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Tony Cunningham: This might sound strange, but where we have, as we have in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), huge areas of sand once the tide goes out and we are establishing an MSSI according to various criteria, can we bear in mind the criteria for the SSSIs on land? If the low water mark is the benchmark, sea birds could be protected on a certain amount of sand once the tide goes out, but not when it comes in, and there could be two

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different criteria. Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the criteria for SSSIs when establishing the criteria for their marine equivalent?

Mr. Meacher: I had intended to deal with that when I replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), but in the light of that intervention I shall do so now.

In deciding the boundaries between SSSIs and MSSIs we shall seek to avoid there being a point at which there is a discontinuity. The mean low water mark has been chosen as the upper landward limit of an MSSI, as that generally corresponds to the lower seaward limit under which SSSIs are designated under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, so the problem about which my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) is concerned should not arise.

I return to the point raised by the hon. Member for Uxbridge about setting aside the advice of the nature conservation agencies. I repeat that in considering a notification the most important issue is the special interest and whether the conservation agency has demonstrated its existence. That is the heart of the process. Representations may choose to question the scientific basis of the proposed notification, but in exercising its functions, the confirming authority will also, as I said, be under the duty set out in new clause 1 to have regard to the desirability of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.

We will consider those issues on a case-by-case basis and the aim is to balance them carefully. I cannot give an assurance that either those who have particular concerns for development interests or those who have particular concerns for conservation interests will automatically override the other. Sustainable development is designed to try to obtain a balance in which neither automatically overrides the other, but in a particular case the aim is to reconcile them.

The hon. Gentleman also asked me to confirm that operations likely to damage can be included in the conservation statement issued under new clause 7, and that where they are included they will constitute part of a statutory notification. The statement of views about the management of the site is likely to include an indication of the operations which, in the agency's view, would be likely to cause damage to the special features. That is an essential part of the statement. Representations may be made about the statement, including a list of operations. The statement is likely to be helpful, particularly, as I said, in taking decisions under clause 3 in relation to the carrying out of or consenting to operations.

The hon. Gentleman also asked me, for the purposes of clause 3, which relates to competent marine authorities' duties, whether the Crown Estate Commissioners are considered a competent marine authority. Under new clause 5, the definition of competent marine authority is now a great deal closer to the definition of competent authority in the habitats regulations and, as with those regulations, bodies such as the Crown Estate Commissioners are competent marine authorities.

I come now to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) in the course of an intervention on new clause 2(4). The majority of the sea bed covered by the Bill is owned by the Crown and new clause 2 is about the placement of markers to mark

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the site. If markers are to be placed, it is only right that the landowner's permission is sought. The refusal of permission to place a marker does not mean that a site cannot be fixed, but it is certainly right that that permission should be sought and I imagine that in the overwhelming majority of cases it would be given.

I come now to several points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) and the many amendments that we have considered carefully. First, with regard to whether river estuaries are included, the answer is that they are if they are intertidal. As I said earlier, an MSSI can be notified in any area covered by tidal waters between the mean low water mark out to the limit of territorial waters.

My hon. Friend asked about notification and advertisements and I can assure him that the appropriate nature conservation authority will, as a matter of best practice, try to involve all relevant persons about a notification. During the work on the review, I would expect English Nature to start looking more closely at the mechanisms for site notification. I have taken on board my hon. Friend's comments and I shall convey the organisations that he has listed to English Nature for consideration. Of course, the Secretary of State will and, I think, must, retain the power to direct conservation agencies if he or she feels that any relevant bodies have been missed.

My hon. Friend mentioned advertisements. The Secretary of State retains a power to direct, but I am sure that the conservation body will consider placing appropriate advertisements in journals covering the industry, such as Fishing News, as well as using electronic means of communication, which could be especially important in respect of fishing fleets that go out to sea for considerable periods. My hon. Friend also asked about giving notice. That means notice in writing, but includes notice given by electronic means; we certainly do not want to shut our eyes to new technology.

