[ist allocated day]
[Relevant documents: Report from the Joint Committee on the Draft Marine Bill, Session 2007-08, HC 552-I and –II, and the Government response, Cm 7422. Ninth Report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Session 2007-08, on the Draft Marine Bill: Coastal Access Provision, HC 656-I, and the Government response, Cm 7422.]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 2
Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies
‘(1) The authority for an IFC district may, with the approval of the Secretary of State, enter into an agreement with an eligible body authorising the eligible body to perform any function of the IFC authority—
(a) either in relation to the district or in relation to specified parts of that district;
(b) subject to paragraph (a), either generally or in specified cases.
“Specified” means specified in the agreement.
(2) For the purposes of this section and sections [Eligible bodies], [Variation, review and cancellation of agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]], [Agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]: particular powers] and [Supplementary provisions with respect to agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]]—
(a) any reference to a function of an IFC authority includes a reference to a function exercisable by a person authorised, appointed or employed by the IFC authority;
(b) any reference to an agreement is to an agreement under this section.
(3) The Secretary of State’s approval may be given—
(a) in relation to a particular agreement or in relation to a description of agreements;
(b) unconditionally or subject to conditions specified in the approval.
(4) An agreement under this section may not authorise an eligible body to perform any of the following functions—
(a) any function whose performance by the body would be incompatible with the purposes for which the body was established;
(b) functions under section 171 (accounts).
(5) An agreement under this section does not prevent the IFC authority from performing a function to which the agreement relates.
(6) The maximum period for which an agreement under this section may authorise an eligible body to perform a function is 20 years.’.—(Huw Irranca-Davies.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government new clause 3—Eligible bodies.
Government new clause 4—Variation, review and cancellation of agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies].
Government new clause 5—Agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]: particular powers.
Government new clause 6—Supplementary provisions with respect to agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies].
Government amendments 6 to 8
Amendment 27, in clause 184, page 117, line 27, at end insert—
‘(2A) The provisions in sections [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies], [Eligible bodies], [Variation, review and cancellation of agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]], [Agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]: particular powers] and [Supplementary provisions with respect to agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]] shall apply to Welsh Ministers in relation to Wales.’.
I shall speak to new clauses 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, and amendments 6 to 8.
Part 6 will replace sea fisheries committees with inshore fisheries and conservation authorities—IFCAs—in England. These will have a duty to manage sea fisheries sustainably, balancing socio-economic benefits with protection of the marine environment. They will have more money and strengthened powers, while retaining local involvement in decision making. Under the current Bill model, IFCAs will lead on marine species management in the inshore area, including in estuaries. The Environment Agency will lead on protection for salmon, trout, other migratory species and freshwater fish in estuaries and as far out as the 6 nautical mile limit.
As many hon. Members are aware, in January we launched a consultation on options for the number of future inshore fisheries and conservation districts. Following that consultation, I am happy to confirm that 10 IFC districts will be established, and the new IFCAs will be established with full powers and duties in April 2011. The Department will carry out more detailed consultation in 2010 to establish the exact landward and seaward boundaries of the new districts. I know that that announcement will be welcomed by all Members of the House.
During a useful Commons Committee discussion on part 6, concerns were raised by a number of Members that the Bill as drafted did not provide sufficient flexibility to ensure the most joined-up inshore fisheries management, particularly in areas such as estuaries. In Committee, considerable pressure was exerted on us to amend the Bill so that IFCA functions can be delegated to the Environment Agency in particular, so that marine fisheries in estuaries could be managed in the most efficient way.
To address this, we have tabled new clauses 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 and amendments 6, 7 and 8, which provide the option for IFCA functions to be delegated to the Environment Agency and to neighbouring IFCAs. An order-making power is provided to add to the list of eligible bodies so as to enable delegation to be made to other, named public bodies. Bodies can also be removed from the list.
That is a good point. The Bill is future-proofed, in that the Secretary of State, with the agreement of an IFCA and partners on the ground, could agree in future to delegate to another body. That could be the MMO, another IFCA or the Environment Agency. It could be another body which, at this moment, I cannot imagine. We have future-proofed the Bill, but we have also made it clear that the Secretary of State can waive that delegation power. The purpose of the measures is to give that flexibility, recognising, as has been the focus of the Bill, that there will be local solutions on the ground. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.
I have no quarrel with or opposition to what is proposed, because it seems a sensible redistribution of functions to bodies best able to perform them. However, I should like my hon. Friend’s assurance that fishing, which has been excessively heavily burdened with regulations, will not be burdened with further regulations as a result of this reorganisation.
My hon. Friend, who is a stalwart advocate of the fisheries not only in Grimsby, in his constituency, but throughout the UK, is right to raise the issue of fisheries’ regulation, but I assure him that the proposed changes would provide flexibility to ensure that the best organisation had responsibility for forward fisheries management locally and regionally. The proposed changes would not add any bureaucracy or regulation, and he can report those assurances not only to his constituents, but to sea fishermen throughout the UK.
Do the Government’s proposed changes risk causing an unintended consequence? Sea fisheries committees already co-operate informally across borders, and they can assist each other, for example, with monitoring and enforcement measures. No formal agreements exist, but would the proposed changes require IFCAs to introduce such agreements?
No. The Bill includes a provision to formalise agreements on working across estuaries or water areas, but existing voluntary arrangements and the ability to work together across areas, including on enforcement and so on, will continue. The proposed changes would not hamper that arrangement, and we would not want that to happen. However, they are designed to respond to the concerns, rightly raised in Committee, that the demarcation of IFCAs and the Environment Agency represented a somewhat rigid approach to who was responsible, not least in upper estuary areas. The sole purpose of the proposed changes is to introduce flexibility; it is certainly not to override the effective existing partnerships with sea fisheries committees and others.
The Bill already provides for MMO functions to be delegated to relevant bodies, including IFCAs, and our proposed changes would provide for a similar model of delegation for IFCA functions. I shall turn to the key elements of that delegation. First, the delegation of functions would occur from an IFCA to an “eligible body” in relation to any specified areas of an IFC district. Secondly, any delegation would require the Secretary of State’s approval, and it would be carried out only where there was agreement between the IFCA and the relevant body. That is important, because, to take up the hon. Gentleman’s point, I should say that through that mechanism we are looking for collaboration and partnership, not an imposed solution. Any delegation would have to be by agreement and on the approval of the Secretary of State.
Thirdly, “eligible bodies” could include any neighbouring IFCA, given the example of working in partnership, and the Environment Agency. Fourthly, the Secretary of State could also, by order, add additional eligible public bodies that had a purpose or function that was connected to the inshore marine area. Finally, the proposed changes include a requirement for the Secretary of State to review all those agreements at least every five years, and to cancel agreements if appropriate in the light of such reviews. None the less, under the terms of the Secretary of State’s original approval, it would be possible to waive that requirement.
Let me make it clear, however, that we do not have specific expectations about when the option of delegation will be applied; that is not for us to decide in the Chamber. If the proposed changes are accepted, the issue will be looked at in detail by IFCAs and the Environment Agency. However, the proposed changes would provide useful additional flexibility, as the Committee asked for, and would future-proof the Bill. For example, they would allow one IFCA to exercise management right across an estuary, even if a local authority boundary split the estuary; and, they would allow for the Environment Agency to manage all fisheries in upper estuaries where marine species are insignificant.
I hope that the proposed changes provide reassurance that the Bill will allow fisheries management to be carried out as flexibly and efficiently as possible in inshore areas and, in particular, in estuaries. That issue exercised many Committee members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) and for Reading, West (Martin Salter), who are in the Chamber, and others. The proposed changes would benefit the users of the inshore marine area and the regulators.
If an IFCA delegated a responsibility to another body, such as the Environment Agency, and subsequently wanted to take back that power, would it have to wait for the review that the Minister mentioned, or would it be able to do so with the Secretary of State’s permission?
No, we would not want to have to wait five years for a review. It would be within the Secretary of State’s power to revisit the decision, and if the arrangement were redundant or were not working, or if there were a local desire for a different configuration of fisheries management, that could be reviewed at that time. That flexibility exists. The five-year review offers the opportunity to consider how all the arrangements are working. With those comments, I commend Government new clauses 2 to 6 and Government amendments 6 to 8 to the House, and I look forward to hearing from the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), if he is lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.
It is a great pleasure to have the Bill back on the Floor of the House. I hope that the constructive relationship that we have established across the House is maintained as we work towards introducing important legislation governing the future of our marine environment.
New clauses 2 to 6 and amendments 6 and 8 relate to the delegation of functions by IFCAs to other eligible bodies. When this issue was raised in Committee, not least by the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), the Minister committed to bringing something back on Report. The amendments will ensure that IFCAs are able to delegate elements of inshore fisheries management to other bodies. We believe that power over fisheries management needs to be returned to as local a level as possible. Fishermen, scientists and conservationists who work at the local level know how to manage our marine environment best and should be trusted with managing its future. We therefore see an important role for IFCAs in the future of fisheries management, but it is imperative that they represent the diverse range of interests that often play a role in our fisheries. The old sea fisheries committees that IFCAs will replace have, on occasion, been accused of being unrepresentative, especially of interests such as recreational angling. IFCAs must have a new, more representative membership.
IFCAs will not always be best placed to carry out certain functions, some of which could be managed by other organisations or by agencies that have more relevant knowledge or are simply better placed to perform them. It is important that IFCAs are flexible and are able to delegate their functions where necessary or sensible, and we therefore support the proposed measures. It is crucial that the relationships between the Environment Agency and IFCAs, Natural England and the Marine Management Organisation are clear in the Bill.
In Committee, we spoke about wanting to avoid a turf war. I apologise again for suggesting that it might be a surf war, and I promise not to suggest that IFCAs should be fit for porpoise; I shall try to keep the puns to an absolute minimum. How those organisations relate to each other is vital. Ultimately, it should be up to IFCAs—not, as the Minister says, to the Government or Government agencies—to decide how to devolve relevant powers to as local or relevant a level as possible. It should also be for IFCAs to decide where the correct balance of those powers lies. We are broadly supportive of the measures, and we look forward with interest to hearing what the amendment of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) reflects about the Welsh dimension to this issue.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to reflect on the Committee stage of the Bill. The debate has been very constructive across parties, and I congratulate both the Ministers who served on the Committee on the manner in which they discharged their duties. I look forward to hearing further constructive debate today.
Turning to the Government amendments, I welcome the Minister’s confirmation the establishment of 10 IFCAs. As he knows, I have been campaigning for that for some time to reflect the significant local engagement through the sea fisheries committees. That is such good quality and value that it would have been a great disappointment had the Government decided to go for the original proposal in the Bradley report, which was significantly to reduce the number of IFCAs compared with the current range of sea fisheries committees. I should declare an interest in the sense that two sea fisheries committees operate in my constituency—in west Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly, with the latter having a distinct and important role in protecting not only marine conservation but a sustainable fishing industry in its own area, apart from that around mainland Cornwall.
I would be grateful if the Minister would expand a little more on the make-up of the IFCAs, to which the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) referred. Who will sit on them, and how will marine conservation and commercial interests be balanced when they are first established? Given my intervention, the Minister will recognise that there are already good, well-established working relationships, certainly between the sea fisheries committees and, I would argue, between those committees and the Environment Agency. Many of those relationships work well because they are informal. He assured me that the amendments will not in any way curtail or discourage the informal arrangements that have already been established, and would no doubt continue to be established, between the eligible bodies, including the Environment Agency.
However, it is important that the value of those arrangements, particularly in monitoring enforcement, should not be overlooked. For example, the vessel that is used in Cornwall, the Saint Piran, often undertakes work for the Devon sea fisheries committee, and goes to the Isles of Scilly as well. In fact, this summer the Secretary of State joined me on board the Saint Piran and saw its excellent work. The work of that vessel is largely governed by an informal arrangement between the sea fisheries committees. It would be a great pity if those informal agreements and arrangements were undermined by the terms of the amendments. I look forward to further reassurance from the Minister on that.
Broadly speaking, the amendments assume that we are talking about agreements, not disagreements; indeed, they are about aiding and encouraging formal agreements between the eligible bodies. However, they do not foresee the possibility that there may be disagreements between bodies in areas that border each other, such as the upper estuaries, which the Minister described. Can he point me to elements of the amendments that might help to resolve any disagreements that arose? Similarly, he referred to the five-year review and the 20-year length of the agreements as set out in new clause 2. It would be helpful if the Minister explained a little more about why the Government have resolved to use those particular lengths of time. What would happen if a dispute between organisations that had established formal agreement occurred long before the five-year review period was up?
I have asked some probing questions to seek clarification from the Minister on measures that the Government have brought forward entirely properly, the spirit of which I strongly support. I look forward to his response.
I support the Government’s new clauses and consequential amendments, and I thank the Minister for responding positively in Committee on 7 July to my amendment 51, which had the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), the hon. Members for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) and for St. Ives (Andrew George), and the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker), who is sometimes my fishing partner.
It is good that the Government have listened and recognised a clear flaw in the original concept of IFCAs—that they would have had responsibility right up to the tidal limit, even though they are primarily about sea fishery interests for recreational angling and for commercial and conservational purposes. It was always somewhat absurd to suggest that the River Thames at Teddington should be patrolled by the local sea Fisheries committee. We would never have seen a boat from a sea committee or an IFCA on the tidal Thames there, the tidal Severn at Gloucester or, I am sure, the tidal Trent at Collingham, just outside Nottingham. I am pleased that our representations have been listened to.
The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on a potential problem, which is defining exactly where estuaries finish and the sea begins or vice versa. Does he have a clear definition in his mind that would identify clearly where all types of estuary start and finish, and where the responsibilities of the organisation in charge of them should therefore lie? Perhaps the Minister should respond to that point.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, for whose support in Committee on this matter I was grateful. The reason why it is not possible to draw a defined line on the map, and why we must have definitions of the upstream limits of commercial fishing interests, is that those limits vary from estuary to estuary. On the River Humber, for example, the commercial fishing interest is many miles upstream, whereas on many other estuaries, particularly on the south coast, it is barely upstream at all. The decision has to be made on a case-by-case basis. Our debate in Committee was excellent and instructive about how Parliament can apply its collective knowledge to that difficult and not easily surmountable problem.
I obviously support the Government’s proposals, as they are based on the points that we raised in Committee. The power to delegate to the Environment Agency is the obvious route forward, and there could be other delegations if appropriate. I say to the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) that it is slightly bonkers to query a delegation to the EA on freshwater fishery management, given that it is the agency responsible for that. We are not likely to delegate the matter to the United Nations or anybody else. That might explain why he is no longer the Opposition spokesman.
I am happy to attack any Member, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. Far more importantly, I am happy to play my part in ensuring that what started life as an excellent Bill will be an absolutely brilliant one.
By way of digression, Sam Coates’s comments in The Times today suggested that the amount of parliamentary time given over to the Bill was a complete waste, as it was dull and boring. I would suggest that correspondents take another look at Charles Clover’s film and book, “The End of the Line”. They should consider the fact that 99.4 per cent. of the world’s oceans are vulnerable to commercial exploitation and that by 2050, unless action is taken on the conservation measures that are in the new clauses and the Bill, we will see a wholesale collapse of fisheries stocks across the planet. This is groundbreaking legislation and today’s debate is one small step to ensuring that this excellent legislation is improved still further, and I am delighted that the Minister has felt able to respond to our concerns.
I shall make only a brief contribution. I have served on the Bill in all its forms for about 18 months and I must say that I am extremely pleased that the Government have introduced new clause 2. In four years of being a Member of Parliament, I have never been so over-excited as I am now about this clause. I agree with the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) that it would be ridiculous if he and I were pike, perch or chub fishing on Teddington weir and a marine fishery officer’s boat came sailing past to check our licences. The measure is common sense—we have had an outbreak of common sense in this place—and Sam Coates of The Times, far from criticising it, should be celebrating it in his column tomorrow.
The inshore fleet in the Thames estuary has acted responsibly, building conservation for many decades, and I have been representing their interests and approaching the Minister about this matter for some time. Will he confirm when he sums up that Essex and Kent fisherman will have representation on IFCAs to protect their fishing and conservation interests? Will he also confirm that the fishing interest on IFCAs will be balanced with other interests, not marginalised?
I, too, have taken great pleasure in being part of the Bill, because it is hugely important to protect the marine environment on which so many of our people depend for their employment and which makes an important contribution to biodiversity locally, nationally and internationally.
I rise briefly to speak to amendment 27, which is in my name. Having said that, I welcome Government new clauses 2, 3 and 6, which are based on the amendment that the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) tabled in Committee. The Minister at that time gave a commitment to look at the aims and purposes of that proposal and to see whether it could be worked into the Bill.
If the new clause had been tabled in the form of the proposal made by the hon. Member for Reading, West, we might have sought to amend it following certain things that have been brought to my attention. The current proposals mention allowing IFCAs to enter into agreements with other bodies to allow the latter to take on some of the duties and powers of the former, but only with the permission and agreement of the Secretary of State. The Welsh Assembly Government have made it known that they want to take on the role of the IFCA for Wales, and it seems inappropriate for them to have to seek the permission of the Secretary of State to enter into such agreements.
We are talking about the very important species that live some of their time in the oceans and some of their time in fresh water—diadromous fish. They are particularly vulnerable, because they can be badly affected by over-fishing as they approach our shores. However, they can also be badly affected because their spawning grounds could be detrimentally affected by practices farther up the rivers. Therefore, my amendment goes to the heart of the matter in giving the Welsh Assembly Government the powers to allow Welsh IFCAs to enter into agreements to transfer responsibilities and duties that the Secretary of State has in relation to IFCAs in England. It is a simple amendment, but it would clarify the devolved powers that the Welsh Assembly wishes to take on.
I thank hon. Members for the spirit in which we have begun this debate. It is reminiscent of the approach that has been taken throughout this Bill—constructive engagement and an attempt to improve the Bill. I welcome the support that we have heard for these amendments, especially from the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon). He and others, including the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), made the valid point that IFCAs need to be representative. That will be achieved. IFCAs are a mutation of the role of the sea fisheries committees, and they will have added duties and responsibilities—everyone agrees that that is the right approach—but they will need to be properly representative.
Clause 151 provides that the membership of IFCAs will include the Marine Management Organisation, the Environment Agency and Natural England, which will each have a statutory seat. Those seats will be set out in the order establishing each IFCA, in order to maintain some flexibility. Around a third of seats will be allocated to local authority members, under clause 151(1)(a), and the constituent upper and single-tier local authorities in each IFC district will be set out in the order establishing each individual IFCA. The balance of seats will be appointed by the MMO and will include members
“acquainted with the needs and opinions of the fishing community of the district”.
I want to see all the varied interests of the fishing industry properly represented.
We do not want the IFCAs to be unwieldy. As the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) knows, we love committees in Wales, but it is good to have them doing something instead of just existing, and IFCAs will need to be very effective and efficient. Also represented on the IFCAs should be
“persons with knowledge of, or expertise in, marine environmental matters.”
The new IFCAs have been welcomed by a wide range of stakeholders. They will have a clear duty to ensure that the exploitation of sea fisheries resources is carried out sustainably, and they will have a greater focus than the sea fisheries committees on the impact of fishing activity on wider marine eco-systems. That is part and parcel of the Bill. Significantly, IFCAs will have a new duty to protect the marine environment and promote its recovery from the effects of exploitation.
I thank the Minister for that clarification. He will be aware of representations from the Angling Trust, which broadly welcomes this Bill, that the current composition of sea fisheries committees has left the recreational angling sector very poorly represented. Will that wrong be put right? In addition, the current system allows local authority representatives to name substitutes, if someone cannot make a meeting. It is important that that right is extended to other stakeholders, who will have an active role to play in the new IFCAs.
I confirm that what we all want—and what the Bill is designed to do—is to ensure that those interests represented on the IFCAs are genuinely representative. Where there is a strong recreational sea-angling fraternity—or sorority—in an area, it will want to have its say as well. Having that local determination and representing genuinely local interests is key, including in Newlyn, for example, where there are significantly different types of fisheries. Whether those involved are commercial or recreational anglers, they need to be able to have their say.
The balance of members appointed by the MMO to each IFCA will reflect the economic, social and environmental needs of that IFCA. Members will therefore be appointed according to the relevant expertise that they bring, which is the right way to proceed. The detail of the appointment process will be drafted in guidance, which will be helpful to members and which we will consult on in 2010. That will help to ensure that the membership of each IFCA has the right representation and knowledge across all the relevant sectors, exactly as I have been saying. Given the level of sea angling in the inshore area, however, we expect sea anglers to continue to be represented on IFCAs.
The Minister has mentioned Newlyn. He will be aware that there are conflicts between different fishing sectors operating within the 6-mile zone, and also out to the 12-mile zone, although we are primarily talking about the 6-mile zone. He has referred to clause 151, and although I do not expect him to prescribe the answers today, will he acknowledge that there are conflicts among recreational sea anglers, as well as among different inshore fishing sectors? That, too, needs to be resolved through the process that he is describing.
I agree. There are, and will continue to be, different priorities in different parts of the fishing fraternity. However, one of the benefits of the consultation will be that those interests are genuinely represented in that process. That does not mean that there will not be difficult challenges that will require people to sit down and agree the priorities in their IFCA area. However, the important thing is first to ensure that the membership is properly representative and then to argue that out. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the worst possible way forward would be for a Minister to prescribe exactly who should be on or to say arbitrarily, “We’ll make sure that we have one recreational sea angler, one rod-and-line angler,” and so on. That is not the way, because things will differ among the 10 IFCA areas.
