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In view of the increasing demands that we place on the sea, it is imperative that urgent action is taken to prevent further decline in the marine environment. Currently, less than 0.001 per cent. of the UK’s 867,000 sq km of seas are protected by law. The Lundy main nature reserve covers just 3.3 sq km, which on land would equate to a reserve the size of Kensington gardens. That is home to the famous statue of Peter Pan, who was famous for living in Never Never Land—rather like the Government on the timetable for the marine Bill.

The marine Bill is needed because we must legislate to put in place a new holistic and overarching regime to ensure the sustainable economic and environmental management of our seas. The current balance is not working, and existing marine management structures are failing to protect the environment. Conservation, dredging, bottom trawling, submarine cables, mineral extraction, transport and wind farms are all interests that currently conflict with one another. In the future, tidal energy generation may be added to that list. Protecting the marine environment is not just about establishing highly protective marine reserves and no-take zones. It is about establishing a long-term system for a sustainable future for the UK’s marine environment.

I must say a little bit more about protective marine reserves and the messages coming out from the Government on this important and difficult area for decision. The natural environment is facing extreme pressure. For example, the reefs and pink sea fans in Lyme bay are supposed to be protected species. However, the Minister's indecisiveness has left Lyme bay with a thoroughly unsatisfactory voluntary proposal for a protection zone of just 12 square miles, instead of the 60 square miles that was asked for. Last summer, the Minister promised a consultation and a statutory instrument on Lyme bay, so will he tell us when all that is going to happen?

There is also pressure on our cetacean population. For example, more than 200 harbour porpoises are caught each year in fishing nets in the Celtic sea alone. Britain’s coastal waters have been threatened by three out of four of the world’s biggest oil spills and the recent beaching of the MSC Napoli reminds us how fragile our marine environment is to human activity, and confirms the importance of integrated marine management.

The marine Bill should make a significant difference in all those areas. It should also help us to meet our
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habitats directive commitments. DEFRA has not distinguished itself on marine protection, but an effective marine Bill should be the catalyst for a more committed effort. There is also an increasing need to cater for new demands: renewable energy, offshore wind, tidal and carbon sequestration. Unfortunately there are some problems.

We need a marine Bill that will be comprehensive and will streamline existing laws. Certainly more needs to be done on fisheries. Last year the Environmental Audit Committee report urged DEFRA to extend the proposals for the marine Bill to cover as many fisheries issues as possible in order to ensure legislative and administrative integration. Although we support the need for sea fisheries committees to be reformed so that they can better balance the stable management of marine resources, we are concerned that the proposals may not go far enough. Strong consideration needs to be given to extending the powers over our seas out to 12 nautical miles. Greater clarity is also needed for the interaction between the sea fisheries committees and other organisations, such as Natural England, the Environment Agency and the proposed marine management organisation.

On fishing and angling, concerns have been raised about the implications of the White Paper for recreational sea anglers. Recreational sea angling is marvellous. It is also estimated to generate at least £538 million a year for the economy in England and Wales. More than 1 million households have at least one member who goes fishing at least annually. These proposals could put the economic and social side of angling in jeopardy because of the planned £12 million to be raised through licensing fees. Recreational angers are responsible people. What benefits would they receive? They already value the marine environment and want to do their part to protect it for themselves and others. It would be an excessive burden to expect them to bear the brunt of the costs when others may be causing the majority of the damage.

Any licensing system would have to be followed up, as recommended by the Bradley review, with measures to increase the weight given to anglers’ requirements. Anglers should not be penalised while there has been little development on reforming other fisheries policies, such as the Minister’s recent U-turn on the minimum landing size for bass.

Furthermore, proposals in the White Paper could also hit the inshore fleet, which is already feeling the strain, further exaggerating the gulf between the under 10 m and over 10 m fleets. That would not be in the interests of integrated marine management.

Mr. Bradshaw: Does the hon. Gentleman support the increase in the minimum landing size for bass?

Bill Wiggin: The Minister has a statutory instrument on that and he will have to see whether we pray against it or not. [Interruption.] Let me elaborate a little on that. Perhaps it was unnecessarily catty of me. The Minister promised something that the anglers felt would be beneficial, but then withdrew that promise. So he deserves more of a bad time than he has had. However, I also question whether the minimum landing size is the most effective way of improving the size of bass that fishermen can catch, or whether the tackle and gear that they use would be a more useful way of dealing with it.

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Martin Salter: I cannot resist coming in on the lack of clarity in Her Majesty’s Opposition’s approach to the minimum landing size for bass. Does the hon. Gentleman honestly think that there is an environmental argument that bass stocks will thrive if we allow people to remove bass at a size before they have reached their optimum spawning potential? Surely that is scientific nonsense and he should follow science, as of course should the Minister.

Bill Wiggin: I am not sure how helpful that intervention is to the Government.

Martin Salter: I am not worried about that.

Bill Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman is not worried about the Government and he is probably wise not to worry about them. He has put his finger on one of the fundamental problems, which is whether the landing size was right. The unfairness element should not be forgotten either—if French boats fishing 12 miles offshore are catching far smaller bass than the ones that our fishermen are discarding, the whole economic and environmental advantage is lost. In some respects the Minister was right to withdraw his change to the bass minimum landing size, but I am not sure that he should ever have started it running in the first place.

