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I should like to add on behalf of the Liberal Democrats that we are very pleased that the Government have made these concessions, especially as we had been very keen on the need to disapply notification
requirements for those under 16. We wanted to make the periods involved less draconian and to ensure that there was protection against notification requirements where there was a flagrant denial of a persons rights, so I am very pleased that we can support the Government in these amendments.
Ian Pearson: The amendments to part 5 fall into two categories. One creates a clear, statutory basis for challenging decisions under the UN terrorism orders and the other decisions to which the part now applies. The other expands the scope of the part so that it also applies to freezes made under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 freezing orders, and to decisions made under the new provisions inserted by Lords amendment No. 127.
Damian Green: We on the Opposition Benches also agree with these amendments. I take this opportunity to remind the Minister of what I said a few minutes ago about previous financial changes that have been made. First, consultation is very important, although it clearly did not happen before. Secondly, the fact that these changes must work in practice clearly goes hand in hand with the point about consultation. The last thing that we should be doing when passing legislation that has not had the full degree of scrutiny in both Houses is to find that it does harm as well as some of the good that is intended. I very much hope that the Minister will take that on board as he implements the changes in the months ahead.
Chris Huhne: We on the Liberal Democrat Benches also support these amendments, and I, too, should like to reiterate a point of key importance that I hope the Economic Secretary will take back to the Treasury. It is that there is a very substantial difference between the sort of legislation that the Treasury normally proposes and a Bill such as this. The Treasury is used to bringing forward financial legislation with potentially market-sensitive consequences: it tables it at the last minute, then waits for the screams before amending it in Committee. That style of legislation may be appropriate for a Finance Bill, but it is an enormously different matter when the Government come forward with proposals that involve a criminal offence and locking people up for as long as two years.
These proposals involve many associated changes in legislation, but the Treasury has got them through this Chamber and the Lords on a curtailed timetable similar to that used for financial legislation. If the Treasury is
considering introducing this type of legislation again in future, I hope that it will do so in a rather more leisurely, orderly and considered manner than it has with these proposals.
Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments Nos. 2, 3, 106 and 133: Mr. Vernon Coaker, Damian Green, Chris Huhne, Steve McCabe and Phil Wilson; Mr. Vernon Coaker to be the Chairman of the Committee; Three to be the quorum of the Committee. [Mr. Ian Austin.]
Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): I wish to present a petition on behalf of more than 10,000 residents of Cornwall. Living in a rural county they fear that the proposals in the pharmacy White Paper could jeopardise their local GP practices. The petitioners request that the House urges the Secretary of State for Health to take steps to protect the rural dispensing of medicine, particularly in the Duchy of Cornwall.
The Petition of residents of Cornwall, and others,
Declares the Petitioners concern that the Pharmacy White Paper could result in many rural practices having to stop dispensing medicines to their patients; and further declares that the dispensing of medicines by such practices is often vital to patients who live in more isolated areas.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Health to protect the rural dispensing of medicines.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): Through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank Mr. Speaker for allowing me this opportunity to bring the question of the Lymington river to the attention of the House almost a year after I first raised it. Complex technical and legal matters are involved, so to dispose of the business in the time available, there will have to be a measure of simplification.
The mouth of the Lymington river is bounded by the Solent marine conservation area, as designated by the habitats directive. The New Forest district council coastal protection team believes that, at the current rate of erosion, the salt marshes that constitute the special conservation area will not survive another generation. In 1991, HR Wallingford was commissioned by the Lymington harbour authority to investigate the erosion consequent on the existing Wightlink ferry service between Lymington and Yarmouth. The company reported the extent of the erosion and predicted that it would continue, as has now transpired. The erosion had been noticed at the time by the then harbour master, and I mention in passing that it strikes me as extraordinary that the regulators were prepared to live with that, rather than take action to deal with it.
