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Marine and Coastal Access Bill [HL]

Volume 708: debated on Monday 9 March 2009

Committee (7th Day)

Clause 114 : Grounds for designation of MCZs

Amendment A123 had been retabled as Amendment A135A.

Amendment A124 not moved.

Amendment A125

Moved by

A125: Clause 114, page 68, line 21, leave out “it thinks that”

These amendments represent a heavy-duty grouping but we are keen to ensure we concentrate the debate around the main issues. While I seek to move Amendment A125, I will speak to the others, or should I say address the issue they have in common. At first sight, the amendments might appear to delete thought from the process. Deleting “it thinks that” or “the appropriate authority thinks”, or “the MMO thinks” might suggest we are seeking to induce an absence of thought into the Bill. This is not the idea, however. On the contrary, my amendments in this group seek to explore in a little more depth the management of the designation process and the basis on which the assessments in this part will be made. There is a certain amount of judgment to be exercised in the designation and implementation of marine conservation zones.

As I am sure the next group of amendments will show, there is a great deal of disagreement about the relative importance of the many factors that could or should be taken into account. It is clear from conversations with Defra and the relevant stakeholders that Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee have already been tasked with and funded for the organisation of consultation panels. That appointment follows the existing practice of designating and managing existing conservation sites such as SSSIs. Some questions, however, have been raised about whether this is the best way forward. At this Dispatch Box, we have referred to many occasions on which the MMO’s areas of responsibilities have been restricted or removed. My noble friend Lord Cathcart has been keeping a list, which I believe is nearly into double figures. I am afraid that we are rather inclined to view the provisions as yet another addition to that list.

We fully appreciate the point that the statutory conservation bodies represent a wealth of experience and expertise in conservation matters and that it would be counterproductive to separate them into marine and terrestrial-based organisations. However, our understanding of the MMO from discussions on the earlier part of the Bill was that it should be an umbrella organisation with the links and responsibility to coordinate between and rely on more specialised bodies in a relevant area when necessary.

Why, therefore, is the MMO being completely isolated from any involvement in the designation of zones that will impact enormously on its responsibilities to draw up and implement marine plans, and on its ability to issue licences? Does the Minister feel that the MMO could play a very useful role not only in maintaining an impartial role in negotiating between conflicting interests and ensuring that all relevant voices are heard but also in contributing its knowledge and experience to the designation process directly?

Naturally, we have received some very strong representations from the conservation bodies that they would prefer to keep control of the process of designation. They have some concerns that, if control of the process is given to a body that does not have conservation as its sole focus, the end result will be too watered down to be effective. However, the MMO has a responsibility to contribute to sustainable development and will, we hope, have an even stronger duty in this area by the time that the Bill leaves your Lordships’ House. It is also subject to scrutiny by Parliament and directions and guidance by Defra. What grounds are there for thinking that it would be an ineffective champion of an effective and manageable conservation network?

There is, of course, a further safeguard in this Bill that the zones are to be designated by the Secretary of State, based on recommendations. The current thinking is that any unfeasibility in the conservation objectives can be caught and amended here. If a planned development clashes with a proposed zone, it appears to be the expectation that the Secretary of State will spot the conflict and will ensure that the necessary adjustments, either to the relevant plan or the zone, are made.

This seems to be a very inefficient way of proceeding. Why not build in at a much earlier stage an appreciation of where difficulties are likely to develop? Alternative sites for either the development or the zone could then be considered and a more optimal solution found. I prefer a system that resolves conflicts of interest early and locally. Much greater reassurance would also then be given to stakeholders that their views would be heard at an earlier stage, eliminating the current incentive to postpone the resolution of conflict until a later stage to keep to targets, with all the usual reviews, readjustments and appeals that such a policy tends to produce. I beg to move.

In voicing my support for the amendments, I make it clear to the Committee that I have long been associated with the yachting fraternity and I will move amendments proposed by the British Marine Federation, which looks after the industrial side of the boating industry. While I would normally also speak for the Royal Yachting Association, the Opposition Front Bench will do so in Committee, with my full support.

This is a good way to start today’s sitting. I fully recognise the point that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, raised about the importance of being sure about the way in which the appropriate authority should seek to designate marine conservation zones and the way in which the MMO carries out public consultation in relation to by-laws. I fully accept that, in moving the amendment, the noble Lord raised a number of interesting points about the role of Ministers—the hierarchy of decision-making, if you like—and the role of the MMO in providing appropriate advice. Clause 114 makes it clear that the appropriate authority for designating marine conservation zones will be the Secretary of State, Welsh Ministers or Scottish Ministers for the Scottish offshore region, in the last respect acting with the consent of the Secretary of State because the function was executively devolved, as we have previously discussed.

The idea is that the appropriate authority—in other words, the relevant Ministers—will want to act on advice and recommendations from the statutory nature conservation authorities and other marine bodies with expertise, such as the Marine Management Organisation. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that I regard the role of the MMO in this regard to be important and would not, I hope, be added to the list of the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart. We are only too well aware of the importance of the MMO.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said that some take the view that the designation of sites should be placed on statutory nature conservation bodies. I make it clear that the Government do not have that intention. We believe that the duty to create a network of sites must lie with the Secretary of State. The various international conventions and European directives will place requirements on the UK to provide a network. Surely it is Ministers who ultimately must make the decisions and be held accountable for them.

I am listening with interest to the noble Lord. Am I right in thinking that Ministers have executive responsibility for the designation of areas of outstanding natural beauty in the terrestrial planning field precisely because Ministers need to be accountable for such designation? Is that the comparison that he would make? Is that the precedent that he would make? I have some sympathy with that argument; that is why we did not support the amendments tabled by the Conservative Front Bench; we believe that designation is an executive decision rather than an advisory one.

I am not going so far as to say that the precedent is drawn from the noble Lord’s example; I do not have the experience to do so. I am clear that it should be a ministerial decision but Ministers can then be held accountable to Parliament. The role of the various other bodies that have been mentioned so far must be to provide the necessary advice.

When it comes to the designation of sites of special scientific interest in the terrestrial environment, the statutory nature conservation body Natural England decides on the designation—it is not a ministerial decision. So there are examples of situations where Ministers do not take every decision.

That is why I did not want to fall into any traps. I am not saying that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, was setting a trap for me, but I did not want to endorse the example that he gave, because we can all look to different examples to support our arguments. Our view, which informs the Bill’s provisions, is that, given the nature and importance of these matters, they are for Ministers to decide. Later on in our debate we will be talking about the hierarchy of decision-making. The debate is about information and how it comes to the Ministers who make decisions.

The effect of Amendment A125 would be to require the appropriate authority to be sure that it is desirable to designate a site, rather than enabling it to do so when it thinks that it is desirable. That would impose an objective test, as opposed to the current test in the Bill, which is based on expert judgment and which gives more discretion to the designating authority. The reason for having discretion is that otherwise, the bar for designation might be raised too high. In earlier debates, we were taken to task over marine nature reserves. Only two have been established since 1981. Arguably, one reason is that very high hurdles were set for such designation.

The purpose of Part 5 of the Bill is to provide the tools to protect areas so that they can recover their diversity and thereby enrich our seas. Some areas may represent a significant proportion of our network of sites. In those cases, it may not be realistic to require the appropriate authority to be sure that designation will contribute to conservation. We want the appropriate authority to be able to designate a site when it has good reason for thinking that the site should be designated.

Amendments A142 and A144 concern consultation over the designation of sites. The provisions in Clause 116 have been designed to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that every interested person is consulted before a designation order is made. Clearly, public consultation requires a degree of judgment by the appropriate authority, because in practice it cannot always be certain that it has consulted in the best way. My department follows best practice on public consultation, and my department will be carrying out this consultation. It is important that the wording of the Bill enables the Secretary of State to reflect this objective.

On rare occasions, an area may need urgent protection through immediate designation. Clause 116(10) and (11) therefore allow designation to take place on an interim basis without public consultation. Amendment A147 might restrict the power to designate urgently, so that it could be exercised only where there was definitely an urgent need. Paradoxically, this could weaken the protection of vulnerable and threatened sites, because the appropriate authority could act only when it was sure that the designation was urgently required. We have heard much in previous debates about the need to reflect the precautionary principle. One risk of the amendment is that it might leave the Secretary of State with too strict a test to operate to secure the urgent protection needed for an environment when information is incomplete.

Clearly, the Secretary of State will not act lightly. He will need to take advice on the site from nature conservation bodies and from the MMO, and be clear in his mind that there is an urgent need to protect it. By the time enough evidence for certainty is produced, the features of the site might already have been damaged or destroyed. That is the reason that we want to allow the appropriate authority—in this case, the Secretary of State—to exercise some judgment.

Amendments A187 to A192, and Amendments A194, A195 and A197, remove the words “the MMO thinks” from Clauses 126 to 129, which relate to the making of by-laws, emergency by-laws and interim by-laws. These words acknowledge that the MMO will need to exercise its expert judgment in deciding how best to publish them. The aim is to ensure, as far as is reasonably possible, that the details come to the attention of all interested parties. There may be different opinions on how best to achieve that, and we think it right for the Bill to reflect this. I assure the House that the MMO will operate best practice on consultation and on publication of its intentions; that the guidance that the Secretary of State issues to the MMO will be clear about this; and that the MMO must then do what it thinks is best.

I hope that, in responding to these amendments, I have explained why the Bill is worded to allow certain subjective judgments, either by the Secretary of State or by the MMO. It does not give the appropriate authorities and the MMO complete freedom. They will need to act reasonably, and can be legally challenged through judicial review if they fail to carry out their functions in a reasonable way. That is sufficient protection against any arbitrary decision-making. I hope that I have made it clear to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that the MMO will have a valuable role in this process; and also that, as far as concerns decisions by the authority, it is right that Ministers should take them.

I thank the Minister for his reply. In the broadest terms, we agree with him. We certainly agree that ultimate political accountability should lie with the Secretary of State.

As I said when introducing the amendments, the essential reasoning behind them was to beef up the role of the MMO. The Minister has accepted that the MMO has an important task. What he said implies that the MMO will be central to the designation process. I am not seeking to exclude from the process statutory bodies with conservation experience: without their expertise, the MMO could not function at all. The MMO is the key link between the marine policy statement, marine plans and marine licensing. The designation of conservation zones comes into that process, and it is very important that there is a continuity of decision-making that involves the MMO.

