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We heard about the MMOs relationship with the Environment Agency in the previous debate. Yet again, there are areas of overlap. We have spoken a little already about the potential overlap between marine and coastal authorities. Examples of this abound when you consider the Environment Agency. Duties relating to freshwater fish stocks are, as the Explanatory Notes highlight, the responsibility of the Environment Agency. These are considerable areas of responsibility and authority, and there are many reasons why they should continue to be administered by that body. But the case is not so clear with Natural England, which is predominantly involved with conservation on the land. The Explanatory Notes can muster only the example of,
indeed, the Minister talked about sealsas an area that might properly be passed over. Is the Minister really of the opinion that consistency and co-ordination are best served by having the huge majority of licences relating to seals handled by the MMO and a few handled by Natural England? It would surely be much more efficient for the MMO to take on responsibility for those few freshwater licences.
The Bill appears to be structured in a way that rigorously defines and limits the MMOs responsibilities while remaining deliberately vague, although flexible is the word preferred by the Benches opposite, when it comes to other organisations. As a result, Natural England seems to be taking the opportunity to engage in mission creep, extending its own remit into areas much better suited for the MMO. I beg to move.
Lord Judd: I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I say that the amendment is rather unhelpful and that I hope that he will reconsider it. The Bill matters a great deal to an awful lot of people in this country because of its emphasis on access. Natural England has responsibilities as the delivery agent for access in this context. Furthermore, because of its role, Natural England seems particularly well placed to bring together matters concerning conservation in the marine environment and conservation on land. My own view is that it could play a constructive part in certain partnerships in fulfilling these responsibilities and ensuring that the social qualitative dimensions of the Bill are well implemented.
If we are to give Natural England the fair weather it deserves in its initial years, it is a pity to start paring back on the part it can play at the beginning of its operations rather than encouraging it to fulfil its obligations wherever these may be appropriate. I am quite concerned about the implications of this amendment and have absolutely no doubts that the Government have got the drafting right. I just hope that the noble Lord will find it possible to look at this again and perhaps have discussions with Ministers but certainly consider withdrawing it.
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): I welcome my noble friends support in this important matter. I look forward to his future attendance at our debates on this Bill. He made a relevant point. I will come on
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It is clear from all our debates in the two days of Committee that the MMO will need to work with a number of other organisations carrying out activities related to the marine area, including Natural England. The MMO and Natural England have different, albeit overlapping, remits. It will be important for them to co-operate in delivering their respective functions. The MMO will take advice from Natural England as a statutory nature conservation body in discharging its functions. For example, Natural England will provide input to marine and coastal access licensing decisions in the same way as it currently advises the Marine and Fisheries Agency. So there is no change essentially from the current position.
We think it likely that there will be a memorandum of understanding, with regular reviews, between the MMO and Natural England to formalise their working arrangements, as would be normal practice between two non-departmental public bodies in the same country. The MoU is likely to cover issues such as species licensing at the land/sea boundary, data-sharing between the two bodies, socioeconomic considerations for the selection of marine conservation zones and the management of those zones.
In addition, the MMO will take on some regulatory responsibilities that were formerly exercised by Natural England in the marine area. At the risk of repeating what my noble friend said, these include the power to grant licences in certain circumstances, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and to issue licences in the inshore region, under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c,) Regulations 1994, and in the offshore region, under the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats. &c,) Regulations 2007, which implement the EU Habitats and Wild Birds Directives, to which Clauses 9 and 10 refer.
As we have heard, another example is the licensing of seals under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970. This function is currently exercised by Natural England but is being transferred to the MMO under this Bill, given that seals are marine animals and the majority of these licences are needed in the marine environment. On the few occasions each year where it is necessary to kill or take a seal in fresh waters because it has ventured inland and is causing problems or is injured or distressed, the MMO would look to Natural England to undertake this as the MMO does not operate beyond the tidal reach. Amendment 66 would not allow the MMO the flexibility to do that.
