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26 Oct 2009 : Column 115

If my right hon. Friend's amendments were accepted, it would mean that the sea fisheries defence was available to fishermen in some areas, but not in others. The defence would always be available in relation to offshore waters beyond 12 nautical miles, but never available to inshore fishermen operating within 6 nautical miles of baselines around the coast. Between 6 and 12 nautical miles, the situation would be very confusing. Within those waters, fishermen would need to possess a detailed knowledge of the historic fishing rights enjoyed by all foreign vessels. For all those reasons, I do not think that the amendment is absolutely necessary, and when I come to the Government's amendments I shall explain why.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby tabled amendment 24 to make it clear that, where a fisherman is pursuing his or her trade in a reasonable way, they should not be guilty of an offence under byelaws made under clause 139 or under the general offence set out in clause 140. I assure my hon. Friend that the Bill already provides the effect that he wishes to see. Clause 141 provides that where a fisherman causes damage while fishing within the law and the damage could not reasonably have been avoided, he is entitled to the defence in that part of the clause. In fact, it is arguably a slightly broader defence. The Bill speaks of damage that could not reasonably have been avoided, whereas my hon. Friend's amendment would provide a defence only if the damage could not have been avoided at all-whatever the cost in time, money, or perhaps even safety. There are other reasons why I have issues with the amendment, but I hope that I can assure my hon. Friend that the Bill already contains the protections that he seeks.

I turn now to sea fisheries defence and Government amendments 5 and 9. In the light of the very persuasive points that were made today and in Committee, I shall move amendments 5 and 9, which future-proof the Bill in anticipation of the reform of the CFP. The amendment to clause 141 would give a power to the Secretary of State to restrict or remove the sea fisheries defence in subsection (4). It is necessary to include that defence in the Bill at the current time in order to comply with European law, but I have considered the concerns that were raised in Committee. We are currently-right now-pursuing the greater integration of fisheries and environmental policies for the forthcoming round of common fisheries policy reform negotiations. As I said at the outset, the UK is leading the way.

The future status of the defence is dependent on the outcome of discussions that are currently under way, but its purpose is to enable us to provide the protection that marine conservation zones need, in compliance with the common fisheries policy, so the associated amendment to clause 311 would ensure that the power was exercised by means of a statutory instrument, subject to an affirmative resolution. That is important, because removing the defence will mean amending primary legislation and, in effect, widening the scope of what is considered to be criminal activity.

The amendment would give the order-making power to the Secretary of State, who has responsibility on behalf of the UK for negotiations on fisheries matters with partners in Europe. However, I know that the devolved Administrations have a keen interest in how and when the power would be used. Consequentially, it
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would be exercised only following early and close consultation with Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Ministers. Appropriate arrangements would be agreed with the devolved Administrations and incorporated into a concordat that is being developed on how the separate Administrations will work together to deliver the nature conservation aims of the Bill.

Many people have spoken about amendment 17, which relates to white herring fisheries. The amendment would remove from the Bill the repeal of the remaining sections of the White Herring Fisheries Act 1771. The hon. Member for St. Ives, who has added his name to the amendment, raised the issue in Committee on 7 July. I undertook to write, as he said, and I did so over the summer. My letter of 4 September confirmed the Government's view, which we still hold. Although I heard all the views expressed today and am not an unreasonable man, I still hold the view that the 1771 Act should be repealed. I recognise that some in the fishing industry, particularly those in Scotland, remain concerned about the potential impact of its repeal. Let me explain.

Clause 229 repeals a number of old fisheries enactments, including the 1771 Act. The effect of the repeal in Scotland will be rather different from that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, because in Scotland the repeal will have little effect, as the relevant rights are effectively covered by the Scottish Fisheries Act 1705. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the repeal will remove the remaining rights set out in the 1771 Act.

Only fishermen who are employed in the white herring industry are entitled to the rights of free access to natural ports and harbours for curing fish, erecting tents and huts and drying nets. Repeal of the 1771 Act is appropriate because there is no longer any good reason why one group of fishermen should enjoy a benefit that no others have. The Act was designed to encourage the white herring fishery of the 18th century, and our view remains that that purpose, and the policy behind it, is no longer relevant.

Let me add why we are repealing the Act, rather than simply leaving it. Hon. Members will agree that redundant legislation should not be left on the statute book to gather dust. The 2006 Davidson review looked at where outdated legislation could be scrapped, simplified or consolidated in line with the principles of better regulation. It identified 30 such fisheries-focused Acts and recommended that DEFRA should use this Bill to repeal out-of-date primary legislation and to consolidate much of the rest. In response to the review, it was decided not to undertake a wholesale review of fisheries Acts, but to identify those that should be repealed through the Bill. Nine such Acts were identified, of which six, and part of another, were put forward for repeal. I understand people's concerns about this matter, but those concerns do not apply to Scotland because of the 1705 Act. Indeed, they apply only to fishermen who are fishing for white herring.

