The third of a million women with a wait of an extra 18 months will lose, just in state pension, pension payments averaging £7,800, and if one allows for pension credit and other passported benefits, we are talking about significantly greater sums still. Those women, if they are not working at the moment, will find it hard to find new jobs in the current labour market. Given that

18 Oct 2011 : Column 856

37% of them are currently not in work, how are they supposed to make up that shortfall? We have been given no answers to that question.

As I think we would all agree, the design of the future pensions system should maintain inter-generational fairness. Imposing such large costs on one group of women means that the Bill fails to meet that fairness test. What became of the Burkean compact between generations to which Conservatives once subscribed?

Jenny Willott rose

Stephen Timms: I will gladly give way to a non-Conservative.

Jenny Willott: Is the right hon. Gentleman able to answer the question that was posed by several hon. Members earlier in the debate, and then again by the Secretary of State, about whether he and his party would plan to repeal the proposals on women’s pensions and pension age if they were to come into government after the next election, given that the changes would not have taken place by that time and they would have the opportunity to do that were they so minded?

Stephen Timms: My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East answered that question earlier in the debate. Our view is that there have been too many changes and we would not propose yet another. The hon. Lady needs to explain the justification for picking out this particular group of half a million women and treating them more harshly than everyone else whose state pension age is being raised only by one year. For a third of a million women, it is being raised by a year and a half, and for half a million, it is being raised by more than a year. We have had no explanation and no attempt at a justification. Is it an accident or some kind of mishap? It certainly should be put right, and sadly it has not been put right in the changes that the Government have made.

There are other problems in the Bill. It dilutes the plan for auto-enrolment that was supported across the House. The proposals will leave many low-paid and agency workers outside auto-enrolment, and we think that they should not be left behind. Moreover, the gains from these exclusions, in lower costs for employers, will be small. It would be quite wrong to exclude people just because they work for small companies, as the Conservative party donor Adrian Beecroft is apparently arguing. I greatly appreciate the assurances that we have had about that during the debate, and I hope that Ministers will continue stoutly to resist any such moves if they are promoted from elsewhere in the coalition. The Pensions Commission made it clear that extending the benefits of pensions saving to more people who work for small firms is one of the prizes from this reform, and we must not throw it away.

The Secretary of State is absolutely right to argue that this is a pro-growth, not an anti-growth, change in making it possible for more people to save for a decent retirement. Of course it is right to be concerned about the plight of small firms in the zero-growth economy that we seem to have. I commend to the Government the national insurance holiday for small firms that take on additional workers that is proposed by my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor. We remain strongly

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supportive of the policy of auto-enrolment. We are disappointed, however, that the Government are seeking to water down the proposals around which the all-party consensus was hard won.

We welcome the consensus on the basic building blocks for a more sustainable pensions system, but the Government are quite wrong to load the cost of change so disproportionately on one group of half a million women. For a long time, they did not listen to those women at all. When they did, they came forward with a half measure. The sense of grievance that they have instilled in the women affected will not be readily dispelled. We are pleased to have won a concession, but many people will still be deeply disappointed. For that reason in particular, I urge Members to decline to give the Bill a Third Reading.

9.31 pm

Sheila Gilmore: I am glad that the politicians who sat in this House when I was born and was growing up in this country did not decide that the burden of debt was so great that they could not introduce the reforms that brought us the welfare state. It was not their view that they should stop planning, being optimistic and working towards a better future for their children and grandchildren. Despite the national debt being eye-wateringly high, our predecessors in this place were prepared to go ahead with reform and change.

Today, we have heard several speakers, including the Pensions Minister and the Secretary of State, argue that the Opposition are somehow being unfair to future generations, whereas the Government are being fair, because we would burden people with more debt. I think that our predecessors did the right thing for us. In fact, it was so much the right thing that I suspect it created the problem that we now have with longevity. The incredible improvements in life expectancy over the past 50 or 60 years have their roots in the creation of the welfare state.

Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): My parents, and I suspect the hon. Lady’s parents, had rationing after the war because the situation was so serious, and it was not good for many years after that.

Sheila Gilmore: Rationing, oddly enough, did a lot for people’s health and well-being. For some people in Britain at that time, it did not represent a worse standard of living, although it may have done for others, because during the 1930s many families struggled to put food on their tables because of unemployment.

The point that I was making is that the vision was not constrained by the debt. Things were difficult in many ways in the post-war period, but the Government of the day were nevertheless of the view that one had to plan for the future. I am not a great pessimist about debt. I feel that the whole thing has been grossly misrepresented by Government Members. In the early years of the last decade, the Government reduced the debt. Debt was very high in the period of the last Conservative Government, which people appear to have forgotten. It is not the case that the last Labour Government simply set about building up that debt in some sort of systematic way, to the detriment of future generations, as is suggested.

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Of course we have to address how to cease having annual financial deficits, and then in the medium to long term we have to reduce debt. However, at the moment the signs are at the medicine that the coalition parties are applying is not working. The chances are that, the way things are going, we will get to the end of this Parliament with a greater debt. We are already borrowing more than was projected last year, which is indeed quite frightening, but it means that we need to consider what we want to do.

