[Relevant Documents: The Report from the Joint Committee on the Draft Marine Bill, Session 2007-08,HC 552-I, and the Government’s response, Cm 7422. The Eleventh Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on Legislative Scrutiny: Marine and Coastal Access Bill, HC 396, and the letters to Lord Pannick from the Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, of 3 and 4 June.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
For many centuries, our nation has been defined by its relationship with the sea. Although we may no longer seek to rule the waves, our island heritage remains a source of great pride. Our seas and our coasts and their waters are a source of so much: they give us food; they support jobs; they enable us to travel and to create energy; they help us to regulate our changing climate; they give us the chance to sail or to swim or to dive and catch a glimpse of what lies beneath the surface. Our seas inspire us, from the mirror-glass stillness of a calm day to the fearsome rage of a storm.
John F. Kennedy put it like this:
“All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt that exists in the ocean... We have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, we are going back from whence we came.”
How very true—and yet for many years we have taken all of this for granted. The House knows that we cannot do so any more. If we wish to ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy these riches, we must recognise the pressures that humankind has put on our seas and take the steps needed to create healthier, more productive and more biologically diverse waters. That is what this Bill aims to do.
I cannot let this moment pass without thanking all the people without whose passion, commitment and sheer determination I would not be standing here today moving the Bill’s Second Reading. I acknowledge the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who has campaigned for this Bill for many years. I also acknowledge the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), my hon. Friends the Members for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) and for Reading, West (Martin Salter), and the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George). I thank the former DEFRA Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), who it is good to see in his place today, and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who has done so much work to get the Bill before us today. I also thank the Joint Committee, which under the chairmanship of Lord Greenway carried out pre-legislative scrutiny, and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) examined the Bill’s coastal access provisions.
Perhaps most important of all, in adding to that august list, I wish to thank the 15,000 organisations and members of the public who responded to our consultation, and the many more who have wanted this Bill for a long time and would not rest until it came to pass.
There is huge interest in my constituency in this Bill. The Yorkshire wildlife trust held a public meeting recently, to which 300 people turned up; and 100 to 200 people turn up each time the wildlife trust does one of its beach clean-ups on the Yorkshire coast. A little while ago, the Under-Secretary agreed to come to York to meet these people at a public meeting. The Secretary of State knows, because he has held just that kind of meeting in my constituency, that they are useful and constructive occasions. I would like an assurance that the Under-Secretary will be able to come to such a meeting while the Bill and amendments are being considered in Committee, so that he can listen to what the public are saying.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is a man of his word and my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) can expect to receive a visit during the Committee stage. If any other hon. Members want to get their bids in, they ought to do so fast.
The wildlife trusts, which have worked very hard for this Bill, have described the publication of the Bill as an “historic victory” and the Local Government Association has said that it is one of the most important pieces of legislation to be developed for decades for the marine environment.
The Secretary of State invites me to invite him to my constituency, which I will, not least because we could probably organise a cross-constituency meeting at which he could hear views on some specific issues from Brecon and Radnor, Ceredigion and Montgomeryshire. They include concern about the lack of an unambiguous duty to designate an ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones that also contain some highly protected areas where all extractive and otherwise damaging activities are excluded, and understanding the matter of equestrian access, which has concerned some of my colleagues. If the right hon. Gentleman is willing to come to mid-Wales on a cross-constituency and cross-party basis, he will be well informed and his visit would be very much appreciated.
If the hon. Gentleman listens to what I say about the Bill, he may feel somewhat reassured, but I will always give careful consideration to an invitation from him or any other hon. Member.
The Bill has been given full consideration in the other place and what is before us today reflects the changes that have resulted. I am grateful to my noble Friends Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Davies of Oldham for the huge amount of time and effort they have put in to steering the Bill through the other place. We have before us today an improved Bill as a result of those efforts.
The waters around the UK are one of the richest marine environments in the world. More than 8,000 species have been recorded in our seas, from the pink sea fan to the Atlantic puffin and from tiny plankton to the basking sharks that feed on them. Businesses working in and around our seas contribute between 3 and 4 per cent. of our GDP and directly employ about 500,000 people. They are central to the life of many communities around the country. It is for this reason that the Bill seeks to find a balance: space in our seas for economic activity and further development—for example, generating more renewable energy—while protecting vital habitats and marine life.
On precisely that point, the thrust of the Bill in creating marine conservation zones is entirely supported by almost everybody in the House, but there is one difference between it and its Scottish equivalent and European legislation on sites of special scientific interest. The criteria under the Bill for creating a marine conservation zone take into account social and economic factors; those factors are not in the Scottish or SSSI legislation. That comes in only at the management stage. Should not the decision on the location of one of these zones be principally—in fact, entirely—a scientific and conservation decision, with the management then dealing with the social and economic factors?
The issue has been debated at some length in the other place and no doubt will be looked at in Committee. The Government feel that we have struck the right balance. The Bill is flexible and allows us to put in place very high degrees of protection, but it is right that we may take into account socio-economic factors in taking those decisions. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw the House’s attention to the difference between the Bill and what devolution may have given in Scotland. We think that the balance is right.
In maintaining that position, does my right hon. Friend recognise that there is a conflict with the common fisheries policy Green Paper, which talks about the current CFP regulations and says that
“these objectives can and do clash in the short term, especially when fishing opportunities have to be temporarily reduced in order to rebuild overexploited fish stocks. Social objectives such as employment have often been invoked to advocate more generous short-term fishing opportunities: the result has always been to further jeopardise the state of the stocks and the future of the fishermen who make a living out of them”?
Surely the Bill needs to be seen in conjunction with the Green Paper, because both represent phenomenal opportunities which Members across the House want to see constructed—
Order. That was far too lengthy.
I agree with my hon. Friend that we have to manage the competing demands that we make of our seas and what lies beneath them, including fisheries. The Bill has had to be drafted in the context of the CFP as it currently is, of course, but there are many Members in all parts of the House who would like to change the CFP, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State was this morning at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, where this issue will be discussed. We can do our bit here; we need to persuade our colleagues in Europe to do their bit there.
Under this Bill, who will be legally responsible for ensuring that fish stocks are not over-exploited, and whom can the citizens sue for the collapse in fish stocks and the denigration of the marine environment?
For the reason I alluded to in answering the previous question, the fundamental responsibility rests in the context of the CFP, because this is not of itself a fish-stocks management Bill. We all have a responsibility to make sure we have regard to the sustainability of our fish stocks, however. Although the fundamental arena in which we have to do that is the CFP, this Bill will make the UK the first country to adopt such a wide-ranging approach to marine management, and it will set the scene for what we hope will be radical reform of the CFP in time.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the WWF tried to mount a prosecution against the failure of the CFP, but that there is no locus for any non-governmental organisation to sue anybody for the failure of the CFP to conserve fish stocks? Is that not a complete and abject denial of accountability?
In the end, it is for the courts to determine whether cases can or cannot be brought, but that underlines the point that the hon. Gentleman rightly raises about the need to reform the system that determines the progress we make, or do not make, in ensuring our seas are managed sustainably. That framework is the CFP, which is why reform is needed so much.
I shall give way one more time.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his great generosity in giving way once more. On the designation of different parts of the sea bed for different uses and the multiple use of some areas, will he ensure that multiple use is determined at the time of designation, rather than afterwards? In other words, if there are multiple designations such as for wind farms and a marine conservation zone, will he ensure that they are made at the time of the initial designation and not considered subsequently?
I am sure that we will look at that question in Committee. The purpose of the Bill, however, is to give us a range of ways to protect what we seek to protect, so that at one end of the spectrum we can say that nothing can happen at all and at the other end of the spectrum we can say, “All these things can happen except this one.” That depends on what we are trying to protect, and the flexibility that is to be found in the Bill gives us the means to achieve all those things.
If the right hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I am going to make some progress, as many Members wish to speak and I am conscious of the time. I would just add that the documentary “The End of the Line” which has been seen in recent weeks makes the point about how much we are currently taking from the sea, and the publication last week of the new climate projections makes us think about the impact of a changing climate on our seas. My point is that the Bill is not just right, it is also very timely and I should like now to turn to its provisions—
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way before he leaves that very important point. A lot of people welcome the Bill but they want some reassurance that it will protect the right areas to the right standard. As he said, it is a permissive Bill. Can he give us some idea of how many marine conservation zones there will be and how intense the protection will be?
I am not going to give the right hon. Gentleman a number now as it would not be wise to do so. I know that there has been a campaign regarding the percentages of the seas that should be so designated. The right approach is to look at the evidence, look at the science, find out what is there—we know some things already, but there is a lot, as the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge, that we do not yet know—and work from the bottom up, rather than artificially sticking into the Bill a percentage at the beginning, which would be the wrong way to go.
The Bill clearly places a duty to designate an ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones, and gives Ministers the power to protect them in an appropriate way, having regard to what one is seeking to protect.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
If my hon. Friend will bear with me, I am going to make some progress; otherwise, the time for other Members to speak will be limited.
Part 1 and schedules 1, 2 and 3 will establish a new independent body, the marine management organisation, to draw together many of the activities covered in the rest of the Bill. The MMO will be responsible for drawing up marine plans, issuing marine legislation licences, continuing the marine and fisheries management currently undertaken by the Marine and Fisheries Agency, and enforcing marine legislation.
Constituents of mine who work for the Marine and Fisheries Agency have come to see me about transferring to the MMO. Apparently, they will lose their civil service status, which has not happened with jobs transferred to other non-departmental public bodies. Could my right hon. Friend look at that, because in the current economic climate those people are understandably fearful of losing their status?
The MMO is going to be established as an NDPB precisely to give it the independence that many of those who have long advocated the setting up of the MMO have said it should have. The staff will transfer with contractual terms and conditions applying at the time of the transfer, and they will be eligible for the civil service pension scheme. Staff will be able to apply for other civil service jobs and a number of other safeguards will be applied, including the Secretary of State’s having to approve any changes to the terms and conditions that might be made. I hope that that offers some reassurance to members of staff who have expressed those concerns.
The MMO will be an NDPB precisely so that it reports formally to Parliament through the Secretary of State. It will act as the Government’s strategic marine delivery body, be a centre of marine management expertise and play an important role in making representations to and advising the new Infrastructure Planning Commission. Changes to the Bill made in the other place mean that the MMO has been made stronger. Its role in the planning legislation development consent process will be set out in primary legislation through amendment to the Planning Act 2008.
One very important point raised in the other place concerned expertise in marine science and the importance of access to data, which goes back to the point made by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). Marine science and research is very important as it is the basis on which we make and will make so many of our decisions affecting the seas, and it will have a crucial role to play in enabling the MMO to make the best decisions possible. For that reason, we will ensure that the MMO has access to the best quality expertise, which is why the Bill now requires the MMO to appoint a chief scientific adviser.
There is concern, however, that the MMO will not have enough resources and manpower to carry out this very challenging work, and to be the champion of the seas that we all want it to be.
The Marine and Fisheries Agency has roughly 100 staff at head office and 100 out in the coastal offices, but the MMO will have 240 to 250 staff, so that is an increase. Of course, we will keep the number under review as the MMO seeks to take up the responsibilities that the House will, I hope, place on it by agreeing to the Bill.
Part 2 and schedule 4 set out the UK marine area, which is used in subsequent parts of the Bill to define where certain activities may take place. Part 2 also allows for an exclusive economic zone to be designated and amends the Government of Wales Act 2006 to insert a definition of the Welsh zone. Further functions in relation to fisheries matters may then be transferred to Welsh Ministers by an Order in Council. That provision will bring Wales into line with Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The MMO will have additional resources, but where measures are devolved to the Welsh Assembly Government, will the additional resources be handed on to that Government, so that they can carry out the work? There is concern in Wales that there will be duplication, and that instead of having a one-stop shop for licences, as is proposed, there will be gold-plating by the Welsh Assembly Government.
Matters that fall within the purview of the Welsh Assembly Government are for the Welsh Assembly Government, as my hon. Friend will know. It is for them and the other devolved Administrations to decide how they will use their resources, but the MMO will be available, as a source of expertise, to those who want to make use of its knowledge. The aim of the one-stop-shop approach is to try to make the process more streamlined and more sensible for those who seek to undertake development in the seas. That is why the Bill, quite uniquely, has managed to draw a wide range of support, both from those who are passionate about protecting biodiversity and the wonders that lie beneath our waters, and from those who are trying to earn a living from the seas. That goes back to the point about the balance that the Bill seeks to strike.
Does the Secretary of State not agree that more could be done in the Bill to address the issue of ship-to-ship transfer, and incidents such as that involving the Napoli in my constituency, in areas that are extremely sensitive? Why has he not adopted the European idea of having places of refuge that can be taken into account when such accidents happen?
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, the ship-to-ship transfer regulations are currently under consultation in respect of the relevant Department. That would seem an opportunity to pursue the important point that he raises about making sure that the regulations are fit for purpose.
Part 3 and schedules 5 and 6 will introduce a new system of marine planning which is designed to help us to manage the competing uses of the sea. It will help public authorities and those using our waters to co-ordinate what they do, while enabling the Government to insist on a sustainable approach. A marine policy statement will be prepared and agreed by the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, setting out policies and priorities for the whole UK marine area. Since the Bill was first introduced, we have clarified the process for scrutiny of the draft MPS because we believe that it is important that all UK legislatures have time properly to consider it. After full consultation with everyone who has an interest, a series of marine plans will be prepared that will apply the policies in the MPS locally. Marine plan authorities will have to report to Parliament every six years on how they have used their powers, and on their future intentions. That will allow a clear picture of progress on marine planning to be available to all of us.
Part 4 and schedules 7, 8 and 9 will introduce a simplified, fairer and more transparent licensing system to permit activities in our seas and to set out any appropriate conditions that are needed to protect the environment or human health, or to prevent interference with other users of the sea. That will replace the current licensing and consent controls. The changes are intended to provide greater certainty to operators about the timing and outcome of licence applications and will make it easier for licensing authorities to make decisions that are consistent with the marine policy statement and the marine plans. They will also provide a wider range of enforcement options; taking people to court will not be the only sanction available.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for coming back to the general concern that I raised earlier. He may want to write to me on this rather technical question. Could people who are involved with extractive and other potentially damaging activities that take place in areas that in the Government’s judgment should be protected use the mechanism that he mentions to make their case clear? Can they be confident that the considerations that he mentions will be balanced against economic considerations in a reasonable way?
I will happily write to the hon. Gentleman in response to his point.
The Bill also tightens up the procedures for dealing with harm caused by licensing offences and the rules governing putting things right when damage has been caused. We have placed a clear duty on the marine licensing authority to notify local authorities of applications they receive for activities in their areas, and that will be welcomed. The Bill also ensures that the order-making power covering exemptions for activities that will not need a marine licence will be subject to the same principles that licensing authorities must have regard to when determining licensing applications.
Part 5 and schedules 11, 12 and 13 deal with nature conservation—
As my right hon. Friend knows, my constituency, although about as far from the sea as one can get in the UK, has a keen interest in environmental issues. People are concerned that the network of marine conservation zones should be comprehensive and allow for the proper movement of marine wildlife. In addition, will inland areas be consulted about the development of the marine plans, because people in those areas have a real interest in protecting the marine heritage and environment—they enjoy and benefit from it as much as everyone else does?
I am keen that anyone and everyone who has an interest has an opportunity to express a view during consultation on carrying through the provisions of the Bill. Even if my hon. Friend’s constituents live a little way from the sea, they have exactly the same interest in ensuring that the aims of the Bill are achieved, and I would welcome their views alongside others.
The Government are committed to protecting biodiversity, which is why the Bill will put a clear duty on the Secretary of State, Welsh Ministers and Scottish Ministers to designate marine conservation zones. The powers and duties in the Bill replace, and greatly improve on, the current power under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to designate marine nature reserves, and existing marine nature reserves, such as Lundy and Skomer, will automatically become marine conservation zones.
The designation of these protected areas is designed to safeguard rare, threatened and representative species of plants and animals, and allow the recovery of some areas to a more natural state. The zones will be designated on the best available scientific evidence, but as we have already discussed, the Secretary of State may also take into account the social and economic consequences of site designation. This part of the Bill is all about creating an ecologically coherent and well-managed network of marine protected areas. This will include marine conservation zones as well as European and Ramsar sites, and sites of special scientific interest. Following debate in the other place, Ministers will now have to lay a statement setting out the principles that will underpin this network. This statement will show how we intend to create that ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas for the UK.
There is considerable consensus on this Bill, as the Secretary of State has said, but he will be aware that several campaign organisations have made it clear that they would like to see the provisions on the designation of marine conservation zones enhanced by allowing for the designation of highly protected areas within those zones. That may be an issue for debate in Committee, but I would appreciate his comments on why the Government are resisting that proposal.
The simple reason, as I tried to explain earlier, is that the Bill in its current form gives the Secretary of State the ability to do precisely what the hon. Gentleman and the campaigning organisations have requested. The flexibility of the provisions means that we can have highly protected areas—which would mean saying “nothing can happen here”, as I said earlier—and we can fit the restrictions placed on an area to the objective that we are trying to achieve. The statement that will now have to be laid will enable Ministers to set out clearly the principles that will underlie the taking of decisions about marine conservation zones. Those, and the changes that have been made in the other place, are all about responding to the point that has been made, and the Bill is in the right place as far as achieving that objective is concerned.
Part 5 will not only fulfil the UK’s commitment under the convention for the protection of the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic—OSPAR—but make progress on meeting our requirements under the marine strategy framework directive.
We are also working with Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee on four regional projects throughout England, bringing together local industries, fishermen and wildlife groups. Those will play an important part in identifying potential marine conservation zones and ensuring that all stakeholders have a chance to express their views.
The Bill also puts new duties on public authorities to further the conservation objectives set for marine conservation zones. For example, they should not authorise activities or development that carry a significant risk of hindering these conservation objectives, thus providing better protection. There will also be powers for the MMO to make byelaws and interim byelaws to protect sites, and potential sites, from otherwise unregulated activities that may cause harm—that is a power to act. A general offence is also included to deal with acts of deliberate and reckless damage to a marine conservation zone.
Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?
I will make some progress, if my hon. Friend will forgive me, since I gave way to him earlier. Many Members want to speak.
Part 6 and schedule 14 will replace sea fisheries committees with new bodies, which will be called inshore fisheries and conservation authorities in England. They will have a duty to manage sea fisheries, balancing socio-economic benefits with protection of the marine environment. They will have more money and strengthened powers, while keeping local involvement in decision making. IFCAs will be very different from the sea fisheries committees that they replace, because, significantly, they will have a new duty to protect the marine environment and promote its recovery from the effects of sea fisheries exploitation. In Wales, Welsh Ministers will take on responsibility for inshore sea fisheries management.
Has the Secretary of State noted the concern expressed by the Wildlife Trusts of Wales and similar conservation bodies that the IFCA model does not apply in Wales and that consequently the powers are centralised in the hands of Welsh Ministers without any duties being expressed and without any scrutiny on the part of the Welsh Assembly?
It is not for us to put such duties on the Welsh Assembly Government. It is a matter for them to determine. We will clearly be looking for co-ordination. On devolution, when the Bill was published in draft one of the principal concerns expressed by those who scrutinised it was whether all the bits would fit together. We have worked very hard—I pay tribute in particular to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford and to Ministers in the devolved Administrations for approaching the Bill in the right spirit and saying, “Yes, we will come together to make it work in a coherent fashion”—so that the Bill before us today does that.
Part 7 and schedules 15 and 16 amend legislation relating to marine fisheries, including the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967 and the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967, to provide new powers to regulate fishing. They also give new and more flexible powers to the Environment Agency to conserve and manage those fisheries.
Part 8 and schedules 17 and 18 will provide for the appointment of marine enforcement officers and powers to enforce licensing, nature conservation and sea fisheries legislation. In addition, further powers are provided for marine enforcement officers, covering inspection, seizure, retention and release of fish and gear. Those powers also contain provision for an administrative penalty scheme for domestic fisheries offences. Enforcement officers will also be able to investigate suspected nature conservation or licensing offences in their area of jurisdiction.
Before I turn to part 9, I think it right to inform the House that I am the part owner of a small piece of land on the coast in Essex. In drafting this legislation, I have delegated to my ministerial team all questions that might be relevant to my potential interest.
