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That being so, does the Minister not find that the director-general’s refusal to broadcast the appeal, which he repeats in a letter to the Guardian this morning, on the grounds of impartiality, is both baffling and shameful?

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Lord Carter of Barnes: My Lords, I have indeed watched the appeal, although I self-evidently did not watch it on the BBC; I watched it on YouTube. I share my noble friend’s view—along, I am sure, with anyone else who watched it—that it was a compelling story, well told. As well as evoking strong feelings, I am sure that it encouraged many noble Lords to contribute. It is not a matter for the Government or the Broadcasting Minister to comment on broadcasting judgments made by the director-general of the BBC. That is clearly a matter for the BBC Trust.

Lord Fowler: My Lords, the Minister can communicate the views of this House to the director-general of the BBC, particularly as the director-general defends his decision on the grounds that he wants to preserve BBC impartiality. Can the Minister ask the director-general how one can be impartial on the suffering and destruction that has taken place in Gaza? Surely this appeal is to meet humanitarian need and not to make any kind of political statement.

Lord Carter of Barnes: My Lords, the noble Lord is of course the chair of the House’s Communications Committee. I am sure that the director-general of the BBC will listen carefully to what he has to say, as I am sure he will to the debate in this House and the debate that has followed the decision. However, I repeat that questions of impartiality are very fine judgments. Questions of impartiality for the BBC are, in many senses, finer judgments. It is for that very reason that responsibility for the BBC’s impartiality was put in a separate place from that for other broadcasters. I make no comment on the rights or wrongs of the decision, but I strongly support the position of the BBC director-general to be able to make that decision without government Ministers attempting to second-guess him or question him after the event.

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: My Lords, I declare an interest as an associate of an independent production company. Does the Minister agree that a consequence of the—in our opinion misguided—decision by the BBC has been much to the detriment of its position internationally, particularly in its effect on the position of the World Service, which plays such an important role in so many places as the voice and source of impartial and unbiased information? This has really affected its position outside this country.

Lord Carter of Barnes: My Lords, I am sure that every senior executive and, indeed, editorial person at the BBC will have listened very closely to the discussions, debates and reactions that the decision not to broadcast has provoked—and rightly so. As to whether or not any individual decision can have the level of detrimental effect that the noble Baroness described, I might contend it. I think that the BBC is very aware that these are fine judgments and it is, often more than most broadcasters, put in a position where it has to exercise those fine judgments. Impartiality is defined at some length, as she will know, in the BBC Charter and, indeed, in Ofcom codes for other broadcasters. Part of the reason why it takes some fine length is because it is difficult to

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cover all circumstances and all eventualities; but ultimately that decision has to be made by the BBC director-general, who, in this instance, acts as editor-in-chief. Time and again, I will defend that right to make that decision.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is perfectly possible to take the view that it is for the BBC to have autonomy of editorial judgment and for the Government to express the view that this decision was an aberration? Does he not also agree that the BBC has managed to convey more publicity for this appeal than for any that it has previously put out, and it has managed to convince a lot of people around the world that it is not impartial? That is a pretty good record.

Lord Carter of Barnes: My Lords, perhaps there was a cunning plan behind the BBC director-general’s decision. I think that the Government find themselves in difficulty in these situations; there are members of the Government—Ministers and Secretaries of State—who have expressed their views very clearly, but in this situation it is the job of the director-general and the management of the BBC to make judgments on partiality and impartiality. If individual members of the Government wish to be partial—I, for one, can understand why—that is a matter for them.

The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: My Lords, I wonder whether your Lordships will permit me to come at this at a slightly different angle and ask the Minister if he would join me in congratulating the BBC on its extraordinarily skilled and sensitive coverage of the conflict in Gaza, particularly given the draconian restrictions under which the media were forced to operate? Furthermore, would he join me in applauding the long-standing corporation policy of broadcasting details of helplines that will give support and advice to those affected by potentially disturbing story-lines and topical events that the BBC broadcasts? If he will indulge me on those points, I invite him to agree that it is ironic to the point of perversity that viewers who were profoundly affected by the BBC’s graphic and moving coverage of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza were deprived by the same BBC of the opportunity to access information that would have helped them to respond appropriately—that is, by supporting DEC’s humanitarian appeal?

Lord Carter of Barnes: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate puts his case extremely clearly. If I may digress, I had the pleasure of taking my two younger children to the Imperial War Museum at the weekend. I spent some time explaining to them afterwards the benefit of media coverage as we progressed since the First and Second World Wars. Many people would share the view that the value of accurate, impartial, well resourced and brave news reporting from situations of conflict or disaster goes a long way to contributing to a civilised response to those situations. I welcome the opportunity to share his support and endorsement of the quality of the BBC’s news reporting from those areas. One of the things from which this country benefits—I shall be talking about this tomorrow—is

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having more than one provider of news. I take his point about perversity, but people in this country have had the chance to respond to the appeal. It has been broadcast by other broadcasters and it is available online. That chance has been made available but I take the point about the BBC’s position.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords—

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, I do not think we have heard from the Labour Benches on this Question.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, since my noble friend raised the question of the role of the BBC Trust, and as it would be hard to deny that the BBC has suffered some reputational damage in the past few weeks, is he satisfied that the new governance arrangements currently in place at the BBC are adequate to deal with this kind of situation? Specifically, as the BBC Trust is enjoined to act in the interests of the licence fee holder, is it also acting in the interests of the BBC itself?

