Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Let me add that if I was in any way discourteous to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, I did not intend it. On the next amendment to be moved—Amendment 83, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor—we will be discussing the economic zone as it applies to Wales. That has a great deal to do with common fisheries policy, and it seemed to me that it fitted more into that economic debate. I did not want to be discourteous to the noble Duke who, no doubt, is absolutely right to take the first opportunity that he can. However, I am reeling with quite difficult problems of definition, and taking on the common fisheries policy at that stage was probably rather more than I could accomplish.

Regarding what I said on that first definition, I want to make one point absolutely clear, as I may not have expressed myself as clearly as I ought to the Committee. The economic zone will only stretch to 200 miles; the law of the sea defines that for us. Yet, as I indicated, we have interests in the continental shelf beyond that, because of particular geological features. We seek to exploit them under the Continental Shelf Act 1964, and that is included in Clause 40(1)(c) of the Bill. As I indicated in responding to the first amendment, all three clauses are part of the definition issue; we are talking about the heart of the Bill, as it concerns marine development and planning. I seek to make that point as clearly as I can, and confess to any inadequacy in my earlier remarks.

I am now in difficulty, not least because the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, entices me with the roles that local authorities can play within planning development and concerns in areas immediately by the coast—and not only that, for salt water can go a little further inland, as she indicated. Meanwhile, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has upbraided me lest I stray too far along that line and include most of Lincolnshire within the framework of the Bill, which I certainly do not

28 Jan 2009 : Column 295

want. The Committee will recognise, then, that I seek to tread a rather difficult line between the two positions with some care.

In the Bill, the UK marine area is used as the basis for defining that part of the sea that will be subject to marine planning and licensing. For these purposes, we believe it important for the UK marine area to include all places containing seawater that is exchanged with the open sea. This enables us to regulate effectively all activities—and I accept the representations from the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, on how extensive activities can be in coastal areas—that may significantly impact the marine area.

The licensing of these activities is currently regulated under Part II of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985, which applies from mean high water spring tide outwards. Since the licensing provisions in that Act are to be replaced by this Bill, any change to the definition of the UK marine area, as the noble Baroness was so persuasively suggesting, would mean changing a well established and understood definition that we have applied without difficulty for the past 20 years. Therefore, rather than having clear difficulty in defining boundaries, where we have strong arguments about where boundaries should be and one perspective clashes with another, the noble Baroness will appreciate why we seek—if I may mix my metaphors—to build on reasonably secure foundations. That is because of how the Food and Environment Protection Act licensing system has operated over the past 20 years.

A large number of developments taking place landward of mean low tide can have significant detrimental effects on the marine environment. It would be anomalous for these activities to fall outside the very regime that has been designed in the Bill specifically to help protect the marine environment. For this reason, it is also important that we are able to create marine plans for the full extent of the area within which licences are required. That will ensure that all licensing decisions are taken within the planning framework; to look at it another way, decisions on issuing licences will be one of the key means by which the policies set out in plans would give effect in the real world.

I am conscious that by using,

as the Bill defines it, an overlap arises between the marine regimes that we are discussing and existing terrestrial planning and development consent regimes, which extend down to the low water mark. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, gave a clear articulation of those interests. Yet we are not involved in a mistake here; a deliberate and conscious act of policy underpins the Bill.

We believe that an overlap between the planning regimes will help to encourage and support integration between the two systems. We have made specific provision in Schedule 6 to require marine planning authorities to notify terrestrial ones when they begin a marine plan, and to require the marine plan authority to have regard to the provisions of any related terrestrial plan. The overlap between the two systems will help here by providing an added incentive to create a seamless join between them.



28 Jan 2009 : Column 296

I know that that does not go as far as the noble Baroness wants in her definition of where the boundary should be, but I hope that she will appreciate that the Government are not being arbitrary here—although we must take a decision on where the boundary should be—and are conscious of her point about the necessity of co-operation when authorities, marine and terrestrial, both have an interest in crucial activities. The overlap is also important when it comes to development consents and licences. Coastal activities by their nature have both marine and terrestrial elements. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, in a different context, pointed that out. I will come to his point when I can think of a satisfactory answer in due course. He spoke about the concept of a national park, which raises real difficulties about the boundary. I am not sure that I will be totally adequate in my response to him, but I will do my best.

