Press Release – Baroness Miller talks to Coastwise on the progress of the Marine Bill through Parliament

On Thursday (8th Jan) Baroness Miller spoke to a packed and enthusiastic audience of Coastwise members and invited guests in Barnstaple Library about the progress of the new Marine Bill through Parliament, and her work in helping to scrutinise the wording and improve the Bill.

Sue Miller is a Member of the House of Lords, nominated in 1998, sitting as Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer. She is Liberal Democrat chief spokesman in the Lords on Home Affairs and is quoted by a colleague as being “a true expert on marine conservation”. She is a member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Bill, which moves into its committee stages in January this year and her talk covered the origins and support for the Bill and the way it will be implemented.

There has been broad cross-party support for marine environmental protection and the Bill. However, Lady Miller said “what was lacking was parliamentary will and time” and the result was slow progress to this stage of development. She said that “…the draft Bill process is fantastic. It allows you to sit (in discussions) for 3-4 months to discuss the draft in great detail – and you get to call witnesses”.

Important catalysts for the Bill have been the EU Marine Strategy Directive, and the Water Framework Directive which applies to estuaries, of which Lady Miller said “(this is) one of the better things to come out of the EU”. As part of the Bill, the Government will issue Marine Policy Statements covering topics such as renewable energy and the fishing industry. However, she said “we don’t know what the Policy Statements are going to say so we will have to try and anticipate the worst, and therefore guarantee very much (against it) in the legislation”.

The Bill is drafted as a framework, to be defined in more detail when it is implemented, but even so she felt that “the statement of the purpose of the Marine Bill is still ambiguous. The Government is still not clear what it’s going to do and what it’s there for, and this is a pretty bad state of affairs”. Further detail will be added by secondary legislation which will be drafted by DEFRA staff and approved by the Minister.

Protected areas called Marine Conservation Zones will be enabled by the bill. But “that is absolutely wide open in the Bill. It doesn’t say how many there should be, or how much of UK territorial waters should be in a zone, or whether they should be based on areas that are particularly interesting, or should it be one third of the sea area, or …..should it be a network of representative areas….?”. After her talk she led a discussion to help her gain some informed opinion on this issue.

The implementing body will be called the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and will use existing DEFRA staff as a core. One of the purposes of the Bill is to create a so-called Marine Spacial Planning process to parallel the existing terrestrial planning process. The interface between the two processes will need to be defined and Lady Miller felt that the MMO had poorly-defined objectives, which gave the Minister a huge amount of power to define them. She said that the Parliamentary Committee would be tabling amendments to clarify the requirement for the MMO to work in the public interest, and to deal effectively with conservation issues. She explained that soon there will be a Planning Commission for large projects both on land and at sea to override the current Public Enquiry process and impose a decision irrespective of local opinion – something she did not approve of.

Another result of the new Bill will be the creation of a coastal footpath and associated access round the coast of Britain. Lady Miller pointed out that the SW Coastal Path anticipated this provision and had been a far-sighted move when created.

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