Not only will the IFCA membership be decided in consultation, but everybody will have the opportunity to put their views forward. I am sure that some people will feel that they are not represented fully, but that can change from time to time as well. We are enhancing the membership of IFCAs, so that they will have more than the traditional expertise of sea fisheries committees. It is worth putting on record the fact that there is a genuine body of expertise in sea fisheries committees around the country, but we are talking about an enhanced role, with other people involved. Rather than having me prescribe what will happen, everyone will have the opportunity in the consultation to put in their two-penn’orth about who should be represented.
The hon. Member for St. Ives talked about disagreements, which touches on the point that the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) has just raised. If there are disagreements, there is a duty in clause 169 for IFCAs to co-operate with other local bodies. We expect them to work closely together, as they do now. Local issues should be looked at locally, without nanny-state interventions or a Big Brother or big Minister stepping in. We are confident, by and large, that it will be possible to resolve such issues locally.
The hon. Member for St. Ives asked why we have chosen a five-year review and how disagreements will be resolved in between. New clause 4 says “no later than” every five years. A review could therefore be conducted sooner if, for example, there were representations from a relevant body, or if the Secretary of State decided, in respect of representations made to him, that there was a need to review the situation on the ground.
I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) and his work on the issue over some time. It is pertinent that he has recognised that the new clauses and amendments deliver common sense—we cannot always say that about legislation, but they are common sense. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) was challenged on the definition—I understand the point about the definition. This is a practical way forward. It will not be necessary arbitrarily to define the definition, because it will be known from the people who are out there doing the work and patrolling. The amendment will allow a local definition to be introduced. I welcome the support of my hon. Friend and others as the Bill went through Committee; it delivers common sense.
I welcome the intervention by the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), who is a strong advocate on behalf of his constituents and the fleet in his area. In the light of the comments that I have just made, I confirm that IFCAs will receive representations from fishing interests, and I have tried to make it clear that we want to ensure that those interests are genuinely represented, as clause 151(2)(a) provides.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire referred to Wales, and I am pleased that it has arisen early in the debate. Who speaks for Wales? The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire rose to his feet. Nothing in the Bill requires the Welsh Assembly Government to obtain permission from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on IFCAs and delegations. The Bill does not require that, and I shall explain why.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for tabling amendment 27, which is pertinent. His intention is to allow Welsh Assembly Ministers the same flexibility as that prescribed for England in Government amendments to delegate IFCA functions. However, the stated intention of my colleagues in the Welsh Assembly Government, from the start of the Bill, was to take the same functions as IFCAs in-house and explicitly not to allow delivery of those functions by other bodies. That is the premise on which we proceeded.
In response to that, the Bill does not prevent Welsh Assembly Ministers from working closely with the Environment Agency to ensure good management of the inshore area, including estuaries. The Government of Wales Act 2006 and the Environment Act 1995 allow the National Assembly for Wales to pass secondary legislation at the request of the Environment Agency, and for agency officers to be cross-warranted to enforce against the legislation.
I do not believe that the amendment is necessary to allow better delivery of inshore fisheries management functions in Wales.
I shall explain the contrast and then give way. That is not the case for the Government amendments on IFCAs. Welsh Assembly Ministers already have the power to make legislation on behalf of the Environment Agency and to delegate functions to the agency. That power would not be available to IFCAs in England without the amendments tabled by my hon. Friends in Committee, which we have introduced. I understand the intention in amendment 27, and it seems sensible, but raising the matter so late in the process, without the scope to be clear about how accountability of the functions could be ascertained, does not seem right. The Bill can and does deliver to Welsh Assembly Ministers the powers that they requested. I urge the House to leave further flexibility for delegation to be given due consideration by Welsh Assembly Ministers, and to be dealt with by other legislative means, at their behest rather than in the Bill.
I thank the Minister for spelling out the matter in such great detail. Is he saying that the Welsh Assembly has the power to make secondary legislation to achieve those powers, rather than having to return to this House for a statutory instrument to provide the powers?
No, that is not exactly the case. However, the situation on the ground in Wales means that by virtue of the function of the Welsh Assembly Government to take these powers in-house—the Welsh Assembly Government will effectively become the IFCA for Wales—they already have the power to make delegations. If they were to want such powers, they would indeed have to return here, and I am sure that, on these Benches at least, we would be open to that possibility. As I hope that I have explained, the history of the journey to reach this part of the Bill was very much predicated on, and reflects the initial concerns and interests of, Welsh Assembly Government Ministers.
Attempting to unravel all this at such a late stage would be complex: it would involve more than amendment 27, as there would be a great deal of detailed read-across in respect of much of the Bill. We are now in the final stages—I hope so, Mr. Deputy Speaker—of this landmark Bill, and I do not want to revisit an issue as fundamental as this one, particularly when the trajectory that we followed was initially set by Welsh Assembly Government Ministers. Welsh Assembly Government Ministers have some flexibility to delegate functions, even though they are taken in-house, but the situation in England is very different. We need to provide this flexibility to the IFCAs we are setting up, so that they can work collaboratively on the ground.
To clarify, Welsh Ministers have the power to make orders that would assist the Environment Agency to undertake management functions on inshore fisheries. There is some flexibility, as I have said, but this would need to be brought back to this House to provide the sort of mechanism that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire is asking for.
With the assurance that what we have now is a genuine undertaking reached in discussion with Welsh Government Assembly Ministers very early on, which explains how we have got to where we are, and with the flexibility to take the matter in-house and to issue other ways of working to the Environment Agency, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel confident enough to withdraw the amendment. There may be a future opportunity to provide the sort of mechanism that he wants, but it is not appropriate right here or right now.
I thank the Minister again for going into so much detail, but he will understand that there are still some reservations about this, particularly the fact that the Welsh Assembly will have to come back to this place to assume powers that are now available to IFCAs—and only with the permission and consent of the Secretary of State. I understand the Minister’s point that it would be a complex matter to table further amendments at this stage, but is there no possibility of doing so in the other place?
No, not least because, now that the Bill has come through Public Bill Committee and travelled through the other place with extensive deliberations having already taken place, the process of rewriting complex and detailed further amendments—not just the hon. Gentleman’s amendment 27—would be extremely difficult, because of the scores of read-across issues. I have to say that that prospect is too nightmarish to behold at this stage. We are now at a certain point in the parliamentary cycle and at a certain point in the Bill’s passage. If we were in the pre-consultation period—we should bear in mind that, with all the lobbying, the Bill has already taken six years or longer to get to this point—we might be able to build this concept into the Bill. As I have said, however, to unravel all that now would be to the detriment of the chances of this Bill ever succeeding.
Welsh Ministers will have the same level of powers to manage fisheries as will be available to IFCAs in England. In those cases where Welsh Ministers want to delegate functions to the Environment Agency, they would need to make orders on behalf of that agency—and they can. This would enable them to ensure good management of the inshore areas, including estuaries, in Wales. Welsh Ministers have argued in the past that the inability of the Environment Agency to introduce legislation for sea fisheries would interfere with the lead role in implementation of the water framework directive and make it more difficult for Wales to comply with WFD obligations. That relates to the quality of water, fish and invertebrate fauna.
It will be possible for Welsh Ministers to make statutory instruments on the request of the Environment Agency. Although this will not be as flexible as giving the agency direct powers to make legislation, the Welsh Assembly Government chose to bring inshore fisheries management powers in-house, thereby complicating any subsequent proposal to delegate them. The Welsh Assembly Government would effectively give the agency powers to make byelaws. The issue would require considered, careful exploration. In the time available, it would be extremely difficult to draft a sensible proposal, with input not only from the Welsh Assembly Government but from external stakeholders.
May I throw the Minister another argument that he might wish to pray in aid? If the Welsh Assembly Government and Welsh Ministers are so concerned about the issue, why, when the Bill is one of the most scrutinised pieces of legislation before Parliament and spent the best part of a year in a Joint Committee, did we get not a peep out of the Welsh Assembly Government?
My hon. Friend has made a helpful intervention. I would not want to say that the co-ordination with the Welsh Assembly Government has been less than exceptionally good throughout the Bill, but sometimes items come forward relatively late in the day, when the Bill has formed itself in a certain way and is hugely difficult to unravel. I hope that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, whose amendment is well intended, understands that such a change is completely infeasible at this time. However, as a result of the Bill, WAG will take IFCAs in-house and be able to delegate functions, by order, to the Environment Agency. They have flexibility, although it might not be as neat as they now want. However, they can get on with it, which will be a massive improvement.
Question put and agreed to.
New clause 2 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 3
‘(1) In this Chapter “eligible body”, in relation to an agreement entered into by the authority for an IFC district, means any body in the following list—
(a) the authority for any IFC district that adjoins the district;
(b) the Environment Agency.
(2) The Secretary of State may by order amend subsection (1) so as to—
(a) add any body or description of body to the list, or
(b) remove any body or description of body from it.
(3) The Secretary of State may not exercise the power conferred by subsection (2)(a) unless—
(a) the body, or every body of the description, to be added to the list is a public body, and
(b) the Secretary of State is satisfied that at least one of the purposes or functions of the body, or bodies of the description, to be added to the list is, or is related to or connected with, an inshore marine function.
(4) In this section “inshore marine function” means any function which relates to, or whose exercise is capable of affecting, the whole or any part of the English inshore region.’.—(Huw Irranca-Davies.)
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 4
Variation, review and cancellation of agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]
‘(1) Subject to subsection (3), the Secretary of State—
(a) must review an agreement no later than the end of the period of 5 years beginning with the date on which the agreement was entered into or was last reviewed by the Secretary of State, and
(b) if it appears appropriate to do so in the light of the review, may cancel the agreement.
(2) Subject to subsection (3), an agreement may not be varied except—
(a) by agreement between the IFC authority and the eligible body, and
(b) with the approval of the Secretary of State.
(3) An approval given under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies](1) may provide that subsection (1) or (2) of this section does not apply (or that both of them do not apply).’.—(Huw Irranca-Davies.)
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 5
Agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]: particular powers
‘(1) The fact that a function is conferred by or under this Act or an Act passed after the passing of this Act does not prevent it from being the subject of an agreement.
(2) An IFC authority may, under an agreement, authorise an eligible body to perform a function even though, under the enactment or subordinate legislation conferring that function on the IFC authority,—
(a) the function is conferred on the IFC authority by reference to specified circumstances or cases and the same type of function is conferred on the eligible body in different specified circumstances or cases,
(b) the function is exercisable by the IFC authority and the eligible body jointly,
(c) the eligible body is required to be, or may be, consulted about the function (whether generally or in specified circumstances), or
(d) the eligible body is required to consent to the exercise of the function (whether generally or in specified circumstances).
(3) An agreement may provide—
(a) for the performance of a function to be subject to the fulfilment of conditions;
(b) for payments to be made in respect of the performance of the function.
(4) Any eligible body which is authorised under an agreement to perform a function—
(a) is to be treated as having power to do so;
(b) may, unless (or except to the extent that) the agreement provides for this paragraph not to apply, authorise a committee, sub-committee, member, officer or employee of the body to perform the function on its behalf.
(5) Subject to subsection (4)(b), an eligible body which is authorised under an agreement to perform a function may not authorise any other body or person to perform that function.
(6) Section 177 (exemption from liability) applies in relation to any function which an eligible body is authorised under an agreement to perform as if the reference to an IFC authority were a reference to the eligible body.’.—(Huw Irranca-Davies.)
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 6
Supplementary provisions with respect to agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]
‘(1) An agreement under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies], and any approval given by the Secretary of State under that section, must be in writing.
(2) An IFC authority which has entered into an agreement with an eligible body must arrange for a copy of the agreement to be published in a way that the IFC authority thinks is suitable for bringing it to the attention of persons likely to be affected by it.
(3) No power of a Minister of the Crown under any enactment to give directions to a statutory body extends to giving a direction—
(a) requiring it to enter into an agreement under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies];
(b) prohibiting it from entering into such an agreement;
(c) requiring it to include, or prohibiting it from including, particular terms in such an agreement;
(d) requiring it to negotiate, or prohibiting it from negotiating, a variation or termination of such an agreement.
(4) Schedule 15 to the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 (c. 40) (restrictions on disclosure of information) applies in relation to an authorisation by an IFC authority or an eligible body under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies] or [Agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]: particular powers] of this Act as it applies in relation to an authorisation under section 69 of that Act by an office-holder.’.—(Huw Irranca-Davies.)
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
Amendment made: 6, page 108, line 29, at end insert—
‘( ) Regulations under this section may make different provision for cases where an IFC authority has entered into an agreement under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies] authorising a body to perform any of the authority’s functions relating to byelaws.’.—(Huw Irranca-Davies.)
Powers of IFC officers
Amendment made: 7, page 110, line 22, leave out ‘by the authority for the district’ and insert
‘under section 155 for the district (or having effect as if so made)’.—(Huw Irranca-Davies.)
Interpretation of this Chapter
Amendment made: 8, page 115, line 9, at end insert—
‘“eligible body” has the meaning given by section [Eligible bodies];’.—(Huw Irranca-Davies.)
The coastal access duty
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 32, in clause 292, page 189, line 5, leave out subsections (a) and (b) and insert—
‘(a) holds a legal estate or has a legal interest in the land, or’.
Amendment 34, in clause 297, page 195, line 13, at end insert—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must, by regulation, set out the way in which a person with a relevant interest in land may require Natural England to review a coastal access report. Reasons for review may include—
(a) proposed or actual changes in the use of land;
(b) review of existing directions or proposed new directions made under Chapter 2 or Part 1 of the CROW Act for the exclusion or restriction of the right of access.
(2) The regulations referred to in subsection (1) must set out the way in which a person with a relevant interest in land may make an objection under the procedure set out in Schedule 19 including objections against the refusal of Natural England to undertake a review, or to carry out the review within specified timescales, or to amend a coastal access report.’.
Amendment 33, page 197, line 49, leave out subsections (a) and (b) and insert—
‘(a) holds a legal estate or has a legal interest in the land, or’.
Amendment 40, page 200, line 32, at end insert—
‘(10) The Secretary of State shall within 2 years from the commencement of this section lay before Parliament a report which shall appraise the progress made in establishing long distance coastal routes in England with particular regard to—
(a) the voluntary inclusion of parkland;
(b) the inclusion of the Isle of Wight;
(c) the addition of further islands reachable by ferry;
(d) the use of seasonal ferries as part of the coastal path.
(11) In the report required in (10) The Secretary of State shall append proposals to remedy shortcomings in the establishment of coastal routes that are apparent to him as a result of its presentation.’.
Amendment 37, page 202, line 26, leave out Clause 300.
We move on to part 9 of the Bill, on coastal access. Many Members might feel, like me, that that part of the Bill has been bolted on to 300 clauses of very important marine Bill. That has risked diverting some of our energies and intentions away from an important part of the Bill. We all want to see more access to our countryside in all its forms: whether this was the right part of the Bill to do that is questionable, but we are where we are. It is most important that we be up front with the British public about what we can achieve.
Charles Clover, who has already been mentioned, wrote in yesterday’s The Sunday Times that
“a study by Natural England, the access quango, found that the amount of public access to the coast, of one kind or another, was…84 per cent. Of the remaining 16 per cent., half comprises ports and harbours.”
According to Natural England’s own figures, therefore, we are talking about 8 per cent.
According to another source, Natural England has estimated that
“there is no satisfactory or legally secure access to 34% of the English coast”,
not 16 per cent.
We could take up a lot of time arguing about maths. Charles Clover goes on to say that a place in his locality in Essex, Mistley quay, will not benefit from access as a result of the Bill. We need to be upfront about what will actually be provided, and how we can facilitate such provision.
Amendment 35 deals with coastal margin, or spreading room. As has been made clear throughout our debates on the Bill, it will be impossible to provide spreading room—or coastal margin—along the entirety of the coastal route. Safety, privacy and biosecurity have all been cited as real and legitimate reasons for a limitation being placed on it. Our amendment seeks to change the wording of clause 291 to reflect the reality of spreading room. If it is not to be placed along the entirety of the coastal route—as we have been reassured by Natural England and the Minister that it will not—the wording of the Bill should reflect that.
The issue of coastal margin in the Bill has raised concerns around the country, not least because there will be many areas of exceptions and restrictions. The concept of complete access along a coastal margin will simply not be achievable. The Bill should be amended to reflect reality so that the public are not misled, as they may have been by the perception that the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 would create a universal right to roam.
I was heavily involved with the Bill that became the CROW Act. It gave no impression of a universal right to roam. Those of us who use and welcome our new right are very clear about the fact that there is no universal right, and the people who exercise that right do so in a very responsible way.
I entirely understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. What I am saying is certainly not a criticism of him or of anyone else who was involved in that Bill, but I assure him that many people immediately assumed that there was some new right enabling them to go anywhere, although we all know that that was not the case. Perhaps we can blame elements of the press for the way in which they reported what was happening. I am sorry if what was intended to be a fairly benign comment has excited a few people—
I thank my friend and neighbour for giving way. I am not excited, and I am always benign to him. Does he accept that the misinformation on the CROW Act came not from the people who were promoting it but from the Countryside Alliance and other interests, who deliberately set out to misrepresent what was in the Bill and the intention behind the campaign? I think he knows that that is the case.
I was not in the House at the time. May we draw a line under this argument? I did not intend to create such excitement—although, during what could have been a fairly dry afternoon, it has proved to be an exciting diversion. I should be happy to continue the conversation with the hon. Gentleman on the river bank.
The concept that all land adjacent to, and seaward of, the line of the route should be included as coastal margin is, as we know, unrealistic. While there is an intention to draw the route as close to the sea as possible, there will be circumstances in which that does not happen. In those circumstances, land types that are clearly not coastal—that are not foreshore or adjacent cliff, bank, dune or flat—should not be included as coastal margin. The Bill should properly reflect the lack of continuity of margin that will inevitably be the case because of physical features on the ground. We believe that a proper distinction needs to be drawn between the route itself and associated spreading room.
The current Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consultation on the definitions of coastal land shows that there is an inconsistency of approach in its proposals. There is a failure to make a proper distinction between the route and spreading room, such as the proposed inclusion of land within 20 metres of a dwelling not simply to enable the route to pass over it where there is no practical alternative, but with the possibility of that land being designated as spreading room.
There is also still considerable concern among some groups over mapping of spreading room. The Minister has given the reassurance that he believes that Natural England should be sensitive to requests for maps. Is he willing to give a reassurance on the Floor of the House, however, as that would be very helpful? Given that it has been generally accepted by the Government that words will not always be sufficient to describe the coastal margin associated with the new coastal trail, will the Minister confirm that where a land occupier or landowner has made a reasonable request for the provision of a map for clarity, Natural England will be sympathetic in meeting such requests?
Amendments 32 and 33 concern the definition of an interest in the land. We believe that coastal access must be based upon local consensus where possible, and be developed at local level in order to ensure that this right of access takes account of the pre-existing rights of farmers, home owners, businesses, wildfowling clubs and other sporting interests, as well as the needs of conservation and public safety. This proposal follows concerns that we raised in Committee over the treatment of those with certain legal interests in land, such as those with sporting rights, that we felt were absent from the Bill.
I acknowledge that the Government have made some movement in this area, and have reinstated the right of appeal, under the CROW Act, where restrictions or exclusions are proposed. It has also been said that the representations made by holders of sporting interests, but not holders of other legal interests such as mineral rights, will be passed on fully to the Secretary of State rather than being summarised. There remains, however, a feeling among certain groups that Government concessions do not amount to equal rights. The Bill still does not give equal treatment to all those people who have a legal interest in the land, thereby creating a two-tier system among those with different legal interests. For example, the Bill includes those with grazing licences. That right of occupation could be for a very small amount of annual rent compared with, let us say, sporting rights, which could be of considerably greater value and require, as in the case of wildfowling clubs, huge amounts of conservation investment in both money and effort over many years.
The Bill currently provides that occupiers and owners will be taken into account both at the walking the course phase and when considering whether a fair balance has been struck between the interests of the owner or occupier and the interests of the public who may wish to walk a coastal route. However, there are some legal interests that do not have the same rights. In particular, holders of sporting and mineral rights will not be treated in the same way as owners and occupiers.
Particular concern arises in respect of the setting of the route and margin. If Natural England is not required to take into account some legal interests, such as mineral or sporting rights, it could set the route in a way that seriously impinges on those rights. Furthermore, it may result in the total loss of use of such rights without its being called to account, as there is no obligation on Natural England to take account of those interests in determining whether a fair balance has been reached. Throughout Committee stage, we agreed that the Bill requires us to take a great leap of faith in organisations such as Natural England. All my discussions with it have made me conscious that it is up to the task and is looking at this issue in entirely the right way, but we really do need some assurance—I hope, in the Bill.
Our amendment seeks to redress this imbalance by ensuring that the definitions of interest in the land include all those with a legal estate or interest in the land, as is the case under the CROW Act. We recognise attempts by the Minister to negotiate a route through this issue at his summit last month, and that he was not helped by a divergence of opinion among some of the groups present. He may have found a way forward and I am happy to support it, but I do want reassurances on this point.
