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There is a common interest between conservationists and the commercial sector to ensure a more productive sea.

9 pm

I turn briefly to the Government amendments that seek to amend and improve the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975. The Environment Agency has just concluded a consultation on the removal of freshwater fish that the Bill allows for. The consultation overwhelmingly came down in favour of a catch-and-release regime for our freshwater fisheries. Henceforth, the archaic, anachronistic system of regional byelaws is to be replaced with a national catch-and-release regime for coarse fish, which is long overdue. Yes, there will be some exceptions for fishery management, predator fishing or conservation purposes, but in their response to the Environment Agency consultation as part of this Bill, freshwater anglers overwhelmingly came down on the side of conservation, and it is to their credit that they did so.

I take issue with the argument that somehow, only Members with coastal constituencies have the right to argue about the condition of our sea. Actually, some of the finest contributions came from my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West and the hon. Members for Broxbourne and for Newbury-constituencies that are a considerable distance from the sea. The sea is a common heritage that we all share.

Given that time is of the essence and that we have other groups of amendments to move on to, I would like the last word in my contribution to go to a trawlerman. Mr. Dave Murphy was a trawler captain for Interfish until two years ago, when he became the outreach officer for the Finding Sanctuary project. He says:

That is what the Bill is about: ensuring that the fish stocks that we value, and that we want to see protected and enhanced and flourish, are there for future generations.

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): I am pleased that my hon. Friend has heard from Mr. David Murphy, who is doing excellent work in developing "Fishermap" for Finding Sanctuary. However, will he urge the Minister, as I should like to do, to issue the ecological guidance necessary for that project to do its work?

Martin Salter: As my hon. Friend bears the scars of the Bill Committee and we shared many hours on this subject together, I certainly commend her remarks to the Minister.

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This is an excellent Bill that is good for fisheries and good for conservation. It needs us to be big people and take on vested interests, and to be prepared to make the arguments for the next generation.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Once again, this has been an excellent debate. To refer to the last point first, I confirm that we are very close to issuing guidance for the criteria underpinning the evidence base and science upon which the partnerships-importantly, they involve fishermen as well-will bring forward proposals for the marine conservation zones. All those interests are working together, and the most notable example is of course the Finding Sanctuary project in the south-west, which is very well advanced. It is a triumph in bringing together a wide range of diverse interests, all of whom, including fishermen, own the solution to these challenges as well as the problem.

Linda Gilroy: Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is a perception that these guidelines might not be issued until as late as next March, and will he please offer an assurance that it will be a great deal earlier than that?

Huw Irranca-Davies: Yes, indeed I can. I cannot give my hon. Friend a date, but I can tell her that we have actively been working on the guidelines for some time to finesse them and make sure that they are the right criteria. I intend to bring them forward a lot sooner than that, but I cannot give her a date today.

I am very tempted, bearing in mind some of the remarks that have been made, to discuss reform of the common fisheries policy and how the UK is leading the agenda, long-term sustainability and maximum sustainable yields, regionalisation and ownership of fisheries management at a regional level, and bringing marine and fisheries together, which much of this debate is about. However, I will not try your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will go straight to the amendments.

First, let me deal with new clause 8 and amendment 44. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) for tabling those provisions, the first of which would require Ministers to

Amendment 44 is broadly similar in its aim, but is linked to the reporting duty in clause 124. There has been much debate during the passage of the Bill on whether Ministers should have a power or a duty to take account of social and economic implications when deciding whether to designate a MCZ. These provisions are slightly different, because they would place a legal duty on Ministers to manage and mitigate the social and economic impacts that follow designation. The impacts of designation will be wide-ranging: they are likely to vary in scale; many different sectors and stakeholders might be affected; and there may be both direct and indirect impacts. These provisions would require Ministers first to identify and then to implement whatever steps are reasonable to manage and mitigate all the impacts.

I am not saying that Ministers, and the other public authorities with a role in MCZs, should not have regard to the social and economic impacts of the decisions that they take-in fact, we have had a lot of debate on that-or that they should not keep those impacts under review and seek to manage and mitigate those impacts
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whenever they reasonably can. I expect that to happen, but I do not want to place a specific legal duty on Ministers for a number reasons.

First, such a duty would be an extremely difficult and onerous obligation to meet, because of the range and variety of impacts to which I have just referred, and because measures to mitigate the impact on one type of activity, for example, fishing, might have a greater adverse impact on other types of activity, for example, diving, recreational activities and so on. In fact, a broad duty to mitigate the impacts on a number of activities, which are not necessarily always compatible, would be impossible to fulfil.

