Marine Wildlife Conservation Bill

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Mr. Thomas: In the light of what the Minister has said, it is important that we see what happens on Report, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Randall: I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 24, leave out

    `an area of marine biodiversity interest'

and insert

    `a marine site of special interest'.

The amendment is straightforward and technical, and would correct a drafting error. Areas of ``marine biodiversity interest'' were referred to in the consultation on the draft Bill, but the term was changed in response to comments made during that consultation period. The Bill should refer to marine sites ``of special interest'', so the amendment merely changes the wording.

Mr. Meacher: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his perceptiveness. I thank him for the amendment, which would correct an anomaly in the Bill about the description of sites. I will table amendments at a later stage to ensure that the clause is suitably drafted. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Randall: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

10.45 am

Mr. Randall: I do not propose to speak on every clause, but clause 1 is the meat of the Bill.

The Bill would allow for the notification of marine sites of special interest, which would be nationally important wildlife sites in the marine environment around England and Wales. The Bill would give English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales a duty to provide notification if they thought that a site should qualify, and if it lay outside any area already protected by a European designation.

English Nature and the CCW must have a duty rather than simply a power, as a duty would make it more likely that action would be taken. If the duty were downgraded to a power, and if several of a body's activities were in competition for its time and resources, those that were required to be done would be at the top of the list and those that were optional would lose out. A duty would also be better than a power because it would allow the body on which the duty was imposed to campaign more effectively for the financial resources needed to meet it.

The duty to notify the relevant authorities would arise only when English Nature or the CCW thought a site important. It would apply only to areas that lay outside current European marine sites, which are marine special protection areas and marine special areas of conservation. As the Minister said, the aspect of marine conservation under discussion is rather complex and has many designations.

English Nature and the CCW would be given discretionary powers to provide notification about sites that fell within such European marine sites, but there would be no duty for them to do so. That would mean that the double badging of sites—their designation as being of both national and European importance—which is often required on land would not be a requirement for the marine environment. Although the Bill would not require double badging, it is still important for it to allow notification about MSSIs within European marine sites. That would mean that adequate protection could be given to nationally important wildlife interests that lay within an internationally important site that was not designated for that interest.

English Nature or the CCW could decide that an area should be designated as an MSSI and notify their view to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or the National Assembly for Wales. However, the final word on designation would rest with the Secretary of State or the National Assembly. That would give them a power that they do not have in relation to notification of sites of special scientific interest on land, but we feel that it is important in the marine environment.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): As other hon. Members have done, Mr. Gale, I welcome you to the Chair.

I want to probe further the distinction between paragraphs (a) and (b) of clause 1(1). As the hon. Member for Uxbridge has already made clear, paragraph (b), which relates to sites where there is no existing protection, would involve a duty to notify the relevant bodies, while paragraph (a) would involve merely an option, so that English Nature and other bodies would be able to establish additional protection if they so wished.

I am a little puzzled by the distinction. Either it is felt that, as the hon. Gentleman has said, English Nature might not get round to designating an appropriate site as quickly as one would wish, and that therefore a duty is appropriate; or we trust English Nature to get on with it. If the duty is considered necessary, I can imagine circumstances in which it would also apply with respect to double badging.

The reason for the extra designation under paragraph (a) is, I assume, that if the broader protection were lifted, the site could suddenly become unprotected. If we feel that we need to reinforce English Nature's abilities by means of a duty, should we not also do so with respect to sites that are already protected by a more general designation? Conversely, if we feel that it can be trusted to act as quickly as is necessary, would not the word ``may'', rather than ``shall'' be sufficient in paragraph (b)?

Andrew George (St. Ives): It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Gale, and to congratulate the hon. Member for Uxbridge on presenting this important Bill. I have secured an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall later this morning and if I must leave prior to consideration of the minor amendment that I have tabled, I apologise.

Will the Minister bear in mind, in preparing amendments in response to those tabled by Committee members, that increasingly fishermen and marine environmentalists have a shared agenda? That was not the case 10 years ago, but it is increasingly so now. I think that the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) recognised that in his remarks. Although the clause does not specify proactive methods of consultation that would engage the fishing industry, such as the hon. Member for Ceredigion mentioned, the Minister's amendments should recognise the need to bring the fishing industry along in the process, rather than allowing it to find out about developments too late. That would be a welcome and constructive approach.

My experience of sea fisheries committees' work on important byelaws is that fishing industry representatives are often bypassed in the process of preparing those measures. That results in unnecessary potential conflict. We should learn the lesson so that in future the fishing industry will be properly consulted about relevant measures.

Mr. Simon Thomas: I want to add to the hon. Gentleman's remarks, using the example of the experience that I mentioned in response to the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby. Our work with the Countryside Council for Wales was, I think, a first. It was based on the sort of consultation methods that he was talking about, including adapting the planning for real initiative and meeting at a time when fishermen were available. We did away with the usual paperwork and worked in an interactive way with a range of stakeholders. We brought fishermen into the same room as environmentalists to find those common concerns that he mentioned. I am sure that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) would want to commend that approach to the Minister and to the National Assembly.

