Skip to main content

Marine Habitats

Volume 479: debated on Thursday 17 July 2008

This is a bit of a one-man band today—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says that he is right behind me, which is very reassuring.

The Government are committed to establishing by 2012 a network of well-managed marine protected areas that will conserve the richness of our marine environment.

I congratulate the Minister on reshuffling his entire ministerial team. What contribution does he think the Severn barrage will make to aquatic life, bearing in mind the dire warnings from the powerful coalition of wildlife and fishery groups about the damage that the barrage will do to migratory fish runs of salmon and sea trout, which provide such vital income and recreational assets to the Wye, Usk and Severn catchment areas?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has a proud and distinguished record as Labour’s angling spokesman; he has a done a great deal that has been welcomed in all sections of the fishing community.

On the Severn barrage, I am well aware that the Severn and its tributaries, including the Wye and the Usk, are valuable spawning grounds for a number of important migratory fish, including salmon and eels. Our feasibility study will examine the possibility of developing the barrage, which could provide 5 per cent. of this country’s electricity and make a huge contribution to our renewable efforts. However, we will need to balance that against the important environmental damage that would be caused. Those are the issues that confront us today, and we must make balanced choices. What my hon. Friend and anglers have said about the barrage will form part of our consideration as we move forward on the feasibility study.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in the Marine Bill we are introducing changes in respect of salmon and freshwater and migratory fish; there will be new measures to allow the Environment Agency to ensure that particular species are not put into waters where they can breed and have an impact on native species.

As the hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position, they are already there. The Environment Agency is doing its best to tackle the issue, and we will be introducing further powers—this has been welcomed by the Environment Agency and by many anglers—to reduce these alien species and ensure that we protect our native species.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), I have great concerns about the Severn barrage. The Severn estuary not only has the second highest tidal range in the world, but in winter its mudflats, saltflats and rocky marshes provide vital breeding grounds and overwintering habitats for 65,000 birds, which feed on a huge variety of invertebrate, insect and, sadly, fish life in the estuary. Will the Minister assure me that he will take care to protect the biodiversity of the Severn estuary and ensure that if this plan does, foolishly, go ahead, compensatory habitat will be provided for all those species.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Of course, all those measures will need to be considered in the feasibility study, which will last roughly two years and cost about £9 million. It is also important to take into account the fact that climate change is also impacting on wildlife and that we need to reduce our carbon levels. We may conclude that the Severn barrage will make such a significant contribution that it will help wildlife and all of mankind. Those issues need to be considered carefully, and the environmental points that both she and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) have made will form part of our consideration as we advance the feasibility study.

A great deal of the damage to marine habitats is done by fishing. Some £97 million of European fisheries fund money was supposed to be used to promote more sustainable and environmentally friendly fishing gears and practices. Is it not the case that that money is not available because the Government failed to agree with the devolved Administrations and failed to consult on and submit our programme to the Commission by the deadline? Perhaps the Minister can tell us when we will get our money and whether the EU has confirmed that DEFRA will not be fined for a late submission of the operational programme?

The hon. Gentleman will know that I was in Brussels till half-past 10 on Monday negotiating the changes to the European fisheries fund. New regulations will impact on all member states and will provide more flexibility within the fund. Obviously, we must look at the detail of those and discuss that with the industry. His question about whether we will miss out is obviously outdated because of the changes that were agreed in the Commission earlier this week.