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Here we come to the rub of our previous discussions, where the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, in particular was concerned that, in the desire to achieve a marine policy statement to which all policy authorities had signed up, the result would be a superficial agreement because what was produced would represent the lowest common denominator approach. A time limit might have the effect of prejudicing the negotiating position of policy authorities that had yet to adopt the marine policy statement. There is also the risk of a deadline leading to last-minute compromises that do not really deliver the goals of any Administration. It could even lead to policy authorities feeling pressured into adopting a marine policy statement with which they were not happy. Indeed, I am reminded of what happens in the august surroundings of European Council of Ministers meetings, which some of us have enjoyed and taken part in.
Amendment 86D raises an issue that my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham has already discussed in relation to the giving of reasons for opting out or withdrawing from an agreed marine policy statement. The absence of duties to prepare an MPS or sanctions for opting out should not be taken as a lack of commitment; it simply reflects the reality of legislating to produce an agreed document between four Administrations, each with their own slightly differing competence and responsibility and their own directly elected legislatures, which may espouse very different policy ideas from our own. We would certainly urge the Committee to respect the ability of each of the UK Administrations to develop policy in relation to these matters within their competence and to decide when and how they should enter into agreements and compromises with the others. In other words, we do not want to set up legislative impediments that might get in the way of good, hard agreements. For that reason, we hope that noble Lords will not take us down that route.
Baroness Hamwee: This is not something on which one would go to the stake, although I would say that, while the terms reasonably practicable or reasonable may be appropriate in one context, that does not necessarily mean that they are appropriate in every one. I have heard what the Minister had to say and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Hamwee: The amendment seeks clarification of Clause 46(8), which provides for the consequencesor perhaps I should say the non-consequencesof withdrawal from an MPS. The situation spelt out in the introductory lines provides that withdrawal does not affect the continuing validity or effect of a marine plan and, I understand, that if there is a plan it should continue in effect. There are matters of certainty which are important, but I am unclear as to the justification for paragraph (b). That states that the withdrawal does not affect the construction of a marine plan until such time as a new MPS governs marine planning for the area. It seems odd that if there is no marine plan in place, the MPS from which there has been a withdrawal should continue to apply to the construction of a marine plan. I am aware that I may have misread the situation but I would be grateful for the Ministers explanation. I beg to move.
Earl Cathcart: Clause 46(8)(b) seems to state that the construction of marine plans must not be delayed or interrupted even though the MPS is no longer relevant for a particular country withdrawing from the MPS, or for all countries if the Secretary of State withdraws from the MPS.
I know that the next subsection exempts it if it has been withdrawn, but the overriding intention is that the marine plans must conform to the MPS. However, if the marine policy statement is withdrawn, I do not understand how the marine plans can be finalised and adopted because, without any MPS in existence because it has been withdrawn, they cannot possibly conform to it. Can the Minister explain how he sees this working, or have I missed the point?
My second point goes back to what I said on Amendment 85C. I tried to explore the possibility of a partial withdrawal or opt out from the MPS by one country or the Secretary of State and, when he responded, the Minister was resolute in his rejection of this possibility. Clause 46 states that if any policy authority that has adopted the MPS decides to subsequently withdraw from it, it can do so. It seems highly unlikely that a policy authority, having already adopted the MPS, is suddenly going to come to the conclusion that it wants to withdraw from all of it. It would be a sorry state of affairs if it came to that. More likely, the policy authority
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So I ask the Minister again: should it not be possible for a policy authority or the Secretary of State to withdraw only from those sections of the MPS about which they are concerned? This would make more sense of continuing with the construction of any marine plan, which could then be finalised once the new revised sections of the MPS have been agreed and adopted. I look forward to the Ministers response.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to noble Lords. I tender two apologies. The first is for the rather piratical guise that I have taken on board. This is a reflection of the fact that I have a slight eye complaint which is causing me great difficulty in referring to my notes. As the Committee knows, without the support of the Box, we Ministers at the Dispatch Box have difficulties. My other apology is for being somewhat abrupt earlier. That was occasioned by the fact that I was unable to consult any of the documents as fully as I would have wished when I was replying to earlier issues. I am therefore more than grateful that we have the chance to revert to those issues again in this clause and for me to make them clearer than I did earlier today. I hope to demonstrate to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that her well intentioned amendment is unnecessary, and to assure the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, that we have got it right.
Of course it is possible for a policy authority to withdraw from an adopted MPS. I was seeking with the earlier amendments not to provide in legislation the levels of support for that possibility which appeared in the earlier amendments. Quite clearly, we look upon withdrawal from the MPS as the last option to be taken; it will be behoven on the authority concerned to do everything it can to ensure that that does not happen. However, in the event that a policy authority does withdraw, the clause helps us to be clear on how marine plans which have been prepared and are in existence would be affected by any such withdrawal.