I hope that I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that this is essentially a tidying-up exercise; it is not mission creep. We expect the MMO to carry out its own functions, but there will be circumstances in which it makes more sense for functions to be carried out on its behalf, for example where the appropriate expertise is shared with other bodies or for reasons of limitation or geographical remit. Listing a body in Clause 16 makes it possible for the MMO to enter into agreements with that body, but I want to make it clear
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We see this as a sensible implementation of legislative provisions by the relevant delivery organisations working in collaborative partnership. We want to retain flexibility in this regard and we think that Natural England is clearly one body that it would be appropriate for the MMO to enter into agreement with to deliver functions on its behalf. The respective remits of the MMO and Natural England are very different. Natural England has a largely advisory role relating to nature conservation. While it plays an important role in nature conservation and will need to work very closely with the MMO on certain matters, there is absolutely no intention to transfer functions wholesale from the MMO to Natural England. The noble Lord said that this was a probing amendment and I hope that I have reassured him.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I thank the Minister for that reply, the nature of which shows that this has been an important discussion. I am reassured that the Minister sees the role of the MMO as central, even if it is engaged in the activities of Natural England in both an advisory and a practical way. I hope that I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Judd, whose intervention I welcome because it has made it a real discussion on this important area. We should not underestimate the huge opportunities that exist for Natural England on the mainland. It has no shortage of things that it can be doing.
Natural England can speak for itself, but we have to speak for the MMO because it is not there yet and we need to make sure that it is properly enshrined in the legislation. If we want it to be a proper and effective conservation body, we have to make sure that the conservation role is central to its activities. We must not let it get sidelined from this area of activities. It needs a balance in its skill base and its science. We have heard a lot about science today but I think that the MMO is going to have to be very much a science-based organisation. A lot is going to rest on Memoranda of Understanding throughout the Bill. We know in reality that Parliament will not be discussing those Memoranda of Understanding, but I hope that we will at any rate have the opportunity of scrutinising the outcomes properly.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I am sorry to intervene, but the accountability of the Marine Management Organisation to the Secretary of State is clear. I do not suggest that this is the only way in which it is monitored, but the annual report that has to be laid before Parliament will of course be one way in which parliamentarians will be able to observe the progress of the MMO and its relationship with the various organisations that it will have to deal with.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I thank the Minister for drawing attention to the central role of the Secretary of State, who will have responsibilities with, for example, Natural England, the Environment Agency and the MMO. Given the nature of the debate and the response of the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) at least one of the purposes or functions of the body, or bodies of the description, to be added to the list is, or is related to or connected with, a marine function;
(b) the body, or bodies of the description, to be added to the list has the necessary skills and experience to perform a relevant marine function.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: This group includes a couple of amendments by the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Tyler. I tabled this amendment because we feel it is vital that, if the MMO is allowed to authorise an eligible body to perform one of its functions, there is some assurance that this task is being carried out by a body with the appropriate knowledge and expertise. I am happy to note that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has raised the same issue with his excellent Amendments 68 and 69, which agree wholly with ours. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to the Chamber after his duties in Grand Committee.
As we are well aware, the power of delegation is very significant and it is very important that any delegated task is not compromised. This amendment would ensure that the eligible bodies are required not only to have connection to marine functions but also, as the Wildlife and Countryside Link argues, to have adequate marine representation, sufficient knowledge and understanding of marine areas, and the appropriate knowledge to deal with the tasks that they have been given. Does the Minister agree that these are sensible provisos?
Furthermore, Clause 16(2) allows the Secretary of State to amend the list of eligible bodies, allowing delegation to a potentially wide range of institutions. Bearing this in mind, does the Minister also agree that it is even more important that there are some limits on who could be added to this list? Such limits will only help improve the exercise of marine functions.
Does the Minister acknowledge that this amendment better ensures that delegated functions and duties are carried out to a high standard? Does he also agree that it would be more beneficial to know that eligible
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Lord Tyler: As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, Tyler and Taylor are speaking on this amendment with one voice. We produced slightly different versions but the amendments are effectively identical. They seek to do something very simple and specific but worthwhile: ensuring that the MMO satisfies itself that any eligible body to which it is seeking to give appropriate responsibilities has the appropriate skills and experience to ensure that that function is carried out properly. It is very straightforward.
Similar quality control may be needed in Clause 53, on delegation of marine planning functions to unspecified public bodies. The same principle applies. At this stage, however, all we are trying to do is to ensure that the Government fully recognise the need for this requirement to be placed on the MMO.
