My oral question today is: “to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the creation of a Minister for the Oceans?”
We’re a maritime nation. Fish and chips on a Friday night and national icons like Nelson and Sir Walter Raleigh. Our history is connected to the seas and our coastal waters are becoming one vast energy source with wind farms and the prospect of tidal power.
So it seems odd that both France and Portugal both have Ministries for the Oceans, but not us. We have a Space Strategy but not an Ocean Strategy, despite huge under-explored expanse that makes up two thirds of our planet.
With climate change driving rising sea levels, we have a clear imperative to understand the important role that a warming arctic and a slowing gulf stream play in shaping our future.
A recent report on the “Future of the Sea” produced by the Government Office for Science, had a foreword written by four UK ministers to reflect most of the policy issues covered in the report – representing DfT, FCDO, BEIS and Defra. If you add in the MOD, then you get a sense of the strategic issues covered.
In France the Minister is similarly involved in a wide range of issues, of coastal protection and marine energies, food policy as regards sea products and aquaculture, coastal and marine tourism, research, education and innovation-promoting programmes, plus international ocean and resource conservation policy. She also defines and implements maritime fisheries policy in conjunction with the Minister for Agriculture. She sets out the geographical strategy for France’s influence on the oceans and exercises, jointly with the Minister for Transport, powers relating to ports, maritime transport, the merchant navy and social regulations in the maritime sector.
In this country, a Minister might fit into the Whitehall system like this:
- A Minister for the Ocean could be based in the Cabinet Office and report to the Prime Minister. The role would be to coordinate the complex cross cutting nature of ocean policy issues.
- The Minister for the Ocean would be responsible for developing an integrated UK Ocean Strategy mirroring what has been achieved by having a Space Strategy. Policy would be developed after engaging across Whitehall and with the devolved governments. It would work with industry and academic leaders. It would embrace the UK’s domestic and global ocean interests.
- The Minister for the Ocean would chair a Ministerial Committee on the Ocean and be supported by a high-level coordination structure with senior experts across Government, industry and academia to ensure coordination of policy and development of evidence needs to support it.
It would be a shame to fall behind other countries in our appreciation and understanding of the world’s oceans, and a dedicated Minister would allow us to focus on all aspects of oceanography.