Part 9 and schedules 19 and 20 will extend recreational access to the English coast and create, as far as possible, a continuous route for walkers around the coast, and recreational space associated with the route. Natural England will be charged with making that happen. The Bill will also enable the Welsh Assembly to make similar provisions for the Welsh coast.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way on that point. The 646 Members of this House will have about 200 dogs between us, if we share out the 7.3 million British dogs, and we will be walking them on the coastal footpaths from time to time. Does he understand the concerns of farmers and landowners, and particularly of those who have livestock near the coastal path or in the spreading room around it? We need a publicity campaign to spell out the responsibilities of dog owners and the rights of farmers and landowners to protect their livestock so that the two come into conflict as rarely as possible.
I absolutely acknowledge that point and that is why the provisions in this part of the Bill try to strike a fair balance between the interests of the public, who want to be able to walk the coastal route, and the interests of landowners. That is why we clarified the rights of landowners, gave them more say in developing the route and included a right for objections to be heard. We have also placed a duty on the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a copy of Natural England’s scheme, clarifying how it will deal with the route around estuaries and providing more involvement for local authorities.
On the specific point about part 9 and access to coastal paths and beaches, which I greatly welcome, may I ask my right hon. Friend for reassurance? My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) mentioned the interests of dog walkers, and several of my constituents are concerned that the Bill might enable local authorities to put additional controls on dog walking on coastal paths and such areas. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that nothing in the Bill will extend the existing powers of local authorities in that respect?
We should consider that in Committee, and I am happy to give that assurance to my hon. Friend and any Members who want to raise the point.
I shall give way two more times, then I shall bring my remarks to a close.
Will the Secretary of State tell the House why he is so set against compensation for landowners who see the financial value of their direct interest diminish?
I do not think that it is appropriate, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that we have recognised landowners’ interests in the objection mechanism that is now in the Bill as a result of discussions in the other place.
Will my right hon. Friend say something briefly about equestrian access, where there is a difficult balance to be struck?
There is indeed. I have no doubt that that is an issue that we will also consider in Committee. In the end, the whole House has an interest in getting a pragmatic solution in this part of the Bill that takes account of everybody’s interests but, at the same time, tries to ensure that more of our coastline can be enjoyed by all of us.
Part 10 and schedule 21 amend legislation in relation to Natural England and modify the regime governing harbours set out in the Harbours Act 1964. It also introduces navigational controls into the Energy Act 2008, in lieu of those currently contained in the Coast Protection Act 1949. Finally, Part 11 and schedule 22 cover procedural issues and definitions connected with earlier clauses.
As I have said, many Members want to speak, so I will to draw my remarks to a close. The Bill fulfils two manifesto commitments, but it is the determination of those who campaigned for it, the skill of those who drafted it and the views of those who have shaped it that have brought us to this historic point. We now have the wisdom, perhaps, to understand that nature’s gifts are not inexhaustible. We need to balance the demands that we place on our seas and to do so in a way that allows us to generate energy, to simplify and streamline regulation, to improve marine and fisheries management, to protect the natural world and to provide us with greater access to it. It happens to have fallen to us—this generation—to act to protect our seas and the wonders that lie beneath them while we can. That is what this Bill does, and I commend it to the House.
The American poet Walt Whitman once described the sea as “a continual miracle”. His description captures both the beauty and the importance of our marine environment. The waters surrounding our island contain a rich and diverse collection of species. Indeed, our seas contain double the number of animal groups found on land. It is estimated that more than 44,000 different types of plant and animal—about half the UK’s biodiversity—live in our seas. They are home to 22 marine mammal species, such as minke whales and bottlenose dolphins, and 300 species of fish, which include different varieties of seahorse and basking sharks. However, the seas are not just crucial for marine creatures. They are of the utmost importance for people, too, performing the vital tasks of absorbing damaging greenhouse gases, regulating our climate and producing oxygen for us to breathe.
It must also be recognised that many people enjoy the benefits of the marine environment through a variety of leisure and sporting activities. The oceans are an important resource for food, and an enormous potential source of energy—provided, of course, that we harvest such resources sustainably.
There can be no doubt that the condition of the marine environment is of great importance to the public. In a 2005 survey conducted by the National Trust, two thirds of respondents said that visiting the seaside or coast was important to their quality of life. In 2007, the wildlife trusts produced a poll showing that 94 per cent. of people believed that the health of the marine environment was important to them, but the same survey also revealed public concern about the decline in fish stocks in our seas. That is one of the most pressing challenges facing the marine environment. Around 70 to 80 per cent. of the world’s marine fish stocks are fully exploited, over- exploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion. It is predicted that the world will run out of seafood species that can be fished by 2048.
The picture is similar for UK waters, as fish stocks have greatly decreased over recent decades. In 1956, the British distant water fishing fleet returned to shore with 8.36 million tonnes of fish. By 2007, the whole UK fleet landed only 600,000 tonnes.
The Secretary of State referred to the recently released film called “The End of the Line”, which highlights the damaging impact of over-fishing on marine ecosystems, and the harmful effects of the common fisheries policy in particular. I pay tribute to the efforts of Charles Clover in raising public awareness of that hugely important issue. Reform of fisheries policy is essential, but we also need to focus on two other great challenges facing the marine environment.
The first and most important challenge is climate change. As I mentioned earlier, our seas perform the vital task of absorbing harmful greenhouse gases. The world’s oceans absorb more than a quarter of the carbon dioxide generated by the planet, but there are concerns that the amount of CO2 that they are soaking up is decreasing. In 2007, scientists from the university of East Anglia showed that CO2 absorption in the north Atlantic halved between the mid-1990s and the early part of this decade. There are fears that, if the oceans become saturated with CO2 and are unable to absorb any more, that could lead to an increase in global warming.
The Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership has highlighted some of the effects of climate change on the marine environment. It has stressed the
“growing evidence that the scale of impact of climate change on marine waters around the UK is becoming sufficiently pronounced to have a noticeable effect on sea bird populations.”
Rising sea temperatures brought about by global warming have led to increased acidity in our oceans and seas. In the last 200 years, ocean acidity has increased by 30 per cent., a much quicker rate than at any time in the previous 65 million years. That has caused considerable damage to coral reefs, which provide food and shelter for marine species.
To mitigate climate change, there is a pressing need to improve the amount of energy generated from renewable sources. The Government missed their 5 per cent. target in 2003, and they have admitted that they will miss their 2010 and 2020 targets to generate, respectively, 10 and 20 per cent. of electricity from renewables. If we are to have any hope of meeting our targets and developing our capacity to generate green electricity, offshore wind must play a bigger role. Our proposal for a network of marine energy parks would greatly increase that capacity, and address some of the current infrastructure problems that stand in the way of greater progress. There is no reason why such parks, if correctly sited, could not coexist with the marine conservation objectives set out in the Bill. In many cases, indeed, offshore wind farms that prevent the catching of fish can serve as de facto no-take zones.
The second challenge is pollution, and the WWF has estimated that 3 million tonnes of oil each year end up in the seas and oceans around the world. Shockingly, a third of the total is pumped out from tankers cleaning their tanks before receiving a new load. Although oil spills are rare, their consequences are horrific. In 1996, the tanker Sea Empress was holed below the water line as it entered an estuary off the Pembrokeshire coast, spilling 72,000 tonnes of oil into the sea. That resulted in the deaths of thousands of sea birds and the contamination of 120 miles of coastline.
There is also concern about the growing problem of discarded plastic items such as nets, line and containers. The United Nations Environment Programme estimated in 2006 that there are 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in every square mile of ocean. According to the WWF, this form of pollution is tragically thought to kill about a million seabirds and 100,000 whales, seals and dolphins every year. Here in the UK, the Marine Conservation Society’s recent Beachwatch report found that litter on Britain’s beaches is at its highest levels since records began in 1994. Over a single weekend last September, more than 5,000 volunteers from the society picked up 385,000 pieces of litter from beaches in the UK. The most common items were pieces of plastic.
So we on this side of the House recognise the pressing need for a Bill that faces up to the challenges before us and ensures that the marine environment is protected for future generations. When the Secretary of State published this Bill last year, he proclaimed it as “groundbreaking legislation”, but it has taken a long time to break the ground. It is now eight years since Tony Blair said that his Government were
“launching measures to improve marine conservation here and abroad”.
The Labour party’s 2001 manifesto promised action. There was a consultation in 2002—predictably entitled “Seas of Change”—but another two years passed by, until the then Prime Minister said that
“there are strong arguments for a new approach to managing our seas, including a new Marine Bill.”
Despite those “strong arguments”, however, the new approach consisted of plans for a new Marine Bill in DEFRA’s five-year strategy, and yet another manifesto commitment. Another two years elapsed before proposals for a draft Marine Bill were included in the Queen’s Speech of November 2007. Finally, the Bill was introduced in the other place in December last year.
The Secretary of State told the Joint Committee on the draft Bill that we have waited
“five million years for a Marine Bill”.
Of course we have not, but it certainly feels like it. Throughout this time, while the Government delayed, we on this side have pushed for a marine Bill. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) proposed a Bill some eight years ago that would have greatly increased the protection offered to the marine environment. [Interruption.]
The Ministers who are here today are to be congratulated on introducing this Bill. However, it does them no good, and this House no service, for them to shake their heads and to try to interrupt my hon. Friend when he makes the reasonable point that all hon. Members interested in this matter are disappointed at how long it has taken to bring the Bill forward.
I agree: what is the point of the 2001 manifesto commitment if it is not honoured? I was simply making the point that the Bill has been delayed and that there is considerable concern among conservation bodies that it should now get safely on to the statute book, because the measures that it contains are urgent and necessary.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge said back in October 2001 at his Bill’s Second Reading:
“At least half of the United Kingdom's biodiversity is found in the marine environment, but existing laws do not adequately address its protection and management...For too long, the marine environment has been the Cinderella of wildlife conservation—a case of out of sight, out of mind."—[Official Report, 26 October 2001; Vol. 373, c. 527-528.]
What a pity it was that the Bill ultimately ran out of time in the other place. However, better late than never, we now have this Bill before us.
My criticism over the delay, does not extend to the other place, which scrutinised a complex Bill thoroughly. It is fair to say that much of the “heavy lifting” of the Bill has been done already. The format and objectives of the proposed marine management organisation, the functioning of the proposed marine conservation zones and the process for establishing the coastal route have all been markedly improved, but there remain a number of outstanding issues of concern.
The core of the Bill is the proposed creation of the MMO. We support that proposal, as there is a genuine need for a co-ordinated management of the marine environment but, as the wildlife trusts have said,
“this will be a very important body....It will need to be a strong organisation and will take the lead on the implementation.”
We need to ensure both that the MMO has adequate powers to fulfil its important role, and that it is accountable for how it uses those powers. As Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who did so much to improve the Bill in the other place, said:
“The MMO will be a powerful body with a broad remit of functions and a high-profile central objective. It is therefore important that it is seen to be as transparent as possible.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 January 2009; Vol. 706, c. 1070.]
We are therefore pleased that a duty has been added to the Bill to require the guidance relating to the sustainability criteria to be consulted on and laid before the House, and that these criteria have been strengthened.
Minsters also accepted calls to improve the sustainability aspect of marine planning statements through a requirement to carry out an appraisal. Sustainability must be at the core of our approach to the marine environment, and we are pleased that the Bill now reflects this.
It is also welcome that clause 2 now contains a specific reference to the need for decisions taken by the MMO to be based on scientific evidence. As the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation recently reported, it has been the lack of scientific evidence guiding fisheries policy around the world that has done so much to damage fish stocks and the wider marine ecosystem. We welcome the amendments to ensure that a chief scientific adviser will be appointed to lead the MMO in that area, as well as in further marine science more generally. Those requirements will be important in ensuring the best possible protection for the marine environment.
An outstanding issue that has not been adequately resolved is the relationship between the MMO and the Infrastructure Planning Commission. As the House will be aware, the Opposition did not support the creation of an infrastructure planning commission, principally because it would embody a democratic deficit, and it is our intention to replace any such commission with a speeded-up planning process, in which the Secretary of State remains ultimately responsible and accountable to Parliament for decisions on controversial applications.
In the meantime, with the formation of the IPC and its remit in the marine sphere, it makes little sense to create an organisation such as the MMO, which should be the prime delivery body for managing the marine environment, without giving it control over all relevant development. Given the potential impact of some development at sea on the operation of the MMO, it seems wrong merely to require developers to consult the organisation about proposed developments while the final decision rests with the IPC. The Government need to explain why they are so keen that planning applications in the marine environment should be adjudicated by the IPC when the MMO, with its marine experts and scientists, will be most in tune with the impact of development at sea.
We have concerns about the status of the proposed marine conservation zones. The WWF has described them as
“a vital management tool to address the threats to marine biodiversity.”
They offer an opportunity to make a lasting improvement to the marine environment, but they must have enough flexibility with regard to designation and restriction to ensure that they can be successfully designated and enforced, and that real ecological benefits accrue.
As Wildlife and Countryside Link has highlighted, it is essential that the Bill does not repeat some of the weaknesses of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in its creation of marine nature reserves. Since that Act only three small reserves have been created, including Lundy island, which I had the pleasure of visiting a few years ago. According to the wildlife trusts, a complete fishing ban around Lundy in 2003 resulted in dramatic changes, noticeably an increase in the abundance of shellfish.
The experience of Lundy and of international examples in New Zealand and Australia shows the benefit of designation both to wildlife and to those who use the sea commercially. Fish are given the opportunity to recover and abundant stocks spill out of the no-take zones, improving catches locally. However, such levels of protection, which include outright fishing bans, are clearly the most exceptional form of designation; we need to achieve the protection of larger areas of the seas with a flexible and ecologically coherent network of conservation zones.
Can my hon. Friend enlighten the House a little about the debate in the other place? The Minister there said that
“our intention is to designate marine conservation zones for conservation purposes and not for fisheries management.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15 December 2008; Vol. 706, c. 727.]
Given that indiscriminate fishing does so much damage to the marine environment, is that statement not a bit of an illogicality? Are the Government trying to avoid a collision between the Bill and the common fisheries policy?
Depending on the conditions set for the zones, one benefit would be to ensure sustainable fishing, but I shall deal with the specific concern about the common fisheries policy, because without reform of that policy we shall not achieve the sustainable management of our fisheries that we want. In that sense, I agree with my hon. Friend’s point.
Many of us will have received e-mails from constituents calling for a number of changes to the Bill. Some conservation organisations are particularly concerned about the lack of ability to create highly protected zones to sit alongside marine conservation zones, and about the requirements of clause 117(7) to consider the economic and social consequences of designating an area—the issue that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) raised. Such issues will need to be probed further in Committee, and the Secretary of State will need to explain why economic and social consequences are to be taken into account in the designation of the zones.
It is our belief that the zones should operate as flexible areas, with degrees of protection that are sufficient, but provide a sensible balance between sustainable social or economic activity and conservation. For example, the designation of a zone with an area protected for its unique marine geology might be entirely compatible with the use of leisure boats or jet skis, but it would clearly not be appropriate to permit dredging. Gradations of protection within zones are entirely possible and should be achieved through science-based decision making. Such flexibility means that there would be plenty of scope for the assignment of highly protected zones in appropriate areas, without the creation of separately designated “highly protected areas”, which would create a two-tier system.
The creation of an ecologically coherent network is a significant issue. It would, for example, ensure that protected marine areas are linked so that species can move between areas with the right habitat for different stages of their life cycle. A number of leading conservation bodies have called for such a network and much time was devoted to the matter in the other place. We are pleased that the Government accepted the need for greater clarity and tabled amendments to require the appropriate devolved and domestic authorities to set out the principles to be followed in contributing to such a network, but we need to hear more about how it will be set up.
We all want our marine environment to be properly protected, and it is important that those who abuse it, or recklessly damage the seas through pollution or neglect, are held responsible, so we are grateful to the other place for helping the Government to understand the importance of ensuring that the offence of causing reckless damage within a marine conservation zone was added to the Bill.
My reading of the Bill suggests that if someone does damage to a marine conservation zone or a highly protected area, the defence that they were fishing is almost absolute, even though with modern fishing boats they know exactly where they are and where the marine conservation zones are. Does the hon. Gentleman think that is something we should address during our consideration of the Bill?
That point needs further examination and perhaps the Minister will reply to it. It would depend on the level of protection afforded in the marine conservation zone; different levels can be afforded to different parts of the zone.
On coastal access, although we support the principle of a coastal path, we are keen to ensure that the scheme is workable and respects the interests of landowners. We are pleased that Ministers made a number of important concessions in the other place. It is right that local authorities now have a role in the preliminary stages of the scheme to ensure that local issues are properly accounted for, the appropriate infrastructure is available and local residents are properly engaged. Equally important is the procedure in place to deal with the concerns of landowners and other people with property rights. Conservative peers fought hard to ensure that an adequate appeals process, or review, was set up to address disputes, should they arise, over the location and format of the route, and I am pleased that Ministers accepted that point.
Despite those concessions, a number of outstanding issues relating to the coastal route still need to be addressed by the House to ensure a workable, cost-effective and deliverable scheme.
Given that two thirds of the coast is already open to walkers, does my hon. Friend see a real need for access to the entire coast at a minimum cost of £50 million—probably more? At a time such as this, can we really justify forcing through a path that apparently walkers do not actually need?
I think my hon. Friend would accept that there is considerable demand from organisations concerned about the countryside for a coastal path for the parts of the country that are not already covered, so that the coast can be enjoyed in places where that is not possible at present. The Bill is enabling legislation; no timetable has been set and of course the costs will have to be taken into account.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the creation of the south-west coastal path has led the way in developing best practice? That may indicate that the best negotiations and the greatest flexibility happen locally and that primary legislation may undermine that position.
I have a lot of sympathy with the hon. Lady’s point. Obviously the path in her part of the world was designated under different legislation, but the voluntary approach is a wise one. We have been concerned to ensure that localism is built into the provisions so that there is proper local consultation and involvement. The success of the path in Cornwall is an indication of its significance for tourism and its economic advantages, as well as the costs to which other Members have referred.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion, if I may.
The Bill goes some way to addressing a number of key challenges facing the marine environment, but we need to ensure that the European Union plays its role. Marine conservation zones must be respected by all who use our waters but, without EU co-operation, zones beyond 12 nautical miles will not be enforceable for European fishing vessels. This will not only disadvantage our fishermen, but will undermine the purpose behind the zones.
We must also recognise the huge and frequently damaging impact that the current operation of the common fisheries policy has on the marine environment. The recent publication of the Commission’s Green Paper has provided a unique opportunity for radical reform to ensure that the common fisheries policy works better for our fishermen and for the environment. Commissioner Borg himself has called for wholesale fundamental reform and it is long overdue.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that although clause 141(4) proposes that
“an act done for the purpose of, and in the course of, sea fishing”
should be a defence against the offences in clause 140, that is already protected under the CFP through the exclusive economic zone, but up to the 12-mile limit—
Order. The hon. Gentleman must be brief. Many Members want to contribute, and there is a time limit on Back-Bench speeches. Will the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) respond?
The hon. Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner) had better raise his points in his own speech, and the Minister will reply.
It is vital that we do not underestimate the importance of the marine environment. The Bill represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to secure the protection that our seas need. We have waited a long time for it, and Conservatives are pleased that after many years of delay, we are close to delivering legislation that will help to safeguard our seas for future generations.
The sea has always been critical to the health and prosperity of our islands, but around the world the marine environment faces challenges that we might not have imagined 50 or perhaps even 20 years ago. It is important that in creating laws to govern how we manage and safeguard our seas, the right balance is achieved. As a living asset, our seas require the right level of protection for marine ecosystems and the biodiversity that they contain, but those laws must also allow a sustainable environment for fishing and other activities and the communities that rely on them. We hope that the Bill is able to strike the proper balance so that we can protect and improve the marine environment now and for the future.
Order. I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions.
I very much welcome the Bill. Although it is true it has taken some time, it is a complicated measure and I appreciate that consultation has been necessary, particularly with the devolved Administrations. That should be taken into account. We must get the Bill right. It deals with vital issues of marine management and coastal access, and I warmly welcome those measures.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be aware that although improvements have been made to the Bill, for which he and his team should take great credit, NGOs have nevertheless expressed reasonable concerns that can be addressed. They could be summarised as concerns about legitimate socio-economic activities in our seas and the equally legitimate need to preserve a vulnerable and sensitive ecosystem, of which very little is protected. The Government should be congratulated on the steps they took to introduce marine nature reserves and to protect areas such as the Darwin mounds in international waters, which is a first for the European Union. The Government led the way in that, and the Bill similarly leads the way.