I am not going to make too much of this point, because various people have made it earlier, but all Governments make choices about what they spend money on. We do not believe that the choice to accelerate the pension age rise for women is the right one. There are others that could be made, and we would be making them if we were in government. It has been said in this debate and others that if we cannot immediately identify some cut equivalent to any spending that we suggest is justified and fair, we are somehow being irresponsible. I do not accept that.

I suggested earlier a couple of things that I thought we could do, for example not ending the 50% tax rate, as some Government Members seem keen to do. The idea keeps being floated. We could also consider how we provide tax relief on the pension contributions of people on higher-rate tax earnings, because that is a huge giveaway to those who are already better off. There are a number of choices that we could make. I know that this is not the view of everyone on the Labour Benches, but personally I am not in favour of going ahead with Trident. Some of my colleagues agree with me and some do not, but the important point is that there are always choices.

I was going to say that we had driven people out of the Gallery in this debate, because when I started to speak it was completely empty. However, people have now obviously come in to hear me. People often see the subject of pensions as a bit of a bore and not very exciting, but it is hugely important. I regret greatly that the very good pensions legislation that Barbara Castle introduced, which brought in the state earnings-related pension scheme, was completely destroyed by the last Conservative Government. Had that not happened, many people would be very much better off now.

Although I very much agree with auto-enrolment, I am afraid I do not see it a complete substitute for that legislation. However, we must not move away from auto-enrolment, and I very much welcome the guarantees from the Secretary of State and the Pensions Minister that they will not agree to any delay in its rolling out. Nevertheless, for the reasons that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) gave, I am not in a position to support the Bill tonight.

9.38 pm

Glenda Jackson: Regrettably, I was not here for the opening remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore), but we are clearly of one mind. I share with her the total refusal to accept the Government’s interpretation of the situation in which we find ourselves. The Secretary of State made a passionate plea that the debt should not lay a burden on our children and grandchildren, but that plea would have played rather more resonantly with me were it not for the fact that his Government are punishing our children and grandchildren even as we speak.

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My parents and grandparents had absolutely no qualms whatever about laying on my generation the burden of debt incurred by fighting and winning a second world war, and I have to say that I am extremely grateful to them for that. I also point out to the Secretary of State that in the intervening decades, the opportunities that were presented to me and millions like me in this country by, as my hon. Friend said, the introduction of the welfare state, had been not only unheard of but undreamt of by people from the social and economic background from which I came. Therefore I, like her, simply refuse to accept that the choices the Government are making in every single area of our national economic life will promote growth, provide a way forward or benefit this country.

I would be more prepared to believe that the changes to the pension system that the Government have introduced—which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) said, are grossly unfair to women—were driven by the harsh economic climate, which the Government constantly pray in aid, were it not for the fact that that measly six months will save only £1.1 billion. The Government borrow something like 10 times that amount every week. I simply cannot make the figures match—but then neither can they.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): I struggle to see the hon. Lady’s logic in comparing a debt carried over on behalf of the nation for the second world war with a pension debt that results from the demographic fact of an ageing population for whom we must pay. Is she saying that £1.2 billion is a measly amount? If so, where would she find the other £10 billion that the Labour party are committed to spending by not voting for the Bill?

Glenda Jackson: I trust that the hon. Lady would allow me to use my own adjectives—“measly” is not a word that would immediately spring to my mind to describe £1.1 billion. The fact is that the six-month “pause”, which might be a better word to use as far as the hon. Lady’s view of the economy is concerned, will apparently save the nation £1.1 billion. That saving will not come in until next year, and it is doing nothing to fill the current hole. That sum is a fraction of what the Government are borrowing week in, week out, because they have markedly failed to do anything to create growth in this country. They have done little or nothing to stimulate our economy. The hon. Lady may smile and shake her head, but I was taught that the only way to get something is by earning it. That is the only way to settle debt.

Mrs Main: What does the hon. Lady think that the money we borrow every week pays for? I suggest that it pays for the debt that we are all committed to reducing.

Glenda Jackson: The hon. Lady is plucking fantasies out of the air—fantasies that the Government have been running for months. The money is certainly not paying to ensure that every child in my constituency has a school place, or that every elderly person in my constituency has secure meals on wheels, or that day centres for the elderly remain open. The Government have done nothing to encourage young people to believe that they have a future. Whatever they are doing with the money, they are certainly not stimulating growth in the country.

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I must return to the issues that we are supposedly debating. The Government have imposed a gross unfairness on one half of our people: women. That unfairness is absolutely unacceptable. As I had occasion to say to the Secretary of State in an intervention, for many women in my constituency, the changes to the Bill are nothing more than a cynical attempt by the Government to re-attract the female vote, which, as they read every day in the papers, they are losing.

On the one hand, the Government have introduced this Bill, but on the other, they protest that one of their central planks is ensuring greater equality for women. They say that they want more women in the boardroom, and greater wage equality and equality of opportunity, but then they decide that when a woman has worked all her life—as has been said, she will probably have been in low-paid work, doing two or three jobs at the same time, not least looking after her family, including both children and parents—and when her employment potential is nil, she must struggle on until the state pension comes in.

