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19 Apr 2007 : Column 533

I do not think that the recreational sea angling sector is wholly hostile to the idea of a rod licence. However, as other hon. Members have said, given the problems that sea anglers have faced for a long time, which have been caused by other sectors and our collective failure to manage this precious marine resource, they are entitled to see some improvements first. I would urge all hon. Members, in a cross-party spirit, to go ahead with the power to create a sea rod licence. However, we should be very clear about the pre-conditions and circumstances under which such a licence would be introduced.

Sea anglers have to recognise that the freshwater sector is better able to make demands of the Government by virtue of paying for a licence and having an automatic involvement in stakeholder groups and other representative bodies. Many members of the sea angling sector realise that “no pay, no say” is, in part, a problem for that sector. Sea angling licences exist in many other countries, in particular the United States.

Recreational sea anglers in this country must also realise that the enforcement of conservation measures to protect the fish that they wish to catch costs money and that revenue streams need to be created. However, we need to give them confidence that the marine Bill that will follow from the excellent marine White Paper will put measures in place to protect fish stocks.

I shall conclude with a few final thoughts. Why do we not go further than the provisions in the marine Bill and create a golden mile—an area, let us say for argument’s sake, a mile from our coast, free of commercial exploitation and inshore netting, where only recreational sea angling is permitted? That approach has already been adopted in Yorkshire and the north-east and is producing tremendous results, not just for the recreational sea angling sector, but for commercial fishermen, who are enjoying better fishing as a result of better and more productive spawning grounds. If we protect that area, it feeds the food chain, supports spawning and recruitment, and increases biodiversity.

Mr. Randall: rose—

Martin Salter: I will give way, but very briefly.

Mr. Randall: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is far more expert on the subject than I am, but what about shellfish? Does it not live within that mile, and would his proposal not kill off the shellfish industry?

Martin Salter: It is entirely possible to exclude shellfish from other forms of fishing in the area. That may be an issue that the Minister wants to refer to when he sums up. The vast majority of recreational sea angling takes place within a mile of the shore. In fact, it takes place very close to the shore, or actually from the shore. Why do we not go further than the Minister suggests on the bass minimum landing size? The bass is a wonderful sports fish species. It can be caught by bait fishing, by spinning and by fly fishing, and it is wonderful to eat.
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People will spend a lot of money to come to communities that enjoy good bass fishing or have good bass fishing grounds. We should not be arguing about 40 cm; 42 cm is the better size for protecting bass stocks, in terms of the optimum spawning size. We should be moving as quickly as possible to 45 cm, as the recreational sea angling community have argued. I urge the Minister to be bold when it comes to protecting our fish stocks, to be proud of the White Paper, and to be careful with the introduction of the sea rod licence. If he does all that, he will have the enduring support of the recreational sea angling community, and he will write himself at least a footnote in history.

5.27 pm

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): It gives me great pleasure, as the Member for Bolton-by-the-Sea, to be the last Back Bencher to contribute in the debate. I was born near the sea and went to school in Southport, which is almost on the sea. Some 70 per cent. of the earth’s surface is covered by sea. We have sailed the sea for centuries and we have used the sea for recreational purposes for as long as man has lived near the sea. We have gathered wealth from the sea, in the form of food, minerals, and latterly of course gas, oil, sand and aggregates. It amazes me that despite that, we know so little about the sea. Why is that? Man is devoting himself to reaching other planets, and to exploring the mineral wealth of the moon, at huge cost, yet we know so little about the sea.

Below the sea, there must be some mineral wealth, and it is currently unexplored and unexploited. I am a great advocate of learning more about the sea, and the theme of my short speech is that I would like the Minister to persuade his colleagues to promote more research so that we can find out more about that unknown quantity. It is one of the last frontiers that man needs to explore. If anyone is in any doubt about the mysteries of the sea, they need only look at the beautiful photographs published only a few weeks ago of the unique organisms that have crept out below the melting ice caps, organisms that have never been seen by the naked eye before. We know nothing about them, but their outstanding beauty makes me wonder how on earth they managed to evolve below the ice cap, in such adverse conditions.

