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6.9 pm

Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, 26 October).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).

Schedule 4

Exclusive economic zone and Welsh zone: consequential amendments

Amendments made: 10, in page 238, leave out lines 21 to 23 and insert-

'(1) The Energy Act 2008 (c. 32) is amended as follows.

(2) In section 1 (exploitation of areas outside the territorial sea for gas importation and storage), for subsection (5) substitute-'.

11, in page 238, line 32, at end insert-

'( ) In section 35 (interpretation of Chapter 3), in subsection (1), for the definition of "Gas Importation and Storage Zone" substitute-

""Gas Importation and Storage Zone" is to be read in accordance with section 1(5);".'.- (Ann McKechin.)

Clause 44

Marine policy statement

Amendment made: 4, in page 27, line 2, leave out 'furthering' and insert 'contributing to'.- (Ann McKechin.)

Clause 311

Regulations and orders

Amendment made: 9, in page 217, line 41, at end insert-

'( ) section 141(4A);'.- (Ann McKechin.)

Schedule 22


Amendment made: 14, in page 326, line 18, column 2, leave out '21' and insert '22'.- (Ann McKechin.)

Third R eading .

Queen's and Prince of Wales's consent signified.

6.10 pm

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Third time.

This Bill has long been campaigned for by many people- [ Interruption. ]

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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. If hon. Members are not staying for this debate, will they please leave quietly and not engage in conversations now that we are starting on Third Reading?

Hilary Benn: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

As I was saying, the Bill has long been campaigned for by many people. This is a moment for quiet celebration, but also for thanks to all those without whose efforts we would not be here. On Second Reading I paid tribute to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), and I am glad to see him in his place this afternoon. He has argued and worked for the Bill for many years, along with the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) and my hon. Friends the Members for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) and for Reading, West (Martin Salter). I also want to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), for High Peak (Tom Levitt), for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger), for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown), for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith), and others, as they have played such an important part in scrutinising the Bill.

I am also very grateful for the way in which Opposition Members here and in the other place have worked so helpfully and constructively to make a good Bill better. I especially thank the hon. Members for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) and for St. Ives (Andrew George). I also remind the House of the eloquent support expressed for the Bill on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert).

We should not forget the incredibly important pre-legislative scrutiny work of the Joint Committee, chaired by Lord Greenway. This is a good Bill, partly because it has been through that process. I also appreciate the work of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, chaired by the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), which looked at the Bill's coastal access provisions.

I also want to thank my ministerial colleagues, including the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. Along with the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), she has double-handed the Bill through Committee and Report. They had valuable support from my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar). I also want to thank Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Davies of Oldham in another place, who have helped to put the Bill in the strong position that it is in today.

I am also sure that the whole House would wish me to thank my honourable Friend the Member for Ogmore. He has shepherded this Bill through the House with encyclopaedic knowledge, patience, courtesy, and, as we heard in the House yesterday, a great deal of common sense. His has been an outstanding contribution. On behalf of the ministerial team, may I say that we have been fortunate to have the support of an outstanding team of officials. It is a privilege to work with them.

I am also grateful for the co-operation of my colleagues in the devolved Administrations. We are committed to developing and agreeing a marine policy statement that will set out our policies for the sustainable development
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of the UK marine area. As the House will know, a series of marine plans will translate the policies in the marine policy statement into greater detail at the local level.

Each Administration will prepare marine plans in the way most appropriate for its marine planning regions. We are committed to ensuring that administrative arrangements will build on the cross-border collaboration already in place so that we have a joined-up planning process. Although in legal terms there may be two plans, there will be joined-up marine planning.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. I also want to thank the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who took time to meet me and two members of the Solway Firth partnership about the very issues that my right hon. Friend is raising. The Government's proposals were warmly welcomed, and the meeting alleviated many of the fears and concerns that people felt. One plan for the Solway Firth comes from the Scottish Government and one from this House, but the Bill will enable much more consultation to be held. Many more people will be engaged in the process, and that has to be welcomed.

Hilary Benn: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and he has played an important part in the process, not least by leading the delegation that met my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. I am pleased to be able to say that we are in the process of agreeing with the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment a joint statement on marine planning in areas bordering England and Scotland. Once it is agreed, I shall arrange to place a copy in the Library. Further detail will be set out in concordats that we are currently developing between our Administrations, and they too will be publicly available.

I believe that the Bill leaves the House better and stronger as a result of our deliberations. A number of amendments were made to the Bill in Committee, and there was further progress over the summer. In the past two days, we have agreed the most significant of those amendments. All the changes have resulted in a Bill that truly gives us the means to achieve sustainable development in our seas.

The Bill creates a framework with the new marine planning system that sets out, through the Marine Management Organisation, how we can balance our need for minerals, energy-because our seas are a great source of renewable power-food, trade, and recreation. We also need to protect the wonders that lie beneath our seas, which are among the richest marine environments in the world.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Am I right in believing that the Bill will protect the Severn estuary from overdevelopment?

Hilary Benn: As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Severn estuary already has protection under the European habitats directive. In addition, the feasibility study for energy generation is considering certain proposals for the estuary, and those proposals will return to the House.

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The Bill's coastal access provisions, too, have been carefully scrutinised, and they mean that it will be possible for everyone to enjoy our unique and wonderful coastline. The Bill sets out the principle of what we are trying to achieve, but achieving it is, rightly, a matter for local proposal and discussion. I am sure that that will draw on a lot of common sense too.