It is important that all the impacts of coastal development are considered by the appropriate land and marine expertise. The overlap allows us to do that. We are conscious that the limits we have chosen will vary over time and are not regulated by lines on the map. That is a conscious choice. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is as aware as anyone else in the House that tides are a natural phenomenon. They do not necessarily recognise our human attempts to define and contain them. Consequently, boundaries change, not through the will of man but through the force of nature.

Our choice of mean high water springs and the tidal limit in estuaries will ensure that we can plan for and regulate activities in the areas that regularly interact with and can have a substantial impact on the sea and the marine environment more generally. Defining the marine area by reference to directly human considerations, such as landing, crossing and navigation—the point raised by the noble Baroness when she moved her amendment—would not be appropriate when designing a regime to manage and protect what is in fact a dynamic natural environment. That is why we have drawn the boundary where we have. I appeal to her to recognise that that has been done with care, but that under the Bill the marine authority will have to have the closest relationship to terrestrial authorities—she mentioned local authorities—where issues concern them both.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, because he identified why he could not agree with the noble Baroness's amendment. I hope that I can be helpful on the concerns that he voiced. The scope of the licensing and planning regimes in areas such as harbour bases and sea locks that contain seawater exchanged with the open sea is an issue. Having heard a series of constituency points two amendments ago about the location, I for a brief moment recollected days in the other place when any proposal for the location of government offices led to a free-for-all from Members rightly advocating why their town or city should be the place where they should be located. I noticed the echoes here today of that position.

I am going to choose the example of Bristol, largely because I cannot see anyone who will attack me in detail on Bristol in the Chamber at present. Bristol fits all the categories: it is a very significant port and a seaport with a big estuary.



28 Jan 2009 : Column 297

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I fear that the noble Lord’s namesake, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, might have considerable reservations, believing that there may be some conspiracy for a barrage.

6.45 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: Fortunately, my noble friend is not in his place at present. For that, I thank small mercies on this occasion.

We want to ensure that licensable activities taking place inside areas such as the port of Bristol do not adversely affect the wider sea, which our regime is designed to protect. Subsection (3) on its own will not in some cases include such places, because lock gates prevent the tide flowing in and out of them. Subsection (4) is therefore intended to capture those places where locks affect the flows of water.

If we did not include harbour basins and the like, we could not regulate effectively all the activities that may have a significant impact on the marine area. Moreover, we would be faced with having those harbours without lock gates and open to the tide within the scope of the marine planning system, and others—those with lock gates to control the flow of water—beyond its scope. We seek consistency in the Bill, as our stakeholders have repeatedly requested. Subsection (4) is intended to bring that consistency.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. This is an important area, because a lock is for one purpose; to allow water to be retained. However, sluices are very similar structures and the water contained within them would never be considered sea, but it would include all the drainage of the fenland basin. I understand exactly what the Minister means; he knows that, generally speaking, I agree with the Government's definition of where the sea, or the marine area, starts; but I am concerned by the wording of Clause 4. It needs to be quite clear that sea banks, sluices and areas protected from the sea by artificial means are not included within the meaning of the Bill.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to the noble Lord for saying that he broadly supports the Government’s approach on that. I chose Bristol with care because it is a fairly clear case. He is right to say that sluices are not the same as locks, and they raise interesting issues. If he will allow me, I will reflect on that and give him an answer in due course. I am not equipped to debate the issue of sluices with him now—it may well be not at any stage, but certainly not now.

Concerns were raised in an earlier debate in Committee about the different extents of the Bill. The noble Baroness was prominent at our last meeting in what she said in that respect. I assure the Committee that each extent has been carefully chosen best to reflect the activity in question. For the reasons I have just outlined, licensing and planning, for example, are very important issues. Clause 10 restricts the MMO's functions to seaward of low water mark clearly to delineate functions between the MMO and Natural England. Licensing and planning overlaps with terrestrial regimes are beneficial. They will ensure that we have the necessity for co-operation in which the boundary, if it were just

28 Jan 2009 : Column 298

set for one authority, would be excessively arbitrary. For licences, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, they are not. Natural England, as a nature conservation body, is the appropriate authority to manage wildlife on land, whether or not it is sometimes covered by the sea. Only once its jurisdiction ends should the MMO take over and that is at the low watermark. We have already had that debate, and, no doubt, we will return to it on Report.