Secondly, a range of public bodies will be involved in managing MCZs. Ministers will take the final decisions on designation, but MCZs will be managed by a number of public authorities, including the Marine Management Organisation, the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities and other public bodies that carry out functions in the marine environment.

Thirdly, I am concerned that under these proposals anyone who disagreed with the Minister's decision would challenge it through judicial review. For example, Ministers could face a legal challenge on their interpretation-I could be challenged on my interpretation-of what would be reasonable steps to take, as well as on their assessment of the scale of impacts, and on whether the measures undertaken were sufficient.

MCZ measures are not, in any event, set in stone. In appropriate cases, designation orders could be varied and byelaws amended. The Bill has been drafted so as to ensure that all those carrying out activities in the marine area-including fishermen-have a chance to be heard and to help form our policy, be it the marine policy statement, marine plans, MCZ designations or byelaws. I also have technical concerns about the drafting of the provision, which does not tie in with the terminology in the Bill. I hope that, in view of the considerable burden that the proposal would impose and the risks involved, my hon. Friend will withdraw the new clause.

Let me move on to amendment 18, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) and seeks to require Ministers carrying out their reporting functions to include information in the reports on the extent to which, in their opinion, MCZs have

The purpose of the reporting duty in clause 124 is to require Ministers to report to the relevant legislature with information on progress being made. The amendment would considerably extend the scope of the reporting duty to include an assessment of the economic consequences of the actions that have been taken. Social and economic implications may be taken into account in deciding whether to designate an MCZ and also in the subsequent management of the site. We will take decisions on which areas to designate on the very best scientific evidence available to us, and we are keen to involve-I hope that I have made this clear-all relevant interests in identifying and selecting those sites.

We also want stakeholders to help us gather the evidence on which to base these assessments, which will
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identify management scenarios, and the associated costs and benefits of the proposed sites. The impact assessments will inform the Secretary of State's final decision on whether to designate sites.

The designation of a network of MCZs is likely to have an impact across a wide range of economic sectors and individuals, and that impact could be both direct and indirect and vary in size. I am concerned that placing a legal duty on Ministers to report on the impact that MCZs have on the marine economy in general, and on commercial and recreational fishing interests in particular, could be difficult and costly to comply with in any meaningful way. Although the high-level or generic assessment of such impacts might not present great difficulties, that could be of very little value when we are considering local and regionalised issues.

That is not to say that the economic impact of designations will be ignored once the sites have been designated. MCZs have been designed to provide protection that is proportionate and able to change over time and that takes into account the wider needs of society. That means that the costs and benefits of any management measures that are introduced following designation should be reviewed by the appropriate authorities so that, if necessary, they can be adjusted and fine-tuned in the light of new information or changes in conditions.

Rob Marris: On the grounds for designation of marine conservation zones, clause 117(7) refers to the "economic or social consequences" of so designating. Will the Minister confirm that those economic or social consequences could be positive and that they are not always negative?

Huw Irranca-Davies: Yes, indeed. That is where the debate has to take us, both now and in future months and years. Although we absolutely recognise the impact that the proposal might have on parts of fisheries, if that is managed appropriately we could also have positive benefits-with activity going either into other types of fisheries or into recreational or scientific opportunities and so on.

Andrew George: Even so, the Minister has perpetually repeated that the Bill represents a balance between conservation and socio-economic factors. The only stage at which socio-economic factors will-or rather may-be considered under the Bill as drafted is at the point of designation. In my view, that should be based on sound science in any case. Is he saying that the balance will not then run through the operation of the MCZs? Will the MMO not be informed of, or even make any kind of assessment of, the impact that these MCZs will have on the coastal economies?

Huw Irranca-Davies: Quite the contrary. Let me make it clear that the reporting requirement in the Bill is there so that Parliament can take a view on how well the duty that it has placed on Ministers to create the network is being fulfilled. There is nothing to stop Ministers including relevant information on the social or economic impact in the reports that they submit under clause 124. Indeed, I can see merits in doing so if relevant information is available. However, I do not think that it would be appropriate to include a legal obligation in the Bill.

Martin Salter: Does the Minister accept that although there might be short-term pain, it could be for long-term gain? That long term might not be too far away. Evidence
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from St. Lucia in South Africa, where marine protected zones were introduced in 1995, showed that in just three years the biomass of that reserve tripled, making a strong economic argument for those who would have opposed it in the first place.

Huw Irranca-Davies: My hon. Friend rightly makes the point that there can be positives as well as negatives in these measures if we manage the marine environment correctly. In fact, we want to reach a point where the positives significantly outweigh the negatives, but that requires an approach such as that which we see in this Bill-a properly planned and managed approach to the marine environment.