Unfortunately, our coasts and coastal waters are crowded places where activities such as aggregate dredging, offshore renewable energy, oil and gas, the fishing industry and many others take place, so the right balance must be struck. A consistent approach is needed, and the designation of SSSIs is part of that. On land, the criteria for the designation of a SSSI is purely scientific, as we have heard, although the management takes into account an element of socio-economic activity. There is a strong argument for consistency in the designation of marine conservation zones.
It has further been argued that there ought to be a differential between marine conservation zones in terms of the most vulnerable and sensitive areas. That suggestion is worth considering.
Clause 117(7) makes it obligatory to take socio-economics into account. I do not criticise the fact that the Bill recognises that there are a number of different demands on our seas, and I do not think it is impossible to strike the right balance in respect of offshore wind farms, for example. An offshore wind farm could form an important part of protecting a sensitive marine conservation area. The two could be complementary.
I worry that if we do not get it right, the Government could be making a rod for their own back, and a rod for the marine management organisation. Any organisation that feels that it is facing restrictions will seek to use the clause to stop the designation of marine conservation zones or to weaken and undermine them. That needs to be looked at.
Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree with the WWF that the socio-economic consequences of designation should be considered only where the desirability of designating two or more areas is equal and will not compromise the ability to achieve an ecologically coherent network? That seems a sensible way of resolving the tensions he is discussing.
I know that the wording of the Bill, as was pointed out, is “may have regard”, but I return to the point that that opens the door to protracted legal wrangling. It is more important to make sure that the Bill is effective.
I am concerned about the wording in relation to the need for the MMO to have a strong sustainable development duty. The Government should be congratulated on implementing, in a range of bodies and organisations, a clear duty to promote sustainable development. The Bill refers to
“the objective of making a contribution to the achievement of sustainable development”,
which is rather weak wording. The wildlife trusts think that that should be replaced with a duty “to further sustainable development,” which implies a much more proactive approach. That is worth taking into account.
Another issue raised in the debate is the important role of the Infrastructure Planning Commission. That has an important role in major developments in our offshore waters, but I am surprised that the marine management organisation is not a statutory consultee of the IPC. That would be a simple amendment and should be considered.
The Bill removes from Natural England its decision-making power for the designation of sub-tidal parts of SSSIs, and transfers that power to the Secretary of State. I have every confidence in the present Secretary of State, but, to be consistent, Natural England should retain responsibility for the designation of SSSIs in inter-tidal zones. That needs to be re-examined.
Those points are fairly straightforward, but they are important and a range of organisations have written to right hon. and hon. Members echoing them. I am quite sure that many constituents will have contacted Members, as many have contacted me, not only to support the Bill and the Government but to ensure that we get the Bill right and address in Committee some of the points I have mentioned, many of which have already been addressed in the welcome Joint Committee that performed pre-legislative scrutiny. It was a very useful part of the process, and, although the pre-legislative process adds to the time scale, we should support it more often. It makes for better legislation and involves interested organisations, many of which have given their input, expertise and experience.
Does my right hon. Friend share my surprise that, under the programme motion, a Bill of 326 pages looks like it will have only 12 sittings in Committee and one day on Report?
My hon. Friend knows as well as I do that, rather than faff around and waste an awful lot of time, Committees can focus on the important parts of Bills. I am quite sure that Committee members will be very anxious to do exactly that, and that it will receive proper and thorough scrutiny.
I very much appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I, like many Members, have been looking forward to the measure for a long time. It is important that we get it right, and the Government are genuinely trying to do so. They could take further steps, and I offer some in the spirit of constructive support, not criticism. I look forward to the measure going on to the statute book and giving our seas the long-overdue protection that they deserve.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), because he has a distinguished record, of which he can be proud, of commitment to marine conservation in and around the UK over many years, and of negotiation in Europe and internationally. I congratulate not only the Government on introducing the Bill, the campaign organisations that have been behind it for many years and many Members, but the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who many years ago promoted a private Member’s Bill that certainly helped to highlight the issue.
I often describe the seas around the UK as a rather damp piece of common ground, on which there are layers of competing interests and conflicting demands. Of course, it is extremely damp, because, apart from on the coast itself, it is wet all the time. Leaving aside the brief and discordant note of disappointment that the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) cast, I endorse his highlighting of the many issues that I hope we will have the opportunity to debate in Committee. I hope that the Minister in Committee will be receptive to several issues that need to be probed still further and to which I shall return in a moment.
I shall illustrate my remarks with two recent events. The first event took place yesterday, off the coast of my constituency. The 18-ft vessel of four marine biologists tipped over near Land’s End at the Runnel Stone when they were setting pingers to explore the impact of certain activities on cetaceans. One of my constituents, Dr. Nick Tregenza, whom I know very well and who is, in fact, my former GP, was thrown into the water along with the three others. Fortunately, some inshore fishermen were not far away and came to their rescue, but, had the marine biologists been in the water for much longer, we would have been talking about a loss of life. The two local fishermen, Andrew Pascoe and Jesse Walter, arrived in two separate boats and took them to the RNLI lifeboat, which in turn took them to the nearby fishing port of Newlyn. Two of the biologists were taken to hospital, and one, who is ill, remains there.
I spoke to Nick Tregenza earlier today, and the moral of the story is that, although the relationship between marine biologists and fishermen is often characterised as one of perpetual conflict, over recent years they have come together, as symbolised by fishermen saving the lives of marine biologists off the coast of my constituency only yesterday. They support each other and recognise each other’s position much more than they did 10 or 15 years ago, when I first entered the House.
The second event took place a year ago, on 9 June 2008, when 26 dolphins rather inexplicably became stranded on the south coast of Cornwall around the Falmouth and Percuil area. Last month, we received a report from the UK cetaceans strandings investigation programme. Although it found that no definite cause could be identified, it drew attention to high-intensity acoustic activity from naval sonar in the region just before the event. Those two things are not necessarily connected, but Nick Tregenza, who is an expert on cetaceans, tells me that they can easily become spooked by such activity, which can affect them for a long time. We can only speculate about what happened, but today’s debate has drawn attention to the activities of fishermen, who have been caricatured as the villains causing the most damage to our seas, and we need to look rather wider. Fishermen are engaging much more constructively in the processes under discussion to protect the future of sustainable fishing.
Cetaceans are highly sensitive and fragile animals. Around the coast of Cornwall and south-west England, there is a small group—only 12 in number—of bottlenose dolphins, despite there being 400 miles of coastline in the area. With the exception of an 18-year period from the 1980s, bottlenose dolphins have lived in the area since time immemorial—a point that I made in a debate on 6 February 2008.
We need the Bill, because other parts of the world, from New Zealand to Canada, have similar legislation, and it is working. We are an island nation and, given our location and dependence on the sea, rather unique in Europe. Marine wildlife is in a seriously fragile state, with population decline and, in some cases, stock collapse, and there are new pressures from offshore wind, tidal and wave energy, which we knew nothing or very little about just 10 or 15 years ago—hence the need to act. Other industries are also developing, and the technology available to the fishing industry is much more powerful now than it was 20 years ago.
I want to comment on the need, in some cases, for a higher tier of protection. I also want to discuss the extent to which socio-economic consequences need to be considered in the designation and planning of marine conservation zones, the territorial extent of the Bill and its relationship with the common fisheries policy—which has already been addressed on a couple of occasions—the importance of the proper management of the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities in the 6-mile zone, and coastal access.
The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), who is no longer present, referred to the concern felt by many about the designation of the MMO and the impact that it will have on the current staff of the Marine and Fisheries Agency. I wrote to the Minister earlier in the year, and he replied on 6 February:
“There will be little practical difference for the staff in this change e.g. pensions provision should not change and MMO staff should be able to apply for Civil Service posts.”
However, concerns remain despite the reassurances that I have conveyed to my constituents in the sector, and it seems that there is more work for the Government to do.
The Secretary of State did not mention Finding Sanctuary, an organisation that was established to identify potential candidates for marine conservation zones. I commend the work of Finding Sanctuary and the other bodies that are already doing that work. In an intervention on the Secretary of State’s speech, I spoke of the importance of providing more protection for particularly fragile, vulnerable areas within MCZs. Notwithstanding his reassurance, it is clear that the conservation bodies that have campaigned for legislation remain unconvinced that the Bill as it stands provides the level of protection they want.
As I have said before, it would be wrong to characterise fishermen as interested only in plundering the stocks of the sea. Let me give an example of which the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe should be well aware. Fishermen in my area have been campaigning for many years, saying “Please save us from ourselves by closing the fishing grounds in the Trevose area”—which is off the north coast of Cornwall—“during the early spring months each year.” It has been done, and as a result foreign vessels have been kept out, along with the UK vessels that wanted to protect the spawning grounds off Trevose. That is already paying dividends in stock recovery.
It is clear that the Chamber is awash with conservationists, but our annual debate on fisheries policy is always full of Members of Parliament kowtowing to commercial fishing interests. Has the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to read Fishing News, and to note the whining and wailing—excuse the pun—from the commercial sector about the prospect of the introduction of marine conservation zones? There are serious battles ahead. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that we shall have to have the courage to face down the commercial sector?
I think that there is a robust debate ahead, but I also think that the hon. Gentleman is falling into the trap of caricaturing fishermen when it comes to the introduction of marine conservation zones. He used the expression “whining and wailing”. As I have just said, it was fishermen themselves who called for the closure of the Trevose ground. Fishermen wish to work internationally—because most agreements of this kind can be achieved only internationally—to protect the sustainability of their own industry.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the present degree of co-operation between the fisheries and with conservation organisations in the south-west owes a great deal to the invest in fish programme—in which DEFRA invested about £1 million—and that some of the best practice in our islands is in the south-west fisheries area?
Yes. I commend the activities of the invest in fish programme, which has made a tremendous contribution. There is now a constructive debate between fishermen and marine biologists. I gave a symbolic example from as recently as yesterday, which I think demonstrates both parties’ commitment to talk to and support each other.
We are taking about extremely fragile mobile stock. Skate, for example, live to the age of 100, and the males do not reach sexual maturity until the age of 11. When fish are removed from that stock, it takes a long time for the stock to recover. Off the continental shelf, orange roughy and other deep-water fish do not reach sexual maturity until the age of 30, and live well beyond the age of 100. Plundering of that stock has an immediate impact from which it takes the stock many years to recover. I hope the Minister will also bear it in mind that, in identifying marine conservation zones, we should consider the wider issues of marine artefacts, naval war graves and wrecks. As well as marine biodiversity, there is some archaeology out there.
There has already been discussion of the extent to which socio-economic consequences can be taken into account in the identification of MCZs. I think that the Government should reconsider their position on two different types of designation: designation of highly protected zones, and designation of those that represent the kind of marine environment around the United Kingdom coast. I agree with those who believe that socio-economic consequences should be put aside when there needs to be a designation similar to that of sites of special scientific interest, based purely on the vulnerability, fragility and uniqueness of the site that needs to be protected. However, I hope that if it is a case of one site versus another—a sandy-bottom versus a rocky-bottom area, for instance—the socio-economic consequences will be considered at that stage. They should certainly be brought to bear in implementing marine plans.
I said that I would refer to the territorial extent of the Bill. I have raised the issue with the Minister before. As he knows, we will have effective absolute jurisdiction and control within the 6-mile zone, particularly in regard to fishing, and will have control to a middling extent within the 12-mile zone. In answer to a question that I asked him earlier in the year, the Minister replied:
“Beyond six nautical miles we will pursue the introduction of measures through the EU Common Fisheries Policy.”—[Official Report, 20 January 2009; Vol. 486, c. 1281W.]
It is clear that in the 6-mile zone—and particularly in the area between 6 and 12 miles where a number of other nations have historic fishing entitlements—we need to move much more quickly. We must either secure bilateral agreements with those nations and their fishing fleets or, through the European Union, secure a clear recognition within the 200-mile and median line zones that we are capable of applying the same rules to other fishing nations as to our own. This is a critical issue. I hope that the Minister will take it on board, and that we shall be able to explore it still further in Committee.
With regard to the inshore fisheries conservation authorities, the Minister already knows that I hope that he will respect the integrity of the boundaries of the current sea fisheries committees. There is a local issue with the maintenance of the distinction between the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall, for example. It is important that, in managing such issues, the isles and the county are managed distinctly, rather than being subsumed into a much larger hole.
Way back, on 28 November 2000, I had a debate in Westminster Hall with the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe on the future of the inshore fishing industry and the rather archaic legislation on sea fisheries committees. We recognised that we needed consolidating legislation to update all the regulations under which sea fisheries committees operate. I hope that the Minister will reassure me in Committee that those issues are being properly addressed.
Finally, I turn to coastal access. Of course, we welcome the introduction in the Lords of a robust appeals mechanism. There is a need for further debate about not only equestrians but dog owners in respect of wildlife considerations, particularly ground-nesting birds on the coastline. Furthermore, disabled people’s access to the coastline has not been properly explored.
This is an important Bill. We have commenced with a constructive dialogue, and I hope that we can take that forward to the Committee.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate on this important and welcome Bill. Its provisions for better protecting the marine environment and for improving access to, and recreational use of, our coastal areas are enormously significant. We can and should celebrate those provisions. In the next few minutes, I shall look at the measures being introduced to enable better marine nature conservation and the suggestions for strengthening them. I shall go on to consider the relationship between landscape and seascape, and explore how that can be addressed in the Bill. First, however, I warmly welcome the approach to devolution adopted in the Bill. As one who represents a Welsh constituency, I think that the Bill manages to provide a coherence and cohesion between England and Wales while honouring the democratic responsibilities of both the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was completely right when he said that the bits fit.
On coastal access, I strongly support the inclusion of framework powers for the Assembly; I am sure that in due course that will lead to the creation of a complete Welsh coastal path or paths. The Assembly has already moved forward on that issue through its own coastal access improvement programme. It is right that it should build on that by consulting people and organisations concerned with the establishment and maintenance of one or more coastal paths and with securing better access to land for recreational purposes.
Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that there is a fundamental difference between the coastal access that has been successfully implemented in Wales and what the Bill proposes? Landowners and farmers in Wales will be compensated for the access across their land. Landowners and farmers in the south-west, incidentally, were compensated in respect of the south-west coastal path, which was equally successful.
I accept that. There is a different approach, but the Bill includes framework powers to enable the Assembly to follow an approach similar to that in England. I note that ramblers in England are concerned that recreational users of coastal land might not have adequate input into the development of the English coastal path. I hope that that proves not to be the case.
I turn to what is in many ways the heart of the Bill: its measures for protecting the marine environment. For far too long, the marine environment has played second fiddle to the terrestrial environment, because we do not come into regular contact with so much of its flora and fauna. Furthermore, we do not see the damage that human activity sometimes inflicts under the sea, and its knock-on consequences; too often, out of sight has meant out of mind. The Bill changes that, most importantly through the creation of marine conservation zones to enable the protection of rare, valued or representative marine species and habitats and through a means to enforce that protection.
However, like other Members, I have been impressed by the powerful case for strengthening this part of the Bill put forward by a range of environmental organisations. First, it would help only if there were a duty to designate an ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones, with recognition of the need for connectivity between them. Secondly, before hearing the Secretary of State, I believed that there was a strong case for marine conservation zones to include designated, highly protected sites where extraction or other damaging activities would be completely outlawed. I was reassured to hear the Secretary of State say that that will happen under the Bill as it is.
Thirdly, like the non-governmental organisations and my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), I am worried that allowing economic and social consequences to be considered when designating sites might provide a let-out clause to prevent us from establishing marine conservation zones where they are most needed. Surely the environmental importance of the site should be decisive in deciding whether it is designated. Of course, social and economic issues should be an important factor in decisions further down the line about the management of the zone, but they should not, I suggest, be a factor in the designation decision.
Fourthly, I support the call for the offence of damaging the marine conservation zone to be expanded in two ways. At present, the offence is limited to intentional damage, but reckless damage should be added. That would have the benefit of deterring recklessness at such valuable marine locations and overcome the problem of proving intent. Disturbance of sites should also be an offence. That is especially important for the adequate protection of marine mammals and sea birds, which are particularly vulnerable to disturbance.
Finally, I am attracted to the suggestion from the Countryside Council of Wales, among others, that public bodies should be required to notify Ministers when they are minded to consent to potentially damaging activity on public interest grounds. Furthermore, Ministers should have a call-in power for decisions in relation to activities that may impact on a marine conservation zone.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the huge number of constituents who have contacted me on this issue? They have said that we will miss an opportunity if the Bill is not strong enough, particularly in relation to marine conservation zones.
I do agree. I think that the Bill is very good, but there is potential for strengthening it. I hope that, when it gets to Committee, the possibilities will be fully explored.
My hon. Friend mentioned damage. Is he aware that clause 140 makes a person guilty of an offence if they damage protected features of the marine conservation zones? Unfortunately, that is qualified by clause 141, which provides a blanket defence for any activity that can be defined as being in the course of sea fishing. Should commercial sea fishing be given that blanket defence in the context of marine conservation zones? Does my hon. Friend agree that an amendment raising that issue should be considered in Committee?
I agree. That strong point has been made by various organisations, and it should be considered in Committee.
At the commencement of the Bill’s progress in the other place, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who will reply to this debate, kindly attended a meeting of the all-party group on areas of outstanding natural beauty, which I chair. He will therefore be familiar with the points that I am about to make about the need to conserve our nationally important seascapes just as we protect landscapes through designation as national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the role of the Infrastructure Planning Commission in marine determinations is inappropriate and that it should be up to the marine management organisation to make decisions on all matters relating to the marine environment?
No, I do not, and I do not wish to labour that point, because I want to make my point about landscapes and seascapes.
The Campaign for National Parks, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, the English National Park Authorities Association, Europarc Atlantic Isles, the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the National Trust and the Welsh Association of National Park Authorities are all on record as supporting the Bill. However, they are all concerned about its lack of reference to the conservation of our finest seascapes, including the marine dimension of the many protected landscapes such as the Gower area of outstanding natural beauty in my constituency, and the absence of any mechanism for designating nationally important seascapes.
The Government accepted the term “seascape” in the high-level objectives for the marine environment published earlier this year. The definition provided is:
“An area of sea, coastline and land, whose character results from the actions and interactions of land with sea, by natural and/or human factors.”
As with protected landscapes, the term embraces not only biodiversity but physical features, historic and cultural heritage and opportunities for recreation. Of course it includes scenery, but a seascape is more than just the view, as stunning as that can often be on the British coast.
In the Marine Bill White Paper of 2007, the Government stated that
“important seascapes and views from land would be considered within the marine planning process…The UK marine policy statement could include objectives describing the importance of seascapes, and views and how we wish to treat them. More detailed plans would allow us to consider seascapes and views in the context of the priorities for specific areas”.
That seems to me to imply designation. However, in the other place that was ruled out because of various practical difficulties, although on Report the importance of seascapes was again acknowledged.
One possible way forward was addressed at the inquiry into the proposed South Downs national park in 2007. It had been suggested that the marine environment adjoining the south downs should be included in the national park. The inspector decided that there was no legal basis for including a marine area in an existing protected area. He regretted that, because as he said in his report to the Secretary of State:
“The available evidence convinces me that the PSDNP”—
the proposed South Downs national park—
“would be enhanced if it was legally possible for the marine environment to be included.”
He went on to recommend that
“consideration be given to statutory provisions that would allow marine areas…to be part of a National Park”.
Hear, hear to that, and I would add AONBs as the other half of the protected landscape family. Why do we not follow that advice and look first for candidates for quality seascape designation to the seas off our many coastal AONBs and national parks, many of which owe their designation to their relationship with the sea? As I have said, this is a very good Bill, but with a bit of tweaking it can be even better.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the chance to follow the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton), whose speech was steeped in the beauty of his lovely constituency.
The Bill carries with it a great deal of hope. It is rare for me to receive as many messages from constituents asking me to support a Bill and press for it to be brought forward as I have on this one, beginning some years ago and continuing to the present day. That is not surprising, because my constituency is closely linked to the sea. Gosport is a peninsula and was originally developed as a support area for the Royal Navy. No part of the constituency is more than about 2 miles from the sea or the harbour. Boatbuilding and the sea are important to industry in the area, and marine transport is also important in the constituency. Indeed, I am one of the few people I know who went to school by boat. Leisure industries in the marine field—yachting, sailing, swimming, sailboards—are extremely important in the Gosport area, as is access to the coastal area.