Mr. Swayne: The new ferries have almost 76 per cent. more water displacement, and the jet thrusters used to propel them have almost 200 per cent. more horsepower thrust. Those jet thrustersquite different from the conventional screw propulsion systemsare largely directed at the bed of the river, gouging it up and leaving the spoil to have to be dredged and dumped out by the Needles. In addition, they have 84 per cent. more windage. Windage is a complicated term, but essentially it means that for a significant amount of the time, those thrusters are pointed directly at the banks of the salt marshes, leading to a much faster rate of erosion.
To implement the new ferries, Wightlink believed that shore works would be required so that they could be berthed and loaded. A planning application therefore had to be made, and that application will be determined by New Forest district council and the Marine and Fisheries Agency. Those bodies will be guided in their determination by Natural England, based on whether there will be any adverse impact on the special area of conservation. The Marine and Fisheries Agency decided that an appropriate assessment must take place to establish whether there will be an adverse impact.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con):
Does my hon. Friend not accept that, owing to open port duty regulations, the only reason that would prevent Wightlink from using the new ferries on the Lymington river is
that they are unsafe? Despite extensive sea trials and investigations, no evidence has been produced to suggest that they are, or that there are any substantive environmental impacts.
I made it clear from the start that, for a number of reasons, I was not satisfied with the appropriate assessment. First, it excludes from the equation important areas of policy that will be affected, not least the leisure yachting industry in Lymington, which has a huge impact on the economy of Lymington, and the implications for traffic through the New Forest national park consequent on the greater capacity of the new ferries. In addition, under the appropriate assessment, there would be no public consultation.
The collection of data for the appropriate assessment is being carried out by the consultants BMT SeaTech, under the supervision of the Lymington harbour commission in its attempt to design the safety parameters in which the ferries can operate. However, hydraulic measurements to establish safety are wholly different from the hydraulic measurements that are needed to establish whether there is an adverse environmental impact. I was never persuaded that the right measurements would be taken, never mind how those measurements would be interpreted.
My third reason for being suspicious of the appropriate assessment arises from the way in which Natural England decided to interpret the regulations. It seems to me that Natural England is measuring adverse impact as incremental, additional damagethe extra damage of the new ferries, over and above that caused by the existing ferries. That runs counter to both the spirit and the letter of the regulations. The existing ferry service is accountable to article 2.2 of the habitats directive, which requires maintenance and restoration of a favourable conservation environment. I do not believe that that is happening, although it is supposed to be happening now, while the existing ferry service is in place.
The new ferries constitute a plan or project under regulation 48 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994. As such, they need to be judged in their own terms, and not against the old ferries, which do not constitute part of that plan or project. As far as I am aware, the old ferries have a long life ahead of themat least another 13 years. For all those reasons, I believe that a full environmental impact assessment is a better way forward than an appropriate assessment. In that, I am supported by New Forest district council, the elected local authority.
I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) for at least keeping the door open to the possibility of an environmental impact assessment. In his written answer to me of 13 October, he said that
a number of related environmental issues need to be considered, potentially with an environmental impact assessment.[ Official Report, 13 October 2008; Vol. 480, c. 938W.]
The Minister has left the door ajar; I want him to open it and go through it, because the situation has changed
dramatically. On Monday, the Lymington harbour commissioners were informed by Wightlink that it no longer requires the shore works to which the appropriate assessment was attached. Furthermore, it has judged that the ferries are safe to operate, notwithstanding the fact that Lymington harbour commissioners are still conducting the sea trials. Wightlink has therefore unilaterally declared that it will implement the new service in December, without asking permission from anyone.
Mr. Swayne: I understand that; I just happen to disagree with it, as will now unfold. Wightlink will pursue the option that I mentioned without seeking permission from anyone. I ask the Minister to perform two actions. First, will he make contact with his ministerial colleagues in the Department for Transport to establish fully the legality of what Wightlink is proposing to do, and what the powers of the Lymington harbour commissioners are? If they do not have the power to overrule Wightlink, there does not seem much point in having harbour commissioners.
