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Mrs. Helen Clark: I would like more detail about how the lives and livelihood of local fishermen are threatened by that renewable energy source.

Mr. Bellingham: I shall come to that in a moment, but I must first deal with dredging, if the hon. Lady does not mind. I shall return to her point. The fishermen want to work within the confines of the Bill, but they also have their concerns, which I hope will be addressed.

Worries have been expressed over the past few years about dredging, carried out with permission from the Crown Estate, for the building industry, the replenishment of sea defences and export. About 28 per cent. of all

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marine-dredged sand and gravel is exported. I want that to be reduced. It is one thing to deplete a precious national resource for our own needs, but its export should be queried.

I understand that new planning guidelines are being introduced for marine dredging, and I would be grateful if the Minister commented on that. The system known as the Government view is to be replaced by more formal planning guidelines, which is important because dredging obviously has an impact on biodiversity. There is a significant short-term impact and recolonisation begins soon after dredging, but it can take up to five years for an area's biological status quo to be restored. That is very important.

In the run-up to the 1997 election, at which time I temporarily left the political arena, there was a significant debate in north-west Norfolk about Docking shoal and Race bank. Local fishermen were concerned as they thought that insufficient account was being taken of their interests. They are also convinced that the significant dredging for sand for the Skegness to Maplethorpe section of sea defences impacted on their industry.

I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge is so open-minded and I hope that the respective marine authorities that the Bill would introduce have a mechanism to deal specifically with dredging applications. I hope, too, that the new planning guidelines will play a significant role and that the new authority can be involved in shaping them.

On wind farms, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) pointed out that the Government's objective is for renewable energy to make up 10 per cent. of the UK's electricity requirement by 2010. I understand that the Crown Estate alone has 13 sites on which draft agreements have been entered into, and that two are in my constituency: Cromer and Lynn. On the Crown Estate sites alone, about 480 turbines will be constructed.

I agree with the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Clark) that it is essential that we meet the renewable energy requirement or, indeed, surpass it. We must place as much emphasis as possible on renewable energy. I accept that wind farms will play an important role, and obviously offshore wind farms will play a critical role in providing that energy. My concern relates to the impact that those wind farms will have on inshore fisheries.

Obviously, during construction, those inshore fisheries will be disturbed. The site at Lynn will have 60 turbines. I think that there will be 30 turbines on the Cromer site. It will be a huge construction operation. That will certainly have an impact on local fisheries, including that at King's Lynn. Exclusion zones will, rightly, be in place around wind farms, and we do not yet know what effect propellers on turbines will have on fish shoals and other marine habitats. More research needs to be done.

I am not trying to be negative about wind farms. We must have wind farms, but their location will be crucial. I would like the competent marine authorities to co-opt on to the particular bodies the relevant fishing interests: for example, in my constituency, the Lynn fishermen's co-operative and the eastern sea fisheries committee. When the Bill goes into Committee, we could consider writing in a requirement to give paramount importance to inshore commercial fisheries. There is currently nothing in the Bill about fisheries. I have no doubt that if such a clause is inserted and we have a mechanism whereby the

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relevant marine authorities are involved in the planning process—both the Department of Trade and Industry consents for wind farms and the new planning guidelines for dredging—the Bill will have a beneficial effect for inshore fishermen.

I have no hesitation in supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge. He has been fortunate in the ballot.

Mr. Pound: Before the hon. Gentleman moves off the rather strange subject of the problems of wind farming, as one who spent some time before the mast and has rubbed up against a few fishing folk in his daily, I have found that the average fisherman gets a richer crop if there is some obstruction on the sea bed such as a gun turret or ammunition platform. He describes wind farms as a menace to fisheries, and prays in aid the problem of the propellers. Is he concerned about the flying fish quota? How on earth can an aerial propeller cause any problems for marine fishermen?

Mr. Bellingham: I think that we need more research on the matter. I am flagging it up as a potential problem. If the propeller of a large turbine is going around very fast in a high wind, it is bound to create huge ripple effects on the water within its vicinity. I am merely pointing out what a number of fishermen who are far better qualified than me have pointed out—that that could have an effect on shoals coming in. What we surely need is more research. I am not didactic.

Mr. Chaytor: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bellingham: Of course I shall because the hon. Gentleman is an expert on wind farms.

Mr. Chaytor: It is very kind of the hon. Gentleman to say that, but it is not true. I was simply curious about the logic of his reasoning. If there is a high wind, it is fairly obvious that there will be more than a ripple effect on the water. Any additional ripple effect by the turbines of a wind farm will surely be absolutely negligible.