The priority in the Bill must be to get the whole issue right and hand on the environment to our successor generations. Special interest groups in the coastal area, such as yachting, fishing, dog walkers and equestrian interests, have lobbied on the Bill, and their views must all be taken into account. However, the overriding priority must be conservation. It is disturbing that the wildlife trusts have said that an area of the North sea the size of Cambridgeshire is virtually devoid of life as a result of activity by the oil and gas industry. Whatever the Bill does, there must be no change to the marine environment unless it is consistent with the highest standards of conservation.
Of course, the Bill must be consistent with improving standards worldwide, starting with the UK. I am disconcerted to find that the Bill is quite complicated when it comes to responsibility in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I hope that it will be possible to co-ordinate activities so that it is effective across the whole UK. We must also ensure that it is effective across the whole European Union and entirely consistent with EU efforts. We must go further and ensure that all the international bodies—the United Nations and others—work together in a consistent manner to preserve our environment.
My questions to myself are whether the Bill will be effective and whether it will provide the right and necessary powers and duties. Coming fresh to the Bill and reading it through, I must say that I was not fully convinced. This is a once-in-a-generation chance to get things right, as we missed the chance to pass the Randall Bill—I see my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) in his place, and he has made a notable contribution to the dialogue. However, it does not feel to me like a once-in-a-generation Bill.
The MMO will be accountable to Parliament through the Secretary of State, but it will be independent. I am not convinced that passing responsibility to an independent body is really the right thing to do. The Secretary of State must be capable of standing at the Dispatch Box and accepting responsibility for all the activities of the MMO.
Obtaining independence for an independent body is very difficult. My immediate experience of that comes from a completely different field, which is the Electoral Commission. It was set up as an independent body, but it had to be responsible to somebody. The somebody to whom it was responsible was the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, on which I serve and a number of whose meetings I have chaired. That body, accountable to Parliament, gives the Electoral Commission independence.
It is stated that the MMO will be independent, but of course Ministers will appoint the chairman, and they will appoint members after consultation with the chairman. The appointment and, if necessary, dismissal of members is not fully spelled out in the Bill, so I am not sure exactly how that would work. My preference would be to give that body rather less independence and more Government accountability. It must have the powers and capacity to carry through its responsibilities, and we need it to be given wide, sweeping powers with resources to match.
Looking through the Bill, we find a great many bodies for which the MMO will not actually have responsibility. It will instead have a duty to liaise with them. The consultative document states that its success
“will depend on its effective interaction with many other public bodies, including Defra, the Environment Agency, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, the Infrastructure Planning Commission, BERR, the Marine Science Coordinating Committee, IFCAs”—
inshore fisheries and conservation authorities—
“the Crown Estate, local authorities, harbour authorities and Cefas”,
the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science. There are many bodies with which the MMO will have a responsibility to liaise, and one would be happier to see it being given broader powers.
I welcome the Bill, but as it passes through its subsequent stages I hope that the approach taken will be to press for all necessary powers, facilities and budgets to be given to the MMO so that it can be fully effective in its role.
Like everyone else who has spoken so far, I welcome the Bill. It may have been a long time coming, but it is even more welcome for that. I pay tribute to the ministerial team, who have been plugging away at it and getting agreement, particularly with the devolved Administrations. I know that it has not necessarily been too easy to achieve that, bearing in mind the idea of trying to have UK coverage while recognising that responsibilities have been devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
I welcome the Bill from a constituency perspective in particular. Until the 1997 general election, I represented Pembroke, which was the county of Pembrokeshire. If we want a microcosm of why we need the MMO and why we need the licensing, the planning and the marine conservation areas, we just have to look at Pembrokeshire and its coast.
We are probably the biggest energy hub in the United Kingdom and we have one of the largest ports in the UK. We also have a coastal national park and 187 miles of completely continuous coastal path. The Pembrokeshire coast and islands were designated as a special area of conservation some years ago. We also have Ministry of Defence ranges. We depend on our coast for our massive tourist industry, as well as for the energy industry. In Skomer, which is immediately offshore, we have one of only two marine nature reserves, which is a special designation from Europe for conservation purposes, yet we also have all the other social and economic activities taking place, both recreational and industrial. Pembrokeshire is therefore a prime example of why we need the Bill.
What brought home the importance of their coast and sea to the people of Pembrokeshire was—the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) referred to this—what happened on 15 February 1996, when the Sea Empress ran aground and, within four days, deposited 72,000 tonnes of crude oil on my constituency. That event brought home to people how vital the coast and the seas are, not purely from a conservation point of view, but from a social and economic point of view, because for the next six months the coast and the seas around Pembrokeshire were shut down. The compensation claim, when it was finally settled, totalled more than £60 million. That shows how important maintaining and improving the quality of our marine environment is, from both a conservation and a social and economic point of view. I therefore warmly welcome the Bill.
There are new developments taking place off the Pembrokeshire coast. We have two pilot sites, one of which is for wave energy off Marloes, quite close to the Skomer marine nature reserve. Further north, in Ramsey Sound, we have a pilot scheme for developing tidal power. The MMO and the licensing procedures contained in the Bill are therefore welcome for my constituency.
Like other hon. Members, we want the Bill to work as well as it can. Opposition Members have referred to it as a once-in-a-generation opportunity. I agree with that; therefore, it is vital that we get it right. However, I want to raise a couple of concerns about the detail of the Bill.
On the marine management organisation, the Countryside Council for Wales and the Welsh Assembly’s Sustainability Committee have brought to my attention their concerns about cross-border issues and the need for the Bill perhaps to require marine planning and marine statements to be done jointly, particularly in relation to the Dee and Severn estuaries. I would welcome a response from my hon. Friend the Minister to that point when he winds up. The renewable energy organisations have also brought to my attention their concerns about whether the MMO will have sufficient expertise and personnel to deal with applications for renewable energy generation below 100 MW, particularly where they involve small offshore wind generation or wave and tidal power.
I welcome the inshore fisheries conservation authorities. In the past, I have been critical of the fact that sea fisheries committees have not had the resources. I hope that they will have sufficient resources in England, bearing in mind that they are to be given wider powers, which is the right thing to do. However, I am concerned that the same powers are not yet being given to Welsh Ministers, who will take over ultimate responsibility for the sea fisheries committees. The Countryside Council for Wales and the Welsh Assembly’s Sustainability Committee have raised concerns about that, too.
Other Members have raised their concerns about the designation of marine conservation zones. I share their concern that it would appear from the Bill that sea fishing would allow damage to be done in those zones. That needs to be addressed in Committee. I would also like the term “disturbance” to be used in the Bill in relation to such zones.
Finally, to those Members, mainly on the Opposition Benches, who have expressed concern about the coastal path, let me say that the 187 miles of the Pembrokeshire coastal path show that, with some imagination and, in certain circumstances, quite radical action, we can achieve something through negotiation that delivers for people who want to have access and enjoy the coast, but which has huge economic benefits as well. In 1996-97, the Pembrokeshire coast national park conducted a survey that showed that there were 915,000 user days on the coastal path. The park now estimates there to be well over 1 million user days a year. Twelve years ago, it was estimated that walkers on the coastal path generated nearly £20 million for the local economy. I think that the figure is at least twice that now. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) was concerned about the cost. In fact, the benefit is enormous.
Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that there is an important difference between the Pembrokeshire path, which he has described, and the one described in the Bill, namely that the one in Pembrokeshire was created by entirely voluntary action and that where a landowner or farmer was not prepared to let it cross their land, compensation was paid to them? That will not occur under this legislation.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is correct about compensation. What was done was done by agreement, and it took an awfully long time. The Welsh Assembly wants to complete the round-Wales coastal path by 2012 and is funding that. Like other Welsh Members, I have been briefed by Jane Davidson. The Assembly thinks that it can achieve that by using local authorities and by negotiating with landowners. However, it is seeking the same powers as those in the Bill, through a framework clause, because it recognises that there may be difficulties in future. The Pembrokeshire coast national park would have preferred the powers offered in the Bill, because then we would have achieved a Pembrokeshire coastal path much sooner and the benefits could have flowed to the local community sooner.
I welcome the Bill, but I hope that we will see some significant changes to certain bits of it.
I should like to thank the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for their kind words. I should also like to offer my apologies to the House and to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Owing to a long-standing prior engagement at a constituency event, I will not be here for the winding-up speeches. The event is the diamond jubilee anniversary of the Uxbridge History Association and, as I am anxious not to become part of Uxbridge history just yet, it is important that I attend.
I echo the Secretary of State’s words about the many thousands of ordinary people who are members of conservation organisations throughout the country. Those people have remained keen, from the time when I first introduced my private Member’s Bill right up to today, to ensure not only that we get this legislation through but that it is also of the very best. In these days of openness and transparency, I should like to say that I am a member of several wildlife trusts including the Marine Conservation Society, and I estimate that I have been a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for 45 years. That makes me feel rather old, but I was very young when I joined.
As has been mentioned, in 2001 I was lucky enough to be No. 1 in the ballot for private Members’ Bills, and I decided that it was time to introduce legislation that would match the legislation protecting the areas of special scientific interest that we have on the land. I soon discovered the complexity of the marine environment. It was not easy just to come along and implement such legislation. We have heard about the legislation that exists in relation to the extent of our territorial responsibilities, for example, and about the amount of interests in the marine environment. I was lucky that the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) was the Minister responsible for these matters at the time, and he was instrumental in helping me to get through the process. However, there were some vested interests knocking around in Whitehall that were not making things too easy for my Bill, and I realised as I got more and more into the subject that it was far outside the scope of a private Member’s Bill. I realised that it would need primary legislation from the Government to produce the kind of Bill that was needed.
Back then, the RSPB identified various areas that needed protection, including the Seven Sisters and the Worthing Lumps, which are areas of rare underwater chalk habitats, and the Royal Sovereign Shoals, an extensive offshore sandstone reef. Happily, they are still important areas, but we do not know how long they will last, and we need to get this legislation in place to protect them.
We have waited a long time for the Bill. I am greatly encouraged by the number of Members on both sides of the House who are taking part in the debate and suggesting serious improvements to it. It has been through the other place, and good improvements have been made to it there. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Sir Peter Viggers) said, we must now seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to get it absolutely right.
We have all been approached by constituents and by the various non-governmental organisations with a serious vested interest in making this a proper Bill. I will not repeat all the arguments, but I would like to make a point about the marine conservation zones, which will be very important for seabirds. They will be important for lots of other things as well, but as the House will know from my long membership of the RSPB, birds are my primary interest in this context, although biodiversity involves many kinds of creatures being dependent on each other and we cannot concentrate on only one.
Perhaps we sometimes forget that our seabird colonies are among the great wildlife spectaculars of the world. I am sure that the hon. Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger) knows well the areas of Skomer, Skokholm and Ramsey Island, for example, which are wonderful places for birds, as are the many seabird cliffs up and down the coasts of Britain. We can protect those areas, but we must protect the other places that the seabirds go.
Only this month, the RSPB published a report entitled “Birds of Conservation Concern 2009”, which I am sure the Minister is aware of. It lists three new seabirds that have now joined the roseate tern—a pretty rare bird—on the red list, denoting high conservation concern. Amazingly, the herring gull has appeared on the red list for the first time. Members might find that strange, given that we have only to go out on to the Terrace of this place to see them, but we should all be aware that birds that seem to be common can suddenly become rare. In fact, the population of the herring gull has more than halved in recent times. The arctic skua has also joined the red list, as has the critically endangered Balearic shearwater. We need to be conscious of these developments.
In considering the marine conservation zones, we need to think hard about the socio-economics. There will be areas in which that aspect is not so important; it will depend on what is of importance in each one. However, I believe that the reference to socio-economics during the designation process should be removed and that site selection and designation should be based on nature conservation criteria alone. If a site is important for wildlife, it should be recognised as such. It would be more appropriate to take socio-economic considerations into account later in the process, when the site management is being determined.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the avocets on Two Tree Island on Canvey Island in my constituency. Does he agree that we need to be very careful about how we deal with the salt marshes and mud flats that people might want to go to?
Of course, but the salt marshes are not part of the marine environment; they are already catered for. I remember seeing a cream-coloured courser on Two Tree Island quite a few years ago. That was the last time that I was in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
The marine protected area network must include highly protected sites, where all extractive and otherwise damaging activities are prohibited. Such sites would be able to recover from the effects of past exploitation, and would give important and necessary breathing space to our marine wildlife, providing a refuge from damaging human activities. I am pleased that the Bill provides for the management and enforcement of the zones, but as the hon. Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire has just pointed out, disturbance must be considered as an offence as well. That is an important matter that we need to look at; otherwise, there will be a huge gap in our ability to manage the zones. Feeding dolphins or resting sea ducks, for example, can be easily disturbed, and that fact needs to be taken on board.
The House has been battered by a storm in the past few weeks. Anyone who has gone bird watching after a storm will often have seen a variety of seabirds being pushed on to the shore, tired and exhausted. They are normally referred to as wrecks of seabirds. Looking around the Chamber, I am afraid that we are feeling a bit like that ourselves. So, in the coming weeks and months, when we get away from this place and, briefly, from our constituency work, I would urge all hon. Members to take time to go down to the sea—or perhaps to go to sea—where they can forget the worries of the world, breathe in the salty air and enjoy the solitude. That will put everything into perspective and, when we come back, we will be invigorated. I look forward to seeing improvements to the Bill, and to improvements in all our health.
Order. I am pleased to announce to the House a degree of quantitative easing. The time limit on Back-Bench speeches can be extended to 12 minutes.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I welcome the extension you have just granted, but whether my voice is going to last out even for 10 minutes, let alone 12, I do not know. It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall). It was on Second Reading of his Bill that I made my first speech on these issues—at rather too great length, if I remember correctly. I believe that hon. Members were starting to worry that I was in the Chamber to filibuster, but no such thing—I was just celebrating the rich contributions of Plymouth, Devon and Cornwall. I do not intend to repeat them at any length on this occasion, but it is still so good to be here with not one, but two things promised in our election manifesto of 2005.
It was a particular privilege to serve on the Committee of both Houses on the draft Bill. I have heard various Members, including the hon. Member for Gosport (Sir Peter Viggers), suggesting that powers that should be in the Bill are not there, while others have suggested that we could have got there more quickly. The truth is that there is still more finessing to do on this particular Bill. We could go on for a very long time, but much of that finessing has already been done in the other place on the draft Bill and by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. It is a better Bill for all of that. Issues were teased out in the various scrutinies of last year, and the Government have accepted many of them in their response.
The interest shown in the Chamber today demonstrates that this is not only a better Bill for all that scrutiny, but an exceedingly popular Bill. We will all remember “petition fish” coming to the House. It was an elaborate petition, fish-shaped and constructed in the form of scales, and it contained 170,000 signatures. As the Government response to the various scrutinies of last year noted, and as the Secretary of State acknowledged, there were 15,000 representations about the Bill. In response to our particular scrutiny alone, there were 1,000 postcards from members of the Ramblers Association, more than 2,000 from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and many from Friends of the Earth. Quite a significant number of individual non-campaign contributions also came in—from people in academic and research areas, energy supply, environment, fishing, heritage, local government, NGOs, ports, public bodies and sport and recreational organisations. That just demonstrates the complexity of the Bill, as it needs to deal with many competing tensions. If they did not exist, we might not need the Bill, but we certainly do need it—and we now need it urgently.
The goal is ambitious, and rightly so. The high-level marine objectives that underpin the marine statement, “Our Seas: a shared resource”, lay out a vision that I recommend to those who have not yet had an opportunity to look at it. Many have mentioned the state of our seas and coasts at the moment, but this lays out a vision for the future. “In twenty years”, it says,
“our marine environment will be very different. We will have achieved our vision of clean, safe, health, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas…Effective integrated and strategic management of human activities in the marine environment will result in society getting better benefit from the use of the marine environment than previously, whilst its rich natural and cultural heritage are better protected”.
It further notes:
“Climate change will have driven change both in relation to the environment itself and the way in which people use it. Renewable energy developments will be commonplace”—
well, we hope they will; they had better be—
“and Carbon Capture and Storage will be underway…However, marine planning means that activities in the marine environment will co-exist and that the impacts of different activities on each other and on the environment will be properly taken into account and managed consistently.”
Clearly, it is ambitious, and rightly so.
The high-level marine objectives also describe how the five principles of sustainability will underpin what is achieved through the various measures and the coming into being of the marine management organisation. Those five principles are: achieving a sustainable marine economy; ensuring a strong, healthy and just society; living, of course, within environmental limits; promoting good governance on all of these issues; and, as others have mentioned, using sound science responsibly, which is very important.
Let me move on to the different parts of the Bill, some of which will need improvement. The marine management organisation is the key delivery agency, so it is a landmark organisation. Many Members and many outside the House will view the MMO as a champion.
My enthusiasm for the Bill is such that I hesitate to introduce a controversial note, but the choice of Newcastle as the venue remains a pretty incomprehensible decision as far as many of my constituents are concerned. Frankly, I have come to the conclusion that it might be better leaving the location where it is. As the Minister knows, Plymouth was very keen to be the host for the MMO and there was, of course, a KPMG report, which informed the Minister’s decision. He will know that I have studied it probably at least as carefully as he has. It seemed in the end to come down to an empty DEFRA building. I know that there may have been more to his decision than just that report, but I believe that Liverpool should probably be as annoyed as the south-west. I am not even sure whether the building is going to be used, and I know that very few staff of the 100 or so that have already been mentioned—perhaps as few as one in 10 if my understanding is correct—will actually be moving north. That certainly puts at big risk the core of the Marine and Fisheries Agency staff already there who have significant expertise and skills. That considerable critical mass of expertise is at risk of loss, so I am sure that the Minister has plans to mitigate that—but I wonder at what cost.
I have suggested to the Minister that one way of making up part of the loss would be the development in Plymouth of an enhanced MMO satellite unit. There are outposts of the MFA at present—about 18, I think, around the country, and one of those is in Plymouth. I hope that the Minister and the chairman and chief executive will give serious consideration as to how to draw on best practice, which is the sort of thing we in the south-west are so rich in. I do not think that its extent and scale in the south-west can be rivalled anywhere. We have already mentioned Finding Sanctuary, which is at the cutting edge of what is happening. Our science is probably about three times up on the scale in comparison with the north-east. The Devon maritime forum, furthermore, has pioneered the way forward in resolving all the tensions between the different uses and, of course, the Tamar estuaries management is simply second to none.
Moving on from that slightly controversial note, the other parts of the Bill deal with marine planning, marine licensing and the framework that the MMO will be responsible for introducing. On nature conservation, we have already spoken about the need to look at the representations on securing a coherent network of environmentally sustainable zones, using sound science and getting the right balance on the socio-economic aspects. As far as managing the marine fisheries is concerned, the new inshore fisheries and conservation authorities will have strengthened conservation duties, as introduced in the other place. That is a good thing. There is also a part of the Bill to deal with migratory and fresh water fisheries and important aspects of enforcement. Some issues about cross-warranting may still need to be teased out.
These aspects are followed by excellent provisions on coastal access. I heard the reservations of Opposition Members, but the truth is that the third of the coast that has not thus far been designated could have been dealt with voluntarily a long time ago. It is a well-trodden path—forgive me for using that phrase—but when “voluntary” does not succeed, the Government need to bring in provisions to encourage the rest.
The Bill is needed and there will be some lively debate on it. The Bill is also popular. It is predominantly a framework Bill. There are issues concerning resourcing, the relationship with the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the role of the science. Some of the work has been done in the other place but there remains much for this House to do in Committee. The next few weeks promise to be as productive as this time last year when we were discussing the Climate Change Act 2008, a groundbreaking and landmark piece of legislation. So, too, will be this Bill, and I will take a keen interest in it between now and when it returns to this Chamber in its final stages.
It is a great pleasure to take part in the debate and to follow the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), who obviously followed the matter for some years before I became a Member. The Bill is extremely welcome. The setting up of the MMO, whatever the shortcomings in detail, is to be welcomed as are the protection zones. Other Members have raised issues as to whether the zones give sufficient protection in some cases, but I hope and am confident that Ministers will be open minded in Committee, as I know they have been in the other place, in improving what can be landmark legislation.
My constituency covers an area of North sea coastline in east Yorkshire, from Spurn Point to the village of Atwick, north of the seaside town of Hornsea and along the Humber to the city of Hull. The Bill will affect many of my constituents, especially those living in the immediate vicinity of the coast itself. I would like to focus the majority of my remarks on the coastal access provisions in this Bill, which is perhaps the area of greatest interest to local residents.
