Marine Wildlife Conservation Bill

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Mr. Randall: These amendments propose to widen consultation to ensure that the views of those with functions, property rights and other rights, including fishing rights, are sought by the relevant marine authority when establishing the management scheme. Relevant marine authorities may establish a management scheme for a marine site of special interest. Where the relevant marine authority is a body other than English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales, those authorities must be consulted. Consultation with interested bodies after Second Reading revealed that users of the marine environment were concerned that as the Bill stood there was no way for them to be consulted. Furthermore, competent marine authorities consenting to or permitting activities within marine sites of special interest are not consulted. That is an oversight, as it is through the management schemes and the exercise of relevant marine authorities' existing powers that such users' interests might be affected. Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 will ensure that all those with property and other rights in relation to the MSSIs are consulted, so far as is reasonably practicable, on the development of a management scheme for a marine site of special interest.

Amendment No. 7 would ensure that under a marine site of special interest management scheme, relevant marine authorities exercised their functions as far as reasonably practical to further conservation. The Bill allows them to establish a management scheme and its function should be exercised to secure the consultation objectives of the site. In consultation after Second Reading, various interests pointed out that this gave primacy to nature conservation over all other interests. There is no scope in the Bill to balance conservation with other interests. Even the most strictly protected European marine sites do not have that level of protection.

Furthermore, as the Bill is drafted, relevant marine authorities have to achieve site conservation objectives no matter what. I hope that the amendment addresses this concern. Instead of relevant marine authorities having to achieve the objectives of the site, it requires them to take reasonable steps which are consistent with their other functions and duties. Therefore, they are required to do everything that they reasonably can to conserve the site, but that requirement is not at the expense of all other interests or without regard to cost. The fishing interests, among others, placed particular emphasis on that.

Mr. Simon Thomas: I want to raise a point—for the attention of both the hon. Member for Uxbridge and the Minister—about amendment No. 7.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge has attempted to cast the exercise of the responsible bodies' functions wider than just the environment, as he put it, to take account of the proper exercise of their functions. The Countryside Council for Wales, acting under the National Assembly for Wales, must operate under the Assembly's overarching principle of a duty of sustainable development. Sustainable development, which brings together, as the hon. Gentleman will know, social, economic and environmental factors, is an all-encompassing policy already established at the CCW.

It would be useful if the Minister could examine the relevant aspect of the amendment, or of any amendment that he might table, and take into account the fact that in Wales at least, because the sustainable development framework is already established, the CCW is, de facto, already asked to behave in the way specified—although the amendment may still be applicable to England.

Andrew George: I support the hon. Member for Uxbridge and welcome amendment No. 7, which would alter the effect of the word ``secure'' in clause 4(1). During my consultations with them, the sea fisheries committees asked how they could be expected to secure conservation objectives when other factors, outside the responsible body's control, exist. The amendment, or something like it, specifying that the functions should be exercised in a manner consistent with the conservation objectives, seems more appropriate and workable.

Mr. Meacher: Amendment No. 6 and the consequential amendment No. 5 are intended, as the hon. Member for Uxbridge said, to ensure that all parties affected by a management scheme for a marine site have an opportunity of a say in its establishment. We wholly endorse that principle. The amendment would mean that Government Departments that were competent marine authorities were consulted about the establishment of such schemes.

It is essential that Government Departments have the option of being consulted about the establishment of management schemes and that they should be notified once a scheme is established. That would allow management schemes to take proper account of the functions carried out by all competent marine authorities in relation to the conservation objectives of the site. In addition, the authors of a scheme would of course consult other interests, such as recreational bodies, before it was finalised.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Uxbridge has tabled amendment No. 7. I understand that the desirability of the amendment was brought to his attention in one of his many meetings with interested parties on his Bill. I pay tribute to his efforts to take account of the many interests in the marine environment. That was exactly the way in which the Bill needed to be approached.

While working within a management scheme for the conservation of a marine site of special interest, relevant marine authorities must be allowed to carry out their duties and functions. Of course, where it is practicable and reasonable to do so, those functions should be carried out in a manner that will further the conservation of the feature for which the site is designated.