On oil and gas licensing, the Government seem content to leave things as they are, despite the Environmental Audit Committee’s recommendation:

That would be inconsistent, as carbon sequestration and renewables would be covered and regulated by the marine management organisation, or are these going to be taken out later on like oil and gas? Who would solve a conflict of priority when a wind farm, oil and gas application or a fish spawning ground all applied in the same area?

Although the White Paper tries to keep the door open to include oil and gas, it is dependent on the forthcoming energy White Paper and a Whitehall Department taking the rare decision to rid itself of some of its powers. The Minister may be happy to let the DTI keep powers over oil and gas licensing, but maintaining the status quo flies in the face of all the other efforts being made to establish for the first time a fully integrated marine licensing regime fit to fulfil long-term sustainable management goals for the marine environment.

The MMO will prepare and deliver marine plans. However, marine spatial planning is another area where there are integration issues. The White Paper proposes that the MMO be the consenting authority for renewable energy installations, but the Government propose restricting this to a certain, as yet unspecified, size. That is on page 58 of the White Paper. Moreover, it also suggests that planning consents for major infrastructure projects will be at the mercy of the forthcoming planning reform White Paper, a document that takes forward recommendations from the Barker and Eddington reports. Aside from a few references to harbours and ports,
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Eddington and Barker all but ignore the marine environment, and I question the Minister’s wisdom in allowing marine spatial planning to be compromised by other, primarily land-based, objectives. Indeed, the marine White Paper should lead the debate on marine planning matters; it should not be delayed by others. DEFRA is being far too accommodating to other Departments and has not learned from the Environmental Audit Committee’s suggestion that it needs to show more leadership.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree with another proposal on page 58 of the White Paper—that the MMO should have oversight of both sea and land applications for permission for offshore renewable developments?

Bill Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We need to have joined-up thinking when marine planning applications reach the shore. That is one of the areas that the White Paper is not sufficiently clear about. It needs to be crystal clear that the MMO will play a part so that there is joined-up delivery as well as comprehensive plans so that people know what they are going to do when they get their power lines to the shore line. It is not that clear.

One thing that we need to know is to whom the MMO will be accountable. Who will it ultimately report to? If more than one agency is involved in a dispute, who will be the final arbiter? Other Departments are responsible for the development of the UK-wide policy statement, so which Secretary of State will argue the MMO case? One of the most important tasks that the MMO will have to carry out is identifying sites of special scientific interest where marine protected areas can be established. So far there is only one MPA in the UK, and that is Lundy island, but there are many other areas that need enhanced protection. On this point, however, the Government appear to be somewhat lacking in ambition.

The White Paper has suggested only that the marine Bill will be used to protect 100 to 130 SSSIs, but there are thought to be around 4,000 SSSIs on land just in England. The words in the White Paper suggest that the marine protected areas will be as small as possible. Is this simply a lack of ambition or is it a line designed to allay the fears of the fishermen? Does the Minister think that it sends out a mixed message on the importance of those areas?

It is recognised that marine spatial plans will need to be regularly monitored, reviewed and adapted to fit changing circumstances and the latest science. What levels of protection are we likely to see? MSPs will have to integrate closely with fisheries policies and reforms, so it is essential that fishermen are involved in the decision-making process. The draft marine strategy is still making its slow passage through Europe and it is essential that the Government pursue the national interest to ensure that our UK objectives and efforts to sustain our marine environment are not compromised by our EU neighbours.

Devolutionary issues have already delayed the production of the White Paper, and I am concerned that they could also continue to delay the marine Bill or that deals will be done without proper parliamentary scrutiny. Is it true that promises have already been made to Scotland
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that the Executive will receive powers over the seabed from the Crown estate as well as jurisdiction up to the 200 nautical miles mark?

For the first two years after enactment, Departments and the devolved Administrations will work on producing a shared UK-wide marine policy statement. Given the importance of the legislation and the cross-party support for the Bill, should the Minister consider beginning work on that document now? The statement could even be ready in time for the Bill’s enactment, thus enabling us to have earlier protection of our seas.

There will be large costs both to the public and private sectors in sustaining the marine environment and they need to be managed and balanced. The regulatory impact assessment in the White Paper puts the cost over the next 20 years at about £500 million, although it is not possible to calculate some of the costs and the estimates may be flawed because they are based on those for land-planning models. Will the costs of producing MSPs and UK policy documents come from DEFRA’s budget or will the devolved Administrations contribute, as the project is UK-wide?

It would be helpful if the Minister could explain the discussions he has had with the Treasury about the costs of managing our marine environment and whether the Chancellor is committed to the marine Bill. Was the RIA rushed for the purposes of the White Paper proposals? Risk and policy analysts and other members of the consortium who prepared the RIA stated:

Over the past few years the Minister has been indecisive on protecting Lyme bay, inconsistent on the minimum landing size for bass and in a quandary over quotas, and he has shown a lack of delivery on the marine Bill. None the less, we can at least agree that we need effective and coherent legislation for the marine environment, because the current system is not working. We all want to see the marine environment managed in a sustainable manner, and we all want the process to begin as soon as possible. A comprehensive marine Bill must be in the next Queen’s Speech.

