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The White Paper confirms the Government’s decision to create the new marine management organisation to carry out the functions outlined in the White Paper, which will materialise in the Bill. I welcome that. It will come as no surprise to the Minister that I have taken a close look at the proposals set out in Chapter 8. They envisage that the new organisation will be a centre of marine expertise, will provide a consistent and unified approach, will deliver and improve co-ordination of information and data and will reduce administrative burdens. The integration proposed will provide benefits from joined-up delivery and economies of scale that could not be realised by placing those functions in separate organisations. It will need a professional and proactive marine manager trusted by all stakeholders to contribute to the sustainable development of the marine area. The MMO will be charged with developing forward-looking marine plans, which others have mentioned,
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and with providing a sound framework for the sort of decision making within streamlined licensing regimes mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead). It will be charged with expert marine fisheries management, proportionate nature conservation and the effective, fair and consistent enforcement of regulation.

I do not expect the Minister to respond to this today, but it will come as no surprise to him when I say that in looking for a base for the proposed new MMO he should look no further than Plymouth. Plymouth has experience in all the areas of responsibility that we have been talking about today. We have a regional development agency that gives very high priority to environmental and spatial strategy issues. As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, its strap line for everything is “Its in our nature”. Plymouth has a university that is commanding growing respect and reputation as an engine house of scientific research and knowledge transfer as well as learning. Its city council has ambitions for Plymouth, which it is realising through the Mackay vision for the built environment but, more important, in planning terms it has a local development framework which is well ahead of the field, is recognised for its excellence and has received awards. Plymouth has an economic development plan that envisages the development of the marine and health industry, science and engineering as key strands of our economic development to be carried forward by a new city development company.

We also have a chamber of commerce led by Mr. Mike Leece, who received an OBE for his services to marine and shipping matters. He delivered the National Marine Aquarium and was formerly head of the company running our naval dockyard. What greater centre of expertise could one hope to look for?

I have been proud, for three years running, to host exhibitions in the Upper Waiting Hall. The first was in 2005 on that Mackay vision. In 2006, Plymouth marine science and engineering was celebrated and in 2007 many hon. Members will have visited the exhibition entitled, “The Oceans and Climate Change" developed by Plymouth Marine Laboratories and other members of the newly formed partnership. I can conclude on no better note than saying to my hon. Friend the Minister that I hope that in the not-too-distant future I will be able to apply to host an exhibition of the new Plymouth-based marine management organisation as champion and custodian of our unique UK marine environment.

5.2 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): It is a delight to be taking part in this debate, although I have to say that for a Thursday afternoon there has been a little bit of curmudgeonliness on both sides and some party political barracking, but I put that down to the season.

There was some discussion about previous legislation. On page 123 of this excellent White Paper hon. Members may care to note some of the out-of-date and redundant fisheries legislation, which attracted my eye. It includes the White Herring Fisheries Act 1771—sounds like a bit of a winner—and
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the Seal Fishery (North Pacific) Act 1895, which was obviously superseded by the Seal Fisheries (North Pacific) Act 1912. It was

So I do not think that the House has been inactive in this sort of legislation.

I would have liked to say that I had a small part in marine legislation, but unfortunately the Marine Wildlife Conservation Bill (failed) was defeated down the other end, as it happened, in the other place. When I introduced that private Member’s Bill I thought perhaps rather naively as a relatively new Member that it was a simple idea to replicate in a marine environment the protection that we have on land for sites of special scientific interest. How wrong I was. I then realised how complex the marine environment in all senses of the word really is, all the different competing interests and activities that go on in it, the different Departments that have responsibility for it and so on. I got a flavour of the conflicts that were possible between Departments as each tried to promote the best interests of the areas they represented. I am sure that that continues. Although many of us think that the proposals are late in arriving, I appreciate the amount of work carried out by DEFRA on producing the White Paper.

We all agree on the importance of our seas and oceans in every respect, and realise that the marine environment can no longer be seen as a dustbin or an inexhaustible supply of resources, especially fish. Sustainability is the key and we cannot endlessly pillage those resources. The Minister and others have mentioned the Government’s work on cetaceans such as whales and dolphins, and I pay tribute to the Minister and his two predecessors for that. The Ministers dealing with those matters have shown much sincerity, although I do not for one minute suggest that Ministers with other responsibilities do not have the same degree of sincerity. However, I always have the impression that Environment Ministers are keen to get things done.

In discussion of these matters, those of us who do not have a coastal constituency are sometimes regarded as second-class citizens. When I introduced my private Member’s Bill, even the Hillingdon Times said, “Saving the marine environment—in Uxbridge?” as if that was an awful thing and a waste of the Member for Uxbridge’s time. However, we all care about the marine environment; whales and dolphins are a classic example. They are not cuddly animals, but on a list of animals regarded as—

Mr. Bradshaw: Iconic.

