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10.30 am

Mr. Randall: I thank the Minister for his detailed remarks. He need make no apology for clarification. I think that some of my questions have been answered already, but some of them are so important that it may be appropriate to repeat them. That is the only apology that I make.

As the Minister said, the duty in clause 1 has been reduced to a power in new clause 6. The Minister flagged that up in Committee. In some respects, it will make the Bill slightly weaker. However, that may be necessary for the reasons outlined by the Minister. Will the Minister confirm that if the new clause is accepted and the duty to notify is reduced to a power, English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales will still be given the resources to enable them to establish effectively a network of nationally important marine areas throughout territorial waters within a reasonable period of the Bill's enactment? Will he confirm that when a site clearly merits designation as a nationally important MSSI, English Nature or the CCW will be expected to notify the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales of that fact?

I was grateful for the Minister's clarification of new clause 6, and his explanation to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) that the criteria to be agreed will be scientific and will require sites to be notified on the grounds of their scientific interest alone. What consistency will there be between the criteria developed for England and for Wales? Will interested parties other than the statutory nature conservation bodies be consulted during the development of criteria? Will the Secretary of State or the Welsh Assembly be able to set aside the advice of English Nature or the CCW on criteria for site selection?

New clause 7 deals with further provisions about notification. Given the widely recognised difficulties that have dogged the designation of marine nature reserves because of the need to achieve complete consensus, is there an intention to require 100 per cent. agreement by all interested parties before notification of an MSSI is confirmed? Will the Minister confirm that, as long as English Nature and the CCW take reasonably practicable steps to secure consensus, the Secretary of State or the

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Welsh Assembly will confirm notification of an MSSI despite outstanding objections, providing the science clearly justifies notification?

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas: May I echo the hon. Gentleman's concern about the need for 100 per cent. consensus before an MSSI is designated, and flag up a parallel concern about inland waters of which the British canoeing fraternity is only too well aware? Riparian owners can exclude canoeists from their waters, even when there would be no impact whatever on the environment or their land. There is a danger, as the hon. Gentleman said, that the 100 per cent consensus may stop sensible action.

Mr. Randall: I am afraid that I am not an expert on canoeing, but I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. As the House knows, it is almost impossible to achieve 100 per cent. consensus; it would be a great shame if the requirement meant that one small voice could stop something as important as notification going ahead.

Mr. Swayne: Is not the key point that we are seeking reassurance from the Minister that we are not going to give legal effect to the guidance which has stalled the marine nature reserve programme?

Mr. Randall: My hon. Friend is astute.

Mr. Swayne: My hon. Friend is very kind.

Mr. Randall: My hon. Friend deserves it.

Will the Minister confirm that operations likely to cause damage can be included in the conservation statement in new clause 7 and will constitute part of the statutory notification? I am pretty certain that he said the Crown Estate is considered a competent marine authority under clause 3 on the duties of competent marine authorities. Clause 4, on management schemes, would be amended by Government amendment No. 2, which we shall debate later. Will the Minister confirm that the Crown Estate could be added to the proposed list of authorities able to establish management schemes for MSSIs by virtue of Government amendment No. 14?

On that note, I shall conclude, and await the Minister's response.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): I congratulate the Minister on many of the Government's amendments. Some of the amendments that I have tabled have been overtaken by the Government amendments, but I should like to push others for the sake of clarification.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas: Before my hon. Friend launches into his speech, will he join me in seeking clarification from the Minister about whether new clause 2(4) is needed? To return to my intervention on the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), there are 10,800 miles of rapidly moving water or other waters suitable for canoeists in this country. However, because the consent of the owner of the land is required, canoeists have access to only 1 per cent. of those waters. Subsection (4) would

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surely prevent the sensible development of MSSIs, and would provide a bitter parallel with the circumstances of canoeists in this country.

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend makes an interesting intervention. I shall shortly address the need for consent in the context of notifications. However, the point that I am about to make may be of more interest to my hon. Friend. I assume that he is primarily talking about canoeing on rivers which, of course, the Bill does not address. My amendment No. 67 seeks to extend its provisions to river estuaries. It is a probing amendment; I am not sure of the extent to which river estuaries are already protected under arrangements for sites of special scientific interest.

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): As my hon. Friend will be aware, my constituency is bounded by the River Humber, which has one of the largest river estuaries in the country. Many SSSIs among the mudflats at the edge of the river are already protected.

Mr. Dismore: I am grateful to my hon. Friend; I was going to use the Humber as an example. As she knows, I grew up in east Yorkshire in the seaside town of Bridlington, and I was going to refer to one or two of my experiences. However, I wish to refer specifically to tidal rivers.

In introducing the Government amendments, my right hon. Friend the Minister referred to the definitions of high and low water marks. Many years ago, in my professional life, I had to interpret the high water mark in relation to the Fire Services Act 1947 to determine when the fire brigade's duty began and ended. I know from that complicated legislation that determining such marks can be difficult, which is why I have flagged up the issue of river estuaries and tidal rivers. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend would deal with that in his reply and assure us that we are covering all the bases, either through existing legislation or the Bill, if it is enacted.

I am grateful for the Government amendments which clarify the timetable. My amendments Nos. 42, 47 and 50 attempt to do the same, but far less scientifically; I defer to my right hon. Friend, and shall not seek to press them. However, I echo some of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Uxbridge in response to my right hon. Friend's substituting a power for a duty in new clause 6. I, too, am worried about that, although I recognise that there are resource implications, so I understand his reasons. I shall return to the question of resources.

With regard to notification, there are three options. I assume that my right hon. Friend's amendment will prevail. The first option as to who should be notified is in the original Bill. In amendment No. 41, I set out an addition to that, and my right hon. Friend dealt with it in new clause 6. My main aim is to make sure that the people who are likely to be affected by the designation of a marine site are properly notified and consulted.

Clause 1 states that

should receive notification. My right hon. Friend's new clause 6(4) states:

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the confirming authority in this context being the Minister. Similar provisions apply in Wales. My aim is to make it clear who will be the subject of that direction from the Minister. Many, many people will be affected. My amendment No. 41 would have incorporated into the original wording a provision that anybody who carried out a trade, occupation or business that could be affected by the introduction of a marine site should be notified. If we are not careful about the wording, people may fall through the net.

New clause 6 makes provision for advertisement of the notification in a local newspaper, but that may not reach everybody. For example, fishermen who are out at sea for several weeks may not see the local paper. That must be taken into account. On Second Reading—I think—my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) dealt with the problems that the fishing industry could face as a result of the Bill, and with how it could benefit as well. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) nods; there is still something of a deep sea fleet based around the Humber. We must make sure that the fishing industry is consulted—both the inshore fishing industry, which is based in towns like my old home town, Bridlington, and the offshore fleet.

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