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We have for too long believed that we can take bits out of the natural order of things and protect them, and not think about the total system. I must tell the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) that to say that not knowing enough about something means that we should not do it is a very frightening concept. We
would actually never have taken any conservation measures, because the truth is that the less we know about conservation, the more we may be doing very serious damage.
In fact, we have done a huge amount of work, as a result of which the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran has moved her amendment. The Government will have to explain extremely carefully why they do not want what is so obviously a necessary addition. Indeed, not to go for the ecosystem approach is to ignore all the sensible views of environmentalists, because the amendment would remind us of the real nature upon which the species that we are seeking to protect depend.
I hope very much that the Government, at this last moment, agree that the measure is a necessary step. If they do not accept the amendment, many people outside this place will believe that they have gone only halfway to understanding the issues before us. The measure is a natural addition and I hope that they accept it. If they do not, I hope there is a Division in which the House supports what is a crucial part of the defence of our marine habitat.
Paddy Tipping: It is a great pity that there is such a limited amount of time to talk about marine conservation. It lies at the heart of the Bill and has been discussed throughout the Bill's passage, which has been an awful long time.
Amendment 1 is about the importance of socio-economic criteria in deciding MCZs. The amendment would make it clear that socio-economic factors should be taken into account only when they are the final factor in deciding between two zones.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark) and the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) made strong cases for a network of marine sites-a holistic approach-and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) talked in very blunt terms about science. May I draw the Minister's attention to a letter about the importance of science that her colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who has responsibility for the marine and natural environment, wrote to the Wildlife and Countryside Link on 22 October? He said:
"I would like to reassure you that science will be the first consideration in the selection process. When considering potential MCZs, only when the ecological requirements of the network would be met in such considerations, will the Regional Projects be able to consider whether, and if so how, to factor in socio-economic considerations to their decision making".
Paddy Tipping: I am grateful that the Minister has put that point on the record, because it reinforces the importance of science in the designation of MCZs. I hope that she will ensure that the four regional areas that will make MCZ proposals will look closely at her words, because a discussion of the Irish sea regional project said:
"The project must balance protection with the interests of commercial fishing, shipping, oil and gas extraction, the aggregates industry"-
and so on. That does not imply, however, that it should be science and the designation of the marine landscape that is most important. Will the Minister ensure that her words are heard by the regional bodies? In particular, will she make it clear that any draft guidance that goes to those bodies is just that-draft? I understand that the guidance on designation will be released in March next year, but not in draft form. These are important issues of great sophistication, and to issue edicts from on high without further discussion will not be helpful. However, I am grateful that the importance of science has been stressed tonight and placed firmly on the record.
Andrew George: I am disappointed and angry that this central element of the Bill has been allowed so little time. I urge Ministers to use whatever powers they have to allow us an extended debate tomorrow if at all possible.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), and I support his amendments. I also congratulate the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark). I have tabled five of the nine amendments, but I shall not detain the House too long. I also support amendments 1, 2 and 3. I know that the Minister's response to the suggestion in Committee of a more highly protected area was to say that it would create a two-tier system, but I urge her to reflect on the fact that in land use planning, there are areas of outstanding natural beauty, national parks, listed buildings of various designations, article 4 directions and conservation areas-none of which diminishes the other designations.
Like the hon. Member for Sherwood, I think that the designation of MCZs should be fundamentally based in science. Yes, socio-economic factors may be taken into consideration, but they should be taken into account to a far greater extent in implementation. If the hon. Member for Great Grimsby looks at my amendments on the designation of conservation objectives within the MCZs and the byelaws that might be introduced under them, he will see that it is entirely appropriate that socio-economic factors-especially those of traditional fishing coastal communities whose livelihoods will be affected, whether to their benefit or detriment-should be considered when managing and implementing conservation policies. That balance is missing in the Bill at present. Throughout our debate on the Bill, both Ministers have perpetually argued that there is a balance to be had between socio-economic and conservation matters, but it applies only with a "may" in relation to the designation. Beyond that, socio-economic factors are entirely ignored.
Mr. MacNeil: One minor point is that the science is often not unchallengeable, but the question that often arises, particularly in my coastal area, is who commissions it. There is an inequality of resources available to fishing communities to challenge the science, which is often driven by conservation bodies.
That is a fair point, but on the other hand scientists increasingly depend on fishermen to gather their science. There is an increasing coming together of scientists and fishermen to glean a far better understanding of what is happening in marine conservation.
Indeed, that is one of the fundamental raisons d'être for finding sanctuary around the south-west coast. However, unless it is entirely peer reviewed there will inevitably be debate about the science, so I entirely accept what the hon. Gentleman says.
Mr. Doran: I will be brief. I want to reinforce the point that a balance is important. The Bill is extremely important for our whole environment, not just the marine environment. At the same time, however, the balance has to take into account the view of stakeholders-a point that I made in the previous debate.
