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Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 536AA:


(" .--(1) The Secretary of State (as respects England) and National Assembly for Wales (as respects Wales) may make regulations for the implementation of Article 2 of Annex V of the 1992 OSPAR Convention on the Protection and Conservation of the Ecosystems and Biological Diversity of the Maritime Area.
(2) Regulations made under subsection (1) may in particular make provision with respect to--
(a) measures to protect and conserve the ecosystems and the biological diversity of the maritime area, and to restore, where practicable, marine areas which have been adversely affected;
(b) programmes and measures for the purposes of subsection (2)(a) for the control of human activities; and
(c) the enforcement of such measures and programmes.").

The noble Lord said: Despite its commendable purpose of amending the law relating to nature conservation and the protection of wildlife, the Bill as it stands does nothing to improve the prospects for conservation in the UK's marine environment. Yet the UK is home to an extraordinary array of marine biodiversity. In the 1994 UK biodiversity action plan, published by the previous government, it was estimated that within our 12-mile limit there is an area equivalent to 70 per cent of the land surface of the United Kingdom. Indeed, it has been estimated that 50 per cent of the UK's biodiversity is found in the seas with literally thousands of precious species. I know that my noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen wants to say more about that.

The world record for the largest turtle found stranded is not attributable to Sri Lanka, Cuba or the Philippines, as one might suppose, but Wales. According to the Countryside Council for Wales, a leatherback turtle was found stranded on the beach at Harlech in 1988. It measured just three metres long.

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Even more significantly, it is now clear that national legislation in the United Kingdom which relates to nature conservation should apply to up to 200 nautical miles rather than just 12 nautical miles.

Recently the European Union issued a communication expressing the view that,

    "if a Member State exerts its sovereign rights in an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles (for example, the granting of an operating licence for a drilling platform), it thereby considers itself competent to enforce national laws in that area, and consequently ... the Habitats Directive also applies, in that Community legislation is an integral part of national legislation".

The matter was also the subject of a recent legal challenge in which the High Court held in favour of Greenpeace that the obligations of the United Kingdom Government, under the habitats directive, were not restricted to 12 nautical miles, but extended to 200 nautical miles from the coast; yet currently there is no legislative framework for delivering effective nature conservation in the UK's large and diverse marine enviroment. The problem is most clearly illustrated by the failure to designate marine sites, whether they be marine nature reserves, marine special protection areas as designated under the European Union birds directive, or marine special areas for conservation as designated under the European Union habitats directive.

The failing was recognised by the Government in the 1998 consultation paper on conservation, which paved the way for this Bill. Paragraph B16 of that paper stated:

    "The Government accepts that the concept of Marine Nature Reserves established under the 1981 Act has not been as successful as had been hoped, and only 3 have been designated to date".

That is in contrast to around 6,500 sites of special scientific interest and areas of special scientific interest on land.

The failing was also identified by Sub-Committee C of the House of Lords European Union Committee, of which I was a member, in a study into biodiversity conservation in the European Union. A key conclusion was that action was urgently required in the UK environment. It is difficult to see how the United Kingdom would ensure effective nature conservation in the marine environment or meet its obligations under the European Union directives and international conventions unless it rapidly addresses the lack of legislative framework for marine nature conservation.

The amendment in my name is based on Article 2 of Annex V to the Oslo-Paris Convention. I understand that that annex is soon to be ratified by the United Kingdom. The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic entered into force on 25th March 1998. Annex V covers the conservation of marine biodiversity and must be ratified separately from the rest of the convention. In fact, Article 2 states:

    "Contracting parties shall:

    (a) take the necessary measures to protect and conserve the ecosystems and the biological diversity of the maritime area, and to restore, where practicable, marine areas which have been adversely affected; and

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    (b) co-operate in adopting programmes and measures for those purposes for the control of the human activities identified by the application of the criteria in Appendix 3".

Although the United Kingdom has signed up to the Oslo-Paris Convention, currently it has no legislative framework for its implementation. This simple amendment, which builds on an existing government commitment, highlights just how much the Government need to do if they are to meet the spirit and letter of the convention. Action is needed on many fronts, including species and habitat measures, protected areas and sustainable development solutions and enforcement.

I suggest that the timing is now appropriate for the Government to move forward on marine nature conservation as a matter of urgency. Following the formal consultation on sites of special scientific interest, the Government established the Review of Marine Nature Conservation (RMNC). That review will soon conclude its work and it is essential that there is no delay in taking forward its recommendations. There is a clear need for a marine environment Bill to be introduced early in the next Parliament. If that does not happen, the exemplary work--I believe that it is exemplary--that has gone into the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill will be an excellent job only half done. In the absence, as yet, of a clear commitment from the Government to introduce such a Bill, I believe that this simple but vital amendment is necessary. I beg to move.

