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15 Dec 2008 : Column 709

The review concluded:

“The key next step is for the Governments concerned to enter into urgent negotiations ... with an aim of making early decisions and a lasting funding solution which meets these needs”.

These urgent negotiations are welcome.

Several months later, I asked a Question about what the Government were doing to pursue those negotiations. My noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe replied on 14 May that the Government had accepted the recommendations of the review and had had one constructive meeting, but he said that it was too early to say when negotiations would be completed. Since then, various things have happened to the economy and the rate of exchange for the euro. It now looks as though the contribution that the Brooke report suggested would be £8.5 million will increase to £15 million or £16 million in the next few years. Perhaps my noble friend can confirm those figures. In these difficult economic times, why should the UK shipping business contribute to maintaining the likes of the Republic or any other member state? A further issue is that the General Lighthouse Fund made a loss of something like £22 million last year. With this subsidy, will the Government put up charges to ships to come into this country to balance the books here?

Is there any legal or constitutional reason why the UK Government cannot give the Republic immediate notice that it will withdraw from the 1985 agreement and no longer wishes to subsidise navigation aids in the Republic? One solution is to amend the 1995 Merchant Shipping Act; I would be very pleased to put down some amendments if it was thought possible to achieve this. Also, before the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, discusses this in his contribution, let me say that any change to the subsidy would not require an end to the integrated aids-to-navigation services. It is a question of making sure that the contributions to Irish Lights, for example, reflect the proportion of lights in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

I hope that my noble friend can suggest how to take this forward. One idea that I had was to add it to Chapter 2 of this Bill. The MMO could be the authority to deliver some cost-effective and safe navigation aid services but with firm geographical limits. It is time that the Government became the champion for the UK economy in shipping and got on with this. It is worth mentioning that the General Lighthouse Fund is wonderful for the Government because the Government do not pay; they just receive the money and hand it out to other people, so there is no incentive to save money or be efficient. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend has to say on that issue.

To conclude, like other noble Lords I will be interested to see how the Planning Act and the Marine and Coastal Access Bill fit together in the policy statements and in relation to the independent planning commission and the MMO. It would be nice to see the MMO as a good one-stop shop. I worry about its relationship to the MCA, which has had some serious industrial relations problems recently. Do we need both? My noble friend Lord Hunt of Chesterton mentioned this.

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I hope that the MMO will have a more successful birth and growth into full adulthood than the MCA has had.

7.25 pm

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. When I hear him mention lights and signals, I immediately think that we are going to be dealing with railways, but we have just seen the width of his expertise and the areas in which he gets involved.

I welcome this Bill and the way in which it appears at the outset to lay the basic framework for a UK policy in marine matters. Events that I have come across do not seem to reinforce that proposal and I am a bit disappointed to think that the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, was perhaps kept in the dark as to what was going on in negotiations with the various devolved Administrations. I became aware that in June 2008 this legislation was the subject of a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Council, where government Ministers met with Ministers of all the devolved Administrations. The Joint Ministerial Council was originally set up under the Memorandum of Understanding with the Scottish Administration after the passing of the Scotland Act. This Bill covers many aspects that may have devolved implications and seems to be a prime candidate for this kind of consideration. It is bound to have an important and necessary part to play.

Can the Minister explain how this meeting came about? In the press release issued on 27 November by the Scottish Executive, the Scottish Government claim that they are due credit for resurrecting this forum. It would be of interest to the House to know how this body is constituted and how meetings are normally initiated. I draw the attention of the House to its terms of reference. It can consider non-devolved matters that impinge on devolved responsibilities and it has the power to consider devolved matters if it is beneficial to discuss their treatment in different parts of the UK, but I cannot find anywhere a reference to it having any powers to devolve further competences to devolved Administrations.

After these meetings, the press release from the Cabinet Office that came out on the day that I mentioned was, on the whole, carefully couched as to what actually took place in June. It said:

“The UK Government and the devolved Administrations have reached an agreement”.

However, it went on to state:

“As part of the agreement more functions will be devolved to Scottish and Welsh Ministers”.

This appears to exaggerate the role that the council is empowered to carry out. Unsurprisingly, the press release put out by the Scottish Government was considerably bolder. It said:

“Scotland is to take greater responsibility for its coastal waters which will now”—

and I emphasise the word “now”—

The Scottish press were quickly on to this and the news appeared in the headlines. This bears uncanny similarity to the issue of government policy appearing in the press before it has been brought before Parliament in Westminster.