Amendment 34 concerns the need for changes to the route to reflect a change of use of the land in question where it is affected by the route of the path or spreading room. The Government have consistently promised that the coastal access route will be flexible and responsive to changing circumstances; however, nothing in the Bill ensures that. How is Natural England to know that a development has been approved, and that it must alter its coastal access report as a result of that development affecting the coastal access route? How does the developer notify Natural England and ensure that the coastal access report is up to date and takes account of the changes that have been approved? The amendment would ensure that those with an interest in the land have the right to request changes to coastal access in future where there is a change in use of the land. At the very least, we need an assurance from the Minister that such a mechanism will be included explicitly within Natural England’s coastal access scheme. We also need an explicit assurance that guidance will be provided to local planning authorities confirming the flexible nature of the coastal access provisions.
Amendment 37 concerns liability issues. Although it is Natural England and the Secretary of State who will identify the coastal route and areas of spreading room, clause 300 removes all liability from Natural England and the Secretary of State for any failures that may occur in connection with its coastal access duty. It is surely wrong for Government to try to restrict liability in this way. The Secretary of State and Natural England are both charged under clause 291 with exercising the coastal access duty. That duty should be carried out with due regard to public safety. If liability is removed, as proposed, members of the public will be unable to find any redress from the Government or Natural England for failures in identifying a safe coastal access route. Retaining liability at some level, at least, will act as a reminder to Natural England and the Secretary of State to determine coastal access carefully and remain mindful of their responsibilities toward the public. It will provide a powerful check and balance in determining the precise location of any coastal access.
I am not in the business of creating vast new burdens on any Government agency or on Ministers themselves, but the question of liability does need a reasoned response. The Minister may be able to give me some reassurances or suggest an alternative solution to my amendment. In fact, it is unclear in the Bill exactly where liability will lie. It would be helpful to have some words from the Minister in this regard.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon)—his Front-Bench colleagues would do well to examine how he has approached this Bill and this thorny issue in particular—because the House has just heard an example of constructive opposition that will lead to effective change. On leaving this place, as I will shortly, it is nice to think that we have been the architects of effective change rather than just a handful of soundbites.
I shared the concern of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, recreational angling interests and Members from all parts of the House that some of the coastal access provisions, as originally drafted, could have had unintended consequences. Surely part of what we are about when we scrutinise legislation is guarding against and avoiding those. Nobody in their right mind wants to drive a coastal access path through a piece of land if that would put the public at risk or inhibit the legitimate enjoyment and sport of wild fowlers, who for generations have enjoyed their sport on many of the marshlands and estuaries around our coasts. The recreational angling sector, although less affected, had concerns about coastal access paths going past places of particular popularity with people who beach-cast. I am talking about guys who throw 4 or 5 ounces of lead some 200-odd yards from a beach, so it is not a good idea for a footpath to be immediately behind them—unless a member of the public wants to have a quick swim or possibly be seriously injured in some other way.
It was important that those sporting interests could be represented in the consultation mechanism in respect of the establishment of the path. Following some vigorous exchanges in Committee, which were based on amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Newbury and me—there was support from other hon. Members—the Minister kindly agreed to convene a summit on 7 September. I thank him for apprising us of the outcome, and I wish to read into the record what he has said in writing:
“I have therefore proposed that those with a sporting right (including holders of sporting tenancies), should be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State under Schedule 19 to the Bill, to ensure that their representations are given particular consideration by the Secretary of State…The effect of this would be that Natural England would have to take reasonable steps to give notice of a relevant coastal access report to those with sporting rights, and any representations which they made on the report would go in full to the Secretary of State”.
That is important.
People have criticised this as not so much a victory and not so much a significant policy change, but they are the same bunch who misrepresented the CROW Act and one would not be surprised to learn that they are usually a little late on these issues. The fact that sporting interests will have the ability to make representations right to the very top of the tree—they will have access to the top of the pile—is one of the reasons why the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the Angling Trust have welcomed the improvement made, the assurances given by the Minister and the conclusions of the summit held on 7 September. As far as I am concerned, and as far as recreational shooters and anglers are concerned, this is a job well done. We do not see the need for this to be a point of contention, so notwithstanding the strong and pertinent remarks that he made, I urge the hon. Member for Newbury to recognise that there is little need for the House to divide on this issue.
I wish to say a few brief words from our Front Bench in support of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon). I did not serve on the Committee, so this is the first time that I have been able to comment on this part of the Bill. Like him, I think it is regrettable that this whole matter of coastal access was put into a very important Bill dealing with marine conservation. Many other complicated issues have thus been raised and the subject deserved a piece of legislation on its own; I am totally in favour of providing coastal access, but such an undertaking should have been dealt with in separate legislation. I am sure that both sides of the House would have welcomed that and would have facilitated the passage of such legislation.
Coastal access is desirable, but, harking back to the right-to-roam section of the CROW Act, once again—I do not want to excite the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) on this matter—most people want recreation in the countryside, on moorland and on the coast, but they want an improvement in our existing rights of way network. Footpaths and circular walks can be easily created and farmers can have sensible diversions for footpaths on their land—that is what the majority of people in this country want. When the right-to-roam section of the CROW Act came in, it diverted an enormous amount of money from and effort by Natural England, or whatever it was called in those days, to create the open access areas.
I can talk with first-hand knowledge only about my own area, Northumberland. We have masses of open moorland near where I live. The fell outside the village has been walked on by local people and visitors for years, but it was not included in open access. Pieces of ground that no one really wants to walk on have now been included for open access, so all we get is a lot of money spent on new gateposts with new signs on them, and the walking experience and walking environment in the area are not improved. In a sense, I regret the diversion that the opening of coastal access will cause Natural England with its core responsibilities of opening access to the public and creating better rights of way and bridleway networks throughout the country.
I would like my hon. Friend’s amendment to be accepted because I am aware that wildfowling clubs and those with other sporting interests are extremely worried that their interests could be overlooked. I appreciate what a lot of progress was made in Committee; nevertheless, the amendment would be better for those groups. We are talking about organisations, particularly wildfowling clubs, that invested tens of thousands—even hundreds of thousands—of pounds over the years in conservation efforts to develop safe and responsible wildfowling around the coast. If that could be prejudiced in any way by the creation of the coastal path, they would clearly be extremely worried. I hope that the Minister will once again reassure them.
Let me mention another case that was brought to my attention. In one area, small inshore fishing boats, which are hauled up off the foreshore, are launched some distance from the coast. There is no legal right to do that, only centuries of customs and practice. I was interested to note those concerns, and I hope that the Minister can explain that those people have nothing to worry about.
I was intrigued to see that an amendment to the White Herring Fisheries Act was coming up for debate. If one was in the habit of filibustering in the House, which we used to do, that would have been a marvellous subject to keep us engaged for several hours. I am quite sure that many hon. Members would wish to talk about that Act.
I hope that the Minister, if he will not accept the amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, will give further reassurance to those who have wildfowling, sporting and other rights and interests that their interests will be looked after as the Bill becomes law.
This is my first chance, too, to speak on this Bill as amended in Committee, because of my required attendance at the Crown court in Sheffield for jury service when the Committee was sitting. This is my first opportunity to comment on the individual provisions.
The comments that have been made about the inclusion of coastal access in the Bill are unfortunate, because Natural England has been at the forefront of the campaign to ensure that these provisions are in the Bill. Secondly, one of the points of the Bill in its entirety is to ensure that everybody in this country understands that we have a collective responsibility for the marine environment. Surely one of the best ways of ensuring that people understand that is to make sure that there is reasonable access to the coast, and that people can start to enjoy, understand and appreciate the coastline. By doing that, we may also help to develop a sense of collective responsibility for the coastline and the marine environment.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the vast majority of walkers who will want to visit a coastal path will not be the hardened types who want to do long treks round large areas of coastal Britain, but will want to go to a particular point, possibly by public transport, and walk part of the coast, possibly via a circular route, or possibly returning by the same route? We need to cater for the vast majority of walkers who will want to access coastal Britain like that, rather than being hidebound by the idea of a circular route as the ultimate aim of all that we are talking about.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but point out that it has been calculated that since the opening up of the long-distance path along the entire length of Hadrian’s wall, there has been a 99 per cent. increase in the number of long-distance walkers using the path. The south-west coastal path has been estimated to generate at least £307 million annually for the regional economy, so I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s argument. There is a wide range of walkers using any path, whether inland or on the coast, but there will be a significant increase in long-distance walkers once the provisions have been enacted.
On amendment 35, I should like to focus attention on the importance of the provisions for establishing spreading room for certain sporting interests. We have today heard comments about sporting interests, which were entirely legitimate, but there are other sporting interests with an interest in coastal access. The British Mountaineering Council, for instance, is keen to establish that the natural physical boundaries that are recommended as the boundary of the landward side of the margins recommended are included in the margin, not seen as the outer boundary of that margin. That is extremely important for rock climbers and mountaineers because there are rock faces and cliff faces that face inwards—landwards—on our coastline, and if they are to become the natural boundaries for the margin, it is very important that they are included in the margins, and that we establish these margins wherever possible and, if possible, along the entire coastal access path.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) said—he is no longer in his place—amendment 32 makes a fair point. I am not convinced that it should be pressed to a Division, but many other sporting interests would be sympathetic to the sentiment expressed in the amendment. The British Mountaineering Council has made it clear that when there are temporary closures of coastal footpaths for various reasons, such as for nesting at certain times of year, or in order for conservation measures to be undertaken, those temporary closures should take place on the basis of voluntary partnerships at local level wherever possible. I should like an assurance from the Minister today that the least restrictive option will be recommended for the temporary closure of coastal footpaths for the reasons that I outlined.
Amendment 34 is about the inclusion of particular voices in the consultation process and potential objections to Natural England’s refusal to undertake a review, and I reiterate the importance of ensuring that consultation on the establishment of any coastal path in any local area includes, at the earliest possible stage, those with a legitimate interest in the matter. The Ramblers Association, in particular, feels strongly about it, and the association has a fair point, so I should appreciate the Minister’s comments on the matter.
The points that amendment 40 raises were debated at some length in Committee, but the issue of parks and gardens is ongoing, and I reiterate the point that was made in Committee, whereby there must be a distinction between parks on the one hand and gardens on the other. Surely no one in this House would try to argue that an individual whose private garden happened to be near the coast deserved to have ramblers, walkers and rock climbers on his or her land. That would be absolutely unreasonable. However, with large estates attached to large parks that, in many cases, go down to the coastline, there is a case for establishing coastal access that does not impact intrusively on park owners.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I remain disappointed that the provision for excluding parks and gardens from the Bill has not been removed. At this late stage, however, it remains for those of us who would have favoured such a change to the Bill simply to ask the Minister to reassure us that the matter will come back before the House within two years, with a report on whether the voluntary arrangements that the Government recommended have worked. I stress that if we find that they have not, we will need to think again about putting regulations—amendments—in place to deal with the issue effectively.
The Isle of Wight is a popular holiday destination whose value to walkers and tourists alike is well known, but it is excluded from the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) will have something to say about that, but I argue that the Isle of Wight, as the biggest island belonging to the UK and reasonably accessible by ferry all year round, should be included in the Bill’s coastal access provisions. We look to the Minister to reassure us that an order will be made to include the Isle of Wight in those provisions.
The issue of ferries, and, in particular, whether islands that are reached by seasonal ferries should be included in the Bill, has not been satisfactorily resolved. The question is, when seasonal ferries do not operate, in winter usually, what do walkers who wish to use coastal footpaths do? Are they to face long detours, or will Natural England be encouraged to make alternative provisions to get around the fact that those ferries do not operate at certain times of the year?
Having said all that, I wish the Bill well and hope that the Minister will respond positively to the comments on the proposed changes to it.
I have spoken to the Bill only once before, on Second Reading, when I discussed its fisheries conservation aspects. I shall use this opportunity, however, to address its coastal access provisions. I have no registrable interests to declare, but my family, like the Secretary of State’s family, have a tiny patch of coastline that is affected by the Bill. I do not wish to address that today, however.
I am intrigued by the amendment, which replaces “is” with “may be”. Perhaps in tabling it, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) was demonstrating his lack of faith that the Bill would deliver what the Government promise. If the amendment is proffered in that spirit, I very much want to support it, not because I oppose the principle of coastal access but because I think a lot of people will be disappointed by what the Bill delivers.
I am most concerned by what is excluded from the coastal access provisions under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 definition of relevant “excepted land”. I must relate to the House a bizarre situation, of which my constituent, Charles Clover, gave a very good account in yesterday’s Sunday Times, concerning the Mistley quay in my constituency. Mistley is a little town on the Stour estuary that has a quay on which it is recorded that boats unloaded fish as long ago as the 14th century. By some anachronism, perhaps, the quay has historically been privately owned. However, the public have always enjoyed access to it, so that barges and, in more recent decades, yachts and pleasure craft have been able to use the quay for their enjoyment. That was fine until the Health and Safety Executive threatened to prosecute the quay’s operators under health and safety laws for providing insufficient safety equipment on the quay. The HSE gave the owner a choice between either putting up signs and providing suitable equipment such as lifebuoys and ladders or other devices by which people who fall in the water can get out or be rescued, or putting up a fence. It chose the cheaper of the two options and erected an 8-foot wire fence across that historic part of Mistley—across the quay. It is now impossible for ordinary people to access and use the quay.
What will the Bill do for those parts of the coastline that have historically had public access but that are excluded by the Bill? For those areas, the phrase “may be” is very much the operable sentiment, because the Bill seems to do nothing to strengthen proposals for public open spaces on the coastline in areas that are excluded by the Bill.
Let me emphasise how extraordinary the situation is. There has been a huge amount of public protest about this matter in my constituency. I feel sorry for Trent Wharfage, the owner of the quay to which I referred, for being caught up in all this, although I think that it has gone the wrong way about handling the situation and that it could have avoided a confrontation. It has blocked off historic rights that have existed for a long time, and it looks as though this matter can now be settled only through the courts and a complicated legal process that may not be successful. The Bill would do absolutely nothing to assist the ordinary population of Mistley in resolving this situation.
A few weeks ago, a dinghy capsized in the Stour estuary and a lifeboat was called out from Harwich. A rescue was undertaken and the lifeboat took the people and their dinghy to Mistley quay, but they could not access the quay and no helicopter could land there because of the fence. The fence had to be cut down, with the help of local residents, so that the rescue could be properly effected. What a great victory for health and safety and the HSE! I hope that the Minister will forgive me for placing this very unhappy situation on the record, but I want to know how the Bill will help to resolve it.
The Bill purports to solve all the problems of coastal access, but it demonstrates a thoughtless, rather broad-brush approach that a lot of people have complained about because it will hurt rural parts of the coastline, conservation, privacy and other vital things. Little has been said about how the exclusion of ports could lead to more situations such as that at Mistley quay. The Bill does absolutely nothing to help to resolve that issue, and I would be grateful if the Minister could address that fact.
I would like particularly to address my remarks to amendment 40, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) and for High Peak (Tom Levitt).
The Bill is progressing through Report with remarkably few major amendments having been tabled. That is a tribute to the fact that it came into this House as a very good Bill and, that during its passage, my hon. Friend the Minister has taken full cognisance of sensible efforts to ensure that it leaves us not just as a very good Bill but as an excellent Bill. The spirit of co-operation and sweet reason that has characterised many parts of the debates demonstrates the general feeling around the House that the Bill is essential for the marine and coastal environment of England and that it should be, and is, as good as it can be.
The modest proposal in the amendment underlines not only the spirit of negotiation and voluntary discussion that is a substantial part particularly of the coastal access elements of the Bill, but the notion that those provisions set out genuine principles and a real understanding of what it is to have coastal access around England. They belong honourably within a marine Bill. One cannot, in a discussion of shipping and ports, separate what is on the land side from what is on the seaward side of a ports’ operations and activities, and the coast is an essential part of our marine environment in terms not only of public access but of how it relates to the marine environment beyond the shores and out to sea.
The aim of the Bill as regards the coast is clear and explicit. It states—no parties to this discussion have demurred from this definition:
“The first objective is that there is a route for the whole of the English coast which…consists of one or more long-distance routes along which the public are enabled to make recreational journeys on foot or by ferry”.
Although it is true that most people will access only a part of that coast, the fact that a continuous path is aimed for underpins the whole nature of the access provided. The Bill sets out that ambition well—which, of course, the public understand cannot be fully achieved in all circumstances. In my area of the country, the public do not expect coastal access to mean that they can charge through berths 101, 102 and 103 of Southampton port, then transfer across to the car-handling facilities on the eastern docks, and then take a detour along the gravel extraction wharves further up the river. Nor do they expect to tramp through people’s gardens and private property in the way that has been outlined in Committee and elsewhere. However, they have a reasonable expectation that the aim to ensure a continuous path will be achieved as far as is reasonably possible. That will be done, in the first instance, largely through negotiation and discussion and on a voluntary basis, and that is right.
The hon. Gentleman was a thoughtful member of the Public Bill Committee, and I respect his views. When the matter was raised in Committee, the Minister said that he would much prefer to see how things progressed, and he issued a challenge to any areas that were holding out against greater public access. In my tours around coastal Britain, the message has got home. If the hon. Gentleman were able to trust elements of rural Britain in coastal areas to pursue the matter, he might get what he wants without this rather top-down proposal. I was working on voluntary access agreements long before anyone thought of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, and I know that they can be made to work best when they are agreed locally. Is that not the best way forward? Can we not work in that way first before trying to impose a measure from above?
The hon. Gentleman makes a strong case, with which I wholeheartedly agree, that the best way to achieve a continuous path with sensible and reasonable exceptions has to be negotiation and discussion. The purpose of amendment 40 is to act on the basis of trust with a purpose. It is clear from our discussions in Committee that Natural England, landowners and various other people will need to get together to ensure that there is a voluntary agreement. That is important and I welcome it, but that is in the context of a Bill that states that as far as possible, there should be a continuous coastal path.
We hope and believe that those negotiations will work, and I am reassured that most people have a clear understanding of what voluntary agreement means and what arrangements can be reached to ensure coastal access. However, if those negotiations do not work, the amendment says not that there should be top-down legislation but that the House ought to know about it. The House should know what has gone well and what has gone badly, which voluntary agreements have worked and which have not and whether there are serious shortcomings compared with the ambition behind the Bill and our discussions in Committee. If there are, the Secretary of State’s report may need to point out what remedies are available.
In some instances remedies may be available by order and, in others, more detailed remedies may be necessary, but I am not saying that an enormous 16-tonne weight should come down upon the heads of all those who have not conformed to the extent that we might like. Instead, a measured response and a consideration of how well we have done with voluntary agreements should be brought to the attention of the House, and there should be measured thought about what remedies are necessary. If the voluntary arrangements work as well as I hope and believe they will, the report may well be literally about three lines long. However, we must respect the ultimate aim of the Bill and consider how it should be achieved.
I set out in amendment 40 a number of things on which the report might concentrate. The “voluntary inclusion of parkland”, as we all know from the CROW Act 2000, is a difficult matter, because of the difficulty of easily conceding unimpeded access across any area of inland parkland to ramblers when that may cause a problem with a number of functions of that parkland. However, that is not an exact parallel with the question of coastal access, when access would necessarily be along the fringes of parkland. Provided one has a clear definition of privacy and proper safeguards for access, the problem should be resolvable.
The Isle of Wight, which is not included in the arrangements, is accessed by ferry, which goes from the doorstep of my constituency on a regular and reliable basis all year round—people can get to the island without any problem at all. In previous years, there was, I believe, a party called the Vectis Nationalist party, which was in favour of independence for the Isle of Wight, but everyone else will agree that the island is very much an essential and beautiful part of the English coastline. The fact that it is an island accessible by ferries should make its inclusion by order in the provisions a reasonably straightforward thing to achieve.
That leads to the question whether further islands that are accessible reliably and regularly by ferry ought to be included in the scope of the legislation and the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) has already asked—namely, what happens when seasonal ferries do not run? Does plan B come into operation in that situation, or does plan A mean that access would be possible only during certain times of the year and not at others?
Those issues can all be resolved within the overall aim of the legislation by negotiation, but I do not want to face, in several years’ time, a similar situation to that in, for example, the New Forest, where the Solent way, parts of which are 6 miles from the coast, continues to be called a coastal path.
I shall take the hon. Gentleman back slightly to when he mentioned the accessibility of island communities by ferry. Would he apply the same principle to clause 302, which provides for a very specific exemption for the Isles of Scilly? I must inform him, as I did in Committee, that the council of the Isles of Scilly is very content with the arrangements because there is full coastal access throughout the islands, and it fears the consequences of formalising that.
Having walked around almost the entire coastline of the Isles of Scilly and some of the uninhabited coastline that can be reached by arrangements with people who are not related to the families who run the main boats on the Scilly Isles, I can confirm that there is superb coastal access there. Indeed, one might say that, in any event, ferry access to the Scilly Isles is not exactly the same as jumping on the Isle of Wight ferry. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but there are other islands around the English coast.
Having used the Scillonian on more than one occasion, I entirely concur that it is not the same as using a ferry to the Isle of Wight. Is it not also the case that the Isles of Scilly have their own government to some extent? The Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Man are different from the Isle of Wight in terms of governance.
I agree. The fact that the Bill already includes a note about the Isles of Scilly should underline the point, and it is not my intention to ask the Secretary of State for a report in two years on why the Isles of Scilly are not included under provisions for access by ferry to the English coastline.