Lord Carter of Barnes: My Lords, the BBC Trust is a relatively new innovation in broadcasting governance. To date, my own judgment is that it executes that responsibility well. The particular situation that we find ourselves discussing today emphasises the value of having discrete governance responsibilities for the BBC, and I am sure that the BBC Trust will exercise those responsibilities well.

Marine and Coastal Access Bill [HL]

Copy of Bill
Explanatory Notes
Constitution Committee Report
1st Report from DP Committee

Committee (3rd Day)

3.32 pm

Clause 23 : Research

Amendment 70

Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach

70: Clause 23, page 13, line 5, leave out subsection (1)

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: This is a probing amendment to call into question the type and scale of research that the MMO can undertake. As the Bill stands, the MMO can undertake research itself when that research is concerned with any of its functions or general objectives, or it can choose to commission research in these areas. Some research is carried out by almost every organisation to facilitate achieving its objectives. We fully support Amendment 70A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, because to perform its remit effectively the MMO will and should have to

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carry out proper research. Science must be at the heart of its decision-making. This should therefore be a duty.

Will the Minister say what specific sorts of research he expects the MMO to carry out? Subsection (1)(b) specifies that research can be commissioned or supported,

What is likely to be the “otherwise”? Will he explain that? Will he also tell us whether there are any estimates of how much of the MMO’s budget might be taken up by this research? Who will be in charge of deciding which research gets greater priority if, for example, time or cost factors come into play?

Amendment 70A flags up the question of who the main funder and promoter of research will be. Will it be Defra, the MMO or the NERC? How much will commercial interests be encouraged to participate in co-funding research? Will Defra’s research budget be increased to cope with this demand? In addition, the NERC does not have a history of prioritising funding for the directly applied research that this would entail.

There is also the question of security of information. The Freedom of Information Act means that a lot of the research carried out may end up in the public domain. While that is a positive development in many ways, it could pose problems for sensitive information such as that on licensing. It could also make partnership funding with commercial interests more difficult. How do the Government intend to sort out that situation?

There is a risk of duplicating the research by other bodies. There are many different bodies in charge of various aspects of the marine area. For example, the Environment Agency, Natural England and the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities may all have a vested interest in commissioning similar research. Finally, then, what plan will be put in place to avoid wasteful and expensive duplication of research? Would the MMO be considered the primary research body? I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: In speaking to the two amendments that I have in this group, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for supporting them. Earlier in this Committee stage, the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, eloquently referred to the need for this sort of research. He laid out, for Members of the Committee, why that would be so important. The MMO, as the Minister has said, will have to perform a balancing act as the holder of the ring, given all the tensions between the various interest groups. As the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, said, we can be certain that the commercial interests will have commissioned plenty of scientific research to support their case. That is one reason, among many others, for the MMO needing to be really capable when it comes to research.

The Joint Committee on the draft marine Bill dwelt at some length on this matter and the amendments that I have tabled result from its deliberations. It quite unequivocally recommended:

“The MMO should have a duty under the Bill to promote the publicly-funded production of marine data, to collect such data and to make them publicly available”.

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Further evidence heard by the Joint Committee led me to table Amendment 70B. The committee suggested that there was no power for the MMO to collect data on a cost-free basis from any public body. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, asked which body will be primarily responsible and whether it will be Natural England or the MMO, for example. Those questions are vital because, depending on the Minister’s answers, Amendment 70B will be more or less important.

What we really aim to do with these amendments is, first, to make sure that the research is absolutely required to happen—the designation of MCZs alone depends enormously on the quality of research—and, secondly, to ensure that, if the Bill starts to require a reasonable level of research, that research is not prevented simply on grounds of cost.

Lord Kingsland: I, too, support the amendments in this group. They pick up, in a more practical manner, on a theme that has run through the debates on the Bill. Your Lordships are, I think, broadly agreed that the MMO must take its decisions on the basis of the best available scientific evidence. The question is: how does the MMO obtain such evidence?

As both the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and my noble friend Lord Taylor have said, that evidence will already to some degree be within the knowledge of the MMO staff, because the Minister has accepted that many of them will have to be a of high scientific calibre. However, there will obviously be occasions when there is the need for research and the MMO, because it will not possess that particular expertise, will have to consider what sources it will need to tap—both national and, indeed, international, because the information on biodiversity that it seeks may not be available in the United Kingdom.

I remind the Minister—in case he needs reminding—that the marine White Paper published in 2007 had some important things to say about what it described as an evidence-based policy approach for the MMO. It stated that appropriate scientific data and information were needed to provide,

It also stated, in what I thought was a powerful commitment in a White Paper:

“We intend to maintain the provision of high quality sound, impartial, scientific advice to underpin decision-making by the MMO and are considering how best to satisfy this need”.