I am grateful to the Minister for addressing these issues. I do not think that we are a million miles apart on this matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment A125 withdrawn.

Amendment A126 not moved.

Amendment A127

Moved by

A127: Clause 114, page 68, line 23, at beginning insert “existing”

These amendments follow on from our previous debate. They are intended to give noble Lords an opportunity to discuss the different weight that certain factors will have when designation of marine conservation zones is considered. I speak to Amendment A127, but I will address the other amendments, which, as with the last group, form a platform for a debate on a key issue.

In the main, they focus around Clause 114(7), which ensures that the appropriate authority has the power to consider the social and economic consequences of any designation. We consider that reasonable. Indeed, we have added our names to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, to make certain that those consequences are considered. Surely it would be completely counterproductive to seek to deny the Secretary of State the power to consider all consequences of a designation when choosing whether to implement the recommendations. The subsection places no obligation on the appropriate authority to decide in favour of the social and economic consequences, just to be aware of them. As I have argued on the previous group, our preference would be to have social and economic factors regarded rather earlier in the designation process to try to minimise future disagreements. To proceed with MCZs with no regard at all to other legitimate users of the sea would appear to be analogous to sticking one's head in the sand. Conservation bodies may not like some of the other users of the sea, but ignoring their claims on its resources entirely is not the most constructive way forward.

Instead we have tabled an amendment which we hope will reassure the conservation bodies that there is genuine commitment to establishing a meaningful conservation network, which we certainly hold, but accepting that there will be disagreements. Our Amendment A140A expresses the Sandford principle, which is already at work in the designation of national parks. In the event of an irreconcilable conflict between conservation objectives and other factors, the conservation objectives would win out. We feel that that places an appropriate level of legislative support for the critical importance of the marine conservation zones.

An alternative approach would be our Amendment A140B, under which social and economic factors would be taken into account when two sites of equal conservation value were being considered. More of our amendments in this group highlight some of the factors which might be considered other than purely conservation objectives, such as climate change and energy security. We have debated this topic a few times before, but I felt it would be useful to highlight briefly the wide range of social and economic factors that should be considered. Addressing climate change by promoting renewable energy is, of course, a matter of conservation as well as economics. It is a good example of why the factors that should be regarded should be widened rather than narrowed.

Finally, the remaining amendments in this group address consultation. The Bill enables the Government to proceed, as we have mentioned, with the statutory conservation bodies in control of the consultation and recommendation procedure and as sole statutory providers of advice to public authorities on the ongoing management of zones. Our amendment would open up the possibilities for consultation a little wider, ensuring the conservation body’s primary role at the designation stage, but enabling the participation of other interested bodies as well. I beg to move.

I speak to my Amendment A135A and I want to touch on Amendments A136 and A140A tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. He and I will probably cancel each other out tonight as we are taking different views on considering socio-economic factors in the designation of marine conservation zones. I entirely understand where he is coming from, but I would like to try to persuade him that he is wrong. I have tried this once privately and failed, so I shall now try publicly.

Clearly, having a network of marine conservation zones which protect the areas of the highest importance for conservation is an absolutely central part of this Bill. It is one of the elements of the Bill for which we have argued for many years. If this were to be a weak part of the Bill, it would take the heart out of it because it originally started as a conservation Bill and has only recently become a Bill on which everything else has been hung.

I want to look at the history of creating marine protection areas in the UK. The Minister referred to this, so he knew he was going to get it in the neck on this argument and we may as well carry on. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 the designation of marine nature reserves was dismal—that is the only word to use. In more than 25 years, only three small sites have been designated. The big problem was that, at the time, there was huge pressure against designation from socio-economic interests. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, would say that that was the time to face up to them, to get them out into the open and to take a balanced view, but in reality all that happened over the 25 years was that it was almost impossible to get a designation through.

My second point is how we overcome what, in the case of the Wildlife and Countryside Act provisions, was virtually a veto by socio-economic interests. How do we ensure that we do not end up with a network of sites where no one can envisage some socio-economic requirement which would mean that they can be selected? In the process to be adopted for designation of MCZs, there will be a strong regional role and a strong consultative role. The risk is that the poor Minister, in making a decision, will be heavily lobbied by socio-economic interests of all kinds and he will be put in the position that Ministers were in for 25 years under the previous rules where he will find it impossible to move ahead.

Scotland will stand out like a shining beacon in all this. Under the Scottish provisions, its conservation zones will be designated entirely on scientific conservation criteria. We are already seeing a difference between the four countries. On the terrestrial environment, not only is there not a requirement to take socio-economic conditions into account at the time of designation of sites of special scientific interest, but in the case of European sites, for special areas of conservation and special protection areas under the Natura 2000 series, it has been tested in law that socio-economic conditions may not be taken into account in selecting those sites. The process is: let us identify and designate those sites which are really important for nature conservation and, when we know the nature of proposed management activities or planning and development activities, it will be possible for the planning authority and, ultimately, the Minister to do the balancing act between socio-economic conditions and the importance of the site and so make decisions about the management of the site or the development and planning proposal which has come forward. Alas, if the Minister does that at a point of abstraction, when people are saying, “This may be important in a socio-economic way for the future; we might want to put a wind farm here; we might want to put a tidal barrage here; there might be aggregate extraction here; or this may be an important fishing area”, the Minister will have so many reasons for not designating that he will find it jolly difficult to designate.

Marine conservation zones have been heavily misunderstood because they are not areas where no development is planned or no economic activity can be permitted. There will be many economic activities which are perfectly combinable with the conservation interest of a particular site, depending on what that conservation interest is, but the appropriate time for that balancing decision to be made is when one knows what economic development is being proposed. There is a huge signalling role in designation. Having already signalled to people that, whereas in the marine environment in general socio-economic requirements may well be incredibly important, in this bit, most of the time if they are in conflict we will want the conservation of natural features to win out. That signalling activity is very important to make sure that people exercise ingenuity in looking at where they can direct their socio-economic development away from the most important sites for nature conservation, the places that are irreparable, the jewels in the crown, which is what SSSIs are in the terrestrial environment.

I was trying to think of a good example. Noble Lords may remember the Salisbury bypass, which I am glad to say I campaigned against and which was never built. It ran perilously close to damaging Salisbury Cathedral. It went through the water meadows and could well have had an impact on the cathedral. If we had not had a designation for that cathedral and we had been operating the system that would exist in the marine environment, the Minister would have been saying, “I wonder if we should protect the cathedral because, actually, the road is jolly important too”. I do not think that any noble Lord would ever suggest that some of the wonderful heritage treasures that are subject to the highest level of protection would ever be traded away for socio-economic purposes. They are designated simply on their heritage value, not on whether they are in an area that could get a bit crunchy in terms of planning and development.

My belief is that the marine conservation zones—and I refuse to believe that we will have a huge number of them—that will make up this important network ought to be designated on their scientific evidence-based conservation value alone. That is why I tabled Amendment A135A and which is why—I think I have probably said enough—I would not support Amendment A136, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, which says that account must be taken of socio-economic reasons. Although I approve of the Sandford principle in some circumstances, Amendment A140A, which is a Sandford bastardisation—if that is not an unparliamentary word—seems to insert it at the wrong time. It is saying that we might not designate something because of socio-economic conditions but, if there is a bit of a push and a shove, perhaps the environmental objectives should prevail. If that is the intention of that clause, designating on the basis of choosing those sites that are most important for conservation would have a similar net outcome, so perhaps I could persuade the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that Amendment A135A is better than Amendment A140A.

I am very glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, because, as she knows, I have a great deal of sympathy with her approach. We have a genuine dilemma here; there are several options before us, but the whole designation of MCZs will be so critical to the success of the Bill that there will be huge disappointment if we do not get this right. We have looked very hard at the various options, and we accept that Clause 114(7) is critical to this discussion. The options before us are simply to take it out, which is the noble Baroness’s suggestion, to strengthen it—the purport of Amendment A136—or to modify it quite dramatically by attempting a Sandford solution under Amendment A140A. Simply omitting the subsection will probably not be a successful solution to this problem, for the precise reason the noble Baroness indicated, because we are signalling an important aspect of the Bill. Simply taking the subsection out will not mean that the appropriate authorities ignore the economic and social consequences; they simply will not know how to rate them. Similarly, it would be going to the opposite extreme and quite ridiculous to strengthen this commitment to economic and social consequences by inflating from “may” to “must”. I cannot support that. That is going in the wrong direction altogether.

We are left with the other option, Amendment A140A, which attempts some sort of gradation, some sort of instruction to the appropriate authorities about how to take into account the prime objective of the zone designation process, which is in subsection (1), and put in as a secondary consideration, very firmly, the economic and social consequences. Whether that is bastardising Sandford or not, I think the noble Baroness would agree that it is an attempt to do just that. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, because he has attempted to do what many of us have wanted to do from the outset, which is to make sure that there is a sequence of priority and that that priority is firmly stated in subsection (1).

Until the noble Baroness spoke, I was not aware of the Scottish comparison. It is important to us because if it is true that scientific conservation criteria will be the sole criteria north of the border, without any reference to economic and social considerations and consequences, that must be an important indicator for us now. However, simply removing them from the Bill by taking out subsection (7) altogether seems pretty drastic. I shall listen with great care to the Minister. At the moment, I believe that trying to find a Sandford order of priority, as in Amendment A140A, is the best solution to the important choice we have before us.

Amendment A136 is tabled in my name, although the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, spoke to it in passing so there is no need for me to repeat what he said. It has been shot down by heavy flak from my noble friend Lady Young and the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. As for the Sandford principle, we must remember that the Bill will stand for quite a long time before we have another marine Bill, and with power supplies probably becoming scarcer as time goes on, there could well be situations where the Secretary of State will have to give precedence to power generation sources. It would inhibit the Government somewhat at the moment to write the Sandford principle into the Bill.

I have great sympathy with the approach taken by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach and I understand his objective in doing so. One of the worries and anxieties that I have had derived from the original Explanatory Memorandum issued by the Government that stated in relation to subsection (7):

“Where an area contains features that are rare, threatened or declining, or forms a biodiversity hotspot, greater weight is likely to be attached to ecological considerations. Where there is a choice of alternative areas which are equally suitable on ecological grounds, socio-economic factors could be more significant in deciding which areas may be designated as an MCZ”.