I strongly and heartily endorse many aspects of auto-enrolment. I do have concerns that the Government will not introduce sufficient teeth to ensure that, if the existing pensions industry does regard auto-enrolment as a business that they would wish to enter, the proper safeguards would be in place to ensure that it remains genuinely competitive, open and transparent, so that people who have never before considered having a pension will not find—as most of us do at the moment—the pension papers to be totally obfuscating so that we are no wiser about where our money is going or what the charges are after reading them.

It will not be possible for me to vote for this Bill, but I strongly endorse auto-enrolment. I urge the Government to think again, even at this late stage, about trying to eradicate this gross unfairness from the Bill.

9.45 pm

Jenny Willott: It will not surprise hon. Members to learn that I welcome the Bill. The issue of women’s state pension age has been discussed in full already today, but there is much else in the Bill to be welcomed. Many of the measures have broad support across the House, as we have already heard this evening. Auto-enrolment is, as the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) said, critical to many people who up to now have had no pension savings and have not been in a position to save for their retirement. It is fundamental, and I support it now as I supported it when it was proposed by the previous Government.

We have to get more people saving for their retirement. Far too many people have no savings at all, and when they retire they depend entirely on the basic state pension. It was not designed to provide an adequate living; it was designed as a safety net. But for an awful lot of people it is their sole retirement income, and that is something that we need to change. For years we have been grappling with how to get more people to save, especially those on the lowest incomes. Auto-enrolment is critical, because we need to make it as easy as possible for people to save. We need to make it as easy as possible for businesses to administer, so that it becomes a no-brainer: people will automatically save for retirement without thinking twice about it, and so put themselves in a better position for their retirement.

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Pensions are such an important issue to get right. It is not glamorous, people do not understand it, and it is very complicated. Even when I have conversations with other hon. Members about it, their eyes often glaze over. It is not an issue that people want to discuss, but it is our duty to try to make it as simple as possible for people so that as many as possible have some savings put away for their retirement and can retire in more comfort. That ties in with what my hon. Friend the Minister said earlier about the need to get means-testing out of the system, so that people know that whatever they save while they are working will benefit them in their retirement. We need to ensure that a flat-rate pension is introduced as soon as possible so that people who work, on however low an income, know that whatever they put aside during their working lives will benefit them when they retire, that they will have adequate retirement pensions, and that they will not have to rely on just the basic state pension.

I am saddened that many hon. Members feel unable to support the Bill—

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way at this late hour on Third Reading. She is making a very impassioned speech about women who should save for their retirement, and that is right—but what would she say to the 500,000 women who have made savings and thought about what will happen when they retire, but who will now have to wait 18 months longer for the state pension?

Jenny Willott: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not able to be in his place earlier when I explained all that. We had a long debate on exactly that point earlier. The whole point of Third Reading is to be able to expand on the issues, and I wish to put on record the fact that I am very supportive of auto-enrolment, as are many other hon. Members, and on the capping of fees, as well as other measures in the Bill that are crucial but have not had as much attention as women’s pensions have. I hope that hon. Members will reconsider and feel able to support the Bill this evening, so that we can ensure that more people save for their retirement and do not have to live in poverty.

9.49 pm

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): The right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) set out his misgivings about the Bill. I share some of his trepidation about the effects on the group of women that we have discussed, but I shall be supporting the Government because I disagree with the hon. Members for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) and for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson), who sought to set out our financial position and compare our debt to that after the second world war. I wish that our financial context was as simple as just the size of the national debt. I have the figures and charts on my iPad: shortly after the second world war the Government were running a surplus—the second largest run since the second world war. It was beaten only in 1970. I would make another point about how the welfare state was founded.

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Sheila Gilmore: In terms of annual expenditure, I do not disagree with that, but the surplus was so high partly because personal taxation levels were considerably higher than they are today.

Steve Baker: I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s point, because she seems to have pre-empted me—as I rewind on my iPad back to the chart showing taxation. [Interruption.] Between 1940 and 1950 the total level of taxation taken out of the economy rose from about 12% to 40% and it has stayed at about 40% since 1970. The context therefore is very different. The Government can only fund themselves through taxation, borrowing and currency debasement. If I wind forward and have a look at the charts on currency debasement, I can tell her that we have been furiously debasing the currency since 1971, which is the reason for the current mess we are in.

I also point out to the hon. Lady that the Bank for International Settlements has provided a number of charts setting out the debt projections for most of the western world, all of which look catastrophic. For example, in the United Kingdom—[Interruption.] Aren’t iPads useful! The BIS tells us that on the trajectory we inherited from Labour, our national debt would have reached 500% of gross domestic product by 2040. By then our debt interest payments would have been one quarter—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is using his iPad very well, but I hope that he will come to Third Reading, which he should be mentioning.

Steve Baker: The financial context now is quite different from that in previous years. If the Government were not to address the pensions crisis within a realistic financial context, we would have a financial catastrophe. We would find ourselves, by 2040, attempting to spend one quarter of GDP on debt interest. It would be catastrophic—and much as my heart goes out to those ladies who I wish were not being affected by the Bill, because of the financial position in which we find ourselves I shall, of course, support the Government.

