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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, and with the leave of the House, he mentioned the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform, of which I am a member. I looked up the proceedings of the committee, as printed and available to noble Lords. The committee did not disagree with the point that this was a technical matter, and therefore did not disagree with what the Government wanted to do. However, the point that this measure means ceding sovereignty was not raised. My noble friend Lord Higgins raised the point that the sovereignty of the seas is being ceded.

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Following the Minister's argument, I was not sure whether he took that point or not. My noble friend will doubtless pick up on it if he sees fit to do so.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform looked at this matter and saw that the decision taken that we were involved in was of a limited nature. The first point is that we are bound by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The other point is that it is simply a question of defining those territorial waters for Scotland in which the Scottish Executive has the right to make its point. I do not see that that is anything more than a technical matter.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, it was not a Scottish question; I understand that completely. My question was about the point that my noble friend Lord Higgins made to the effect that we were ceding sovereignty of the sea through the Order in Council.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I hear what the noble Baroness says, but I have nothing to add.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I found some parts of the Minister's reply more convincing than others. Some were irrelevant. The irrelevant ones can be pursued with some of the later amendments.

I share the concern of my noble friend who intervened a moment ago. I am far from convinced that it is a mere technical matter. I will consider the matter further and will come back to it, if necessary, at Third Reading. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 174:

    Page 59, line 30, at end insert—

""exploitation" excludes the doing of anything which would diminish or harm the natural environment on or under the sea bed, at sea, of on or under land;"

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 174, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 175, 189 and 190, which stand in my name.

All four amendments are based on the amendments that we tabled in Committee—Amendments Nos. 106A and 106B. Those amendments were debated at great length, and the debate is reported at cols. GC 316 to GC 325 of Hansard for 3 February 2004. The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, felt that we had tabled the amendments too early in the process, which explains their repetition in the provisions dealing with interpretation of the chapter. I should hate to think that, by reiterating them only in sections that deal with the setting-up of the zones, we would give carte blanche to builders and developers to behave as they pleased. I am sure that the Government would not wish to see that.

In Committee, I said that the use of the word "exploitation" worried me. It still does. The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, explained that the word,

    "follows exactly the word used in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea".—[Official Report, 3/2/04; col. GC 319.]

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I humbly suggest that most international conventions use words that have probably been translated and retranslated from a number of different tongues. If the noble Lord can tell me that English was used, I will stand corrected.

The use of the word in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea does not mean that it is precisely what is intended by the original German, French or American explanation. My alarm was compounded recently, when the Prime Minister used it in extolling changes to the way in which asylum seekers would be dealt with. He referred to the new regime and the prevention of the "exploitation" of our social security system. That is precisely the normal shade of meaning of the word that, I think, people would accept. It might be used to refer to someone who tried to exploit a loophole and gain something by it. In most cases, that will be the interpretation that an ordinary member of the developer's workforce will understand.

Of course, developers seeking permission to work at sea will present a picture of responsibility. I merely want to make sure that there is in the Bill a description of what is not acceptable. The seabeds around our shores must, as we said earlier, be littered with crashed aeroplanes, sunken ships and waterlogged rubbish that has accumulated over the years. It is no excuse for adding so much as one dropped spanner or ploughing up a seabed for half a mile to say that it is quicker and easier to do so.

I have used the definitions that I have because I feel that harm or damage, in most cases, is relevant to its context. Digging a hole to erect a pylon in an area with a radius of several hundred feet is not, in itself, harmful to the environment, but removing a chunk of seabed measuring 100 by 100 feet probably is. Excavating a black coral reef, as has happened, is both harmful and irrevocable, and we know that damaged coral cannot be regenerated.

I do not apologise to the Minister. I know that we had a long debate in Committee, in which I was supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, and by my noble friends Lady Miller of Hendon, Lord Ullswater, Lord Dixon-Smith and the Duke of Montrose. It is important that we clarify the point again. If the Minister responds by saying that he does not like my words or does not think that the amendment is necessary, I will encourage him, at this stage of the Bill's progress, to think of another word that does not have such direct influence in everyday language. "Exploitation" is not a good word, which is why I have brought the matter back.