I would like a clear understanding that progress will be made on the points that I have mentioned. They are not major points in relation to the development of the coastal path. They are about a minority of coastal paths—8 or 10 per cent. of the length, but we should not deceive ourselves that coastal paths that do not look like coastal paths in certain parts of the country are really coastal paths and therefore can be disregarded. A coastal path is a coastal path, and we should get as close as we can to that definition in reality as soon as possible after the passing of this legislation. I would welcome assurances from the Minister that progress will be made and that he will be vigilant in ensuring that if progress is slow, he will have the remedies in place so that the aim of the Bill is not overthrown.
I thank hon. Members for a good debate on this group of amendments. I was especially keen to hear the views of Members on these amendments, and I was reassured by the general welcome on both sides for the coastal path and spreading room provision. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) understandably voiced his general concerns, as he and others did in Committee, about the process and the final outcome. He suggested that he was broadly in sympathy with our aims, but he is rightly testing us on how our thinking has progressed since Committee stage.
As well as the hon. Gentleman, we had contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Reading, West (Martin Salter), for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) and for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), and the hon. Members for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) and for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), which were all different but illuminating in the detail that they tried to tease out.
It is worth remembering at the outset of discussion of this batch of amendments exactly why we are here today. Some hon. Members referred to the article by Charles Clover, whom I have come to know through his work on bluefin tuna. I commend him on his work and leadership in the public domain on that issue, and the Government were pleased to subscribe to that work and to help to push the boat far on it. However, I take issue with him on some of the detail in the article published at the weekend.
The point has been made that people already have great access, so why do we need to improve it. The hon. Member for Newbury mentioned the issue of statistics, and I shall come to that in a moment, but whether we are talking about 8 per cent. or 30 per cent., I remind him that the 8 per cent. in the middle of a jam doughnut is probably the nicest 8 per cent.—it is the sweet, juicy bit in the middle. We know that the coast is very popular with people for beach activities and wider forms of recreation. The evidence shows that walking is the single most popular activity on the coast, and all Members will be increasingly aware that access to good walking in the countryside brings not only physical health benefits, but mental health benefits. Improving access will give people not just the confidence but, to pick up on my hon. Friends’ point, the certainty that wherever they arrive at the coast, other than on excepted land, there will be clear, well managed access in either direction and that they will be able to enjoy a rich and varied environment.
Let me turn to the Natural England report that underpins the background to the amendments. Natural England conducted a study of access to England’s coastline. Its report, which was published in July, revealed that almost 1,000 miles of England’s coastline is either inaccessible or lacks secure access—the pertinent point is about the confidence and clarity that there will be secure access. The findings did not come out of the blue, but arose from an extensive audit that Natural England conducted in partnership with 53 local access authorities.
The results of that study have been published in the form of maps and they show that there is no satisfactory or legally secure access to 34 per cent. of the English coast. That is bigger than the centre of the doughnut; indeed, we are missing a heck of a big chunk. In the north-west that figure rises to 56 per cent.—more than half the coast. I have remarked in the Chamber, in Committee and elsewhere that one of the best areas for progress is the south-west, where full, secure public access extends to 76 per cent. of the coast. However, I would not want to say that there were no areas in the south-west where we did not want to get our teeth into the jam in the middle of the doughnut as well, where that could be done.
My hon. Friend’s references to the jam doughnut and the work of Natural England lead me to ask an important question. The late Sir Martin Doughty, who at his death was the chairman of Natural England, was a huge supporter of the coastal access provisions in the Bill. Will the Government think seriously about ensuring that a part of our coastal access provision is named after that much missed champion of access rights?
Although I would not want to prescribe it myself, that is an admirable idea for a part or all of the provision. My hon. Friend and other hon. Members have advocated the idea of remembering Sir Martin Doughty, who passed away only this year, in that way, as having a genuine coastal path and spreading room was a major aspiration of his. If we succeed in introducing the Bill with cross-party support, the idea of recognising his contribution would have my personal support. Many of the organisations out there—whether the Ramblers Association, the British Mountaineering Council or others—would also welcome marking his contribution in some way.
Talk of jam doughnuts has excited me and inspired me to see whether I can get a couple of points on the record. Does the Minister agree that we want to go to the best bits—that is, to the jam—first? Natural England should be looking at prioritising areas that will enhance tourism—areas where the path is needed and asked for by local organisations, pubs, village shops and others who will benefit from the tourism that it will bring. Will he also confirm, as I think he did in Committee, that the way Natural England approaches the issue is vital? It needs to understand, for example, that in parts of the south-west there is an existing path, maintained in some cases by landowners at their personal expense and liability, that may not go exactly along the coast. However, if the route takes people across a cliff top, the walker gets a better view. The path will already be there, but it will not be driving the route across the front of a caravan park that is actually on the coast. That flexibility needs to be reflected in how the Bill progresses.
Yes, indeed. The hon. Gentleman recognises the nature of the Bill and how the coastal path provisions have been made, in that it starts from the walking of the route. The Bill leads from there to the engagement needed with the various landowners and those who are interested in the coastal path to ensure, very much with local determination, that the best route is picked. The work of the south-west access forums has been a good model of how that approach works. We want it to be rolled out further. I will return to that issue in a moment, but, where possible, we also want access to parks and gardens to be opened up.
The hon. Gentleman’s amendment 35 seeks to change one of the fundamental principles underpinning part 9 of the Bill, namely the coastal access duty in clause 291. Here we come to the meat of the issue. I understand why he is probing, but I hope that he might consider withdrawing the amendment once I have explained my reasons. The coastal access duty requires the Secretary of State and Natural England to secure two prime objectives. The first objective, as my hon. Friends have remarked, is to have a long-distance route or routes for the whole of the English coast that is accessible to the public for journeys on foot, including by ferry if appropriate, which is an issue that my hon. Friends mentioned to which I shall return. The second objective, which is associated with the route or routes, is to have a wider margin of recreational land available for the public on foot for enjoyment in conjunction with the route.
Amendment 35 seeks to amend the second objective and would make the coastal access duty much weaker than the Government propose. It would thereby inhibit the delivery of the Government’s commitment to providing access to the whole of our wonderful coastline. The effect of the amendment would be to make the requirement to establish the coastal margin not absolute, but discretionary. I therefore cannot support the amendment. It strikes at the very heart of the Government’s vision of allowing people access to the coastline so that they can play, paddle, explore and gain an understanding of the wealth of our coastal environment. Realising that vision requires a route around the whole of the English coast that is accessible by members of the public for recreational journeys on foot as well as a margin of land accessible to the public for the purposes of its enjoyment by them in conjunction with that route or otherwise.
Agreeing to the amendment would curtail that vision to a route with much more limited access. It would also frustrate user groups and members of the public alike, including many user groups that have campaigned ardently for that coastal access provision. We have always made it clear that at the heart of our proposals for improving access to the English coast under the Bill is, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the extensive consultation process that Natural England will be required to undertake with local interests in proposing the coastal route. Land managers, local access forums and local authorities, both of which I have met repeatedly on the issue, as well as representatives of recreational interest, wildlife and other interest groups will all be a key part of the approach adopted in designing the access corridor.
As with open access, I recognise that there may be occasions where access to the coast might cause a problem. Natural England will have to consider the need for restrictions and exclusions. We debated that extensively in Committee, and it has been debated in the other place too. Those restrictions and exclusions will be considered as part of Natural England’s coastal report for each stretch of coast that must be approved by the Secretary of State. After the initial alignment process, landowners and those with an interest in land will be able to apply for further restrictions if circumstances change and they will have a right of appeal if these are not agreed.
The Bill also requires Natural England to prepare a scheme setting out the approach that it will take in discharging its coastal access duty that must be approved by the Secretary of State. A draft of that scheme has already been published and, once again, Natural England will consult shortly on a further draft for improvements. Indeed, Natural England has invited representatives from a number of our key stakeholders to a meeting next week to discuss the draft scheme.
The Minister mentioned local access forums. They are feeling a little unloved at the moment, so will he give his leadership and ensure that they are genuinely consulted? Local access forums have a wealth of experience and understand what is required in delivering greater access, and they do that for next to nothing. They are a cheap and welcome addition to the expertise that already exists, but the Minister might like to put his weight behind ensuring that they feel part of the process.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I met the local access forums two weeks ago, and they want to play a pivotal role in the coastal routes’ development. Their members have expertise, they are volunteers, and they know the routes and the lie of the land. I cannot conceive how local access forums would not be part and parcel of the coastal routes’ development.
The ethos of the Bill is to use local knowledge from walking the routes to devise the proposal that will go to the Secretary of State. If the hon. Gentleman wants leadership in saying that local access forums, in all different shapes and sizes throughout the country, should be part and parcel of the scheme, I give him that categorical assurance.
I do not know whether the Minister will return to the question of Mistley quay, but does the Secretary of State or Natural England have any discretion under the Bill if access is denied and included in the “relevant excepted land”? Is there any discretion or power that the Secretary of State could use to resolve a dispute such as that at Mistley quay?
I am pleased to say that I shall come to that, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will bear with me. I shall try to deal in detail with the various points that have been raised.
We have recently published a consultation paper on the contents of the order required under section 3A of the CROW Act, as inserted by clause 298 of the Bill. Through that order, the rights for open-air recreation will be created on the coastal margin and the route. Among other things, we have proposed that the description of land that will be specified in the order and to which the new right of access will apply includes the foreshore and any cliff, whether sloping or sheer, adjacent to the foreshore. The interests of walkers and climbers, and of the organisations that represent the interests of those who walk or climb—for example, the Ramblers Association and the British Mountaineering Council—will be fully taken into account before any proposals for the route are finalised. Owners’ interests will be taken into account in the consultation process, and in their ability to make objections under new schedule 1A to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 as inserted by schedule 19 to the Bill.
We aim to achieve a route around the whole English coast, and access to a wider margin of land wherever possible, while fairly balancing landowners’ and users’ interests. That has been the Bill’s trajectory throughout. We discussed it ad nauseam in Committee, and that is where we are now. The word “balance” is vital and, as hon. Members know, clause 292 places a duty on the Secretary of State and Natural England to strike a balance between the interests of the public in having a right of access over land, and the interests of any person with a relevant interest in the land. I urge the hon. Gentleman to consider withdrawing the amendment.
It is worth reflecting on the words of Baroness Hamwee, the Liberal Democrat spokesman in the other place. In reply to a similar amendment there she said:
“At first reading, I thought that this was a moderately benign amendment giving an exception but, now having read it three times, it seems to me that it would give all landward owners and others who fall into that category what amounts to a veto. As I read it, that would wreck the coastal duty. Therefore, we could not support that particular amendment.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 June 2005; Vol. 711, c. 13.]
On amendments 32 and 33, I welcome the support from hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West, for the summit on sporting interests, which we held in the summer. It was attended by the Country Land and Business Association, the Countryside Alliance, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Angling Trust, and others. It was a constructive summit, and I shall say more about it in a moment. The proposals emanating from it are sound, and they were welcomed by the BASC, the Angling Trust and others.
The hon. Member for Newbury has raised an important issue in amendments 32 and 33, which we discussed in Committee. Their combined effect would be to delete the existing categories of owner and leaseholder in clauses 292(4) and proposed new section 55J(2) in clause 297, and replace them with a definition of a “relevant interest”, which includes those who hold a legal estate or legal interest in the land. That was part of our discussion at the sporting summit, which my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) also attended. Natural England and the Secretary of State would have a duty to strike a fair balance between the interests of the public in having rights of access over land and the interests of any person with a relevant interest in the land, which would now include those with any interest in the land, including the owners of sporting rights and easements.
Those people would be a category of persons who must be consulted before Natural England’s report is drawn up, and be notified of Natural England’s final proposals for a coastal route. They would be able to make objections to Natural England’s proposals under the procedures for objections included in schedule 1A to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which schedule 19 inserts in the Bill. That procedure is available to persons with a relevant interest in affected land. In Committee, I said clearly that I want to take further steps to assure those sporting interests not only that their concerns are being listened to, but that we would, if we could, take further steps to assure those with sporting interests over land that they can continue to enjoy their rights when coastal access has been introduced.
We had a very productive meeting on 7 September, which was attended by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and representatives from the Angling Trust, BASC, the Country Land and Business Association and the Countryside Alliance, and I heard their views and concerns about the issues involved. I said at the meeting, and I now reaffirm, that our intention is that those with a sporting right, including holders of sporting tenancies—that was a major concern—should be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State under schedule 19 to the Bill to ensure that their representations are given particular consideration by the Secretary of State. The regulations in question are those in paragraph 2(2)(f) of the new schedule 1A to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which would be inserted by schedule 19 to the Bill. The effect would be that Natural England would have to take reasonable steps to give notice of a relevant coastal access report to those with sporting rights, and any representations that they made on the report would go in full to the Secretary of State rather than being summarised.
The concerns of those with sporting rights will be given full consideration by the Secretary of State, who will make the final decision on Natural England’s proposals. In addition, when a landowner’s objection is being considered by an appointed person under the procedures in schedule 1A, and the appointed person is minded to determine that the proposals fail to strike a fair balance, a copy of the published notice, which invites representations in relation to the objection, and any “relevant alternative modifications” included in Natural England’s comments on it, must be given to the holders of sporting rights and others.
I believe that our proposed regulations are the right way to go, and that our approach meets the concerns that have been raised. I am extremely pleased that as a result of the summit, the Angling Trust and BASC have welcomed our proposals as satisfying their concerns. I am confident that public access and public safety can co-exist with the continued ability of those with sporting rights both to enjoy their sport and to run profitable businesses. I recognise the role that sporting interests, such as shooting and angling, play in the rural economy. Significant safeguards are already built into the legislation to ensure that all interests, including sporting interests, are taken into account. The basis of the approach to coastal access is extensive consultation before Natural England’s proposals are made. The Secretary of State and Natural England must aim to strike a fair balance between the interests of the public in having a right of access and those of persons with a relevant interest in the land, as defined in the Bill. However, I stress that all interests will be taken into account when Natural England draws up proposals for the coastal route and the margin.
The Bill provides for extensive preliminary work and for consultation before Natural England draws up its recommendations. Natural England has said in its draft scheme that it will work with many interests, including shoot managers, when considering the best alignment for the trail. Natural England has also made it clear that it will draw up draft proposals, and these will include information on any exclusions and restrictions on access that it considers necessary. Natural England will also advertise the proposals and will ask for comment—it will not be hidden; it will be wide open. Everyone in the House now subscribes to the principle of transparency, and this will be more transparent than anything. It will provide the opportunity for anybody to make their views known and for those views to be taken into account by Natural England.
The scheme that I have described, which sets out how Natural England will approach implementation of the legislation, will be consulted on, is subject to approval by the Secretary of State and will be laid before Parliament. The proposals will include details of the route and associated coastal margin, and also any exclusions or restrictions on access to land included in it. Following the publication of proposals, anyone can make representations to the Secretary of State. The representations will go to the Secretary of State in summary form, and he must take account of them in deciding whether to approve or reject the proposals, or to approve them with modifications.
What I am proposing is that those with a sporting right, including holders of sporting tenancies, should be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State under schedule 19, so that their representations go in full rather than in summary form to the Secretary of State. In addition, experience of open access has shown that in most cases the best way to reconcile public access and sporting activities is through positive management techniques and engagement on the ground. That is the way it works. Where that is not the case, those with a sporting right will have an ongoing right to apply for restrictions and exclusions of access, where necessary, and a right of appeal if they are not put in place.
Those with a relevant interest, as defined by section 45 of the CROW Act, which includes sporting rights, will have the same rights as they do now on CROW land, to apply for restrictions and exclusions of access for land management reasons. Land management can include, for instance, management of a sporting activity—including, if appropriate, the sporting activity itself or the holding of commercial events. Such sporting activities might include shooting or fishing, and those with rights that enable them to carry out these activities on access land could apply for restrictions or exclusions, if they are necessary.
I believe—here I echo comments made by my hon. Friends—that that process has worked well under the CROW Act for open country and registered common land. We have issued a consultation paper on the new section 3A order required under the Bill. We made it clear in Committee and elsewhere that we have no intention to make changes to the categories of people who may make an application for restrictions and exclusions under section 24 of the CROW Act.
Given that different approach for coastal land and the consultative nature of the process, and given the approach that we have set out in the Bill—along with the commitment that I am happy to reaffirm today that those with a sporting right, including those with sporting tenancies, should be specified in the regulations under schedule 19—I urge the hon. Member for Newbury once again to consider withdrawing the amendment.
Let me deal with another issue that the hon. Gentleman raised, which we touched on in Committee, about those with interests other than shooting, including issues surrounding mineral rights. I confirm that Natural England will carry out an extensive process of consultation with local interests, as I have described—land managers, local access forums, local authorities, representatives of recreational interests, wildlife interest groups and so forth. When I met the coastal access forum a few weeks ago, I promised to consider any information that it could provide me with on who might hold mineral rights. We had a useful discussion. I have not been sent anything since the meeting, but we will consider the possibility of including those with such rights in the regulations in paragraph 2(2)(f) of new schedule 1A to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which would be inserted under schedule 19. We will consult on those regulations in due course.
Let me deal now with amendment 34, tabled by the hon. Member for Newbury, which would insert a new subsection into proposed new section 55E. It would oblige the Secretary of State to make regulations that would entitle a person with a relevant interest in affected land to require Natural England to undertake a review of a coastal access report on certain grounds. These may include a proposed or actual change in land use and a review of existing or proposed exclusions or restrictions of access. Applicants seeking a review would have recourse to the objections procedure set out in schedule 19, should Natural England not undertake a review or amend its report accordingly.
I understand the concerns of the House that the coastal access provisions should not prevent future changes in land use. For this reason, I have been talking to stakeholders, explaining how the provisions will work and providing reassurance that the Bill will be implemented in a way that does not sterilise land by preventing any future changes. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern, but I want to make it clear that we are not in the business of allowing a coastal path to mean no future development, which would go against the whole ethos of the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman tempts me down a path on single farm payments that I am wary of treading on. It is more to do with how proposals for future land use are developed. In my constituency, for example, an area has been designated for light industrial use for 20 years, yet there is no light industrial use on it. If we were to incorporate that sort of approach into the coastal margin, we could well end up with a coastal path or coastal margin without any integrity or coherence—a coastal path with big red lines all the way along it. There might be further proposals for every couple of miles along the path. We need to ask how one defines a proposal. Is something defined as a proposal because it features in a local development plan or a unitary development plan some years down the line? Is it a proposal if some supermarket or retailer has said that it might be interested somewhere down the line? I shall explain in more detail later why that simply would not work.
I understand the concerns, which is why I used the term sterilised land, about the idea that if a coastal path were put in place, it would mean that no development could happen. We do not want that. On the contrary, I believe that the Bill’s provisions are extremely flexible in that respect. Let me explain why I believe the necessary safeguards are in place.
At the outset, before drawing up a report on a particular stretch of coast, Natural England will take appropriate account of any relevant local plans, such as local development plans and planned major developments, as part of its consultation with landowners, local authorities and others, including the Marine Management Organisation. As we are all aware, the MMO will be consulted on any plans that could affect the marine environment as a result of the Bill. It is likely to have a pretty good knowledge of what is coming down the track, including some of the much further afield national infrastructure developments. I encourage all those affected to engage in constructive discussions with Natural England at this early stage on the best position for the route.
As part of the local consultations on the route and spreading room, Natural England will discuss the need for any exclusions or restrictions on access. Any necessary exclusions or restrictions will be included in Natural England’s report and put in place before the right of access to that particular stretch of coast comes into effect. If circumstances change at a later date, those with an interest in the land can apply for restrictions or exclusions under sections 24 and 25 of the CROW Act —for example, for land management purposes. The flexibility is built in there.
Once the route is implemented, under the provisions in the CROW Act, land can become excepted from the right of access at any time if some change or development occurs so that it falls into one of the excepted land categories in schedule 1 to the CROW Act. These include, for example, land covered by buildings or the curtilage of such land; land used for the purposes of railways or tramways; and land that does not fall within some other excepted land categories and is covered by works used for the purposes of a statutory undertaking.
Paragraph 9 of that schedule makes specific provision for development in establishing a category of excepted land as follows:
“Land as respects which development which will result in the land becoming land falling within any of paragraphs 2 to 8 is in the course of being carried out.”
Paragraphs 2 to 8 include the categories that I have already mentioned. I apologise for being so detailed on the matter, but it is important.
In addition, it is worth reminding hon. Members that the line of the route is not fixed permanently. Powers in section 55 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 enable Natural England to review the route and associated margin and to propose changes to the Secretary of State at a later date—subject, once again, to full consultation, representation and the objections process. In those ways, the legislation is designed to take account of changes in use and future developments.
I consider it neither appropriate nor practical that a person with a relevant interest in land should be able to require Natural England to carry out a review of a report on the basis of a proposed development, or to have recourse to the objections procedure in schedule 19 to the Bill, if Natural England does not agree to amend the report on the basis of such a proposal. At the proposal stage, it may be several years before a determination on any eventual planning application is reached—we are all familiar with that in our constituencies—or the change of use is implemented or development begun, and the final agreed development may be significantly different from the original proposal in size and shape. Such an approach, which could preclude access for some time, would not be considered fair to the local community or other users, and would not help us to deliver on our aspirations for a coastal path.
