Salter Speaks, ‘making a fair fist’

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Benyon, whose arguments I listened to carefully today and in Committee. I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s response to my comments. Having been incredibly helpful to him yesterday, I am mindful to be slightly less helpful today. I, and my colleagues who similarly failed to support the Government on this issue in Committee, have problems standing on our heads. I do not seek to speak for my colleagues, but myself and others—I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) and for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead)—were members of the Joint Committee on the Draft Marine Bill. As we have said, the Bill has been extensively scrutinised, and I would like to think that the Government’s response to how this excellent Bill can be made into a brilliant Bill will weigh in the balance some of the wise recommendations that came out of that pre-legislative scrutiny exercise conducted with Members of the other place.

On the Joint Committee’s report, I remind the Minister of those who have argued the “furthering” case, and I am a signed-up member of the “furthering” tendency. Page 22 of the report states:

“The Environment Agency argued that the MMO should have a duty to further conservation of marine flora and fauna and to secure compliance with the Water Framework Directiverequirements and objectives in transitional and coastal waters.”

On the same page, the Joint Committee recommended:

“We have no doubt, from the weight of the evidence received, that the statement of purpose of the MMO is ambiguous both in terms of the draft Bill and in the policy framework which the Government envisages.”

I do not think that any of us would want to put our names to this groundbreaking and long-awaited piece of legislation if it had any ambiguity in it, particularly in respect of such a fundamental component of delivery, which the MMO must surely be. As the hon. Member for Newbury said, the final recommendation stated quite clearly that we should include a duty to further sustainable development.

My problem with why the Government find that difficult concerns the lawyers’ argument that it would not be compatible with 70 other pieces of legislation. Hang on a moment! Are we in this place to make legislation that is only compatible with legislation that went before? If that is the case, how do we ever establish precedents? How do we ever move the policy agenda on? I am concerned about the future of our seas, certainly in terms of generating a sustainable harvest of fish for the planet to feed on and benefit from. There might be only 50 years of life left in the oceans if mankind carries on exploiting them at the current rate. We must also consider the impact of climate change and population growth. All those factors tell me that I do not want to listen too carefully to arguments from lawyers about precedents concerning 70 other bits of legislation that go back to God knows when.

The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Huw Irranca-Davies, has been superb throughout consideration of the Bill, but—here is a challenge for him—I need him to be even more superb and come up with some very convincing arguments, if he is to tempt me to follow him into the Lobby.


Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

The Minister is certainly making a fair fist of moving towards allaying the concerns that a number of us raised in Committee. She mentioned the coalition of support for the Government’s strengthened position—I accept that they have strengthened it and moved towards “furthering”—but will she tell me whether the WWF is part of that coalition, or whether it is still pressing, as I believe it is, for the text of the original amendment to be written into the Bill?

Published in: on November 5, 2009 at 11:29 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Authentic words, some true words man. Thanx for making my day.

  2. Thank you,
    very interesting article

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