Let me turn to amendment 42 and new clause 10, tabled by the hon. Member for St. Ives and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby. They were tabled with the objective of making it a legal requirement that UK and foreign fishing vessels must receive equal treatment under offence clauses in MCZs. The sea fishing defence is a blunt instrument that the common fisheries policy-itself in urgent need of reform-requires us to put in place. The amendments become relevant in the light of my own amendment in this group to create a power for the Secretary of State to restrict or remove the sea fishing defence by order. As I said in Committee and have made clear again today, it is my firm intention that that power should be used in an equitable way. We will not use it to discriminate against part of the UK fishing fleet, as to do so would be to shoot ourselves in the foot.

Neither of the amendments is therefore necessary to ensure fair treatment of UK fishermen. The Government are happy to commit that any exercise of the new power would be made in close consultation with Scottish and Welsh Ministers, the industry, the MMO, inshore fisheries and conservation authorities and many others. All these people and organisations have an interest in supporting a vibrant fishing fleet, and not disadvantaging our fishermen.

9.15 pm

The amendments also have a technical deficiency as they could have a consequential impact on our ability to manage local fisheries matters where, to pick up the point raised by my hon. Friends earlier, we can bring in byelaws, after local consultation, to manage local fisheries impacts. The amendments could bring into doubt our ability to bring in MMO byelaws in the 6 to 12 nautical mile zone restricting sea fisheries activities which apply only to UK vessels, because in practice foreign boats do not and will not conduct the same sort of activity. The amendments would remove that flexibility.

We have the ability actively to manage our inshore area through IFCAs and MMO byelaws in the Bill, and the House has made it clear that it wants to see effective enforcement take place. I would not want to undermine our ability to act where necessary at a local level.

Mr. MacNeil: Will the Minister give way?

Huw Irranca-Davies: We have other amendments to deal with, so I shall make progress.

Amendment 23, which was tabled by the hon. Member for St. Ives seeks to raise the hurdle for fishermen to make use of the defence available in clause 141(4),
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which we have come to know as the sea fishing defence. We must of course treat our fishermen fairly, and in that I completely agree with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's arguments. The Bill is already fair to fishermen in the balance that it strikes. In clause 141(4) it recognises that fishing is a legitimate activity, and a vital part of our economy, not to mention being a provider of employment in places where jobs can be hard to come by.

The fact that I have been regularly called upon, on the one hand, to strengthen the sea fisheries defence-for example, in the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby-and, on the other, have been under great pressure from different quarters to weaken or remove the defence altogether, reinforces my view that we have found the right balance in the current drafting.

Let me reassure the House that where fishermen are fishing in accordance with the relevant rules and take reasonable steps to avoid damaging the site, they will be able to rely on the defence set out in clause 141(4), but when they break these rules, the legislation will not offer them an easy get-out. The common fisheries policy means that we cannot reduce the defence, and it is not necessary to increase it. Indeed, to provide a stronger defence would start to undermine the point of part 5, which is about improving protection for the marine environment.

Mr. MacNeil: Will the Minister give way?

Huw Irranca-Davies: I have so much to get through.

In any event, the amendment does not work. It undermines the offence provision in the Bill, confuses the level of knowledge that a fisherman would need for a prosecution to be brought, and would almost certainly constitute a breach of our common fisheries policy obligations. For all those reasons and more that I do not have time to explain, I urge the hon. Member for St. Ives to think carefully and withdraw the amendment.

Amendments 28 and 29 were tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), my predecessor and a great supporter of the Bill. Together, the amendments would significantly narrow the geographical area within which a defendant could claim the sea fisheries defence in clause 141(4). That would mean that the defence would not be available out to 6 nautical miles. It would also mean that the defence would not be available in those waters between 6 and 12 nautical miles where there are no historic fishing rights for vessels from other member states. However, the defence would continue to be available in most of our waters between 6 and 12 nautical miles, and in all waters beyond 12 nautical miles.

The reason for including the sea fisheries defence in the Bill was to avoid breaching European law. The amendments are consistent with that purpose, and I am satisfied would not lead to a breach of European law. However, my concern is that they would complicate matters for fishermen and enforcement authorities without delivering any significant conservation benefits. They would also have an impact primarily on UK fishermen. However, throughout the passage of the Bill we have been clear that as a matter of principle we do not want to discriminate against the UK fleet. Doing so would still leave marine conservation zones vulnerable to the activities of foreign vessels.

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