Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Harbours Bill [HL]

1.46 p.m.

Read a third Time.

Clause 1 [Amendment of procedure for dealing with applications for harbour orders]:

[Amendment No. 1 not moved.]

Clause 2 [Amendment of procedure where harbour revision orders are made by the Secretary of State of his own motion]:

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville moved Amendment No. 3:

"( ) After section 14(2)(b) (Ministers' powers, on application of harbour authorities, or others, to make orders for securing harbour efficiency, &c) of the 1964 Act, insert "and
(c) unless the appropriate Minister is satisfied that the making of the order will not prejudice the conservation of natural beauty, flora, fauna, geological or physiographic features and all other natural features.""

16 May 2003 : Column 479

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Conservation and Wildlife. That declaration applies to my speeches on the subsequent groupings. I owe an explanation to the House as to why I did not move Amendments Nos. 1 and 2. The RSPB's general support for the principle of the Bill was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, at Second Reading on 5th March, as reported at col. 916 of Hansard. He quoted from a briefing document of the RSPB dated February 2003. But the document ran to three pages. The RSPB had subsidiary concerns that are reflected in these amendments.

While wishing to see the Bill streamlined, the RSPB believes that the balance was perhaps tilted too far towards the interests of the ports. The first two amendments were intended as paving amendments for the remaining four that I shall move. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, for a letter that I received yesterday evening about an analogous case in which he was interested, and that had not been quoted in earlier debates on this Bill. I was, and am, persuaded that the first two amendments were—I seek language as neutral as I can manage—inimical to the purposes of the Bill. I therefore did not feel that I could move them as paving amendments. But the concern about imbalance in the Bill that they sought to imply remains and underlies the remaining amendments. I hope that some reassurances can be expressed in responses on behalf of the promoters to the three remaining groups.

The RSPB had the opportunity to meet the promoters of the Bill during the recent Recess to discuss their concerns. But the Recess was not the easiest time during which to organise amendments for Report, which took place immediately after our return.

Amendment No. 3 would allow the Secretary of State to make a harbour revision order for the purposes of furthering the conservation of marine wildlife and the wider marine environment. The current situation, in brief, is that the Harbours Act 1964 allows the Secretary of State to give duties and powers to harbour authorities in relation to the environment. But, in practice, the Secretary of State can do so only if these relate to economic considerations. It is therefore very difficult to employ the environmental duties, and that is what my amendment seeks to address.

In my view, the making of a harbour revision order with the purpose of furthering the conservation of marine wildlife and the wider marine environment need not be incompatible with making such an order in relation to economic considerations. I hope that I might be reassured that the Government recognise that this is the case and will look sympathetically on harbour revision orders which can deliver wide benefits in the future.

The rationale for Amendment No. 4 to facilitate the making of a harbour empowerment order for environment and nature conservation purposes is

16 May 2003 : Column 480

exactly the same as that behind Amendment No. 3 which related to harbour revision orders. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I remind the House of the Long Title of the Bill. It is a Bill to,

    "Amend the procedure for dealing with applications for orders under section 14 or 16 of the Harbours Act 1964 and for making orders under section 15 of that Act; and for connected purposes".

These amendments have been drafted and re-drafted in such a way that formally and technically they cannot be excluded from consideration by your Lordships' House. In the view of the Government, they are not in their intention—as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke—relevant to the Bill before us and should not have been introduced. In particular, the amendments should not have been introduced at Third Reading.

The amendment is not connected with the procedure for dealing with applications for harbour orders in its intention, as explained. Amendment No. 3 to Section 14 addresses the difficulty but still seeks to widen the scope of a Bill entirely about procedures by introducing policy considerations. I do not believe that it is necessary, nor does it fit well.

The amendment requires the appropriate Minister to be satisfied that an order under Section 14 of the 1964 Act will not prejudice conservation and related interests. Schedule 2 to the 1964 Act lists over 20 purposes for making these orders—some could not conceivably prejudice conservation. One, indeed, expressly refers to an order conferring additional conservation functions on a harbour authority. Others relate, for example, to the procedures of a harbour authority committee or the authority's power to levy charges.

There are substantial environmental constraints on port development—for example, in the Habitats and Environmental Impact Directives. Section 14 already requires the appropriate Minister to be satisfied that,

    "the making of the order is desirable in the interests of securing the improvement, maintenance or management of the harbour".

That test allows all the interests mentioned in the amendments to be addressed, but in a balanced way, along with other factors such as the future viability of a port, its trade and its local community. That is how sustainable development policy works. It takes full account of economic, social and environmental considerations. The Government are fully committed to their conservation obligations, but it would not help to unbalance decisions on harbour orders—as these amendments would—at the expense of other important considerations.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, for not moving Amendments Nos. 1 and 2. Had he done so, I would have had to say to your Lordships that these would have effectively wrecked the Bill in its entirety and would have defeated the main purpose that lies behind it, as explained by my noble friend Lord McIntosh.

16 May 2003 : Column 481

It has denied me the opportunity of sharing with your Lordships the story of the Whitehaven harbour commissioners and the bond-holders. But my noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to that at Second Reading and, indeed, it was one of the reasons for the introduction of the Bill; namely, the ability of a tiny number of objectors effectively to hold to ransom a desirable planning application.

I have not had the opportunity to speak to my noble friend Lord Berkeley about what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, said in terms of the RSPB briefing for Second Reading. But I have looked again at the paragraph to which the noble Lord referred. My noble friend Lord Berkeley said:

    "'The RSPB has no objection to mounting strong opposition to port development proposals where we believe that the environmental damage which they will cause cannot be justified, but equally we have no wish to see unnecessary constraints and costs imposed upon the ports industry. That is why we support the Harbours Bill'".—[Official Report, 5/3/03; col. 916.]

As I say, I cannot put to the noble Lord the allegation that that is perhaps slightly selective reporting, but those words are in direct quotes. Certainly, I believe that my noble friend said those words in good faith at Second Reading.

I cannot add to what my noble friend Lord McIntosh said about whether Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 come within the scope of the Bill. My advice is that they fall outside and are not appropriate for this very narrow piece of legislation. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, will be willing to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I thank the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for the manner in which they have responded to these amendments. I was seeking to indicate at the beginning that all my amendments are of a probing nature. We have received a very comprehensive reply from the Government. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for what he said.

I take the points that the Minister made about these issues being perhaps outside the spirit of the Act, although he was kind enough to say that they were within the letter of the Bill in terms of consideration by your Lordships' House. In that respect we have had the opportunity of learning both the attitude of the Government and that of the promoters. I should, of course, say that I was not in any way seeking to suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, had been selective in his quotation. I was alluding to the source of the quotation because it was a much larger document than the particular paragraph quoted. It indicated that the RSPB had concerns. I am, of course, sorry that those concerns have only been raised at Third Reading. But that was the first opportunity that I was able to raise them. In the light of what has been said and in line with earlier assurances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

16 May 2003 : Column 482

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page