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Column 989(Wales) Bill [ Lords ] shall consist of twenty-eight Members, including not fewer than nineteen Members sitting for constituencies in Wales.
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill) : It is my privilege to present a petition containing 100,000 signatures in support of an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill that will soon be tabled by almost 150 Members of Parliament who are drawn from all political parties. It seeks to introduce a new classification of "not suitable for home entertainment" to prevent gratuitously violent material being retailed or sold in video shops.
The petition states :
To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled. The Humble Petition of residents of the United Kingdom sheweth
The overwhelming evidence that exposure to images of a degrading or violent nature on film, television or video can desensitise the viewer and act as a trigger in the commission of acts of violence ; that children are particularly at risk and that current systems of watersheds', parental oversight, and legislative regulation are inadequate.
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House will amend the Criminal Justice Bill before you at this time to ensure that such images are not available on video or broadcast on television, including cable and satellite networks.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. The petition is signed by Dr. Robert Song, the tutor in moral ethics at St. John's college, Durham, who is the chairman of the Movement for Christian Democracy and whose name is at the head of the petition.
To lie upon the Table.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Robert G. Hughes.]
Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : Through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I thank Madam Speaker for allowing me this important debate. It has been prompted by a number of factors, the first of which is my election to the position of commodore of the House of Commons yacht club. It grieves me when I hear the suggestion that yachting and marine wildlife are not compatible. There is nothing that a yachtsman enjoys observing more than a shag or a cormorant busily fishing in the Solent. Yachtsmen and women are a more environmentally conscious group than practically any other sporting group. Indeed, I do not know whether the Minister has ever had the pleasure of observing dolphins playing around the bow of a sailing ship, or of watching the sun go down in the company of oyster catchers and curlews. If not, I tell him that they represent some of the most magical moments in our crowded lives.
My first reason for the debate is the desire to hand over to our grandchildren the wonderful inheritance of wildlife in the Solent, of which we are temporary custodians. My second reason is that there have been tremendous improvements in the quality of the Solent waters. Cetaceans are good indicators of pollution levels, and their return in recent years to the Solent is a better testimony to the Government's record than all of the Hansards and fine speeches in the world.
The suggestion that the Solent should be redesignated and no longer considered an estuary for the sake of the urban waste water treatment directive is worrying indeed. I am pleased that the National Rivers Authority is opposing that, and I hope very much that Ministers are too.
My third reason is that, as a paying member of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight wildlife trust, I promised that I would campaign for the Government to designate the Solent water under the habitats directive, and to get the Government to put right the problem that was created by the Law Lords in the now famous Alverstone marshes case. The marshes became a site of special scientific interest--or a SSSI as we more commonly know it. Despite that, considerable environmental damage was done on that site.
My fourth and final reason is the encouragement that the Select Committee had from the Minister for the Environment and Countryside, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins). The members of the Committee were extremely disappointed by the Government's response to the report on coastal zone protection and planning. In correspondence with the Committee Chairman, the Minister gave us hope that the recommendations would be more carefully considered in future.
Yesterday, I attended the Royal Yachting Association's annual general meeting, which was presided over by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne. Again and again, the fear of the licensing of yachtsmen and the registration of boats came up at the meeting. Surely to goodness the opportunity of managing and regulating the Solent and the nation's coastal zone is wholly preferable to a raft of busybody legislation, which is about as enforceable as television and dog licences, and is also very intrusive.
Column 991The Committee heard today the Minister's official Robin Sharp, who was positive in his evidence to us about the future and about the possibility of the regulations. I hope that we will hear from the Minister that he is positive also.
In an article on the subject on 21 February in The Times , the environment correspondent, Nick Nuttall, stated :
"The Government is this summer expected to announce two big marine nature reserves to improve protection for the wildlife around Britain . . . Conservationists claim that the Species and Habitats Directive offers tremendous opportunities for drafting tough laws to conserve the nation's marine heritage from over-fishing, shipping, pollution and dredging. But rather than bringing new laws in June, they say, there is growing evidence that the Environment Department will use old legislation that has proved to be inadequate."
Britannia rules the waves, but the Department of the Environment wavers on the rules.