As I indicated in my earlier but all-too-brief response, it is important that planswhich, after all, will have taken a number of years to develop and will include local policies and objectivesare allowed to continue. It is important that decision makers should have certainty while discussions are continuing over whether a new marine policy statement should be drawn up. We discussed earlier the issue of certainty for all those involved.
We consider that plans are unlikely to change a great deal over time because the nature of the environment, the location of coastal resources and the potential suitability of an area for certain kinds of activities are unlikely to change drastically within a limited time span. It is more likely that we will amend the plans in order to expand opportunities and to provide more detail on what is beneficial to communities.
There may be several reasons why a marine policy statement may need to be amendedfor example, if one or more policy authorities decided to withdraw from it; if there was an agreed change to objectives
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In response to the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, the Bill does not allow a policy authority from a part of the MPS. The MPS is a joint document and must be agreed in its totality, but policy authorities could agree to amend it. We expect that over time, some process of emendation might occur but not as dramatic as that envisaged by the argument that an authority would seek to withdraw totally from something of such significance to which it had signed up hitherto. The marine plans have to be interpreted under the existing MPS, whatever reservations authorities might have, until the new one is in place. That is what Clause 46(8)(a) emphasises. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel reassured.
Baroness Hamwee: The noble Lord has the Committees sympathy for his eye problem. He looks extremely dashing with his black patch, although anybody reading Hansard might wonder about the reference to piracy in this debate about the high seas.
I am puzzled. In the terrestrial planning world, we are used to what planners call emerging policies. This is not neat; it does not fit logic entirely. If we read the clause outside that context, however, it is logical. But those who are used to creating strategic plans, development plans and applying for development consent or planning consent are used to policies emerging and to older policies not always being cut off but becoming less important as they are superseded. That is not necessarily nice, neat and logical to those who come from different backgrounds but that is the way it is. I find it puzzling that that is not being read over into the marine planning system. I will read what the Minister has to say. I think that this might be one of those issues which could benefit from a bit of discussion between now and Report. I do not want to make too heavy weather of it, but it is important that the regimes are understood.
The Duke of Montrose: The noble Baroness is talking about the terrestrial planning process. We have discovered that in the Bill the word planning is used as something rather different, and licensing is the area. I do not know whether that adds anything to her argument.
Baroness Hamwee: I am grateful for that intervention. Indeed, all may become clear after reading the next instalment. I leave it at that; I remain puzzled but hope that that does not continue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
( ) Where any authority considers another constituent authority is failing to comply with the conditions of the MPS, they should have the power to convene a meeting of authorities concerned to resolve the matter.
The Duke of Montrose: Up to this point, we have quite rightly and properly been considering what form an arrangement of this level of complication requires if it is to work when all the parties are being reasonable and complying with what is required in terms of discussion, publication, notice and all the strictures that are laid down. We have even been discussing whether we can include arrangements for those who are forced to change by outside circumstances.
The question I wish to address is what is needed so that the legislation will be meaningful when the years have passed and all the parties to the agreement have changed. My amendment explores what happens when a policy authority fails to comply with a marine policy statement as opposed to announcing its wish to withdraw from it. This is one circumstance in which I do not see it as in any way appropriate that there should be a hierarchy of authority in passing judgment on whether there has been an adequate level of compliance. The Secretary of State may retain overall power in a great many areas of the Bill, but a mechanism for what one might describe as whistleblowing should be available to all parties, as compliance is vital to the integrity of the marine policy statement for everybody.
Holding a policy authority to account is not always easy. As the Minister has been at pains to explain, it will have been subject to scrutiny from its appropriate legislatures at certain stages, and the transparency provisions should go some way towards the public being aware of what can be expected. However, planning is a complex and often technical area where only similarly involved bodies will have a genuine appreciation of whether there has been a failure to comply.
As things are developing at the moment, I have had a brief discussion with one person who has had some involvement with the thinking behind the proposed body, Marine Scotland. It sounds as if the thinking is that Scotland might want to pursue policies that are much greener than those currently described in the Bill. So far, so good. But that is not to say that a succeeding Administration in any one of these disparate parts of the United Kingdom might want to do much less. The easiest way is to implement a policy of procrastination or of just ignoring previous undertakings. I should be interested to hear from the Minister how much one policy authority may be permitted to involve itself if another avoids fulfilling the terms of a marine policy statement to which they are both signed up. I beg to move.
