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Mr. Randall: The hon. Gentleman has hit the nail on the head. I have a feeling that there is some confusion in the wider world. It is thought by some that the Bill will mean no further economic development and no wind farms, for example. That is untrue. The Bill will lay down a designation of an area to ensure that if any development is considered, its importance as a scientific site will be taken into consideration.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): Is there not an argument that the Bill would assist the rational development of offshore wind farms? It would make possible an agreed protocol for the development of wind farms. At present, the development of onshore and offshore wind farms is fraught with controversy. Sometimes there is irrational opposition from the Ministry of Defence as well as from local protesters. Is there not an argument for supporting the Bill in that it would enable a more rational, planned development of renewable energy in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Randall: I thank the hon. Gentleman for making a valid point. Some of the objections to the Bill stem from a misunderstanding of the objectives that lie behind it and of what will be achieved by it. I think that those who support the Bill would also support the idea of renewable energy sources. In doing one thing, it would be foolish to shut off something else in which we all have a great interest. I shall possibly touch on wind farms later in my remarks.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): I take up the point about renewable energy and offshore wind farm development. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is well aware that the British Wind Energy Association has been clearly opposed to his Bill. I support what the hon. Gentleman is trying to do, but does he recognise that SSSIs—the terrestrial equivalent of what he is trying to achieve—have been used by onshore objectors to wind farm projects as a way of delaying, stalling and thwarting onshore wind farm proposals? Should the House agree to the Bill being considered in Committee, will he agree to meet representatives of the British Wind Energy Association and to address their concerns before the Bill makes further progress?

Mr. Randall: The British Wind Energy Association is one of the groups that I consulted. Its representatives

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expressed the notion that there was absolutely no need for this sort of Bill. It was the only organisation to express that view.

Of course I will meet representatives of the BWEA. My approach throughout, and that of the RSPB, for example, which helped me to prepare the Bill, has been to consult. However, there must always be a compromise. I would not necessarily wish to place wind farms or any other development over and above a scientific interest. Neither would I say that a scientific interest should be placed first. That is why the Bill provides that the Secretary of State has ultimate power. I hope that my commitment to meet BWEA representatives and to consider in Committee any amendments that they may propose will go a long way to sorting out any problems that they have.

It may be useful if I point out what my Bill does not do: it does not overlap with terrestrial SSSIs or duplicate the international designations of special areas of conservation or special protection areas; it does not give English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales the power to designate sites without any further safeguards; it does not give new powers to anyone to prevent development in the marine environment and it certainly does not impose further restrictions on port expansion—most major ports already operate within internationally important wildlife sites; and it does not provide any new powers to constrain existing uses of the marine environment, such as fisheries, except when powers to manage those activities do not exist.

Hon. Members may find it useful if I gave a couple examples of candidate sites. Worthing lumps is an area which my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) probably knows well. It is an expanse of sub-tidal chalk cliff exposures with rich wildlife, including the black tar sponge, leopard-spotted gobies, tompot blennies and, of course, the lesser spotted dogfish. The Bracklesham balls are also off the coast of West Sussex. Sites that have been identified are widely scattered, but those in West Sussex have interesting names. The Bracklesham balls is an area of spherical and hemispherical boulders embedded in the sea bed. It is much beloved of anemones, soft corals, sponges and sea squirts.

Economic benefits of designating and protecting areas in the marine environment will help to increase fish stocks and tourism revenue and will create safer tourism. For example, I discovered that the diving fraternity is concerned about ghost nets—drifting fishing nets—in which divers can get entangled. Hopefully, the designation will result in those areas being cleaned up.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): Will the hon. Gentleman tell those of us who have not followed the arguments in this field in as much detail as he has why he is introducing separate legislation, rather than including his proposals in the existing SSSI legislation?

Mr. Randall: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not hear that in fact that was my original intention. However, after consulting all the interested parties, it seemed that terrestrial designation—things like marking the location of a site—is much easier on land than at sea, so a separate designation is more appropriate.

I am pleased that several Ministers have recently acknowledged the importance of protecting the marine environment; I therefore hope that they will support the

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provisions in the Bill that do so. During the passage of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, Lord Whitty, speaking on behalf of the Government in the House of Lords, said:

I agree wholeheartedly with that. Referring to the review of marine nature conservation, Lord Whitty said:

In March 2001, the Prime Minister said:

The commitment of the Minister for the Environment is well known, and I should like to thank him on the record for what he is doing for marine conservation. Only on Wednesday evening, at the RSPB's parliamentary reception, which many of my colleagues attended, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), paid tribute to the work that the RSPB and I have done on the Bill. He said that he looked forward to working with me; I certainly look forward to working with him.

This week, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, speaking at the Royal Horticultural Halls, said:

I am happy to find something on which I can agree with the Government wholeheartedly.

I am sure that the Government will welcome the opportunity to move towards that key goal. However, I have seen signs in the last 24 hours that seem to suggest that their interest in the marine environment has gone from lukewarm to cold. If that is the case, my colleagues on both sides of the House, our many constituents who have expressed interest in and support for the Bill and I would be grateful if the Minister would explain the Government's objection.

Mr. Dalyell: Who is the sea squirt that is causing the trouble?

Mr. Randall: I am not sure that it is a sea squirt; I think that it is a much larger beast that is beached a little further down Whitehall. I still hope to persuade the Government to support the Bill, so I do not want to finger anybody at this point, but it may well be a spotted blenny.

If there are Government objections to the Bill, I should be grateful to be told what they are. I have approached the measure in the mood of trying to consult and make sure that we get good legislation; I do not want bad legislation or something that, perhaps, is thoroughly worthy but causes problems for interest groups. I come from a business background and, as I said at the outset, sometimes regulations do not help the economic environment. If there are problems, such as those suggested by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) with regard to wind farms, I would be willing to

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discuss them in Committee. If Second Reading is completed, I am sure that many concerns could be looked at; I approach that with an open mind.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): My hon. Friend talked about economic interest. Obviously, inshore fisheries are a crucial economic interest. Will he come to that point in a moment? What consultations and discussions has he had with those bodies?

Mr. Randall: By and large, the fisheries have welcomed the Bill because they realise the great importance of conserving fish stocks; it will not be a problem for them in any way. Indeed, the Under–Secretary of State, who has a great deal of expertise in the fisheries directorate—not always the best directorate to be in charge of, hon. Members may agree—said he believes that fisheries will welcome the measure. I am pleased about that.

I know that many Members wish to speak. Our debate will be interrupted for an important statement and, at a time when we have international concerns and worries, people may feel that marine conservation is not the most important matter. However, conserving our environment for future generations is every bit as important as current problems. I am sure that the Government will welcome the opportunity to move towards achieving one key goal of their biodiversity policy now. The Bill will allow them to do that and I commend it to the House.

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