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Mr. Randall: I am aware of that anxiety. It should not be assumed that the current threshold of 1 per cent. will necessarily be appropriate for the marine environment. It is important to understand that the Bill would not grant any new powers to stop developments in the marine environment.
Mr. Thomas: I agree especially with the second element of the hon. Gentleman's intervention. However, the use of that 1 per cent. threshold until now may help the hon. Gentleman to understand the anxiety throughout the wind energy community, which is nevertheless keen to discuss the matter further with him.
The two most common species on the 18 offshore wind farm sites that the Government have designated so far are the common scoter and the red-throated diver. Their numbers tend to go beyond the threshold. On 10 sites, the threshold is easily reached.
Mr. Randall: Common scoter have almost disappeared as a British breeding bird. Although it may be inconvenient, it is important to conserve that species.
Mr. Thomas: I appreciate that and I support the hon. Gentleman's aim of protecting sea birds, such as the common scoter, which face the threat of extinction. However, we do not want to prevent sensible wind farm development.
The wind energy industry is also worried about the lack of data on much of our marine environment. The possible adoption of the precautionary approach may mean that the sites where wind energy developers have collected data on the marine environment may take on greater importance because of a lack of information on others.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge will also understand that experience of the hunt for onshore wind farm sites shows that the designation of SSSIs and the justified anxiety to protect wildlife in those areas have been used as an excusesometimes a genuine excuseby energy conservatives, who are desperate to stop wind farms.
Mr. Randall: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that SSSIs are valid, or does he believe that such designation should not occur?
Mr. Thomas: Of course they are valid. I was an enthusiastic supporter of the additional measures that the Government introduced in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act to toughen up their protection. I merely make the point to amplify and explain the concern of the wind farm community about the possible designation of marine sites.
I have had experience of the hon. Gentleman's persuasive powers in the context of hospitals, in which we have a mutual interest. I have confidence that he and those working with him will be able to persuade the wind farm community of the need for the Bill to make further progress, and I hope that he will meet them.
Ironically, wind farms may help to bring wildlife benefits by creating no-go areas in the marine environment, which may become havens for wildlife. I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's point that no existing organisation would be given new powers under the Bill to prevent marine developments such as wind farms. Nevertheless, I hope that after this discussion he will have a further understanding of the concerns of the wind industry.
I welcome what the hon. Gentleman is seeking to achieve with the Bill. I hope that given the particular anxiety to which I have referred he will meet the wind energy community to try to resolve the issue. I wish the Bill well in its progress through the House.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on his presentation of the Bill. Hon. Members have recognised that my hon. Friend has put a vast amount of work into this legislation, with the support of hon. Members from both sides. He rightly emphasised the support given by non-governmental organisations, especially the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
My hon. Friend is a distinguished ornithologist, and he has a specialist interest and knowledge in this area. I congratulate him on the way in which he presented the Bill and on his contributions in the give and take of the debate. The Conservative Front-Bench team welcome the Bill, and we wish it every success and a swift passage.
In the debate so farI hope that other hon. Members will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speakerwe have had good, short contributions from my right hon. Friend the Member for SouthWest Surrey (Virginia Bottomley) and my hon. Friends the Members for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) and for NorthWest Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) in his interventions. We have had experienced contributions from the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett), whom I have had the privilege of hearing on a number of occasions on such subjects, and from the hon. Member for SouthEast Cornwall (Mr. Breed). We heard a long, well-read speech from the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), who I assume was in favour of the Bill, although I was not quite sure. The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) supported the Bill, but rightly raised concerns that we hope to address.
The basic question is whether my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge has identified a serious gap in nature conservation. I think that we all agree that he hasthat is the most important principle that we have established. He has much evidence to support that from the specialist Committees of the House of Commons. I shall not go into great detail, but I shall briefly refer to the 20th report of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee on UK biodiversity, of 22 November 2000. Its conclusions said:
What have the Government done? To be fair, they have moved a considerable way, and I praise them for that. In particular, like other hon. Members, I want to put on the record my appreciation of the work done by the Minister for the Environment, who has a long and distinguished track record in this area. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge, he speaks with a great deal of knowledge.
The Government have identified that a gap exists in nature conversation involving marine wildlife. In 1998, they set up a working party to consider the options to improve protection for marine sites and species, and the interim report of its review of marine nature conservation was published by DEFRA in March 2001. Its most important conclusion was contained in paragraph 153, which states:
As I have said, the Government have recognised that something needs to be done, and the Minister is on record as saying just that. In fact, in the 13 July edition of Tribune, he made this comment on the Government's approach to United Kingdom biodiversity:
I have great faith in the Minister because he has already effectively accepted that something needs to be done. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge, by introducing the Billwhich he has said does not contain a vast number of rules and regulationsis taking a first but important step on something about which consensus exists in the House. We should bear in mind the comment by the WWF in its update for June 2001:
I warmly welcome the Bill. It is an excellent example of a private Member's Bill that has all-party support, and it has been proposed by an hon. Member who is much respected on both sides of the House. I hope that the Minister, whom I know feels very sympathetic towards the Bill's aims, will give it Government support. He will undoubtedly flag up reservations, but I hope that we can proceed actively into Committee.