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Only this month, the RSPB published a report entitled “Birds of Conservation Concern 2009”, which I am sure the Minister is aware of. It lists three new seabirds that have now joined the roseate tern—a pretty rare bird—on the red list, denoting high conservation concern. Amazingly, the herring gull has appeared on the red list for the first time. Members might find that strange, given that we have only to go out on to the Terrace of this place to see them, but we should all be aware that birds that seem to be common can suddenly become rare. In fact, the population of the herring gull has more than halved in recent times. The arctic skua has also
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joined the red list, as has the critically endangered Balearic shearwater. We need to be conscious of these developments.

In considering the marine conservation zones, we need to think hard about the socio-economics. There will be areas in which that aspect is not so important; it will depend on what is of importance in each one. However, I believe that the reference to socio-economics during the designation process should be removed and that site selection and designation should be based on nature conservation criteria alone. If a site is important for wildlife, it should be recognised as such. It would be more appropriate to take socio-economic considerations into account later in the process, when the site management is being determined.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the avocets on Two Tree Island on Canvey Island in my constituency. Does he agree that we need to be very careful about how we deal with the salt marshes and mud flats that people might want to go to?

Mr. Randall: Of course, but the salt marshes are not part of the marine environment; they are already catered for. I remember seeing a cream-coloured courser on Two Tree Island quite a few years ago. That was the last time that I was in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

The marine protected area network must include highly protected sites, where all extractive and otherwise damaging activities are prohibited. Such sites would be able to recover from the effects of past exploitation, and would give important and necessary breathing space to our marine wildlife, providing a refuge from damaging human activities. I am pleased that the Bill provides for the management and enforcement of the zones, but as the hon. Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire has just pointed out, disturbance must be considered as an offence as well. That is an important matter that we need to look at; otherwise, there will be a huge gap in our ability to manage the zones. Feeding dolphins or resting sea ducks, for example, can be easily disturbed, and that fact needs to be taken on board.

The House has been battered by a storm in the past few weeks. Anyone who has gone bird watching after a storm will often have seen a variety of seabirds being pushed on to the shore, tired and exhausted. They are normally referred to as wrecks of seabirds. Looking around the Chamber, I am afraid that we are feeling a bit like that ourselves. So, in the coming weeks and months, when we get away from this place and, briefly, from our constituency work, I would urge all hon. Members to take time to go down to the sea—or perhaps to go to sea—where they can forget the worries of the world, breathe in the salty air and enjoy the solitude. That will put everything into perspective and, when we come back, we will be invigorated. I look forward to seeing improvements to the Bill, and to improvements in all our health.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am pleased to announce to the House a degree of quantitative easing. The time limit on Back-Bench speeches can be extended to 12 minutes.

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7.29 pm

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I welcome the extension you have just granted, but whether my voice is going to last out even for 10 minutes, let alone 12, I do not know. It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall). It was on Second Reading of his Bill that I made my first speech on these issues—at rather too great length, if I remember correctly. I believe that hon. Members were starting to worry that I was in the Chamber to filibuster, but no such thing—I was just celebrating the rich contributions of Plymouth, Devon and Cornwall. I do not intend to repeat them at any length on this occasion, but it is still so good to be here with not one, but two things promised in our election manifesto of 2005.

It was a particular privilege to serve on the Committee of both Houses on the draft Bill. I have heard various Members, including the hon. Member for Gosport (Sir Peter Viggers), suggesting that powers that should be in the Bill are not there, while others have suggested that we could have got there more quickly. The truth is that there is still more finessing to do on this particular Bill. We could go on for a very long time, but much of that finessing has already been done in the other place on the draft Bill and by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. It is a better Bill for all of that. Issues were teased out in the various scrutinies of last year, and the Government have accepted many of them in their response.

The interest shown in the Chamber today demonstrates that this is not only a better Bill for all that scrutiny, but an exceedingly popular Bill. We will all remember “petition fish” coming to the House. It was an elaborate petition, fish-shaped and constructed in the form of scales, and it contained 170,000 signatures. As the Government response to the various scrutinies of last year noted, and as the Secretary of State acknowledged, there were 15,000 representations about the Bill. In response to our particular scrutiny alone, there were 1,000 postcards from members of the Ramblers Association, more than 2,000 from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and many from Friends of the Earth. Quite a significant number of individual non-campaign contributions also came in—from people in academic and research areas, energy supply, environment, fishing, heritage, local government, NGOs, ports, public bodies and sport and recreational organisations. That just demonstrates the complexity of the Bill, as it needs to deal with many competing tensions. If they did not exist, we might not need the Bill, but we certainly do need it—and we now need it urgently.