Nobody doubts that England has some of the most beautiful coastline in the world. It is one of our most recognised assets as a nation and a source of great pride. Nobody living in this country is ever more than about 60 miles away from the coast and that is something that should be celebrated. Some 72 million trips are made to the undeveloped coast each year and 174 million trips to seaside towns, such as Withernsea and Hornsea in my constituency, which is a remarkable statistic for a country of just 60 million people. I support attempts to increase public access to the coast, so long as it is done fairly and with due consideration for those families and businesses already residing there. I do not believe that the Bill has got the balance right.
First, I would like to look at the issue of coastal access as it stands. Seventy per cent. of the English coast is already accessible. Of the millions of people who visit coastal areas each year, only 9 per cent. walk for longer than an hour or for more than 2 miles. An Ipsos MORI poll conducted in 2006 found that half of the English public do not visit the coast frequently and according to the Country Land and Business Association, 85 per cent. believe that they already have adequate access to the English coast. The right to roam laws brought in by the Government have not led to an overwhelming increase in the number of visitors, despite new access to mapped areas of mountain, moor, heath land, down land or registered common land.
I suggest that the reason no more than two miles of coast is walked at any one time is because two and a half miles is the maximum continuous access available to most parts of the coast bar the south-west.
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. The south-west has been mentioned, as has south Pembrokeshire by the hon. Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger) who is no longer in his seat. In both those cases, the success of the voluntary efforts was highlighted. It was pointed out, however, that various authorities would like greater powers; that is hardly a surprise. Authorities always want greater powers so that they can impose their political vision on those who have to put up with them. We have made great progress and a voluntary approach, backed by suitable Government funding, can make a huge difference without abrogating the rights of landowners.
To correct one point, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) has got her figures quite wrong. There is no proof at all that two and half miles is the longest stretch of coastline accessible throughout the rest of England. That is simply not the case; it is much longer than that. More interestingly, since the passage of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, the number of walkers going on to CROW-access land has fallen considerably. Far fewer people today are going on to the land than before the Act was passed.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. The coastline that I know best is in my area and there are extensive walks along it from Spurn Point upwards and along the east Yorkshire coast.
It is against this background that we must look at the impact that the Bill will have on businesses, homeowners and landowners up and down the English coastline. I would like to raise with the Minister the issue of the coastal access reports, which will be compiled by Natural England and handed to the Secretary of State. Having grudgingly accepted the need for a right of appeal mechanism, which is to be welcomed, the Government now need to set out how it will work in practice.
On Report in the other place, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath said that Natural England must advertise a coastal access report and take reasonable steps to give notice of the report to those with a relevant interest in affected land and to certain bodies. What does that mean? How will affected landowners be informed if the proposed pathway cuts across their property? Will they be written to, or will they have to pick up the news some other way? If they feel that Natural England’s proposals fail to strike a fair balance, how long will they have to make a representation to the Secretary of State? If the planning inspectorate, or whoever the appointed person is, recommends that the proposals are fair and proper, will the objectors have the right to appeal? Will the Minister spell out how that would work? The role of Natural England is extremely troubling. As the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee warned last year,
“the Bill places so much emphasis on simply trusting Natural England to ‘get it right.’”
Determining the make-up of the route is going to be an onerous and complex task. [Interruption.] I think my phone has just made an emergency call. I apologise to the House. That is the problem with the BlackBerry. As the Committee said,
“the Bill places so much emphasis on simply trusting Natural England to ‘get it right.’”
I wish BlackBerry would get its software right so that phones do not make emergency calls when sitting in your pocket.
I thank the Government Whip for his intervention.
Many mistakes have been made in the past. There were 3,000 appeals against the mapping following the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, when DEFRA and the Countryside Agency were given responsibility to deliver a right to walk freely on access land and 2,000 of these appeals were upheld. Why have local authorities not been given a formal role in the process? Some concessions have been made but Lord Hunt said in the Joint Committee in the other place that
“if a local authority decided it wanted to undertake works itself, which it would then be responsible for, the costs would fall on the authority.”
Local authorities should have been the Government’s first choice for mapping out the pathway, and they should have received the funding with which to do so. They would have done so informed by local accountability to their electors. They have the local knowledge, contacts and expertise that Natural England lacks. As Lord Taylor of Holbeach said, excluding local authorities from a formal and influential role will deny the route the necessary infrastructure to turn it from an expensive quirk that is used only by the extremely determined to a national resource that provides enjoyment for many. How will the route operate without sensible access roads, adequate parking, and co-ordinated public transport, and how can these be provided except by proper involvement of the authority responsible for them?
The issue of compensation is one that has come up time and time again. The Government have said that they will not be setting up a compensation scheme for those who lose out financially because of the pathway. This seems to go against the accepted opinion of many. The Select Committee issued a report last year which said that
“Natural England should be able to compensate land owners and occupiers who can demonstrate they will lose money as a result of the proposals.”
The Countryside Alliance pointed out that owning a property next to the coast can
“constitute a very immediate asset,”
especially for many businesses and that the path
“will have a direct and negative impact on such businesses where privacy, the view, tranquillity etc are key assets of their business.”
Countless organisations told the Select Committee that businesses and home owners should receive compensation. The National Farmers Union said that there were “many examples” of where a proposed coastal route would cause
“both direct and indirect loss of income or land”
and that “adequate compensation” would be required. Even the Ramblers said that it would
“support compensation being paid in the case of demonstrable and significant losses.”
It would be a gross injustice if the Government were to continue to maintain that they would not provide that in implementing their policy proposals. DEFRA’s own impact assessment stated that it would be likely that some residential properties would command a lower value were public access rights to be created on, or across part of, a property and that there may be a negative impact on businesses that derive competitive benefit from the availability of exclusive access.
I believe that this sets a very bad precedent indeed. Natural England’s plans will affect all the non-exempt land around the coastline that does not already have decent access. In some sections of the pathway, it will be possible to make use of existing trails that are in place, but this still leaves up to a quarter of the coastline that will need a route to be created from scratch. Thousands of properties will be affected. The Secretary of State has said that
“land, even private land, is a public good and we should assert our right to enjoy it.”
I find that simply unacceptable. It is not the right of anybody, least of all Government, to come swooping into somebody’s private home to disrupt their enjoyment of it. As David Fursdon, president of the Country Land and Business Association, said:
“It shifts the balance from the protection of the individual to the power of the state.”
Labour Members have said that it is an extremely popular provision. It may be popular, but it is still possible for it to be wrong. It would be even more unacceptable if, having brought about a reduction in the value of a business or property—having swooped in on it—the Government were to fail to offer anything in the way of compensation.
I therefore appeal to the Secretary of State to consider again the issue of compensation and to listen to the voices that have all been raised—some supportive of the Bill’s proposed powers—to urge that progress can be made through voluntary means and to resist what one of my colleagues muttered earlier was the Stalinist tendency of believing that we should bully and push people into doing things that we can eventually bring most people to do through patient negotiation, and thereby provide the access to the coast that my constituents and others throughout the country would find fully acceptable.
This Bill presents us with a great opportunity to protect and improve our natural heritage. It is apt that we are considering it 60 years after the establishment of our first national parks through the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. We must use this opportunity to get the management and conservation of our marine heritage absolutely right. It is a fantastic opportunity and the public are behind us on this.
Earlier, an Opposition Front-Bench Member ably pointed to the statistics on this matter, but the Co-op has also undertaken an innovative customer vote on it, and 363,000 customers responded, 83 per cent. of whom were in favour of the introduction of marine reserves. In my constituency, many more than 350 Co-op customers voted in favour of marine reserves. That demonstrates that the people of this island nation of ours remain proud of their coastline and marine heritage.
I am very glad that there is so much cross-party support for the Bill, and I hope that neither political side will fall back behind the traditional dividing lines in this Chamber. In that respect, I am very sorry that there was an attack earlier from someone on the Opposition Front Bench about the length of time that it took to get this Bill on to the Floor of the House. That was unnecessary.
Will the hon. Lady join me in explicitly thanking all our constituents? My constituency is quite a long way from the sea, but I have nevertheless been contacted by many constituents, and also by non-governmental organisations and bodies such as the WWF. They have all made this the significant occasion that it is, and caused us all to join together to seek to bring about the successful conclusion of a Bill that will really work.
I absolutely agree. That is why I thought the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman’s comments were unnecessary. They were also unwise. The parliamentary candidate who will stand against me in my new constituency attacked my question to the Prime Minister of last autumn about the marine Bill on the grounds of its irrelevance to my constituents, because, like the hon. Lady, I represent a landlocked constituency. It is, however, the headquarters of Natural England, which makes it clear that the whole of this House and this country have an interest in the provisions of this Bill. That attack did not go down well with my constituents, and it did not reflect well on the individual concerned. Any attempt to chip away at the consensus that has built up on this Bill is unnecessary and unhelpful. I therefore welcome the hon. Lady’s comments.
The provisions in the Bill relating to the marine environment are broadly to be welcomed, as they are intended to balance the sometimes very different interests that relate to that environment, and the establishment of a marine planning system is one of the central aspects of the Bill. The potential for the development of an ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones has also been broadly welcomed by many environmental charities. However, some small amendments could still be implemented to make this not just a good Bill, but one to be truly proud of. We need to make sure, for instance, that the Lords amendment to clause 51 is maintained in the Bill, as it requires Ministers to seek to ensure that plans are prepared to cover all UK waters. That is very important if we are to cover both inshore and offshore marine interests.
We need to make sure, too, that the marine management organisation is given an advisory role in decisions made by the Infrastructure Planning Commission. The Planning Act 2008 gave local authorities a special role in decisions made by the IPC for inland infrastructure projects. The MMO ought to be given the same rights in relation to the IPC as those enjoyed by local authorities under the 2008 Act.
We also need to strengthen the clauses relating to the offences of reckless or intentional damage within a marine conservation zone. In particular, the blanket defence against damaging an MCZ by those who are carrying out fishing activities must be removed in the context of those activities that take place within 6 nautical miles of the coast—outside that 6 nautical mile-limit, that is not possible because EU legislation becomes relevant.
Perhaps the biggest change we need to make to the Bill relates to clause 117, which requires a consideration of socio-economic factors when designating MCZs. My view—which has also been expressed across the Chamber and is shared by NGOs such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the wildlife trusts—is that although socio-economic issues are important, they should not be considered until the later management phase of developing an MCZ has been reached.
In support of this view, I wish to refer to the part of the country where I grew up: the Humber estuary. The Humber is the UK’s largest port complex, handling 14 per cent. of our international trade. It has an average of 40,000 ship movements per year. Industrial interests alongside the estuary include not only chemical works such as ICI—and Courtaulds and Titan, as were—but the now infamous oil refineries of Lindsey and Conoco. My family has made much of its living over the past 40 years through deep-sea fishing and working in the chemical factories and refineries. I therefore completely understand the importance of socio-economic factors in the marine environment.
The Humber also supports a rich variety of habitats and species. Because the estuary is so industrial, it is often not understood that it is also very important in terms of conservation. It is recognised as one of the most important estuaries in Europe for over-wintering birds, and it supports nine species of international importance. It is designated as a special area of conservation under the EU habitats directive and a special protection area under the EU birds directive. The area also encompasses numerous nationally important sites of special scientific interest as designated under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. As we know, SSSIs are determined purely on a scientific and conservation basis; no other factors, including socio-economic, are allowed to be considered when SSSIs are so designated. If areas as important as the Humber estuary can on numerous occasions enjoy protection through all the directives I have mentioned and SSSI status and those protections can co-exist alongside the industrial activity that we know is critical to the economy not just of the Humber but of the whole of the north, surely we can put together a Bill that considers only the scientific evidence when it comes to designating marine conservation zones.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
No, I am going to move on; I have got only 12 minutes.
The provisions before us on coastal access are long overdue, and the Government are to be congratulated on introducing proposals that will complete the work started in the 1949 Act. As was pointed out, 72 million leisure visits are made to the coast each year, and coastal walking is more popular than visiting the beach, which is not surprising, given how cold our climate is, yet there is satisfactory access to only 50 per cent. of our coast. I correct what I said earlier: the average length of continuous access to the coast is 2.5 miles, but the longest point of access is not that much greater. In any case, the argument stands: one reason why people do not enjoy the coast as much as they should is the very limited access to it.
The coastal access duty set out in clause 290 and the establishment of an all-England coastal route are therefore broadly to be welcomed. Again, however, small amendments could be made to improve the Bill. As it stands, it places a duty of fair balance on Natural England in establishing coastal access. The rights of landowners and occupiers need to be balanced with the rights of those who wish to access the coast—nobody is ever going to deny that—and yet no requirement will be placed on Natural England to consult, or consider representations from, bodies representing user groups and the public. That means that implementation of coastal access could—not necessarily will, but could—unduly favour the interests of landowners and occupiers.
I understand that the Minister in the other place gave a commitment to look at this issue and the regulations governing consultation, but I doubt whether the majority of Members of this House will rest until we can be sure that a fair balance has been properly achieved in establishing coastal access. I would also argue that, as is suggested, if objections are made to coastal access proposals and referred to a planning inspector, they should be assessed using the same criteria as used by Natural England and the Secretary of State.
There are also concerns about considering the use of seasonal ferries as part of coastal routes, not because they are unsuitable but because access potentially grinds to a halt when the ferries are not operating. The Bill must allow Natural England to set alternative routes for periods of non-operation. Equally, we need the Bill to set out clearly the right of coastal access on islands that are connected by ferry to the mainland. What, after all, is the difference between accessing Holy Island on foot over the causeway—when the tide is out, of course—and accessing the Isle of Wight by ferry? Both are regularly accessible, yet the Isle of Wight is not included in the Bill. That is wrong. The Isle of Wight is internationally known for its beauty; it has been written about by numerous writers. We need to correct this anomaly in the legislation.
Finally, the Bill needs amending to recognise the difference between parks and gardens. At present, both are exempt from access provisions, yet it must be recognised that a walking route can pass through a large park—particularly one in which no building or dwelling is on site—without compromising privacy. Excluding parkland could lead to large inland detours similar to that found on the Solent way. The detour on the Solent way is 15 miles long, and something therefore needs to be done about this broad-brush exemption, which runs the risk of compromising far too deeply the principle of coastal access. Further consultation was promised in the Lords, but it has not been forthcoming so far. We need to separate the definitions of parks and gardens in the Bill, and to reduce the exemption to gardens only.
I wish the Bill well as it goes into Committee. I cannot serve on the Committee, unfortunately, due to a summons for jury service back in Sheffield; but while I am doing my duty as a citizen in the Crown court and focusing on the task in hand, I will sit comfortable in the knowledge that the Bill is in the capable hands of the ministerial team, whom I know are listening intently to the debate. I hope that they will take seriously the amendments that have been consistently suggested throughout today’s debate.
I, too, welcome this popular, long-awaited and much-needed Bill. During my last four years in this place, there has been a growing sense of frustration among my constituents at the fact that, despite perceived infringements in Cardigan bay, the protection promised by status such as “special area of conservation” has meant very little.
Ceredigion adjoins Cardigan bay, which is an extremely important marine site. It is home to populations of bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises, and is designated as a special area of conservation under the EC habitats directive. I want to focus on two concerns that have arisen in the past two years, and I hope that the Bill, through marine conservation zones and other such provisions, will give my constituents the guarantees that are required.
In 2006, two unnamed companies applied for licences for exploratory oil and gas drilling for three blocks inside or adjacent to the SAC. I do not want to go too deeply into the evidence of the harm that such drilling would cause—my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) mentioned the disturbance to marine mammals—but concern was expressed by many organisations, such as the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Friends of the Earth, Friends of Cardigan Bay, George Monbiot and, eventually, the Countryside Council for Wales. A local group, “Save our Sea”, was formed to fight the plan to drill. I pay tribute not just to its work on that campaign, but on its continuing work to preserve Cardigan bay’s marine environment.
After an extremely hard fight—letters flowed back and forth, petitions were presented in this House and there were ministerial meetings—the then Department of Trade and Industry opted not to grant licences because not enough was known about the impact on the dolphin population. What astonished me then, and still does to this day, is how little SAC status seemed to mean in protecting the bay. However, I emphasise that I welcome the Bill and look forward to the protection that I hope it will afford to areas such as mine.
The blocks in Cardigan bay were delayed so that appropriate assessments could be carried out and the environmental issues examined further, but there was no certain presumption against drilling and very little attention seemed to be paid to the strictures of the habitats directive. I am concerned that the position regarding oil and gas licensing remains unclear in the Bill, and I ask the Minister to reflect on how the principle of conservation can be equated with the economic benefits of oil and gas. That is an important point. As is clear from the speeches of Members throughout the House today, we are still looking for that balance between socio-economic demands and legitimate conservation demands.
My second concern regarding the lack of protection in Cardigan bay has grown in the past year as a result of the difficulties we have faced in attempting to curtail large-scale industrial scallop dredging. I should state right away that there is no issue with small-scale scallop fishing. There is still a small functioning fleet in Cardigan bay, and it is local fishermen who are among the worst affected as the dredgers churn up the sea bed, damaging local habitats and biodiversity, which in the long term could have a devastating effect on sustainable fishing in the bay.
Things have got out of hand, and existing mechanisms seem unable to deal with the problem. A colleague of mine on Ceredigion county council was told by local fishermen that out on the bay, before the season was closed, there were some 70 dredgers. That is many more than the number of licences issued by the “local”—I use the word loosely—sea fisheries committee, the North Western and North Wales sea fisheries committee. There is a perception that as legitimate action has been taken in Lyme bay, and in the Isles of Scilly in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives, the problem has been shunted around the coast of the United Kingdom.
We have had some difficulty pursuing the matter, as responsibilities are divided between the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government, so I very much welcome the devolution of all fisheries responsibilities to Wales under the Bill. However, I echo the concerns raised by the hon. Members for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), and for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger), about resourcing.
I welcome the fact that sea fisheries committees will be abolished. I regret to say that I do not feel that sustainability and environmental concerns were always at the forefront of their deliberations. That has not always been the fault of individual members; it is more to do with how committees were constituted and the fact that immediate fishing activities were the focus of their decisions, rather than long-term goals on sustainability. As the power is to be devolved to the Assembly Government, I will confine my concerns to the new fisheries regime for Wales.
The Assembly Government have indicated their desire to bring that power in-house, and I have no qualms about that, provided they are able to retain and use necessary expertise to manage fisheries. However, some campaigning groups, and indeed some people in the Assembly, feel that the Bill should be more explicit in ensuring that the Assembly Government promote sustainable fishing. I know that Elin Jones—our Minister for Rural Affairs in Wales and the Assembly Member for my constituency—is committed to doing that. I have no doubt that she will ensure that the Assembly Government promote sustainability in fishing, but I would be interested to hear what Ministers have to say about discussions held with her. Would they be happy to accept that duty, and are the Assembly Government happy with the extent of the powers that they are being given?
The establishment of marine conservation zones is a welcome step; none of us should understate it. Having listened to the debate, I am now more inclined to move towards the graded approach advanced by the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), who spoke for the Conservatives. I am perhaps even more supportive of the line taken by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives, who said that there should be a separate category of added protection. I have no doubt that that will resonate strongly with my constituents who have raised concerns.
I appreciate that economic and social factors must be considered as part of the broader marine planning system, but I support the assertion that ultimately there should be some highly protected areas that are, in effect, no-go zones for damaging activities. It is the fear of some, including me, that because of the way the legislation is written, it will allow hugely significant environmental and scientific sites to be destroyed because of an overriding, compelling economic argument. I would contend that some sites are simply too important for any considerations to override their protection. I do not think that it is the Government’s intention that economic arguments should ultimately trump the most important environmental ones. I hope that they will consider that higher added level of protection when the Bill is in Committee.
There have been concerns about clause 117(7), which allows the appropriate authority to
“have regard to any economic or social consequences”
when designating a site, critically at the point of designation. Site designation must be carried out on a purely environmental and scientific basis. It is one thing to consider the economic impact of individual activities, but designation must be made on the basis of what is in the zone, and what we need to protect. The effect of the clause currently is to suggest that no matter how compelling the environmental argument for designating a site, it could be overridden. That is a dangerous route to go down. I hope that the Government will consider that point.