Mr. Randall: The Minister supplies the ideal word. People want to protect those animals.

The White Paper is pretty good and it involved a huge amount of work. I have a reputation for sometimes being a bit of a grumpy old man—although I may have been outdone today in certain quarters—but normally I am quite patient, as we have all been up to now. However, there is a great sense of restlessness; we want the marine Bill done and dusted so I hope the measure will go ahead.

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I realise that other Members are keen to speak, so I shall briefly mention only a few other things. We need to protect nationally important marine sites, referred to in the White Paper as marine conservation zones, and we have had some discussion of them. The White Paper recognises that some sites will need to be highly protected—that is, safeguarded from all damaging activity. There has already been some reference to the small number of such sites. Page 70 of the White Paper suggests that about 130 marine protected areas will be designated. I would add the word “only”. The calculation is based on 30 European sites designated under birds and habitats directives and 100 additional sites, which gives rise to a number of questions.

Given that everyone acknowledges the paucity of data about where the important sites in our seas are, how did the Government arrive at what seems a fairly arbitrary figure? Are they right to imply that 130 is the optimum number? I realise that the Government accept the point, frequently made by non-governmental organisations and many others, that the UK seas are hugely important for wildlife, but a network of only 130 sites is much smaller than the network of protected sites on land, where there are about 4,000 sites of special scientific interest in England alone.

Can the Minister clear up the worrying suggestion on page 70 that the network should cover as small an area as possible—

Mr. Bradshaw rose—

Mr. Randall: I am sorry. I will correct that—as small an area as necessary.

Mr. Bradshaw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clearing up the earlier exchange: it is a very important distinction.

Mr. Randall: There is still a slight implication that it must be constrained as best it can. Wildlife in conservation areas under the seas—apart from creatures on the sea bed—is going to move around a lot more, so we need to be flexible about that, particularly if we want to meet nature conservation objectives. I would like to probe the Minister on whether the calculations in the White Paper might be too restrictive and whether such a network would meet the Government’s conservation objectives for the marine environment. If more marine conservation zones are necessary to meet those objectives, will they be designated? The White Paper says that the full network of protected marine sites will be designated by 2020. That seems a long way off, particularly as the years roll by. By 2020, I will be a very grumpy and very old man!

As I said earlier, however, now is an important moment for this White Paper. I hope that it is not just the Government ticking a box to say that they have produced a White Paper on the issue. It is highly important that the White Paper becomes a Bill and then an Act, so that we can eventually provide protection for our valuable marine environment.

5.11 pm

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): It is always a great privilege to be called to speak on any occasion, but particularly so for me today, which is my
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birthday—[Hon. Members: “Ah”.] Clearly, the marine environment was a subject close to my wife’s heart when she presented me with a birthday present at 7.30 this morning. It was a book, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”—an iconic study of an interesting project, which some of my colleagues will recognise as a literary masterpiece. It was a welcome birthday present and I intend to continue the same theme of the marine environment in my speech.

I support much of the marine White Paper, which I and many colleagues on both sides of the House have long campaigned for. I particularly want to deal with measures to protect the marine environment, to improve fish stocks, to stop the over-exploitation of our inshore waters and, of course and inevitably, I want to extol the benefits of recreational sea angling. I also want to sound a note of caution for the Government in respect of any attempts to introduce a sea angling licence and deal with the preconditions necessary to make such a licence acceptable to the recreational sea angling sector.

I should also declare that, from time to time, I advise the Minister for Sport and his colleagues on angling matters. I am particularly grateful for the guidance, support and assistance of people such as Richard Ferre, chairman of the National Federation of Sea Anglers, John Leballeur, chairman of the Bass Anglers Sportsfishing Society, and Leon Roskilly of the Sea Anglers Conservation Network.

The marine environment is a precious resource and we all have a duty to protect it, to help it develop and to help to sustain it. I very much echo the comments of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall). Uxbridge, like Reading, does not have a lot of coast, although as global warming and climate change continue, we may both have more than we want. As the hon. Gentleman said, we all have the right to take an interest in and to comment on the marine environment and we all have a duty to protect it.

The Labour party manifesto of 2005 included a commitment to a marine Act to

Before that, the strategy unit in Downing street produced marine stewardship reports, the first of which was entitled “Safeguarding our Seas”. Again, it shared this vision of clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse ocean and seas around our coasts. Clearly, there is political commitment and fine words, which we need to turn into practice. I believe that the marine White Paper, “A Sea Change”, is a definitive document, which points the way forward for introducing a new framework for managing the seas.