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The Scottish Government have put out for consultation a paper called Sustainable Seas for All, which quite properly talks of the Scottish territorial waters limit. Presumably, however, following on from the Joint Ministerial Council meeting, the area within the 200-mile limit is labelled as “Scotland’s seas”. This could be said to give the impression that there are no more UK competences left. Can the Minister tell the House whether the agreement of the Joint Ministerial Council is intended to be the settled policy in which we are supposed to discuss the Bill? I am all in favour of a rational distribution of powers. If there is not time today when the Minister winds up, perhaps when we are in Committee we will get a bit more detail on the rationale that is being followed in the proposal for a further devolution of powers and find out whether the Government have other areas in mind.

The Bill has many overlapping competences. Like other noble Lords, I have received many briefings from a wide variety of interests that are likely to be affected. I was interested to see in a short briefing that the CBI is counting on the Bill to provide a coherent regulatory framework. I am sure that that is what we all desire. It comes then as a bit of a shock to find that the response submitted by the non-departmental body—Seafish—to the joint committee carrying out the scrutiny of the draft Bill states:

“The Scottish Government is not going to participate in the development of the Policy Statement”,

because they are looking for further devolution of conservation powers. That is presumably the marine policy statement, which, in the terms of the Bill, is said to extend to Scotland. Will the Minister say how he considers this attitude will strengthen the overall success of the conservation proposals? Does it mean that large sections of the Bill before the House are due to see a great many government amendments reducing the scope of the areas that apply to Scotland?

Apart from the issues arising over the coherence of the conservation measures, there are issues on how we hope to manage our relations in this area with the European Community. Noble Lords will be aware that at present, under a special EU derogation, the various parts of the United Kingdom have pretty comprehensive powers out to the six nautical miles boundary. Even as that legislation stands, the Bill recognises that the concept of marine conservation zones will have to extend beyond the six-mile limit to be meaningful. In the absence of that derogation, which is due to expire in 2012, any effective controls in our entire economic area to do with either fishing or conservation will first have to be drawn up and laid down by the European Community. Fishing or other boats with commercial interests from other EU countries will be bound by these regulations only. I was glad to hear the Minister describing this afternoon how plans for marine conservation zones are expected to follow and perhaps enlarge the European Community’s areas of special conservation. That will be a start. However, if the degree of devolution that is envisaged takes place, does the Minister expect that there will still be a united UK approach in seeking the extension of powers in any extended areas that will be required should any part of the UK wish these to be put in place?

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Perhaps a rather more serious issue, which, if it is not to appear in the Bill, will be absolutely key to securing the proper, just and fair economic and social consequences to which the Bill is committed to deliver in Clause 114—this is an area in which our fishermen’s experiences have evoked bitter feelings—is the regulations for the enforcement of what the EU puts in place. If this is to follow the pattern currently practised for fishing regulation, all the efforts that we may put together here, whether to devolved Administrations or otherwise, will be just whistling in the wind and we will land up penalising our own citizens while others once again get away with whatever they want.

I have a serious question for the Government. Do they see themselves being able to continue working towards powers for a single policing force to operate in our own or even in all other European waters and to enforce the proposed regulations on all participants equally, or will we find that these moves towards the dividing of separate interests will dilute our effect within the Union? There are a great many other issues that we will face as we go further, but I look forward to following them up in the later stages of the Bill.

7.35 pm

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I am speaking as the Opposition spokesman for Wales and for Northern Ireland and also, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned much earlier, as one of those ancient warriors who fought the battles of the CROW Act, with my noble friend Lady Byford, all those years ago.

I welcome the Bill, but in its present state, as other noble Lords have said, it is not fit for purpose. I assume that that is why it is starting in your Lordships’ House. Where else to start a Bill of this importance and poor layout, which will give such opportunities if sorted out? There is no better place than your Lordships’ House. I do not think that that would have happened at the other end, and I am certain that your Lordships will sort it out and send a very much better Bill back to the other place.

Briefly on Wales, the Bill confers significant powers on Welsh Ministers. For example, they will be responsible for the preparation of marine policy statements, acting jointly with all the other policy authorities or the Secretary of State, for the preparation of the marine plans for the Welsh inshore and offshore regions, for marine licensing, for the designation of marine conservation zones in the Welsh inshore region and for inshore fisheries in Wales. That is all well and good, but consistency and regularity of approach between the UK-wide authorities and the Welsh Ministers is of crucial importance in the context of the marine environment. The Bill, however, seems something of a mish-mash with, frankly, insufficient to help to ensure that consistency is achieved. This aspect will have to be significantly improved as it progresses through your Lordships’ House.