I recognise that we have the problem of different delineations with different authorities. These issues are not easily resolvable. However what I am seeking to maintain in response to the amendments—and I know they have been put forward constructively—is that one size does not fit all functions equally. The Bill has to dovetail with a myriad other legislation and the boundaries set in each and every case are designed to do this to the best effect. I hope that noble Lords will feel that I have helped to clarify some of the issues sufficiently to withdraw their amendments and I ask the noble Baroness to do so.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I thank the Minister for his response and, in particular, for his comments on my amendments. This is a complicated area which needs good thought. I know marshland environments very well. They are quite difficult to describe because much of the marsh area is dry above a mean, high-water spring tide. Only occasionally are much of the green areas of the marsh actually under the water. Yet, within the Minister’s definition, we would obviously consider them to be a marine area. So, the wording used needs careful thought because we do not want delineation disputes at a later stage. I hope the Minister will commit himself to having a good look at that before we come back on Report.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I do not want to prolong this matter, but it seems that we are delineating marine areas within which, for example, the Scots Parliament will be working on devolved matters. I am picturing the Montrose basin, near where I live, which is tidal and where there is a great deal of natural activity. I am sure that will be included the Scots marine Bill. There is a bridge that is so low that no boat can come in, but it is tidal. Presumably, everything is all right for the Montrose basin. However, we have to think all the time of the whole of the United Kingdom when thinking of the marine area. If there are going to be disputes, they may well be between the devolved Administrations and Westminster, so it is important that we get this right.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I did not think that we would get very far with this part of the Bill without the issue of the devolved parts of the United Kingdom becoming prominent. The noble Baroness has raised it in this context. We will have a number of other opportunities where these issues will need to be explored.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: The noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, has done a tremendous amount, in his part of the world with his AONB, and in this House, introducing the original

28 Jan 2009 : Column 299

concept of AONBs having the statutory powers they do now. He did really groundbreaking work, laying the way open for the Government to adopt that in the subsequent Act that gave AONBs much better status. The noble Lord will be comforted to know that we will be dealing with the issues that he raised more fully under Amendment 106CA, so I will not address those now.

It does not surprise me that the Minister wants to take powers away from local authorities—which plan between medium low water and medium high water—and give them to a quango. It does not matter whether the quango is Natural England or the Marine Management Organisation. The fact is that it is a quango.

It could be that local authorities under this Bill would be required to take additional steps to pay attention to the MMO’s plans. Nevertheless, it would be right that the local authority would be left with the primacy of planning in this area, where so much human activity takes place. However, it does not surprise me because the Government have not been terrific at giving powers to local authorities. If anything, they have been busy taking them away, as they are doing here. I am surprised at the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, is going along with this attitude. I hope that between now and Report, he will talk to his Local Government Association colleagues and all the local authorities that are controlled by Conservatives, and see whether they are happy about losing their power and being subservient to a quango.

I was talking recently at a meeting of CoastNet in Barnstable. Someone came up to me afterwards and asked what the Conservatives’ attitude would be to a quango. I said that I did not know but would find out during the course of the Bill. His question was whether it would be okay for quangos to have much more power. He was a member the estuary forum, I think, and concerned that it would be losing a say as it would not have elected representatives. The MMO will be a remote body. I worry that we are taking a step that will fundamentally undermine an enormous amount of what coastal authorities do. They will now be in the position of playing second fiddle to the MMO, which is a quango. In fact, it should be a much more equal relationship. We could, during later stages of the Bill, or on Report, remedy this by strengthening the hand of local authorities through other amendments, but, at the moment, they are not recognised at all.

I am sorry that the LGA has not made better representations to us on this Bill. It has been remarkably silent. I do not think that we have had a briefing from it—if any noble Lord has, perhaps they would let me know. However, it has a special interest group which I expect to make representations to us and if it feels differently from me, I would accept that.