I must pay tribute to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and to Adrian Penrose, the society's parliamentary officer, for help with the debate. The harbours and estuaries of the Solent support abundant plants, worms, molluscs and shellfish which, in turn, provide food for a large number of birds. In mid-winter, the Solent holds more than 110,000 wading birds and 45,000 wildfowl, making it the sixth most important site for water birds in the United Kingdom. It is internationally important as a bird migration route from the Arctic to Africa. Approximately 15 per cent.- -25,000--of the world's population of dark-bellied Brent geese spend the winter on the Solent.
The wildlife value of the Solent's estuaries extends beyond its birds. The inter-tidal areas are important feeding and spawning grounds for commercially valuable fish. In addition, the Isle of Wight is home to the starlet sea anemone, a globally threatened species. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will yet consider that it may be a suitable candidate for the Prime Minister's Darwin initiative which he announced at the Rio conference.
The Government's statutory advisers, English Nature, describe the Solent and the Isle of Wight as being of national and international importance. It is an area of transition between the Lusitanean warm temperate and Boreal cold temperature provinces, with flora and fauna from both. In 1976, the United Kingdom ratified the Ramsar convention, named after the meeting venue of Ramsar in Iran. Those who are so used to juggling with the alphabet soup of Whitehall should note that the Ramsar convention takes its name after the town. That is another reason why I am having the debate this evening--I always refer to my wife as the ayatollah.
Contracting parties to the convention are required to promote the conservation of listed wetlands. More generally, contracting parties are exhorted to plan the wise use of wetlands in all areas of policy planning and formulation. Where listed sites are involved, damaging development can proceed only in the urgent national interest. Alternative sites are required to be listed in place of any so developed.
Almost all the Solent's inter-tidal areas have been notified as SSSIs and designated as special protection areas under the EC directive on the conservation of wild birds, to which the United Kingdom is bound under European law, and as Ramsar sites. So far, only Chichester, Langstone and Pagham harbours have been designated as both. Last year, additional guidance was issued for the implementation of the wise use concept and appended to
Column 992resolution 5.6 of the Kushiro conference, which was the fifth conference of the contracting parties to the Ramsar convention. In addition, the United Kingdom Government will shortly publish regulations to implement the EC habitats and species directive which requires, inter alia, protection of the wider marine environment. The Government's commitments under the biodiversity action plan and national sustainability strategy also require protection of the wildlife interest of the Solent.
The threats and problems facing the Solent are many. Despite its size, the Solent is under threat from permanent habitat destruction and from disturbance and pollution. Much of that stems from human population pressures. About 1.1 million people live within just 10 miles of the Solent and the whole area has seen substantial growth in recent years.
From 1930 to 1980, almost an eighth of the inter-tidal area of the Solent was lost to land claim and development. Although each individual threat may be small, together the threats add up alarmingly. Continued threats today include losses of habitat to roads and landfill and the many marinas and offshore facilities. With more than 32,000 yacht berths and moorings, the Solent is claimed to have the largest recreational sailing fleet in the world. The increasing numbers of sailboards, jet skis and other fun craft place ever greater pressure on the system. Shoreline activities and developments also have an important effect.
Disturbance to feeding or roosting birds prevents them from feeding and can be particularly harmful especially in the short winter days. Fast motor boats sailing close to and sometimes landing on the islands and spits holding nesting birds lead to increased nest predation and breeding failure.
Nature reserves such as those of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Langstone and Chichester harbours and the reserves of the statutory bodies and county trusts make a positive contribution to reconciling different conflicts in the coastal zone. Several local authorities have also established local nature reserves. The Newtown river nature reserve, which has been established in conjunction with the National Trust, is just such an area and one I know well, as I grew up there as a boy.
The RSPB spends thousands of pounds annually helping to resolve the impacts of recreation on wildlife, for example, in Langstone harbour. With careful management--and I emphasise that--nature reserves can provide enjoyment for people without damaging the environment that they have come to visit, which is precisely the point that we made in the report on coastal zone management and why we hope yet to see a more positive result and response from the Government.