9.52 pm

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Pensions are one of the great challenges of our age, so it is pleasing that we have been able to adopt a cross-party approach. It was begun by the previous Government, who set up the Turner review, and has been taken forward by this Government in, by and large, a sensible way—although there are areas of great concern.

Auto-enrolment is a positive development that, judging by speeches from across the House, is supported widely by Members on both sides. It will provide protection for people in their old age, and is a good thing. However, it is unfortunate that the Bill, as currently constructed, will hit young people and agency workers by putting in place a waiting period that means that they will not get all the entitlements that they should do early in their pension-building life. It is even more unfortunate that women aged 56 to 58 will be significantly penalised in a way that fails any test of fairness that the House, or anybody outside it, might apply.

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Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Does my hon. Friend agree that Government Members, in trying to defend the Bill as it now stands—with the Government’s changes—are trying to pass off an improvement as a solution? They are trying to present a mitigation of the scale of an injustice as justice itself. Those of us who will be voting against the Bill on Third Reading do not believe that we have an acceptable casualty level among the women he is talking about, or that they were selected fairly or necessarily.

Nic Dakin: My hon. Friend makes the point clearly and soundly. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) made it absolutely clear this evening how unfair this Bill still is, and why anyone with any sense of justice and fairness should vote against it. It is outrageous for the Government to come here this evening with a mealy-mouthed effort to satisfy the women up and down this country. I urge all Members of this House to vote against the Bill.

9.55 pm

Yasmin Qureshi: The Opposition and Government agree on many things in the pensions debate. It was the previous Labour Government who introduced the Turner commission that looked into the ageing population and the need to sort out pensions, but that is not to say that a certain group of women—about 500,000 of them—should be penalised. [ Interruption. ] Government Members are smiling and talking, but we are talking about 500,000 women who will be drastically affected by the pension cuts. Everybody talks about how we do not have enough money, but the Government have found tens of billions of pounds for quantitative easing, and they can waste £3 billion on the unnecessary transformation or reorganisation of the NHS, and yet they find it difficult to find money for those ladies.

The Labour Government also wanted to introduce auto-enrolment, but under our proposals many more people would have benefited through enrolling automatically at £5,000; now the figure is £7,475, which means that 600,000 people will not be able to enrol automatically in a pension scheme, which again will hit women disproportionately. The Government have indicated that the rise is in line with income tax, but we know that in the next few years or so the increase will continue, which will exclude 1.5 million to 2 million people, as compared with the Labour party’s original plan. The Government have also introduced a three-month waiting period before auto-enrolment, which they predict will result in 500,000 fewer people being automatically enrolled in a pension scheme. We estimate that each person will have about 11 different employers overall. I know that it is very late—there are only three minutes to go—but in light of what has happened and the fact that 500,000 women will be affected, along with 600,000 people who will be affected by the changes in auto-enrolment, I would urge the Government to reconsider.

Hon. Members have claimed that the Labour party did nothing about pensions when it was in power, but we should remember that in 1997, after years of Conservative government, the biggest challenge that we faced was tackling pensioner poverty and improving older people’s quality of life. Between 1979 and 1997, the state pension declined from 20% of average male earnings to 14%. In 1997, 29% of our pensioners were

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living in poverty, which was absolutely disgraceful. Between 1997 and 2010, Labour made huge achievements, of which we are proud. Average gross pensioner income increased by more than 40% in real terms, ahead of the growth in average earnings. More than 1 million people were lifted out of poverty, with no pensioner living on less than £130 a week, compared with £69 a week in 1997.

The winter fuel allowance, free off-peak travel on local buses for 11 million people over 60, free TV licences for the over-75s and an increased threshold to ensure that 60% of pensioners pay no tax at all have made a difference. Those policies cost money, and of course money was spent, but this Government might remember that, when they were in opposition, they agreed to all Labour’s expenditure plans. For them now to turn round and say that they did not know what was going to happen, or that they did not know how much money there was in the Treasury, is completely wrong. The coalition agreement stated that there would be cross-party consensus on this matter, and at that point, the Government knew exactly what the state of the finances was. At the last minute, however, those promises have been reneged on, and they are not the only ones—

10 pm

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The House divided:

Ayes 287, Noes 242.

Division No. 368]

[10 pm


Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brooke, Annette

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crockart, Mike

Davey, Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Farron, Tim

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Mr Roger

Garnier, Mark

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Damian

Greening, Justine

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Mr Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Johnson, Gareth

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Mensch, Louise

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Mr James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Raab, Mr Dominic

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Russell, Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Stephen Crabb and

James Duddridge


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Bell, Sir Stuart

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Mrs Jenny

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Mr Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Dobbin, Jim

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Gilmore, Sheila

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Tessa

Joyce, Eric

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lloyd, Tony

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McCrea, Dr William

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh David

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Noes:

Yvonne Fovargue and

Nic Dakin

Question accordingly agreed to.

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Bill read the Third time and passed, with amendments.