Mr. Bellingham: The hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that there will be a counter ripple effect by the propellers of the turbine. It has been pointed out to me by various fishermen that a man-made system that interferes with the delicate ecosystem may well produce side effects that we are not aware of at the moment. That is why there should be proper research into this.

In conclusion, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge. As the shadow Deputy Leader of the House said, he is highly regarded and respected on both sides of the House. He came first in the ballot and he has put a huge amount of effort and research into the Bill. I am particularly impressed by the extent to which he has discussed the Bill very openly with all the different groups, bodies and organisations involved.

As I pointed out, the Bill is not perfect, but it is certainly an important step forward. We are all aware that there is a critical need to preserve this type of habitat. It is vital that the Bill is given a Second Reading and is discussed in great detail in Committee so that we can improve it and make it acceptable to every organisation involved.

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12.56 pm

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): I also congratulate the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on coming first in the ballot and on choosing this Bill to present to the House. I am very pleased that a Conservative Member is promoting such a Bill. The Conservatives' new-found support for environmental policies is most welcome. Perhaps this Bill provides a new interpretation of the concept of clear blue water.

If Conservative Members have not yet read last Saturday's edition of The Daily Telegraph, I would very much commend to them the article by the editor of The Ecologist. It is essentially an appeal to members of the Conservative party, suggesting that in their fundamental review of policies and principles there may be considerable mileage to be gained by taking a much more proactive view in support of environmental policies. In the past, there has been a suspicion that their affection for the environment has been largely due to the fact that some of them owned so much of it. Now there is an opportunity for them to show their support for sustainable development out of genuine principles and care for the wider good of the community.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge has done the House a service in bringing the marine environment to our attention. My constituency is a long way from the sea, so it is important that I speak on behalf of my constituents, some of whom have contacted me on this issue, to demonstrate that it is not just an issue for those of us with coastal constituencies. The marine environment is important to us all. As my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) said earlier in the debate, the oceans are the drivers of our international climate system and it is completely impossible for us to separate ourselves from what happens in the oceans.

I have a particular interest in what happens in the north-west coastal waters and the Irish sea and I am particularly concerned about the historic levels of contamination of that sea not only from the normal economic processes of extraction, the laying of pipelines and other forms of mineral exploration, but the radioactive emissions that have been pumped out from the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing station in Cumbria for many years. I congratulate the Government—and to some extent the previous Government—on the steps that have been taken in recent years to tighten the regulations over radioactive emissions into the oceans, but we still allow far too much radioactivity and radioactive materials to leak out into the seas around the United Kingdom, and particularly into the Irish sea from Sellafield. I would be very grateful to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Uxbridge on that and grateful if my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment referred to it in his reply to the debate.

I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) that if the Government have any reservations about the detail of the Bill, for example if the Department of Trade and Industry has concerns about the impact on the oil and gas industries, they can be dealt with in Committee and should not lead to the Bill being sabotaged today.

As other hon. Members wish to speak, and as other Bills for consideration today deserve progress, I shall be brief. I hope that all hon. Members in the Chamber will support the Marine Wildlife Conservation Bill. I support it for two main reasons, the first of which is the absolute

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need to recognise the importance of maintaining and enhancing biodiversity. I think that there has been a new public understanding of the issue in recent years. People now appreciate that there has been a drastic loss of wildlife and plant species and that that loss cannot continue. We have to take action to conserve and reverse the loss of biodiversity.

The second main reason that I support the Bill is the opportunities that it will create for greater scientific understanding of what happens in the ocean. I think that many people have started to realise that understanding the secrets of the oceans can provide the key to dealing with the problems facing the continuation of civilised life on earth. Other hon. Members have already mentioned the potential benefits of increasing our understanding of what happens under the sea, including the possibility of generating new sources of renewable energy, and I entirely endorse those comments. We have to gain greater scientific knowledge of what happens in the deeper parts of the ocean.

I should like to raise two issues. Although the hon. Member for Uxbridge may not be able to address them today, I should be grateful if the Minister will address them briefly. The first issue is European legislation, because much of the environmental legislation that has effective or been adopted by the United Kingdom has been driven by Europe. I think that that fact is one of the very good reasons why we should have closer and not more distant links with the European Union. How will the Bill relate to current European legislation on the environment?

Secondly, and returning to the issue of radioactive emissions to the seas surrounding the United Kingdom, because of emissions from the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant, the Irish Government have announced their intention—they may already have taken action—to cite the United Kingdom Government in legal action over a breach of our obligations under the Oslo and Paris—Ospar—convention. That convention seeks to reduce radioactive emissions to the ocean almost to zero. I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Uxbridge will say how his Bill might link with the provisions of the Ospar convention, and if the Minister will say something about the Irish legal challenge—although I appreciate that it might be difficult to say much about it at the moment.

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