Talking of adverse conditions, I have always had a fascination with how life began. There is no doubt in my mind that it came out of the sea. Life began in such adverse conditions that we need to explore its beginnings. Beneath the sea, there is volcanic activity. Unbelievable organisms that rely on sulphur compounds for their existence have evolved in that adverse environment. It is my estimation that if we learn about how those organisms live and have evolved in such adverse conditions close to volcanic eruptions in the sea we might be able to learn something about the way in which we crept out of the sea during the evolutionary process.

A self-styled maverick scientist called Craig Venter, who will be well known to right hon. and hon. Members, is crossing the seven seas in his yacht, Sorcerer II, on a global ocean-sampling expedition, with the aim of sampling the DNA of as many sea organisms as possible. Perhaps he is doing so purely for enjoyment, but he tells us that he is doing it, too, for
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commercial reasons. Some of those organisms may result in new drugs. Some of them may tell us how to absorb carbon dioxide and turn it into other carbon products that will not pollute the environment. Perhaps, too, some of those microbes and other sea organisms can tell us how to turn chemicals in the sea into hydrogen for energy production. That is why Craig Venter is exploring the sea on his yacht at this very moment, sailing all the way round the world.

I am pleased that in his very good presentation the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) referred to the carbon cycle of the sea. The Royal Society published a report about the acidification of the sea in 2005, and it is essential reading for the Minister and all his team. On land, photosynthesis takes place—carbon dioxide goes into plants and oxygen comes out—and, as a result, we have the biodiversity of plants. The carbon cycle is much more subtle in the sea, we are told, and it is beginning to fascinate scientists. First, in the warmer upper layers of the sea surface, phytoplankton and other similar organisms take in carbon dioxide. The food chain includes whales and smaller fish—I am not suggesting that a whale is a fish—and all the fish in the sea take in phytoplankton, so there is a trickle-down of carbon from the surface to the sea bed, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, that helps to form all the calcium organisms such as coral and shellfish and everything that lives at the bottom of the sea that relies on that subtle carbon cycle.

Approximately 200 years since the industrial revolution, however, the sea has absorbed 50 per cent. or half of all the carbon dioxide produced by our industrial processes. It is becoming more and more acid, as has been pointed out. In fact, there has been a 30 per cent. increase in hydrogen ions, which provide a measure of acidity, since the industrial revolution. The Royal Society report predicts that this century, if we carry on like that, the concentration of hydrogen ions in the sea—in other words, its acidity—will treble. In a man’s lifetime, that absorption of acidity by the sea is completely irreversible—there is nothing that we can do about it, as the Royal Society highlights. The only way to reduce the risk is to stop carbon dioxide going into the sea in the first place. As well as arguing about climate change, greenhouse gases and the warming of atmosphere, we must make people realise that carbon dioxide in the sea will ruin it within a century if we do not stop burning fossil fuels.

In its final recommendation, the Royal Society report concludes:

I am pleased that the Select Committee on Science and Technology, of which I am a member—three other members have spoken in the debate, which is also pleasing—has embarked on a report on marine science, because it will help the Minister and his colleagues to draw up the Bill that we have been discussing. We had an enjoyable time in Plymouth and we have thanked the scientists we met there for the remarkable things that they showed us. We are bound for Lisbon before the summer recess to go on board one of the few ships currently exploring the sea. I want to flag up with the Minister something that the Plymouth scientists told
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us, which is that now fewer ships are engaged in research at sea than have been for a long time. I believe that the ship we will see in Lisbon is a new one, but I ask the Minister to look into the matter on behalf of those scientists.

We are also to visit one of the most exciting oceanographic laboratories in the world, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. It is on Cape Cod, which is not a bad place to visit, but I am sure that we will see little of Cape Cod. Woods Hole submersibles have gone the deepest of any submersibles and it was Woods Hole that photographed the Titanic and the MV Derbyshire.