Finally, on Government amendments 13 and 14, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) for proposing a similar amendment in Committee. I was not able to accept it, because the wording did not quite achieve the end that he and I both desired, but I am pleased to bring it back now in a form that is fit for purpose. The amendments add section 22 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 to the list of sections to be repealed. Quite simply, that section
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is obsolete-first, because it bans the sale of salmon and sea trout at the wrong times of year. The dates in section 22 originally mirrored the close seasons for salmon and sea trout, but, over time, the Environment Agency has used its powers to move those close seasons to more appropriate dates, and the two are now out of kilter.

Secondly, section 22 is obsolete because its contribution to the Environment Agency's fight against poaching has been overtaken by powers under the Salmon Act 1986. I could go on, but this section is a classic example of out-of-date legislation that should be repealed. With those comments, which were slightly rushed, but comprehensive, I hope, I urge hon. Members to withdraw their amendments and accept the Government's amendments as good improvements to the Bill.

Mr. Austin Mitchell: I do not intend to prolong the debate, but I am surprised by the amount of passion against the fishing industry that has been roused in the breasts of Members who represent urban constituencies that are scores of miles from any fishing port in the country. I shall not go on, because there would be a big educational job there, about the £6 billion a year contribution that the fishing industry makes to our economy. I will say, however, that I was very happy with the Minister's reply. My main intention, in defending the interests of the industry in this way, was to get him to undertake certain commitments that he has wholeheartedly given.

I am disappointed by the Minister's response on the white herring legislation, because it leaves Scotland, once again, in a privileged position. The Scots have their own white herring Act and the protection that it gives, whereas that legislation will be removed from English fishermen. That is another advantage of devolution in Scotland. Joking aside, I am happy with the commitments that the Minister has given, and I am grateful to him for giving them, because they recognise the importance of fishermen. With those comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Andrew George: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. We have had some good debates so far, and we are about to enter into a debate on a very significant element of the Bill-in fact, many people consider it central-on marine conservation. We have only half an hour left for that debate, yet tomorrow we have debates on matters that several of us consider to be less significant, if important nevertheless. Can you use your offices, or find some means through the usual channels, in order that the debate on marine conservation can be extended on to tomorrow's Order Paper?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Unfortunately, these matters are not in the hands of the Chair. To be honest, points of order like that simply take time out of the debate at this stage of proceedings.

Clause 117

Grounds for designation of MCZs

9.30 pm

Ms Katy Clark: I beg to move amendment 3, page 78, line 32, at end insert-

'(d) the marine ecosystem as a whole.'.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 16, page 79, line 8, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

Amendment 1, page 79, line 9, at end insert 'only where-

(a) a choice exists between two or more potential MCZs of equal ecological value; and

(b) to do so does not hinder the achievement of the objective in section 123 to create a network.'.

Amendment 43, page 79, line 10, at end insert-

'(7A) In considering the setting of the conservation objectives for the MCZ (under subsection 2) the appropriate authority shall have regard to the economic and social consequences of doing so; particularly in respect of traditional or long established marine activities.'.

Amendment 2, in clause 123, page 82, line 18, at end insert-

'(d) that the network includes highly protected sites.'.

Amendment 19, in clause 125, page 85, line 26, at end insert-

'(11A) In carrying out its duties under this section a public authority must have regard to the social and economic consequences of its acts.'.

Amendment 22, in clause 126, page 86, line 42, at end insert-

'(10A) In carrying out its duties under this section a public authority must have regard to the social and economic consequences of its decisions.'.

Amendment 20, in clause 130, page 88, line 39, leave out '(7)' and insert '(8)'.

Amendment 21, page 89, line 6, at end insert-

'(4A) In drawing up any byelaw under this section the MMO must have regard to any social or economic consequences.'.

Ms Clark: It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I wish to speak to amendment 3, which I tabled. It would amend clause 117, which deals with the grounds for the designation of marine conservation zones. The amendment relates to the Minister's power to order that a zone should be designated as an MCZ. The Bill enables the Minister, where he or she finds it desirable, to create an MCZ for the purposes of protecting and conserving flora and fauna, our marine habitat, and features of geological and geomorphological interest. The amendment would strengthen the Bill by enabling the Minister to create a zone to protect the marine ecosystem as a whole. We are no longer in a position whereby we can regard our sea as an unlimited renewable resource. As most of us know, the intervention of humankind has not only caused significant depletion of our fishing stocks but led to the degradation of all sorts of other forms of marine life. The amendment aims to strengthen the range of circumstances in which an MCZ could be designated.

