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Marine Environmental Protection

Volume 486: debated on Thursday 15 January 2009

The Government want a marine environment that is clean, safe, productive and biologically diverse. The Marine and Coastal Access Bill will play a significant part in achieving this, along with other steps that we are taking, including action on sustainable fisheries management and on achieving good environmental status for our seas under the marine strategy framework directive.

With reference to the progress of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, which represents a sea change, is my right hon. Friend aware of the wonderful coastline in my constituency, starting with a five-star, award-winning seabird centre in North Berwick, which is educational and protective and does all the things that the Government want to do to look after the marine life in the River Forth?

I am very pleased to hear from my hon. Friend about the centre that she mentioned. The Bill has started its passage in the other place and we look forward to its coming here. There will be much to discuss and debate, but there is widespread support for the legislation. It is groundbreaking, it is important, and we need to get it on the statute book and get on with the work.

The Secretary of State mentioned the importance of marine sustainability. Does he acknowledge the concerns expressed by many environmental groups and local fishermen about the extent to which licences are being issued for industrial scallop dredging, and the damaging effect that that has both on the seabed and on future fish stocks, not least in my area, in Cardigan bay, which is protected as a special area of conservation? Does he regard the arrangements in the Bill as robust enough to meet the challenges brought to us in our constituencies?

I am indeed aware of those concerns. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the action that we have taken in relation to scallop dredging in the Fal and Helford special area of conservation, and of the decision taken last year in respect of Lyme bay, which was very significant. That illustrates the Government’s determination to take the right decisions to provide conservation where it is needed, and the Bill provides the framework to do that. In the end, all these things must be balanced, but one of the purposes of introducing the Bill is to allow for the designation of marine conservation zones. The two steps that we have already taken with regard to scallop dredging will give comfort to those who are concerned about the Government’s willingness, in the right circumstances, to act.

My right hon. Friend may remember that a few weeks ago he visited my constituency. During that visit, I had arranged a meeting with a number of leading Scottish environmental non-governmental organisations. They are very pleased with the way he listened to their concerns and has come up with a sensible division of responsibilities for nature conservation between the UK and Scottish Governments. What steps will the Department take to ensure that there continues to be effective co-ordination between the Scottish and UK Government responsibilities in this area?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for saying that. I recollect saying to his environmental groups on that occasion that we would listen to what was said as a result of the consultation. They will have seen how we amended the draft Bill when it was published and introduced into Parliament. I am absolutely determined that we continue to build on the arrangements that we have put in place to ensure partnership between the different parts of the devolved system. One of the things that came across clearly in the consultation was the desire for one coherent framework. The discussions that we have had with the devolved Administrations have allowed us to put in place a structure which I think will work, and I am committed to it.

Further to the important point made by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams), the Minister will know that the destruction caused by scallop dredging may last for 10, 12 or 14 years. It is nothing short of vandalism. Will he contrast the needs of those fishermen with the crofting that goes on both in Scotland and in north Wales on the Llyn peninsula, where farmers supplement their income by sustainable fishing methods? Will he ensure that their interests are catered for in the interests of good, sustainable fisheries for the future?

It is important that there should be local discussion and local input. In the end, it is about balancing all these things. However, as I said in answer to the question from the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams), we must have a framework that allows us to take such decisions; obviously, the Welsh Assembly Government would have responsibilities in this particular case. A balance has to be struck. The Marine and Coastal Access Bill and the support of the devolved Administrations provide the framework within which we can try to deal better with the problems, and that is why there is such widespread support for the Bill.

Does the Secretary of State agree that one thing that will not improve the marine environment is EU Commission regulation article 47, which relates to EU monitoring of recreational fisheries? It seeks to take away precious quota from our professional fishermen and heap a horrendous bureaucratic burden on the 1.5 million sea anglers, who contribute £1 billion to the economy. Will the Secretary of State join me and the newly formed Angling Trust and use every ounce of his strength to reject that ridiculous proposal?

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will meet representatives of the Angling Trust shortly to discuss the matter. In the end, it is important that we strike a balance, on that issue and others. We are determined to ensure that there are opportunities for sustainable fisheries and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s achievement in the fisheries negotiations just before Christmas. Such things are difficult to balance, but we achieved a reasonable outcome.