The goal is ambitious, and rightly so. The high-level marine objectives that underpin the marine statement, “Our Seas: a shared resource”, lay out a vision that I recommend to those who have not yet had an opportunity to look at it. Many have mentioned the state of our seas and coasts at the moment, but this lays out a vision for the future. “In twenty years”, it says,

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It further notes:

well, we hope they will; they had better be—

Clearly, it is ambitious, and rightly so.

The high-level marine objectives also describe how the five principles of sustainability will underpin what is achieved through the various measures and the coming into being of the marine management organisation. Those five principles are: achieving a sustainable marine economy; ensuring a strong, healthy and just society; living, of course, within environmental limits; promoting good governance on all of these issues; and, as others have mentioned, using sound science responsibly, which is very important.

Let me move on to the different parts of the Bill, some of which will need improvement. The marine management organisation is the key delivery agency, so it is a landmark organisation. Many Members and many outside the House will view the MMO as a champion.

My enthusiasm for the Bill is such that I hesitate to introduce a controversial note, but the choice of Newcastle as the venue remains a pretty incomprehensible decision as far as many of my constituents are concerned. Frankly, I have come to the conclusion that it might be better leaving the location where it is. As the Minister knows, Plymouth was very keen to be the host for the MMO and there was, of course, a KPMG report, which informed the Minister’s decision. He will know that I have studied it probably at least as carefully as he has. It seemed in the end to come down to an empty DEFRA building. I know that there may have been more to his decision than just that report, but I believe that Liverpool should probably be as annoyed as the south-west. I am not even sure whether the building is going to be used, and I know that very few staff of the 100 or so that have already been mentioned—perhaps as few as one in 10 if my understanding is correct—will actually be moving north. That certainly puts at big risk the core of the Marine and Fisheries Agency staff already there who have significant expertise and skills. That considerable critical mass of expertise is at risk of loss, so I am sure that the Minister has plans to mitigate that—but I wonder at what cost.

I have suggested to the Minister that one way of making up part of the loss would be the development in Plymouth of an enhanced MMO satellite unit. There are outposts of the MFA at present—about 18, I think, around the country, and one of those is in Plymouth. I hope that the Minister and the chairman and chief executive will give serious consideration as to how to draw on best practice, which is the sort of thing we in the south-west are so rich in. I do not think that its extent and scale in the south-west can be rivalled anywhere. We have already mentioned Finding Sanctuary, which is at the cutting edge of what is happening. Our science is probably about three times up on the scale in comparison with the north-east. The Devon maritime forum, furthermore, has pioneered the way forward in resolving
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all the tensions between the different uses and, of course, the Tamar estuaries management is simply second to none.

Moving on from that slightly controversial note, the other parts of the Bill deal with marine planning, marine licensing and the framework that the MMO will be responsible for introducing. On nature conservation, we have already spoken about the need to look at the representations on securing a coherent network of environmentally sustainable zones, using sound science and getting the right balance on the socio-economic aspects. As far as managing the marine fisheries is concerned, the new inshore fisheries and conservation authorities will have strengthened conservation duties, as introduced in the other place. That is a good thing. There is also a part of the Bill to deal with migratory and fresh water fisheries and important aspects of enforcement. Some issues about cross-warranting may still need to be teased out.

These aspects are followed by excellent provisions on coastal access. I heard the reservations of Opposition Members, but the truth is that the third of the coast that has not thus far been designated could have been dealt with voluntarily a long time ago. It is a well-trodden path—forgive me for using that phrase—but when “voluntary” does not succeed, the Government need to bring in provisions to encourage the rest.

The Bill is needed and there will be some lively debate on it. The Bill is also popular. It is predominantly a framework Bill. There are issues concerning resourcing, the relationship with the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the role of the science. Some of the work has been done in the other place but there remains much for this House to do in Committee. The next few weeks promise to be as productive as this time last year when we were discussing the Climate Change Act 2008, a groundbreaking and landmark piece of legislation. So, too, will be this Bill, and I will take a keen interest in it between now and when it returns to this Chamber in its final stages.

7.40 pm

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): It is a great pleasure to take part in the debate and to follow the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), who obviously followed the matter for some years before I became a Member. The Bill is extremely welcome. The setting up of the MMO, whatever the shortcomings in detail, is to be welcomed as are the protection zones. Other Members have raised issues as to whether the zones give sufficient protection in some cases, but I hope and am confident that Ministers will be open minded in Committee, as I know they have been in the other place, in improving what can be landmark legislation.

My constituency covers an area of North sea coastline in east Yorkshire, from Spurn Point to the village of Atwick, north of the seaside town of Hornsea and along the Humber to the city of Hull. The Bill will affect many of my constituents, especially those living in the immediate vicinity of the coast itself. I would like to focus the majority of my remarks on the coastal access provisions in this Bill, which is perhaps the area of greatest interest to local residents.