I think that it was the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) who made the point about ensuring sufficient time for consideration of the Bill; that is important. We are talking about a highly complex issue. The eyes of a vast number of people are on the House as we consider the Bill to ensure that this once-in-a-lifetime Bill is afforded the status it requires and that our marine areas are protected in the way they should be.
I live 200 yd from the sea. The advice from the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who is no longer in the Chamber, was that we should all go to a coastal area and breathe in the air—I do that every week. I would commend doing so to people in the landlocked constituency of Sheffield, Hillsborough, and to others. My constituents are at the forefront of promoting eco-tourism. We have a beautiful coastline in Ceredigion and west Wales, and I recommend it without any hesitation to hon. Members.
It is truly a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams). I am happy to inform him that I shall spend part of my annual holiday in his constituency, mainly because I am too mean to go abroad, given the fall in the value of the pound. I am still struggling to get my head round the notion of a Plaid Cymru Member who has an accent that makes him sound like he comes from Slough.
He’s a Liberal Democrat.
Oh, well that explains it all. I do apologise; there is nothing wrong with the accent at all, and there is nothing wrong with Slough, either. I had better talk about the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, which is a long-awaited measure.
Last year, I served on the Joint Committee on the draft Bill with hon. Members who are present. The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), who spoke for the Conservatives, was a little churlish; the Bill has had extensive pre-legislative scrutiny. That is why we can have a constrained Committee stage, and why, following the extensive pre-legislative scrutiny and extensive, comprehensive debate in the other place, we can get the Bill passed by the summer, after 12 Committee sittings, with co-operation from Members across the House. I understand that the Government have already conceded about 50 cross-party amendments. This is a much-improved Bill. However, we still have some improvements to make, and in my short contribution, I shall sketch out further improvements that I seek to make, hopefully with the support of colleagues from across the divide, in order to make a good Bill even better.
I shall primarily concentrate on issues of concern to recreational sea anglers and people in the recreational angling world more generally, as hon. Members would perhaps expect, but there are three other issues that I want to mention. Before I do that, I should like to read into the record something to show how widely the Bill has been welcomed. It is an international first. It is a major Bill that will introduce a new framework for the seas, based on marine spatial planning that balances conservation, energy and resource needs. Perhaps one of the most powerful non-governmental organisations, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, of which a number of Labour colleagues and the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) are members, probably spoke for the NGO community as a whole when it said in December last year:
“The future of the UK’s globally-important marine wildlife looks…brighter with the introduction of a Marine and Coastal Access Bill in the Queen’s Speech.”
It went on to say that it trusts that the new legislation will protect the natural wealth of our marine environment while providing a framework for the sustainable use of our seas. I have no doubt that introducing the Bill is a truly honourable role for us to play, as others have said. The Bill is a once-in-a-generation, or once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity, and I have absolutely no doubt that with the combined resources and passion that have been demonstrated in this debate and will be demonstrated in Committee, we will improve the Bill still further. Future generations will thank this House and this Parliament for doing that.
I now come to my three points. On the marine management organisation, clause 36 brings in, through guidance, a sustainable development duty. That is very important, and it is the result of a worthwhile amendment. On marine planning, amendments to clause 58 mean that it now provides for a duty to report on marine planning every three years. That was a crucial change; it focuses and tightens that essential function. I do not want to repeat arguments that other hon. Members have made, but there are a number of issues to do with marine conservation zones. Clause 123 contains a requirement, once the process starts, to designate an MCZ within 12 months. It is ridiculous, is it not, that following the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981—groundbreaking but fundamentally flawed legislation that is need of overhaul, which is basically what we are providing—about only 2.2 per cent. of our amazing coastline is protected? I want that figure to be increased by a factor of 10 very quickly, and I understand that we could have some interesting announcements shortly from colleagues on the Front Bench.
I support the lobby by the NGOs for an ecologically coherent network of sites. I know that the NGOs want, and will get, probing amendments on that issue. My right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), who is an acknowledged expert in this area, was right when he raised the problem of the inter-tidal zones. Natural England got a bit of a pasting from one contributor from the Opposition, in one of the less impressive speeches we have heard today. Natural England does a good job managing the SSSIs. The MCZs will have enough on their plate without worrying about the inter-tidal zones, and where an SSSI stretches into a tidal area, let us leave well alone. If it ain’t broke, let’s not fix it. These new bodies will have many other things to do, and additional powers and responsibilities can come later.
NGOs and hon. Members have talked about socio-economic factors. I tilt towards the Government position here—although I do not guarantee to do so throughout the Committee stage—which is that socio-economic factors “may” be taken into account, not “shall” be taken into account. That is significant, and the House would do well to reflect on that. We will have an opportunity when looking at MCZs of equal value, and socio-economic factors could come into play then. I caution against placing a blanket ban on that.
I turn now to specific issues relating to recreational sea angling and wildfowling. The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) proved that he is a true Tory, because he was worried about coastal access on behalf of the landowners. Of course he was: he is a Tory, and that is what they do—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Go on then—the hon. Gentleman is a proper Tory.
The hon. Gentleman is a true old socialist. Of course my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) was not talking about large landowners. He was talking about farmers and people whose houses go down to the sea. It is a dreadful misrepresentation of what my hon. Friend said to pretend that he was speaking on behalf of dukes.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing that point to my attention, but I was talking about landowners in general. The serious point—on which I think I will find common ground with my neighbour, the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon)—is the little glitch in the Bill’s drafting on the difference between tenants and landowners. Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000—CROW—there is an appeals process, which is open not only to landowners, but to sporting tenants. For instance, that might mean the local angling club, which has some fishing on the tidal Stour in Dorset. It might mean the local wildfowling club—wildfowling is a far more working class sport than shooting on grouse moors. Under the CROW, the Labour Government gave the owner of the grouse moor the right to lodge an appeal, and the shooters on that moor have the same right. Under the Bill, however, the poor little wildfowling club will have no rights at all, if they are—as most of them are—sporting tenants.
Many of us have received representations on that point from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, an organisation for which I have a lot of time. It says:
“The problem revolves around the definition of ‘a relevant interest in land’ within the Bill. . . It differs from the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, because it excludes holders of sporting rights—which of course include fishing”
and wildfowling clubs. The Association goes on to say:
“It seems that the civil servants have a poor understanding of shooting”
and recreational angling
“on the coast and have taken a position based on the lack of knowledge. . . It is ironic to see a Labour government giving grouse moor owners a right of appeal in CROW but dismissing the rights of wildfowlers, rough shooters and pest controllers. We will return to that issue in Committee, and I am sure that we can resolve it.”
The marine Bill is the mechanism by which we will deliver much of the salmon and freshwater fisheries review of 2001. We have waited eight years to put some of this into legislation. I have noticed a small technical issue regarding the sale of salmon and sea trout. A number of obsolete provisions in the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 will be repealed under part 7 of the Bill, but the Government have left section 22 untouched. Surely that is also redundant, given that the dates when the sale of salmon and trout was prohibited no longer correspond to the close seasons for those species. Furthermore, we are giving the Environment Agency complete flexibility to set close season byelaws. We must return to this issue in Committee, but I wanted to put a marker down for the Whips to expect an amendment on that point.
A few days ago, in my capacity as chair of the all-party angling group and my party’s spokesman on angling, I convened a meeting with the new governing body for angling, the Angling Trust, which brought together representatives from coarse, game and sea fishing. It discussed several issues, some of which have already been mentioned. I welcome the demise of the sea fisheries committees—they were unbalanced—but we must ensure that there are at least as many recreational sea anglers on the new committees, the IFCAs, as there are commercial fishermen. If county councillors who have links with the commercial sector are on those committees, that must be declared; otherwise, we cannot get the balance right.
I am delighted that officials in DEFRA have announced that, by and large, recreational sea angling will not be banned in the MCZs—it will be banned only in some of the marine protected areas. We have a unique opportunity to help with the enforcement of the MCZs. Recreational sea anglers would welcome the opportunity to fish in the buffer zones on the edge of the MCZs. Those would provide excellent fishing and it would also assist in enforcing the MCZ. It is all very well drawing imaginary lines in the sea, but unless anglers—who have a vested interest in reporting illegal commercial fishing—are there as the eyes and ears, we will have made policy in a vacuum. I want to see on the face of the Bill a definition to improve, develop and maintain fisheries, and to enhance their social and economic contribution through recreational angling.
Finally, I turn to the freshwater part of the Bill—the bit that will enact the review. There is and has been an ongoing problem with fish thefts, especially in public fisheries. It is difficult to define who owns a fish or a stock of fish in, for example, the River Thames, much of which is tidal. The current system of byelaws is arcane and unenforceable. Yesterday, the Environment Agency began consultation on new legislation to make it an offence to take fish without permission. We have had problems, especially with people from other cultures who take fish for the pot and do not recognise our catch-and-release culture. I welcome the fact that we can overhaul outdated fisheries legislation and I am delighted that the Minister has agreed to use this Bill as a mechanism for delivering that review. I am also delighted that we will have an opportunity to protect eel fishing—eels are under particular threat at the moment. Finally, I ask the Minister to think again about the nonsense that the new sea fisheries committees would have responsibility for enforcing the tidal limit. That cannot be right.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), with whom I have spent the last 12 years in this place hoping that he as an old socialist and I as an old Tory would find lots of areas of fundamental and sharp disagreement. Sadly, over 12 years I have found that we have agreed on far more than we have disagreed on. Today’s debate is no exception to that. We even agree on the removal of those obnoxious little notices in the cafeteria that say, “Members must take priority at all times.” The hon. Gentleman and I pride ourselves on removing them.
Will the hon. Gentleman read on to the record that it is he and I who have been acting in guerrilla warfare against the House authorities on those objectionable notices? We stand accused.
We are a pair of hoary old guerrillas, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and we stand guilty as charged. We remove those dreadful notices and will continue to do so. Once he has left this place—it will be a poorer place once he has gone, although of course he will always be welcome to come down to Malmesbury in my constituency to go fishing, as he does at the moment—I pledge to him that I shall continue to remove those dreadful little notices until I am even older than he currently is.
Most of the people who have spoken in the debate have said, perfectly correctly, that the principle behind the Bill is outstandingly good. I certainly would agree with that. It has been a long time coming, as my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) said. There has been pre-legislative scrutiny over the past year, but that is no excuse. The Government have been 12 years in post, and the fact that we have spent six months looking at the Bill does not excuse the fact that it has been so long in coming. Nor do I believe that the fact that there has been pre-legislative scrutiny is a good excuse for curtailing the Committee stage, as has been proposed in the programme motion. It seems to me that many of the things proposed by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on which I serve, have been entirely ignored in the drafting of the Bill. An opportunity to re-discuss those matters in Committee would be useful.
Overall, most people who have spoken in the debate so far have agreed that the marine conservation aspect of the Bill is a long time coming, is entirely to be welcomed and will be of great benefit to those of us who love the sea and the seaside, which most people in the United Kingdom do. Incidentally, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith), who is not here, rather apologised for being from an entirely inland constituency. North Wiltshire is one of the most inland areas that there is, but I am proud of the fact that the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society is based in Chippenham, in my constituency, and it does a good job in preserving whales and dolphins despite the fact that it is hundreds of miles from the nearest whales and dolphins. It does a fine job, and we need feel no embarrassment about that.
In that context, I would prefer to leave the outstandingly good marine conservation aspects of the Bill to one side and to focus on an aspect that has not been given sufficient consideration in the debate but that is an important central part of the Bill—that is, the coastal access provisions.
Perhaps I should start by saying that I am a strong supporter of rambling, walking, getting into the countryside, cycling and riding horses. The more we can encourage people to do that, the better. We are very strong supporters of that. The Labour party acknowledged that in its manifesto by saying that it intended to improve access to the coast. That manifesto did not say that it would create a coastal access path, but made a commitment to improve access to the coast. I strongly support that. The more we can do to encourage people to go to the coast and to go into the countryside, the better it will be. That is not the issue. The issue is the means by which we do that.
As we have heard this evening, two thirds of the coastline is already open to walkers. Hundreds of miles of coastline are perfectly open to walkers. That has been done by mutual consent and traditional rights of way, and large parts of the coastline are available. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough argued that the average length of coast available is only 2.5 miles. How she came to that average, I am not at all sure, because large parts of the coast offer hundreds of miles of walks without walkers’ having to leave the main part of the coast. Of course, when one comes to estuaries, towns, yacht basins and caravan sites, there will be parts where one cannot continue along the edge of the coast, and it is only reasonable that one should then move slightly inland.
I am by no means convinced that thousands of people in our towns and cities are desperate to go for a walk along our coastline and cannot find one to walk along. I simply do not believe that that is the case. Indeed, I have spent most of my summer holidays for the past 25 years at a house high on the cliffs in Cornwall, on the coast path. I tend to be there for the first two weeks in August, which is the high point of the holiday season. In my 25 years at that house, on that cliff, on the very best part of the coastal path in Cornwall, I suspect that I have seen no more than 10 or 20 walkers. That is the best stretch of coastal path. I do not believe that tens of thousands of people around the nation desperately want coastal paths. The polls demonstrate that most people want to walk for between half an hour and an hour before returning to the car park that they started from. I am not certain that there is a huge demand for allowing people to walk all the way from Newcastle to Carlisle via the coastline, and Land’s End. Anyone who wanted to do that walk would probably go along Hadrian’s wall instead. I respect and admire committed long-distance walkers, but I am not convinced that there are an awful lot of them.
With that as background, I turn now to the fact that the Bill proposes spending a minimum of £50 million on opening the remainder of one third of the coastline to walkers. Some of the money would be spent on employing full-time coastal access monitors in each region. Knowing Government estimates, I suspect that the cost would be very much higher over the 10 years for which the scheme is proposed. At a time like this, can we really justify spending tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on something that only the dedicated few want?
It is important to put the matter in the current economic context. Does the hon. Gentleman therefore accept that the South West Coast Paths Association has estimated—I am sure that its estimates are right—that the south-west coastal path alone is worth £300 million per annum to the area’s economy?
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and he is of course right. I shall say more about the south-west coastal path in a moment, and in particular the economic advantages that come from it. It is a wonderful path, and I have walked many parts of it. It was established not by Government diktat but by voluntary agreement between local authorities and the landowners to whom the patches of land involved belonged. The path goes most of the way round Devon and Cornwall and, although some sections remain incomplete, it owes its existence to entirely voluntary arrangements. I am very strongly in favour of that.
It is also true that those landowners who did not want the path were persuaded to accept it by the large sums of money that local authorities were willing to pay them. That is perfectly legitimate: if a local authority wants a patch of land, or the use of it, why should it not be encouraged to pay large sums of money? However, the Bill does not provide that encouragement. It says that the Government will not pay large sums of money to landlords, but that they will simply drive their plans through.
I very much welcome the improvements to the Bill achieved in the other place, and especially the introduction of a right of appeal. That is very important, and it is something for which the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee called. I hope that the Government will allow that provision to remain.
Other aspects of detail need to be improved, and the hon. Member for Reading, West raised a most interesting point about the definition of “landowner”. Moreover, the Bill simply ignores the question of sporting rights, but that is also something that needs to be looked at. Members of local wildfowling or angling clubs do not necessarily want walkers right beside them, and I am sure it must be possible to find ways to push them further away.
Given that the Bill on heritage protection is not being brought forward, does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the lacunae in this Bill is the issue of inter-tidal wrecks? These are vessels that have been tied up along our coastline. In my constituency, the now-famous Purton hulks are not subject to any protection and are consequently being vandalised, even though they are a very important historic site. Does he agree that the Bill could be extended to protect such sites?
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. He serves with me on the Select Committee and came along on our visit to the Essex coast. We saw a number of cases where, for various reasons, the simplistic notion of driving the path around the entire coast will not work. Marine archaeology may well be one of those reasons.
I am glad that, after some discussion, the Government exempted parks and gardens from the provisions of the Bill. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough, who is sadly not in her place, said that she did not like that exemption. She thought that parks and gardens should be included in the Bill, but the fact is that 47,000 people could be affected. We are not talking about landlords or dukes; we are talking about the 47,000 ordinary people whose parks and gardens lie along the coast. I very much welcome the fact that the Government exempted parks and gardens and that the exemption was maintained by the House of Lords.
I am, however, concerned by the fact that Natural England has argued throughout in favour of the inclusion of parks and gardens. In the briefing sent to us today, Natural England says:
“Further work is needed to clarify the scope of the Government’s proposed parks and gardens exemption, and we welcome the commitment from Government to look further at this issue.”
In other words, Natural England seems to imply that the parks and gardens exemptions might be waived. It must not be waived; 47,000 very ordinary people living on the coast of England are watching what happens in the House today and in Committee to make sure that their privacy and right of ownership is protected. An Englishman’s home is his castle, and the right of ownership is an important part of what we stand for in the House. Those people are watching the debate carefully to make sure that the legislation does not cut across their rights.
The same points apply to spreading room. Of course, I believe in headlands and beaches being available to people walking the coastal path, but the Government have introduced the rather bizarre notion of spreading room—a large area, often inland from the path, which will allow people to do all sorts of things, irrespective of what might be happening on the land, most of which is grazing land. There are cows, sheep, horses and—to a lesser extent—pigs on much of that land, but the spreading room provisions take no account of that fact. That, too, seems an unreasonable invasion of the right of the farmer to make use of his land.
The whole question of farmers’ liability is not properly addressed in the Bill. What if horses, or cows, grazing on the land attack the walker—as may occasionally happen? It appears that the landowner may have some residual liability under the Bill, which seems quite wrong to me.
There are many similar things. The question of dogs has not really been addressed. I have four of them. Of course we want to take our dogs for walks along the coast and in the countryside, but those of us who take things seriously know that we must keep the dogs under close control anywhere near livestock. If the Government are indeed right in thinking that tens of thousands of people from Sheffield, Hillsborough will be walking along the coastal path, will they keep their dogs under close control, as those of us who are used to the countryside do naturally?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about parks and gardens, but does he see the contradiction in his argument? He fought the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000—the right to roam Act—tooth and nail on the grounds that thousands of people would be wandering willy-nilly over the countryside. Now he says that will not happen.
The hon. Gentleman is of course quite wrong. I opposed the Act simply because I believed there was no need for it, and I have been proved absolutely right. Since it was passed, the number of walkers has collapsed; far fewer people go into the countryside than before the CROW Act was passed, and I am using precisely the same argument about the Bill.
I am strongly in favour of encouraging people into the countryside and on to the coastal paths. Two thirds of our coast is already satisfactorily pathed and people are making significant use of it. I do not believe the Bill does enough to encourage that use with regard to business. It could do more to help walkers reach the seaside businesses that would benefit. Islands were mentioned earlier, but the Government have not given enough thought to estuaries and precisely where the path will go. A whole variety of detailed matters could result in an extremely good idea being brought into some disrepute. I hope that in Committee the Government will think carefully about those aspects of the Bill and allow us all to be proud of the end product.
People listening to the debate cannot fail to notice the disproportionate number of Members from Wales who have spoken. We have heard contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Gower (Mr. Caton) and for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger) and the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams). I apologise for mistaking a Liberal Democrat for a Plaid Cymru Member—it can happen in Wales. We have also heard from the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) and I am from Bridgend.
Although it may seem ironic, more than 50 per cent. of Wales has a boundary with the sea, so the Bill is highly important to us. It is of course even more ironic that one of the few completely landlocked constituencies—Ogmore to my north—is the home of the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who is partly responsible for the Bill. I can, however, advise the House that he regularly swoops down to Porthcawl from his eyrie at the top of the Llynfi valley, so he has wide understanding of coastal access issues.
Several hon. Members have said that the Bill is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect our marine environment for future generations. It is a good Bill, largely because the Government have been open to discussion with NGOs and colleagues, but it is still possible to make it a great Bill. Like other Members, I must declare an interest, having been a long-term member of the RSPB. I would like to thank the NGOs that have worked closely with Members, such as the RSPB, the WWF, the wildlife trusts, which had a wonderful scheme for collecting petitions on a petition fish, the Marine Conservation Society, and the Porthcawl Environment Trust.
As has been said, the UK’s seas are among the richest in the world—26 species of sea birds nest around the UK coastline, and 15 of those species, including guillemots, puffins and razor-bills, nest in greater numbers in the UK than in any other European country. Six per cent. of the Welsh work force is employed in work closely related to the coast and marine environment. A healthy maritime economy, whether it is fishing, tourism or catering, relies on a healthy sea. Thirty per cent. of Welsh waters are of European importance. To protect this heritage, we need the right tools for the job.