It is in the light of the Government’s approach in the White Paper and the contributions made in previous Committee days and today by the Minister that he needs to construe Clause 23. For example, in what circumstances would he foresee the MMO acting alone, and in what circumstances would he see it drawing in other bodies or persons? If it needs to draw in other bodies or persons, what criteria will it apply? I imagine that the Minister’s response will be that that is a matter that ought to be provided for in guidance, not in the Bill. Depending a little on the detail of his answer, I do not think that I will quarrel with him, but the Committee needs to know a little about what the approach in such guidance is likely to be.

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Then there is the other matter, which was extremely well covered by both my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. A great deal of high-quality research is taking place in this country in marine science—some of it what scientists term “blue skies” research and some of it other commissioned research. At some stage, we will need—again probably in guidance—some scheme or methodology for when the MMO needs to go outside, setting out what procedures it should follow to ensure that it not only identifies the right institution with which to enter a research relationship but also gets the best value for money.

Lord Greenway: I support the principle behind the amendments. It is quite correct to say that the Joint Committee foresaw the MMO as being the guardian of scientific research and knowledge relating to the sea and the distributor of that knowledge. I shall be very interested to hear what the Minister has to say.

3.45 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): This has been a short but interesting debate. I am in no doubt whatever of the view of the Committee of the need for high-quality science and research to be a critical part of the work of the MMO and for its decisions to be evidence-based and embracing what research and scientific evidence are available. The comprehensive nature of existing marine research and monitoring, along with the possibility of new specific and focused research that the MMO can commission, will furnish it with a strong base for planning and making assessments of particular marine activities.

I recognise that noble Lords would like me to give as much detail as possible on how we think that might happen and I will do so. However, when it is established, the MMO will also have to think carefully about this. I would caution against trying to build in too much inflexibility at the moment as, in the end, the MMO will be in a good position to make judgments itself about the range and amount of research that it should commission and the degree to which it should use Defra’s existing research capacity and other matters.

Although we debated this only last week, I remind noble Lords that my department’s research budget is a not insignificant amount of money. We also have access to wider marine research carried out by other government departments and the various agencies that come under them. I am thinking of the nature conservation bodies, the devolved Administrations and the Natural Environment Research Council, as well as, of course, universities and marine research centres. There is also collaboration—I very much take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland—with partners in European and other international projects. Therefore, there is a fine base already. Seeing the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, in his place, I should pay tribute to the Plymouth Marine Sciences Partnership as well.

We should not underestimate the fact that the sea is a vast, highly complex and expensive environment within which to carry out research and monitoring activities. Therefore, it is not possible for a single

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organisation to cover all the evidence needs. Science, in relation to the sea, can mean the ocean processes—the physics and chemistry of the sea—and it can mean biology and biodiversity. The ecosystem approach embodies all these aspects, but there are also separate elements, which need to be brought together.

We also have to consider the impacts on the marine environment of manmade pressures such as pollution—possibly leading to damage—and, as part of our role in sustainability, the socio-economic impact. There are centres of expertise in all these fields and these pieces of evidence need to be blended together. The work of the Marine and Fisheries Agency shows that this can be done very effectively, as it is able to call on the best available evidence on which to base its decisions.

In 2008-09, my department commissioned approximately £2.8 million of research into human activities and related issues. Under the current arrangements, the Marine and Fisheries Agency is a key customer of this research. We anticipate this successful arrangement continuing with the Marine Management Organisation. My department and the MFA have excellent, dedicated advice and research undertaken by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science. However, our experience is that wider collaboration is the most effective way of best understanding the marine environment. Such collaboration means that there is an excellent track record in the UK.

In 2010, the United Kingdom will produce the most comprehensive assessment of the state of its marine environment in the Charting Progress 2 report. This will be achieved through the combined effort of many partners to the marine monitoring and assessment strategy, including many of the organisations that I have already mentioned. However, we want to do more than this. We have recently created the cross-government high-level marine science co-ordinating committee, which will produce a strategy this year to improve further the UK’s marine science and monitoring across the board. The strategy will aim to improve efficiency and address the gaps and long-term needs in the UK’s marine science. It will very much inform some of the decisions that will need to be taken in the future about the research effort in the marine area, so it will be significant in teasing out the areas on which we will have to put more emphasis in the future.

What is the role of the MMO? We see it very much as a partner in that work. The point has already been made that we need to avoid duplication, but we need to fill gaps and to ensure that there is a collaborative approach. On one hand, we want to invest as many of our precious resources as can be made available. On the other hand—many noble Lords will know of some of the challenges of research funding—we need to ensure that there is no duplication of effort either.

As I said in our earlier debates, the MMO will comprise around 250 staff posts in total. As the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said, the people who are currently working in the Marine and Fisheries Agency are of a very high calibre and have substantial skills in marine and fisheries science. They will move into the new organisation, and I assure noble Lords that new staff with skills and expertise in marine science and data

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will also be recruited to the MMO, so it will have a strong science base in house to support its functions and decisions.

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