Andrew George: I welcome that intervention. I hope that the Minister recognises that, beyond the proposed technical redrafting in terms of periods for consultation and notification, there are important considerations that could be included, such as the method by which the consultation process is to be carried out. In drafting the new amendments, will the Minister bear in mind the fact that sea fisheries committees have significant responsibilities, but their work is not sufficiently recognised in the Bill? Will he also consider the appropriateness of referring to relevant statutory bodies, as well as to the fishing industry in general, as appropriate consultees to be engaged in a proactive way?

Lawrie Quinn: I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Gale, and congratulate the hon. Member for Uxbridge on securing time for this important Bill. It is a pleasure to follow my fisheries colleague, the hon. Member for St. Ives.

I want to emphasise a few points that concern the fishing community in Scarborough and Whitby, and talk about those towns as trading ports. Scarborough and Whitby are well known as fisheries ports, but they also conduct some trade. If we do not get the legislation right, it could have a negative impact on potential development of that trade, particularly in the case of Whitby.

First, let me deal with the fishing industry's concerns. I understand that the hon. Member for Uxbridge recently met representatives of the Association of Sea Fisheries Committees. My constituent, Mr. Russell Bradley, the solicitor and chief executive of that committee, said that although there had been progress, he felt that the hon. Member for Uxbridge and his advisers did not appreciate the sensitivities of fisheries communities. Our industry has suffered badly from change and the points made by the hon. Member for St. Ives are pertinent to that. There has been a period of great change and pressure.

For fishermen, there are constraints of time and representation in any dialogue or discussion on important issues of conservation, but the fishermen of Whitby and Scarborough are very much behind such issues. They want to be regarded as stakeholders and full participants in the debate. Their livelihoods and futures are at stake, and the future of key communities in coastal ports around the country could be affected, especially in the case of the shellfish industry.

In preparing for Report stage, will the Minister emphasise the need for the provisions to be properly resourced? Some account must be taken of the financial constraints in which fishermen find themselves, and it is costly to respond to consultations effectively and properly. Will the Minister and his officials proceed correctly and give regard to the cost implications for an industry that is financially hard pressed? That will involve good-quality research and work with some of the key marine institutions around the coast, of which the University of Hull is a prime example. Much effective work is done on its campus in Scarborough.

When I first stood as a parliamentary candidate, I organised a meeting between marine scientists and fishermen in Scarborough. It was the first time that the two warring factions had sat down in a room together and had a dialogue. To begin with, the dialogue was a bit frosty, because the fishermen were of the opinion that they worked on the sea and that the marine biologists were too shore-based. However, that initial dialogue has paid dividends for the situation locally in Scarborough, and the gains have been replicated around the coastline. National fishermen's organisations now work closely with organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund to draw up joint strategies. If he has not done so already, I urge the Minister to pay attention to the work on conservation done by the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the World Wildlife Fund, because it involves the livelihood and future of our coastal communities.

11 am

When the Government promoted the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill—which became the so-called CROW Act—they recognised that the countryside had special needs and problems. The review group established with that in mind involved representatives of the major stakeholders, such as Government agencies and non-governmental organisations, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. As a member of the RSPB, I would like to express my delight at the work that it has done in the Bempton cliffs area of the North Yorkshire coast, which is a superb example of what that organisation does. The fishing and ports industries were also involved.

The dialogue in the Committee of that Bill was based on regular contact, breaking down some of the suspicions and concerns of the key stakeholders about the mythical tendency of conservationists to think more about birds than about people. That was the place from which we started a decade ago. The development of a partnership approach, and the importance of stakeholding, was hard won and I am pleased that the Minister and the Government have done so much to develop policy for the coastal zone.

The interim report is helpful. It establishes the fact that the management of the coastal zone is complex, that jurisdiction is far from clear and that present arrangements do not work—hence today's debate. The report proposes that care be taken before proceeding too fast because, to quote an old saying, we do not want to throw the baby out with the bath water. We do not want to damage relationships that have been built up, but a ``do nothing'' option is not sustainable—certainly not in my community.

Although, broadly, the ports and fishing industries support the report's conclusions, we must proceed with great sensitivity, as the Minister seems determined to do as the Bill nears Report. The Bill undoubtedly benefits marine conservation but, as I have said, the legislation must develop through a thorough review of all present regimes, rather than adding just one more designation to a fragmented and piecemeal approach. I understand that the Minister is already focusing on the real concerns that the ports and the fisheries industries are bringing to my attention, but for the record I ask him continue to do so. We want a proposal to emerge from the process that is a significant component of the marine nursery stewardship report, and I understand that the Prime Minister has already committed the Government to achieving that aim by the target date of March 2002.

With those brief words, I shall sit down and listen carefully to what the Minister has to say.

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