The Solent suffers when there is a pollution incident such as the illegal washing of ships' tanks either in the channel or even in the Solent itself. For some years, I have been calling for greater identification of tankers using the channel as a route so that the culprits can be more easily identified and a greater number of prosecutions brought. English Nature describes the Solent as a top 10 important area for marine wildlife round England. The conservation of the Solent depends on the involvement and support of the local community. The estuaries and harbours are important local assets and their wildlife is becoming increasingly significant as a resource for recreation and tourism.
The existence of all coastal users requires careful zoning of competing needs such as fishing, sailing and
Column 993water skiing to avoid potential conflicts and damage to wildlife. This, in, turn requires the active involvement of harbour and planning authorities. The working co-operation of Langstone and Chichester harbours is a good example of best practice.
The Solent and planning causes us particular difficulties. The artificial split of planning functions within the coastal zone into landward and seaward elements is a major barrier to the adoption of an holistic and more effective strategic planning and management approach. I believe, as does the RSPB, that local authority jurisdiction should be extended seawards to allow coverage of marine developments. That approach was endorsed by the Select Committee on the Environment inquiry, but, sadly, it was almost totally rejected, without reasons being given, in the Government's response. We understand from the officials who appeared before the Committee this morning that they have received more than 1,000 representations on the consultative documents, which I hope the Minister will take as strong reinforcement of the Committee's arguments.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds also fully supports other recommendations of the inquiry, such as the development of a national coastal unit with a national coastal strategy and regional coastal groups. In addition, the RSPB believes that local authorities should be able to make byelaws to manage recreation offshore, including zoning sensitive areas.
In its final recommendations on the future local government of the Isle of Wight, the Local Government Commission for England noted the concerns of the three councils involved, supported by Hampshire county council, that the seaward boundaries of the Isle of Wight should be extended further into the Solent because they felt that some control by a public body was needed to protect the public interest.
Will the Government consider extending local government jurisdiction seawards to provide greater protection of the public interest as the Select Committee on the Environment asked and as has been promised this very day in a special note from the Minister's advisers on this point? Will the Solent be made a marine special area for conservation under the new habitats and species directive, and how will the United Kingdom honour the requirements for environmental impact legislation that caters for the cumulative effects of separate projects ? Finally, how will the United Kingdom monitor the effects of authorised actions and carry out unbiased environmental audits of those actions when they have been completed ?
I can remember many things on the island from my youth. I can remember when there were no marinas and when boats were wooden, but the one thing that I cannot remember, although some of my constituents can, is puffins, those delightful little creatures with the orange beaks, nesting at the Needles. We have not seen them for many years in the Solent. As I grow older and more grey, I shall treat as the ultimate test of the success of our environmental policies the return of puffins to that most famous landmark of the Isle of Wight, the Needles.
Column 99410.48 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry) : My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) has spoken with great authority about the important issue of wildlife and the Solent and, in particular, about the possible designation of the area under the Ramsar convention. As my hon. Friend made clear, in 1976 the United Kingdom became a signatory to the Ramsar convention, so called because of the meeting venue of Ramsar in Iran. That was an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for international co-operation for the conservation of wetland habitats.
The main objectives of the convention are to stem the loss of wetlands now and in the future and to promote the wise use of them. Under the convention, contracting parties such as the United Kingdom are also required to include wetland conservation considerations within their national land-use planning and to promote the conservation of wetlands through the establishment of nature reserves. In addition, we are obliged to designate at least one wetland for inclusion in the "List of Wetlands of International Importance".
There are now more than 600 wetlands of international importance worldwide. We have designated 73 Ramsar areas. Indeed, there are more Ramsar sites in the United Kingdom than anywhere else in the world. The enormous range of wetland habitats throughout the United Kingdom--from rain-fed northern peatlands through valley bogs and fens to lakes, rivers and estuaries-- makes them of particular importance. Clearly, areas of our natural heritage, such as the Solent, are of international importance. We certainly recognise our responsibility to maintain the Solent's diversity of natural heritage of wildlife for future generations.
English Nature, the Government's statutory adviser, is preparing a detailed case for the designation of Southampton water and the Solent as a Ramsar site and special protection area under the EC birds directive. English Nature intends to consult local people, local planning authorities and everyone with relevant concerns before April next year. When the consultations are complete, English Nature will submit its proposals to us. We shall be consulting other Government Departments about the proposed designations at the same time as English Nature consults local people, so that everything can proceed at all possible speed.
