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Mr. Gardiner: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but he will notice that I am speaking at twice my usual rate in order to put on record the reasons why the Bill is important without impeding its progress. I want to allow time for other hon. Members to do exactly the same thing. The Bill deserves our support and I have many sheaves of paper to help me to express that support. I assure him and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I shall make absolutely sure that I try to keep well within time on this occasion.
The pink sea fan is what I call a "sodof". I should point out that I use that term not to try to stop any further interventions, but to explain why the pink sea fan is important. We are all familiar with items that are "bogofs"buy one, get one freebut the pink sea fan is a "sodof", as people can save one, develop one free. That is the case because it supports a further unique species, the sea fan anemone or amphianthus dohrnii. For the benefit of our Hansard reporters, let me say that I shall ensure that they receive the correct spelling. The sea fan anemone is another biodiversity action plan species. This little anemone, which rarely exceeds 1 cm in width, generally attaches itself to the branches of sea fans, although it may also occur on other tall structures such as hydroids and worm tubes. As it normally reproduces
The Bill offers the potential to protect both species. The Marine Conservation Society considers that such protection would be hugely significant for the anemone and could lead to an increase in the number of sites in which it can be found. Both species are threatened by damage caused by unmanaged marine environments. As such, they are excellent examples of why the Bill must be enacted. That is why I have laboured my points at such length.
Linda Gilroy: May I invite my hon. Friend, and, indeed, all hon. Members, to visit the National Marine Aquarium, where the basking shark is celebrated? I encourage him to continue his peroration about the pink sea fan, which I mentioned earlier. It is exactly the sort of organism that is not captured by current measures, but could be protected by the Bill.
Mr. Gardiner: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her comments. The basking shark is an extraordinary creature of which we should be proud, as it inhabits our native waters. It is a filter feeder that mainly consumes plankton. In the UK, basking sharks appear to favour a copepod called calanus finmarchus. Amazingly, they can filter almost 2000 cu m of sea water every single hour that they feed. Let me put that into context: it is the equivalent of an Olympic-size swimming pool of 50 m in length, with eight lanes.
I shall not speak as much as I could about the basking shark. Suffice it to say that the Bill will protect the feeding areas of the shark. I hope that it will provide us with an opportunity to get more information than we currently enjoy about that unusual species.
The Bill will require the sea fisheries committees, the local statutory inshore fisheries management bodies that operate in England and Wales, to be heavily involved in the management of sites set up as a result of the Bill. The SFCs are funded by a levy on local authorities but, with local authority finances under such pressure, funding for SFCs is not always a political priority. Let me mention at this stage that, should the Bill become lawI hope that it doesit is fundamentally important that a review be undertaken of the funding necessary to secure the future of both coastal fisheries and the marine environment.
As SFCs will have a major role to play in ensuring that the Bill works in practice, the case for better funding of the SFCs is stronger than ever. Historically, they have had a role in managing special areas of conservation and sites of special scientific interest. The demands on their resources are for administrative work, including work on management plans, practical work on enforcement and fisheries monitoring.
I shall bring my remarks to a close so that others can speak in support of the Bill. I could not close, however, without speaking as the joint Chair of the all-party parliamentary sport and leisure industry group. I am fully aware that, when new legislation is introduced, there is often concern about the cost of implementing it. I mentioned earlier the costs that may be associated with the SFCs. However, at a time when we are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of eco-tourism, and when we have a new Government Department, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, one of whose aims is to build links between farming, recreation, economic development and a range of activities, we should recognise that the Bill also has the potential to bring financial benefits in eco-tourism.
Linda Gilroy: I wonder whether my hon. Friend noticed from my earlier contribution that the south-west regional development agency has said that eco-tourism is almost as important as information and communications technology to the economy of the south-west, which is pre-eminent in these matters.
Mr. Gardiner: I recognise what my hon. Friend is saying. As she knows from her area, and as many other hon. Members know from theirs, this is an extremely critical time for tourism in England and Wales. It has suffered much in recent months and the industry should realise that the Bill could help in the development of eco-tourism. I hope that the Government, when considering cost implications, will also consider the net benefits that could be achieved from supporting the Bill.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Uxbridge not on his good fortune for coming first in the ballotthat is a matter of luckbut on his sound judgment in bringing the Bill to the House and on the way in which he has piloted it through. I wish him God speed and a fair wind.
It is surprising that, as an island nation surrounded by marine life, we have paid so little attention to the sea. The sea is a place of work in terms of fishing and energy, and has historically denoted our boundaries and signified our power. Although Britannia ruled the waves, we spent little time considering what is beneath them. Perhaps that is because we are not blessed with warm climates, and the cold waters put people off trying to understand the sea.
Clearly, there is a new appreciation of marine life, the beauty of our environment, the dangers of pollution and the need for a proper environmental balance. On land, much thought has already gone into achieving such a balance and weighing up the rights of industry and those of local people and visitors. The balance between historical and future use has also been considered. However, that cannot be said about our marine environment.
The existing legislative framework is haphazard. There is no shortage of laws to govern activities on our seas: they include legislation on merchant shipping, water resources, water industries and fisheries, and European regulations and various treaties. However, they tend to reflect effects on the marine industries rather than marine life. Indeed, the complexity of our laws often hinders the ability to introduce policies in favour of marine life.
There is therefore a need for legal and policy frameworks to be directed at the protection of habitats and species. However, they need to balance environmental needs, to cater to the needs of industry and those of leisure and to provide a strategic and consistent approach, which has been lacking in the past.
Our thinking about the sea is too disjointed. There have been many significant and worthy projects to clean up the nation's beaches. That has resulted in many excellent beaches, but most of the efforts have been directed at cleaning up the mess from the sea rather than considering the reasons for it. That is a good example of lack of strategy and joined-up thinking.
Debates about fishing policies are also often disjointed. We argue with our neighbouring countries about who has rights over our fish, and we highlight the genuine plight of our fishermen, but we say little about why fish stocks are depleted. We need a framework whereby we can better understand our fish habitats and form our policies in the context of a proper understanding of the environment in which fishing takes place. We can thus prioritise and balance the interests of consumers, fishermen and the environment.
As on land, conservation at sea is about not only protecting beautiful sites but understanding the environment so that we can make proper choices about development. Unlike the sea, little is natural about our land environment. Fields and hedgerows are man's invention, and foxes have to be controlled because we have chickens and lambs. The environment that we enjoy has been moulded over the centuries. As we develop in different ways, our views about the sort of environment that we want have changed. We have developed a regulatory environment to provide a framework for that.
That has not happened in the marine world. It could be said that that was because the sea was inaccessible, but that would undermine the beauty and value of the vast range of habitats and species that exist in our marine environments. I shall not argue in favour of any specific sort of marine environment or weigh up the value of different sorts of habitats or species. However, we must create the regulatory environment for doing that. Indeed, in some local marine environments the national interest may better be served by the presence of oil and gas industries or by carrying out exploration, but that is not the case in many areas. Some areas will be suitable for
The key will be adaptability, which will be even more necessary at sea than on land. For instance, a suitable place to allow fishing this year may not be suitable next year, fish being more transient than, say, cattle. The same point could be used to show that there is a need better to understand the fish habitats around our shores so that we can strategically evaluate fishing in environmental terms.
It is also important to consider the marine environment, how it relates to current sea industries, such as shipping, fishing, oil and gas, and how it relates to the industries of the future. Many hon. Members have referred to that aspect.