Amendment No. 7 uses the wording of clause 3(1) in relation to the duties of competent marine authorities. I have listened to what the hon. Gentleman said and I am all for consistency, but the two clauses differ in some ways. Further consideration must be given to the inconsistency between the duties placed on relevant and competent marine authorities in relation to their general duties on sites and their duties within management schemes for sites. That is a relatively small point, but we would like to give it some further consideration. It does not affect the material substance of the Bill.

I assure the hon. Member for Uxbridge that we will submit an amendment to the clause that pursues in full the principle of consultation and endeavours to meet the hon. Gentleman's and our concerns about the operation of management schemes. On that basis, I hope that he feels able to withdraw the amendment.

11.45 am

Mr. Randall: We have had a useful debate, after which there seems to be little real disagreement. I agree with the hon. Member for Ceredigion that sustainable development is an important principle, and I hope that it will apply throughout the entire marine environment. Protected sites are part of that—protection will contribute to sustainable development.

I accept the Minister's assurances that there is little disagreement, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Paddy Tipping: I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 4, line 9, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

    `(3) Any marine area may not be subject to both a management scheme for a European marine site and a management scheme for a marine site of special protection.'.

This small amendment would clarify the Bill. Subsection (2) clearly states:

    ``Only one management scheme may be made for each marine site of special interest.''

Subsection (3) extends and clarifies that, but allows for one opportunity, which the amendment would put right, for a site to be part of a European maritime site under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 when the site has been established but no management plan exists. It is conceivable that a site could be designated and a management plan produced under this legislation, and that, subsequently, a management plan could be introduced under European legislation. That would be in no one's interest. The amendment would make the clause as tight as possible, although I accept that further drafting may be necessary.

Mr. Simon Thomas: I shall make a point for the Minister regarding the possibility of two management plans existing for the same site. If the Bill is enacted, what guidance will be issued to English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales over which of the conflicting management plans should take precedence? My understanding of the habitats directive and the management plans that flow from it for marine special areas conservation is that a definite process of management planning has been established. It flows either directly from the European directive or from guidelines.

Clause 7 names the bodies involved in the management process, but the outline of that process is widely drawn. I am a little concerned that nature conservation agencies may be at a loss to know which processes apply to which part of the marine environment. I believe that the European habitats directive should drive the process, because it is comprehensive and contains a thorough management plan. When such a process is put into place in any area of the marine environment, this legislation will, de facto, have been met. My argument would, however, have to be discussed further on Report and explored thoroughly with the two main conservation agencies in England and Wales.

Mr. Meacher: I assume that the amendment was tabled to overcome the concerns of interested sectors, such as aggregates and fishing, that there will be different management schemes for sites of national and European interest in the same area. My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood will be pleased to know that we have much sympathy for what he is trying to achieve, and he is right to raise the issue. The hon. Member for Ceredigion also made a fair point.

There is a potential for overlaps between MSSIs and areas designated as European sites under the EC wild birds directive and the EC habitats and species directive. The potential for overlaps with international designations could also increase, with bodies such as the Ospar commission undertaking initiatives. That is not necessarily bad, but it is essential that the management of sites is co-ordinated and does not cause conflicts. My hon. Friend has tried to achieve that by ensuring that only one management scheme will cover a marine site, which looks like an easy solution. Management schemes for European sites are set up to manage features of European interest, and we must consider whether such schemes could be amended to include the features of MSSIs that have been notified. In some cases, the site of the European feature might be managed to the detriment of the national feature, and we must give further thought to tackling that issue.

As the hon. Member for Ceredigion said, if there is to be one management system, one must establish which it is to be. We must consider how it will be given priority and how it will link with the interests of the MSSI. We must also consider the potential for MSSIs to overlap with coastal SSSIs, whether that is desirable and, if so, how such sites would be managed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood has correctly identified a problem and has proposed what appears, prima facie, to be a reasonable solution. I should like more time to reflect on how to overcome the difficulties that have been identified. I should like to see whether we can table an amendment later to meet hon. Members' concerns.

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