As I have explained, if a change of use or development occurs so that land falls within one of the categories of excepted land in schedule 1 to the CROW Act, it becomes excepted from the right of access. If land over which the coastal route passes becomes excepted land, I would expect Natural England to review its report and propose a revised route so that continuity is maintained. Indeed, it would be difficult to see how Natural England would be fulfilling its coastal access duty were continuity of the path not maintained.
I recognise the concerns of landowners and occupiers about any possible impacts of the right of access on future change of land use or development. Planning policy guidance recognises the importance of protecting and enhancing the character and landscape of undeveloped coastline and supports the provision of public access to the coast as a basic principle. However, where a coastal location is necessary for development—for example, to provide essential energy infrastructure—and access is not compatible with the development, it will be in no one’s interests for the coastal route to be given undue weight in the decision. The flexible way in which the legislation will work will help to ensure that that is not the case.
Turning to the second reason cited in the amendment for requiring Natural England to undertake a review of a report, those with a relevant interest in land may already make an application to the relevant authority for exclusions or restrictions of access under sections 24 and 25 of the CROW Act. They must also be consulted when the relevant authority is considering revoking or varying a direction made on application under sections 24 or 25. When the relevant authority does not act in accordance with such an application or a representation, there is already a right of appeal to the Secretary of State under section 30 of the Act. In many cases, the sort of developments involved will have been discussed with Natural England when the proposals for the route were drawn up. If the process and scheme of operation works as has been explained, the issue will be picked up, and a contact will be available. In other cases, the normal routes to contact Natural England—via website, post and phone—will be available. The local authority might also provide a good way of making contact, as it will often have worked on proposals for development. Given those clarifications, I hope the hon. Gentleman will consider whether he needs to press the amendment.
Amendment 40, tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test, for Sheffield, Hillsborough and for High Peak (Tom Levitt), would require the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament within two years of the commencement of part 9 of the Act, with particular regard to the progress made on four issues—the voluntary inclusion of parkland, the inclusion of the Isle of Wight in an order under clause 295, the addition of further islands reachable by ferry under the same clause and the use of seasonal ferries as part of the coastal path under clause 296. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to append proposals to remedy shortcomings in the establishment of coastal routes that are apparent to him.
Let me discuss the four issues, and explain why I do not consider the amendment to be necessary. First, as I made clear in Committee, I recognise that the issue of parks and gardens is important for many people—it was raised during pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and again during the Bill’s passage in the other place. I have listened to the different arguments put forward. On the one hand, an individual’s property rights and privacy should be protected—there has never been any withdrawal from that point of principle—and we want to make sure that the balance is right in that regard. On the other hand, the exception for parks and gardens could result in significant detours, not least where there are extensive parklands on the coast.
We have said that we do not intend to change the category of excepted land in schedule 1 to the CROW Act, which covers parks or gardens, under which there would be no right of access to such land. There was cross-party support in Committee for our approach, in which, as I made clear, Natural England will seek to reach voluntary agreements with landowners to enable a route to be created through a park, where necessary, to provide continuity of access and to avoid a significant inland diversion. Hon. Members have related their experiences of being diverted miles inland to a route that certainly could not be defined as a coastal walk.
I have asked Natural England to try to secure access along the route by voluntary means, and in particular through the dedication of land for public access under the CROW Act provisions. The system that I have set out should be given a trial, which should investigate how great the problems are and how evident the good will of landowners and occupiers of parks is. Subsequent to our debate in Committee, individual landowners or representative bodies whom I have met have been clear that they are expected to deliver on that undertaking in a voluntary way. I recently met the coastal access forum, which includes representatives from a number of organisations such as the CLA and the Historic Houses Association, and they assured me, and have subsequently written, that they will work constructively with Natural England in such cases where parks abut the coast. However, it will be important that Parliament monitors the effectiveness of the voluntary approach proposed. Natural England has therefore been tasked to keep the matter under review.
We have already said that Natural England will report to Parliament on progress of the implementation of the route after 10 years. In addition, as I promised in Committee, I have asked it to undertake an earlier interim review and to report to Parliament specifically on issues that have arisen as a result of parks being excepted land, and on the success of any voluntary agreements to ensure public access along the route through parks. Although it is not a requirement in the Bill, we have asked that that report should take place within five years of Royal Assent. I also made it clear in Committee that the Secretary of State could amend the exception for parks and gardens if satisfactory progress is not made and significant issues remain. That would be subject to the affirmative procedure; it would not require primary legislation, but it would need to be approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.
Let me make it clear that my proposals do not represent a pendulum, or an axe, swinging over landowners. Let me also say, however, that in Committee and in the changes that we have made to the Bill we have made clear our intention to open access—where we can—to some of the coastal gems that could be described as the jam in the doughnut. I believe that there is a willingness to do that, but I also believe that we must all work collectively, in the House and outside, to ensure that it is done.
We have already made a commitment, in Committee, to take steps to include the Isle of Wight in an order which will be subject to consultation: the legislation will not be rammed down people’s throats. Natural England will consider other islands that cannot be reached on foot—again, after local discussion and consultation. I believe it is appropriate for islands that cannot be reached on foot to be considered individually, because all our islands are singularly different from each other.
As for other islands that may be reached by ferry, I know that the question of whether Lundy will be included has been raised before. The island is hugely attractive and people—including me—love to go there, but access to it is limited owing to the lack of any regular ferry service. I am aware that there may be a case for including it in due course, but Natural England will need to engage in detailed discussions with the National Trust and the Landmark Trust before we reach a decision.
I assure Members that I shall be happy to report back to Parliament on progress relating to the inclusion of other islands. I do not consider it necessary or appropriate to include in the Bill a requirement such as that proposed in the amendment, but I think I have made it pretty clear that we have not only provided powers in the Bill but would like access to be available—subject to consultation, as with the Isle of Wight.
My hon. Friends raised the important issue of seasonal ferries. Provisions in clause 296 enable Natural England to make a proposal to the Secretary of State on any estuary. It may propose that the route should stop at the mouth of the estuary, that it should stop at any point between the mouth of an estuary and the first public foot crossing—either a bridge or a tunnel—or that it should extend as far as the first public foot crossing. In deciding on such proposals, Natural England must have regard to considerations in clause 292(2) and a number of matters set out in clause 296(4), including the existence of a ferry by which the public may cross the river. At all times when discharging the coastal access duty, Natural England must aim to strike a fair balance between the interests of the public in having rights of access over land and the interests of owners and occupiers.
As I have said, Natural England will be required to undertake an extensive process of consultation with local interests as it develops its proposals. Estuaries will be an important issue for many areas. For example, the coasts of Essex and Suffolk and those of Devon and Cornwall are indented by estuaries. Natural England’s discussions with local interests—which will include land managers, local access forums, local authorities, and wildlife and other interest groups—will be a key part of its approach, and the success of the design of the access corridor.
A proposal in a coastal access report relating to whether a particular estuary should be made up to the first pedestrian crossing point will be included on a case-by-case basis, and Natural England will consider that in the light of the detailed criteria in the Bill. I should make it clear, however, that we would not normally expect Natural England to stop the route at the starting point for a ferry that does not run throughout the year unless particular difficulties are involved in taking the route further upstream to the first public crossing. The Secretary of State will examine all the issues involved—including whether the use of a seasonal ferry for the route is appropriate—before making a decision on the report.
Natural England will prepare its coastal access reports over the 10-year implementation period, and will state in those reports where the existence of a ferry by which the public may cross the river has been a major consideration in its decision for the coastal route in any particular estuary. As I have said, Natural England will report to Parliament on the implementation of the route after 10 years. If the Secretary of State thinks that an earlier report should be made, he or she may ask it to make one, but I do not consider it necessary or appropriate for the Bill to include such a requirement. Clause 294 requires Natural England to complete a review of the scheme within three years of its first being approved by the Secretary of State, and I would expect such a review to cover the matters that the amendment seeks to require the report to include. Given that requirement, along with the requirement for a report after five years in regard to parks and gardens and the report to Parliament after 10 years, I urge Members not to press their amendments.
Amendment 37 seeks to remove clause 300, which states:
“No duty of care is owed by Natural England”
or anyone acting on its behalf
“under the law of negligence… when preparing”
or proposing the coastal route, in connection with any failure by Natural England to erect signs warning of hazards or in connection with any failure by it to restrict or exclude access. It also states:
“No duty of care is owed by the Secretary of State… under the law of negligence when… approving proposals”
for a coastal long-distance route or giving direction for the variation of such proposals.
The matter was debated extensively in the other place. As Lord Hunt of King’s Heath noted, we doubt that a court would impose such a duty of care, and the aim of clause 300 is to clarify the legal position. Let us be frank. We recognise that in places the coast is inherently dangerous, and we do not want uncertainty about the legal position to give rise to an over-cautious or nannyish approach that could result in warning signs unnecessarily dotting the landscape. That would be in no one’s interest.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The British Mountaineering Council has made it absolutely clear that in sports such as rock climbing and mountaineering safety is the responsibility of the individual, and risk is part of participation in such sports. I believe that that is generally the right approach.
My hon. Friend is right. We do not want to wrap all outdoor activities in cotton wool. Part of the joy of experience of the outdoor environment is the risk that is inherent in, for instance, walking up a hill, along a coast or along a cliff. Those risks are part and parcel of sport, and of our development as adults or, indeed, as children.
As my hon. Friend knows, my constituency has no coastal path but does contain a huge number of well-established mountain-climbing areas. All the risks are thoroughly understood and agreed on by landowners and climbers, and there is no reason why the same arrangements should not apply to coastal paths.
Again, I entirely agree.
Let me give the House an anecdote to think about. On a memorable occasion, I walked through an area that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) will know very well: Fan Hir, that marvellous ridge where the Brecons lift up before dropping off. The next mountains to be seen are the Cambrian mountains, further afield, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams). I was walking there late one night, when the snow was coming down, and suddenly realised that I had run out of time. The rivers were in full flood, I could not return on the track I had arrived along, and the darkness was coming in. I rang my wife and told her not to worry and that I would be back home safely. She replied, “That’s perfectly understandable, my dear, I’ll see you later,” and then put the phone down; I was, however, hoping that she would come out and rescue me when I got back down to the bottom. I finally returned home four hours later, in snow and the pitch black. I tell that story only to illustrate the point that the outdoor environment is inherently risky and that we manage our own risks.
The problem with this clause is that it is the Government position, rather than the user of the outdoors, that is being wrapped in cotton wool. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) has tabled his amendment. Will the Minister therefore allay our fears about the liability of landowners, as I suspect that, in the circumstances, they might be making parts of the countryside or coast unavailable because they are fearful of being sued?
I will happily do so shortly. Although that point is not pertinent to this particular amendment, I acknowledge that it has been raised.
The other reason why we do not want to take the approach I have been talking about is that we do not want to create a lawyers charter. We do not consider it necessary for people to waste their money instructing lawyers in order to test the position.
Clause 292 makes it clear that in discharging the coastal access duty Natural England and the Secretary of State are required to have regard to the safety and convenience of those using the English coastal route. I therefore believe that the approach we have set out in clause 300 is proportionate to the specific circumstances. It reflects the position of many who responded to our public consultation on ways to improve access to the coast. We are not setting out through this legislation to change the nature of the English coast and make it safe in all circumstances; I know that the hon. Member for Newbury understands that. People must ultimately take responsibility for their own safety and that of children and others in their care, and come to the coast with that thought in mind. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on that point, and consider withdrawing the amendment.
The hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) raised the issue of occupiers’ liability, and there is also the question of whether owners will be held responsible for accidents on their land. When the CROW Act introduced the right of access to open country and registered common land marked as access land, provision was made on occupier’s liability under the Occupiers Liability Acts of 1957 and 1984. As the hon. Gentleman will know, this has reduced the level of liability of occupiers to members of the public who are exercising their right of access on CROW Act access land, and that was the right and proper thing to do. For example, if someone sustains an injury on CROW Act land because of a natural feature of the landscape, the reduced level of liability means there will be no scope to sue the occupier. In addition, if someone sustains an injury by, for example, climbing over a wall or a fence, the reduced level of liability means that there will be no scope to sue the occupier unless the injury was sustained through the proper use of a gate or style, provided that the danger is not due to anything done by the landowner with the intention of creating a risk or being reckless about whether a risk was created. That is the clear legal difference.
My High Peak constituency has more open access land as defined under the CROW Act than any other constituency in England, and I am not aware of there having been even one case of liability. People have been relieved that the liability provisions of the CROW Act have worked, and there is no reason to believe that they will not work in this Bill too in a way that reassures landowners, users of the areas and others.
I fully agree with my hon. Friend on that. These provisions work very well.
I have corresponded with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough as a result of her representations on behalf of the British Mountaineering Council, the Ramblers and others, and I just want to put the following points on the record. I recognise that, as with open access, there may be occasions when access on the coast might cause a problem, and Natural England will have to consider the need for any restrictions or exclusions. These restrictions will be considered as part of Natural England’s coastal report, which has to be approved by the Secretary of State. The Bill requires Natural England to prepare a scheme setting out the approach it will take to discharge its coastal access duty, which must be approved by the Secretary of State. Natural England will shortly consult on a draft of the scheme, and will establish that in any case in which it decides that action is necessary, its policy will be to adopt the option that is least restrictive of public access.
The hon. Member for North Essex asked whether the Secretary of State can do anything to give access to relevant excepted land. Such land is normally excepted for very good reasons. The key is to get the categories of excepted land right—we have been talking about that in this debate. That is why we are currently consulting on the appropriate categories of excepted land for coastal access. I hope the hon. Gentleman will contribute to that discussion and make suggestions as to the changes that we might propose, such as those to the categories of excepted land under schedule 1 of the CROW Act. Certain categories of excepted land are not access land for the purpose of part 1 so we have made some proposals.
First, we propose to remove some existing categories of excepted land that we do not think are appropriate for the coastal margin. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to offer his thoughts on that. Secondly, we propose to amend some of the existing categories to allow for the coastal route to go through them. That will be of relevance to many Members who are keen golfers. Thirdly, we propose to add some new categories appropriate to the circumstances of the coastal margin, such as formal camp and caravan sites. We also seek views on these published guidelines and on the meaning of the existing categories. I hope that is of some help to the hon. Gentleman as he has identified a relevant point, but this Bill and the reform of some of the excepted land categories offer us the opportunity to make the sort of changes to which he refers.
I thank the Minister for his comments and his helpful suggestion, which I think means I shall be able to take part in the consultation on what categories of exempted land shall be made. Perhaps areas where public access has historically been allowed could be included in that. In the meantime, however, may I ask the Minister just to have a word with his ministerial colleague with responsibility for the HSE? It seems that at present the Minister is trying to extend coastal access but the HSE does not give a monkey’s about coastal access issues. It could therefore be encouraged to behave a little more responsibly in that regard.
I am sure that the HSE and relevant Ministers will hear those comments. On whether the Bill will provide access to Mistley quay, let me say that we are consulting on the treatment of quays specifically, and we currently propose that the right of access should apply to them. The landowner would therefore benefit from the reduced liability I referred to earlier in respect of clause 301. I ask the hon. Gentleman to keep the communication going and to keep putting points forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test has been a keen advocate of coastal access and the coastal margins both in Committee and through campaigning outside this House, as have many hon. Members and hon. Friends. On amendment 40, I have described the role of the reporting function to Parliament after 10 years, but I want to clarify what I said earlier: if it is necessary for an earlier report to be made, the Secretary of State may, indeed, ask for that to be done.
I believe I have covered in some depth all the points that have been raised. On that basis, I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for that tour de force, which went into some detail.
The Minister’s earlier remarks on my amendment 35 left me mildly piqued. He seemed to suggest that I was intending by this measure to trash the whole concept of a coastal margin, but nothing could have been further from my intentions. I was seeking to be honest and transparent—as he says, we in this House are all interested in that at this moment—and in trying to be frank with people. We are not saying that there will be coastal margin everywhere in the delivery of this path. I was on holiday this summer in the north Norfolk area. As the Minister might know, there is a narrow strip of beach in many parts of north Norfolk, with a few dunes and then a vast area of marsh, before coming to solid land with houses, gardens and fields. As I looked at this, fresh from the Committee, I was struck by how difficult it would be to deliver in those areas coastal margin access that was either safe or practical. Through amendment 35, I was just trying to create some clarity and honesty. The Minister’s remarks, which are on the record, have helped in that respect and I am not going to push the amendment.
On amendments 32 and 33, I pay tribute to the Minister for his Herculean efforts in seeking to find a greater degree of understanding and agreement on this issue; he should take the credit for that. His meeting with the relevant bodies has gone a long way towards clarifying the situation. I may have got it wrong, but I think he went a little further in his remarks today than he originally did. Specifying in regulations in schedule 19 is a major step forward. It secures the position of a whole range of interests in the land. I am grateful for his further comments relating not just to sporting interests but to those with mineral rights or options for such rights, for example. They will be reassured by his comments, so this is a major step forward.
On amendment 34 and the change of use, the Minister said that this provision would be implemented in a way that does not sterilise land. That is really important. Land should not be sealed in aspic; it should be constantly evolving. A whole range of options are open to land managers; they do not want them to be stifled by what could effectively be a charge on the land, which would prevent them from going down such routes.
I do not understand why an exclusion around agricultural buildings could not have been included in the Bill, as it was in the CROW Act. If we have learned one thing from foot and mouth and other more recent problems, it is that biosecurity is very important. A 20-metre exclusion around farm buildings would have been a good thing; however, I am not going to press the matter.
The Minister talked about exclusions, which have been used very effectively under CROW by a whole range of different land managers. The problem is that it is a big ask of walkers. Before going for a walk in the country, are people really going to sit down, log on to the local authority website, see which landowner has an exclusion because of lambing or nesting, for example, and find out where their land starts and finishes? It is asking a lot of people to follow through that process.
On the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin)—he told us about the rescue of an injured person—although the Health and Safety Executive has caused this problem, it could be the solution in that it might now say that action has to be taken to resolve such problems. However, this is a very important case study that shows how pressure points will be applied to this legislation. They will be resolved best locally, by local people and with the involvement of organisations such as local access forums and local authorities.
The Minister made some sensible suggestions in respect of amendment 40, and I hope that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead)—he is not in his place—heard them.
On the debate concerning parks and gardens, we discovered in Committee, as was discovered with the CROW Act, that a lawyer’s charter can be created, with lawyers dancing on the head of a pin in trying to describe where a garden finishes and a park begins. Of course, when thinking about the Bill, hon. Members have in their minds landscapes by Repton or Capability Brown—vast landscapes miles away from any residents. However, we have to secure basic rights of privacy. We have to recognise that the wording is very difficult to get right, and the Minister is right to keep that exclusion in, albeit with his caveats about hoping to achieve more access.
The Minister said that this is not a sword of Damocles over landowners’ heads. In Committee, a particular landowner was mentioned in relation to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test. I have had conversations with that estate since, and it is taking the matter very seriously; for example, it makes considerable efforts to achieve public access in areas such as education. The language in these debates can easily demonise people who are in fact doing immense work to achieve greater understanding about the countryside and greater access for all sorts of people. The Minister’s words will be well heard.
Estuaries are very complicated areas to which to deliver access. There tends to be a greater level of occupation: more activity going, more boatyards, more slipways and more residential areas. I liked the phrase that the Minister used—that this will be looked at on a case-by-case basis. Again, we are putting a lot of hope in the idea that Natural England will approach this issue in the right way. All my discussions with it suggest that it will, but there will undoubtedly be problems and the Minister will on occasion be required to solve them. A three-year review of progress gives us an opportunity to see whether what the Minister wants—and we all want—is happening: greater access to the countryside.
On amendment 37 and liability, I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the legal position. He said that we do not want to see an over-cautious approach to the issue of access to countryside. We live in a litigious society. Cycling and equestrian clubs now get members to sign disclaimers before any activity can take place. The degree of bureaucracy is becoming absurd, and to it can be added Criminal Records Bureau checks and the other checks that such organisations have to go through. We do not want to add an horrendous new tier of liability to the process of simply getting out and enjoying the countryside and coastal Britain. Of course, the Minister reminded us that under clause 292(2), Natural England and the Secretary of State
“must have regard to…the safety and convenience of those using the English coastal route”.
With that, I am happy to withdraw my amendment and allow the Bill to proceed to the next phase.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 8
MCZs: duty to manage and mitigate impacts upon existing activities
‘The Secretary of State, the Scottish Ministers and the Welsh Ministers must take all reasonable steps to manage and mitigate the impact on fishing and other existing activities resulting from the designation and management of an MCZ.’.—(Mr. Austin Mitchell.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 18, in clause 124, page 83, line 40, at end insert—
‘(ea) the extent to which, in the opinion of the authority, the operation of the MCZs have had an impact upon the marine economy in general and the commercial and recreational fishing industry in particular;’.
Amendment 44, page 83, line 43, at end insert—
‘(2A) The appropriate authority must also make annual assessments of the cost and impact of the MCZs to the fishing industry and submit these to the Secretary of State, Welsh Ministers or Scottish Ministers who must manage and mitigate such effects.’.
Amendment 24, in clause 141, page 95, line 44, at end insert—
‘(g) was done by a person fishing in a responsible manner within an MCZ and the act resulted in damage which that person could not have avoided.’.
