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Tony Cunningham (Workington): In support of what my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) said, will the Minister bear in mind the problem caused by delaying the process? In the areas around my constituency, it is only possible to build a wind farm in the summer. A planning delay could put a scheme back 12 months because construction might not start until the following year. That is a serious issue.

Mr. Meacher: I understand that, but it depends on when notification was made in the first place. I can give my hon. Friend the strong reassurance that the Government and the confirming authority—the Secretary of State—have no intention or desire to delay the process to secure procrastination. That is not in our mind at all.

My response to the point raised by the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) is that we need to achieve a balance, a word that he used. Of course

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sustainable development includes high and stable levels of economic growth, but they should not be to the detriment of nature conservation. The key consideration is that we strike the correct balance. I recognise that it is easy to say that in the abstract. In those cases in which it is difficult to reconcile different interests, we have to make the best judgment possible. That is not intended to interfere with or deter in any way the achievement of high levels of economic growth, and that includes those that can be achieved in the marine environment. That is what sustainable development is all about.

I also assure the hon. Gentleman that "have regard to" is appropriate to the new clause. I do not see a difference between that and "due regard". The hon. Gentleman was generous enough to say that he was perhaps a little over-concerned, and I think he was right.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) also referred to the importance of offshore wind. I accept that we should try to give as clear and detailed guidance as possible on the interpretation of the general principle behind the new clause. We are trying to do that in other ways, not just in the marine environment. I take his point about artificial reefs. With regard to the notification of a site, that is obviously one factor to which the conservation agencies will draw the attention of the confirming authority.

The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet re-emphasised the importance of renewable energy. From an environmental point of view, conservation is not our only consideration; we are also extremely anxious to develop renewable sources of energy. With those reassurances, I hope that the House will accept the new clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 2

Installation of boundary markers

'(1) The appropriate nature conservation body may install markers indicating the boundaries of a marine site of special interest.
(2) Markers may be installed at any time after a notification has effect.
(3) If a notification ceases to have effect, or has effect as modified, the appropriate nature conservation body must if necessary and as soon as reasonably practicable remove or alter markers installed under this section.
(4) Before doing anything under this section, the appropriate nature conservation body must obtain the consent of the owner of the land or sea bed on which a marker is to be installed.
(5) Nothing in this section exempts the appropriate nature conservation body from a statutory requirement to obtain any other consent (in particular any consent which may be required under section 34 of the Coast Protection Act 1949 (c. 74) or section 1 of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 (c. 33)).'.—[Mr. Meacher.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Meacher: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government new clause 4—Meaning of "marine area" and "marine site of special interest".

Government new clause 5—General interpretation.

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Government new clause 6—Notification of marine sites.

Government new clause 7—Further provisions about notification.

Government new clause 8—Modification or denotification.

Government new clause 9—Denotification in relation to European marine sites.

Government amendment No. 30.

Amendment No. 41, in clause 1, page 1, line 13, after "kind", insert—

'or person or body who customarily carries on a trade, occupation or business'.

Amendment No. 42, in page 1, line 18, leave out "one month" and insert "three months".

Amendment No. 44, in page 1, line 20, after "consider", insert "in public".

Amendment No. 45, in page 2, line 5, at end insert—

', after taking due account of international best practice'.

Amendment No. 46, in page 2, line 10, after "features", insert—

'and the management structure and its financing'.

Amendment No. 47, in page 2, line 13, leave out "six" and insert "three".

Amendment No. 50, in page 2, line 23, leave out "six" and insert "three".

Amendment No. 51, in page 3, line 1, after "body", insert—

', after consultation with the persons mentioned in subsection (1)'.

Amendment No. 52, in page 3, line 13, at end insert—

'(11A) Any notice issued under subsection (10) or (11) shall be accompanied by a statement of reasons for that variation or denotification as the case may be.'.

Amendment No. 55, in clause 3, page 3, line 24, at end insert—

'and taking account of international best practice'.

Amendment No. 56, in page 3, line 33, after "body", insert—

'(ia) take account of international best practice;'.

Government amendment No. 38.

Amendment No. 67, in clause 7, page 5, line 19, at end insert—

(c) any river estuary'.

Mr. Meacher: This group of new clauses and amendments goes to the heart of the mechanisms by which the Bill will be implemented. I apologise in advance for the length of my remarks, but it is necessary to spell out as clearly and succinctly as possible exactly how it will work in practice.

The purpose of the new clauses and amendments is to clarify the procedures and definitions for the selection, notification and confirmation of marine sites of special interest. They may look complicated, but I assure hon. Members that their purpose is simple. New Clause 4 aims to identify areas within which an MSSI can be notified. The Bill will allow an MSSI to be notified in any area that is covered by tidal waters between mean low water mark to the limit of territorial waters. A notification may include the water column and the sea bed. In order to

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cover any burrowing species, it can extend to 30 m below the sea bed. That depth is consistent with the depth to which byelaws under clause 6 can be made.

New notifications should not duplicate similar designations under different legislation. New clause 4(3) would ensure that an MSSI could not be notified in an area in which an SSSI existed, and subsection (4) would ensure that an SSSI—a terrestrial one—could not be notified within an area already covered by an MSSI.

Apart from SSSIs, the other major relevant nature conservation designations in the marine environment are European marine sites. The new clause would ensure that an MSSI could not be notified in an area containing an EMS for the same reasons for which the EMS had been designated. However, although the list of species and habitats covered by an EMS will be of international importance, on occasion other species or habitats of national importance may occur within an EMS. In those circumstances, an MSSI can be notified within an area covered by an EMS. On occasion, the designation of an EMS may occur after an MSSI has been notified. Subsection (5) would ensure that the MSSI was denotified if an EMS were designated in the same area for the same reasons.

Clause 1 lays the groundwork for notification, the effects of which must be clear and unambiguous. Amendment No. 30 would delete the whole of clause 1 and replace it with new clause 6, which is designed to clarify the procedures for notifying MSSIs. Subsection (1) would provide that the appropriate nature conservation agency may notify a marine area as an MSSI by reason of its flora, fauna, or geographical or physiographical features. That would provide the conservation agencies with a power, rather than a duty, to notify sites.

I said in Committee that I believed a power to be more appropriate because it would give nature conservation agencies greater flexibility in exercising that function, and more time to plan and programme the work required for the identification and notification of sites. It would allow time to gather scientific information and to undertake work on the criteria. The House will know that we are currently in the process of implementing regulations that transpose the habitats directive in respect of marine sites. That is crucial work in which the conservation agencies are heavily involved, which is why it is relevant to the question of time. I cannot guarantee at this stage when that work will be completed, although we want to complete it as soon as possible.

The interim report of the review of marine nature conservation identifies

Given that the Joint Nature Conservation Committee will be looking at criteria for the identification of nationally important marine habitats and species as part of the review, I propose that the Bill's provisions should not be implemented—at least in respect of England—until the review has concluded its work. That is not designed to create delay, but is a common-sense procedure in the circumstances. The work of the review will assist in the drawing up of selection criteria and the identification of

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sites under the Bill, and will help to influence the size and scope of suitable areas. The Bill will form an intrinsic part of a strategic approach to marine nature conservation.

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