My noble friend Lord Taylor has already referred to Part 9 and the provisions it contains for coastal access in England. With regard to Wales, Clause 300 seeks to confer new primary powers on the National Assembly for Wales to secure public access to coastal land. The memorandum prepared by the Welsh Assembly

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Government with regard to this provision points out that in Wales there is already a commitment to creating a new all-Wales coastal path by 2012. The memorandum also indicates that, given the fact that such a programme is already in place in Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government would wish to consider how provisions envisaged for England would need to be adapted to meet Welsh requirements and circumstances. I see the Gauls leading the Brits. We are also told in the memorandum that the Assembly Government foresee the need for future legislation in Wales to address the limitations inherent in the current devolved settlement and to improve flexibility to provide for a continuous route around the coast.

I would like to hear more in due course about the principles that will direct the Assembly Government in the creation of a Wales coastal path, and in particular the environmental considerations that it will be taking into account. The memorandum indicates that it would not be the intention of the Welsh Assembly Government that any measure should affect the position with regard to access to land used for purposes within the responsibility of the UK Government without the agreement of the relevant Secretary of State. That is particularly important, given the significant number of military establishments around the Welsh coast, to say nothing of such sites of economic significance as, for example, the LNG terminal in Pembrokeshire.

I can see nothing in the Bill, however, which formalises the requirement for the Secretary of State to be consulted. It is certainly the case that under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, the Secretary of State can issue a direction excluding or restricting public access in the interests of defence or national security. This power does not, however, extend to locations which may be of economic or other significance. These points need to be clarified and will no doubt be the subject of much further debate.

To summarise, I am pleased by the emergence of the Bill, but it must be regarded as work in progress that will no doubt be subject to significant further clarification and amendment in Committee. So much for Wales.

Northern Ireland virtually does not appear in the Bill, so far as I can see—and I searched quite hard. However, there are significant problems. Northern Ireland has a land border with the Irish Republic. Many noble Lords talked about the different NGBs and other groupings, such as local authorities, that will have to work with the MMO to make this work; but what about the international side? How wide is St George’s Channel? I should know, but I do not. I would say, about 80 miles. So much for our 200-mile zone. What do we do? The Republic of Ireland is a foreign country, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has just pointed out, although we have many treaties with it. Scotland, too, is to some extent a foreign country in this regard, because it is doing its own thing. The devolved Government have the right to do what they want to with this Bill, which does not apply to Scotland. However, Northern Ireland is only 10 miles from the Mull of Kintyre. The power station in Belfast Lough

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is 20 miles from Wigtownshire. There are all sorts of problems to be sorted out about who is going to make decisions, where, and how.

I move on to one or two other points. Marine conservation and reserves are very close to my heart, because of the fishing industry in Northern Ireland and in Ireland as a whole. We must stop managing our seas by relying only on the licensing of the extraction of individual resources. We have to start managing the whole ecosystem. The key tool in the new management system that the marine Bill must establish is the marine reserve—and I mean the real marine reserve. Fisheries conservation that does not include highly protected reserves will certainly fail. For fishing to be sustainable, fish must have a chance to reproduce. By contrast, our current fisheries policy, as embodied in the EU’s common fisheries policy, permits fishermen to fish spawning grounds, where fish collect, thus destroying their reproductive potential. Without creating marine reserves, we have no chance of restocking our seas.

At the moment, the UK Government are proposing to create only marine protected areas—MPAs—based on the EU habitats directive. These MPAs are not true marine reserves, because they will still permit fishing within their boundaries, and will not be linked into a network to produce an ecosystem that allows the fast reproduction of fish that we urgently need. The Government argue that the UK cannot establish no-take marine reserves, where fishing is prohibited, beyond the territorial limit of 12 nautical miles, because we have surrendered sovereignty over fisheries to the EU, and such reserves would violate the common fisheries policy. That is rubbish. Legal opinion obtained by MARINET asserts that this is untrue. So let us get on with putting in place proper fish conservation.

I will say a few words on access. I almost saw the ghost of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, hovering over the Minister, after nights and days sitting opposite him—whole nights and three-quarter nights. The first note I have made is that, as other noble Lords have said, the coast is dangerous. It is beautiful and tempting, but it is nature at its rawest in our part of the world, particularly on my side of the United Kingdom, the south-west corner. Almost every day we hear of disastrous accidents that might have been avoided, often involving experienced people. On Saturday, two experienced members of the BASC—experienced wildfowlers—nearly lost their lives, as my noble friend Lord Cavendish of Furness mentioned, because of the strange tide in Morecambe Bay. It came up half an hour early, and much faster than expected. Those people knew their business; they were experts who knew the mud flats.

