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Marine Bill White Paper

Volume 458: debated on Thursday 15 March 2007

I am pleased to announce that I am today laying before Parliament and publishing Government White Paper Command 7047, “A Sea Change”, a Marine Bill White Paper.

In 2001, the Prime Minister committed the UK Government to new measures to improve marine conservation, including a series of Marine Stewardship Reports. The first of these reports, “Safeguarding Our Seas”, jointly published a year later by the UK Government and devolved Administrations, set out the shared vision of clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas.

“Safeguarding our Seas” also described the Government's strategy for the conservation and sustainable development of the marine environment. Part of that strategy has been to examine how we can streamline regulation for those who make a living from the sea and how we can better protect the marine environment.

The arrangements in place for managing marine activities and protecting marine wildlife and the marine environment are complex and can be confusing and costly for all involved. New activities, changes in technology and a deepening understanding of the seas around us and the way we affect them have also exposed some gaps and limitations in this system. A number of published reports and reviews have shown that as the pressures on our seas increase and change we do not have all the tools we need to fully protect our marine environment or manage the full range of demands that we place on the marine area.

In 2005, we completed an integrated assessment of the “State of Our Seas - Charting Progress”. The overall picture that emerged was that UK seas are productive and support a wide range of fish, mammals, seabirds and other marine life. The levels of monitored contaminants and pollution have decreased significantly. However, human activities have resulted in adverse changes to the marine ecosystem and continue to do so. These direct human activities, along with climate change, pose a real threat to the balance and integrity of the marine ecosystem.

This White Paper sets out our plans for legislation that will enable us to take a significant step forward in the way that we manage the activities that take place in the marine area. The changes we are proposing will mean we will be able to obtain best value from the many different uses of our valuable marine resources whilst maintaining and protecting the ecosystems upon which they depend. They will improve the delivery of policies relating to marine activities operating in coastal and offshore waters and to marine natural resource protection.

The principles of sustainable development, good regulation and modern government underpin these proposals. We will simplify existing legislation and streamline administration. We will establish modern and flexible new arrangements and structures that will stand the test of time.

We will introduce a new system of marine planning encompassing all marine activities and providing a strategic approach to the use of marine space and the interactions between its uses. It will clarify our marine objectives and priorities for the future, and direct decision-makers and users towards more efficient, sustainable use and protection of our marine resources.

We will establish a marine licensing system that is more efficient and transparent, simplifying marine licensing processes and providing for a rationalised and more integrated approach. This will deliver better, more consistent licensing decisions more quickly and at less cost to all, through a system that is proportionate and easier to understand and to use.

We will add to existing tools for the conservation of marine ecosystems and biodiversity with a new approach to protected areas for important species and habitats. This will enable us to tackle the deterioration in the state of the UK's marine biodiversity and promote recovery and ensure environmental considerations are at the heart of decision-making processes. They will allow the UK to fully deliver on its vital European and international conservation obligations.

We will modernise inshore fisheries management arrangements and enable a more active approach to managing recreational sea angling. We will also strengthen fisheries enforcement powers and provide for recovery of the costs of fishing vessel licence administration. This will strengthen fisheries and environmental management arrangements so that more effective action can be taken to conserve marine ecosystems and help achieve a sustainable and profitable fisheries sector. Our fisheries proposals will apply in England and in some cases Wales and Northern Ireland.

For the UK Government and Northern Ireland administration we will establish a new Marine Management Organisation to help effectively deliver many marine policies across UK waters. We will incorporate into this new organisation a number of existing Government agencies and functions. This will make a unique contribution to sustainable development by bringing together within a single independent body the delivery of strategic planning, streamlined marine licensing, fisheries management and enforcement, and nature conservation enforcement.

Overall, our proposals will mean less risk, delay and cost to business, increased capability to provide targeted protection to marine life where it is needed, and improved co-ordinated enforcement of the new regime. They will provide an integrated approach to sustainable management, enhancement and use of the marine natural environment for the benefit of current and future generations. They will facilitate economic growth in the marine area in a sustainable manner and protect the environment providing us with a marine and coastal environment that can be enjoyed by all.