Business without Debate

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11) ) ,

Migration, Mobility and Security

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 10784/11, a Commission Communication: A dialogue for migration, mobility and security with the Southern Mediterranean countries; and supports the Government’s aim of working with other Member States to strengthen practical co-operation with Southern Mediterranean States on migration.—(Jeremy Wright.)

Question agreed to.


Recognition of Palestine as an Independent State

10.16 pm

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): I wish to present to the House the following petition, which was signed by Terry Gallogly of Lowther court in York and supported by a further 79 people who live in the city I represent.

The petition states:

The Petition of York Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the people of York,

Declares that the Petitioners note that since 1993 the Palestinian Authority has been involved in fruitless negotiations that have still not resulted in freedom; that the number of Israeli settlers living illegally on Palestinian territory has more than doubled, large areas of land have been stolen, over 600 checkpoints prevent freedom of movement to schools and hospitals, and a wall, declared illegal by an international court 7 years ago, continues to be built; and that this September, with no end to the Occupation in sight, and with the support of many countries, the Palestinian Authority will apply to the United Nations for recognition of Palestine as an independent state.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to formally recognise the right of the Palestinian people for self-determination and the right of Palestinian

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refugees to be able to return in freedom to their homes, and calls on the Government to work urgently for just solution in the region.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


Proposed Cuts to BBC Radio Merseyside

10.18 pm

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): I rise to present a petition from radio listeners throughout Merseyside. The petition was collected online and on the streets of Liverpool. I am sure that many more people would have liked to have signed it, but time is of the essence, which is why I am submitting it today. Nevertheless, there are in the region of 2,000 signatories to the petition, along with many testimonials.

The petition states:

The Petition of listeners to BBC Radio Merseyside,

Declares that the Petitioners oppose the 20% cut to BBC Radio Merseyside’s budget proposed by the BBC management; that the Petitioners note that BBC Radio Merseyside is the most listened to of the BBC’s 39 local radio stations outside of London with over 300,000 listeners who tune in for an average of 16.2 hours per week to popular programmes such as the Roger Phillips Show and the Billy Butler Show; further note that there are more staff at Radio 4 who work on the You and Yours programme than the whole of the current team of BBC Radio Merseyside; and that the Petitioners believe any efficiency savings should be fairly distributed, protecting local services and jobs where possible, in order to guarantee quality of programming which remains locally relevant and to preserve a service that is depended on by millions of listeners up and down the country, rather than maintaining the budgets of bigger channels and national radio stations.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to encourage the BBC to reconsider its cuts to BBC local radio.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


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Marine Management Organisation

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(James Duddridge.)

10.20 pm

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise an issue of great concern to my constituency and many maritime constituencies around our shores. The UK marine area covers an area three and a half times the UK land mass. It is rich in marine life and natural resources, which form the basis of human economic activities estimated to be worth £46 billion in 2005-06. Some of those pose a risk to the integrity of marine ecosystems, with impacts growing because of pressures such as large-scale marine renewable energy developments. Current activities have resulted in a crowded marine area, including licensed developments and areas of high fishing effort. Concerns over the degradation of the marine environment have led to a range of new policies, culminating in legislation and the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

The most significant aspect of that Act is the introduction of marine planning: a framework for decisions on marine activities aimed at reducing user conflict and encouraging an “ecosystem-based approach”. Planning, as described in the Act, aims to promote economic activity, as well as to integrate environmental protection into decision making. I have read the Hansard record of the Committee stage of that Bill and know that the then Minister was keen to ensure that the Bill achieved the right balance between sustainable development and environmental protection.

The Marine Management Organisation was created as the main delivery agency for the new planning and licensing regime, but Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee have the main role in the pre-designation of marine protection areas. I have met its chairman and chief executive, who are trying to deliver the aims of their organisation. All the comments I am about to make relate not to their performance in managing the organisation, but rather to the structure of the processes they have inherited.

The key challenge facing the marine planning system that I am experiencing in the port of Falmouth and the Carrick Roads is resolving the inevitable conflicts between policy objectives to ensure the integration of the social, economic and environmental needs of the area. Given the limited amount of time available to me, I will summarise the area briefly. It is the third largest natural harbour in the world; home of the last commercial oyster fishing fleet under sail in Europe; host to a thriving ship repair business; host to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service fleet; home to world-class super-yacht builders Pendennis; and home to a range of marine renewable businesses. It is also a centre of world-class yachting and sailing, including the home base of British Olympic sailor Ben Ainslie. It has a special area of conservation and areas of sites of special scientific interest. Having grown up there, I can testify to the huge improvements that have been made to the quality of water and the natural environment, which all Falmouthians very much value.

All concerned with the new marine planning process acknowledge the challenges involved. Putting 25% of England’s marine environment under “protection” in a relatively short time, given the severely resource-constrained

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situation the Government find themselves in, is deeply concerning. The uncertainties in planning decisions as a result of knowledge gaps, and sometimes competing scientific evidence is of particular concern. Effective marine management requires sound evidence and monitoring. A Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science report in 2010 entitled “Marine Survey Needs to Underpin Defra Policy” identifies a shortage of data necessary for marine planning. It also states that much of the evidence to be used in designation is subject to a medium or low level of confidence.