If we are going to have access to a coastal path all round Britain, the Government must realise what the cost will be. The figure of £50 million over 10 years is peanuts, small change. No Government could start to put that together for £10 million a year over five years, or £5 million a year over 10 years, or whatever it is.

I spoke today to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. It is not political, but is spreading its wings to try to look after our beaches and protect careless holidaymakers. It is a charity and cannot be everywhere, so the number of deaths can be expected to increase. I read its literature every month. It is

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always rescuing, not big ships from the open sea, but people playing off beaches, such as canoeists and kids who have paddled out too far with their fathers. Having more people on unmanaged beaches would be disastrous. Access to our beaches has got to be managed. Maps must be made and proper rescue and emergency points set up, agreed together by the coastguard, the MMO and the RNLI. A number of detailed measures are required that will cost money every day of the year. Let no one go into this beautiful game of opening up our coasts to the public thinking that nothing will happen. There will be more accidents, because coasts are dangerous.

In Cornwall, two friends of my son’s, who knew the countryside well, went to a party. My son’s friend got left behind while the others ran on. A bit of cliff had given way and the friend went over and was killed. That was one evening at a children’s party; they were teenagers. It just happens, that is the way it is. The coast is a dangerous place and let us not pretend otherwise. Dogs, too, frequently run over cliffs; chasing rabbits or doing something similar. If they are not on a lead, they will go over a cliff. These are small points about access to the countryside.

We have heard from my noble friend about the more serious matter of dealing with landowners, to make sure that they do not suffer. My last appeal relates to the lack of an appeals system in the Bill. I hope that, by the time we have finished, we will have a robust appeals system for all those concerned with access to the coast.

7.48 pm

Lord Tyler: My Lords, I do not envy the Minister having to respond to this debate, because, as usual in your Lordships’ House, not only has a great deal of expertise been displayed, but also a great deal of personal commitment. I share that, because the sea is somewhere in my blood. I suspect that it is in the blood of many Members of this House. I learnt to swim and sail soon after I learnt to talk and walk: fortunately, it was a bit later.

More significantly, I spent 14 years representing Cornish constituencies, which have some of the most dramatic, fruitful and admired coastlines in the United Kingdom. Visitors from all over Europe and further afield come to the south-west to look at our coastline. I am also a frequent and enthusiastic walker on the South West Coast Path, to which reference has been made this afternoon—some 630 miles of coastal path, which, unlike in many other parts of the country, is well established, and indicates the scope of what one is talking about when one refers to the coastline of the United Kingdom. My wife and I were among the first to take part in a charity walk last year organised by the excellent regional newspaper the Western Morning News, which demonstrated the success of the product of the National Trust’s Enterprise Neptune, which was significantly and enthusiastically endorsed in 1965 and has rolled out since. I mentioned that to make a serious point: the South West Coast Path has a great many informal arrangements that work admirably because the local community bought into them. The community own it and feels it is theirs. We all welcome

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this legislation, but it is important that we are careful not to impose a new statutory regime that discourages people from thinking that it is their coastal path. I shall return to the access issue later.

The Bill seeks to create a managed balance between potentially conflicting interests: short term versus long term; human interests versus the habitat for other species; visitors versus residents. It is an attempt at managed compromise. Noble Lords have asked where the socioeconomic issues come in to it. We must not forget them because we are dealing with people as well as the natural habitat. Coastal communities, and not just those in the south-west, suffer considerable problems from a surfeit of second homes and ghost villages in winter. They are not in the Bill, but they are relevant to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. If local working families cannot afford to live near the coast, they cannot provide the RNLI volunteers, the coastguard or the sort of people we will look to for the new regimes to run the new discipline that we are looking forward to in the Bill of trying to marry together the interests of the economy and the environment.

There have been many references to the CROW Act, but we need to learn from experience with other legislation; for example, the Commons Act and the newly enacted Planning Act. There are difficult issues, and the interrelationship between pieces of legislation is as important as the legislation itself. In that respect, I draw particular attention to the contribution made by the Joint Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. It did an enormous amount of valuable work. I have been going through the 96 recommendations, ticking off those where the Government have responded in the Bill and those that have been referred to by noble Lords but have not yet been dealt with. That will be an important checklist.

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