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Jim Knight: I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the marine environment. He may be interested to know that in my constituency a project is emerging for a wind farm on the breakwater of Portland harbour, with the prospect that local people will have no say in the granting of planning permission.

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The decision will be made by three or four separate Departments, because the project is neither offshore nor onshore—it is in a no man's land.

Mr. Randall: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That problem is becoming increasingly significant, but has so far been neglected. If we do not address it, there will be long drawn-out planning disputes between developers and objectors. The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill aims to avoid such wrangles, but they will occur if the protection is not put in place to start with.

A gentleman called Charles Wilson, the one-time president of General Motors, once said:


I would not suggest for a moment that any of the users of the marine environment should be given the "stupid" tag, but if we can put a good plan—and a good planning system—in place, we might be able to achieve a more sensible approach to the way in which we develop and use the marine environment. In Australia, no-fishing zones that protect spawning grounds for fish have had a good knock-on effect for surrounding fisheries and increased their stocks, and there is good potential for similar measures here. Moreover, if we were able to identify, and therefore to protect, nationally important wildlife sites, that would have major benefits for tourism. There are already examples of whale watching and trips to see basking sharks, sea birds and so on bringing people and money into local economies.

I hope that hon. Members of all parties would agree with the need for more streamlined regulation. Echoing the comments of the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), someone who wishes to develop an offshore wind farm could require licences under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 and the Coast Protection Act 1949, consents under the Electricity Acts and the Transport and Works Act 1992, and—if the proposed development was in an important wildlife area—a consent from English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales. Although I am all in favour of getting decisions right and developing in a careful manner, it is difficult to believe that those labyrinthine consenting regimes could not be tidied up somewhat to the benefit of all involved. That requires introducing wide-ranging legislation that considers marine issues in the round, not merely tacking a little bit on to a planning Bill.

I do not expect the Minister to provide an answer today, although it would be very nice if he did so. I often hopefully enter the ballot to secure a debate in Westminster Hall: that would give him ample opportunity to explain the Government's current policy and thinking. They may surprise me by saying that they have a piece of legislation up their sleeve that they intend to introduce in an idle moment between some of their more controversial measures. I am certain that that would be welcomed by hon. Members of all parties and that no early-day motion on the matter would be anything other than supportive. After all, it is good to have a bit of harmony in the Chamber from time to time.

Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): I leaped into the Chamber as soon as my hon. Friend's name came up on

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the Annunciator, because I felt sure that he would mention what I think of as the Randall Marine Protection Bill—an admirable Bill that I was sorry to see fall in the Lords. I share his desire for a little harmony with those on the Government Benches, and such a Bill would be an excellent way in which to achieve that objective, because there is strong all-party support for it—even from the Liberal Democrats. I hope that it will reappear, to acclaim, during this Parliament.

Mr. Randall: I thank my hon. Friend. I always knew that he was psychic—or perhaps I am becoming an obsessive lobby group; it is one or the other.

Another reason why such a Bill would be a good idea is that many people in the Department put in a lot of hard work to help me to get my Bill to the stage that it reached. It would be admirable, not only for the marine environment, but for all those people, if the Government were to pick it up—perhaps even to make it a little better, given that I was constrained by the nature of a private Member's Bill. I hope that at some stage a Minister of the Crown will say that the omission of such a Bill from the Gracious Speech was just a mistake—that they did not mean it and that it was not mentioned only because Her Majesty did not have time. I shall then be quite happy for a short while.

6.17 pm

Jim Knight (South Dorset) (Lab): As I shall be talking about fire safety, I draw the House's attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests in relation to my directorship of the Fire Protection Association.

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who, as a representative of land-locked Uxbridge, has been a great advocate for the marine environment. Speaking as a representative of the beautiful coast of South Dorset, I welcome and support his work.

I welcome the Gracious Speech, which deals with the challenges that the Government need to address in the 21st century: extending opportunity to all our people to enable them to realise their full potential, providing security to our population so that they feel safe as they go about their legal business, and modernising our public services. I welcome the introduction of measures to widen opportunity, including the children's trust Bill and the abolition of up-front fees for students in higher education, and to tackle the important issue of security, including the domestic violence and victims Bill, the asylum Bill and the civil contingencies Bill. When I was a member of the Select Committee on Defence, we considered civil contingencies as part of our work on our report, "Defence and Security in the UK". I am glad that the issue has finally emerged in the Queen's Speech.

Given the theme of today's debate—local government, environment and transport—I want to focus on modernising our public services and infrastructure. The key issues for my constituents are the lack of affordable housing, especially in rural areas; rising council tax; transport problems in both rural and urban areas; and the protection of our environment, including the marine environment and the coast that is the only natural environment in England and Wales with world heritage status, to which I have already alluded.

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Before I consider the welcome measures, I shall comment on what is absent from the Queen's Speech. When I was preparing my speech, I did not realise that I would follow someone who focused almost exclusively on what was not included. I am confident that the hunting issue will be resolved in this Parliament—we have had that reassurance. However, I am disappointed that a measure from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to simplify the care of wild animals was not included. I know that a draft Bill will be presented and I had therefore hoped that the Gracious Speech would include it.

Five separate measures currently govern keeping a wild or dangerous animal. They cover keeping such animals as pets, in a pet shop, in a zoo, in a circus or in a laboratory. The same species of endangered animal must be kept in different ways according to the five measures. It is important to resolve that issue, which is of great public concern. Animal welfare matters make up a popular part of our postbags and e-mail inboxes.

By contrast, I welcome the fire and rescue services Bill. The fire community has worked with the Fire Services Act 1947 for more than 50 years and it is high time that it was amended. The tasks that the fire and rescue services perform have changed considerably in the past 50 years, for example, in the amount of road traffic accidents with which they have to deal. In my constituency, firefighters train for cliff-top rescues and do much community fire safety work, too. Funding for much of the rescue activity has had to be found from discretionary budgets in the fire and rescue services because it is not statutory. A statutory duty to perform those functions is welcome; it will make the budgeting considerably easier. I pay tribute to all those in the fire service who perform a great service for the people of this country despite working in such an antiquated legal framework.

I welcome the changes in the fire and rescue services Bill that will build a more flexible service. I also welcome the use of integrated risk management plans, which will ensure that we do not allocate resources to empty office buildings at night but consider how to protect people more than property. But I have a word of warning about automated fire alarms. I am anxious about authorities such as Oxfordshire and Somerset making moves not to respond to automated fire alarms because of the number of false alarms that they generate. That takes too much of a risk with human life.

We need to find new protocols and new ways in which to work with automated fire alarms, similar to those that the security industry developed and used for burglar alarms some years ago. It was possible to develop maintenance protocols then. In many cases, false alarms are generated by badly maintained automated fire alarm systems going off.


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