People said that the MV Derbyshire just split and went down in two parts. I joined the MV Derbyshire campaign group when I entered Parliament in 1997 because I was convinced that the crew had been wrongly accused of negligence leading to the sinking of the MV Derbyshire in typhoon Orchid, when the vessel was bound from Canada to Japan carrying iron ore. I give credit to the maritime trade unions, which hired Woods Hole to take photographs of the MV Derbyshire, two and a half miles down on the sea bed, revealing that it had broken into 1,000 parts. Had those photographs not been taken, we would not have been able to reopen the public inquiry and prove why the ship went down, killing the entire crew. Including two women who were the wives of crew members, 44 people died on MV Derbyshire. That inquiry, which my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister reopened some years ago, absolved the crew of any responsibility for the disaster.

The disaster led to improved ship safety. I am pleased to have steered through the Marine Safety Act 2003, but I give credit to the late Lord Donaldson for previous improvements. The Conservative Government also deserve some credit. They were under pressure to act as a result of three major sea disasters, which polluted the sea and coast around Britain to a remarkable extent. Everybody has the Torrey Canyon disaster embedded in their mind, but there were two other incidents at about the same time. The two important reports that Lord Donaldson produced led to the British Government passing legislation that resulted in UK having the best sea safety record of any country in the world. We should be proud of having achieved that, whoever was in government at the time. However, there were two loopholes in that legislation, which my private Member’s Bill helped to plug, I am pleased to say.

I want to give my hon. Friend the Minister time to respond to all the points made during the debate, but before I sit down I implore him to take a look at the marine science and research that is going on now. To be frank, there is not enough. I am sure that, as we explore marine science in detail, the Science and Technology Committee will find that out. There are tensions between the research councils—between the Natural Environment Research Council and the Medical Research Council, between NERC and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and between NERC and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. Those tensions should not exist. If everyone worked together—Research Councils UK is supposed to be solving the problem, but has not done so yet—we would learn a lot more about the sea.

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We have been told that earth observation is very important in looking at phytoplankton, which are at the beginning of the carbon cycle in the sea, and the red blooming algae that are so toxic to fish, and to human beings if they come into contact with them, and will poison shellfish if they get anywhere near. We can use satellites to observe those processes. We can see how many phytoplankton and red blooming algae are in the sea around the coast of Great Britain. Earth observation—of course, that includes observation of the sea—is very important now and will become more so in the next 10 to 20 years. In the course of our investigation, the scientists have already told us—and we have only been to Plymouth—that there will be dead periods of earth observation because we have not planned to put up satellites carrying out this important research work to replace those that will shortly die.

We have the Royal Navy and the merchant vessel fleet. There are hundreds of ships sailing in and out of our coastal ports every day, and they are such a valuable resource for scientists. I mentioned the shortage of boats that the scientists spoke to us about. I put it to the Minister, as they put it to us in Plymouth the other day, that we should ask the Royal Navy and the merchant fleet whether we can use them increasingly to explore the secrets that I am convinced that the seas are still holding from us.

5.41 pm

Mr. Bradshaw: With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker. It has been an absolute delight for me, as the Minister responsible for the marine environment, to open and to listen to the debate. Despite the nature of the Whip today, we have heard some extremely good speeches from some of the House’s most respected and well informed Back Benchers, which is gratifying. I should like to respond to them in turn.

Let me begin with the timing of the proposed marine Bill and the publication of the White Paper, which has been at the front of many Members’ minds and is one of the reasons why we were keen to have this debate at this time. I am as keen as anybody else that we should have the legislation as soon as possible; indeed, as has been pointed out, it was a manifesto commitment by the Labour party at the last election. We are still less than two years into a Parliament, and I am confident that we will deliver on that commitment during this Parliament. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) said, it is almost more important that we get the legislation right than that we get it quickly. I listened carefully to hon. Members’ representations in that regard. I encourage them to make similar representations to other parts of Government and to everybody else who has a role to play in decision making on the legislative timetable and content. It is important that all parts of Government are well aware of the strength of opinion not only in this House but outside it. We have had thousands of letters from members of the public calling for the Bill, and it is probably no exaggeration to say that for many people it is the top legislative priority as regards the environment after the draft Climate Change Bill.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) encouraged us to go further, as I am always much more open to encouragement to go further than to go less far. However, we all have to face
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the fact that there will be trade-offs in the marine area; that is partly why we need the Bill. If we do go further, I suspect that we will be facing down some of the hon. Gentleman’s traditional supporters in the commercial sector, and I look forward to that happening.

