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Shona McIsaac: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification, because I wanted to establish whether the two Bills would be compatible. The hon. Gentleman is right that many archaeological remains such as wrecks of ships and even aircraft become important marine habitats, which create great biodiversity. We must therefore strike the right balance in that regard. I hope that the Minister will shed light on the interplay between marine archaeology and this Bill, and on submerged landscapes that are the result of changed sea levels.

Mr. Randall: The hon. Lady may also be interested to know that the National Heritage Bill was introduced in the other place by my noble Friend Baroness Anelay, who has said that if we were lucky enough to obtain the passage of this Bill to the other place, she would help to support it. That emphasises the compatibility of the two Bills.

Shona McIsaac: Again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. My fondness for this Bill is growing by the minute.

Fishing and the fishing industry is a slightly more controversial subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) mentioned that there was still a distant water fleet based mainly in Grimsby and Hull. Some—not all—fishermen are concerned about this Bill. Those concerns revolve first around notification. Many distant water trawlermen are away for long periods of time, and I hope that they are notified in some way. Fishermen are saying that the introduction of these special sites will exclude them from important fishing grounds. Because of the slim margins that exist today in the fishing industry, some fishermen are fearful that the Bill may affect their livelihoods. Given that quotas can be draconian, I hope that the Minister will appreciate the concern expressed by some trawlermen in my constituency. I have explained to trawlermen that the introduction of these sites will create important breeding grounds for fish species, and that excluding commercial fisheries from those sites could be beneficial to the fishing industry.

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The other point that I want to mention on behalf of the fishing community is the level of fines imposed for damage—£20,000, I understand. Again, concern has been expressed that that is a high level. Will there be any way for fishermen to appeal against fines imposed on them? Trawl nets are very large and can create damage. Marine biologists have expressed concern about the damage done to coral reefs off Britain.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon said, coral reefs are not just found in Australia, and concern has been expressed about the effect that trawl nets and fishing equipment might have on the reefs. Given the size of the nets, we must be very careful where we place markers in such areas. Trawl nets might damage the reef even though the boat itself was well outside the area. We must consider how we can deal with that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon referred to whale and dolphin watching and I was surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) did not suggest that we could watch whales from canoes. That would have given him another opportunity to mention canoeing in the debate. However, I wanted to refer briefly to grey and common seals, because the United Kingdom has about 40 per cent. of the world's population of these species.

Some members of the fishing industry suggest that some of those seals should be culled because of the amount of fish they eat. However, the Under–Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley)—he has responsibility for fisheries—has made it clear that there is no scientific evidence that would justify the culling of the species. In fact, the scientific evidence shows that dolphins eat more fish than seals ever do. However, seals are more visible to fisherman, who then blame the seals and want to cull their numbers.

My family is from an area on the coast of Scotland and I know that many seals breed near the islands there. Will the Bill offer more protection to colonies of seals? I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will be able to confirm that there is no scientific basis for culling seals. In fact, the seal population in this country is much lower than it was before the distemper outbreak took place in the 1980s. We must also consider this aspect of marine conservation.

I support the Bill and wish it well. However, I hope that my right hon. Friend will clarify some of the issues that I have raised.

Bob Spink (Castle Point): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), who spoke eloquently about her constituency interest in the matter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on his persistence and skill in bringing the Bill this far. I hope that he will be successful in getting it on to the statute book. He has a good chance of doing that because of the constructive and helpful approach that the Government have taken. I congratulate the Minister on his contribution.

I do not intend to delay the House for long, but I hope that the debate on this group of new clauses and amendments—in particular that on new clause 4, which relates to the identification and notification of MSSIs—is the appropriate one on which to discuss fishing interests. We now better understand the dynamic nature of the marine environment.

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Although I did not serve on the Committee considering the Bill—that is my loss—and although I am only a humble Back Bencher, I wish to consider two constituency interests: conservation and the inshore fishing industry. Those interests are complementary to each other. Furthermore, my constituency lies in and on the Thames estuary; Canvey island and part of Two Tree island are in the Thames.

The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations has a valid interest in the Bill. Commercial fishermen depend on the marine environment to sustain and replenish fish stocks, so I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the NFFO's concerns have been fully taken on board. I was interested to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) on the subject—he spoke quite wisely—so will the Minister place on record how the Bill will affect, if indeed, it will, the imminent and much-needed reform of the common fisheries policy? Although my views are well known in the House—I believe that we should get out of the policy and have nothing to do with it—clarification on that point would be appreciated.

I wish the Bill well. I will not detain the House any further other than to congratulate again my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and the Minister on their approach.

Mr. Meacher: I felt the need to apologise for the length of my opening remarks, and I now have to apologise for the length of my closing remarks. This is the main group of amendments and a range of important and highly pertinent questions have been asked by Members on both sides. I shall try to deal with them as quickly and as succinctly as I can.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) asked about the effect of the duty to notify being reduced to a power and wondered whether English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales will still be given the resources to enable them effectively to establish a network of important marine areas. I said—I hope that he accepts this—that a power may be appropriate on the ground that it would offer greater flexibility and provide more time given the work that the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and conservation agencies are doing on other issues. The change will allow for scientific information to be gathered and for work on the criteria to be carried out. As I have said, the nature conservation agencies already have priorities for marine work.

On the point about resources, I said that we intend to provide the extra resources that will enable English Nature properly to implement the provisions in the Bill. In Wales, it will be a matter for the National Assembly, but the Government are putting their resources behind the Bill.

When a site clearly merits designation as an MSSI, the hon. Gentleman asked whether English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales will be expected to notify the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales of that fact. The answer is yes. I assure him that, where a site merits designation as an MSSI against the criteria published by the confirming authority, I certainly expect English Nature to notify that fact, and I am quite sure that it will. Notification in Wales is, of course, a matter for the National Assembly.

When English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales go as far is reasonably practical to secure consensus between interested parties, the hon. Gentleman

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asked me whether I could confirm that when English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales have gone as far as reasonably practicable to secure consensus between interested parties, the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales will confirm notification of an MSSI despite outstanding objections. Is absolute consensus required? The answer is that the confirming authority is quite properly obliged to consider all the representations made to him or her in deciding whether to confirm a site. However, I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that it will not be necessary to obtain 100 per cent. consensus of opinion before the authority confirms the site.

11.30 am

The hon. Gentleman asked whether interested parties other than the statutory nature conservation bodies will be consulted during development of the criteria and, again, the answer is yes. As I said, I would expect the site selection criteria for England to be based on the work that is being carried out by the JNCC under the auspices of the review, and there will be full consultation with the appropriate nature conservation agencies, but we intend to have public consultation on the criteria. As I said, before publishing them, the Secretary of State will also take full account of the views of colleagues or other bodies making representations.

On the question of consistency between the criteria developed for England and those developed for Wales, this is a devolved issue and there is the potential for discrepancy, although I think that there is a recognition on both sides that, if possible, it is best avoided. I would expect the criteria for England to be based on the work on nationally important site selection carried out by the JNCC as part of the review of marine nature conservation. That will have a Great Britain perspective and it will be the responsibility of the Secretary of State, in consultation with English Nature, to ensure that the criteria are suitable for England. I repeat, because it is the formal position, that the criteria for Wales are a matter for the National Assembly for Wales, but there will certainly be discussion between us to ensure that we obtain a common view if possible.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales would be able to set aside the advice of English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales on criteria for site selection, and the answer is that in considering a notification the most important issue is—

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