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Mr. Murphy: I agree with my hon. Friend. However, as he is aware, there is devolution throughout the UK,

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so it is for the Administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to decide how they will react to the report. I have no doubt that they will all agree on the need to treat the recommendations seriously. As I said, there will be provision for the appointment of a children's rights commissioner in England in a relevant Bill. I am sure that our Scottish and Northern Ireland counterparts will consider the report seriously.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North): I must first declare an interest in that I am a founding trustee and director of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation--an organisation that, over 10 years, has rapidly established an international reputation for leading therapeutic techniques for dealing with victims and with perpetrators.

I can hardly welcome the report, but I can register satisfaction that at least it has been produced. We feel relief, but we felt similar relief on the publication of similar reports before. I remember the Cleveland child abuse inquiry, conducted by Lord Justice Butler-Sloss. The report of that inquiry contained more recommendations than this report. However, the recommendations were implemented with great selectivity--driven largely by availability of Treasury funds.

Will my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Health and their ministerial teams institute monitoring, as called for by other colleagues today, throughout all the nations in the United Kingdom, to trawl the previous inquiries of this kind and pick up recommendations that have been discarded in the past? That would ensure that we have a comprehensive programme which should be constantly monitored to ensure that it is effective not only in the United Kingdom but against those characters who leave the United Kingdom to practice their scandalous procedures elsewhere, and those who visit the nation from outside.

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is right to say that it is very important to treat all the recommendations with the seriousness that they deserve, but I should remind him that many of the recommendations in the report were anticipated in the drafting of the two relevant Bills before the House; that several measures have been implemented in the past few years, including "quality protects" and "children first"; and that we are in the middle of the biggest overhaul ever of ways in which we can deal with children's safety.

Ms Debra Shipley (Stourbridge): This is a very important report and I wholeheartedly welcome the Minister's response. However, in his response he drew on the Protection of Children Act 1999 several times, and I feel that it is my duty to point out that there is a major loophole in the Act, concerning volunteers. At the moment, the 1999 Act only allows for the vetting of

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volunteers--it does not require it. If we do not shut this door when we know that it is open, it will be an avenue for abuse. I call on the Minister to consider that as a matter of urgency. None of the measures introduced by the Care Standards Bill or any of the other measures coming before the House in the foreseeable future close off that avenue, which is still open.

Mr. Murphy: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who pioneered the Protection of Children Bill in the House and will be thanked by generations to come for what she has done. However, on the vetting of volunteers--a matter which my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) also mentioned--we do understand the point that my hon. Friend is making and we will examine the matter.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): The Secretary of State expressed it aptly when he said that what had happened was a total abuse of power and that sorry was not enough. Does he consider that these principles should be extended to other fields, such as educational and residential settings; that active child protection policies should be pursued; that a complaints procedure should be instituted; and that designated teachers and senior officers should be responsible for reporting at least yearly, thereby transforming their passive role into an active one?

Mr. Murphy: I agree with my hon. Friend and I believe that education departments, whether they be in England or in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland in the devolved Administrations, will take a very close interest in the tribunal's report. We already have the Department for Education and Employment measures, List 99 and others, which are very important, but in addition there must be close liaison between the social services departments and education departments of local authorities.

BILL PRESENTED

Genetically Modified Food and Producer Liability

Mr. Alan Simpson, supported by Mr. Tony Benn, Audrey Wise, Mr. Norman Baker, Mr. John McDonnell, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mr. Llew Smith, Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews, Mr. David Chaytor, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Mrs. Maria Fyfe and Dr. Ian Gibson presented a Bill to make further provision with respect to the safety of and liability for the deliberate release or marketing of genetically modified organisms and genetically modified food; to establish a genetically modified organism compensation fund; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 10 March, and to be printed [Bill 68].

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Marine Wildlife Protection

5.13 pm

Mrs. Helen Brinton (Peterborough): I beg to move,


The Bill would give local authorities power to designate any coastal marine area within its jurisdiction as a motorised marine leisure vessels free zone on a temporary or permanent basis. Such vessels would be defined as "motorised water craft used for leisure purposes" and include mechanically powered pleasure craft propelled by water jet--what are commonly known as jetskis or, more generically, wetbikes.

Local authority byelaws would also provide for fixed penalty notices with fines not exceeding £1,000 for each offence. Such fixed penalty notices would be issued by an appropriate local authority officer, who would have the power to require a suspected offender to give their name and address, and it would be an offence not to do so.

The Bill would also amend the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to make it an offence intentionally or recklessly to disturb any cetacean--dolphins, porpoises and whales--in any location; any basking shark; or any sea bird in a breeding, moulting, roosting or feeding area where the birds congregate.

Under United Kingdom criminal law, a person is reckless if he or she commits an act that involves an obvious and serious risk of harmful consequence and either fails to give any thought to the possibility of there being any such risk or, having recognised that some risk is involved, none the less goes on to take it. That is an important concept, because it is usually very difficult to prove intentionality in the marine environment. Indeed, the main intention of most offenders is unlikely to be to cause injury to marine life.