I think that my noble friend put this the other way around to ensure that the interests of marine life triumph over the socio-economic factors. None the less, there is the potential here for considerable conflict, and my worry as the Bill goes on—and that worry increases—is that the Government’s position is being progressively weakened. It seems to me that, somewhere behind the scenes, powerful voices representing other interests are coming to bear on this legislation to reduce the original objective which I thought the Government had set themselves in bringing the Bill forward.

When this whole subject was being considered and marine reserves were being canvassed on and discussed in 2001, eminent marine experts considering marine reserves concluded that those reserves resulted in,

“long-lasting and often rapid increases in the abundance, diversity and productivity of marine organisms”,

and that,

“full protection is critical to achieve the full range of benefits”.

I stress that last point: full protection is critical to achieve the full range of benefits. That is what persuades me to support the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone.

The Bill says that,

“the appropriate authority may have regard to any economic or social consequences of doing so”.

My noble friend has strengthened that a little further, which is a wrong step to take. I have sympathy with the views that he has expressed from the official opposition Front Bench, but the right approach is that of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Why is it not possible for the marine environment and areas of high protection to be given the same treatment that is given on land through the medium of SSSIs? SSSIs completely exclude other activities that might damage the purpose and objective behind the creation of the SSSI. There is no question of these other factors being brought to bear. Representations can of course be made, just as they could be made in the case of areas of high protection in the marine environment. I am sure that the IPC would ensure that its voice and the interests that it will represent will be sufficiently strongly heard. In fact, an almost parallel power is given to the IPC in the representation that it has from the Marine Management Organisation membership within its own ranks to ensure that its voice is fully taken into account. I do not see why it is necessary to import socio-economic factors at this stage when we are trying to protect the marine environment.

There is a view that you can parcel up an area of the sea and allow within that area a variety of different activities that could include dredging and turbines for power generation, for example, and that somehow marine life will go on and accept these things and take them in its stride. Surely we have learnt enough already to know that that is not the case and that we need to emphasise as strongly as we can the need to protect marine life: marine flora and fauna. If that is not spelt out strongly enough, the Bill will be weakened, and, when it becomes an Act, many other voices will be heard and many other representations will be made and its whole objective will have been lost. I hope that, somehow or another, the Government will go back to their original concept and seek to give full power to the MMO to establish marine conservation zones and areas of the highest possible protection within those zones to ensure that our marine life has the opportunity to replenish and recover from centuries of depredation by mankind.

I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Eden, has said what he has just said. I have a great deal of sympathy for the case which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, argued very moderately. When we are debating issues of this kind—I am sorry if I have said this before, but I feel it very powerfully—I always feel that the observation that we live in an age that knows the price of everything but the value of very little becomes appropriate.

My experience of dealing with environmental matters of this kind—in another setting, I sit in a meeting almost every month to consider planning applications in very special parts of our countryside and the rest—tells me that what the noble Lord has just said is very true; the forces of rationalisation for the economic case are always powerfully there, and we need very special provision in our legislation to protect what is special and what could too easily be eroded. I therefore congratulate the noble Baroness on having tabled her amendment, because what she said and what the amendment proposes, together with what the noble Lord has just said, will help to strengthen the resolve of my noble friends, who I believe are on the right side of the argument on this issue.

Another point always worries me in this kind of deliberation. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, are decent civilised men—none of us in this Committee would argue otherwise—but I am always intrigued by what doors we are opening to the future. There will not always be people who share our values in places of responsibility. We could move into an age when we have some pretty soulless charlatans at the helm, and we might inadvertently have opened the door to the destruction of what we all take very seriously: the protection of the very special elements of our heritage. When we consider legislation of this kind, I always think someone should think about that. Even long ago, in my days in the Government, it seemed to me that every Cabinet needed a special Cabinet Minister whose job was, in every debate, to say, “Well, that is all very well, but I am speaking for the next generation and the generation after that. And, excuse me, these are the possible implications for them”. We need to button up these things as tightly as we can, so that we do not inadvertently open the door to the erosion of what we hold dear.

What the noble Baroness has said is very important and I am glad that she is getting support from all sides of the Committee. I hope that the Minister will take what she said in the spirit in which she argued it and will determine that we will not open ourselves up to quite sinister dangers.

I agree with the sentiments expressed in this debate, particularly those of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. Her amendment starts to make amends for the weakness we still have in this Bill. It begins in the Long Title, which does not describe anything to do with nature conservation. It is a very functional description of activities at sea and so on. Nor do we have the purpose of the designation of the MCZs. Unless the Government spell out that purpose in some way, we will continue to have to have this sort of debate and the balance to be struck by the MMO simply will be that much more difficult.

Perhaps there are some misunderstandings of the fact that sometimes it will be completely reasonable to have no other uses in the MCZ. Some of the highly protected zones simply should exist—on our previous Committee day, I think the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, called it a pristine environment—as of right for everything that lives in the sea. That is why I am surprised to see his Amendment A139, which refers to the impact that designation may have on legitimate uses of the sea. Apart from pirates, we probably do not have many illegitimate uses of the sea. It implies that there is a gradation. The most legitimate use of the sea is probably that of the creatures which originally lived there and have to live there still. I hope that the noble Lord will come down on that side. Given the fact that we do not have a spelt-out purpose for Clause 114, I hope that the Government will look favourably on the noble Baroness’s amendment, which seems to be gaining consensus.

On a point of clarity, perhaps the Minister will tell us how this will look in Scotland. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, reminded us that, under the Scottish marine Bill, the inshore waters conservation zones will take account only of conservation issues. Presumably, when Scottish Ministers are considering inshore waters, they will develop the habit of thinking purely about conservation, and when they consider offshore waters, they and the Secretary of State for Scotland, who they will have to consult, will consider economic issues as well. Have the Government faced up to the fact that two different qualifications will apply from the point of view of Scotland? Do they realise that in Scotland the Administration in the Scots Parliament are making a great point of just talking about “our Scottish waters”? They completely ignore the differentiation when they are talking about it. There will be a curious situation which people will find rather hard to understand. Has this been discussed with Scottish Ministers? Have the Government realised the two different aspirations that they will be expected to have in the two parts of the sea?

I cannot resist speaking on Amendment A135A, which I agree wholly with the noble Baroness is absolutely crucial as to which way this Bill will go. In particular, I cannot think through this matter without thinking that it may be a recipe for conflict. The situation, for example, in the Severn estuary and the possibility of a large barrage, or not as the case may be, at present is being considered and is extremely complex. Let us put aside for a minute the generation of electricity and look at the area as a matter of conservation need. Unquestionably, it would be designated a special MCZ for special preservation. The number of SSSIs and the number of protection zones already in place, and the designation by the European Community as a special area, bring forward a very complex situation legally in that area.

If one looks at the economic and social consequences of producing a big barrage in the Severn estuary, clearly there will be economic benefits and a complex situation socially. Undoubtedly, it will bring south Wales and the west of England much closer together. One has to come down on one side of the argument or the other. The Conservative amendment to insert the word “must” will make it much more abrasive and make it difficult to protect a special conservation area of this kind. The Bill must give more powers to the MMO. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Eden, on that. He made his points extremely well in this respect. There is a case for removing subsection (7) of Clause 114 because if it is left as it is the steamrollers will move in.

Perhaps I may inject a note of caution to those who rightly are determined to make sure that this Bill is strengthened in its resolve towards conservation. In removing Clause 114(7), under Amendment A135A, I wonder whether quite the wrong impression will not be given, which gives conservation sometimes a bad name. Clause 114 says that,

“the appropriate authority may have regard to any economic and social consequences”.

That does not seem to be an unreasonable statement. It does not mean that conservation issues have to be overridden. To suggest that the fundamentalist approach that conservation, and only conservation, in these circumstances should be considered seems a dangerous statement to make. I think that perhaps I will simply not support the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, but nor will I perhaps support my Front Bench in changing the word “may” to “must”.

I wonder whether I could try again to clarify the provision that I was aiming for, which is not fundamentalist. The aim would be for sites to be designated on the basis of their conservation interest according to scientific evidence. That does not mean that there would be an absolute requirement for that conservation interest to be predominant in subsequent decisions. It would be open to people, through the normal processes of decision-making about development and socio-economic development and planning, to take the view that the economic proposition is more important than the nature conservation interest.

My worry was that if socio-economic issues were taken into account at the time of designation, the poor Minister would be bombarded with every possible socio-economic argument and it would be difficult for him to see his way through to protecting what, by abstract criteria, would be the optimum range of protected sites. However, that does not mean that by simply designating on the basis of their nature conservation interest, you have to be stuck in a straitjacket of protecting that nature conservation interest irrespective of any other consideration. That is the case when a planning application on an SSSI goes ahead, as a result of a planning process conducted by the local authority, which ultimately goes to planning appeal for the Secretary of State to make a decision.

Does the noble Baroness agree that bringing in the socio-economic consequences in the original designation process avoids the risk to a conservation zone at a later date? She appeared to advocate a formula for an assault on marine conservation zones, post their designation, for socio-economic purposes. I do not follow her logic. If marine conservation zones are meant to be properly established and protected, we need a process that takes all factors into account and makes them much easier to defend against future assaults.

Before the noble Lord spoke, the noble Earl made a severe comment about the noble Baroness. I had the privilege of serving for several years under his chairmanship of committees, and there are few people in this House—I say this genuinely—for whom I have a greater admiration. However, because I admire him, I have to tell him that he is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. Would that the world were populated by people such as the noble Earl or those of the quality speaking for the Opposition on the Front Bench. But the world is not populated by such people. When the going gets going on these issues, it is ruthless. There are some real tykes out there who have no sense of the deeper issues to which we are committed; they are just out to make money. Let us call a spade a spade. They are ruthless. Unless there are firm safeguards in place, before we know where we are, everything will have been eroded and we will end up with a lovely urban development scheme right around our coastline. Of course I am exaggerating, but it seems that there is a danger in that direction. From that standpoint, there come times in our history when it is necessary to be tough and uncompromising.

The noble Baroness has done a great service to the House in reminding us of what we should be about. I am not asking my noble friends to accept her amendment simply as it stands but I am asking them to take seriously her concern—one that I share deeply—about the realities with which we may be dealing in the future and the need to stand firm.