Lord Greaves: I do not really want to add anything to what the noble Duke has said, except to say that it is an extremely interesting and important amendment which has common sense as its basis. It will be interesting to hear the Ministers reply.
Baroness Byford: I support my noble friends very important amendment. Those of us who have worked with MAFF and Defra over the years are well versed in the complaints and arguments that one country has against another. I am thinking of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland complaining about the way in which provisions are interpreted here in England, where one country has a different set of rules within the overall framework. There is no reason to suppose that the same problems will not arise, as my noble friend has indicated, when the four home nations set about conforming to a marine policy. There must be a mechanism for one or more of those who feel aggrieved to demand a discussion about what is happening. It would be wonderful if it were not needed, but we cannot assume that that will be the case.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, always speaks good sense, and we listen to what he says with great care. His arguments are reinforced on this occasion by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford.
I acknowledge the good intention behind the amendment in trying to provide a mechanism, in support of the marine policy statement, whereby UK authorities can work through any difficulties that they may have. However, I have difficulty with the concept of putting into the Bill an express power for one UK Administration to call a meeting in order to hold another to account. That would make it explicit that one Administration had taken the initiative by calling the other to the meeting. I am not sure that that sends out the right message about how our colleagues in the devolved Administrations are expecting or are expected to work together; nor would it send out a good public message to dramatise things in quite this way.
In any case, we do not need a specific mechanism in the Bill. As the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, will know as well as anyone in the Committee, there already exists in the concordats that the UK Government have with each devolved Administration a mechanism for resolution of difficulties such as this. Beyond that is the joint ministerial committee, which has an express remit to consider disputes between UK Administrations. It is an accepted agreement that all the UK Administrations will generally support the positions reached by the joint ministerial committee.
We are not talking about a trivial matter. When we debated the concept of withdrawal from the MPS earlier, I emphasisedI am sure that the Committee agrees with methat it would be a matter of last resort and certainly significant enough for us to expect it to be resolved through the mechanisms that are crucial to the resolution of significant issues between the devolved Administrations and the Government. If one of the Administrations, in their capacity as a policy authority, no longer supported a particular
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For the MPS to work, we need to be supportive of the independence that exists throughout the UK Administrations, which is why the Bill states that policy authorities have to be notified before a notice of withdrawal is published. We would expect this notification to enable a period of negotiation if appropriate, which might indeed involve what the noble Duke suggests; that is, meetings and correspondence between officials and Ministers to resolve matters where possible. We have the mechanism for resolving an issue that would have real substance to it if it meant withdrawal from the MPS.
The amendments limited framework would risk damaging the good-will basis on which the MPS is agreed. It could make it more difficult to negotiate in relation to the MPS in future, because we would be telling the parties what they must do. The conduct of negotiations between the UK Administrations and the process by which they may come together to resolve any difficulties are matters of judgment and policy related to the nature of the problem, public interest in it and its significance. We should not prescribe them in primary legislation. If we had no mechanism at all for resolving an issue of this importance, that might be required, but, as I have indicated, the wisdom with which the devolution settlements were constructed means that there is provision for how matters need to be worked through. Putting an injunction in the Bill is not conducive to the good relationships that we need continually to work through in the devolution settlement. I hope that the noble Duke will therefore withdraw his amendment.
The Duke of Montrose: I must thank those who have supported me on this amendment. My only quarrel with the Minister is that we are primarily passing legislation here, not sending messages, but I know that Governments have always to consider these points. I thank the Minister for persevering in spite of his difficulties; it is most useful to have him here explaining the Governments position. I think that he is saying that, if one of the Administrations, whether south, north, east or west, fall down, there will be a sort of get-together and others will say to them, Look, you really ought to post a notification that you wish to withdraw from this. Perhaps he has confidence that the relevant channels have enough power to bring that about. However, as the Bill stands, it falls to the Administration who wish to withdraw to post a notice and otherwise continue with the marine policy statement despite the fact that they are perhaps not complying with it. We shall read the Ministers full answer but, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: The amendment takes us to Chapter 2, which deals with marine plans. Clause 47 deals with the marine planning regions. The Bill makes no provision for a shared region such as the Bristol Channel. The amendment is far from hypothetical. I shall take a moment to spell out some of the practicalities.
Yesterday, the Ministers honourable friend Huw Irranca-Davies visited us in north Devon to open the new Appledore fish processing plant at the new fish dock. It is a multimillion-pound project. The Minister spoke extremely well and said that he was pleased to open the plant in partnership with the Bideford Trawlermens Co-operative, the South West of England Regional Development Agency and Torridge District Council. It has been funded Objective 2 European money and government money, so it represents a true partnership. The Minister rightly spoke of the bright future in which the Government and all those other partners had invested.
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