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However, I am happy to assure the Committee that, in not supporting the amendments, the Government are not taking the position that it would be acceptable to have a situation where, in the long term, there was no Justice Minister. Rather, we are saying that we have confidence that the parties in the Assembly will reach agreement on this.
Lord Kilclooney: Obviously this amendment is looking to the longer term in Northern Ireland, but with the appointment of the first justice Minister there seems to be no problem, because, as the Lord President has said, a person has now been selected for this position. That name has been widely welcomed
Lord Browne of Belmont: This is a strange and unnecessary amendment. I would expect that, if devolution of policing and justice takes place, this will only happen where there is agreement on who the Minister will be. The operation of the triple lock is such that we would not devolve without the matter being agreed. Indeed, it may even be possible to elect the justice Minister in advance of devolution, to be in post upon devolution. In the event, six months would be a very long time for such an important position to remain vacant. It would be constitutionally odd to have the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in charge of a Northern Ireland department. Although the Secretary of State is given certain powers under the Northern Ireland Act, I believe that this would not be a very good precedent. In such circumstances, it would be preferable for Westminster to resume control.
Lord Glentoran: I admire the optimism of the noble Lord, Lord Browne; I like to share it. He also takes the point that six months would be a very long time. I am delighted as well to hear from the Lord President that the Government think likewise and will have their eye on the potential problem. I was not sure at first, but I also like the idea of the flexibility, which the noble Baroness talked about, on when the Government should react to the vacancy in the Assembly. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Duke of Montrose: I move Amendment 146 on behalf of my noble friend Lord Taylor. We have tabled this amendment to probe the expedited process for designating marine conservation zones. Clause 116(1) states very clearly that there is a due process for designating, which is described in subsections (2) to (9). This process involves publishing proposals and consulting the appropriate persons, including the Secretary of State. Subsection (10), however, allows the appropriate authority to miss out all the stages of the publication of the proposed site and the consultation on it if the area in question requires urgent protection.
Will the Minister say what he considers to be an urgent need to protect an area? Having waited so long for a marine Bill, what could be so urgent that it cannot wait to go through the normal stages, and who would decide this urgency? Having asked the question, I acknowledge that there will be times when it is crucial to designate a marine conservation zone to stop irreversible damage and the time needed to publish the notice and complete the consultation exercise is unacceptably long. It would be helpful if the Minister could say what he expects the timeframe to be from identifying an area as a possible marine conservation zone and its actual designation as an MCZ. Will he also make it clear to the Committee what other occasions might be needed and what safeguards will be put into place to make sure that subsections (10) and (11) cannot be exploited by one group or another?
We support the principle of the Bill, and we want MCZs to be able to protect areas as quickly and effectively as possible. We do not wish harm to befall
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Lord Greenway: My Amendments A148 and A196 are grouped with Amendment A146. Amendment A148 refers to Clause 118, which deals with the amendment, revocation and review of orders designating marine conservation zones. The amendment would insert a new subsection, because the process for giving effect to amendments to an existing MCZ should be in line with the initial designation procedures, including consulting interested or affected parties. As an MCZ will already be in place in such circumstances, the provision under Clause 116(10) for making an urgent designation without consultation should not be applicable but the opportunity given for representations to be made at a time when original conditions might have changed and/or other persons or interests are affected.
Amendment A196 refers to Clause 128, which deals with interim by-laws. Again, the amendment would insert a new subsection. Representations can be put forward when an interim by-law is made initially. However, the process is less clear when it is subsequently determined to designate the area or part of the area as a permanent MCZ. In such instances subsection (11) requires an order to be made under Clause 113, while the interim by-law may remain in force pending the outcome of the decision. It is not clear whether in such circumstances an order under Clause 113 would be subject to the requirements of Clause 116. But if that is the case, and the by-law can be expected to remain in place, it would not be appropriate to include the procedures in subsection (10) for making an urgent designation without consultation. My amendment is designed to ensure that the opportunity is given for full representations at a time when a permanent order is to be made but conditions might have changed and other persons or interests become affected.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken to this group of amendments. I agree that their anxieties need to be allayed because there is not the slightest doubt that public engagement is fundamentally important to the way in which these sites will be designated and protected. It is the best way to ensure that we come to the right decision on the best available evidence and secure wide understanding
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The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, asked questions which focused around several issues, the main one being the provision for urgency in the Bill. I agree with the noble Duke that that should be a rarely used provision, but we allow designation to take place on an interim basis, solely for protection, without prior public consultation. We would want to create the space for that consultation to take place. I am entirely at one with the anxiety that the noble Duke has expressed.
He also asked in what conceivable circumstances urgency would be the issue. We feel that it is necessary to make this provision. Certainly, the powers are likely to be used very infrequently, especially as interim by-laws can be made to protect an area before it is formally designated. But by-laws will not be able to protect nature conservation features from all potential threats. The ability urgently to designate an MCZ means that the duties on public authorities are given effect and the general offence of intentionally damaging a protected feature of a site will apply. It is prudent that the Government should have provision for urgent action.