We wanted to designate Southampton water and the Solent as a Ramsar site and special protection area this year. Alas, there have been a number of delays which, with the best will in the world and a full commitment to the initiative, have been unavoidable. As I know my hon. Friend appreciates, the Solent is a complex natural habitat made up of a number of sites of special scientific interest and English Nature has identified further areas which it considers may well merit inclusion in the SPA/Ramsar area of designation. Some of those areas are around the Isle of Wight.
Obviously, the latest ornithological information available will be reviewed and, where appropriate, the SSSI boundaries will be amended accordingly. It is important work, but it is also time consuming. I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate our wish to reflect the
Column 995fullest possible extent of the wetland habitats and the areas of ornithological interest when the international SPA/Ramsar designations are made.
In the meantime, following the precautionary principle, we protect special protection areas in the same manner as designated sites. Potential Ramsar sites are given similar protection. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will normally call in all planning applications, both within SSSI boundaries and outside, which are likely significantly to affect sites of international importance and recognised national importance. Potential Ramsar sites and SPAs are rigorously protected. We are determined to protect their nature conservation. Only reasons of overriding national public interest can interfere with the protection afforded by such designation. I fully support everything that my hon. Friend said about the importance of nature conservation in the Southampton water and Solent potential SPA/Ramsar areas. The proposed areas consist of a series of estuaries with extensive mudflats and associated salt marshes. The mudflats support large numbers of wintering waterfowl and breeding gulls and terns. In particular, they support internationally important numbers of wintering dark-bellied Brent geese and nationally important numbers of six or seven different types of waders and different types of breeding Sandwich tern, common tern and little tern.
I understand that there have been some concerns at English Nature's proposals to notify new SSSIs in the area and expand water and the Solent. Clearly, a balance has to be struck between those who gain their living from the land or sea and who are concerned that statutory designation might impede their ability to husband their livelihoods and the wildlife and conservation interests inherent in an important habitat. I hope that, by carrying out extensive discussions and consultation with local people, English Nature can come forward with proposals that command local support.
The measures that we have taken provide the most comprehensive legislative framework for nature conservation ever seen in this country and stand comparison with the measures taken by any of our European partners or anywhere in the developed world. The new EC habitats directive comes into force this June. That directive lists a number of habitat types, such as coastal areas like the Solent, for which special areas of conservation must be designated under the directive. Those, together with the special protection areas classified under the birds directive, will make up the Natura 2000 network of designated areas. The habitats directive lists criteria that must be applied in the process of selection of the sites. At present, to ensure that we comply with the directive, the statutory nature conservation advisers, co-ordinated by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, are working on an assessment of the United Kingdom nature conservation resource. That work is well under way, but it will still be a little time before we are able to announce which sites we consider may, subject to consultation, qualify for inclusion on our national list. So, understandably, it is difficult to say now whether the Solent will be recommended as qualifying as an SAC in its own right under the habitats directive. Of course it will definitely in any event be part of the Natura 2000 network by virtue of its impending SPA designation under the birds directive.
We are fully committed to the implementation of the habitats directive. Last year, we set out our proposals. We made it clear that regulations would be laid before the
Column 996House to transpose the directive into national law and, because the habitats directive amends the birds directive, such regulations will also cover SPAs.
There have been many responses to the consultation paper. We have been carefully considering them, and will shortly introduce the regulations. They will place a clear duty on the relevant Secretaries of State, the nature conservation agencies and other bodies to comply with the directives by using their existing powers, amended and augmented as necessary. The regulations will also make provision to amend the town and country planning legislation.
Mr. Barry Field : Do I take that to mean that my hon. Friend is promising us legislation that will put back the clock to before the Alverstone marsh case, which meant that the SSSI designation was not everything that everyone thought that it was in terms of protecting a site ?