About 10% of the UK continental shelf is currently mapped in detail by survey or observation. To fill gaps, projects such as UKSeaMap produce broad-scale predictive habitat maps based on best available data, but confidence in some of the designations is as low as 20%. Direct mapping is expensive: the cost is estimated to be £210 million over seven years to map the rest of the UK’s regional seas to scales relevant to marine habitats, and there are limited funds to undertake such surveys.

Given the emphasis on evidence-based policy needing to be based on the best possible science, I want the Minister to consider the following recommendations about the guidance the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs gives to the MMO, which has the job of licensing activity in the marine environment, such as dredging, as well as establishing a network of marine protected areas, include marine conservation zones and reference sites. To undertake that work, the MMO is using the DEFRA-produced “A description of the marine planning system for England”. That is quite a general document and it would be relatively straightforward for the Minister to issue additional guidance to bring in the changes I recommend, which would not need any primary legislation.

The additional guidance I want the Minister to consider stems from the need to access the broadest and best possible evidence base for appropriate decisions to be taken. As the Minister is aware, Natural England and the JNCC are the Government’s statutory nature conservation advisers in the English and UK offshore marine area, yet there is a wealth of knowledge in coastal communities, academic institutions around the UK and even internationally that I believe should be used in addition to the expertise of those organisations. Marine science is a fast-growing academic discipline and the MMO should be enabled to extend the range of organisations and people that can provide scientific evidence to enable its independent decision making. The quality of evidence should be paramount, whether or not it comes from Natural England or the JNCC. Of course, any organisation or person would have to demonstrate their ability to carry out the task and their work should be open to scrutiny and challenge. I believe their evidence should be considered on a level playing field and on equal terms with that of Natural England and the JNCC.

I also want the Minister to consider extending the limited appeals system. Generally speaking, the terrestrial planning system does not extend below the low tide mark, so the normal planning appeals process does not apply. The 2009 Act does not appear to set out an equivalent appeals process for planning decisions, although it does allow for one to be set out by regulations under section 37 for appeals against licensing decisions. I note

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the Department of Energy and Climate Change and DEFRA’s recent consultation on licensing under part 4, including appeals on decisions.

The marine planning system for England March 2011 document states in paragraph 5.61 that appeals against the refusal of terrestrial planning permission and inquiries are dealt with by the Planning Inspectorate and it goes on to say that the Planning Inspectorate could be involved in independent investigations within the marine planning system. If an independent investigation is required, an investigator will be appointed to provide advice and recommendations on how issues may be resolved and plans may be improved. The final format that the investigation will take is decided by the Secretary of State on the advice of the MMO. It is essential that these powers should be made available in the predetermination stage of marine protection designations as well as in relation to decisions the MMO will make post-designation in the management of marine protected areas.

The potential economic and social impact of designation of marine protected areas on coastal communities is so significant that it demands an appropriate appeals process. Decisions of such magnitude would not be made on the land without an appropriate appeals process. With the recent publication of the list of potential sites, there has been a huge outcry in my constituency at the potential designation of part of the Fal estuary as a marine protected area and a reference site.

Falmouth town council is united in strongly opposing the plans, stating that

“the proposal…threatens 350 years of history and shipping power in this port”.

The impact of the designation upon the recreational use of the Fal estuary has also aroused anger. Referring to the effect of the designation on a long and proud history of sailing boat racing on the Fal, Falmouth race officer Walter Amos has stated:

“The proposal would put an end to 150 years of tradition, cause enormous resentment, and have considerable economic consequences.”

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): My hon. Friend is making a strong case, particularly regarding reference sites. The Minister and I served our time on the Bill that became the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, and what my hon. Friend says is absolutely right: what we need in relation to reference sites is consultation and the opportunity for appeals, as with my constituency and the Cape Bank reference site. Low-impact fishing takes place there at the moment, but that would be stopped, with the unintended consequence of discouraging the very type of fishing that I should have thought the Act was intended to protect.

Sarah Newton: I thank my hon. Friend for that very helpful intervention.

Richard Gates, the Falmouth town centre manager, has added his voice to the chorus of local residents opposing the plans, commenting:

“We live in a beautiful part of the country and certainly are very environmentally aware but this cannot be at the detriment of people’s livelihoods and leisure when many people are working so hard to develop the area”.

I am sure that Falmouth and, as my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) has pointed out, other parts of Cornwall are not the only coastal

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communities that feel that the current recommended sites for marine protected areas are inappropriate because they fail to meet the fundamental aim of creating areas that strike the right balance between sustainable economic, social and environmental protection.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): My hon. Friend’s description of her beautiful constituency could be substituted for mine, with Aldeburgh and the River Alde. Is it not the case that constituents feel that designations are being slapped on top of existing special protection areas simply because the data are available, rather than other parts of the coast being sought that could easily fulfil the criteria for marine conservation zones?

Sarah Newton: I am very grateful for those comments. My hon. Friend anticipates a point that I was going to make but now do not need to make. I think that issue is a real problem.

