Houses in support of the current wording, but I am not persuaded. Speakers in both Houses have made much of the need, with which I wholeheartedly agree, to ensure that there is no inconsistency or incompatibility between the marine policy statement and the national policy statements that will guide decision making by the Infrastructure Planning Commission.
Similarly, my ministerial colleagues in the other place and I agree entirely with those who wish to have effective integration of marine and terrestrial plans, yet the current wording gives the marine policy statement a different goal from that of terrestrial planning documents, which would make that integration even more difficult. It may be that, semantically, there is little practical difference between "furthering" or "contributing to"
the achievement of sustainable development, but that itself is part of the problem. If Parliament, after such extensive debate, insists on the use of "furthering", then marine planners and ultimately the courts will have no option but to assume that a difference was intended-yet no one seems sure what that difference should be in real terms. "Contributing to the achievement of sustainable development" is a long-established concept in terrestrial planning and other contexts, yet "furthering" is entirely untested. I do not believe that we should create uncertainties like that.
In Committee, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs promised to look into the possibility of inserting a reference to "furthering" into a paragraph in schedule 5 that requires the marine policy statement to undergo an "appraisal of sustainability". I can advise my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test that that initially seemed like a good way of emphasising the forward momentum we expect from the policies in the MPS.
Ms Barlow: Without going too much into semantic niceties, does my hon. Friend agree that the word "furthering" might weaken the Bill rather than contribute towards sustaining fragile marine eco-systems?
Ann McKechin: There is an area of doubt, so that possibility cannot be overruled. My hon. Friend raises a point that is worth considering. That is why I do not believe that such an amendment would be helpful. It would run the risk of confusing the well-understood process of "sustainability appraisal", which has been established in other contexts for some time. I promised to consider this change, as did my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, on the condition that in our common aim of securing a robust statutory commitment to progress in achieving sustainable development, we
"must not challenge what has been established by some quite significant legal precedents". --[ Official Report, Marine and Coastal Access Public Bill Committee, 30 June 2009; c. 19.]
Government amendment 4 is simply about restoring consistency with other legislation; it is certainly not about a lack of ambition. Let me be absolutely clear: the goal of the policies set out in the marine policy statement is to make a real, positive and ongoing difference to the achievement of sustainable development in the UK. These policies must make long-term environmental, economic and social sense. By ensuring that the MMO and other public bodies make decisions in accordance with the MPS, we aim to establish real progress and improved sustainability. Accordingly, I urge Opposition Members not to press their amendments to a Division, and to support Government amendment 4.
Amendments 25 and 26 would remove from the MMO two functions that we intend to give it on vesting. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test made a number of interesting comments-backed up by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner)-about the need for coherence in our planning policies, and I certainly do not disagree with that. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test also made an important point about the need to
link offshore development in renewable energy with the infrastructure that is required inshore. As he will know, we expect the Scottish Government to make a decision this month about the Beauly-Denny connection, which is vital to allowing us to connect the considerable renewable energy sources that exist in the north of Scotland and in our seas. That is why it is important for us to have both the planning structure and the political will that are needed to enable us to make tough decisions.
The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil)-for the benefit of those who are not familiar with the Gaelic, let me add that his constituency is also known as the Western Isles-came in and then blew out. Unfortunately, he remained silent on why he thought that the Scottish Government rejected last year's planning application for a wind farm in the Western Isles, which is truly the windiest part of western Europe and presented significant potential for further growth in renewable energy. It is regrettable that the decision went the wrong way.
We could talk for ever about planning issues, but I think it right to return to the specific provisions in the Bill. The Bill introduces a number of changes to the way in which we manage and consent to developments in the seas, which will greatly benefit the offshore renewable energy industry. The Government are already working with the sector to develop a marine action plan by next spring, which will deal with the development of both industrial capacity and technological capability, with deployment opportunities in the United Kingdom, and with any barriers to deployment. Members have rightly raised all those issues today.
Linda Gilroy: Concern was expressed about the capacity that the MMO would have to advise on such matters. Will the Minister assure us that information on both technology and science will be at its disposal?
Let me also clarify something that we said at the end of last night's debate, when the noise level was particularly high. My hon. Friend asked about regional marine conservation zone projects. I can tell her that there are several pieces of guidance. The guidance that I mentioned yesterday, which deals with regional projects, will be issued by Natural England and the International Marine Conservation Congress. It should be released in draft before Christmas, and will ensure that project managers know what they need to do and when over the next two years.