Amendment 28, page 96, line 9, at end insert—
‘(b) the act occurred on the seaward side of the 0-6 nautical mile fisheries zone in a location where foreign vessels have fishing rights, and’.
Amendment 23, page 96, leave out lines 10 and 11 and insert—
‘(b) (i) the person was aware of the protected feature in question;
(ii) there was no intention of causing damage to a protected feature; and
(iii) they took all reasonable steps to avoid causing damage or a contravention.’.
Government amendment 5.
Amendment 42, page 96, line 11, at end insert—
‘(4A) The Secretary of State must make regulations by statutory instrument that make provision for the equal treatment of—
(a) UK registered vessels,
(b) other EU registered vessels and
(c) third country vessels,
in relation to the contravention of byelaws and offences under sections 129 to 141.’.
Amendment 29, page 96, line 21, at end insert—
‘ “foreign vessel” means any vessel other than a relevant British vessel, Scottish fishing boat or a Northern Ireland fishing boat.’.
Amendment 17, in clause 229, page 145, line 22, leave out paragraph (a).
Government amendment 13.
Amendment 15, in clause 66, page 45, line 3, at end insert—
‘(c) no item applies to any form of fishing activity.’.
Amendment 36, page 45, line 3, at end insert—
‘(c) nothing therein shall be taken to apply to any form of commercial sea fishing by any method.’.
Amendment 41, page 45, line 8, at end insert—
‘(5) For the purposes of this Part, a licence granted under section 4 of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967 is a marine licence permitting the holder to carry on marine activity to the extent permitted by the licence conditions permitted under that Act.’.
Government amendments 9 and 14.
I wish to discuss not only new clause 8, but amendments 41, 17, 15 and 24. I wish to do so because of a concern for the interests of commercial fishing, which remain a factor, although not as big a one as before, in the health and prosperity of Grimsby. They are more important to communities up and down the coast—many of them isolated—in which fishing is the main industry. Their needs, views and industry need to be taken into account more effectively than they have been. I wish that some of the passion, enthusiasm, interest and involvement that have just been shown in discussion of the rights of coastal access in the Bill were also demonstrated in concern for fishing, because it is a more important activity to this country economically. The industry employs 13,000 people on the catching side, 26,000 in processing and 40,000 in distribution, it contributes about £6 billion a year to the national economy and, as I said, it is particularly important to remote communities.
The Bill affects fishing in many ways. It is primarily a Bill that has been pushed by non-governmental organisations—the conservation and environmentalist groups—and, in a sense, it is too far weighted towards them and insufficiently weighted towards preserving the interests of fishing as an existing activity. Even I—the MP for Great Grimsby—have been deluged with cards telling me, “These marine conservation zones should be extended to a quarter, a third or even more of the North sea.” I have replied by asking these people, who are from Grimsby, whether they had not realised that it is a commercial fishing port with an interest in fishing in these zones. Members have gone around telling schools that the interests of fishing should be precluded altogether and that fishing should be stopped because we are endangering stocks.
The Bill is primarily about conserving the marine environment; it is not a Bill for controlling or regulating fishing. We need to make that absolutely clear, because it cannot do both—indeed, it should not do both, because the fishing industry has a major interest in conservation. It is one of the natural agencies that Governments should look to and be concerned with, because its interests are in conservation, in sustainable fishing and in maintaining a resource on which the livelihoods of fishermen depend and which they want to hand on to their children and to their area. That interest has to be taken into account. This Bill should not be seen instead as yet another restriction on fishing—commercial fishing in particular—which has been harassed and weighed down with regulations, controls, quotas, limits, the days at sea limitation and exclusion from certain areas and certain stocks to the point where it has become desperate.
We cannot use this Bill to impose another series of controls on fishing, because that would alienate the fishing industry. Such an approach would fail to generate the enthusiasm for conservation that exists within the industry and would fail to use fishing as a means of ensuring proper conservation. The fishing industry wants to build up stocks and avoid damage, and, in that sense, it has the same interest in conservation as the Bill. Like New Zealand, whose marine conservation areas are perhaps more natural than ours because they are based on reefs—the more natural way of having conservation areas—this country’s approach, in this Bill, should be based on consulting and involving the fishing industry. I want the Minister to take that approach and I know that he wants to achieve that end too.
We are dealing with an area in which scientific knowledge is inadequate; we do not have scientific knowledge about the marine conservation areas, about the sea or about what is underneath the surface. The fishing industry has more knowledge than the scientists, so it should be involved not only when consulting on what is decided in the Bill, but in policing that and in reporting to the Minister and the authorities about what is going on in these areas. Anything that restricts fishing weakens that superintending role and the conservation concern that the industry has; anything that weakens fishing weakens conservation. That is why I wish to include in the Bill some of these safeguards that have been mentioned.
I should mention that the responsible fisheries schemes, which have been energetically, and rightly, promoted by Seafish, now have the support of 44 per cent. of the fishing industry—by weight of vessel. That demonstrates the degree of involvement of the fishing industry in the conservation issue.
I am listening, as I suspect many hon. Members are, with some incredulity to the arguments being made by my hon. Friend. Will he clarify for the House his earlier statement that it is impossible to introduce conservation measures that restrict commercial fishing? Does he not see that that statement might be a problem for some of us?
I am defending the interests of fishing as an industry and as a leisure activity—I would have thought that my hon. Friend would have supported that. My assertion is that fishing is an agent of conservation, and one cannot have marine conservation areas, which are intended primarily to conserve the marine environment, by also placing added restrictions on fishing. That defeats the purpose of the marine conservation areas.
I shall certainly continue the exchange. Does my hon. Friend recognise that probably precisely the same speech was made in about 1988-89, just before the collapse in the cod stocks off Newfoundland? It is precisely because the fishing industry does not recognise the value of conservation, engages in overfishing and opposes steps to allow fish stocks to recover and replenish themselves that fishermen lost their jobs?
Fishing might have overextended its ambitions there, but that has nothing to do with this and nor has the conservation of cod stocks anything to do with this Bill. We are talking about the conservation of the marine environment. This is not a measure that deals with the conservation of stocks. Any attempt to impose that on this measure will defeat the measure, because it will alienate the fishing industry, which is an agent of conservation. We have a very changed fishing industry now; it is on a much smaller scale, it is much more based on sustainable fishing and, as I said, it is committed to responsible fishing. My hon. Friend, in trying to produce a gulf between his anglers, whom he has worked so hard to protect, and commercial fishing, is doing the whole issue a disservice, because their interests are very much the same. An interest in conservation is an interest in keeping fishing at a sustainable level in a sustainable way. That is what I am arguing today. He is making an entirely artificial distinction, which makes me take a detour from my main purpose, which is to argue for the interests of fishing. By that, I mean his kind of fishing, and my kind of fishing or Grimsby’s kind of fishing—commercial fishing.
I return to these amendments, many of which are similar to those moved by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), who is the vice chair of the all-party group on fisheries—I am its chair. Our interests are common and we work in the same way, except that he tends to run with the fishing fox and hunt with the conservation hounds. That is understandable, because he is a Liberal Democrat and, thus, naturally confused about his objectives. I do not think that we are sharply opposed, but it is difficult to have it both ways on this issue.
I caution the hon. Gentleman that it would be unwise to attack people who are on his side. In any case, he should recognise that the golden thread that runs through the amendments that I have tabled and that I am supporting is that the fishing industry should be properly represented at every stage. The problem with the Bill as drafted is that the socio-economic considerations may be considered only at the point of designation, and they will not be considered at the time of a report or the introduction of a conservation policy or byelaw. I simply want to ensure that there is consistency throughout the Bill. I am merely looking for consistency, not trying to run with different groups at different times.
I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman. I should not have made jibes; I am stirred to such anger and passion by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) that I am lashing out in all directions. That was very naughty of me and I think we should blame my hon. Friend, not me, for that.
As the hon. Member for St. Ives says, the designation and the management of the regimes associated with marine conservation zones will impose significant costs on fishing activities. They will vary according to the size, nature and designation of the zone, but the regulatory impact assessment estimates that impacts on fisheries will be worth between £157 million and £346 million over 20 years. That can be found in table 8 on page 34 of the impact assessment. That will be a significant cost for fishing and it cannot be right or fair, if those impacts on fishing are to be produced by the Bill, for fishing to be expected to bear those costs without some intervention from the Government.
The Bill as drafted does not place any obligation on Government to manage the losses resulting from such impacts or the loss of fishing rights. For that reason, I want a duty imposed on the Minister to manage and mitigate such effects on fishermen, because I think that it is important to the industry to give it such a guarantee. That is the basis of new clause 8. Amendment 44 is very similar and calls for estimated costs to be assessed. We need to know what the impact on fishing will be and what costs will be imposed on the industry by the fishing zones.
Amendment 24 concerns what is generally called the fishing defence. In other words, when accidental damage is done in the course of fishing—we do not advocate that deliberate damage could or should be done by fishing—there should be a defence on the grounds that the damage could not have been avoided, if a fisherman was acting responsibly and fishing within a zone under the provisions of the byelaws or conservation orders. We need a defence that protects against accidental damage for those who are fishing, which is a traditional activity that has always gone on in these zones and that is to a degree threatened by them. The measure will not protect in cases of intentional or reckless damage; it is merely a safeguard for those who are fishing in accordance with the existing fishing regimes and management plans should they cause accidental damage. Without that protection, fishermen might consider that the risks of fishing in a marine conservation zone are too great. Effectively, it could become a no-fish zone, adding to the huge restrictions that operate in areas around our coast. I would not want that to happen. Fishing needs some kind of guarantee and protection.
Amendment 42, tabled by the hon. Member for St. Ives, echoes a number of amendments that I tabled less successfully. It says that there should be a level playing field between British and European vessels. That is an important principle. My amendments were probably rejected because those in the Table Office and their associated psychologists know that whenever the common fisheries policy is mentioned I froth at the mouth and become incomprehensible. To protect the House and to protect me, they did not select my amendments. They selected those of the hon. Gentleman and I am delighted that they did. We cannot have a situation in which British fishermen are excluded because an area is designated as a marine conservation zone whereas European fishermen—either because they have historical rights or because they are fishing under the basic principle of quotas allocated by Brussels and the basic principle of equal access to a common resource, which has been the ruin of the British fishing industry—and others can continue to fish. Such a regime could not be enforced—fishing would not accept it, and it would be disastrous.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on this amendment. He must have steeled himself up to a degree of anti-European enthusiasm that is uncharacteristic of his party—I should not make jibes, I am sorry; he does not need to respond. I congratulate him, because it concerns an important basic principle. I hope that the Minister can guarantee that any restrictions on fishing will not come into force until they apply uniformly to all fishermen, be they European or of other nationalities or be they British. We cannot have a regime that is enforced unilaterally on British fishermen.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the equal application of the law is fundamental to its respect? The situation that he is powerfully and rightly describing is likely to bring the law that the Minister is introducing into disrepute. For example, if Belgian beam trawlers are hoovering up fish on the edge of the 6-mile limit in an area that is a marine conservation zone, that will cause immense concern to fishermen if they are prosecuted for straying over the line.
That is absolutely correct. We have already seen the anger that was produced on the east coast when French fishermen came in and disrupted the pots of fishermen from Scarborough, Bridlington and Whitby. I do not want a repetition of that, because it could lead to violence and would certainly lead to anger and disrespect for the law. I hope that the Minister can give us some guarantees on that situation. I know that it is a difficult one, because of the principles of the common fisheries policy, but it is still important that the principle of equal access to a common resource should not allow European fishermen to fish in our marine conservation areas when British fishermen cannot. That is a basic principle.
Is my hon. Friend aware that President Sarkozy, in July, announced his intention to designate 20 per cent. of France’s territorial waters as marine protected areas, with half of them to be fishing free? Does he agree that it would be in the interests of British fishermen and women to have no-take zones in the areas where we have responsibility?
Yes, but I am not sure what follows from that. If fishing is to be totally excluded from the French conservation zones, I would not want it to be excluded from our conservation zones. I am not sure that there is a quid pro quo there, but both systems have to be treated the same, and fishermen in our areas must be treated the same as European fishermen. The basic principle is clear.
I come now to the masterpiece of my speech. I am glad that it has been so entertaining, but I am extremely concerned that the White Herring Fisheries Act 1771 should not be deleted, as proposed in the Bill, and I say that not only as an historian and natural defender of old—the Minister would say otiose—laws. He will note that opposition to the repeal of the Act comes from all sides of the House and from all parties that supported my amendment, and is strongly felt by the fishing industry. That is the most important point. We discussed the matter with the Minister, who told us that the law is irrelevant and that its repeal was part of the process of clearing the broom cupboard of unnecessary legislation.
Fishermen see the 1771 Act as a protection of their rights. It is an exciting Act; we should read it some time. It provides a legal right for British fishermen to use all UK ports and harbours, which is an important principle to maintain. It allows fishermen to draw their boats up on the beaches, which is particularly important in areas such as Hastings, where there has been friction about bringing the boats up on to the beaches. The Act provides the legal right for fishing vessels to use wasteland for storage purposes—all exciting stuff. Given that all the fishing organisations have argued against its repeal and want the Act maintained, I do not see that it is necessary to scrub it.
I ask the Minister to reconsider and to keep the white herring fisheries flag flying because of the importance attached to it by the fishing industry. I draw his attention to the fact that all parties in the House oppose the repeal. It is not appropriate that the Act should be repealed, given the rights that it gives to maintain access for fisheries around the coast. Keeping it would not contradict any other provisions of the Bill, so why not keep it?
My last amendment is amendment 15, which is very similar to amendment 41 tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Doran). He is a lawyer and I am not, so his opinion is likely to be more valuable, interesting and important than mine. I speak from a concern for fishing. He brings legal expertise to the matter. We want to exclude fishing from the list of restricted activities in the conservation zones. There is no reason why fishing should be on the list. Fishing is exercising its traditional right. Fishermen have always fished these areas.
The Bill is not about conserving fish stocks. It is about conserving the marine environment, which is not damaged—I repeat, for the benefit of Reading listeners—by fishing. It is conserved by fishing. It is therefore legitimate to exclude fishing from the restrictions imposed. That is what amendment 15 and, more eloquently, amendment 41 would do. If fishing needs a licence, as it does, it should be excluded from the restrictions imposed in marine conservation zones.
That is the list of amendments that I wished to speak to. The common thread, which will emerge in the next group as well, is a concern to clarify and sustain the interests of fishing, which has a real concern about conservation and should be mobilised for the Bill, not restricted and damaged by it. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister, who has consulted closely both with the industry and with the all-party fisheries group, has the interests of fishing at heart, but I would like him to give us assurances before we decide whether to withdraw or pursue the amendments. I do not want to be disruptive in any way. That is not my disposition.
We need to clarify and assert the interests of fishing. I hope the Minister can give us some guarantees against the anxieties that I have spoken about, and guarantees about the position of fishing. I trust my hon. Friend, who has done a brilliant job in consulting and carrying the industry with him. I hope he can give us some kind of assurances before we decide on the fate of the amendments.
The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) are very interesting and, in some cases, very similar to those that I submitted about 30 seconds after he did. We will come to those later.
On new clause 8, the impact on the fishing industry is a fundamental consideration. Groups of fishermen that I have met over recent months have all been acutely aware that without the conservation measures that they are already implementing, such as real-time closures, targets on discards—in some cases, those targets have been extremely successful, although there is an enormous amount of work to do—and technical measures, the future of the industry would be far more bleak.
Marine conservation zones are a fundamental part of my desire for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents who are fishing today to have a job tomorrow, and to be able to do the important work that fishermen do in addressing issues such as food security, obesity, and healthy eating. It is vital that we address the concerns about the marine environment and ensure a long-term future for a variety of socio-economic activities, of which fishing is the primary one in our minds.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the demonisation of the fishing industry by some of those to whom I have been listening this evening is unhelpful and unfair? In my constituency, the fishing industry has co-operated in maintaining the pioneering no-take zone around the island of Lundy, with which Labour Members may be familiar, for many years. The no-take zone has resulted in much greater amounts of fish for the inshore fishing fleet, so co-operation exists between the fishing industry and the marine conservation community. Is that not the model that we should follow, rather than the demonisation and polarisation promoted by some of the old-fashioned Members on the Labour Benches?
I take my hon. and learned Friend’s point. Let me be conciliatory. We should use the Lundy case as a basis. The “finding sanctuary” approach in the south-west is important. If we create no-take zones, or zones where the seabed is protected while fishing activity is allowed to continue higher up in the sea, and angling opportunities, which enhance tourism, we create a virtuous circle. It is a matter of getting the balance right.
I am listening to what the hon. Gentleman has just said. If we get it wrong, we end up with a self-perpetuating marine bureaucracy which rides roughshod over the wishes of fishermen and local communities, as I see constantly in the Outer Hebrides. The fear of what Scottish Natural Heritage is going to do, clamping down on the rights that people have traditionally held, cannot be allowed to grow any greater than it is.
I entirely understand what the hon. Gentleman has pointed out—just as we can get this issue right, we can get this issue wrong. When I last checked, however, his party was actually in government in Scotland, so it needs to rein in the SNH, if the SNH is really driving his people out of business.
I shall give way to the Minister in a minute.
The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil) has made the fundamental point that we have to get the balance right. If we do not do so, and if we do not involve fishermen at the very earliest stage of MCZ designation, we will fail, if only because such measures will fail the test of credibility.
I alert the hon. Gentleman to the fact that, during the Bill’s development, there has been very good co-ordination throughout the UK. There are great benefits to that approach: we are signed up to UK high-level objectives; the marine policy statement will bind us together; and the engagement with my Scottish Executive colleague, Richard Lochhead, who has introduced the Scottish Marine Bill, which will tally with the Bill before us, has been very good. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby that we have to engage on the Bill at all levels with the fisheries industry, but the whole of the UK is signed up to the Bill.
Rightly so. I look forward to meeting Richard Lochhead in a couple of weeks. It is vital that we balance the Scottish Bill with the Bill before us. It would be absurd if we did not, not least for border areas, where we will be trying to create synergies through the ecologically coherent network of MCZs that we are trying to establish. I now give way to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, who has been very patient.
The hon. Gentleman has been very patient, although he has provoked many interjections. I rise to disagree with his initial point, which was that the marine conservation zones are a means of preserving fish stocks. They are not; they are a means of preserving the marine environment. Preserving fish stocks is not compatible with that objective, because fish stocks are migratory and that issue has not been dealt with. The industry’s efforts, including square mesh panels, no-take zones and seasonal closures of grounds, are a means of providing sustainable fishing and nothing to do with MCZs, so we should not get the two mixed up. One is about the marine environment; the other is about the conservation of fish stocks.
One benefit of the Lundy island case is that shellfish, for example, have increased in size and are more productive in areas just outside the no-take zone. There has been a benefit in terms of stock. In terms of marine conservation zones, we should identify the spawning beds of at-risk stocks. That is an entirely legitimate activity. This is an interesting debate, but perhaps we should return to the specifics of the new clauses and amendments.
Socio-economic factors are already a part of the designation process for MCZs, and we absolutely must not tip the balance too far in one direction or another; we should keep it structured between the demands of a socio-economic and legitimate activity, such as fishing, leisure boating and all the other important activities that support our coastal communities, and the needs of conservation. Equally, however, those needs must be credible to all sides, and we sought at every point to develop that balance in Committee.
Sometimes the balance will not be struck, so we need to work on the basis of best practice, and that is already under way. I recently met the chief executive of Natural England, and I sought reassurances from her about the process of designation. If Natural England is as good as its word, fishing communities will be at the centre of the process. My party and I see fishermen as part of the solution, not part of the problem. No one will hear me demonise fishermen—particularly not the coastal fleet, which, as one of the most sustainably minded groups of fishermen anywhere in Europe, is moving fast towards accreditation under the Marine Stewardship Council.
The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) has tabled an amendment that he will no doubt discuss. I am inclined to support its general thrust, because I understand the spirit of it. Clause 124 is really important, because it allows the Government, through a transparent process, to look at each MCZ and ask what it is designated to achieve; what feature it seeks to protect, which may address some of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby; and, what should be done if it is failing to achieve that objective. One could argue that the clause is missing a requirement to state accurately how the success or otherwise of the management of a marine conservation zone is measured, however.
Clause 124(2) notes that the report that will be submitted annually must contain
“the conservation objectives which have been stated for the MCZ…the extent to which…the conservation objectives stated for each MCZ which it has designated have been achieved”
“any further steps which, in the opinion of the authority, are required to be taken.”
I was impressed by the North sea regional advisory council proposal that very simple tests be applied to marine conservation zones. Broadly speaking, that means most of the Bill, but a little more, including: what we are seeking to protect; how our ability to protect a feature or species is measured; and, whether there is an exit route. I do not necessarily mean that we should dissolve an MCZ, although that option may have to be considered, but we may have to move one.