I am in the fortunate or unfortunate position, depending on what side of the argument one is on, of having a number of stakeholders based in my constituency. I have a fishing industry, which is mainly fish processing now, although there are still remnants of a fishing fleet. I also represent part of the European energy capital, Aberdeen, where we have the headquarters not just of the north-east European oil and gas industry, but of a part of the oil industry that now controls operations throughout Africa, Asia and other parts of the world. Developing out of that, we also have the renewables industry. Indeed, we are becoming a centre for all sorts of marine energy, including wave, tidal and offshore wind. All those views need to be taken into account and it is important that the economic and social arguments are properly understood.
Essentially, the argument is about whether the word "habitat" goes far enough in protecting our marine environment or whether it should be added to with the word "ecosystem". According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "habitat" means
"the natural home or environment of an organism,"
"a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment."
The word "ecosystem" is used to describe natural living systems. An ecosystem consists of plants, animals and micro-organisms in an area and their functioning together in combination with the physical character of that area. Necessarily, ecosystems are frequently complex. An ecosystem includes not only the physical habitats in an area and all the species that live in them, but the full range of interactions among all the different species in an area. Amendment 3 would add a new paragraph (d) to clause 117(1). Central to the ecosystem concept is the idea that living organisms are continually engaged in a set of relationships with every other element, living and non-living, in the habitat in which they live.
That has huge legal implications. Friends of the Earth has obtained legal opinion that argues that the common fisheries policy can be challenged as a result of that definition. Under EU law, the EU can forbid fishing in an area when the prohibition is for the purposes of both nature conservation and the protection of the
marine ecosystem as a whole. Thus, if fishing were damaging the fundamental fabric of the marine ecosystem in an area and a member state wished to protect the marine ecosystem as a whole, that member state could establish a marine reserve covering that area and prohibit all damaging activity.
Mr. MacNeil: I am listening to what the hon. Gentleman is saying about ecosystems, but does he accept that they are, of necessity, dynamic with cycles of years and sometimes decades, so they are not fixed in time? Duff science often creates the understanding or belief that ecosystems are fixed in time, and are the same over years and decades.
Another important point is that this part of the Bill gives Her Majesty's Government a power, but not a duty. It would remain at the Government's discretion whether to implement the law if the amendment were accepted. I see no reason why the Government should not be brave enough to accept the amendment. They would not have to implement the measure, but they would have the power to do so if they were enlightened enough to accept the amendment.
Ann McKechin: I confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) that the Minister's letter of 22 October will be put in the House of Commons Library. I also confirm that the guidance on designation of MCZs will be finalised and published in March next year.
We have had an interesting short debate, and it is interesting to note that when we had the debate in Committee, it finished early. In the short time remaining, I want to talk about amendment 3. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark) to withdraw her amendment for two reasons. First, it is difficult precisely to define what the phrase
"the marine ecosystem as a whole"
means. Secondly, it is unnecessary, given the construction of clause 117. I firmly agree with the purpose of the amendment in that we want to ensure that we take an ecosystem-based approach to creating a UK network of marine protected areas. I am pleased to assure her that the Bill provides for the ecosystem to be conserved as a whole.
It is clear from clause 117(5) that we should not interpret the provision narrowly. Sites may be designated to conserve the diversity of flora, fauna and habitat, and those features need not be rare. We may conserve sites that simply represent our marine environment. There is a vital and direct link between that provision, which relates to individual marine conservation zones, and clause 123, which places a duty on Ministers to contribute to the creation of a UK-wide network. The network must meet certain conditions, including the fact that it must contribute to the conservation and improvement of the marine environment in the UK marine area.
How can the provision not relate to the ecosystem as a whole if we are bound to consider the conservation and improvement of the marine environment in the UK
marine area? I cannot understand how, when selecting individual sites, we could ensure that the network protected sites that represent the range of features present in the UK marine area without thinking about what features and habitats are present in the UK marine area, and the extent to which they are already protected.
Linda Gilroy: Will my hon. Friend confirm that, as the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in Committee, failure to make a designation decision on the basis of scientific evidence would mean, first, that the designating authority did not take account of reasonable considerations; secondly, that they would have acted unreasonably; and, thirdly, that the decision could then be considered for judicial review?
Hon. Members will recall that in Committee the Government gave a commitment to use seven principles for creating an ecologically coherent network of sites, including representivity, replication, viability, adequacy, maximum connectivity, protection, and use of the best available evidence.
My other concern about the amendment is more technical. We have had numerous debates throughout the Bill's passage both here and in the other place about definitions and the precision of language. Unfortunately, the phrase
"the marine ecosystem as a whole"
does not define the boundaries. It does not define the boundary of an estuary or a bay, for example, or that of the North sea with the Irish sea, and does it include the North Atlantic? That is why I ask my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran to withdraw her amendment-
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