As an island nation, we have a vast sea area, three times larger than our land area, and it harbours an amazing wealth of wildlife. Only 2.2 per cent. of our sea is protected, and that cannot be acceptable. I am pleased that in Wales the marine conservation areas around the islands of Skomer and Lundy set an example of what can be achieved. It is frightening to think that our nature reserves at sea are the equivalent of having in the UK a single nature reserve the size of Kensington gardens.
Without protection of our seas, activity by the fishing industry and climate change are having a devastating cumulative effect on the marine ecosystem, causing some of our marine wildlife to decline, sometimes irrevocably.
I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene in her excellent speech. Does she accept that one of the problems is not what is in the Bill, but what will happen outside it? There must be conflict between employment opportunities—whether through wind turbines or the Severn barrage, which we both oppose—and conservation. We cannot ignore that, which is why that debate must be brought forward as a result of the Bill, even if not through the Bill.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I intend to mention the subject briefly later in my speech.
The marine management organisation should be the true marine champion, fully and equally engaged with all marine sectors and interests. Its role must be a proactive one as a statutory adviser to the Infrastructure Planning Commission, with a remit to further sustainable development. We must accept that we can no longer push the marine environment beyond its limits or capacity to absorb man’s abuses and exploitation of the sea.
The proposed IPC must have a statutory duty to seek and take account of the advice of the MMO on all applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects that are likely to impact upon the marine environment. An obvious example is the Severn barrage mentioned by my hon. Friend. That would cause a fundamental change to the unique nature of the Severn estuary and the wildlife there. The IPC must be required to give details of the reasons for decisions made and specify how the advice provided by the MMO has influenced its decisions. Only then can there be the transparency that we need.
I have a number of concerns relating to marine conservation zones. The priority of the Bill is that it should deliver a better framework for marine nature conservation which, as everyone has agreed, currently lags behind land-based conservation. The Government have a commitment under the world summit on sustainable development to establish a representative network of marine protection areas by 2012, and they have the same commitment under the OSPAR convention to do so by 2010. The proposals for the main conservation zones are welcome steps towards achieving that commitment, but there is a clear need to create an ecologically coherent network of such zones. I welcome the addition of clause 123(6) to (8), requiring Ministers both to prepare a statement setting out the principles that they will follow when developing the UK network of marine protection areas, and to lay that statement before the appropriate legislature, along with further details on the principles of ecological coherence in the explanatory notes to the Bill as published in the Commons.
If we are to tackle the threats to marine biodiversity, marine plans covering all UK waters must be developed and based on ecosystems, not on administrative boundaries. That is clearly a role for the statutory nature conservation bodies, but steps can be taken to strengthen the marine conservation zones so that the Bill delivers the most robust protection for UK sea life and sea birds. Like other speakers, I am concerned that the social and economic consequences of designating a site can be taken into account when making a decision about whether to designate. Many speakers have made that point, and I shall not take it further, but regional or even local socio-economic considerations must not be allowed to override national and international conservation objectives.
Marine conservation zones must be identified using sound scientific and ecological criteria alone. If a site is important to biodiversity, it should be recognised and designated. If we do not make that change, we will find it almost impossible to designate a coherent and comprehensive network of protected areas. If we keep the measure in the Bill, we are likely to end up with a few sparse conservation zones in leftover areas of the sea to which no other social or economic interest group has laid claim. That will not be sufficient to protect our marine wildlife. My right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) talked about socio-economic interests having a place, and I agree, but they should be considered in the latter stages when developing site management. That is how the process works for protected sites on land.
Many organisations are concerned that the Bill does not mention highly protected sites. My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that in Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government have announced their intention to designate highly protected marine reserves to improve marine protection in territorial waters. I am hopeful that the UK Government will make the same commitment. A clear reference in the Bill to the network of marine protected areas, including some highly protected sites, would make stakeholders aware that the sites were a protection measure for marine wildlife and habitats, and, equally importantly, ensure that future Governments were not able to step back from the great intentions of this Government.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has produced a report highlighting more than 70 sites of national importance—around the UK and in the waters adjacent to breeding seabird colonies—that should be designated as conservation zones. These include the waters around Flat Holm in the Bristol channel, which are important for lesser black-backed gulls. I should welcome an assurance from the Minister that such sites will be provided with full protection.
Research by Bangor university, which is renowned for its department of marine biology, suggests that anywhere between 14 and 20 per cent. of our seas must be protected to ensure that the UK meets its biodiversity targets. It may not be suitable to stipulate a specific figure in the Bill, but I should welcome the Minister’s confirmation of how he plans to ensure that we do not simply aim for, or end up with, the minimum protection required.
It is a matter of great concern that the Bill does not provide any duty towards sustainable inshore fisheries management in Wales—in contrast to the detailed provisions set out for England, where inshore fisheries and conservation authorities will be the new management bodies. A specific responsibility for sustainable fisheries management and the promotion of marine conservation zones should be placed on Welsh Ministers, along with a commitment to report to the National Assembly in order to create long-lasting certainty and a trail of accountability. The Bill presents the one opportunity for such a legal and lasting commitment, as the National Assembly has no power to lay down such duties. Wales must not be left with a lower standard of certainty and accountability for fisheries management than England.
I am fortunate in that my constituency contains the Glamorgan heritage coast and the Newton dunes local nature reserve to the east of the coastal resort of Porthcawl, where I live, Locks Common local nature reserve in the heart of the resort, and Kenfig national nature reserve and the European Union special area for conservation to the west. Along our coast, the public can watch thousands of Manx shearwaters, fulmars and gannets, as well as seals and harbour porpoises. We must ensure that that coast is accessible to people with disabilities as well as the able-bodied, so that they too are allowed to enjoy the new opportunities for exploration.
The waters around Wales and the rest of Britain are a unique and special environment, hosting internationally important populations of species of seabird and other marine wildlife. It is therefore essential for the Bill to deliver not just adequate protection, but the best protection possible.
Order. As is clear to the House, a number of Members are still trying to catch my eye, and there are only about 35 minutes left before the winding-up speeches. I hope that Members will confine their speeches to 10 minutes, or perhaps even a little less.
This is an important Bill. It has been long in the gestation, but is welcome and, I believe, addresses many issues that are of enormous potential benefit to the communities on our coasts and to the environment. It will have major consequences for my constituency. North Essex is a largely coastal constituency which includes the southern shore of the Stour estuary, the southern shore of the Tendring Hundred, the Colne estuary and all the associated tidal creeks and Mersea island, off the Essex coast at the mouth of the Blackwater estuary, which will be familiar to the Secretary of State. Perhaps I should, like the Secretary of State, declare a very minor interest. My wife owns a little beach house on the Essex coast, although I shall not be dealing with the matters of coastal access that might make that interest relevant.
The Essex coast still supports a fishing industry, and in my constituency oysters remain extremely important to the local economy and to our cultural heritage. My objective is the survival of the non-sector fishing industry—commercial vessels which, although measuring less than 10 metres, require the allocation of fishing quota under the European Union common fisheries policy—and the survival of the native oyster industry. In fact, the two industries are mutually dependent. Oyster fishermen have traditionally supplemented their oyster catch by catching other fish outside the oyster season. Owing to the restriction on 10-metre vessels, that now requires an additional licence, which in turn requires a minimum amount of fish to be caught regardless of other activities that may be undertaken. The practice encourages overfishing—if the quota is not used up, it is lost—and imposes unnecessary penalties on fishermen as a result.
The inshore fishery around Essex requires nurturing and protection. In particular, the hatching grounds of the native Colchester oyster in the outer Blackwater estuary need more specific protection than they have enjoyed historically. Historically, the oyster beds where the young oysters are brought on are protected by ancient several orders and specific leases from the Crown Estate to the oyster fishermen. However, they dredge their young oysters from well outside that area, an area that is vulnerable to indiscriminate trawling and fishing and requires protection. Perhaps there is a case for marine conservation zones to provide such protection. I am disappointed that the Minister in another place seemed to be saying that the marine conservation zones should not be used for fishery management and protection. If they are not used for those purposes, one of the main points of the Bill will be missed.
The North Essex test of the Bill is whether the sustainability of the inshore fisheries is protected and improved; only then will Essex fishermen and their successors enjoy a sustainable industry. The Bill must also provide for recreational fishing, which I believe is one of the most unsung and under-exploited generators of employment and tourism income in the Essex area. The potential for sea bass fishing off the Essex coast, for example, is enormous and it could provide huge benefit to the area. However, I fear that the licensing regime being introduced for recreational fishermen is acting as a deterrent. Furthermore, so many of the bass are caught by netsmen. That reduces the size of the fish, and it is their size that is of particular attraction to sport fishermen. A more enlightened approach would recognise that the commercial fishermen are not the only interests to be addressed; the recreational fishermen represent a legitimate interest, and one that is perhaps more consonant with the conservation of stock.
Beyond the North Essex test, there is a wider, national—or even international—test for the Bill. It is whether it will challenge the failure of the common fisheries policy. The Bill applies only up to the 6 mile limit; it does not address the whole of the cod crisis in the North sea, for example. However, I hope that it will be a step towards making politicians more accountable for how they treat the public seas. Conservation should be the highest priority for the Government and the fishing industry; indeed, the interests of conservation and the fishing industry should go hand in hand to ensure the future of our marine habitat and the livelihoods of those who rely on it.
I urge people to watch “The End of the Line”, the compelling but sobering film by my constituent Charles Clover, who wrote a book of the same title. It sets out how mankind is simply fishing our seas, species by species, to complete extinction. As my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) said earlier, we have become used to talking about “peak oil” in energy policy, but we have already passed “peak fish”. The film describes how that level was reached some 15 years ago, although we never realised it. The Chinese bureaucrats were lying about how much fish the Chinese had caught year after year.
In fact, the total global fish catch is now in structural decline because fish stocks have been so over-exploited. More and more effective means of catching fish ensure that every year we catch a higher and higher proportion of the fish that are left. As my hon. Friend pointed out, scientists estimate that, on current trends, there will be virtually no fish left in the sea by 2048. That will have many consequences for the marine environment and global warming. Believe it or not, the defecation of fish puts alkaline into the sea, increasing its carbon absorption qualities. If we remove the fish, the sea will cease to absorb so much carbon dioxide. The issue is of massive consequence; a third of the world’s population is fed on fish. Were the fish stocks of the world to collapse, there would be an immediate security and international humanitarian crisis.
“The End of the Line” has been described as the marine conservationists’ equivalent of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”. It has been shown all over the country, including at Harwich’s Electric Palace cinema in my constituency. It has also been shown all over London and the rest of the country. Unless we address the agenda raised by that remarkable film, we will rue the day. It is a call to arms to the citizens of the world to hold the politicians accountable for the destruction of life in our seas—life on which our own well-being ultimately depends.
I close with some remarks about the judgment in the European Court of Justice that I raised with the Secretary of State during his opening remarks. The WWF launched a court action, appealing that the cod quotas had been set not according to scientific advice but according to political pressures in the North sea. The Court ruled that even though the WWF is represented on the North sea regional advisory committee, it had no locus standi to represent what the Court called a “sufficient interest” in the decision that it sought to challenge.
That means that environmental organisations that should be able to act in the name of the citizen have no means of challenging the legality of the EU’s decisions about fish. No other Government in the world are so utterly immune to legal challenge in that way. That flies in the face of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s Aarhus convention, which was intended to set down minimum standards on access to environmental information, public participation in decision making and access to justice in environmental issues. That raises a fundamental question that goes to the heart of the purpose of the Bill. Who owns the fish? Who owns the marine environment that we are seeking to protect? Who is liable for its degradation? Who is accountable for neglecting to stop its destruction and decline?
As a boy, I grew up regularly being taken to the west coast of Scotland, to sail in that remarkable part of the world. Even during my lifetime, a sense has grown that the bird life and sea life and the fecundity of the sea there are a shadow of their former selves. As I work around the Essex coast in my constituency, there is a sense of doom and decline about the bird life, and the vibrancy of the marine ecology and the vulnerability of those who live off it. Unless the Bill strengthens the environmental imperative and has at its heart a scientific assessment of the vulnerability of the marine ecology, it will fail in its primary objective.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and I agree with, I think, every word that he said.
A hundred years ago in 1909, most of the British fishing fleet had no engines. The boats were sailboats, and virtually all of them were made of wood. Not one had sonar to identify where shoals of fish were. Today, our fishermen have a fleet of modern, steel-enclosed, sonar-equipped, satellite-guided vessels. They have weighted and gated trawl nets that extend for 2.5 km, yet the astonishing fact is that the British fishermen of 100 years ago caught 13 times more fish than we do today. For all our modern technology, we can do little more than vacuum up ever smaller fish in ever smaller numbers. We are fishing down the food chain.
Almost exactly two months ago, the European Commission put out its green paper on the common fisheries policy. Among its findings, we learn that 88 per cent. of the EU’s stocks are overfished and that 93 per cent. of North sea cod are caught before they can breed. Globally the position is little better, with 80 per cent. of marine stocks either fully exploited or over-exploited.
A paper published in Nature six years ago, in 2003, concluded with the stark assessment that the global oceans had lost more than 90 per cent. of large predatory fish. However, if the average length of the fish caught off the west coast of Newfoundland fell by 1 metre between 1957 and 2000—and it did—we must not imagine that we are dealing with a collapse simply of fish and fish stocks. Rather, we are dealing with a collapse of whole ecosystems. Both target species and a huge biomass of by-catch species have been removed from continental shelf seas. With the mechanical impact of fishing gear being dragged across the sea bottom, we have seen the dreadful alteration of ecosystem structure and habitat degradation.
By-catch is not simply other fish. It includes the death of 40,000 albatrosses a year from long-line baited hooks in the Southern ocean, on lines that stretch for an almost unbelievable 150 km. By-catch also includes the 400,000 dolphins caught and drowned in yellowfin tuna nets. The point is that if we impact on one species, we impact on the whole ecosystem. That is why the loss of sand eels around the UK coast has, in turn, been accompanied by a startling decline in arctic terns, kittiwakes, guillemots and puffins.
However, it is not just what we take out of the sea that alters those ecosystems. The input into coastal waters of sediment, sewage and nutrients from agriculture and industry has led to widespread eutrophication. Dead zones are now common in the Baltic sea, the Kattegat, the Black sea and the gulf of Mexico. In those areas, it is as though evolution were running in reverse, as higher trophic fish give way to lower trophic species, corals and sea lions die, and jellyfish become the dominant planktivores in a soup of algae and bacteria. The senior researcher at the Scripps institution of oceanography has called the process “the rise of slime”.
Not only is the loss of biodiversity devastating to the food supply of a global population that is predicted to rise from 6.7 billion to at least 9 billion by 2050, but there is increasing evidence that species diversity is vital for the resilience of marine fisheries. A study in Science by Worm et al in 2006 found that low diversity is clearly connected with low productivity of fisheries and that commercial fisheries face collapse in less than 50 years unless the trends are reversed. The study found that low biodiversity is associated with lower fishery productivity and more frequent collapses of fish stocks. It also found a lower propensity to recover after overfishing than in ecosystems that were naturally rich in biodiversity.
Perhaps nowhere is the fragility of our marine eco-systems seen better than in the effects of global warming and rising levels of CO2 in our atmosphere on coral reefs. Some of the carbon dissolves in the upper layers of the ocean, making today’s water 30 per cent. more acidic than before the industrial revolution. That acidity affects the pteropods and other forms of life with calcium carbonate shells or skeletons. Coral is particularly at risk from the acidification of the oceans. Coral reefs are some of the oldest and certainly some of the longest-living structures on the planet. One quarter of all sea species spend at least part of their lives in a reef. Globally, 500 million people depend on such reefs for their food and livelihoods. Yet coral bleaching from warmer oceans and increased acidification from higher atmospheric CO2 are putting increased stress on reef ecosystems. Last year, the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network published a paper entitled “Status of Coral Reefs of the World”, in which it was estimated that 19 per cent. of coral reefs were already lost, with a further 15 per cent. under imminent threat and a further 20 per cent. facing loss before 2050.
To us in Britain, coral reefs sound distinctly tropical and remote, but cold water coral is particularly at risk from acidification, because colder seas tend to be more acidic anyway. Only 11 years ago, here in the UK, we saw the destruction of part of the Darwin Mounds, the extensive colonies of cold water coral off the north-west coast of Scotland, almost as soon as they were discovered. The reason for that ecological vandalism was that trawlermen were eager to get at the large bounty of fish that gravitated to the reef. A bulldozer with an aqualung could not have done a better job of destroying it.
I have tried to set out clearly the very real need upon which this Bill is predicated. In that the Bill aims to initiate flexible, integrated coastal zone management in UK waters, including inshore areas and the exclusive economic zone, it is the first serious attempt to set out in statute a framework for marine planning and licensing and a coherent network of marine protected areas that can help to manage our marine environment. Much of this task is being placed under the authority of the new marine management organisation, and offshore fisheries are managed generally under the auspices of the EU common fisheries policy. It is worthy of note—and, of course, welcome—that the Commission is currently reviewing the CFP. I urge the Secretary of State to ensure that the timing of the Bill is propitious in ensuring a seamless integration with a revised CFP.
I want to turn briefly to some of the elements of the Bill that have been mentioned so far, and particularly to the need to take into account socio-economic factors. Section 4.2 of the European Commission’s green paper makes an important point, which the Bill as it stands does not yet fully take into account. It states:
“Economic and social sustainability require productive fish stocks and healthy marine ecosystems. The economic and social viability of fisheries can only result from restoring the productivity of fish stocks. There is, therefore, no conflict between ecological, economic and social objectives in the long term. However, these objectives can and do clash in the short term, especially when fishing opportunities have to be temporarily reduced in order to rebuild overexploited stocks. Social objectives such as employment have often been invoked to advocate more generous short-term fishing opportunities: the result has always been to further jeopardise the state of the stocks and the future of the fishermen who make a living out of them.”
I believe that Ministers would do well to heed that advice and to integrate it into the body of the Bill. The prioritisation of short-term socio-economic considerations has led to the setting of quotas for European fish stocks 48 per cent. above scientific recommendations, resulting in chronic overfishing in the European area. Earlier, the Secretary of State referred to the need to take sound scientific advice, and I absolutely agree with him on that. Tragically, however, history shows that politicians have always been keen to ignore that scientific advice when socio-economic and political considerations have come into play.
The other issue is that of quantity versus quality, and the question of whether we should designate a proportion of the sea for marine conservation zones. There is now considerable scientific literature discussing the area of marine habitats that need to be protected to ensure the viability of the protected habitats and to contribute substantially to fisheries management. Reviews of that literature by Balmford et al in 2004 suggest that a target to sustain fisheries outside marine protected areas is in the region of between 10 and 50 per cent. of the area of the world’s oceans, with a modal value of approximately 30 per cent. In addition, the World Parks Congress has explicitly called for marine reserves to cover 20 to 30 per cent. of all marine habitats by 2012. It is important to look at the science in this context, because this is not simply a question of quality; quantity affects quality, and that factor, too, must be integrated into the Bill.
I agree with what hon. Members have already said about the issue of disturbance. In relation to the defence, it is ridiculous that an act carried out for the purpose or in the course of—
This debate has centred almost entirely on conservation. I do not wish to denigrate its importance: serious conservation measures are long overdue. But what is also long overdue is a sensible regime for making maximum use of our offshore waters as an environmental defence, because that is what they offer us in terms of marine renewable energy.
We have a nascent wave and tidal stream power industry, which is teetering on the verge of commercial exploitation. One of its great barriers is the consenting regime, which is, frankly, diabolical. It is one of the biggest hurdles to the small companies that are involved in these efforts. It is also, and has been, a disincentive for major projects such as large offshore wind farms, as it takes three years to get through the environmental consenting process—twice as long as in any other European country. Does this mean that we have had better quality decision making? I think not; it has just taken longer.
Let me quote a wonderful example of exactly what I mean. Marine Current Turbines has deployed in Strangford loch in Northern Ireland a 1.2 MW tidal stream turbine. It has been developed over many years and it is working beautifully. It has no measurable environmental impact whatever, yet it took two to three years to get environmental consent, which was granted most grudgingly, mainly because conservationists—in this particular instance, marine ecologists, namely seal lovers—took the narrowest perspective they could possibly take.