We have such a blueprint for how to do this with SSSIs on land, which, after all, we have never designated other than because they are sites of special scientific interest. Yet it is in the way that they are managed afterwards that they succeed or fail. It will be similar for MCZs. The fact that they should be designated because they have some features that are worth protecting, as decided by the scientists, is surely unarguable. To continue with the land analogy, you could have a SSSI that was grazed, with a number of farming activities and recreation for the public, which might be closed some of the year—all the arguments that we heard during the passage of the CROW Act. Nevertheless, it is an SSSI and is designated as one. That is the model that we should be following, which is exactly what the amendment proposes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, is surely right to make her case as she has on the analogy of protection of SSSIs—as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has just underscored—but also on the analogy of our well established system of heritage protection, where the principle of the designation of heritage assets is made simply and solely on the basis of the historic or architectural importance of those assets. We then establish their value, which becomes a subsequent factor under consideration in the planning process. In the end, democracy is about the reconciliation of conflicting interests, but we need to establish securely what those interests are so that we can proceed to wider judgments about which interests the Government, on behalf of society, think should prevail. The approach of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is right in principle and clear in practice. Moreover, it is based on very well tried and tested principles that are long established in planning law.

There is a danger that several noble Lords are speaking about sites that need maximum protection. That is all well and good, and we all agree with that. However, there will be a range of different sites. In those where less protection is needed, socio-economic interests will need to be taken into account.

I hesitate to enter this debate as it has clearly shown the difficulties that we face with this Bill. I cannot support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to delete subsection (7) from Clause 114. I have worked alongside her for many years and nobody is keener. Along with the many noble Lords who have spoken, I hope that I am a great conservationist as well. However, it would be unwise to delete that provision and have no regard for economic and social consequences.

I hesitate to say it, but over these past 12 or 15 years, those who are interested in pure conservation and have strong feelings about it have become very articulate, and I have no doubt that they will fight their corner with the Minister or whoever gives approval. They are not the underdog in this. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, was perhaps suggesting that they might be overridden, but I think that they are very robust people who rightly take a great interest in nature conservation. I do not fall into the camp which says they will not have their voice heard. On some of the other Bills that we have taken through this Chamber—the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, mentioned the CROW Act—I have been inundated with lobbying, and very vocal those representations were, too. It is not as though those people do not love nature or wish to conserve it—I ask noble Lords not to think that I am not one of them. But—and it is a big “but”—there needs to be a balance. Removing subsection (7) from Clause 114 would tip the balance too far the other way.

In some of the conservation zones, there may be no difficulty or conflict for the person taking the decision. In some areas, conservation may come up as a priority; in others, socio-economic factors will obviously override it. That balance will have to be struck whatever we do. If we removed subsection (7), I would be very concerned about it. I hope that people do not think that I am not keen on conservation, because I am, but if we remove subsection (7) we run the risk of creating a slightly unbalanced view in this part of the Bill.

This has been a very interesting debate. I recall this as one of the central parts of our debate at Second Reading those many months ago, and understandably so. We have heard differing views expressed around the Chamber. It is always tempting in that situation to say that it shows that the Government have got the balance right. I shall certainly not resist that temptation, but I clearly accept that this is in a sense one of the most important debates that we shall have on the Bill. It goes to the heart of marine conservation zones, our marine environment and what it is for, and our intent to protect it. However, it also recognises that important socio-economic matters need to be taken into account when we consider the marine environment. In a sense, Clause 114 seeks to encapsulate that balance. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, thinks that we have not got it right. He would like to see Part 7 moved up and become a factor in the work that is taken forward to consider in the first place whether a particular part of the sea should be conceived as a marine conservation zone. I shall say in a minute why we think it is rather better to do it in the way in which the Bill is constructed.

However, I want first to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Eden, who made an eloquent speech. He recognised the potential for conflict. I think that we have always understood that there are inherent tensions in the management of the marine environment. The Bill to an extent understands and seeks to reflect them, albeit within the overall intent to ensure that we do everything we can to protect the marine environment. The noble Lord said that the Government’s position has weakened. I am not aware of that. This Bill has of course had contributions from very many government departments; it represents the Government’s view and their commitment to protect the marine environment, but it also, as I said earlier, reflects the Government’s view that there are important socio-economic activities that take place within the marine environment, and may do so in the future, which have to be taken into account.

I very much enjoyed the contributions of my noble friend Lord Judd. I understand entirely what he meant when he said that we need around the decision-making table the presence of people who can say, “Well, it’s all very well for today, but what about future generations?”. Of course, the protection of our marine environment is very important for the future but so, too, are socio-economic issues. They are important and at the very least ought to be taken into account when the decisions are made.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford—

I am sure that my noble friend would agree that we have to keep in mind that the force of his economic and social arguments for the future well-being of society is for a decent society worth living in, of which environmental elements are a central part.

My noble friend Lord Judd seemed to have an image of a network of marine motorways. He did not suggest that we should put our Titans there—he and I have debated Titan establishments in previous debates. That is not how I see it. Of course, it is about our future. All noble Lords who have taken part in the debate are concerned about the environment and understand the need for conservation. But we cannot ignore the fact that other activities that are also important to the future take place in the marine environment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, suggested that having received proposals and then having to look at Part 7, Ministers would be swamped by business interests that would make it very difficult for them to make a decision on designation. I do not underestimate the challenge of the decision-making that will fall on Ministers. That is surely why we believe that it is they who must make those decisions. We would hardly be bringing this legislation before the House were Ministers not determined to ensure that we do the right thing by the marine environment and that we designate zones and networks.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that I do not see conservation bodies as being some sort of mild supplicants or underdogs in this process. I have seen the power of these organisations during the ever-lengthening debates on this Bill in your Lordships’ House. Ministers will make proper balanced decisions, and the way in which the Bill is set out allows them to do that.

Clearly, we want to provide more protection for some areas of our sea. We want to build consensus as far as possible among those with an interest in the sea, and it is important to make that point. Although there will be tensions we should not think that all the users of the sea and those interested in conservation will always be at war with each other. Surely we want to do everything we can to ensure that there is consensus and that conservation needs are fully considered. We also need to take into account the impact on people’s lives and livelihoods of designating marine conservation zones. I am going back to the wording, which I am glad to say is consistent with the wording in the Explanatory Notes to which the noble Lord, Lord Eden, referred.

Of course, there will be cases when the need for conservation will carry the greatest weight, but we should take decisions in the knowledge of what the impacts are likely to be. That is why in implementing the Bill, Ministers will expect an impact assessment to accompany each proposal for designation. There will be cases when there will be other options, when the conservation constraints are fewer, and it will be sensible to take account of socio-economic considerations in deciding where a site or group of sites should be designated.

For example, we might be considering a large area of representative habitat of which a small proportion is geologically suitable for wind-farm development. In that situation it might be appropriate to exclude that area from the proposed marine conservation zone area, particularly if it makes no difference in conservation terms. This part of the Bill is constructed so that we start with the case for conservation. I must admit that I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller; maybe we shall come on to debate this in future.

Clause 114 seems quite clear to me about the objective, because it clearly sets out how,

“The appropriate authority may make”,

a designation order—because,

“it is desirable … for the purpose of conserving”—

and goes on to name those areas. I refer again to Clause 119, on the,

“Creation of network of conservation sites”,

which sets out the condition. I realise that we have not set out a general objective, if the Committee likes, in drafting but it is quite clear from those two clauses what this is all about and what we seek to do.

I thank the Minister for spelling out how he sees it. I agree that the clause says what it is doing, but it does not say why. I simply said that it would be stronger if it were quite clear on the purpose of designating the MCZs. As the debate on the socio-economic angles and so on has shown, that purpose can tend to get lost in all of the arguments that must be balanced. That balance would actually be helped by having a clear purpose at the beginning, against which the arguments could be weighed.

Perhaps I may follow my noble friend. I have listened with interest to this debate, having been able to come back to this Bill after something of a gap. Clause 114 starts, as the Minister says, with a reference to the desirability of conserving; that is what is in the authority’s mind. It has to think about it in order to take the decision on taking further steps. However, at that point we depart from the list in Clause 114(1).

I am grateful to both noble Baronesses for those contributions, but I am quite clear on the designation of MCZs and I think I just read it differently from them. It is quite clear to me what this is all about, and from reading the Bill,

“it is … for the purpose of conserving … marine flora or fauna … marine habitats or types of marine habitat … features of geological or geomorphological interest”,

et cetera. No doubt we can debate that; I think a later amendment goes into it in more detail. My point is that a clear process is described here, about the grounds under which an appropriate authority may make an order. We think it better that that authority goes through the proper process of considering that and then, in coming to a view on whether it is desirable to designate an area as a marine conservation zone, it may have regard to any economic or social consequence for so doing.

In other words, it is much better that the rigorous process is gone through in order to come to a view on designating a particular MCZ; at that point, “the appropriate authority” must, at least, “have regard to” the socio-economic impact. It is probably better to do it that way, in a sense, than to say right up front that that impact needs to be considered alongside conservation issues. I realise that there is room for argument here, but that is why we have constructed the Bill as we have.

This has been an interesting debate, but very few of the Committee have spoken to the detail of the amendments in the group. Unless I am pressed, I intend to conclude my remarks at this stage. However, if it would be helpful, I should be happy to write to noble Lords with detailed responses on those amendments unless noble Lords wished me to go through them.

I was going to suggest that the Minister might like to respond to the particular point about the Sandford principle, under Amendment A140. There is a general view that as that has been a constant thread during previous discussions in Committee, we should seek to find some way in which to incorporate it in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister would like to address that amendment.

While I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, on that, I must pray in aid the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, on that point, because I thought that he responded to it very well. The problem of adopting the principle in Amendments A140 and A140A is that, as I understand it—and I am happy to look at this further between Committee and Report—it implies that conservation objectives should always outweigh socio-economic considerations. From all that I have said, I do not believe that I can go down that route. There must be some discretion to be able to take account of socio-economic considerations. There may be some cases in which the socio-economic—

I shall make one last attempt. The process of designation happens at a single point in time. It will happen once and then the site will be designated for many years, one assumes. At that point, the Minister will be expected to take into account socio-economic issues as they currently exist, whatever the propositions are to use the site for extraction, fishing, power generation, or whatever. The designation will last for however long. I do not know how old the SSSIs are, but they may be 30 or 40 years old, and there are economic propositions coming up that we could not have had any inkling of at the time of designation.