I have personal experience of this matter in that for 15 years in my constituency there has been a significant campaign for an MCZ in Lamlash bay. Earlier this year, it was announced that there would indeed be an MCZ, but there has since been a great deal of frustration at the lack of progress towards that proposal becoming a reality. The organisation Coast-a community-based campaign in my constituency with more than 1,800 members-has been campaigning for an MCZ, and the work that it has carried out shows the difficulty that there is in obtaining such zones.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Ann McKechin): I thank my hon. Friend for her comments and commend the work of the Coast group on the Isle of Arran. It has done much good work in trying to create a community initiative on marine conservation. I will be happy to meet her and the group's members if that would be of assistance to them in brokering progress as regards their very good work.

Ms Clark: It would be of great assistance; I appreciate the Minister's comments.

Coast proposes that the whole bay should be considered as a conservation zone. At the moment, there is only a no-take zone in part of the bay. To assist hon. Members, a no-take zone basically means that there can be no fishing, whereas in some marine conservation zones fishing is allowed in particular circumstances. Lamlash bay is the first zone of its type in Scotland. We have already heard about the experience on Lundy, where there has been an MCZ since 1993.

This is not a problem for Britain alone-it is worldwide. Similar debates are taking place in countries throughout the world. South Africa has already taken the decision to designate 20 per cent. of its territorial waters as marine protected areas. I understand that it has already achieved 18 per cent. In Australia 40,000 square miles of the great barrier reef are designated as a marine reserve. Country after country have taken steps in that direction, but we have been slow to go down that path. The Bill is a significant development, and I welcome the fact that we will soon be getting legislation on the matter.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): I have been looking forward all day to speaking on this group of amendments, and I congratulate the hon. Lady on hers. Given the disgraceful guillotining of the Bill, it is unlikely that many of us will be able to speak tonight. Will she at least give us the comfort that she intends to press the amendment to a vote when the time comes?

Ms Clark: I will listen very carefully to what the Minister has to say at the end of the debate, but I agree that it is a great shame that we have such a short time to debate these issues. It is a complete underestimation of their importance. I will keep my comments relatively brief to enable other Members to come in.

Marine diversity is not about one particular type of fauna, flora or fish. We are facing a situation in which our whole marine ecosystem is under threat. We have to recognise the scale of the problem not just by passing the Bill but in the steps that we take thereafter, to ensure that we get a network of marine conservation zones to protect the whole marine ecosystem.

Often, steps are taken to provide protection for fashionable types of creature, and some of the most important types of ecosystem might be protected, but the reality is that the world we live in and the marine environment are interlinked and interwoven. The consequences of the ecosystem deteriorating are significant for all of us. We debate climate change and other environmental issues regularly, but we often do not give marine life the attention that it deserves. Unless we ensure that we have a significant network of marine reserves, we will all be under threat.

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I will listen carefully to what the Minister says. I would like an explanation of why the Government believe the amendment is not necessary, and I want assurances that this Government or any future Minister will be able to do whatever they can under the Bill's current wording. Many of us feel that the amendment would be a significant improvement and extend the range of circumstances in which an MCZ could be created.

Mr. Benyon: I congratulate the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark) on tabling the amendment. Right from the start, we have supported an ecosystem approach to the designation of marine conservation zones, and we believe that the amendment would provide further options for designation.

In Committee, I was opposed to attempts to require the designation of a defined percentage of our seas, and I stand by that position as I want the Bill to be effective. It would be easy for any Government to achieve a particular percentage by designating relatively benign or uninteresting parts of the sea. We want an ecologically coherent network of MCZs to be implemented as quickly as possible.

I am inclined to support amendment 3, as it leads on from that original proposal in a more sensible way. It would not serve to upset the balance that has been achieved between socio-economic and environmental considerations, and if it is pressed to a vote, we will support it.

Mr. Austin Mitchell: I shall not detain the House long, but I am concerned to introduce the principle that the existing social and economic interests of fishing communities be a dominant consideration in deciding on and running MCZs. The embryonic science that could underpin a scientific basis for designation does not exist-we do not know enough about the marine environment and the science is not strong enough. Therefore, a science-only approach is not going to work-it needs to be supplemented by a concern for safeguarding the interests of coastal communities, which have a special interest in keeping the fishing industry going and in fishing in such areas.

In other words, the science is uncertain, but fishermen's livings are clear and certain, and they need to be taken into account. Amendments 16, 19 and 21, which I tabled, simply emphasise the importance of the social and economic interests of existing fishing communities and the fishing industry in the zones. To my mind, that must be a dominant and important consideration, but it is not in the Bill.

Mr. Gummer: I rise to support amendment 3, which has been moved by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark). The first reason is that to talk about the zones without talking at this point about ecosystems misses the point-it does not make the vital point that the system is a central part of a sensible conservation measure.

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