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Andrew George: My point is about something that might be a detail within the Government amendments. The Minister refers to the role of the Duchy of Cornwall and the Duchy of Lancaster. Their interest, as I understand it, applies only to the foreshore. In Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the foreshore is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall separately from the Crown—I do not know which bits are owned by the Duchy of Lancaster. Therefore, presumably all that the Minister has just explained in relation to the Crown estate cannot apply in the same way to the duchies, and certainly not to the Duchy of Cornwall, which is not as answerable to Parliament and does not operate with the intention of producing a surplus for the Treasury. It is, in that sense, a different operation to the one that the IFCAs and the MMO will be negotiating.
Huw Irranca-Davies: Although the duchies perform much the same function as the Crown estate, and their land is affected by the creation of a shellfish order, it is not possible to express their rights clearly in primary legislation. I am assured that even though the duchies do not have an Act of their own that sets out their duties, as the Crown estate does, the amendments apply equally to them and the Crown estate. Therefore, the measure would equally apply to the duchies and to shellfisheries on those estates, and that has to be good news.
Those involved in the Menai strait case have made an impassioned plea that the matter not be dealt with at this stage, because they believe that that would “undermine the foundations” of their business. They believe that such an approach would be a laudable attempt to deal with the disease, but that doing so would kill the patient. We need a careful explanation of what the Minister is seeking by trying to solve the impasse between the Crown Estate Commissioners and DEFRA.
Some involved have for years defended their businesses against the proposals to build a marina within the Menai strait fishery. The proposal, in their view, would have crippled the UK’s biggest mussel-producing area, which produces £5 million of mussels a year. They have just celebrated a Court of Appeal ruling, but now feel that it is being reversed by the Minister at the eleventh hour. I hear what the Minister says about the length of time that he has been in negotiations, but the Bill has seemingly been going through Parliament for an interminable time, and it is strange that we have reached this clause and are keen to tackle other elements of the Bill, but we are suddenly faced with Government amendments that are causing great concern.
Huw Irranca-Davies: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is worth reflecting on the fact that we originally did not conceive of addressing the matter in the Bill. However, in the other place, Baroness Wilcox and Baroness Miller identified a valid concern that we in the Department and others had been wrestling with for some time and wanted the opportunity to address. Such opportunities are rare, and now we have one, even though it was not originally conceived that we could do anything about the matter in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is right that this is the eleventh hour, but the other 10 hours and 59 minutes have been spent in some very detailed discussions.
Mr. Benyon: I know that the Minister has consulted Baroness Wilcox among others. I confess that I have not, but I must do so before long because she has a great understanding of the matter. She might be broadly happy with what the Minister is doing, and she speaks for a sizeable group of people in the industry, but others are concerned. It has been put to us that if
“the Committee makes the amendments, it will be paving the way for the destruction”
of legitimate businesses,
“hastening the demise of a sustainable marine cultivation industry worth £22M a year to the UK economy.”
I should like to talk about the concerns of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I just want to make it clear to the hon. Gentleman and the Committee that I have not spoken recently to either Baroness. As far as I know, they are as exercised about the measure as some in the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, as some in the association want the measures.
Mr. Benyon: I am sure that that is the case. The more I get involved in coastal Britain, the more I know that one can never give an authentic voice for any particular industry, only for aspects of it.
The Shellfish Association is keen to put across the fact that the Government did not inform the industry’s national trade association of the wording of the proposed amendments until after the Committee had begun. It strongly believes that the proposed amendments to the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967 will severely undermine the legal protection that it and its successor provide to shellfish farmers, which they have done for a great length of time.
The association would like the Minister to address three things: the criteria for any consideration by Ministers, the scope for any compensation payments, and the need for greater consultation. In the short time that I have had the information from the association, I have not been able to assess the amendments that it would propose or to put them to the Minister. I am asking for breathing space and for us to return to the matter on Report. He and I can work together constructively to ensure that the problem is solved quickly. However, at this stage, with the main industry body having very serious concerns, it would be wrong to make the amendments.
Andrew George: I rise to support the hon. Gentleman and his plea for the Minister to give the issue a further rethink. It was as a result of my coming into possession of the Government amendments at the weekend and, shortly thereafter, learning of the complaints and strong expressions of concern from the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, that I tabled a measure relating to the Government’s proposals, which of course could not be selected because of the time factor. That further underscores the difficulty of our eleventh-hour debate.
I appreciate the pressures under which the Department has been operating, and I do not doubt that there have been lengthy and complex negotiations. Like the hon. Member for Newbury, I find that trying to get my head around the confluence of different legislation about the Crown estate and shell fisheries, as well as trying to bolt that on to the Bill, is a significant challenge. I appreciate the Minister’s argument about the industry not necessarily having one concerted and harmonious voice on this or any other issue—such a claim is a matter for debate and can perhaps be tested outside the Committee—but I believe that we are being asked to consider the issue rather quickly.
The industry has seen the Minister’s amendments and it has proposed alternatives. The right and proper thing to do is what several members of the Committee have done so far: table amendments, listen to the debate and then consider the consequences of rushing things through when we might have the opportunity to resolve issues on Report. The honourable course for the Minister in such circumstances is to accept that although important progress has been made in recent weeks, it is not sufficient to make me comfortable with the Government’s present position. I would support the Minister more if he were to reflect on the concerns that have been expressed, withdraw the amendments and return with well worked-up amendments on Report, following further negotiations with the industry.