If you take the socio-economic conditions into account at designation time, you will be forced to try to project forward and anticipate the economic needs that are unthought-of at the time of designation. That is why it is quite dangerous to take socio-economic conditions into account at the point of designation. Yes, it can be done at the point of deciding what kind of management is going to be permitted and, yes, it can be done whenever a planning application comes up. It is perfectly possible for the Minister to make such balanced decisions in that regard—but the point of designation is absolutely the wrong time for socio-economic conditions to be taken into account. That is why to some extent either my amendment or something close to it needs to be brought in, along with amendments later in the Bill that make it clear that MCZs are not no-go zones.

I fully understand what the noble Baroness means about MCZs not being no-go zones. I agree with her on that, but I do not agree with her on her general point—that because you cannot at any one point project years ahead, or at least it is very difficult to do so, this should not be a consideration. One should not see designation as a once-and-for-all decision, as it can be amended under Clause 118. So there is some flexibility there.

At the end of the day, I suspect that the House will not agree on this issue. At some stage, I am sure that it will be tested. I wanted to conclude by assuring noble Lords that including subsection (7) is not an attempt to undermine the essential protection of the marine environment. It is not an underhand way in which to ensure that commercial operators will get the upper hand at the expense of conservation. We would not be bringing this Bill before your Lordships if we did not believe in the importance of protecting the marine environment. But we cannot ignore the socio-economic impact that these matters inevitably bring to the fore, nor the economic importance of the sea. We attempt here to get a decent balance. I am not sure we are going to agree on this matter, but I wanted to assure noble Lords of the Government’s good intent.

I am very grateful for the Minister’s response to what has been a really good debate and one in which the argument has been genuine. I hope the good intent of all participants in the debate can be taken as granted. I suspect that some of the problems come from the fact that there is considerable variation—and we are a little uncertain about how it is going to work—of the degree of protection that might exist, both between different zones and within zones. The construction of a marine conservation zone and how it actually functions is not something which the Bill can possibly describe. So we are almost dependent on debate to try to find our way towards it. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, mentioned this and the Minister has explained that marine conservation zones may not be absolutist. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, reminded me that it was my use of the word “pristine” which was meant to describe the most highly protected marine conservation zone, or an area within a marine conservation zone. I hope I am right in seeing marine conservation zones in this way because it is going to be the most efficient way of setting them up.

The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, mentioned his concerns about the economic and social consequences, but none the less accepted that they were an important part of this issue. The whole House can accept that they will not go away. My noble friend Lady Byford said that she understood the need for balance on this issue. My own position is that I am not here as an advocate for the socio-economic consequences. I am here in order to try and make sure that we articulate the case for balance, which I think is the Minister’s position. Governance requires that advocacy of interest should be in the public interest and not in a cause. I am just as much against marine conservation zones being designated to a socio-economic agenda as I would be to them being solely designated on the conservation agenda. I am seeking to find a way whereby marine conservation zones can be considered durable and sustainable so that they are worthy of the investment made in them by those who believe in marine conservation. Socio-economic activities do exist in the sea and how they can be part of marine conservation is, surely, what the whole of this Bill is about.

I am very grateful for the support that my amendment has had in parts. I note the criticism and I believe it has shown how seriously the House is taking the Bill and this particular element of the Bill which lies at the heart of its purpose. In the nature of these things, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment A127 withdrawn.

Amendments A128 and A129 not moved.

Amendment A130

Moved by

A130: Clause 114, page 68, line 25, at end insert—

“( ) seascape”

In general, the approach and aim of the amendment that I and Members of the Committee of all sides have tabled is to conserve and enhance the marine environment by raising awareness of the importance of heritage, historic and archaeological considerations. Both Ministers who have answered two previous debates on these issues gave some comfort and useful explanation in support of the principle. For that, of course, we are duly grateful. So far, however, they have not been prepared to agree that this should be made clear in the Bill.

I therefore move Amendment A130, which would add “seascape” to Clause 114 as a separate ground for designation. By “seascape”, I mean an area of sea, coastline and land, the character of which results from the actions and interactions of land with sea by natural or human factors. This definition is based on the definition of “landscape” set out in the European Landscape Convention, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory. It is intended to reflect the fact that the convention embraces the seas as well as land. Adoption of our amendment would contribute to the fulfilment of the Government’s obligations under the convention, which is in itself an important point.

The amendment would ensure that, by broadening the purposes for which marine conservation zones are designated, our nationally important seascapes can be formally recognised. In so doing, we would ensure that the full breadth of the marine environment is protected within a truly sustainable framework contained in the marine plans in the Bill. The Bill relates to one, albeit important, dimension of the marine environment, about which we have just now heard a considerable amount: nature conservation.

However, the important point is that seascapes are not defined simply by the view. They embrace not only the natural world as expressed in terms of biodiversity and physical features, but also the human world in terms of historic and cultural heritage, opportunities for recreation and enjoyment, scenic resources—another way of saying “views”—and connections and associations between them. Amendment A131, spoken to on a previous Committee day by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, also sought to do this, but perhaps in a slightly wider way. In support of the Government’s obligations under the European Landscape Convention, English Heritage has been undertaking a programme of historic seascape characterisation, the results of which should help the Government in reaching their conclusions.

The issue for coastal protected landscapes is that there is no means of recognising seascapes in statute. The current system of planning and management of coastal protected landscapes does not embrace the marine environment. There is an artificial divide between land and sea, with no recognition of the continuum between them that is so important for our coastal protected landscapes. The statutory management plans and development plans for these areas stop at the mean low-water mark, rendering them useless for planning and managing the special qualities derived from the marine environment. This is why we want to try to do something about it.

The Bill provides an opportunity to address the issue, but it does not provide a mechanism for designating seascapes, notwithstanding the indication in the marine Bill consultation of 2006 that a mechanism was under consideration that could protect, inter alia, important seascapes and views. This possibility was not followed through in the White Paper of 2007; however, it was indicated that important seascapes and views from land would be considered in the marine planning process, and that the United Kingdom’s marine policy statement could include objectives describing the importance of seascapes and views and how we wish to treat them. More detailed plans would allow us to consider seascapes and views in the context of the priorities for specific areas. While in some ways it will be important for the conservation of seascapes and views from land to be addressed in the marine plan process, the absence of any mechanism for defining our nationally important seascapes, including the seaward extent of our coastal-protected landscapes, is a fundamental weakness of the marine planning system proposed in the Bill that could so easily be put right if our amendment were accepted.

I suspect that the Government will deploy the argument that the marine planning statement and the marine plans will be the way that seascapes can be dealt with. I accept that this is one way of doing so and will welcome any statements from the Minister which make this clear. There remains the concern that there is no mechanism to designate nationally important seascapes without amending the Bill. Can the Minister explain why, during the consultation on the Bill in 2006, Defra seemed to think that seascapes could be dealt with by marine conservation zones—then called marine protected areas—and on what basis this was dropped? Also, how will the national importance of particular seascapes be expressed in the marine policy statement or in marine plans without any form of designation process?

I am troubled by the Government’s attitude to our amendments on these issues. There seems to be an assumption that it is not necessary to take advantage of this Bill to protect not only natural flora and fauna but also our marine heritage. Goodness knows it has taken long enough to reach these heritage amendments because of the extent of debate on other aspects of the Bill, suggesting it is not regarded as perfect as it stands in many respects. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said earlier that it will be a long time before we have another opportunity of a marine Bill and that is why we want to take full advantage of this one to do as much as possible to get our marine heritage protected. As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer reminded us, conservation issues are not mentioned in the long title and heritage issues are in the same boat.

There is considerable concern in your Lordships’ House on this issue and many organisations worry about the outcome of our deliberations. I will mention some because it is a distinguished group—the Campaign for National Parks, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, the English National Park Authorities Association, Europarc Atlantic Isles, the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the National Trust, the Welsh Association of National Parks Authorities and English Heritage.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, had hoped to be here to support the amendment, and he asked me to say that it has his full support but, unfortunately, he had to leave. There are many others who wish to speak in support of the amendment, so I should allow them to have their say. I beg to move.

I am extremely glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, who has so persuasively and powerfully moved the amendment, to which I have added my name. I owe a quick apology to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who gave us an extremely useful introduction to this issue when he spoke to what was in a different incarnation Amendment 106CA all that time ago; it was actually only last week. I was not cited on his amendment at that point, which I anticipated being grouped with this one at a later stage.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper—I regard her as a friend—has just given noble Lords a list of organisations that support her amendment. That is a very formidable body of expert opinion, which speaks on behalf of a very formidable body of public opinion. I hope that the Minister will take this issue with a corresponding seriousness.

The amendment adds “seascape” to an already bruised and battered Clause 114. It is not easy to arrive at a satisfactory definition of “seascape”. It is not straightforward, but it is not impossible. The noble Baroness gave a very useful definition, but she will not mind my saying that it is neither elegant nor precise. Noble Lords should not worry too much. It derives from the European Landscape Convention, and if it sounds like what it is—a translation of bureaucratic Eurospeak—I hope that noble Lords will not allow that to put them off, because it deals with an extremely important reality. As the noble Baroness suggested, to ensure that there is definition and rigour in our terminology and that we pin down this important reality, English Heritage has for some years been engaged in a programme called England’s Historic Seascapes, extending the methodology of historic landscape characterisation into the marine zone. The programme has addressed the challenges involved in compiling a GIS database to present an area-based view of the historic character of England’s coastal and marine zones.

The need for an informed understanding of the interacting cultural and natural factors bearing on any given area is as vital for the future management of marine zones as it is on land. I make the point, which the Minister must regard as valuable, that this work that English Heritage has been doing for some years has been funded by Defra through the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund. Pilot studies were made and have been evaluated, and the upshot is that English Heritage now has established a robust method for historic seascape characterisation. I understand that, thanks to the prospect of further ALSF funding which has been committed, by 2011 some 75 per cent of England’s seas and adjacent waters will have been studied using this method. As the noble Baroness said, it makes no sense whatsoever to persist with an artificial divide between land and sea in our policy for planning management and development control.

Consider how many areas of outstanding natural beauty, how many national parks and, of course, how many heritage coasts adjoin the sea and draw much of their special character from that relationship. One example is the Isles of Scilly, which the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, mentioned in a previous speech. I would add the north Norfolk coast, the Gower peninsula, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park—areas which I personally know and love. The relationship between the sea and the land is crucial in all the aspects the noble Baroness mentioned. Yet, as she said, at present our statutory management and development plans stop at the mean low-water mark.