I become involved with the issue last summer when I was contacted by The Sunday Times in my capacity as chair of the all-party group for wildlife protection. Since 1997, the newspaper has campaigned for the introduction of controls on the use of wetbikes. The campaign calls for legislation to bring in a minimum age for wetbike use, compulsory education, registration and insurance, zoning away from beaches and a complete ban in national parks and other sensitive areas. I was convinced of the importance of the campaign.

Wetbikes are capable of speeds of more than 65 mph, can easily be operated by inexperienced people and are particularly dangerous in that, if the motor is turned off, it is impossible to steer them. As a result, there have been horrific accidents involving riders, passengers and other water users.

Wetbikes are not covered by the same legislation as small boats and there is a tradition of minimal regulation of private pleasure craft. Local authorities can introduce byelaws and some councils, in particular Gwynedd in north Wales, have used their powers to the utmost to secure safer controls on wetbike use. However, at best, they are just piecemeal solutions.

The Sunday Times campaign has enjoyed widespread support. I have received many almost entirely supportive letters from people all over the United Kingdom and,

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indeed, from other countries. Some letters have concentrated on human safety and others on the impact on the environment and on wildlife in particular. There are serious issues of noise, and of pollution because of unburned fuel which affects humans and the natural environment as well as wildlife species.

On 11 November 1997, my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) obtained leave to introduce a Bill to regulate the use of wetbikes. My Bill uses a more general definition--motorised marine leisure vessels--to cover the development of newer personal watercraft. Someone whom I talked to suggested that mini-hovercraft were not too fanciful a possibility. Rigid inflatable boats, such as those used by scuba divers, already sometimes cause problems.

Perhaps because of my involvement in the campaign for wildlife reform more generally, I was approached by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. Its concerns, naturally enough, focus on the effects of uncontrolled wetbikes and similar craft on marine mammals.

In the United Kingdom, the main species affected is a type of dolphin, but even they are far from common and their numbers may well be in decline. There are only two or three places where they are regularly found together, with occasional sightings along the south-west coast. Many people, including me, have never seen them in our coastal waters. That may be why harassment of them is so common when they appear. They have long been reputed to seek out contact with humans and to enjoy jumping the waves created by boats. They can swim very fast. However, unfortunately for them, even the fastest can achieve a mere 35 mph, and that in short bursts. They most certainly cannot outpace wetbikes and other fast-moving craft. Unlike some other wildlife species, they cannot retaliate and protect themselves. As far as I know, they are not aggressive at all.

Tomorrow, I am delighted to be hosting a reception in the Jubilee Room for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society where it will launch a report entitled "Chasing Dolphins". The reception is supported by The Sunday Times and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, because marine birds would, as I said earlier, be covered by my Bill. I do not want to pre-empt the report, but I shall say simply that it documents many cases of prolonged harassment and resulting injury to cetaceans and basking sharks around Britain.

The report makes very distressing reading. One of those reporting an incident involving a number of speedboats writes:


The WDCS and many other wildlife groups, which have come together in the Wildlife and Countryside Link to campaign for new wildlife laws, eagerly await the publication of the Government's countryside and access Bill later this month, as do many Members of both Houses. We were elated when it was included in the Queen's Speech. Many Members of both Houses have asked questions and engaged in debates, and many hon. Members from all parties signed the early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley).

It is possible that the Government's Bill will include measures to promote marine conservation, but it is likely to concentrate on terrestrial wildlife protection,

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particularly for wildlife found on sites of special scientific interest. In any case, it will be a very large Bill, and no Bill can do everything.

The Government have signalled their intention to introduce new marine legislation at some future date. In October 1998, they accepted the recommendations of the working party on the review of byelaw powers for the coast. This January, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), who is the Shipping Minister, announced a welcome number of voluntary measures, comprising a code of conduct for all types of recreational craft including wetbikes.

The need for the measures proposed in my Bill, however, is urgent. The incidence of harassment is increasing, as is the use of small, fast personal watercraft. Yet there has never been a prosecution for such harassment in this country. There must be zones known to be important to wildlife where it can be free from such harassment. The concept of recklessness is an essential element in the control of harassment because it is extremely difficult, in the marine context, to prove that any disturbance is deliberate. It is necessary to extend enforcement powers to locally designated officers other than the police and to give them the appropriate sanctions.

I hope that my Bill will be acceptable to the House and that its proposals, in some form, become part of UK legislation in future.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Helen Brinton, Mr. Peter Bottomley, Mr. David Drew, Mr. Lindsay Hoyle, Jane Griffiths, Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones, Mr. Paul Keetch, Mr. David Lepper, Mr. Tim Loughton, Mr. Alan Simpson, Mr. Andrew Stunell and Ms Joan Walley.


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