1 a.m.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: It is late and I do not intend to keep the Committee long. I simply want to add a few words to what my noble friend said on Amendment No. 536AA. He mentioned the Welsh turtle. I should like to say a little about a few other friends on our coast that we may not be aware of.

It is estimated that the UK's marine environment is home to over 8,000 marine organisms, including many that even those who have an interest in marine life may not realise are native to our shores, the harbour porpoise, the orcas and the bottle-nosed dolphin being good examples. Noble Lords knowing much more about this subject will be able to name many more. But those three alone serve to illustrate why the UK's marine environment must be better protected and improved upon.

My noble friend outlined a great deal in relation to the Oslo-Paris convention. If the Government are to meet either the convention's spirit or its letter, they must take action on species and habitat measures as outlined in the amendment. As my noble friend said, the time is right for the Government to move forward on marine nature conservation. I hope, in that spirit, the Minister will be able to give a positive and encouraging response.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: The name of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, appears on this amendment. But the Public Bill Office were confused and it is my name that should appear there.

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I support the amendment. The review of marine conservation taking place at the moment is discovering new species almost by the day. It is an accident of timing that that review will report after we have passed this important legislation. It is right, therefore, to include provisions in the legislation to extend protection to underwater life. Just because we cannot see under the water does not mean that that area should not be protected. That is a mistake we have made in the past which we must rectify.

Lord Jopling: I listened with care to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who is an old friend of mine, with regard to the implications of this amendment. I confess to him--this is bad manners on my part--that I have not had the opportunity to study the details of Article 2 of the Oslo-Paris convention. Therefore I am not entirely clear what it implies.

I intervene because I am not sure where all this takes us. Perhaps I can give the Committee one example of why I am not clear. I look particularly at subsection (2)(a), which says,

    "measures to protect and conserve the eco-system".

Later, the paragraph reads,

    "restore, where practicable, marine areas which have been adversely affected".

Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Judd, will be good enough to tell me what that means with regard to seals.

People have conflicting views about seals. Some tend to regard them as marine pussycats, adorable animals, which are nice to look at and swim in the sea. Others, particularly fishermen, regard them as a total menace. I have no specific axe to grind in relation to seals. For a period in my life I was a fisheries Minister. But earlier, when I was shadow fisheries Minister, I recall visiting a small Northumberland fishing village--it was not Craster but somewhere like it--where the fishermen were totally exasperated by the way that seals hung around their nets and took a nibble out of the salmon they had caught. I remember fishermen coming to talk to me. I also remember taking part in an interview for Tyne-Tees Television when I was shown frozen salmon which had had one bite taken out of their bellies. It is not as though the seals were hungry and wanted to catch a salmon to eat. They were playing with the salmon, taking out one bite and then moving on to the next to do the same.

In large parts of our coastal areas, the protection given to seals has enabled their numbers to grow enormously. They have become an absolute menace in terms of the fishing industry in which many people seek to make their living. I have always been a friend of the historic families in the North East. When I was a fisheries Minister I strongly resisted pressure from whom I described as "ducal river owners" in Scotland who wanted a ban on all drift netting on the north-east coast. I said, "No, no, these people have been fishing for generations. There is no good reason why they should be stopped. I am perfectly prepared to make sure that they do not abuse their historic right to catch salmon on that coast and I will insist that the licence

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holder shall be in the boat. They will not be allowed to fish at night and at weekends." I tried to control the situation so that one could achieve a balance. I became convinced that that particular fishery was being ruined by the uncontrolled expansion of the seal population.

I want to ask the noble Lord, Lord Judd, how subsection (2)(a) will operate. Will the present population of seals around our coast be protected and conserved under the first part of that paragraph in a way which few people believe is justified? I believe that the enormous explosion in the seal population is totally unjustified. These creatures are not marine pussycats; they are vicious, nasty animals in large numbers. Will the second part of the paragraph be used,

    "to restore, where practicable, marine areas which have been adversely affected",

in order to return to the balance which existed years ago between, say, the salmon and the seals before the salmon was protected and their numbers exploded to the detriment of the salmon population in the marine environment?

With great respect, it is no good the noble Lord merely proposing the measure without coming clean about the likely influence on the situation I have described. I am sure that many marine biologists could quote many other examples of the marine populations of various species being artificially altered. These measures will make the situation either worse or better and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, will be able to explain them.

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