Huw Irranca-Davies: We have had a useful discussion. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and I have probably shown ourselves to be willing to listen to and engage with the Committee, as well as to adjust, when necessary, and reflect on what has been said.
Let me address the impasse and the challenge of getting any agreement between the parties that had been to the High Court on the matter of shellfisheries. We were able to engage with them properly only after 14 May, when the action concluded. However, prior and subsequent to that, we have been fully engaged on a way forward. I can honestly say that if we were to take time to reflect over the summer and return on Report, the amendments before hon. Members would be no different. The detail is fresh to many of us, including me, but the amendments have come to fruition over a long time, and the fundamentals of this issue will not vary over the summer.
4.30 pm
I will tell the Committee, quite honestly, what my concern is. Despite the fact that, as I have said, we are usually quite sympathetic to the idea of going away and reflecting on matters, my concern is that we will get to the end of the summer and one or other of the parties will walk away from the position where we are now. We have taken this long to get to a point where we have something that is broadly acceptable, even if some people are completely up in arms about it—we have to acknowledge that.
However, there are sections of the shellfish industry that currently do not have several and regulating orders. There are companies now that are struggling to make business and to take commercial decisions; there are companies that are faced with taking decisions about whether or not to continue investing in shellfisheries.
Let me turn directly to two of the points that were raised about the Menai strait case. [Interruption.] I will just deal with those points and then I will come back to other points, because I have a little more detail to flesh out here.
In respect of the Menai strait, which is where this proposal effectively came to fruition from, a question has been asked. If these amendments were accepted, would the marina on the Menai strait have been built? Could that have gone ahead? It is true that there is a chance that the marina would have been built, but I must say that it is far from certain. First, the developers would have had to apply for permission relating to the development under the new regime that is set out in the Bill, to request that the order be varied, and it is unclear whether that permission would have been granted. If the developers received permission, Welsh Ministers would still have to consider the request to vary the order. What is clear, however, is that the new variation process would have provided the grantees of the Menai strait order with a means of obtaining adequate compensation and the opportunity to vary the order, potentially to provide them with a new area to cultivate shellfish in. So I understand the concerns about the Menai strait, but I want to make it clear that we are not talking only about the Menai strait. We are talking about a very important, highly sustainable UK industry, which at the moment has no certainty to invest.
Mr. Benyon: I entirely accept what the Minister says. However, the fact remains that, given that the industry has these very serious concerns, even if we were to approve these amendments today in Committee, that would not speed up the ability of shellfisheries elsewhere in the country to get those several rights. That will happen at Royal Assent. Consequently, we can sort this matter out on Report, everybody can feel that they have been consulted and unless I am missing something—I admit that I am relatively a new boy to this House—it can be resolved in exactly the same time scale as it would be if we accepted these amendments today.
Huw Irranca-Davies: Let me return to that issue in a moment, because there is a job to be done on working with the industry, the Crown estate and others who are potentially affected by this change; that is the job that needs to be done. Having said that, I maintain my position that what we have in front of us here are well crafted amendments that will do the job that many people have been asking us to do so for so long.
I will come back in a moment to how I think we should take that matter forward. Before I do so, let me address one of the other issues that was raised by the hon. Gentleman, about how compensation would be worked out. We see two possible ways in which compensation can be worked out. First, in commercial agreements between the landowner and the grantee of an order, the variation order can refer back to those agreements, which will either set the amount of compensation or how it is to be determined. Secondly, when considering a variation the Secretary of State can appoint an independent inspector to assess the appropriate level of compensation. That process would look at the value of shellfish that are landed and at any moneys paid to the grantee for the right to fish on the landowner’s land.
I want to address the crux of the matter and the potential way forward. I recognise that our amendments are detailed and, moreover, that they have caused some concern; I also must say that they have gained some support out there from parts of the shellfish industry and others. In fact, we are pleased to note that we have the acceptance of the clauses by the Crown estate and the duchies, and a potential applicant for a major order in Morecambe bay supports these amendments. We note that the recent briefing note from the Shellfish Association of Great Britain to the Committee focuses on the technical detail of the amendment and states that while accepting the thrust and aim of the proposed amendment and that it does serve as an effective mechanism to break the current logjam, it is suggested that the following amendments be made to the amendment.
Our amendment is written in such a way as to allow more detailed discussions about the criteria that Ministers would use before an order was varied and about how compensation would be calculated. We do not believe that it would be helpful now to limit those issues in the Bill. We need to consult and engage with the industry in detail on them. It is possible that a lot of what is being sought and what the hon. Member for Newbury raised can be achieved. I am more than willing to work with the hon. Gentleman, as I will work with the Shellfish Association of Great Britain and others—there are disparate interests within the shellfish industry—to bring forward the notes and guidance, which we need to draw up in full consultation with the industry, the Crown estates and the duchies. We have the summer to get on with it.
In consulting with the industry, we will also ensure that individual grantees of orders, in addition to the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, are allowed the opportunity to comment and provide input. I am more than happy to get on and continue that dialogue to flesh out with hon. Members how this will work, to identify where we can improve the operation of the new processes for varying orders and to bring forward the notes and guidance. That is what we need to get on with in the summer, because ever since I have been in this Department this issue has been a roadblock to investment in shellfisheries. We now have in front of us—here, now, today—a way forward. Over the summer, we can engage in constructive dialogue, which I invite hon. Members to get involved in, to flesh out where we are.
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