The seal populations of the area had already changed quite drastically over recent years. Why had they changed? It was not because there was a turbine and the seals were afraid that it would mash them up. No, it had changed because of global warming: habitats and ecosystems were moving north, so the seal populations changed accordingly. Even now, because of the restrictions on it, this machine is allowed to run for only half a tide a day. It has to have two marine mammal observers on it at all times of its operation, yet no seal has ever come near it; seals are far too smart. It is totally benign. It is costing this company £4 million to carry out this environmental monitoring on a project that started out with a £10 million total value—it is totally disproportionate.
That is why there are serious concerns in the renewable energy industry about the balance of the Bill and how it will be implemented. The limit for reference to the integrated pollution control is 100 MW, but it will be some years before either wave or tidal stream technologies are ready to be deployed at more than 100 MW. By definition, all the projects will be less than 100 MW. They are none the less of very great strategic significance. We have in our coastal waters a raw energy resource that at the very least can supply half of our renewables target for 2020 and is in itself a weapon to resist climate change, which, even after the depredations of industrial fishing, brings the greatest long-term threat to our marine ecosystems. It is my contention, and that of the industry, that there is and should be no conflict whatever between conservation zones and the installation of renewable energy devices. In fact, there is a synergy; clearly, if there is a farm of turbines, fishing is not allowed there, so fish stocks get a chance to regenerate. This synergy must be promoted. Fortunately, some NGOs—notably WWF—have cottoned on to this and see this holistic truth, which is vital.
I suggest that the MMO, which according to the Bill is to be the consenting organisation for marine energy projects of less than 100 MW, is not, under current plans, equipped to do that job. It is projected to have one and a half staff to deal with marine energy, which is quite absurd. It would make far more sense if all marine energy projects were to be referred for consent to the IPC with the MMO being a statutory consultee. I am not suggesting that it should be cut out; obviously it will have an important monitoring role. But, as envisaged, the MMO is not equipped to do the important job of consenting. It is vital that the consenting process be streamlined and improved. We do not want the constant repetition of investigations for every individual project. Once there is a machine such as the MCT turbine, and once its environmental benignity has been clearly established, which it has, we can safely say that it could be put down anywhere without damaging marine mammals or anything. The environmental consenting process could be simplified immediately.
The other factor is that the industry is at a critical stage. Given the credit crunch, getting investment into offshore marine projects is extremely difficult at the moment; in fact, it is practically impossible. Investors have shut up shop. They do not need any further disincentive to resist the temptation to invest, and excessive consenting costs and the excessive duration of the consenting process are serious impediments.
If we are serious about tackling climate change and about decarbonising our electricity supply, and we have to be, we need to use the resources that our seas have. They are uniquely rich. There is no country in the world that has better energy resources in its offshore waters. We must make the best use of them, and although I strongly welcome the Bill, I am still disappointed by its balance. It is just as important to make the most of our marine energy resources as it is to have effective conservation of our marine ecosystems. The two things should go hand in hand. There is no need for conflict. There should be total synergy, and if we get this right, we can use our offshore waters as a potent weapon against climate change and reap the benefit of having many thousands of jobs and a genuinely green, environmentally benign industry. This is just as big an opportunity as anything else that has been mentioned this afternoon in the context of the Bill. This must be got right, and I say constructively that I do not think the balance is right at present. It is, perhaps, unfortunate that DEFRA no longer has any energy responsibilities or direct energy interests; that is a disadvantage in terms of this measure. The Bill is, however, vital in respect of energy considerations, and I implore my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to get it right.
First, may I warmly welcome you, Mr. Speaker, to your position, and add that it is fitting that the first debate that you are overseeing in this House is of such importance?
It is a great pleasure to be winding up on behalf of the official Opposition. I must apologise to Members if there is a slight aura of fish around me today, but I was at Billingsgate at 6 o’clock this morning to discuss, in accordance with my shadow Front-Bench duties, marine sustainability. I am therefore coming to this debate fizzing with enthusiasm for the subject, my mind stimulated by omega 3, a vital ingredient in fish.
As many hon. Members have said, we are discussing a very important issue, and we have had an excellent debate. This is an historic opportunity to put a landmark Bill on to the statute book, providing a framework for the protection of the marine environment for future generations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) said, the Conservatives have pushed for a marine Bill for a number of years, and it is with great pleasure that we see it enter the Commons, and in a much better state than it entered the other place. We may take a lesson from that: their lordships did not have a programme motion or a guillotine in place, yet they managed to tease out so many more issues and thereby improve the Bill. It is a credit to their lordships that we now have a serious Bill that will implement some very positive conservation measures for our seas and give the public greater access to our coastline. There is, however, still some work to be done before this Bill reaches its full potential.
There have been a number of excellent contributions this evening, but may I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall)? If this Bill could have a paternity test, he would be the daddy, as it was his idea all those years ago in his private Member’s Bill. He made an excellent speech, which was full of passion and love for our seas and its birdlife. He gave us a great mental glimpse of the sea, where we should take our battered souls for restoration. There can be no better advice than that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs spoke about the need to put this in a European context. There is no point in protecting our seas from our own fishermen if we are not going to get that protection secured at the European level. This Bill must, therefore, go hand in glove with common fisheries policy reform. The right hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) made an important contribution, in which he spoke about the need for differentiation between types of marine conservation zone. Like many other Members, he also talked about the compatibility between MCZs and wind generation in terms of protection. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Sir Peter Viggers) said that our overall priority must be conservation. As he and many hon. Members said, we have one chance in a generation. He is right and I am deeply conscious of that fact, as are all who are involved in this Bill.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger) spoke about how the Bill will impact on his constituency and pointed out that its coastline incorporates tourism, energy, conservation and many other uses. He spoke about the need for expertise in the marine management organisation, and I entirely concur with his view that engineering expertise is as important as scientific understanding.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about tourism—an issue that I will come back to—in the context of coastal access. It is vital to understand that in order to encourage people to visit our coastline, it is not good enough just to have a coastal path: we have to work with local authorities to get access points, which is why it is so important that local authorities become involved in the creation of car parks and other connecting points.
Some of my hon. Friends expressed legitimate concerns about the Bill’s coastal access provisions. I can assure them that I take their concerns very seriously; there is much to be teased out in Committee. I know a little bit about providing access in the countryside. I know how voluntary access arrangements work, and I will represent their views as best I can in Committee.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams) spoke about how little protection was afforded to Cardigan bay under special area of conservation status. We all know what has happened in Cardigan bay, and we will have those factors in mind as we progress the Bill.
The hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) made a moving plea on behalf of dukes and landed estates for their sporting rights. I can assure him that the Opposition are deeply mindful of hard-working members of the public with wildfowling rights, for example. We will bear such issues in mind, and I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman to support the interests of all legitimate users of coastal Britain.
The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) spoke with real passion about her own coastline and how the Bill will enhance and help the environment in her constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) raised the important point made by the film “The End of the Line” and said that although we may have yet to experience peak oil, we have certainly experienced “peak fish”. We have to represent these views as we progress the Bill. A number of other Members made important points that I do not have time to cover.
The health of the marine environment is a critical issue on which we must act immediately if we are to tackle climate change and secure the sustainability of our fisheries and the conservation of endangered marine flora and fauna. It is no exaggeration to say that the UK marine environment is in trouble. Some important fish stocks are in dire straits. Marine biodiversity is suffering, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs pointed out, given that more than 50 per cent. of the UK’s total biodiversity is found in our seas, this presents a challenge that we must grasp.
It is a matter of collective failure that we have long since waved goodbye to our 2010 biodiversity targets. However, the Bill provides us with a unique opportunity to tackle problems in the marine environment head-on, effectively and coherently. This is not a Bill for the here and now. It has to be robust enough to address fast-changing technologies, as discussed by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner). In discussing technologies in Strangford loch, which were developed in my constituency, he made a very important point. We have to address fast-changing technologies in power generation in particular, and be flexible enough to deal with changing environmental factors in our seas. Areas considered relatively benign in conservation terms today may be fragile ecosystems in desperate need of protection in 10 or 20 years’ time.
Marine conservation zones have the potential to be an extremely effective conservation tool that will make a real difference to the marine environment, but that will happen only if they form a coherent, dynamic and flexible network that can respond to the changing needs of our seas.
There are those who, for wholly understandable motives, wish us to commit to a clear percentage of sea to be protected. The problem with an arbitrary figure is that it can be relatively easily reached by protecting areas of relatively little ecological benefit. Let us be honest: there are some difficult decisions ahead, as the hon. Member for Reading, West, said. Ministers, now and in future, may have to make difficult choices affecting communities on our coasts. An arbitrary figure would be more likely to encourage people to take the path of least resistance to achieve a headline percentage, when what is needed is a science-based, ecologically coherent decision process.
I was pleased to see that in the other place further clarification of the nature of MCZ networks was achieved. However, during the Bill’s passage through this House, I hope to gain further clarification of how the Government intend to ensure the ecologically coherent network that our seas so desperately need. I heard this morning, on my visit to Billingsgate, about how the mapping of our inshore waters can be completed by the end of 2010; that can form the basis of the protection zones that we need.
We must avoid closing ourselves off to the potential benefits of dual use—an issue mentioned by the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe—within appropriate MCZs. For example, in a flexible network, there may be opportunities for offshore wind to work in harmony with the conservation aims of an MCZ while aiding enforcement. To achieve the successful protection of marine areas, proposals for MCZs need to have integrity, and integrity will come only from a widespread, transparent consultation process—a point made by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton). If designations are deemed to be the property of a few interested parties, rather than being based on the accepted view of many, they will lack the legitimacy that they need to succeed.
As Lord Taylor of Holbeach said in the Lords, the MMO needs to be the standard bearer for our seas. As my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs said, although the role of the MMO has been bolstered by some amendments in the Lords, we remain concerned about its relationship with the Infrastructure Planning Commission. If the MMO is to be able effectively to manage planning within our seas, it should have control of everything in the marine environment. By giving the MMO piecemeal control we are diluting its role, and therefore its effectiveness.
There is concern about the state of preparedness for the MMO. In a very short time, we will need to appoint a chairman, a chief executive and a board. I am particularly concerned about the expertise currently found in the Marine and Fisheries Agency. Many of its staff have said that they are unwilling to move to the new organisation, or have not been consulted enough on the move. It is crucial that we carry them with us.
In the last few moments available to me, I should like to mention coastal access. A number of hon. Members raised important points on that issue, some of which I have covered. Although we agree with the Government that it is an honourable ambition to increase access to our coastline, the Government have introduced the measure in a rather blunt fashion. I am delighted that, in the other place, the Government conceded the need for an independent right of appeal; to their credit, they listened to the very good arguments put forward. However, there remain concerns about the legitimate rights of landowners, land managers and small coastal businesses, over whose land the path will travel. I give notice to the Under-Secretary that there are issues of safety, liability, privacy and—most importantly, perhaps—biosecurity that we need to address in Committee; we will need to make improvements in respect of those issues.
In conclusion, I assure the House that our intention is to persist with the positive, consensual attitude adopted in another place to carrying the Bill through its stages. It is vital that it gets on to the statute book as soon as possible, but not at the expense of proper, diligent examination in Committee. Those who believe that concern for our marine environment is the sole interest of fishermen and conservationists make a big mistake. There is growing concern across the country about falling fish stocks and damage to our marine environment, as well as increasing understanding of the fundamental role that our seas play in everyone’s quality of life, as a key component in the climate change debate.
The many thousands of people who have seen the film discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex, “The End of the Line”, will have seen a compelling critique of the global marine environment. They are asking politicians here and abroad legitimate questions about our stewardship of the seas. Now is not the time to be half-hearted or timid. It is our duty to make sure that we create robust, effective legislation. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that we simply cannot miss.
I welcome you, Mr. Speaker, to the Chair on the occasion of these august proceedings. It is an apt debate for you to join us, because—as has already been pointed out—this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and an historic Bill. Those phrases are often over-used, but it is true in this case. This is the first Bill over whose Second Reading you have presided and, if we get it right, it will be a landmark not only for this place, but for this country, Europe and the rest of world. We will lead the way in marine management for future generations.
I am fortunate—I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin), and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State feel fortunate too—to inherit this Bill from a succession of very able Ministers, many of whom have spoken in this debate today. They have advocated this approach, and we are fortunate in being able to take it on to the next stage.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon), who has taken a constructive approach. We saw the same in the other place, and that is how we will make progress. We need to focus on the important issues that will refine, improve and strengthen the Bill. A strong Bill went into the other place, and an even stronger one has come out of it. There may be more that we can do, but we will discuss that in Committee.
I am tempted to say “Thank the Lord” that we have reached this position. I am excited that the Bill will have its Second Reading tonight and look forward to the Committee stage. Perhaps I should say “Thank the Lords”, but I am not supposed to refer to them in that way, so I shall just say thanks to the other place. Thanks to its work, we have a stronger and clearer general objective for the marine management organisation in relation to sustainable development, its use of science and other evidence to underpin decision making, and its relationship with the Infrastructure Planning Commission. We also have additional provisions for parliamentary scrutiny with new duties on Ministers to report on marine planning progress; to make a statement to Parliament on principles to be followed in implementing the duty to contribute to a network of marine conservation sites; and to lay sustainable development guidance for the MMO before Parliament, which is where it should be. We also have a requirement on Government to publish a sustainability appraisal of the marine documents, a clearer description of roles for local authorities in marine licensing and coastal access, a clearer duty to designate marine conservation zones, the introduction of a 12-month time limit to designation once intention has been published, and the addition of reckless damage into general offences. Finally, and not least—as has been remarked—we have the addition of the procedure for making objections and representations about coastal access reports.
The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) mentioned delay, but after a long period of pre-legislative scrutiny, we now have a very good Bill. He referred to the links with the Infrastructure Planning Commission and his objections to that body as it stands. The Bill and the Planning Act 2008 have been developed in parallel, and the roles of the marine management organisation and the IPC are complementary. The marine management organisation will license most projects and developments in English territorial and UK offshore waters, which include marinas, coastal habitat creation, aggregate dredging and renewable energy installations.
The IPC, as set out in the Planning Act 2008, will consider applications for “nationally significant” infrastructure projects. In the marine area, that means the largest ports and renewable energy installations that will generate more than 100 MW of power. When the IPC is the consenting authority, the MMO will lend its expertise through the IPC and will act in a close advisory role on the marine aspects of each project. After consent has been given the MMO will monitor and enforce those consent conditions. As the Bill went through the other place, we considered that relationship and, although we need to bolt it down, I think that we have done that very effectively.
The Government listened very closely to the debates in the other place on the relationship between the two bodies and agreed to reflect in primary legislation the important role that the MMO will have in applications for development consent by bringing forward amendments to the Planning Act 2008. So, as the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs remarked, we have been a listening Government and we have acted on many of these parts of the Bill.
Several hon. Members remarked on aspects of socio-economic criteria in site designation. Marine conservation zone site proposals will be based on scientific evidence and the scientific evidence will be the first consideration in the designation of each site. There will obviously be some cases in which the need for conservation must prevail, but there will be other cases where we have options, particularly when designating representative sites. We might have more choice of potential locations and about the size and shape of the marine conservation zones.
In such circumstances, it would be sensible and appropriate to be able to take account of socio-economic considerations in deciding where a site or a group of sites should be designated. We would be shooting ourselves in the foot if we did not take reasonable steps to minimise the impact of MCZs on what, as has rightly been pointed out, could be vital economic activity or could be vital to our energy needs—especially if we can do so while still achieving our conservation objectives.
Let me turn to the issue of ecologically coherent networks. Ministers in the other place and I have repeatedly made it clear that we intend to subscribe to those networks. The Government are fully committed to contributing to an ecologically coherent network. We have included three core principles in clause 123(3) that set out the basis of the UK network. They are based on the definition of ecological coherence developed for OSPAR, the convention for the protection of the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic. Let me give the House the three underpinning principles from OSPAR which ensure that we will deliver that ecologically coherent network. The first is that it should contribute to the conservation of the marine environment, the second is that it should protect features that represent a range of features present in the UK marine area and the third is that it should reflect the fact that conservation of a feature may require more than one site to be designated. Those are the principles. The definition of an ecologically coherent network, as we all know, can vary all the time. There might be a better version as time goes by. We might need to improve it. Let us not come back to primary legislation to do that—let us put the principles in, deal with them and then move on.
The commitment in clause 123(3), alongside the requirement to satisfy our European and international commitments, as found in clause 124(4), and the clear duty to designate marine conservation zones effectively enables the Government to deliver a network that is ecologically coherent. However, let me go further. To ensure transparency in the principles that we will use to design the network and further to demonstrate the Government’s commitment, we amended the Bill on Third Reading in the other place to insert clause 123(6) and (7). Those subsections require the appropriate authority—Scottish and Welsh Ministers and the Secretary of State—to lay a statement before the relevant legislature, setting out the principles that it will follow in designating areas so as to contribute to that network. Statements might also include other matters that the relevant Minister considers to be relevant. The statement must be made within two months of the commencement of the Bill’s nature conservation provisions, must be kept under review and must be updated if necessary. Those safeguards will allow us to take the concept forward as it evolves, and make sure that we report back so that people can hear about what we are delivering. In the other place, Lord Eden of Winton summed this up very well when he said:
“It is important that the legislation should contain sufficient flexibility to allow improvements to be generated as further knowledge is gained from the experience of the establishment of marine conservation zones.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 June 2009; Vol. 711, c. 435.]
I turn now to aspects of the Bill mentioned by other hon. Members. The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs and others raised the involvement of local authorities in the designation and implementation of the coastal path. The Government’s intention has always been to involve local authorities fully in many aspects of the Bill. We see them as extremely important partners, not least in the coastal access project. Following the constructive discussions that we had in the other place, we have amended the Bill to make that clear.
We believe that the English coastal access authorities—defined in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 as the local highway authority, or the national park authority in a national park—are best placed to manage many aspects of the local implementation. They include consulting local interests, contacting and discussing options with landowners, and managing the work required. Where those authorities are willing and able to act, they will be fully involved in the implementation of these proposals.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) made a very constructive contribution. I pay tribute to him for his work, just as he paid tribute to the work that this Government have done in bringing forward the Bill. We need to take account of socio-economics, but we have to get the balance right. We know the expectations outside the House, but we have to deliver what the Bill proposes. We must deliver sustainability in the seas and conservation, but the Bill is also about securing sustainable livelihoods. I am looking forward to teasing out that balance in Committee.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe asked about the general objectives and responses of the proposed MMO. He called for further changes to its objectives, but the Bill as a whole is designed to put in place better systems for delivering the sustainable development of the marine and coastal environment. The MMO will be the Government’s strategic delivery body in the marine area, and will be required to have regard to all aspects of sustainable development in carrying out its responsibilities.
I join the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) in paying tribute to the work of the lifeguard and emergency services in the recent incident to which he referred, but we must never forget what they do every day and every week. Fishermen are part of the solution as well as the challenge that we face. The Bill is predicated on bringing people with us so that they own the solution and play their part in solving some of the challenges.
In respect of two-tier marine conservation zones with highly protected areas, the Government expect that there will be highly protected areas in the MCZs. However, there will be other areas in which the wide variety of interests can be represented. What we do not want is to have super-duper versions called “highly protected areas” and others that are not as good. All the MCZs will be important, and will contribute to the ecologically coherent network.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) made some valid points about ecologically coherent networks, socio-economics and the sea fisheries defence. That latter point, which was also raised by other hon. Members, is something that we will return to in Committee. He also referred to seascapes, another matter that I am sure will come up in Committee. Seascapes are mentioned in the high-level marine objectives that were published earlier in the year, and they will be covered by the marine policy statement. Moreover, locally important seascapes can be recognised in marine plans.
The hon. Member for Gosport (Sir Peter Viggers) spoke about co-ordination across boundaries. He was absolutely right and, as we go into Committee, I can assure him that we have the right structures to deal with Wales, Scotland and so on.
Many other hon. Members made valuable contributions in what was a passionate and well informed debate. I am looking forward to our deliberations in Committee: the Bill has already been improved significantly, but it will become better still in the next stage of discussion.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords] (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords]:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
2. Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 16 July 2009.
3. The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
4. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
6. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading.
7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of any message from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Mr. Watts.)
Question agreed to.
Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords] (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords] it is expedient to authorise—
(a) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—
(i) any expenditure incurred by a Minister of the Crown or government department under or by virtue of the Act, and
(ii) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of money so provided under any other Act, and
(b) the making of payments into the Consolidated Fund.—(Mr. Watts.)
Question agreed to.