Lord Kingsland: I briefly intervene in this, so far, short debate to ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that, if a function is delegated, the organisation to which the function is delegated shares the objectives of the MMO. The core of the earlier debates that we have had about the objective emphasised the importance of biodiversity and the ecosystem methodology that the MMO will apply to confront the various issues that it will have to, when it is an established institution. Can we be confident that the same objectives will be applied by the organisations to which these powers are, potentially, delegated?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The quick answer is that if the organisation to which a delegation is proposed does not have objectives consistent with the overall objective of the MMO or with a marine policy statement, such a delegation should not take place. One has to be clear, too, that in the end it is the MMO that is accountable to the Secretary of State and, through him or her, to Parliament, for ensuring that these functions are carried out properly.
I have listened with great interest. It is always difficult to draw the balance between micromanagement, on one hand, and wishing to ensure that the bodies that we legislate for do the right thing, on the other. I wonder whether noble Lords are not going down the micromanagement route a little too far. Of course, I understandand the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, underpinned the pointthe desire to ensure that the body to which a delegation is made carries the job out effectively and, of course, within the principles that govern the MMO. However, the bodies listed in Clause 16 are those that carry out marine functions, or will do so as a result of the Bill, with which the MMO will need to co-operate. They include the Environment Agency, Natural England, the sea fisheries committees as a transitional measure, and harbour authorities, all of which have recognised expertise and authority in their respective fields. Inshore fisheries and conservation authorities are also on the list, as they will replace the fisheries committees when the Bill is enacted.
Another safeguard to which I referred in the previous group is that the MMO can enter into agreements only with the approval of the Secretary of State. The agreement for others to deliver MMO functions on its behalf does not remove its responsibility for those functions. There are also restrictions in the Bill on the type of body that can be added to the list in Clause 16. They require that the Secretary of State is satisfied that at least one purpose or function of the body concerned must be a marine function. I find it difficult to envisage circumstances in which the MMO would enter into agreement with organisations that did not have the expertise to undertake the relevant functions, or which the Secretary of State would condone on that basis.
Some noble Lords seem quite content to give the MMO a veto on planning consents, placing it higher in the hierarchy than the IPC. On the other hand, they are not prepared to trust it in relation to these delegations. In this case, we should surely be able to trust the MMO, given the construct of the Bill.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I thank the Minister for that response. The amendment does not focus on the list to which the Minister referred or on the general power of the Secretary of State to add people to that list, but on the third section of the clause, which concerns the Secretary of States role. The amendment focuses not on the MMO but on the Secretary of State, ensuring that he performs that function and does not add to the list anyone who does not have a proper marine function.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: In Clause 20 the Bill talks about what sort of agreements can be made with local authorities. A minute ago the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was talking about not micromanaging. By including subsection (4), the Government are really trying to micromanage what local authorities can and cannot do. Subsection (4), which I would like to amend, talks about the fact that joint committees, between two or more local authorities, may not have the powers that the Bill might otherwise provide.
I remember how much the Government do not like joint committees between two or more local authorities, because we talked about it extensively in the Local Government Act 2000. They have many reasons why they do not like this arrangement. They prefer the direct executive arrangement and think that that is more accountable. Nevertheless the flexibility still exists to allow smaller councils to have committees and joint committees. There can be no reason why that should not happen, particularly when estuary areas often form the division between two local authority areas. Rivers were often the boundary between different areas, and council boundaries were often along lines drawn by geography. There are often different local authorities on each side of a river. In practical terms, having joint committees makes absolute sense. It will be interesting to hear why the Minister believes that that is not acceptable if local authorities themselves can come up at a local level with a good arrangement whereby they have a joint committee.
Subsection (4) is not very flexible, even if local authorities should come together to say that this is what should happen on their two joint sides of a river and they would like to have a joint committee with these powers. The Government would exclude that. Perhaps the Minister has a watertight reason for leaving subsection (4) in. I cannot imagine what it might be. I await an answer. I beg to move.
Earl Cathcart: We support this amendment, which was very ably put by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. We support the great effects of flexibility and cannot understand why the Government rejected joint committees of two or more local authorities. Perhaps the Minister can explain the reasons behind this blanket rejection. Surely if the circumstances are applicable, it must be correct to allow functions to be carried out by, or to be delegated to those who may be part of, a joint committee of two or more local authorities, as was so ably expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. I look forward to the Ministers explanation.
Lord Davies of Oldham: Noble Lords are anticipating my reply rather more enthusiastically than I am. I am all too well aware that I am surrounded by people with expertise in local authorities. I confess that my only ambitious attempt to join a local authority resulted in my achieving 17 votes and thereafter I lost all such ambition. Therefore, I tread this particular path with some difficulty.
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