In the 2007 report on the inquiry into the proposed South Downs national park, the inspector recommended that consideration be given to statutory provisions that would allow marine areas beyond the mean low-water mark to be part of a national park. It is curious that the Bill omits to deal with this issue. As the noble Baroness reminded us, in the marine Bill consultation in 2006 the Government indicated that a mechanism was under consideration that could protect important seascapes and views. The White Paper in 2007 was a little more blurred but not discouraging. So what has happened? Why has this been left out of the Bill? This amendment is intended at the very least to jog the Government’s memory. In so doing I remind the Minister that the power already exists in Scotland to create coastal and marine national parks. We need equally for England statutory power to designate our finest and most important seascapes, including the marine dimension of nationally protected landscapes on the coast.

I was pleased to put my name to this amendment. I support what the two previous speakers have said. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, spoke of the interaction between sea and land. When we are legislating we should bear in mind that that legislation should be meaningful to the general population. Looking at this clause and what it designates, it refers to geological and geomorphological features, which are important, but seascapes, as described by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, are what make it real to people. It is no coincidence that the BBC series “Coast”, which is now a long-running series on another channel as well, is so incredibly popular. It is no coincidence that, when the National Trust has had an appeal to buy bits of coast, hundreds of thousands of people have given some money. The area between land and sea is very special to them.

It is a gap in the Bill that it can refer to geology and geomorphology but not bring things together to refer to seascape. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, mentioned the AONBs, the national parks and so on. Many of the AONBs got their designation primarily because of the seascape—primarily because of that interaction which is so exciting. I am lucky enough to live in one in north Devon and enjoy it every weekend. It never fails to excite, even if you walk only a very short part of the coast path. The Government are so right in having the ambition to bring the coast path to the whole country, as they are aiming to do with the Bill. What a shame it would be if it did that without recognising the important part that seascapes play.

I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on introducing the amendment. I urge my noble friends to take it seriously in their response. I am sure they will. I should declare an interest as vice-president of the Council of National Parks. I remind my noble friends that one of the great achievements of the Labour Government after the Second World War was to introduce the national parks and put them into legislation. Central to that was a concern with landscape. The Bill is immensely important. It is a very good Bill, which I have warmly welcomed—any deliberations that we have had have simply been about how to improve it even further. It is an historic Bill. It would be very sad, when we are passing such an excellent Bill that has so much to be said for it, if we missed this opportunity of recognising seascapes.

We talk a great deal these days about what it is to be British and about Britishness. The great thing about Britain is that it is a group of islands. Characteristic of that group of islands—its reality—is the interplay between land and sea. We have a tremendous opportunity to get that reality—that creative, imaginative reality; that wonderful dimension, which is unique in some ways to the United Kingdom—into the heart of the Bill. I hope that my noble friends will take seriously the arguments that have been put forward so well and I look forward to their response.

I support the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, who introduced this important amendment. I happen to have Pembrokeshire blood in my veins. The creation of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, to which the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, referred, was a great achievement. Its coastal path is about 180 miles long and is breathtaking in many respects. Some of my family originate from the small hamlet Amroth, from which you can see Tenby and the tremendous seascape at the start of the Pembrokeshire coast path. From there, around Stackpole Rocks, the whole of the Pembrokeshire coast is a magnificent thing. Even Milford Haven, despite its oil terminal and so on, retains a bit of a wild factor. Somehow or other that development has lived with the national park—sometimes precariously, particularly when gas is mentioned. That has been a way of achieving recognition of a seascape, and it is a wonderful heritage for future generations.

I have enormous sympathy with this amendment, although it contains a number of difficulties. We can all immediately think of half a dozen wonderful seascapes that should be preserved. Anyone who lives near the sea would feel that their view of the sea is of a seascape that should be preserved. The Government and other noble Lords will be aware that the proposed offshore wind farm site off the Jurassic Coast in Dorset has been moved nearer Poole. I am not certain whether that will please the rich residents of Sandbanks. From another point of view, it could be argued that the seascape from the Isle of Wight looking down over the Needles is particularly wonderful. How will that stand if a wind farm appears in the distance?

As the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said, we had a preliminary skirmish on some of these issues in a previous group, in which my Amendment A131 appeared—perhaps it was slightly peculiarly allocated. We did not use the word “seascape” because we were having some difficulty with it but very much the same sort of issues were raised.

I reinforce the point made by my noble friend Lady Miller. Many issues in this Bill will be of concern to a comparatively small minority. The major issues of conservation, fishing and so on are important but to a comparatively small minority. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, we are now talking about issues that are of considerable importance to a huge number of our population. Some people think of the heritage of Britain in terms of us as a maritime nation—the interrelation between the land and the sea and the communities around our coastline; they are incredibly important to a huge number of people. It would be very sad if we thought of that as a less important issue than the scientific preservation of species in the marine environment. It is important to our nation that we recognise the significance of what the noble Baroness has inserted in this amendment—the seascape. It is not an easy word to define, but we all know what we are talking about. I strongly support the amendment.

I fully support my noble friend’s amendment and hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to it, and indeed welcome it. There have been few debates that have matched the poetry of the contributions of various Members. Even the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, waxed poetic about the view of Poole from the Isle of Wight, although he was less enthusiastic about the amendment.

The amendment would add greatly to the appeal and prestige of the Bill. My noble friend rightly raises a feature of the marine environment that gives enormous pleasure to a large number of people, as well as encompassing unique and valuable natural landscapes and features.

We have already discussed the difficulty of defining precisely where the UK marine area starts and the land stops. This is also a problem for conservation bodies based on land. Many features in need of protection straddle both land and sea, where current legislation does not extend. As the Minister has reminded us throughout our work in Committee, the Bill presents a rare opportunity to provide protection for our marine seascapes that will complement the existing territorial provisions. I hope that the Minister will listen carefully to my noble friend’s points, and reassure us that these features will be included in the Bill.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken to the amendment, and to the noble Baroness for moving it. I have noted the passion with which arguments have been advanced, and do not for one moment underestimate the importance of the issue. I note in passing that several noble Lords confessed to having problems with the definition of “seascape”. The proposal is to introduce the term into the Bill, but it is difficult to define and the noble Baroness’s gallant attempt did not meet with the complete approval of one of her keenest supporters on these issues, my noble friend Lord Howarth. I could almost feel him recoiling from the elegance of the language.

I assure my noble friend that I fully support the definition put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. It is a serious point: the language was chosen because it draws precisely on the European Landscape Convention, which the Government have signed. It will not do for the Government now to say, “It is a bit vague, and not a perfect definition”. It is a sufficient working definition, and the Government have by implication committed themselves to its endorsement.

It is a working definition, but that does not mean that it fits into the Bill in the way that the noble Lord has indicated. The concept was a good deal vaguer than that, and the definition lacked elegance. I hear what my noble friend says when he insists that he supports the principle: I do not for one moment suggest otherwise. I was just sharing with him a slight hesitation about the inelegance of the language. That is because it was designed for another role, not for the purposes of definition in the Bill. The landscape quality objectives—as expressed in the language of Europe—were to be implemented through the Council of Europe.

This Bill is more precise than the rather vague exhortations contained in that definition. Yet when all noble Lords, who have thought seriously and with great passion about this matter, come to the definition which will fit within the Bill—I listened carefully to every speech—I heard no answer. Inevitably in its prescriptions, the Bill has aspects of clear definition. How could it be otherwise when the Bill is premised on the assumption of serious scientific evidence? That is the basis of this conservation measure. Most of the time, noble Lords, speaking with great passion, are equally assertive about the precision and scientific basis of the conservation measure which this represents. Therefore, they should not be surprised if, from the Dispatch Box, I am somewhat reluctant to take on board an amendment which introduces one concept called “seascapes”, when it is not entirely clear how we would define that in legislation and we certainly do not have an amendment which does that. We could enjoin on the Government the concept, “Let them find a definition”. Of course, in general terms, we accept the principle put forward with regard to the Council of Europe, but we too have difficulties with this.

I present the other problem. I listened very closely to what my noble friend Lord Judd said—it always pays to listen carefully to my noble friend. I heard what he said about the national parks. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, reinforced the point, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. When has it been suggested that the national parks, created as my noble friend said by a most reforming and radical Government after the Second World War, have been under threat because they do not have a definition of “seascape” from their perspective? It does not exist in legislation and I am not sure that noble Lords have proven the case for it to exist in this legislation. A great deal of thought is needed before the Government can be persuaded on this point.

National parks have not been threatened. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, took me on a little tour round the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. I walk round the coastal pathway of Cornwall; I have been to Snowdonia; I have been to areas where the national parks are contiguous with other land; I have even been to an area which I do not think is a national park, but my noble friend Lord Howarth is quite keen on it; namely, the Norfolk and East Anglian coastline. Has anyone suggested that any of those areas is under threat—that it cannot protect its interests or cannot protect its areas of outstanding natural beauty because it does not have a definition of “seascape”?

Perhaps I may give the Minister an example. We are talking about seascapes as a reason to designate an MCZ. Let us suppose that seascape is under threat because there is a lot of dredging of aggregates and the sand on the beach starts to shift. The Minister talks of East Anglia where he knows the speed with which the sand can shift at places such as Woodhenge and along the whole East Anglian coast. That seascape can be altered by natural events, but also by manmade activity. The manmade activity in that case is very likely to alter the seascape. That is one example. I could give the Minister about 50 more but I shall not detain the Committee. We are talking about designating the MCZ in order to protect the seascape, which would do a lot more than protecting a geological feature, for example, which is less under threat, although the Government have correctly seen fit to put that in the Bill.

I hear what the noble Baroness says. She is obliged to say that the shifting of the sand might in any case be natural and nothing to do with manmade constructs, but she is also forced to recognise that if there is a question of manmade constructs with regard to the shifting of the sand, they would be for other objectives, even for preserving the land on which people would need to stand to enjoy the seascape. In those terms, if the noble Baroness will forgive me, we come back to the issues that the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, introduced in the previous amendment; namely, the wide considerations that we have to take into account with regard to the Bill. It may be necessary to include such socio-economic factors and aspects in the Bill. They were ably defended by my noble friend during the debate on the previous amendment. I merely want to indicate that due regard has to be given to the fact that there are considerations beyond the aesthetic concept of a seascape. I would be the last person to suggest that there are not very important aesthetic qualities to the views that we all experience and enjoy, but that is a little different from talking the language of conservation, which the Bill is about.