My hon. Friend referred to international best practice and mentioned Zakynthos and the Great Barrier reef. Obviously, the Government are advised on conservation issues by conservation agencies and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. I assure him that those bodies are fully involved in the international scientific community and will take account of international best practice—that is obviously what we want to do—including site management that takes account of tourism interests.

My hon. Friend also asked how competent marine authorities would take account of advice on what constitutes a potentially damaging operation and how representations would be considered. When deciding whether an operation is likely to damage the features for which a site has been designated, we would expect the competent marine authority to have regard to any list of potentially damaging operations that may be contained in the conservation statement for that site. I repeat the term "have regard to", which means taking the issues seriously, and considering them carefully and fully—it does not mean looking at them and discarding them—and is used in statute. In line with other considerations to which the competent marine authority must have regard when taking decisions, I must accept that the need for the operation may outweigh the pure nature conservation consideration. That is the essence of sustainable development.

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Finally, my hon. Friend asked me how representations would be considered. Of course, representations about notifications will be considered fully. Where possible, we will encourage a dialogue with English Nature to see whether the concerns can be resolved. That is the best way of proceeding, as it is best to achieve the least confrontational approach possible. Currently, we see no need for the confirming authority to consider those representations in public before reaching a decision, but we will obviously consider very carefully the procedures that we propose to adopt, taking account of what hon. Members have said, before the Bill is implemented. We will certainly ensure a full and fair process.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) asked about the production of guidance. I repeat that it is our intention that guidance on the provisions will be published before the Bill takes effect. That makes sense; it ensures as far as possible that everyone fully understands exactly what is required. I can certainly give a full commitment on that point, but I do not see a need for statutory guidance. Indeed, it is much easier to change such guidance where appropriate if it is not statutory.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome is correct that sea fisheries committees will be important in terms of the Bill's implementation. The list of competent marine authorities is drawn from a similar list for SSSIs on land. I can assure him that sea fisheries committees are competent marine authorities and are mentioned as one of the bodies capable of making management schemes. He asked about cross-border sites and made an ingenious suggestion about the Bristol channel. The general rule is that sites in England will be notified by English Nature, while in Wales they will be notified by the Countryside Council for Wales. There will be no cross-border sites, but sites can be notified to each other. Where sites abut, I expect their management to be carried out with a high degree of co-operation. In terms of the middle of the Bristol channel, those involved will have to talk fully with one another.

11.45 am

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes asked about whether archaeological sites such as wrecks were covered by the Bill. If fauna and flora in or near wrecks merit notification under the specified criteria, we expect such sites to be notified on that basis.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome referred to protection of the air above the water. The Bill is primarily a site-protection mechanism. I understand that the protection afforded to species such as birds while airborne is covered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The arrangement is similar to SSSIs on land, which protect the habitat, but not the air above it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes also referred to seals, which are protected by the Conservation of Seals Act 1970. In the UK, four seal colonies are protected by European designation. Whether seal colonies will be covered by the Bill will be down to the criteria that may result from the work of the review of marine nature conservation.

I think that I have dealt with all the points that have been raised, apart from those made by the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), who asked whether the Bill would affect fisheries. Of course, sea fisheries committees already have powers to make byelaws that regulate

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fisheries for marine environment purposes, including the conservation of flora and fauna. Powers to control fishing already exist separately. The Bill will clarify the position of nationally important sites of marine interest and provide a mechanism through management schemes whereby appropriate operations may continue.

I think that my very last point relates to what the hon. Gentleman asked me about the common fisheries policy. [Laughter.] Much as one might like this private Member's Bill, I do not think that it is an instrument for changing the common fisheries policy. Conclusions from the review of the policy may have implications for the operation and management of inshore fisheries, but we will have to await the outcome of the review before those implications can be assessed. I understand that the Commission's proposals are likely to emerge shortly and decisions are needed by the end of the year.

I hope that in light of the assurances that I have given, the House will accept the new clause.

Question put and agreed to.

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

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