The Minister in his contribution drew attention to the alarming decline in fish stocks globally. Some 25 per cent. of all species are depleted, or, in other words, at risk, and 52 per cent. are fully exploited. No one wants to see a collapse in fish stocks, as happened—this was referred to earlier—on the Grand Banks in Newfoundland, which was once one of the world’s finest cod fisheries. That collapse, which was a result of greed, commercial exploitation and short-sightedness by the commercial sector, had a devastating impact on the fisheries and fishing communities that
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depended on the Grand Banks. They have still not recovered, despite stringent and vigorous efforts by the US and Canadian Governments.

I sometimes despair at the short-sighted approach of a number of those in the commercial sector, who set their faces against every attempt to introduce sensible conservation measures to ensure a sustainable fishery. It was rather regrettable—all Members will share my sadness on reading the press reports—that not only was the president of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations in court a while ago for breaches of quota and submitting false returns, but so was the chairman of that organisation. That organisation will quite virulently attack the Minister and any other Member who stands up in the House and has the courage and foresight to put forward arguments in favour of the conservation of marine species. Perhaps the NFFO needs to put its own house in order before rushing to make judgments.

Coming back to the worrying statistics that the Minister shared with us, it is simply not sustainable to have 70 per cent. of global fish stocks either depleted or fully exploited. The marine Bill, or most of it, will be particularly welcome for recreational sea anglers. In particular, they will welcome the commitment to establish marine conservation zones in order to aid the recovery of rare or threatened species, and to protect spawning grounds, areas where marine species gather and are vulnerable to commercial exploitation, and, quite rightly, features of particular geographic interest. They welcome the proposed reform of sea fisheries committees. The committees have not had sufficient representation from the recreational sea angling sector. Recreational sea anglers especially welcome the strengthening of enforcement powers to tackle the abuse of conservation measures and widespread illegal fishing, including, in particular, coastal netting. Currently, the sea fishery committee that covers the Essex and Kent area and is responsible for hundreds of miles of coastline has just two fishery protection vehicles—covering all that coastline, all the estuaries, and all the sea out to the 6 mile limit. If our fisheries are to be sustainable and enhanced, they need better protection. There is a resource implication, but there is also a legislative argument to be borne in mind.

I want to turn to the benefits of recreational sea angling. Why should anybody worry about the recreational sector? Why should any politician worry about it? Well, there are a million people involved, and they vote. That is probably a good reason. The hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) rightly drew attention to the fact that the sector is worth £538 million in England and Wales alone and makes a contribution to the UK economy of £1.3 billion annually. In employment terms, there are about 20,000 people involved in the recreational sea angling sector alone. A healthy and vibrant recreational sea angling sector provides a huge economic benefit from tourism as well as social benefits. That compares fairly favourably with the commercial sector, which sucks up about £90 million in Government support, which equates to something like £10,000 per full-time fisherman. I do not begrudge that support, but, financially, we need to put both sides of the argument.

There is talk of introducing a sea licence. People need to bear it in mind that commercial licences are
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issued free of charge to trawlers and boats for commercial fishing. They are then sold on. How I would love it if the £24 that I paid for a freshwater rod licence enabled me to be part of a private club. I could then sell the licence on in 20 years to my children or grandchildren, if I have any, for £5,000, £6,000, £10,000 or £15,000. That is what happens at the moment. There is no revenue stream from the issuing of commercial rod licences to fund the enforcement and management measures that we need. The licences are sold on from father to son and from friend to colleague. That is not a modern, 21st-century regime, so the situation needs to be resolved.

I can do no better than to cite a quote received by my colleague John Leballeur from the Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society:

free of charge. It continues:

when others do not do so. I hope that the Minister will bear those representations in mind.

Let us consider the thorny issue of licences for sea anglers. If I were to go trout or salmon fishing, I would pay a substantial amount for a rod licence, as would be the case if I were to go freshwater fishing or coarse fishing. Ironically, the licence is one of the more popular taxes. When the former Leader of the Opposition proposed getting rid of the freshwater licence, there was a howl of opposition because anglers are not stupid. Freshwater anglers realise that no Government will fund the £15 million for fisheries work and the enforcement functions of the Environment Agency through any other method, and certainly not with a direct Treasury grant. The proposal was thus quietly dropped.

The Government have probably gone a bit further in the White Paper than the commitments that we gave in “Labour’s Charter for Angling 2005”. I know these things because I helped to write it —[ Interruption. ] Of course, I was grateful that the Minister endorsed the document. The charter said:

The document also said that we would need

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