I believe that my hon. Friend also referred to ecological guidance for the selection of sites within a network of marine protected sites. It will be published, but that too is a matter for guidance from Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. The timing is in their hands, but I am keen for them to issue the guidance as soon as possible. Obviously it must be fit for purpose, but it is important for my hon. Friend to be kept in touch about progress, and I will ask Natural England to write to her with the details. She also asked about the science base. I am told that we are currently appointing a chief scientific adviser.
Let me return to amendments 25 and 26. The substantial importance that the Government place on the offshore renewable energy industry when it comes to mitigating climate change, providing energy security and contributing
to the economy will directly filter down into consenting decisions made by the MMO. In addition, the Bill makes a number of improvements to the consenting process. It provides developers of offshore generating stations with a capacity of 100 MW or less with a one-stop shop for the marine-based consents. These installations will need a marine licence as well as consent under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989. Sometimes a safety zone will also need to be declared around such installations to ensure navigational safety. Clauses 12 and 13 allow the MMO to do all those things for those geographical areas with one point of contact for the marine elements of their project. Further, not only will the MMO be a one-stop shop, but clause 78 allows the applications for the marine licence and the section 36 consent to be considered together through one set of processes and to one time scale.
Linda Gilroy: The Minister is being very generous in giving way. [Interruption.] Will the Renewable Energy Association concern about having a chief engineering adviser as well as a chief scientific adviser be met?
Ann McKechin: I can assure my hon. Friend that we will be engaging with the renewable industries on this matter, but it is important that we have an entire skills set within the MMO so that it can deal with all the different features of marine life, including how to develop our renewable energy sources. Drawing an artificial distinction between engineering and science is not particularly helpful. We have a chief scientific adviser to the UK Government who is also our chief engineering adviser; that is one person. We believe it is important that the right skills set is brought out across the whole organisation's staff to allow it to tackle these matters. That is the right way forward, rather than simply designing one or two particular posts, as my hon. Friend perhaps suggests. I hope my remarks have reassured her.
On amendments 25 and 26, I can give the assurance that the MMO will also be a robust decision maker. It will have the authority to make evidence-based, informed decisions in line with its sustainable development objective. It will take into account all relevant factors, and in the case of renewable energy installations, that will include the contribution they can make to mitigating climate change. The explanatory notes to clause 69, "Determination of applications", make this very clear by saying that "environment" means both the local and global environment. Also, the Renewable Energy Association stated in a letter dated as recently as 22 October
"that the provisions of the Bill could bring tangible benefits to the wave and tidal stream energy sector".
In respect of amendments 25 and 26, I hope I have reassured my hon. Friends of our commitment to ensuring that renewable energy is a priority for the Government throughout all the different pieces of legislation we are putting in place, and I urge them not to press their amendments to a Division.
Mr. Benyon: The hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) paid great tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), calling him a superb Minister, but he also gave him a challenge, which was to think hard about the matters we have discussed in this debate. I regret that he and his colleagues have not risen to the challenge. I would, however, like to put on record at this stage my thanks to both Ministers-the hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland-for their kindness and help in getting this legislation through. We worked very well together. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman will survive the plaudits that he received from the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), but I am sure they were none the less welcome.
The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) urged Ministers to reflect on the very strong feelings about this matter. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) made an interesting proposal in Committee which he raised again today. I remember thinking when it was first raised that it was an elegant solution, but I do not want commitment on this matter to be buried in the schedules to the Bill. The hon. Gentleman also defined concisely and clearly what he believes sustainable development to mean, and I entirely agree with him-but the Government feel that they have written this in stone, and they will not listen to the reasonable arguments put forward.
I am sure that a lot of organisations are happy to say that this is a question of semantics, but we think it is much more important than that. It sends a message beyond the confines of the Bill about what we believe sustainable development to mean in this crucial period leading up to the Copenhagen summit. It also matters in terms of the fulfilment of the Bill's objectives. This is the court of Parliament, and we are deciding what matters in this area. This is not a question of bowing to the concerns of lawyers, which seems to have been too prevalent both in this legislation and elsewhere.
I am sorry that we have had to conclude this business on a negative note, because we have agreed on so much throughout, but I shall insist on pressing the amendment to a Division and I hope my colleagues on both sides of the House will support me in the Lobby.
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