3.52 pm

Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab): After that rather curmudgeonly response to the White Paper from Her Majesty’s Opposition, may I paint a slightly different picture? I congratulate the Minister, his predecessor and the Bill team, who were responsible for producing the White Paper, on one of the clearest, most comprehensive and well-drafted White Papers I have ever come across. If the legislation that follows it reflects that clarity, we shall have one of the better Bills that Governments of either colour have produced in recent years.

The legislation is certainly overdue; we all wanted it a long time ago, but as the White Paper is so comprehensive that we do not need a draft Bill I hope that we can get on with the full Bill as early as possible
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in the next Session. There is clearly complete agreement that the measure is necessary—even if the Conservatives did not do much about it when they had the opportunity—due to the problems we face at present. Commercial fishing does untold damage, as the report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution illustrates.

There has been no regulation of deep-sea sea-bed trawling or of a whole range of destructive commercial fishing techniques. At the same time, renewable energy projects have been held up for an extraordinary length of time because of our convoluted environmental consenting procedures. It takes an average of three and a half years to get the necessary consents for a major offshore wind farm—double the length of time that it would take in Denmark or Germany—and I doubt very much whether the quality of the final decision is any better as a result of the time taken. In addition, there is considerable duplication of effort in carrying out environmental assessments, which adds to the costs.

Let us think in terms of climate change. Gaining environmental consent is a delaying factor holding us back in the deployment of renewable energy, so if we had been able to speed the process up earlier, we could have had one or two more gigawatts of power generation deployed in the water and could have saved that much more carbon dioxide. The need to speed up the process is a matter of clear urgency and those carrying out environmental assessments need to take a holistic approach and should not be too precious. I guess that it would be difficult to incorporate those requirements directly in the Bill.

One assessment with which I have been partly involved in Northern Ireland was carried out by the Environment and Heritage Service. It not only took a long time, but ended up creating an enormous expense, which a small company could not bear. The whole problem revolved around seals. The machine intended for deployment was an underwater tidal stream turbine, the blades of which turn very slowly in comparison with a ship’s propeller and are of a shape that would hurt nothing other than a jellyfish that came into contact with them. Seals, though, are hardly ever likely to come into contact with them because they are far too clever and would probably use the thing as a playground. The worst that could possibly happen would be a little gentle bruising, after which the seals would not do it again.

The marine ecologists involved, however, had got the idea—contrary to all the evidence presented to them—that this thing was like a ship’s propeller and would mash the seals up. Without political intervention, that project might not have gone forward, which would have prejudiced not only our ability to tackle climate change, but the beginnings of a major new green industry. It is doubly ironic because the seals’ habitat is moving northwards as a result of climate change. Indeed, the biggest threat to the seals in Strangford lough is climate change, because their food species are moving northwards. Another local ecological problem is the loss of the horse mussel species from Strangford lough, which is entirely the result of over-fishing—something that the Environment and Heritage Service has been completely unable to regulate. We must therefore have a sense of proportion in the environmental consenting process and we must streamline it.

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One measure that I would certainly like to see incorporated in the forthcoming legislation is statutory time limits. Just as we have statutory time limits when we are considering planning applications, so we must have them for the environmental consenting process. I wonder whether we should also include the right of appeal to the Secretary of State in respect of decisions that dissatisfy major parties. We need to examine carefully the mechanisms involved. Not all of them could be incorporated in the Bill, yet they need to be clearly understood. We want speed and accuracy.

As well as setting out and researching marine conservation areas, which will be important, it would be useful if we were to start a survey of our marine energy resources in anticipation of the legislation. To the best of my knowledge, that has not been done, but it is important that we know where the best tidal and wave power sites are. When we have mapped those sites, we need to superimpose that map over the prospective marine conservation zone map. There will undoubtedly be areas of overlap, but I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that that would not necessarily be a problem. In fact, it could produce a double-win situation because most of the renewable energy technologies that are being developed for the marine environment are pretty environmentally benign and can be used without undue disruption or loss to the marine environment. However, they could have a great protective effect at the same time because commercial fishing could not take place where they were sited, so those areas would effectively become no-take fishing zones that would offer excellent opportunities for the regeneration of both fish stocks and damaged seabed ecological communities. If the process is properly managed, the conservation and exploitation of the marine environment do not have to be incompatible. I know that the Minister knows my views on this matter, so I hope that they will feed through into the legislation.

I will not detain the House for much longer because I have made my main point. However, I would like to suggest that the Minister might consider allowing us to fulfil another of our manifesto commitments by incorporating in the Bill enabling legislation to provide for coastal access for the public. I know that the Department is behind such legislation because the Secretary of State has made that quite clear. If it were possible to incorporate such measures in the Bill without taking up undue time during its passage, I would be pleased.

I warmly endorse the production of the White Paper and look forward to the final Bill. Such a Bill is overdue and will be one of the most important pieces of legislation that we pass in this Parliament.

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