I agree entirely that when such action has been taken the process should be in place before anything permanent is established for the proper consultation. But there can be occasions when a threat is presented, and we want the power to carry out urgent action. I want to reassure noble Lords that we do not expect this procedure to be used in any other than wholly exceptional circumstances. I follow entirely the thinking behind the amendments, that consultation ought to be the norm and that we will only bring about the effective operation of these zones with full public consultation leading to acceptance and an understanding of them.
However, I want to defend the concept of the urgency provision. Clause 113 as it stands will achieve the same outcome as Amendment 148, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. The amendment would ensure that any changes to the designation orders follow the transparent consultation and designation procedures in the original order. The clause will achieve that because it applies to amending orders as much as it does to the original designation orders.
Amendment 196 seeks to ensure that the public have the right to make representations before an area is designated. The existing duty in Clause 116 to carry out public consultation carries with it the implied right of members of the public to make representations, as well as an implied duty on the appropriate authority to have regard to them. That is certainly our intention and our reading of the clause. I hope that that reassures the noble Lord.
I understand the motivation behind the amendments and I hope that I can interpret them as probing in nature. We have thought about these issues carefully, and I want to make one point about the urgent provision.
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The Duke of Montrose: I thank the Minister for going into our concerns on this matter so fully, although it is a little quaint that he believes that a by-law could be brought in more quickly than implementing this procedure. I would have thought that this procedure would be as fast as it is possible to be. However, we will have a read of what the Minister has said, and with that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
have to form a network. I think that most, if not all, noble Lords agree that a network of MCZs will be vital in promoting sustainable development and in the protection and improvement of marine flora, fauna and habitats.
In establishing MCZs, it is important that the purpose and objective of each zone be made clear so that the management and level of protection will vary from zone to zone, and even between zones according to their purpose and objectives. So there will be highly protected zones and at the same time other zones designated with different aims and protection. If this is an accurate reflection of the Governments intention, where is this reflected in the wording of the Bill?
I want to make it absolutely clear that this amendment in no way diminishes the importance of the previous debates that we had regarding marine conservation
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Secondly, he confirmed that the establishment of an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas is vital. Thirdly, he confirmed that the shape of the network will clearly be driven by science. Fourthly, he confirmed:
I am absolutely clear that that is possible ... The Bill makes it clear that there is a requirement for the Secretary of State to report on the number of marine conservation zones designated where any licensable marine activity has been restricted and the taking of animals or fishing has been prohibited.[Official Report, 3/3/09; col. 711.]
These five areas are all matters where there is complete consensus in the Committee, even, as I have tried to illustrate, with the Minister. So why are these matters not in the Bill? Clause 119, under discussion now, seems an obvious place to put that right. I am not asking the Minister to agree today to put these matters in the Billthough that would be nicebut to agree to take them away and consider whether they can be included. That seems to be the will of this Committee, and where there is a will there is a way. One advantage is that it would save an enormous amount of time at Report. I apologise to the Committee for going over old ground but I find it difficult to debate Clause 119 without doing so. The five points I have mentioned seem to fit nicely within this clause.
As I said, Amendment A150A raises a different point. The Minister talks about the need for flexibility, but as Clause 119(2) is written it gives a strong impression that for an MCZ to be designated it must be part of a network. I am sure that this is not the intention of the Government.
Because of time restrictions, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, talked to her Amendment A151 earlier; it inserts Ransar sites and sites of special scientific interest. I remind the Committee that Ransar sites are protected wetlands. The Minister responded by saying:
Marine conservation zones will therefore be designated for the purpose of conserving marine flora and fauna, marine habitats or types of marine habitat, and features of geological or geomorphological interest.[Official Report, 3/3/09; col. 678.]
I would add heritage sites. As should be obvious, there is no need for a network to be in place in order to protect these features. Not all MCZs need to be part of a network, although the vast majority will be. I ask the Minister, when he looks at Amendment 151 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to consider this amendment at the same time. I beg to move.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My noble friend has already undertaken to look at the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. If the noble Earls objective is that in looking at that amendment my noble friend should look also at the arguments he has put forward with regard to his amendment, I can give that assurance. I can probably sit down at this point because I may have nothing further to add. The noble Earl would expect that on other matters I would develop an argument expressing why we think we have thought through the issues carefully. If he will withdraw his amendment on the grounds that we will look at it at the same time as we consider the noble Baronesss, we certainly will.
This is a simple probing amendment to establish what the subsection is designed to achieve. As drafted, it seems to suggest that MCZs should be established over uninteresting or environmentally secure areas as well as places that would benefit. I am not sure that the Government mean this and I suggest that the department comes up with rather more precise drafting.
On the other amendments in the group, I agree with the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, which suggests that MCZs should be an appropriate size for their objectives. I look forward to the Ministers reassurances that this is how he intends to implement these provisions.
The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, is a sensible one. The discussion last week on what constitutes a network and what the duty in Clause 119(3) should achieve will no doubt continue as these provisions are implemented. A transparent assessment of what has worked or not worked will be of great help in informing the debate. I beg to move.
Lord Greaves: I apologise on behalf of my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. She has been caught short, even more than I was, by the rapid and somewhat premature ending of the debate on Northern Ireland.
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