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Mr. Heath: I certainly concur with the point made by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) about the need to look at international best practice. There is considerable experience elsewhere in the world of operating marine reserves, and we should learn from that.
These are important new clauses and amendments, and I do not dissent from the broad sweep of their intent, but I want to raise several important issues. The compass of new clause 5(1) underlines the extraordinary complexity of current coastal zone management and we need to address that. On a general point, it is absurd that we have so many bodies with different powers and responsibilities, often overlapping and sometimes in conflict. It is right to review that, and I note what the Minister said about the intention to implement the Bill, if it is passed, after the review of marine conservation. Some, including major UK ports, have said that the entire Bill should have been delayed until after that review; I do not agree. We need to get the Bill on to the statute book as well as to review our arrangements for coastal zone management.
If sea fisheries committees were named in new clause 5, it would be clear that, under new clause 6, they had to be notified when an area was to be designated a site of special interest. It would be remiss of any body that was, within the meaning of the Bill, a competent marine authority not to notify the appropriate sea fisheries committee when it intended to designate an area. On that point, the Bill differs from the equivalent legislation relating to land, in which there are requirements to consult relevant agricultural interests and landowners. It is unfortunate that the equivalent parts of the fisheries economy are not included in the Bill.
Mr. Heath: Those are amendments that we will discuss later, and I would be out of order if I responded to a point about amendment No. 2. There may a reference to the committees, but they are not named as a competent marine authority, which would put them at the heart of the Bill, where they ought to be.
I have another slight problem with new clause 6. Subsection (2) says that criteria will be published. As we have heard, those are the scientific criteria that will be used to judge whether a marine SSI should be established. However, there is no requirement in the Government's proposals to publish any form of statutory advice. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) made that point in Committee when he tabled amendments of his own. The Minister said that he would consider the matter carefully and determine how advice should be given. That advice is not mentioned in the amendments that we are discussing today.
It would be extremely helpful if a code of statutory guidance were to be published by Ministers for the assistance not only of the marine authorities responsible for designation and notification but of everybody else concerned. Everyone would know exactly where they stood, and they would know which points to consider, not least so that they could make objections. Hon. Members will recall that we debated that matter at great length during proceedings on the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. The more grounds for objection one can eliminate, the more focused any objections will be, and the easier it will be to deal with proper objections. That is important, so I would be grateful if the Minister told the House whether he intends to publish such guidance, statutory or otherwise.
I want to make two points that may appear fatuous, although I hope they do not. One has to consider what may go wrong when the Bill is implemented. Under the designation and notification procedures, the appropriate nature conservation bodies are defined as English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales. What will happen when the area concerned is in the jurisdiction of both bodies, in the Bristol channel? There is no provision for them to act jointly.
My second point may seem even sillier, but I must ask the Minister to consider it. It concerns the definition of a marine SSI. The sea bed and land below the sea bed is mentioned, as well as the water column. In the legislation dealing with land sites of special scientific interest there is a clear legal understanding that the column of air above the land is also included. Will the Minister assure me that that is also the case in this Bill, which refers to the water column but not the air above it? Clearly, one of the nature conservation interests may be sea birds, and disturbance of sea birds above the surface of the sea could be detrimental to the reasons for designation. I would hate to find that that was not included in the definition in legislation because of a misunderstanding or a misconstruction of the terms used.
Mr. Randall: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. However, it is most likely that the birds affected would be sea duck, whose feeding area is on the surface, and not necessarily birds that are in flight above it. However, it is an interesting point and I would be grateful to the Minister if he were to clarify it.
Mr. Heath: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is right. Sea birds, with the exception of the albatross, do not tend to stay airborne for long periods. However, as we have discussed previously with regard to SSSIs, disturbance to the birds rather than destruction of the habitat is included. One can imagine a construction that causes no damage to the sea or the sea bed but that, nevertheless, irreparably damages the sea bird interest of a particular area. If a clever lawyer working for a corporation somewhere were able to say that that was not part of the marine site of special interest because it was above the water column, it would be a great shame. Perhaps the Minister will consider that point or take advice on it. I hope that I am barking up the wrong tree about that, and that my argument is a complete waste of time, but let us be sure.
As I said earlier, my constituency is bounded by the River Humber, one of the biggest estuaries in this country. Indeed, it is an important breeding ground for migratory sea birds, and many of the mud flats above the low water mark are already designated as sites of special scientific interest. Those areas are covered by what we might call land-based legislation, whereas I understand that this Bill relates to areas below the mean low water mark. When the tide goes out in the Humber, it goes out an awful long way. On some days, one feels that one can walk to the Netherlands or Denmark, such is the expanse of mud flats. However, when the tide comes in, it comes in fast, which causes a problem when people get stranded on sand banks.
Mr. Randall: I was on the Committee that considered the National Heritage Bill to which the hon. Lady refers, although, unfortunately, I was only briefly present for its proceedings. That Bill has the support of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and is seen as part of a wider picture. It might cover wrecks that would be marine sites of special interest because of the important biodiversity found there. The Bills are compatible rather than being in competition.