We know that a lot is happening in the North sea, including changes to sea temperatures, cod moving further north, the availability of cocopods at particular times of year and acidification, and we have to be fast on our feet to ensure that any conservation measures work. They have to be embedded in what fishermen already do, such as in real-time closures and other conservation benefits.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned what is being conserved, but the fishing communities in my constituency ask not only, “What is being protected?” but, “Who is it being protected from?” and, quite often, “What authority is doing the protecting?” The protecting authority’s agenda can skew it quite markedly against the perceived group from which it seeks to do the protecting. Sadly, that often means a skewed view of fishermen and of fishing activities. Rather than take that approach, we should all look to support and protect fishing rights, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby is trying to do.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. In a recent European Committee sitting, I was amazed to read “success” and “common fisheries policy” in the same sentence. It was an act of audacity which left me breathless. I would not have started from this point, but what we try to achieve must be linked at every stage with CFP reform. I know that the Minister sees that, and, from my conversations with Commissioner Borg, I certainly think that he gets it, because in my last meeting with him he referred to the CFP as a “disaster”. I shall no doubt be accused of breathtaking naivety to believe that CFP reform is possible, but I really believe that it is, because, with the growth of the European Union, the CFP cannot continue in its current form.
I shall return to the case in point, because this aspect of the Bill is about nature conservation, fishermen and conservationists. Both groups understand that fishing activities have to change in certain areas if we are to achieve a sustainable future for our fisheries. We agree that the impact on the marine environment and on the recreational fishing industry should be considered when implementing MCZs, but enshrining that point in the Bill might water down the environmental thrust of MCZs and, ultimately, threaten the industry, too.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby made some interesting points on amendment 24, but I repeat my argument that altering the Bill in that way would allow the irresponsible few to damage the future of our fisheries. However, the vast majority of our fishermen would not do that. MCZs are being introduced for a reason, and some of them will be no-take zones. Such zones will need to be flexible and subject to change if improvement occurs, and they absolutely must be upheld where they are needed.
I look forward to hearing from the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) about his amendment, which comes at the issue from another direction. It is very much from the left side—not politically, but more in the football context. I believe that the measure would disadvantage our fishermen by making the sea fisheries defence apply only to UK vessels. A balance is needed here. Irresponsible fishermen need to be held to account, and responsible fishermen, who want a sustainable future for our seas as much as the conservationists, should not be unduly punished. The last thing that I want us to do is impose measures that protect the seas only from our fishermen and allow others to fish in our waters.
I find myself in the unusual position of coming from the left field, as my hon. Friend describes it, because I cannot see how what he has just said—that we must have some MCZs that are effectively no-take zones—is consistent with having an absolute sea fisheries defence. Surely, those ideas are not consistent. Can he lead the debate on how these issues could be dealt with through the development of the common fisheries policy in the reforms of the next few years?
Looking at you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I see that I shall have to use my words carefully to keep them relevant. The reform of the CFP, which has to run parallel to our attempts in this Bill, is vital. The European Commission’s green paper talks about having much more localised control and about pushing power down, away from the micro-management that has failed at every stage, toward a much more devolved power. In that way, local people such as fishermen could take responsibility for the management of their industry and say, “These are the measures we are going to bring in; we are going to get Marine Stewardship Council accreditation; these are the technical measures we are going to adopt; this is our target for discards; this is the market we are going to produce; and these are the relevant organisations—the scientific bodies and the university—we are dealing with.” That would allow fishermen to take back control of their industry. There is a direction of travel in the EU’s green paper. I am sure that in thinking that the CFP can be reformed, I will be open to all sorts of accusations, such as that I am showing breathtaking naivety, but let us give it a crack. We have to achieve our aims by 2012, and the direction of travel is very much in our favour.
I want to help the hon. Gentleman, because he is fishing for flounders at the moment. It is interesting to hear such a staunch defence of the CFP from the Opposition Front Bench, given that we have rightly heard nothing good about it before now. If he does not earn the trust of fishermen, because they have inflicted on them the consequences of accidental damage in MCZs, and if he will not allow for the fishing defence that my amendment proposes, he will not have a working co-operation with them by which to enforce the rules that he wants to enforce.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me this opportunity to say that I have not at any stage supported or praised the CFP. Indeed, I have nothing but contempt for it, because it has failed to conserve fish or enhance the fishing industry. I want a very different policy to emerge from this process. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should read the Bill. If I may say so, for someone who is so experienced in these matters, he betrays an ignorance about what the Bill is intended to achieve.
As I have said, I am not in the game of demonising fishermen, and I believe that they have an important role to play in marine conservation. However, I am concerned about the irresponsible, dishonest few who do not understand the damage that unsustainable fishing practices are doing to our planet. It is the activities of those individuals that the Bill must address, not those of law-abiding people or of people who, through no fault of their own—perhaps because of the weather—find themselves fishing in an MCZ. There should be measures in the Bill to protect them, and I urge the Minister to read the relevant clause. I would prefer to see this matter addressed as part of the CFP reforms in 2012. That seemed to be the direction of travel that the Minister was taking in Committee, and I seek his reassurance that that is still the case.
On Government amendment 5, I note that we raised concerns in Committee about the sea fishing defence. The amendment gives reassurance that the Minister will address the loophole. We are glad that the loophole is being addressed, so we support the amendment.
We agree with the sentiment of amendment 42, but we also have concerns. Foreign vessels should be subject to the same rules as UK vessels. We are bound by the CFP in this area. This is an important issue, and there are legal issues to consider. We need to push this matter in relation to CFP reform. If the conservation measures in the Bill are to be truly effective, we must ensure that they are respected by all vessels operating in this area, whether foreign or UK.
I support the sentiment behind the hon. Member for Great Grimsby’s amendment 17, which is very similar to one that we had tried to introduce, regarding the fascinating White Herring Fisheries Act 1771. In the interests of rationalising legislation, the Bill will repeal that law along with a number of others. He has rightly referred to Hastings. I was in Hastings all day on Thursday to hear about the level of crisis in the community, and about how people are clinging on by their fingernails. Hastings has the largest beach-launched fishery in Europe, and those people want to know that the Bill provides for them. The 1771 Act provides British fishermen with the legal right to use all UK ports and harbours, allows fishermen to draw their boats up on the beaches and provides fishing vessels with the legal right to use wasteland for storage purposes. For the sake of rationalising legislation, it is not appropriate to repeal the 1771 Act, given the rights that it affords to maintain access to fisheries around the coast. Furthermore, maintaining that legislation is not contrary to any other measure in the Bill. No other part of the Bill extends the statutory rights that would be lost, so the proposed repeal should be withdrawn.
The hon. Gentleman’s amendment 15 and our amendment 36 try to achieve the same thing, so although we might disagree on some things, we agree on others. At this late stage in the Bill’s passage, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has suggested that clause 66(1) would apply to fishing activity. This issue is an important concern for fishing communities. The right to fish in the UK is a public right, and its exercise should not require, constitutionally, a licence. If it does not require a licence, it cannot subsequently be exempted under subsection (3). To avoid any doubt, the non-application of this measure to a fishing activity must appear in primary legislation. If anyone is worried that I am asking for a completely de-regulated fishing industry, that is not what I am saying. In any event, the ability to deploy fishing gear is strictly controllable through other legislation. To apply this measure to it as well would mean that fishing boats having to comply with two licensing regimes, which would complicate, rather than streamline, licensing for fishing.
Now that I am rising to speak, I think that we are to hear a full set of office-bearers from the all-party fisheries group, as the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Matthew Taylor) will probably speak later.
For those of us who represent fishing communities, it is important that we protect and argue for our industry, and we must make it clear—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) takes the same view—that we welcome the Bill. It is important to get it right, but we must also take account of all the stakeholders, the key stakeholders being those in the fishing industry. I was interested to hear the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), who tends to put a lot of vitality into all the campaigns that he fights. I appreciate that. However, Reading is a long way from having a fishing industry and a real understanding of how it operates.
I was interested, too, to hear the measured approach taken by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon), which is a welcome relief from what we are used to hearing from Conservative Front Benchers in any debate involving the fishing industry: basically, a call for UDI—a unilateral declaration of independence from Europe. I think that we all share the same view on the CFP, which has not been good for the industry anywhere in Europe, and far less here in the UK. However, their previous position was not sensible, and I am pleased that they are moving towards a much more appropriate one.
I wish to speak principally in support of amendment 41, which I tabled, and amendment 17, which I signed, but also in support, more or less, of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby. I do not foam at the mouth when the CFP is mentioned, as I hope to make clear.
I would like to speak in support of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and against the CFP. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the CFP a couple of times. He refers to its shortcomings, yet I understand that he is supportive of it. What does he want to do to limit its effects on fishermen? Would he support an extension of national control up to 199 miles, thereby rendering the CFP effectively useless? What is his approach to tackling the problems and injustices of the CFP, or does he just complain about it and leave it exactly as it is?
I appreciate your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I would just point out that the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil) has only just arrived in the debate and that I did not say anything suggesting that I supported the CFP, which has failed the British industry. The Government, now with the support of the Opposition, are well on the way to dealing with the issues. Negotiations in Europe are the way forward.
In speaking in support of amendment 41, I want generally to try to ensure that the interests of the fishing industry are properly taken account of. My amendment links the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967 with the Bill to underline the fact that the industry already has its own licensing system. There is a huge amount of bureaucracy. I get the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation diary every year, and the first few hundred pages are taken up with the rules—all the legislation—that the fishing industry has to comply with. It is a very complex area, and one that I would have been reluctant to tackle in my own days as a legal practitioner. The industry has its own licensing system, it is heavily policed and controlled, and it is subject not only to UK legislation but to EU directives under the CFP.
Clause 66 looks as though it will impose another layer of licensing on top of that which already exists. I do not know whether it is possible to find some compatibility with the 1967 Act, or how the problem could be mitigated beyond excluding the fishing industry in the way that I and others have suggested. For centuries, fishing has been seen as an essential public right. Now that the industry is so heavily policed and controlled under our own UK licensing regime and European law, there is a heavy weight of regulation, and in these difficult times it does not need any more. The industry is important to the economy, particularly to rural communities around the country where fishing and fish processing are vital to the stability of the community. It needs more certainty, not less, and that is what it is looking for.
I hope that the Minister, and those of my colleagues who are on the other side of this argument, will understand that, certainly in Scotland, where my main experience lies, there has been a huge shift in the attitude of the fishing industry towards more sustainable methods of fishing and an industry-wide recognition that protecting the environment is crucial to the maintenance of fish stocks. There is strong support from the industry for the Bill and for the equivalent legislation that will be produced in the Scottish Parliament. The industry wants to be part of the process that protects the marine environment, which will be strengthened by the Bill. I hope that the Minister can spell out exactly how industry interests will be met in the operation of marine conservation zones.
My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby mentioned my legal background in referring to clause 229, which is a standard repeal clause. As a lawyer, I will be pedantic and dig into it a little. At first sight, the repeal of any Act from the 18th century would appear to be a necessary tidying up. However, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, having taken legal advice, has come to the strong view that the White Herring Fisheries Act 1771 should be retained. In its view, it gives fundamental rights to fishermen: the right to fish and various others. I got myself a copy of the statute, or the bits of it that are still in force, and—this is where I get pedantic—compared it with an Act of the old Scottish Parliament: the Fisheries Act 1705. The old Scottish Acts were fascinating in the way they linked in with the ordinary workers and common people. In the 15th and 16th centuries, those that related to the masses started off with the wonderful expression: “For the safety and favour of the puir folks that labours the ground”. The 1705 Act does not use those words, but it is interesting to read the first sentence:
“Our Sovereign Lady and the Estates of Parliament taking to consideration the great and many advantages that may arise to this Nation by encouraging the Salmond White and Herring fishings they being not only a natural and certain fund to advance the trade and increase the wealth thereof but also a true and ready way to breed seamen and set many poor and idle to work”.
That sounds like a piece of legislation from the 1980s. [Laughter.] Interestingly, the same justification, using different language, appears in the 1771 UK statute, but it is limited to the white herring fisheries. I checked, as far as I could, to see whether the 1705 Act was still in force, and I was told by the Library—the information also appears on the UK statute law database—that it is.
I am not sure whether that complicates matters or makes things easier. However, as there is to be Scottish legislation, it may be appropriate for the Scottish Parliament, if it so chooses, to repeal the 1705 Act. The old Scottish Acts have rules that do not apply in the UK. For example, an Act that is obsolete can be put through a process called desuetude, which effectively repeals it. That needs the authority of the courts, but it can be done. I suspect that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is making the same appeal to the Scottish Parliament that it is making to me and to others, but it is unlikely that the Scottish Parliament will want to repeal the 1705 Act. That may lead to a situation whereby fishermen north of the border have a statutory right to fish, to land their boats on the shore and all the other rights that the Act gives to fishermen, whereas fishermen in the rest of the UK will not have that right because the 1771 Act has been repealed. That may be a bit more of a grievance for the fishermen in Hastings, for example, than to those north of the border.
I hope that the Secretary of State will try to clarify the situation. Those two Acts are still in force, and because his legislation does not attempt to repeal the 1705 Act we will be left with a different set of rules on either side of the border.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your advice. I did not want to miss the opportunity and later find out that I should have moved them at this point. It was a belt and braces approach.
As I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), I am keen to ensure that there is a common thread—a golden thread—of balance between social, economic and environmental factors in the Bill. The Minister keeps coming back to that balance. That theme should run through the Bill from start to finish.
Some of the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks and some of his exchanges with other Labour Members presupposed that fishing and marine conservation must necessarily be in conflict, but I do not think that needs to be the case. I do not know whether he is perhaps seeking conflict where there need not be any. Part of the problem in the past has been that the fishing industry has been seen as something of a macho trade and marine conservation as rather effeminate and quite different. However, it is interesting and significant that over the past 10 to 15 years, the fishing industry and the environmental movement, for want of a better expression, have come together. Scientists and fishermen have worked together to understand each other a great deal more, help each other and find a way forward that is good for both marine conservation and sustainable fishing.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that last point. The fishing industry and conservation groups have come much closer together, which is why the fishing industry feels a bit let down by the obsession with controlling fishing in marine conservation zones.
In response to some of my hon. Friends, I am not saying that fishing is not about marine conservation. Of course it is—it is the industry with the most interest in conservation. However, the patchwork quilts of marine conservation zones are not an appropriate way of controlling fishing effort or catches.
That is an important point, but there is a shared interest in ensuring that there are controls on activities in certain marine areas. On some occasions there may be a shared interest in protecting both the marine environment and the future sustainability of the fishing industry. I often give the classic case in point of the Trevose ground, off the north coast of Cornwall and Devon, which is closed each year in the spawning season between January and April. That initiative was driven by the fishing industry, which effectively said, “Please save us from ourselves. If we do not collectively agree that we must not plunder the stocks, we won’t have many stocks in years to come.” Increasingly, fishermen are engaging much more constructively with marine conservationists and scientists to find means by which medium and long-term sustainability goals can be pursued.
There will increasingly be an opportunity, particularly under the IFCAs, to recognise that there is a balance between the range of predators and the stocks in any area. That balance may well involve some difficult questions, and perhaps unpalatable answers, about creatures that are in too great abundance and are predating upon vulnerable stocks.
I was encouraged down a route that was not part of my speech, which I shall return to.
Before I turn to the amendments that I have tabled, I wish to speak to amendment 17, which I have signed. I remind the Minister that, in Committee, I urged him to review the decision to annul the White Herring Fisheries Act 1771. As a result, we entered into correspondence. He wrote to me on 8 July, I responded on 31 July and he wrote again on 4 September, giving further explanations of the background to annulling the Act.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Doran), as a lawyer who has obviously studied the Act in great detail, articulated his arguments far better than I possibly could. All I say to the Minister is that, quite apart from the clear technical arguments that the hon. Gentleman advanced very well, erasing the Act does not pass the “what harm” test—what harm is there in leaving it in place? Nor does it pass the “what hurry” test—what is the hurry to get this done now? The correspondence that I have had with those in the fishing industry who are keen to keep the 1771 Act extant suggests that they believe that elements of that rather ancient-sounding Act are relevant today. The Minister denies that, but I say to him that in any case it is doing no harm and there is no hurry to remove it.
I turn now to the amendments in my name. The purpose of amendment 18, to clause 124, is to establish the balance that the Minister has said he wants to achieve. Subsection 2(e) and (f) state that the regular report that the MMO will produce must refer to
“the extent to which, in the opinion of the authority, the conservation objectives stated for each MCZ which it has designated have been achieved”
“any further steps which, in the opinion of the authority, are required to be taken in relation to any MCZ in order to achieve the conservation objectives stated for it.”
To balance the conservation objectives with socio-economic considerations, which are after all to be acknowledged at the point of designation, it seems appropriate for some attempt to be made to assess in the report the impact of policies in MCZs on the socio-economic vitality of the coastal communities affected. The amendment would dovetail with the rest of what is proposed for the report by adding that it must mention
“the extent to which, in the opinion of the authority, the operation of the MCZs have had an impact upon the marine economy in general and the commercial and recreational fishing industry in particular”.
I think that that would be a reasonable amendment. It would simply establish a balance that the Minister told the Public Bill Committee that he wishes to achieve, and that I believe we all wish to achieve. There is an opportunity for the Minister to accept the amendment.
The purpose of amendment 23 is slightly different. A number of conservation bodies are concerned about the fisheries defence. I think that they have a justification for their concerns because, as the provision is drafted, the defence could be used by some in the fishing industry who are less reputable—the vast majority do not do this—and who might not go about their trade in an MCZ or around a feature that we are seeking to protect with the care that we would hope for.
The Minister and the Secretary of State, through Government amendment 5, are proposing that at some point—I think the Minister suggested quite soon after the Bill becomes an Act—the fisheries defence will simply be removed. I propose a tightening of the Bill. Clause 141 states:
“It is a defence for a person who is charged with an offence under section 140 to show that…the effect of the act on the protected feature in question could not reasonably have been avoided.”
Under the Bill, it is incumbent on the enforcement body to disprove the defence. I am proposing that a fisherman would need to demonstrate a three-pronged, higher hurdle of proof to be able to use the fisheries defence as effectively as the Minister is seeking to achieve.
The purpose of amendment 42, which the hon. Member for Great Grimsby clearly supports is, as it says, to achieve “equal treatment”. The last thing we want to do as a result of the Bill—the Minister has perpetually reassured those of us who have raised the issue—is tie the hands of UK fishermen and allow fishermen from other nations, including EU nations, to be able simply to plunder the fish stocks in areas to which UK fishermen have effectively been told they cannot go and fish. If that is not achieved as a result of the Bill, it would undermine its authority and the support for it.
May I put it this way to my hon. Friend? It would be irresponsible to designate an MCZ if it was known that it would be open to access to trawlers from other countries, when access to the UK fishing industry is denied. That result cannot ever be seen to be the intention of Parliament.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Such a situation would not only undermine the authority of the UK agencies responsible for enforcing the Act, but it would not actually save any fish or the marine environment. All we would be doing is stopping UK vessels doing something that all other vessels would be able to do in any case. We would have achieved nothing at all. It would simply undermine the authority of the Act itself. I hope that the Minister reflects on that. If he does not accept amendment 42, I hope he will table a Government amendment that will achieve the same object.
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon), who is no longer in the Chamber, said that there were legal reasons why such an amendment could not be introduced, but I do not think that we are proposing to apply laws to EU vessels that are not lawful under European law. We are simply trying to achieve a situation in which we do not constrain UK vessels in a way that we cannot constrain their competitors around the UK coast.
I hope that the Minister will reflect on those amendments. Their purpose is to achieve a balance and to recognise that the assumption that there is ongoing conflict between fishermen and conservation bodies is simply not the case. Increasingly, over time, they are working together. I think we should be trying to achieve that through the Bill.
I very much welcome the progress that has been made on issues such as the fisherman’s defence since I spoke on Second Reading. I congratulate the Minister and Committee on the work that they have done. He has clearly listened to representations and there was clearly an effective debate, demonstrating all that is effective in the Committee system.
My proposals would deal with some of those problems and strengthen the Bill. I particularly wanted to speak about inshore limits and to seek clarification from the Minister, who has moved a considerable way on the matter. I accept many of the points made by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), in that there should be no contradiction between the fishing industry and effective marine conservation, which have shared interests.
There are good examples of what the fishing industry has done in recent years to improve marine conservation. Certification schemes such as the marine stewardship scheme have grown, and a lot of the big retailers, including the Co-op and Marks & Spencer, take the issue of sustainable fisheries very seriously. Wholesalers such as Young’s seafood group, which is based in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), have a good record on the issue. That has spread through to the fishing industry, which I think has recognised that it is in its interests to work with conservation groups and conservation policy. The Isle of Lundy, which has been mentioned, is a good example of that. Fishermen have benefited from, for example, larger shellfish and increased catches. There is no contradiction in the principle.
I was concerned, as were groups such as Wildlife and Countryside Link, that the fisherman’s defence was far too widely drawn. My hon. Friend knows as well as I do that one attractive thing about people in the fishing industry is that they are open and honest when they talk about things in detail—they will be quite open about some of the extremely damaging, and in many cases illegal practices, within the industry. They generally point to the other fishing point down the road and say that the fishermen there and not they are involved in such practices.
Or up the road. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the fact that if we are not careful, we will leave loopholes that will be exploited.
As has been said, this is an exciting Bill and I have been very keen on it for a long time. I know how difficult and complicated it has been to introduce—it has been a lot more complicated than many people understand. It is a great tribute to the Government and the Department that they have managed to make progress with the Bill and that it is heading towards the statute book with such widespread support. I very much welcome that.