Mr. Baldry : I hope that I had made it clear that we are fully committed to ensuring that the birds directive and the habitats directive are implemented in full and that full protection is accorded to SSSIs. I also hope that I have made it clear that in so far as there has been any delay in implementing an SPA/Ramsar designation in the Solent and Southampton water, it has simply been because we want to ensure that the full extent of those SSSIs are included within that designation.
For marine sites, our proposals are to create a framework for the various bodies with jurisdiction in the areas concerned to work together to prepare a scheme of management to ensure the necessary conservation objectives. Such bodies must include the sea estuaries committees and harbour authorities as well as English Nature and will also include recreational interests. I am sure that such an approach will ensure that all concerned can pursue their interests in ways are compatible with the sustainable management of the areas involved. My hon. Friend, as commodore of the House of Commons yacht squadron and a naturalist, and as someone concerned with the livelihood of the Isle of Wight, has made it clear that it is perfectly possible to reconcile all those interests and still ensure good nature conservation.
My hon. Friend has asked whether the Government will consider extending local authority jurisdiction seawards. Among other things, the Select Committee on the Environment, of which my hon. Friend is a member, issued a report on coastal zone protection and planning which called for a more comprehensive and integrated approach to coastal zone management. The Government welcomed the report as a valuable contribution to the debate and drew attention to a number of initiatives such as new planning and policy guidance and the publication of a strategy for coastal defence in England and Wales. The coastal planning guidance, published in September 1992, is the most important statement on planning our coast for 20 years. It is the first time that we have set out comprehensive planning guidance covering both the open coast and the estuaries of England and Wales. Development should now be limited to that which genuinely needs to be located there and guided towards areas that are already largely developed. Making provision for development in appropriate locations is essential if we are to safeguard what is best about our natural coastline for future generations. The advice also encourages a high level
Column 997of co-ordination between local authorities and interest groups to develop plans for stretches of coast, particularly estuaries. As my hon. Friend has said, officials from my Department gave evidence today to the Environment Select Committee. I am sure that he is right when he says that their evidence was positive and constructive. I am sure that they clearly set out established policy on our approach to enhancing coastal protection.
My hon. Friend also asked what specific actions we will take to implement the new guidance on the wise use of wetlands. As he said, resolution 5.6 of the conference of the contracting parties to the Ramsar convention called on contracting parties to implement the applicable provisions of the guidance. The guidance urges, among other things, contracting parties to promote policy, including the use of legislation to implement wise use. The guidance on wise use is designated for contracting parties around the world, including developing countries. Our existing policies and legislation, as set out in the White Paper "This Common Inheritance" and our biodiversity action plan, embody the principles that the guidance seeks to promote.
Important wetlands, particularly Ramsar sites, are protected by, among other things, the SSSI network, which we have already discussed. The Government and the statutory nature conservation bodies that have responsibility for protecting SSSIs are fully conversant with, and committed to, the "wise use" concept, and forthcoming guidance and the new planning and policy guidance note on nature conservation will have regard to the use of wetlands, and our land use planning system should, and will, ensure that all relevant considerations are taken into account in determining development proposals.
Column 998Government policies ensure, and we shall ensure, that the nature conservation of Southampton water and the Solent marshes will receive strict protection. Ramsar and SPA designation will give the clearest possible recognition to the international importance of the Solent. English Nature knows of the importance that we attach to the protection and designation of internationally important wildlife habitats. I am glad to say that English Nature has been provided with additional funding to accelerate the designation of Southampton water and the Solent, as well as other sites, because we are determined to implement both the EC birds directive and the Ramsar convention as speedily as possible.
We are in no doubt about the importance of wetlands to wildlife and to our national heritage. For that reason, the United Kingdom has designated more Ramsar sites than any other country. Further areas such as Southampton water and the Solent marshes will follow. We believe firmly in the wise use of wetlands, a concept central to the Ramsar convention. Sustainability can perhaps best be defined as "the human use of a wetland so that it may yield the greatest continuous benefit to present generations while maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations." The arrangements that are in place in the UK for both the designation and protection of internationally important wildlife sites protect the legitimate interests of local people and the need to conserve our natural heritage for the sake of our children. I am sure that we can achieve all that. I hope that, in all our life times, we will see the puffins return to the Needles. Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at three minutes past Eleven o'clock.
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