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Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): I seek reassurance from the Minister about what I perceive to be some of the nuances implicit in the new clause. For example, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the legislative provisions that pertain to SSSIs and national parks. He will be aware that his Department is dealing with the order to designate a large part of my constituency as a national park. He quoted the law pertaining to that, which says that due regard has to be taken of the needs of agriculture, forestry, economic and social interests of the area. In the new clause, the maritime equivalent of that provision is that account should be taken of sustainable development.
Will the Minister confirm that he includes in sustainable development the maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth? That concept comes from "Achieving a better quality of life: Review of progress towards sustainable development" in the Government's annual report 2000, and it seems to involve a rather stronger requirement than that used in the legislation that relates to land.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I come new to the Bill, not having had the opportunity to serve on the Standing Committee, but, as the Minister knows, I do not come new to the subject, having debated it at length during the passage of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and having promoted thoughts similar to those of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), whom I congratulate on having brought his Bill this far. I also congratulate the Minister on the amendments that he has tabled, which clearly show a constructive attitude to the Bill. I do not intend speak at length today because I want to ensure that we consider the various amendments before us so that the Bill can make further progress.
I understand some of the rationale behind the new clause; it is roughly analogous to the equivalent provisions in the arrangements for the notification of SSSIs on land. I share the view of the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) that the principal objective must surely relate to sustainable energy production at sea, and I should be grateful to the Minister if he would confirm that in relation not only to producing energy from offshore wind, but to the other means of producing energy at sea that may exist.
Clearly, a balance often has to be found between competing environmental protection measures, irrespective of whether we are talking about species protectionwhich is, in essence, what we discussing in the Billor about other environmental protection issues and encouraging sustainability.
We shall return to this issue later, but I hope that clear guidance will be given on how this new clause and others should be interpreted by the competent marine authorities, the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales. For example, I should be interested to know how the Bill will apply to artificial reefs, which may also be considered in this respect. So long as we do not lose the spirit of species conservation that is inherent in the Bill and the protection of SSSIs in the interests of general development, which should take place only if there is a clear environmental advantage and that balance has been properly assessed by the competent authorities, there seems to be no reason why we should not accept the new clause.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): I shall speak for just a few moments. I welcome the new clause, with the caveat mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall). I understand all too readily the need and the importance of meeting a high proportion of our electricity generation requirements from renewable energy sources, including wind energy.
As chairman of the sustainable development committee of the 43-country Council of Europe, I know that it is carefully considering the problems of ensuring sustainable development, which is vital to the future of our planet. There can be sustainable development arguments on both sides of any environmental issue. Therefore, to echo the words of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), close consultation and careful analysis are vital before resolving such matters one way or the other.
Sir Sydney Chapman: Unfortunately, I was unable to attend that meeting and I was not aware that two thirds of planning applications for onshore projects had been rejected. We will need to provide every possible encouragement to renewable forms of energy if we are to meet the target, to which the Government are committed, of 10 per cent. of our electricity needs coming from renewable sources by 2010. The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point.
I conclude by simply reiterating that sustainable development policies are essential. Sometimes, there are good reasons on both sides of an argument when assessing the environmental needs, and we must be very careful and intelligent, and adopt a joined-up approach to the decisions that we will have to take.
Mr. Meacher: There is general agreement on both sides of the House about the importance of sustainable development. I was asked how exactly that concept will be applied, which is not an easy matter to consider, but I shall try to provide the assurances that were requested.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) asked whether the nature conservation interests would be overridden if a development issue arose on a site before the notification was confirmed. The answer is that the notification of the site will have identified features of special interest and that the confirmation of the notification will have regard to the wider interests of sustainable development.
The important point is that the scientific value that the conservation body has identified will be of particular importance in that decision. Obviously, such decisions will have to be taken on a case-by-case basis, but I hope that that provides appropriate assurance. The identification of such a development interest will certainly not readily or automatically override the conservation interest. However, as in so many of these matters, it is all a question of making a judgment about the balance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) raised some pertinent issues about offshore wind energy. Such issues are precisely why the new clause was introduced. Of course we recognise the importance of renewable energy considerations, which are of themselves of considerable environmental benefit, as the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) said. The need for offshore wind energy will be a major factor in deciding whether it is necessary to build wind farms in a marine site of special interest.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West that there will be full consultation on the criteria for site selection, including with offshore wind energy bodies. I can confirm that in achieving our Kyoto targets, the
Mr. Gareth R. Thomas: My right hon. Friend is obviously aware that the energy review recommends adopting a 20 per cent. target, which I hope will be accepted. Does he understand that the wind energy community is sensitive about the issue, partly because it recognises that we need to move away from the shallower sites that have been designated for wind energy farm development thus far to deeper waters, on which we have less marine data? That sensitivity is exacerbated by the fact that the Ministry of Defence has understandably ruled out areas that could be suitable for wind farm development because of the implications for radar.
I am just as concerned about the development of offshore wind energy as I am about the conservation of genuine sites of national conservation interest. The question is how we achieve that, which is what the clause is all about. We acknowledge the sensitivities of the wind energy community, especially with regard to moving sites further offshore and to the decision by the Ministry of Defence. However, I believe that it is possible to reconcile the different interests, and we must try to do that. It is not a case of one interest overriding the other. We have a strong interest in wind energy in the United Kingdom. We have, I think, about 35 per cent. of potential wind energy generation within the European Union and we have exploited only a tiny proportion of that. It is in the interests of the Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that that is developed further.