Perhaps it is not surprising that this has happened because the lead agencies tasked with drawing up the list of potential sites, the JNCC and Natural England, have as their primary purpose environmental protection and conservation. What is not part of their remit is what the Act clearly set out to achieve—balancing the social, economic and environmental needs of communities.

I appreciate that the Minister has inherited the current process and would not have designed one that led to the current situation, where there is so much genuine outrage and concern, but that is where we are today. It is a matter of great importance to coastal communities that measures are urgently taken to enable greater use of all the available evidence base by decision makers, rather than their relying almost entirely on Natural England and the JNCC. An open, transparent appeals process for both pre and post-designation decision making needs to be established urgently.

Given that the deadline for the establishment of the marine protected areas sites is 2012 and that the sites are being consulted on as we speak, I hope the Minister can reassure me that he will consider these recommendations so that the implementation of the very worthy aims of the Act command the respect of coastal communities. It is vital that people who might be adversely affected by the implementation of the Act are thoroughly involved, which they have not been so far. Making the new planning system work depends on building a consensus and support that can be achieved only if all concerned have confidence in the system that is used to reach conclusions. Sadly, that is very much missing at the moment. Politicians are elected to use their judgment and are democratically accountable. I hope that the Minister can reassure us tonight that he will exercise his judgment and democratic accountability to ensure that there is a common-sense approach to marine planning.

10.34 pm

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) on securing the debate and thank her for allowing me to participate in it. I am well aware that the setting up of the MMO in the previous Parliament was a contentious issue that caused frustration in my constituency.

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My predecessor fought valiantly to convince her own Labour Front-Bench team in DEFRA that the MMO should be located in the south-west. After all, the peninsula has 30% of the UK’s coastline and Plymouth is a global player with the Royal Navy, the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth university, the Marine Biological Association, the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science and the National Marine Aquarium all based in my Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport constituency. Plymouth is a fishing port as well. I suspect that the decision to locate the MMO in Newcastle was a political one, aimed at satisfying Labour Members of Parliament in the north. With only three Labour Members of Parliament in Devon and Cornwall by 2005, I am afraid my predecessor’s views were rather disregarded.

I suspect that things have gone too far and that it would be inappropriate to move the MMO to Plymouth or the south-west, especially in the present financial climate when we have to be very careful with taxpayers’ money. We need to ensure that money is spent wisely. However, will my hon. Friend the Minister consider whether a small satellite office might be set up in Plymouth, or if some funding could be given to the university to host a few officials who could liaise with the MMO and make sure that the south-west is well represented?

In the short time available to me, I want to welcome the MMO’s commitment to evidence-based and transparent decision making. I welcome the proposals to develop Falmouth port, as this will deliver a cluster approach to economic development in the south-west. Like Plymouth, it is of regional economic significance and could potentially be a key test of the MMO’s commitment to sustainable development, but I seek an assurance from the Minister that the MMO will work with its statutory conservation advisers to scrutinise the quality of evidence and ensure that robust processes are in place.

I was concerned to see a recent independent review of Natural England’s quality assurance processes that outlined a number of significant issues in relation to advice on the marine environment. The review contained a range of recommendations so that Natural England is brought into line with recognised good practice. Will the Minister assure the House that Natural England is committed to working with the MMO to provide high quality advice that is subject to independent peer review and scrutiny?

The way we manage our seas is becoming increasingly important as they become a barometer for global warming. If they want to carry all interested parties and users of the seas with them, Ministers will need to ensure that there is a significant amount of public consultation.

10.37 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) on securing the debate on such an important issue for her constituents. I thank other hon. Members for their contributions.

The Marine Management Organisation was created just 18 months ago, with cross-party support. As a non-departmental public body, it carries out its function with technical expertise, impartiality and transparency, and at arm’s length from Ministers, but it is accountable

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to both Ministers and Parliament. At the outset, I pay tribute to the MMO and to its staff. Its remit is very diverse. It continues to mature and is tackling a range of challenging issues. It manages our fisheries; it is delivering marine planning; it is working with others to create and manage a network of marine protected areas and to carry out marine licensing. Within its broad remit, the MMO is required to manage its activities with the objective of making a contribution to sustainable development, in a consistent and co-ordinated manner and taking account of all relevant facts and matters.

The MMO’s decisions should be impartial and based on best available evidence, taking into account the potential benefits and anticipated adverse impacts. It also needs to ensure that its decisions comply with statutory requirements under UK and EU legislation and are consistent with our international obligations. All that sounds straightforward in theory, but the decisions that the MMO has to make, whether about opening and closing fisheries, licensing construction or applications to the European fisheries fund have real-world impacts and directly affect people’s livelihoods, something that I believe the MMO is acutely aware of. The MMO will never be able to please all the people all the time, and decisions will sometimes adversely affect some more than others, but for that reason the MMO stresses the importance of transparency and impartiality. The MMO has been exemplary in ensuring that the information it bases its decisions on is publicly available, and it is helpful for people to be able to see how it makes its decisions, particularly when they are relatively controversial.