The issue is how we can ensure that there are no loopholes that can be exploited. We also need to ensure that British fishermen are not discriminated against. It is not acceptable to have measures in place that apply only to the UK fleet and not to other EU or non-EU fishing boats. As the Minister knows, we have absolute control within the inshore limit of 6 maritime miles. One could argue that the defence in clause 141(4) does not need to apply up to the 6-mile limit because there can be no discrimination within that area. The Minister will say that that point can be addressed through the new IFCAs, and indeed it can. We have an opportunity to establish some really good examples of sustainable fisheries management within the 6-mile limit, and the inshore fleet has led the way by, for example, using creels to catch prawns—which is much less damaging than trawling—and hand-lining, which is much more selective than many other forms of fishing. We have seen some tremendous examples of good conservation by the sea fisheries committees on shellfish, which were agreed by the inshore fleet. We have a real opportunity and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take the opportunity to emphasise that this is something that the IFCAs could do.
Within the 6 to 12-mile limit, some non-UK vessels have historical rights in those waters. I am very concerned about the exploitation of loopholes, but I do not want to see our vessels in those areas being discriminated against by having to comply with measures that do not apply to non-UK vessels. For example, there are long-running tensions in the sole fisheries and conservation areas, and this Bill may provide opportunities to address those problems. Can the Minister explain how the Bill will work within the 6 to 12-mile limit, where we do not have exclusive competence? The Commission itself recognises that we need these measures, and we have heard from other hon. Members that other countries are introducing their own measures on marine conservation zones, and that is right.
As has been said several times, we need to achieve the right balance between protecting the marine ecosystem and recognising the existence of the fishing industry and the jobs and economic activity that accompany it. The Minister is moving towards finding the right balance, but if it is not right, people will exploit the situation through legal challenges or by making excuses for damaging activities. We must also be fair and even-handed so that our fishing industry is not unduly discriminated against. I think that we are going in the right direction and I seek further assurance this evening.
I listened to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) with great interest. I did not agree with everything that he said, but I did agree that our fishing industry has been extraordinarily badly served by this House and the common fisheries policy. Of course, the interests of commercial fishermen and of recreational fishermen should be convergent, but that is not always the case.
There is also a flaw in marine conservation zones, because they may create great strife and angst if UK fishermen have to sit on the sidelines watching EU vessels merrily trawling through them. That would be an absolute disaster and make a mockery of what we are trying to achieve here—
I am sure that the Minister will provide us with great comfort on that point in the future.
Marine conservation zones are critical if we are to preserve and conserve fish stocks. Everyone here is a conservationist—we want to see healthy fish stocks and a flourishing commercial fishing industry. I want to see a flourishing recreational fishing sector as well—I declare my interest at this point—because it is an important contributor to the economy. I know that the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) will address that issue later.
We must ensure that commercial fishermen understand that this is not yet another attack on them. However, a marine conservation zone that allows commercial fishing is not a conservation zone—it is just another fishing zone. So I am not entirely clear about the argument on that point. However, let me also reflect on the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Cox), who said that commercial fishermen have been responsible for very successful innovations to protect and safeguard fish stocks. He mentioned the case of Lundy, and that is an example of best practice. The right hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) mentioned innovative new methods of shrimping and catching scallops. Several commercial fishermen are trying different net meshes to ensure that non-target species can escape and do not end up as by-product, which too often is thrown back into the sea for seagulls—a crying shame.
I am worried about the fishing defence. I would have thought that all damage caused by commercial fishermen would be accidental. I cannot see commercial fishermen setting out to cause deliberate damage, but we know that there are certain trawling methods that cause significant damage to the sea bed. There are also forms of fishing that take a high number of non-target species. Yes, that is accidental damage, but it is damage, and that is what we are worried about. We need to find a sensible way forward that allows nursery areas to flourish and lets us restock our inshore waters with bass and other important fish. We also need to ensure that in the medium to long term our commercial sea fishermen see the benefit of the Bill.
I repeat that we have served them badly over the past 30 to 40 years. The CFP affects all fishermen in Europe, but our fishermen used to enjoy the richest fishing grounds and our industry used to employ many hundreds of thousands of people, not tens of thousands of people. Over the past 40 years, we have left far too many fishing families high and dry. I do not want to be a rabid anti-European, because it is not in my nature to be rabid about anything, but I hope that a future Government—whether Labour or an incoming Conservative Government —get to grips with the CFP so that it works in favour of our fishermen more than it does now.
You will not hear me demonising fishermen this evening, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for although I come from generations of steel and coal families on my mother’s side, on my father’s side I come from fishing families from the port of Great Grimsby. I therefore understand, perhaps more than most, how important fishing has been to the livelihoods of families down the generations, whether we are talking about fishing in the Arctic circle, which my father did in the late 1950s, or working in the fish processing factories that my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) mentioned. Ross, Young’s Seafood, Findus, Birds Eye—you name it, it has been in Grimsby.
For some time, the existence of towns such as Great Grimsby has depended on the fishing industry. The town of Great Grimsby was the world’s premier fishing port and, it has to be said, it was bigger than Hull’s fishing port.
Indeed, but now it is the ex-premier. Grimsby benefited in the 1950s and 1960s because of a no-take zone, which was established because of the second world war. Between 1939 and 1945, fishing operations were suspended in the North sea and the Arctic circle. The fishermen of Grimsby were employed in minesweeping and dangerous war operations that involved sailing small boats under German radar into Norway, and so on. They did that work only because the Royal Navy could not do it, being unable to take the sea conditions that it involved. That gives hon. Members an indication of how dangerous fishing is, especially in the conditions out in the Arctic, and why it is probably the most dangerous occupation in the world. Nobody knows better than I do about the realities of fishing and what it involves.
However, in the ’50s and ’60s the healthy stock in the North sea was exploited to the nth degree. Indeed, the fishermen were also heavily exploited, thanks to the greed of those companies that were trying to make the most of the stocks available. I therefore disagree with the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) that this House is entirely or perhaps even largely to blame for what happened to the fishing industry. To some extent we have to blame the conglomerates and the owners of the fishing industry, who took the fish out of the sea and drove those men to the extremes of their occupation in order to get as much fish as possible on the quayside in Grimsby and Hull in the ’50s and ’60s. We all know the consequences of those actions. In some cases those actions were piracy. Indeed, one of the skippers in Grimsby was arrested for piracy over in Iceland in the 1960s—he came to a sticky end, although not at the hands of the Icelanders. That shows the level of exploitation of the industry, and we live with the consequences even now.
More than anything else, the story of what happened to trawling in places such as Grimsby indicates why we have to take forward some of the measures in the Bill. We have to strike the right balance between marine conservation and sustainable fishing. That is the core of what we are trying to do. I agree entirely with what the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) said about an increasing understanding between the industry and the conservationists. In fact, their interests are completely compatible. They can work together to ensure that there is a future fishing industry and, equally, that the marine environment is not exploited as it has been in the past.
None of the amendments before us addresses the key issue, which is the incorporation into the Bill of the defence against damage to the marine environment. I understand entirely why that defence cannot be taken out, because of the 6 to 12-nautical mile limit, which involves the rights of European vessels to fish in our waters, and the rights of our fishermen within the nought to 6-nautical mile limit. I understand the Minister’s argument that taking action on that limit runs the risk of damaging our domestic fishing industry while giving European vessels the right to run riot in our marine environment. I therefore understand the Minister’s position on one level.
The way forward is reform of the common fisheries policy in the 2012 negotiations, as the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) outlined from the Front Bench, to deal with the 6 to 12-mile limit. However, on the nought to 6-mile limit, I would appreciate some remarks from the Minister about the possibility of issuing guidance from the legislation on using existing byelaws to protect our precious marine environment not just from reckless damage but, where necessary and on a case-by-case basis, from accidental damage.
I represent a constituency where fishing is still an important part of the local economy. Fishermen support the Bill. They fully recognise the importance of conservation, and they support the Bill because it sets out a path for sustainable protection of the marine environment and a coherent management structure. However, fishing organisations have one or two concerns.
I start by referring to an 18th century Act to which reference has been made tonight—the White Herring Fisheries Act 1771. Fishermen and fishing organisations feel strongly about preserving the Act because it sets out basic rights that have existed for more than 200 years. I support amendment 17, tabled by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), and to which I am a signatory.
The Government’s case is that the Act is obsolete. If it were, it would make sense to repeal it, but the problem is that it may come to light that it is not obsolete. It provides basic rights to fishermen, and they feel strongly about it. It gives fishermen throughout Great Britain rights that do not seem to be replicated in other statutes. It gives them the legal right to fish the British seas, subject to complying with subsequent regulations, such as the common fisheries policy and British licensing regulations. It also gives them the right to use all British ports and harbours, subject to payment of harbour dues. Without the Act, private interests could exclude our fishermen from their harbours.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the Act is obsolete, keeping it on the statute book does no harm? If it is not obsolete, it is useful to have it. Why do the Government always tidy things up in this nannying way, which is most trying? Would it not be possible on this occasion for them to learn that a bit of untidiness does a lot of good?
I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I was coming to that. If the Act is obsolete, there is no point in repealing it. If it is not obsolete, it should be kept on the statute book.
As well as rights to fish and to use ports and harbours, the Act gives fishermen the right to draw their vessels up on beaches, and to use uncultivated land in a 100-yard strip above the high water mark for fishing purposes, subject to any other legislation in force. The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation are adamant that only the 1771 Act gives fishermen those rights throughout Great Britain. As the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Doran) said, the Scottish Fisheries Act 1705, gives rights in Scottish waters, but the 1771 Act is the only one that gives rights throughout Great Britain.
Legal advice to fishermen’s organisations is that when the 1771 Act was passed, “white herring” referred to all sea fishing and not just fishing for white herring. By inference, it has continued to apply to all forms of sea fishing that have existed at any time thereafter. The courts have always interpreted the Act as applying to all forms of fishing, not just white herring fishing. When it was passed, it was intended to apply to all forms of fishing, which is how it has always been interpreted. As hon. Members have said, keeping the 1771 Act can do no harm, but repealing it could cause great damage to the fishing industry because of the law of unintended consequences.
I hope that the Minister will assure the House that the rights given to fishermen by the 1771 Act will be preserved by other enactments. If he cannot quote other enactments that give fishermen those rights, I hope that he will accept amendment 17, and keep the 1771 Act on the statute book. If it is repealed, we may find later that unintended consequences result in fishermen losing rights to fish the seas, to use harbours, or to lay up their boats on beaches.
I want to refer to another theme of the Bill that other hon. Members have also mentioned: equality of treatment for our fishermen and other EU fishermen. There would be absolutely no point in declaring a marine conservation zone between the 6 and the 12-mile limit, only to find that our own fishermen were excluded from it, while fishermen from all other EU countries were able to fish there. It is a flaw in the Bill, which the Minister must address.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right: there would be no point in declaring an MCZ between the 6 and 12-mile limit if European fishermen were able to fish there and ours were not.
To summarise, I support the Bill. It is a good Bill that sets out how to make progress towards the future for the sustainable development and protection of the marine environment. There are, I believe, one or two flaws, and I have referred to two of them this evening. I hope that the Minister will reflect further on those flaws, keep the 1771 Act and look again at the 6 and 12-mile limit to ensure that our fishermen would not be discriminated against if MCZs were declared in those areas.
I propose to confine my remarks to new clause 8 and to amendments 44, 23 and 5. The tone of the debate on the new clause was set by the opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). One thing we learned from my hon. Friend, and from other contributors, was about the White Herring Fisheries Act 1771, but he also introduced two socking great red herrings. My hon. Friend appears to be under the impression that marine conservation zones will, perforce, ban fishing in them, because he claims that is integral to an MCZ. I would be most obliged if he would intervene and tell me where exactly the Bill says that, as I cannot find it anywhere in it.
I did not say that there were proposals to ban fishing in the marine conservation zones, but what I will say right now is that if that is the proposal, it is unacceptable to the fishing industry; it is a monstrous proposal. We cannot have a patchwork quilt, which is what the MCZs will be. They will not be universal, but they will be no-go zones in which fishermen cannot fish. That is an impossible way of ensuring conservation.
There we go, that is another red herring, as it is not in the Bill. If we look at the Bill, we find that clause 117(6)(b) refers to
“enabling or facilitating …recovery or increase”
of stocks. Clause 129(3)(b) talks about “prohibiting or restricting entry”, so there could be a prohibition, but the word “restricting” also appears in the Bill, which is of course different from “prohibiting”. Clause 123(3)(a) refers to measures contributing to “the conservation or improvement” of stocks.
The red herring is in amendment 44 and new clause 8, which my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby tabled, because he sees things as one or the other, as do elements in the fishing industry. Yes, I will demonise the fishing industry, although not individual fisher folk, because the industry has an appalling record. Sadly, that record has been maintained for many years, although, gradually, it is getting a bit better. Historically, it has an appalling record of fishing stocks out: we see that all over the world—we see it in the North sea; we see it in the collapse of the Canadian cod fishery off the Grand banks of Newfoundland; we see it in the collapse of the Pacific fishery off the west coast of Canada. By the way, that did not happen under a common fisheries policy, as that fishery is not covered by the North American Free Trade Agreement under national legislation.
Let me make my point and then I will give way. Inherent in amendment 44 and new clause 8 is the concept that conservation and preservation of marine stocks—marine fauna and marine animals are mentioned in the Bill—is counterpoised to the interests of the fishing industry. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby and others, “Be careful in what you wish for because you might get it”. If marine conservation zones improved fish stocks and thus improved the circumstances for the fishing industry, passing new clause 8 and amendment 44 tonight would mean that the Government would have to take statutory measures to mitigate the consequences of that improvement. That is inherent in the wording of new clause 8 and amendment 44, which shows that those who framed them and support them see conservation and preservation of marine fauna and the interests of the commercial fishing industry as counterpoised, but they are not. I firmly believe that, handled sensitively, marine conservation zones could help increase fish stocks and, therefore, in the medium and longer term, help the commercial fishing industry.
My point was simply that conservation measures are best handled on a universal basis within our fishing area. My hon. Friend is obviously scarred by the experience of Canada, which he has quoted previously in the House. As he comes from Canada, I can understand that. However, the Canadian depredation of cod stocks was caused not by the absence of conservation zones, but by universal over-catching by Canadian and other vessels. The fishing industry’s record has been good on occasions—Iceland is a classic instance of conservation of stocks. We should contrast the fishing industry as it was with the industry now. An increasing proportion—44 per cent.—of the British industry conforms to the responsible fishing agenda set out by Seafish. The fishing industry now believes in conservation, and fights for it.
That depends on how big those marine conservation zones are and how deep the pre-existing depredations, which the marine conservation zones are designed to help to restore, are in relation to the sea bed. If the opportunities for commercial fishing were lessened or, in some cases, subject to temporary exclusion, that would help. I accept that we cannot do anything with marine conservation zones of 1 square metre, but the Government are not making such a proposal, as the Minister will no doubt elucidate. If, given that there is no such contradiction, the scales have fallen from my hon. Friend’s eyes about the Aunt Sally that he has set up, he will no doubt withdraw new clause 8 and not press amendment 44.
When the system is localised, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) says that a generalised system would be better. However, when we wanted to have generalised systems, nobody was more antagonistic to them than he was. He might not agree, but he steadfastly supported the dock labour scheme in Grimsby, which did more to damage the industry than almost anything else.
That is one of the few illuminating pieces of evidence in this part of the debate. Right hon. and hon. Members will not be surprised to learn that Wolverhampton is one of the furthest places from the sea in the United Kingdom, and as far as I am aware—I am aware of my family history back to 1050 on my father’s side—I have no fisher folk in my family. Surprisingly, however, SBS/Fletcher, which manufactures boats, is in my constituency.
One piece of evidence that stood out, as several hon. Members have mentioned, came from the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Cox), who was briefly in the Chamber and spoke about the experience of the fishery closure in Lundy. Another piece of connected evidence was provided by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), who spoke about the success of the closure of a spawning area between January and March or April each year. Those relatively small-scale—relative to the geography and the coast of the United Kingdom—schemes have worked to the benefit of not only conservation but the commercial fishing industry in those areas. Those are two pieces of evidence for my assertion that the Aunt Sally contradiction simply does not exist.
I want to consider the other red herring suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby. When talking about criminal sanctions and so on, he referred to accidents. Perhaps he will intervene to tell me where the Bill refers to accidental damage. What I do see is a reference to recklessness, in clause 140(2). The word “recklessly” appears in paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d). Subsection (2) contains only those four paragraphs, and they all contain the word “recklessly”. As a lawyer, I must tell my hon. Friend that the term “accidental” means something rather different from what is meant by the term “reckless”. Perhaps he sees no difference between the two, but I assure him that there is one.
I do not think that the Government should get rid of clause 141(4)(b), as amendment 23 suggests. Government amendment 5 and amendment 42 also seek to alter the subsection. Paragraph (b) states that it is a defence for a person who is charged with an offence to show that
“the effect of the act on the protected feature in question could not reasonably have been avoided.”
That takes us to the reckless rather than the accidental end of the scale. Government amendment 5 states:
“The Secretary of State may by order amend this section so as to remove, or restrict the application of, the defence provided by subsection (4).’
That is relevant to the passage that I quoted a moment ago. Amendment 5 would give the Secretary of State regulatory powers to remove the defence in subsection (4)(b).
I believe it was the hon. Member for St. Ives who seemed to have gained the impression from the Government that, if granted by the House tonight and enacted by Parliament, those powers would be used quite quickly, and I am concerned about that for constitutional reasons. I freely admit that my lack of knowledge is to blame, but I hope that, when he winds up the debate, the Minister will tell us where else in statute a provision exists enabling a Secretary of State, by regulation, to remove a defence.
We all know that regulations create offences from time to time, but removing a defence and doing it so quickly—if that is the Government’s intention—strikes me as very surprising. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the Government have any such ideas, if not a fixed intent. If they have such ideas, perhaps he will explain why the removal of the defence in subsection (4) is not itself a Government amendment, rather than the Secretary of State’s being given an order to take such action on a whim and on the basis of regulations that will have much less scrutiny.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) on lightening our proceedings. I think that most of us wondered whether we would achieve such levels of excitement.
Let me begin by identifying an absurdity that has featured in a number of statements made today. Members have said that it is not possible to create a patchwork quilt of marine conservation zones—that they will not work. Every Member has been lauding the achievements of Lundy as a no-take zone. That is the first patch in the patchwork quilt that we need to establish around these shores, if there are to be any fish left for the people of Great Grimsby and elsewhere to fish for.
I oppose new clause 8, and I oppose amendment 24, which seeks to enhance the sea fisheries defence. I support Government amendment 5, which seeks to minimise that defence in the context of the reform of the common fisheries policy, as outlined by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon). By way of a change, I support Government amendments 13 and 14, which seek important reforms to the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975.
It is a pleasure to follow a number of speeches, particularly those of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) and the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker). However, I must take issue with what the hon. Member for Broxbourne said about accidental damage. There is nothing accidental about beam trawling. Beam trawling is an environmental disaster. If we were to translate it to the agricultural field—pardon the pun—it would mean a farmer ploughing the same field seven times in a single growing season. Beam trawling does long-term environmental damage and cannot exist alongside conservation and sustainable fisheries. They are completely opposed, and such damage is not done accidentally.
I welcome that clarification.
There need not be a conflict between fishing—whether commercial or recreational—and conservation, provided that the fishermen decide to come down in favour of conservation. Turning to my own sport, I have lost count of the number of arguments I have had with salmon anglers who opposed the bringing in of the rule of returning spring salmon before 16 June. It has finally got into the psyche of Britain’s game anglers that we cannot continually remove spawning fish from the food chain and expect a run of salmon in subsequent years. Fishermen can be conservationists, but the choice is theirs, and fishermen or their public representatives who choose to oppose the single most important piece of environmental legislation affecting the coastline and seas of this nation have clearly not opted to come down on the side of conservation.
No, I will not.
I have huge affection and respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby. He is a doughty champion for his constituency and for the commercial fishing interest, but I say to him that he will do them no favours in the long term if he encourages people to set their faces against the very conservation measures that are designed to protect the existence of the fish that his constituents wish to catch.
I get tired of listening to the argument that people have had a traditional right to pursue their quarry in this way. The same argument was made about the white rhino in Africa until it was hunted to extinction, and the Spanish and the Portuguese are making the same argument about the bluefin tuna fishery. Bluefin tuna have got probably months, and certainly no more than two or three years, left to exist as a species that can be sustainably harvested. Sadly, a couple of years ago in Luxembourg the European Fisheries Council recommended quotas that were twice as generous as those that should have been introduced in order to secure sustainability.
No, because there is very little time.
The commercial sector broke those quotas by a factor of 100 per cent. Unless we change the terms of this debate, and unless we in this House come down forthrightly on the side of conservation, there is no hope for the commercial fishing industry or recreational fishing.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his moving tribute to me, but, as far as I know, we are talking about white herring, not white rhino. It is not true that the fishing industry is opposed to conservation measures; it supports them, but it wants its position to be made clear within them. As my hon. Friend is such a passionate supporter of marine conservation zones, will he tell us whether he wants them to become no-fishing zones?
I certainly support the power in the Bill to have, on the basis of good scientific evidence, MCZs that are no-take zones where appropriate. They could be established for a host of reasons, but particularly in nursery areas for recovery species. We have already witnessed commercial fishermen in the south-west praising the fact that their catch has risen as a result of the Lundy no-take zone. I offer a potential golden future to my hon. Friend’s constituents through having no-take zones.