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Marine Habitats

Volume 615: debated on Thursday 13 October 2016

3. What progress the Government are making on putting in place a blue belt to protect marine habitats. (906541)

We have already designated 50 marine conservation zones, 99 special areas of conservation and 102 special protection areas within UK waters, so more than 17% of UK waters are now within marine protected areas. A third tranche of marine conservation zones will be designated in 2018, and I am proud to say that that will help to complete the blue belt around the English coastline.

I thank the Secretary of State for her reply. As well as the important habitats and wildlife that we have in our domestic waters, including those in the Thames estuary, the oceans around some of our overseas territories are home to hundreds of remarkable species. What action, if any, are we taking to protect them as well?

My hon. Friend is quite right to raise those wonderful marine habitats. I am delighted to say that marine protected areas were declared around Pitcairn and St Helena in the past month, and work is in train to develop MPAs around Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, so the UK is set to double these protected areas to an area the size of India by 2020.

The right hon. Lady will know that the marine protections that have led to huge improvements in water quality and the conservation of our marine environment are underpinned largely by EU law. Can she guarantee now that, if we leave the EU, the standards that we currently enjoy will not be any less than they are now?

I can absolutely give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. As he will know, the Prime Minister has announced that we will nationalise the acquis communautaire. The advantage of the approach is that while there is continuity of legalisation, we also have the opportunity to look at what is right for the UK, instead of the 28 member states. Marine conservation zones derive from UK legislation, and we remain absolutely committed to our ambition of being the first generation to leave the environment in a better place than we found it.

Marine habitats will also be protected by the promotion of sustainable fishing, as practised by the UK inshore fleet and boats that fish out of Lowestoft. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that she will use the opportunity presented by Brexit to secure a better deal for under-10 metre boats?

My hon. Friend may be aware that we have already moved some quota to the under-10 metre boats, and it is absolutely our intention, as we leave the EU, to seek a good deal for every part of our great British food, farming and fishing sector. Our fishermen do a fabulous job; we absolutely support them and are totally focused on what we can do to create a better, more sustainable fishing industry.

Does the Minister agree that while marine conservation is fine—Labour Members support it wholeheartedly—we have to stop polluting the marine environment with the waste that we pour into it, all over the world? We need the EU and global intervention to stop the horrendous pollution of marine life throughout the world.

Marine conservation zones are not just fine; they are absolutely superb. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman shares that assessment. I can give him, as a good example, the work that we did just last month to ban microbeads in personal cosmetics and so on. I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber who have been fighting for that. We are putting that into action, and that is an example of the UK’s commitment to much more protection for our marine environment.

Further to the Secretary of State’s answer to the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), may I encourage the Secretary of State, and indeed the Minister of State, who has responsibility for fisheries, to engage with all sectors of the fishing industry when designing protections for marine habitats? If those habitats are to be effective, that is absolutely essential. The Minister of State knows that because he has a good record in this regard. Would the Secretary of State, or perhaps the Minister, be prepared to meet a delegation that I will bring from the Northern Isles, who are full of good ideas about what can be done?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise the importance of this sector in Scotland. We would be delighted to meet him. In fact, there are already a number of levels of engagement with analysing the opportunities that will arise from our leaving the EU. We will be very happy, keen and enthusiastic to meet his delegation.