The hon. Member for Leominster made one or two criticisms of the Government’s record, especially on Lyme bay. It is important that he recognise and that the House understand that our measures last summer to protect the special biodiversity of Lyme bay will protect 90 per cent. of known sea fans. It represents an area of protection that is seven times greater than what was previously protected. However, we are open to any more up-to-date research and evidence that suggest that we should have gone further. Indeed, we will consult soon on statutory implementation of the protection that is already being offered to Lyme bay on a voluntary basis.

Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman that no promises have been made about changes to the devolution settlement under the marine Bill. We have received no requests, formal or otherwise, from the devolved Administrations for any changes and, as the White Paper makes clear, we are proceeding on the basis of the current devolution settlement. As I said in my opening remarks, I greatly hope that, after the elections in Wales and Scotland, we will continue to make progress and not get bogged down in diversionary arguments about who controls what where. We all acknowledge that providing the protection as quickly as possible is the important matter.

My hon. Friends the Members for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) and for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) made important points about the marine environment’s potential to help us fulfil our renewable energy commitments and reduce the impact of climate change. They are right to point to the marine Bill as being extremely important. Although they are right that developing offshore renewable energy has been slow, some welcome progress was made in the past few months, despite the efforts of one or two local authorities to slow the process. The London Array, Greater Gabbard and Thanet wind farm schemes have all been approved.

However, we hope that the rationalisation of the licensing regime, for which the marine Bill will provide, will make it easier to develop not only offshore wind but all marine renewable energy schemes more quickly. All one has to do is look at a map and a meteorological map of the United Kingdom to realise that we are blessed with great potential for renewable energy in the marine environment.

It is important that hon. Members begin to focus on some of the trade-offs between the overwhelming strategic imperative on climate change and some of the traditional conservation approaches to the marine environment. We have not yet given enough thought to whether not only our domestic but our European legislation, which was devised in a different age when climate change was not such a high priority, is fit for purpose. I hate that phrase, but I think that hon. Members know what I mean when I say that we may need to examine some of that to ensure that it is delivering what we want.

One hon. Friend suggested that we conduct a proper audit of the potential for offshore renewable energy. I believe that the Sustainable Development Commission
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is doing exactly that. We expect it to report this summer. The Government will, of course, study the report with great interest.

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) was worried about the potential for “departmentalitis” to slow the process. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who went through the bruising experience of trying to get a marine Bill through the House, realises the complexity of the process. It is obvious that, given the scale of the challenge and what we are trying to achieve, different Departments will have different interests. However, we have worked well with colleagues from the Department of Trade and Industry and other Departments in developing the policy in the White Paper. To be frank, the discussions with the devolved Administrations more than those with other Departments meant that we had to spend more time than we would have liked on policy development. I hope that I can allay the hon. Gentleman’s concerns—perhaps he will take that message back to his constituency and his colleagues in Wales and urge them to continue to engage constructively in the process.

The hon. Gentleman gave kind praise for our work on whaling. We are quietly confident that our lobbying this year may have succeeded in the anti-whaling countries regaining a simple majority on the International Whaling Commission when it meets next month. I hope that that is the case; it will all depend on how successful the Japanese have been on the other side.

The hon. Gentleman was slightly unfair to criticise the Prime Minister, who did, after all, along with Sir David Attenborough, sign the foreword to DEFRA’s wonderful publication, “Protecting Whales”, which has been very effective. I am sure that the Prime Minister has lost no opportunity to raise the issue of whaling; he is certainly urged to do so by us. I read yesterday that the Icelandic Prime Minister has said that, partly because of international pressure from the UK and the damage being done to Iceland’s tourism, the Icelandic Government have not yet decided whether to continue with their recent resumption of commercial whaling. I take that as a promising sign, but as I said in my opening speech, I hope that all hon. Members, not just Ministers, will use every opportunity, on parliamentary visits and so forth, to press this message home, not only to the whaling nations but to some of the other nations that do not take such an active role in the International Whaling Commission as we do.

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