I want to emphasise that the national parks and other conservation organisations on land are strong enough bodies to make sure that the perspectives that people enjoy are defended. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, emphasised that a large number of people enjoy these perspectives and views and value the national parks. Anyone or any authority concerned with the Bill has to have regard to the interests of the national parks in those terms. We would not dream of producing a Bill that set the position of national parks at anything except important.

Does the Minister accept that the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park was designated because of its seascape?

The noble Lord will recognise that I am arguing that national parks are bodies with such a proud record of defending our heritage, the beauties of our landscape, the views to sea and—it goes without saying as far as the national parks are concerned—the views from the sea to land that it would be absurd for it to be contended that they need this defence in the Bill, which is primarily directed towards other objectives in conservation, or that their interests would not be taken into account. It is obvious that we cannot develop the policy without having due regard to the land authorities that are contiguous with the sea. I am merely saying that in areas of outstanding natural beauty and in the parks, it is not conceivable that a proposal could come forward for a conservation zone that did not take into account the interests of the national park.

My noble friend was right, as he usually is on these matters, when he said that these issues were mentioned in earlier marine Bill documents, especially the marine planning and marine nature conservation sectors when we dealt with the White Paper a few years ago. They may not be mentioned in the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, but the Bill derives from the White Paper, and they will be part of the Marine Management Organisation when it starts to develop its marine plans. I want to give the Committee every assurance that it is not conceivable that the Marine Management Organisation could do its job properly without them.

I am following the Minister as best I can, but he seems to be advancing two quite different arguments. First, he says that it is impossible to define the seascape, and he has poured a lot of cold water on the definitions that some of us have attempted; but now, if I understand what he has been saying in the past few minutes, he is giving the Committee an assurance that the MMO and the authorities will, in the designation process, take full account of the particular considerations that we have all been arguing are important. He cannot have it both ways. Now I have given him an opportunity to read all the interesting notes that have been coming from the Box, I hope that he will be able to give us a more substantial answer.

My answer has been substantial, logical and coherent with regard to a number of issues that have been raised in this debate. First, the defences for areas of outstanding natural beauty and the position of the national parks are not inadequate. Secondly, it is extremely difficult to specify seascapes in legislation. The noble Lord, I notice, has not taken on that particular challenge. I will give him time. After all, there will be other stages to the Bill: that is, if we ever get to Report. One sometimes wonders in which month in 2009 we will get to Report, but we will eventually get there, so we will have another chance to rethink this matter.

I emphasise that the Bill is primarily a conservation measure that is based on very clear aspects of scientific evidence. The problem with the seascape—in no way, shape or form is the aesthetic any less important than the scientific—is simply that its definition belongs in a different Bill. That is not the objective or purpose of this Bill.

I emphasise that the Government are concerned about the protection of areas of marine beauty, the messages about which have come through loud and clear this evening. We had an earlier debate on these issues, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, presented with her usual clarity and force. The debate was substantial. The concepts will be included in the high-level marine objectives that underpin the development of the marine policy statement. The statement has to set out all the policies on the marine environment, and the plans will address the interests and concerns of all those who are connected with the sea. However, that is different from putting alongside the precise, scientifically based concepts of the Bill a concept that is much more difficult to define and which is not scientific but aesthetic. Within that framework, I do not have the slightest quarrel with the objectives of the amendments. Far from it; I enthusiastically endorse them. I have no reservations about them whatever, and I speak on behalf of the Government. I am saying merely that they do not fit into the clause because the clause is based on an objective that is different from the objective that noble Lords are introducing at the moment.

I realise that this is difficult, because I am saying no to those who are arguing most benignly for something that everyone in the Committee values and wishes to see protected and enhanced. However, I am also defending the necessary integrity of this legislation, and noble Lords will have to make a great deal more progress on seascapes before the Government think that the case has been made for adding this concept to the clause.

I hope my noble friend will accept that some of us earnestly hope that the noble Baroness will bring this proposition back on Report. My noble friend is a very accomplished parliamentarian. He is a parliamentary craftsman who loves the art of assembling the arguments to demolish a proposition. He will forgive me as an old friend for saying that sometimes he gets a little carried away by it. Sometimes his best friends, of whom I want to regard myself as one, want to say to him, “Come off it”. My noble friend knows perfectly well what a seascape is. He knows that in our literature, poetry and history, seascape has been a central and living concept. He goes on and on about the precise scientific measurements of other elements of conservation. Is he really saying that as a nation we have given up on spirituality, imagination and vision? Why can we not encompass these dimensions of our life in this Bill? They are of so much importance to so many people.

I hope that the noble Baroness will come back with this proposition on Report and that, in the mean time, my noble friend will use his, in some ways, unequalled parliamentary skills in getting to work with the draftsmen and his officials to say that this is something so wonderful in our heritage that we have to find a way of recognising it and putting it in the Bill.

It should be quite easy for Defra as the sponsoring department to come up with something. After all, it has produced a fine, complete document on coastal zone management, which has plenty about the concept of seascape in it. I am sure that it is well up to helping, if that is necessary and if the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, would welcome it, to define this further. I am sure that it has been giving considerable thought to this matter.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, but I am even more grateful to my noble friend for his admonishment. I will merely note that in his factual, accurate and dispassionate description, he suggested that I should introduce an element of spirituality into this Bill, which presses me a little far. I want to emphasise that there is no way in which the development of the work of the Marine Management Organisation can occur without it taking into account exactly the concerns that have been expressed in this debate. Nor would the Government want it any other way. We share with all Members of the Committee exactly the propositions so accurately defined by my noble friend, which I was humbly seeking not to repudiate but to demonstrate government support for. I am seeking to identify that this amendment fits ill with this clause and the basis of the premise of the scientific approach which we need to conserve. Therefore, as ever with amendments, the Government can be expected to accept amendments only when the case has been made, and the case has not been made.

What is the Government’s view of the status of the commitment to the European Landscape Convention, which embraces seascapes? Does that constitute a material planning factor? Is it justiceable? In what sense does it matter and count? How does that separate commitment, which the Minister insists should not be part of this legislation, sit alongside it and in relation to it?

I have to say to my noble friend that it sits alongside rather than being integral. It is not expected that a measure concerned with aspects of marine conservation and the evidential base on which we have to do that work, as advocated by my noble friend, will fit within that framework. However, I will not convince noble Lords from this Dispatch Box tonight. I can read the signs. I am only too well aware, as my noble friend Lord Judd indicated, that I have not taken him very far. He is not alone; most Members of the Committee are sceptical about the Government’s arguments. Therefore I will write to noble Lords about our commitment, as far as concerns seascapes, in relation to Europe. Despite the awkwardness of the definition, I will write on that point and make sure that noble Lords are well informed about that dimension before we reach Report stage. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel that she can safely withdraw her amendment and keep her ammunition for another day.

I am grateful to noble Lords for their warm support of this amendment. Short as it was, one tiny word has engendered a great deal of comment. I am sorry about the difficulties over the definition. I made a stab at it and was not trying to suggest that it was perfect. The fact that no definition of “seascape” exists does not mean that someone should not invent one. There have been many occasions when definitions have not existed and parliamentary draftsmen have succeeded in producing ones with which I was not at all happy.

The Minister said that he accepted the principle of the amendment and from that I suppose I must draw a crumb of comfort. However, the suggestion that the amendment does not fit into this clause was certainly grasping at a straw when the noble Lord was running out of other arguments. When we come to the coastal access provisions, it will become clear that the benefit of seascapes is what the coastal access provisions are about.

While I am on that subject, it was suggested at Second Reading that this was two Bills in one—the coastal access provisions had been added to what had been a separate consideration of the marine environment. I suggested that maybe it should become three Bills in one and that if we were successful in adding the amendments relating to our historic heritage and its protection, that would be the result.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, said that this is an immensely important Bill. It is and therefore it is also important that we cover as much ground as possible and ensure that our marine heritage is protected. I will read Hansard, await the letter promised by the Minister and certainly return to the subject to please the noble Lord, Lord Judd. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment A130 withdrawn.

Amendments A131 to A134 not moved.

Amendment A135

Moved by

A135: Clause 114, page 68, line 32, leave out subsection (4) and insert—

“(4) The reference in subsection (1) includes, in particular, a reference to conserving any species, marine habitats or types of habitat or features of geological or geomorphological importance that are rare or threatened because of—

(a) the limited number of individuals of that species, or limited occurrence of those habitats or features of geological or geomorphological importance;(b) the limited number of locations in which that species or those habitats or features of geological or geomorphological importance are present;(c) the vulnerability of that species or those habitats or features of geological or geomorphological importance to specific human activities.”

My amendments in this group probe the drafting of subsection (4) a little further and emphasise the important role that credible science must play in the designation of the MCZs. The alternative version of subsection (4) that I have proposed in Amendment A135 highlights the ambiguity of defining vulnerability by counting the number of individuals in a species or locations where they flourish. Does the Minister intend these numbers to refer to a limited number in the UK marine area or in the world as a whole? A species might have relatively few individuals present in the UK marine area merely because it is on the edge of that species’ natural range. What scale is a location considered to have? If there are numerous examples of a certain type of marine fauna occurring all around the UK, but it is relatively rare in the rest of the world, will we seek to conserve its numbers yet further in our waters?

Vulnerability can indeed be completely separate from numbers. There may be a large presence of a species which is not particularly rare but is particularly vulnerable to a type of disturbance; for example, starfish or worms, which are particularly affected by large-scale excavation of the seabed.

Why are marine habitats and geological features excluded from being classified as rare? A particular type of habitat that supports an unusual diversity of species that might not be individually threatened is surely as worthy of protection as a depleted species.

I am sure that these questions will be answered with common sense, but ambiguity of this kind and the difficulty of finding precise definitions make it that much more important that decisions are based on sound science criteria. We have had a similar debate already on the decisions of the MMO. The same concerns are just as applicable, if not more so, here.

In making decisions about designation, the appropriate authorities are likely to find themselves besieged with representations from more or less impartial stakeholders, more or less informed public pressure groups and more or less benign political pressures. It is critical for the success of the ecological network that those do not lead to unscientific, if more popular, decisions. I beg to move.

I shall not detain the Committee except to express support for my noble friend’s amendments, particularly his Amendment A137, which would include sound science among the criteria.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for raising two very important points. First, he was very clear that we need to be sure that we understand what is meant in this part of the Bill and I very much agree with him. I think noble Lords are sometimes disappointed by the Government’s response to amendments when we say that we understand why the amendments are proposed but that we worry that they will leave the Bill less clear. I also echo the noble Lord’s point about the need for decisions to be very firmly based on the science that becomes available. He then asked a number of interesting questions about what we meant by “limited number”.