We look forward to the Marine Management Organisation being vested in April next year, with a marine policy statement coming within two years of Royal Assent. The first marine conservation zones should be created in 2012, and we are planning to open the first new stretches of the coastal route to include one at Weymouth in time for the 2012 Olympics.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for taking this late intervention, but he spoke about the application of common sense to coastal access. Natural England has said that 37 per cent. of coastal pathways in the south-east are not yet legally secure. The Bill is intended to make them secure, but many of those pathways already have informal access. Common sense dictates that Natural England should follow that informal access and not lay down new access routes. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House about that?

Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but the Bill is designed to allow such matters to be addressed locally. I am sure that he will accept that there is no substitute for walking the route and seeing what is there on the ground. In that way sensible and pragmatic solutions to problems of access can be found, in keeping with the provisions of the Bill.

The spirit in which the issue has been approached as it was scrutinised during the passage of the Bill will, I hope, have given hon. Members and others who have a great deal of interest in how it is progressed some confidence that that will be done in a common-sense way.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): In talking about the plans for the new management arrangements, will the Secretary of State bear in mind that we were unable to debate the transfer of oil out at sea and the effect that that might have on those arrangements, because we did not reach that part of the Bill? I do not blame him for it, but that is the case. As my constituency is the only one that is affected by Russian oil coming in, it is a very great concern. We have an important maritime area and we want to feel that the Government and the new organisation are committed to providing protection.

Hilary Benn: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that point and his particular constituency concern. As he is aware, there will be regulations. Although there was not time over the past day and a half to debate those matters here, there will be an opportunity to consider them with some care.

I express the thanks of the whole House to the many organisations outside the Chamber that have worked constructively with all of us on the Bill-bodies such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, WWF and Wildlife and Countryside Link, the heritage organisations, the representatives of ports, marinas, energy organisations and other marine businesses, and
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organisations representing commercial and recreational fishing, all of which have supported the Bill. That is a remarkable tribute to the legislation and what it contains. At the start of the process, some might have said that it would be difficult to draft a measure in which all those organisations felt that they had a stake and which they therefore felt able to support. But that is the case, because the Bill brings something of benefit to everyone.

Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend also pay tribute to the Ramblers Association and the British Mountaineering Council-two other non-governmental organisations that have supported the Bill.

Hilary Benn: I will readily pay tribute to those organisations, and all the others that time does not allow me to list for the record, because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.

The Bill provides for streamlined regulation and better protection of marine wildlife, establishes an integrated planning system, and establishes the framework for managing our marine and coastal waters. It will give us better means to manage what we do in the seas around our island. In particular, it will help us to identify potential conflicts arising from the fact that we put competing pressures on our seas, and find a way of doing something about them before they become a bigger problem.

I think, therefore, that we as a House can look back with satisfaction on a good job well done, and look forward to a new era for our seas. I commend the Bill to the House.

6.22 pm

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): In responding to the Secretary of State, I begin by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), whose private Member's Bill in 2001 highlighted the urgent need for a marine Bill. Eight years later, I am sure he will share our pleasure that we are finally speaking in the Third Reading debate of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. I know from my own conversations with conservation organisations that they are anxious to see the Bill reach the statute book as soon as possible. We can all be pleased today that we have come another step closer to that.

The passage of the Bill, both in this House and in the other place, has been a good example of cross-party co-operation. I congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill. It is to the credit of hon. Members and the other place that party politics have largely been left to one side in a bid to create the best possible piece of legislation to protect the marine environment. We can all agree that the various amendments that have been made to the Bill have amounted to significant improvements. We now have an independent appeals process for those with concerns about coastal access, an emphasis on ecological coherence as a part of marine conservation zones, a stronger Marine Management Organisation and a sensible balance between socio-economic and environmental issues in the marine environment.

I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), for his management
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of the Bill, especially through Committee, and for the tireless work of his officials. The amount of consultation that he offered was welcome and led to the somewhat unusual case of our arriving at the end of the legislative process with a piece of legislation with which all parts of the House, as well as industry and conservation groups, are broadly happy.

I thank our colleagues in the other place, especially Lord Taylor of Holbeach and the late Lord Kingsland, for their excellent handling of the Bill and the steps that they took to ensure that it reached us in the form in which we now have it, much scrutinised. Lord Kingsland provided a remarkable insight during the Bill's time in the other place, as he did with all the legislation on which he worked, and his untimely death this summer was a great loss to the whole of Parliament.

We are all fortunate, as the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) said, that the Bill received a high standard of pre-legislative scrutiny, and I thank the Joint Committee for their work. I should like to express my thanks to the Members of the Committee in this House for their examination of the Bill and the amendments that they made. I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) for his work on the Bill.

I acknowledge the important role played by the many conservation organisations that took such a keen interest in the Bill, such as WWF, the Marine Conservation Society, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Wildlife Trusts and other members of the Wildlife and Countryside Link, together with the Country Land and Business Association and many others, which have lobbied, given briefings and supplied evidence for the Bill. We have enjoyed an excellent relationship with these groups throughout the process and we look forward to working with them in the future.

This long awaited measure is the first step in the right direction towards achieving the goal of healthy, sustainably managed seas. It provides a once in a generation opportunity to protect important areas of the marine environment, and I am pleased that we have risen to the challenge. However, progress will be made only if the conservation measures in the Bill are implemented effectively. Throughout the passage of the Bill we have argued that the management of fisheries and the marine environment should not take a top-down approach.

With the creation of inshore fisheries and conservation authorities and their power to delegate functions, we hope to see better representation of the diverse range of marine users, as well as better use of expertise at a local level. With the creation of the MMO, the Opposition pressed the Government to ensure that adequate specialist knowledge and expertise is housed within the organisation as well as being sought from outside, so that it is appropriately equipped to deal with the diverse range of marine issues over which it will preside. We are pleased with the reassurances that we received from the Minister in this regard, and will work to ensure that they are delivered.

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