To come back to a piece of legislation to which my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) drew my attention, my understanding is that Wightlink believes that its absolute right to use the ports is consequent on the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847. The Act was put in place to ensure that shipping could continue to trade after the great storms that had washed away so many of our harbours. Ships had moved further up river because of the disappearance of the harbours, and many people were denying the ships access.
I have been briefed on legal advice to the effect that under the existing ferry arrangements, Wightlink is responsible for some 22,500 ferry movements a year, which stands well outside the parameters of the 1847 Act. If Ministers were prepared to take the matter to court, the Act would be overturned in respect of the port of Lymington, as it has been for other ports, under existing case law. That is the first action that I ask the Minister to take.
The second action is on the environmental impact assessment. Now that the appropriate assessment option seems to have disappeared, I should like him to initiate a full environmental impact assessment. Notwithstanding the fact that there are now to be no shore works, I have no doubt that the option of the environmental impact assessment remains with him, because Natural Englands advicebased on the legal advice that it was givenwas that Wightlink proposes a plan or a project, and the European Commission is clear in its advice about the interpretation of the habitats directive. It says:
The term project should be given a broad interpretation to include both the construction works and other interventions in the natural environment,
I am not anti-ferry, and I want there to be a thriving ferry service between the ports of Lymington and Yarmouth, because it is vital to my constituents and to those of my hon. Friend. But a lot of fear has been floating about, and people have been saying that Wightlink has made it known that it does not intend to renew the safety licences of the existing ferries after next springin other words, Wightlink has said, There wont be a ferry service unless you accept these new ferries. It has
now gone further, effectively saying, It doesnt matter what you do; were going to implement the new ferries.
The Lymington to Yarmouth route is a profitable monopoly. Wightlink has invested a significant sum in the project, and I just do not believe that there is any prospect of Wightlink walking away from it. I therefore believe that we should call its bluff. Wightlink is owned by Macquarie, which has form. It has gained the most aggressive reputation for the way in whichhow can I put it charitably, Madam Deputy Speaker?it pursues the interests of its shareholders with a singular vigour, and it is time for Ministers to call Macquarie to order.
I believe that, had there been a marine Bill, we would never have been in this position, and I hope that there will be a marine Bill in the Queens Speech, because it will certainly have my support. We do not have a marine Bill, and we will not get one in time for Lymington, but I believe that, under existing regulations, Ministers have the power to act, and I am here tonight to ask them to do so.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): I congratulate the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) both on the passionate and extensive way in which he has set out the case on behalf of his constituents, and on the way in which, since I have been a Minister, he has been persistent, consistent and diligent on behalf of his constituents on a wide range of related issues. As he said, he is not necessarily anti-ferry, but he wants a proportionate way forward, and to deal with very significant issues regarding the potential environmental impact.
The debate is very timely because of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and because of developments that I shall come on to. By the end of my contribution, I hope to have dealt with all his points and given clear and categorical assurances about what we consider to be the way forward to reach the right outcome not only on the environmental issues, which are close to the hon. Gentlemans heart, to those who have worked locally with him, and to my heart, because it is a very beautiful and precious part of the world, but on the economic and social interests that are linked to the ferry.
It may be helpful if, in part of my contribution, I set out how we have got to where we are and how we can take the matter forward. I shall also deal with some of the hon. Gentlemans comments on how the issue has developed in literally the past 24 hours. That will also give me the opportunity to talk not only about the area but about the Governments commitment to protecting our biodiversityour variety of species and habitats. That is very close to the Governments heart as well as to his.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned that the salt marshes and mudflats at the Lymington estuary are internationally designated as part of the Solent and Southampton Water special protection area for birds. They constitute a Ramsar site, and are part of the Solent maritime special area of conservation; they are also part of the national sites of special scientific interest series.
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