On Amendment A135, we believe that by providing site-based protection for fauna or flora through designation of marine conservation zones, we shall protect their habitats when necessary. We think that the diversity of habitat is dealt with by subsection (5). On features of geological and geomorphological importance, our intention is to protect sites which are of interest. This mirrors the approach on land, where features of interest can be notified as sites of special scientific interest. The wording is deliberate. Whether something is of interest can be easily determined, but whether it is important is probably a matter of opinion and may well be hotly debated. More than that, we do not wish to lose features that are undoubtedly interesting but whose importance perhaps we do not yet appreciate. We think it best to retain the breadth of the current draft.

In relation to limited numbers the noble Lord raised an interesting question. I take it that in general it relates to the UK. It is entirely a proper matter to be taken into account. It indicates that there has to be some flexibility, but I would resist being pressed into finding a definition of what we mean by limited. We need to leave it to common sense. Amendment A135 would include a reference to vulnerability to human activities. I hope that I can reassure noble Lords that the concept of a species being threatened already captures its vulnerability.

In deciding on the objectives of a marine conservation zone and restrictions placed on it, the appropriate authority must take into account first and foremost sound scientific evidence. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, in proposing Amendment A137, is keen to ensure that by inserting the words “sound scientific criteria” alongside “economic or social consequences” they will be considerations that may be taken into account. Undoubtedly the Government want to take account of the best available scientific evidence in making designations. Scientific considerations will underpin the whole process of site selection and designation from start to finish. The regional projects that are currently being established to advise on site selection will draw on scientific information from all available sources, including data from industry and sea users. The regional groups will also receive advice and guidance from a national scientific panel of independent and recognised experts who will soon be appointed.

I hope that I can reassure the noble Lord that our firm intention is to make available the best possible use of scientific data. I do not see how the provisions in Clause 114 could be carried out unless the best scientific evidence that had been made available was fully taken into account. We fully take account of the concerns raised by the noble Lord today.

I thank the Minister for his response and for the way in which he has dealt with these amendments. As he rightly says, they are a matter for resolution by common sense. However, there are interesting issues of principle on the whole business of population protection when numbers come in. Many things that are quite plentiful may still need to be preserved to maintain the ecology of a particular climate. I speak as a land-based individual with an interest in horticulture and botany. The noble Lord knows my business interests. In analogies with land-based natural environments, plenteousness does not necessarily mean that such populations are not valuable and not in need of protection. This is a much more complex matter than can possibly be legislated for. By seeking to put science into the Bill I wanted to try to make sure that decisions were as objective as possible. I sought to emphasise the great complexity of arguments that have to be considered in terms of individual species. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment A135 withdrawn.

Amendments A135A to A140B not moved.

Clause 114 agreed.

Clause 115: Further provision as to orders designating MCZs

Amendment A141

Moved by

A141: Clause 115, page 69, line 31, at end insert “, and

(c) must make provision for the marking of the designation on charts, GPS systems and, where necessary, on the surface of the sea.”

This amendment adds to the list of things about which orders must be made when designating marine conservation zones, and suggests that there must be some,

“provision for the marking of”,

marine conservation zones,

“on charts, GPS systems and, where necessary, on the surface of the sea”.

That is important inshore, where some heavy use of marine conservation zones may be allowed and, more particularly, where the licensing of such zones has been highly restricted so that almost nothing is allowable. If I take as a model the existing zone around Lundy—one of the very few examples that we have—you are not even allowed to drop your anchor there.

If there is to be a series of marine conservation zones all around the coast, which shipping will have to observe, which divers should observe and which both commercial and recreational interests must have knowledge of then they will, at the least, have to know where they are because they will be expected to abide by the zone rules. They have to be able to see what is where—for example, where they can drop anchor and where they may not even be allowed to go. They might have to observe other sorts of limitations; some boats, for example, still empty their dirty water into the sea. I should hope that would not be possible, particularly within the special conservation zones where the ecosystems are deemed to be vulnerable to such things. There are all sorts of reasons for having them clearly marked.

The Minister will know, as he kindly organised it, that I met with his Bill team, who explained to me that there would be difficulty in marking these zones on the charts because the chart-producing companies—I presume that means the Hydrographic Office, but there may be others—are not in public ownership. Having mulled it over, that does not seem a good reason to me for not marking them. I believe it absolutely essential for both commercial and recreational interests that some form of marking takes place, at least on paper and GPS, while in certain areas—particularly in high-use areas—it may be necessary to put buoys, for example, on the surface of the sea.

It is commonly understood that where a buoy is off a headland, for example, it is saying, “Do not go inside this buoy; you have to stay to its seaward side”. That is common knowledge for all sea users, and it would be quite easy to develop a similar system for MCZs. What would be unforgivable would be to introduce them very quietly or invisibly, so that nobody really knew where they were. I beg to move.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has advanced an excellent amendment here. I am very pleased to be speaking to it, as I did not think that I would be contributing to this Committee.

Clause 113 enables the appropriate authority to designate marine conservation zones. The discussions around MCZs have raised many issues during this Committee. We have not always been in agreement about the best way to designate the zones, but across the House the clear intention is to make sure the zones are drawn up in the best way to maximise their potential to fulfil the requirements of this Bill. However, we have not yet addressed how people who use the marine environment, for work or recreation, will know when they are entering or leaving MCZs.

I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness that it is of vital importance that these zones are marked in an obvious manner which is easily accessible to those who use the marine environment. The rules and regulations surrounding MCZs will mean very little if they are not adhered to because of general ignorance about the precise location of the zones themselves. The Joint Committee reported that it, too, was unclear about how the MCZs would be marked and identified. Without this clarity, it will make successful enforcement very difficult. The boundaries will need to be clearly marked and the type of conservation objective for each zone clearly identifiable. What are the Government's plans in this regard? Does the Minister think that charts, GPS systems and marking on the surface of the sea will be the most effective way of marking the zones, or does he have another cunning plan? If so, could he tell the Committee?

I support this amendment—indeed, I have raised the subject of marking the conservation zones on a number of occasions, including only last Thursday. I also raised it in the joint scrutiny committee.

There are problems associated with this, because of the different degrees of conservation in the various zones. I certainly think that the highly protected zones should be marked not only on charts with notices to mariners and, possibly, by buoys—although then it becomes a question of who is responsible for laying the buoys, whether it is Trinity House, a local authority or a harbour authority. There are problems, too, with the innocent passage of shipping and yachts, even in some highly protected zones. It may be quite possible for a small ship or yacht to transit that zone, even if it is not allowed to anchor. Charts at the moment carry certain areas where there is no anchoring—where there are submarine cables or naval exercise areas, for example. It is important that the whole idea of marking the zones is thought about very carefully, and I support the amendment.

I agree with the noble Lord’s last point—that these issues will have to be considered very carefully. The issue is whether the amendment is necessary for that careful consideration to be carried out.

Clause 121 already gives public authorities such as the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office a duty to further the conservation objectives of sites in carrying out their functions. When there is a need to mark sites on charts, they will therefore be under a duty to take whatever steps are appropriate, provided that it is compatible with their functions. So we respond to the amendment by saying that of course the concept behind it is important but we think that the Bill already provides adequately.

What primarily appears on navigational charts is, of course, driven by safety criteria, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, would have emphasised if he had spoken at greater length. Chart compilers are, frequently, in possession of a large amount of information from which they choose those features they judge to be critical for safety. The art of producing a good chart is to avoid cluttering it with information which is not essential to the navigator’s task. I am sure the Committee recognises the significance of that point. We delight in the fact that Admiralty charts have a worldwide reputation, precisely because they are well judged with respect to what is necessary and what is not.

Therefore, the Bill does not need to contain specific powers for the marking of sites, but they will be marked on Admiralty charts where it is necessary and appropriate. As an example, the existing marine nature reservation around Lundy, which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, mentioned, is currently charted. A text note refers mariners to Admiralty sailing directions where they can find out more information on Lundy. The noble Baroness questioned whether there were other suppliers; there are indeed. GPS systems are produced by a number of commercial suppliers using data provided by the Hydrographic Office or unofficial providers. They should continue to have commercial discretion to display whatever information they think is relevant to their customers, because the customers will soon find out and the worthwhile quality of what has been provided will become general knowledge. The point is that people are more likely to be interested in knowing where restrictions apply which directly affect them than in knowing the location and boundary of the marine conservation zones. They are going to be interested in those matters which affect the pursuit on the sea which they are following. Some say sites may be designated which will require no restriction on mariners at all. It is therefore difficult to see that mariners would be particularly interested in knowing where those sites were, if there is nothing within the site which affects the navigation they are involved in.

It is also important to remember that by-laws might apply to only part of any marine conservation zone, or might extend beyond the boundaries of the zone where it is necessary to protect features within the site. This subject is not easy. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, indicated that there are difficulties with regard to these concepts, and I am reflecting that point.

With regard to the physical marking of sites, I am informed that the laying and maintenance of buoys in the open sea is very far from straightforward. Therefore, Natural England has hardly, if ever, used its existing powers in relation to marine nature reserves and European marine sites. If an NCZ needs to be marked, we would expect the MMO to take the action—with the agreement of Trinity House, which has overall responsibility in these terms—but we would not need to specify a particular power or duty in the Bill to achieve this.

I am not disagreeing with the noble Baroness’s intent in exploring this point in relation to her amendment. She sought the reassurance that I hope that I have given from the Dispatch Box—that this has been considered very carefully. There are a whole range of quite difficult issues with regard to the designation, but we have the powers and the structure which will guarantee that, where it is necessary for the sites to be charted and even, in some circumstances, where features need to be marked, the powers exist. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will feel confident enough to be able to withdraw her amendment.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, for their support for the amendment. I recognise that it is a tricky subject. Of course, it cuts both ways. It may be marking where the restrictions are but, at the same time, it may be marking where the zones are, because they are areas where the public would go to observe some of the natural history of which we have spoken, some of the really interesting things that they can see. It is not just about marking restrictions, but about marking interesting things.

I will read carefully what the Minister has said. I am almost convinced that this does not need to be in the Bill, but would like to double check that before Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment A141 withdrawn.

Clause 115 agreed.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 10.05 pm.