I share the fondness of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for salt marshes. I am fond of everything about them, from curlews to salt marsh lamb—I do not eat the curlews; I just like listening to them—and I think they are wonderful places. But, again, they are so rarely under water. Of course, they are important. However, they are essentially land-based places, full of farmers, such as the noble Lord. Therefore, why should the MMO be primarily the planning body for them? That again, should rest with local authorities.



28 Jan 2009 : Column 300

There is a lot here that we should be coming back to in Committee and on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 81A withdrawn.

Amendments 81B and 82 not moved.

Clause 40 agreed.

7 pm

Clause 41 : Welsh zone

Amendment 83

Moved by Lord Glentoran

83: Clause 41, page 21, line 6, leave out subsection (2)

Lord Glentoran: I appear at your Lordships’ Dispatch Box wearing my Welsh hat.

This is a short, probing amendment to enable your Lordships to delve a little more deeply into the new Welsh zone. As I understand it—I hope that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—the Bill establishes through Clause 41 and Part 2 of Schedule 4 that fisheries will be devolved to the Welsh Ministers in this zone. This is obviously a significant devolution. The control of fisheries will have a huge impact not only on those directly involved in the industry but on the development of marine conservation zones, as the rather tortuously expressed consultation requirements in Clause 116 make clear.

Clause 284 also makes it clear that this devolution carries with it significant powers to impose executive penalties. It is therefore surprising that the actual limits of the zone are still not specified. The Minister and his officials were kind enough to give us a very useful and enlightening meeting with maps last week on the various devolved powers, but their notes and maps contained the very concerning detail that the boundary between the Republic of Ireland and the Welsh economic zone is still undefined and a matter of negotiation.

This negotiation, I suspect, will not be all that easy. If the Republic of Ireland does not recognise this new zone, as distinct from its waters, the devolved powers that we are discussing cannot be implemented properly. Getting final agreement is therefore of the utmost importance, and the agreed limits should be clearly stated in the Bill to provide certainty for those involved. Let us not forget how wide that strip of water is. At its widest—I have not taken this from a chart—it is probably 100 miles at the very most and, in many places, considerably less.

The Minister gave the impression in that meeting that the negotiations were close to their conclusion and that only a few small details had still to be resolved, but I have dealt with an awful lot of small details concerning Ireland in the past 20 years. Presumably, if this is so, we can anticipate final agreement before the Bill receives Royal Assent, which is still several months away. Can the Minister promise the Committee

28 Jan 2009 : Column 301

that he will table amendments as soon as he can that express this agreement and remove some of the uncertainty enshrined in the Bill? I would also be grateful if he could confirm that no such uncertainty remains about the other boundaries of this zone, in particular that with the Isle of Man. I would like these boundaries to be numerically clarified, because, excellent though the maps were that the department showed us, the distances are so small and the scale of the maps and charts were of a size that they did not indicate the problem.

I am also concerned about the areas between Scotland and Northern Ireland. We should not be fighting among ourselves, but we need clarity. At its narrowest, the distance is only 10 miles. I beg to move.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: The amendment is of great interest to me as a Welsh Member of this House. I deduce from it that Clause 41(2) would be taken out of the Bill and subsection (3) would remain, and I conclude that that would leave the Secretary of State determining by order where the division to which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred would occur. My understanding from the briefing that we received recently from the Minister, which was extremely helpful, was that the negotiations on the boundary between the Welsh zone and that of Ireland were at an advanced stage.

I note that the last few words of subsection (3) are:

I assume that that refers to the offshore area. Will the Minister confirm that I have interpreted that correctly? I would prefer subsection (2) to be left in, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, says, perhaps the definition of where the limits are needs to be much more exact—I can see the point in that argument—so that no doubt is left about where they are. It would be better for the definition of the Welsh zone to remain in the Bill as it is in subsection (2); there is quite a lot of scope for defining more clearly in subsection (3) the words “those which are not”. I will be very interested in the Minister’s response to the amendment and his views, on behalf of the Government, of the proposed exclusion of subsection (2).


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page