One cornerstone of the 2009 Act was to introduce a streamlined licensing system and marine planning in order to contribute to the sustainable development of our seas. That streamlined licensing system was introduced in April, the first marine plans will be in place in 2013 and, to guide the MMO, DEFRA has produced statutory guidance on sustainable development. It refers to the UK marine policy statement, which was adopted in March as the framework for planning and decision making in the marine environment in order to ensure a consistent approach throughout the UK and to contribute to sustainable development.

At the same time, DEFRA produced the description for the marine planning process in England so that the MMO could take it forward and produce subsequent guidance on how marine planning will work, and it is an absolute priority of this Government to ensure that, when we view our seas, we do so holistically. For too long we have looked down the silos of fisheries, conservation or marine licensing, but now, at last, we are developing the means to look at the marine environment as a whole. That is long overdue, and it will assist the constituents of my hon. Friends and others, who at the moment have to follow an entirely application-led process. Marine planning, like terrestrial planning, will be a great advantage to them.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The hon. Gentleman refers to involvement with other parts of the United Kingdom, and there is an impact on the devolved Administrations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, because they have responsibility for fishing, so can he confirm that he will consult the devolved Administrations to ensure that there is a uniform approach to fishing?

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Richard Benyon: I make it my business to confer with my devolved colleagues regularly, and I will do so on Thursday and Friday in Luxembourg and with the Northern Ireland Minister and other devolved Ministers in Newcastle in the very near future. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I make it my business to ensure that we, as a UK group of Ministers, talk together and recognise that we cannot look at our seas just in terms of the countries that make up the United Kingdom; we have to look at them holistically.

My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth mentioned the appeals process, and one important feature of the new licensing system is the introduction of just such a process. An applicant for a marine licence will be able to appeal against a decision made by the licensing authority on their application. That includes a decision not to grant a licence, conditions attached to a licence or the length of a licence, and the Planning Inspectorate—PINS—will manage and decide appeals against licensing decisions made by the licensing authority.

We have closely aligned our processes to those for terrestrial planning appeals, as we expect there to be benefits in developing a system that is consistent with current practice. For example, a familiar process should be easier for PINS to implement and for appellants to understand and follow.

Similarly, for marine planning, as my hon. Friend said, there will be the option for independent investigations of a marine plan, and PINS will carry out those, too. Should an independent investigation be needed, it will take place after the consultation on a proposed marine plan and before adoption by the Secretary of State.

Clarity, transparency and the involvement of as many stakeholders and communities as possible are important in marine planning and licensing. Similarly, although the MMO relies on advice from Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee as statutory consultees when making many of its decisions, it none the less draws on a wider evidence base in delivering its work. Naturally, this includes research commissioned by DEFRA and carried out by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science and many other expert organisations, as well as studies commissioned directly by the MMO.

Indeed, the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) is a well-known international hub of expertise in marine science, and precisely those resources are available to and used by the MMO for the evidence that it needs. It is essential that it should be able to have access to the best information available, including information submitted during public consultations. I can give my hon. Friends the absolute assurance that, in our reviews of the performance of the MMO, we will ensure that it is taking all the best evidence available and is not only listening to the statutory conservation bodies but registering a serious attempt to widen its reach in terms of the advice it receives.

My hon. Friend may also wish for some clarification of the marine conservation zone process. The identification of MCZs has been stakeholder-led operation from the outset, managed by the statutory nature conservation bodies, Natural England and the JNCC. The statutory nature conservation bodies established four regional MCZ projects—Balanced Seas, Finding Sanctuary, Net Gain and the Irish sea conservation zones—and these

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provided advice about which MCZs should be brought forward. I can tell hon. Members, if they have not witnessed it, that it has been a tortuous process with many hours of work, and it has brought forward some suggestions at this stage.

Each project established stakeholder groups made up of a variety of key interested parties in their regions to examine the evidence and put forward site recommendations and associated impact assessments. To that end, it is the stakeholders who have been responsible for developing the recommendations on location, conservation objectives and management measures options of any MCZs in their region, and they have had a real opportunity to shape and influence the decisions that the Government will make.

On 8 September, the regional MCZ projects submitted their final MCZ recommendations to the independent Science Advisory Panel and the statutory nature conservation bodies for review. In total, there are 127 recommended MCZ sites. Across all four projects, over 2,500 interviews were conducted with stakeholders, and detailed discussions took place during the course of

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155 stakeholder meetings. Over 1 million individuals’ interests have been represented through the MCZ stakeholder groups. Once the advice from the panel and the statutory nature conservation bodies is received, Ministers—I stress, Ministers themselves—will examine all the evidence before deciding which sites to put forward for public consultation. The public consultation will be yet another opportunity for stakeholders to present their views on proposals and for any further new evidence to be submitted. Only after all this evidence has been collated and reviewed will Ministers designate MCZs.

I conclude by reiterating the scale of the challenge facing the MMO and Ministers as we seek to grapple with exceedingly complex issues that, as my hon. Friends have eloquently noted, stir a great deal of interest and passion around coastal Britain. I look forward to continuing that vigorous discussion as we move forward through the process of designating marine conservation zones and managing our vital marine resources.

Question put and agreed to.

10.48 pm

House adjourned.