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Nobody doubts that England has some of the most beautiful coastline in the world. It is one of our most recognised assets as a nation and a source of great pride. Nobody living in this country is ever more than about 60 miles away from the coast and that is something that should be celebrated. Some 72 million trips are made to the undeveloped coast each year and 174 million trips to seaside towns, such as Withernsea and Hornsea in my constituency, which is a remarkable statistic for a country of just 60 million people. I support attempts to increase public access to the coast, so long as it is done fairly and with due consideration for those families and businesses already residing there. I do not believe that the Bill has got the balance right.

First, I would like to look at the issue of coastal access as it stands. Seventy per cent. of the English coast is already accessible. Of the millions of people who visit coastal areas each year, only 9 per cent. walk for longer than an hour or for more than 2 miles. An Ipsos MORI poll conducted in 2006 found that half of the English public do not visit the coast frequently and according to the Country Land and Business Association, 85 per cent. believe that they already have adequate access to the English coast. The right to roam laws brought in by the Government have not led to an overwhelming increase in the number of visitors, despite new access to mapped areas of mountain, moor, heath land, down land or registered common land.

Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): I suggest that the reason no more than two miles of coast is walked at any one time is because two and a half miles is the maximum continuous access available to most parts of the coast bar the south-west.

Mr. Stuart: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. The south-west has been mentioned, as has south Pembrokeshire by the hon. Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger) who is no longer in his seat. In both those cases, the success of the voluntary efforts was highlighted. It was pointed out, however, that various authorities would like greater powers; that is hardly a surprise. Authorities always want greater powers so that they can impose their political vision on those who have to put up with them. We have made great progress and a voluntary approach, backed by suitable Government funding, can make a huge difference without abrogating the rights of landowners.

Mr. Gray: To correct one point, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) has got her figures quite wrong. There is no proof at all that two and half miles is the longest stretch of coastline accessible throughout the rest of England. That is simply not the case; it is much longer than that. More interestingly, since the passage of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, the number of walkers going on to CROW-access land has fallen considerably. Far fewer people today are going on to the land than before the Act was passed.

Mr. Stuart: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. The coastline that I know best is in my area and there are extensive walks along it from Spurn Point upwards and along the east Yorkshire coast.

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It is against this background that we must look at the impact that the Bill will have on businesses, homeowners and landowners up and down the English coastline. I would like to raise with the Minister the issue of the coastal access reports, which will be compiled by Natural England and handed to the Secretary of State. Having grudgingly accepted the need for a right of appeal mechanism, which is to be welcomed, the Government now need to set out how it will work in practice.

On Report in the other place, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath said that Natural England must advertise a coastal access report and take reasonable steps to give notice of the report to those with a relevant interest in affected land and to certain bodies. What does that mean? How will affected landowners be informed if the proposed pathway cuts across their property? Will they be written to, or will they have to pick up the news some other way? If they feel that Natural England’s proposals fail to strike a fair balance, how long will they have to make a representation to the Secretary of State? If the planning inspectorate, or whoever the appointed person is, recommends that the proposals are fair and proper, will the objectors have the right to appeal? Will the Minister spell out how that would work? The role of Natural England is extremely troubling. As the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee warned last year,

Determining the make-up of the route is going to be an onerous and complex task. [ Interruption. ] I think my phone has just made an emergency call. I apologise to the House. That is the problem with the BlackBerry. As the Committee said,

I wish BlackBerry would get its software right so that phones do not make emergency calls when sitting in your pocket.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Stop digging.

Mr. Stuart: I thank the Government Whip for his intervention.

Many mistakes have been made in the past. There were 3,000 appeals against the mapping following the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, when DEFRA and the Countryside Agency were given responsibility to deliver a right to walk freely on access land and 2,000 of these appeals were upheld. Why have local authorities not been given a formal role in the process? Some concessions have been made but Lord Hunt said in the Joint Committee in the other place that

Local authorities should have been the Government’s first choice for mapping out the pathway, and they should have received the funding with which to do so. They would have done so informed by local accountability to their electors. They have the local knowledge, contacts and expertise that Natural England lacks. As Lord Taylor of Holbeach said, excluding local authorities from a formal and influential role will deny the route the necessary infrastructure to turn it from an expensive quirk that is used only by the extremely determined to a national resource that provides enjoyment for many.
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How will the route operate without sensible access roads, adequate parking, and co-ordinated public transport, and how can these be provided except by proper involvement of the authority responsible for them?

The issue of compensation is one that has come up time and time again. The Government have said that they will not be setting up a compensation scheme for those who lose out financially because of the pathway. This seems to go against the accepted opinion of many. The Select Committee issued a report last year which said that

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