Amendment No. 175 refers to anything which does not cause irrevocable damage in the marine environment. I shall give an example. We live opposite the biggest granite quarry in Europe. It was originally Mountsorrel, became Redland and is now Lafarge. It is on a site of special scientific interest. I realise that, although the work to get the granite out will be done for many years, the site must ultimately be restored, so that the totality of the environment will not be damaged. I used to know it as a lovely woodland, but I fear that I will be under the soil long before that restoration happens.

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The word "exploitation" raises alarms for many people. For that reason, I brought the matter back. I was unable to divide the Committee, as the Minister knows. If I had been, I would have done. I apologise to noble Lords who sat through our debates in Committee in the Moses Room, but the issue was important enough for further discussion. I hope that I have persuaded the Minister that the use of the word in the Bill is undesirable. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, in Committee, I supported the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and agreed with what she wanted to achieve with the amendments. I continue to do so. I noticed that, with regard to Amendment No. 175, she said, perhaps in error, "irrevocable", when the amendment actually says "irreversible", but I am splitting hairs. The two words have the same meaning.

I hope that the Government will, as the noble Baroness invited them to do, produce a definition in both cases. It is useful, in such a Bill, to have some reference to the protective framework that the marine environment can expect, given the sort of work that will take place. I mention again the fact that there is no marine Act protecting the marine environment, such as the Government themselves thought necessary. They have committed themselves to bringing in such an Act, but they have given no timescale for doing so. If such an Act were in place, we would not need such a definition in the Bill, but because there is no such Act, the marine environment lacks protection, as the Government have recognised. The Government should recognise that lack and put something in the Bill to achieve what the noble Baroness is getting at.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as the noble Baroness said, the matter was discussed at some length in Committee. I see no reason to change the Government's position. The noble Baroness is attempting to use somewhat tendentious definitions of words that are used in international legislation to achieve the aim of avoiding irreversible harm to the marine environment. The procedures that we are adopting will achieve that, and we cannot stretch the definitions in the way that she suggests.

The noble Baroness obviously has an aversion to the word "exploitation". If I might venture to say so, she seems to regard it in a rather Marxist way as always being likely to be damaging, unless otherwise stated. In fact, the term "exploitation", in English or French—which is what the United Nations treaty is written in—would undoubtedly mean simply taking advantage of, using or operating in a way which made use of natural resources. Whether that was damaging or not depends on the circumstances.

There is also a problem in the noble Baroness's definition of what "damage" and "diminish" actually mean. Clearly, no development of this nature can be entirely impact-free. Certainly, almost any wind farm at sea is bound to change, to some extent, the marine environment. It might diminish the wildlife or it might, in the short or long term, attract a wider range of biodiversity and species into the area—that is likely to

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be the long-term effect. Whether people regard that as harmful and negative or beneficial depends on a rather subjective view. Therefore, I do not think it is very easy to use the definition that the noble Baroness has chosen because there is no construction of wind farms at sea that will not have some effect on the marine environment.

In addition to the effect on the marine environment and ecology, there is the overall impact of creating this development in the first place. The whole objective is, after all, environmental—to provide non-carbon fuel in order not to diminish the planet's resources as well as not to pump carbon into the atmosphere and to heat up the planet. The net environmental gain of the successful exploitation of wind farm possibilities is therefore likely to be substantial. The same would be true of wave and tidal operations. Therefore, it is not just the immediate and local environmental effect which has to be taken into account but the total environmental effect of the whole operation. I do not think that that is covered by the noble Baroness's definition.

The Government's approach to such propositions is through the safeguards of the strategic environmental assessment process and through the site-specific environmental impact assessment of any proposed development application. That will look at the impact on marine life and on any micro-climate as well as the overall environmental effects and benefits of the scheme. That will be a rigorous process and it will not depend on definitions which are somewhat different from the dictionary definitions of "exploration" and "exploitation". The developers will be forced to go through such a process before the Government approve any particular site development or designation of a zone or area.

While I utterly sympathise with the need in this process to ensure that renewable energy projects do not have an unreasonable, disproportionate, negative effect on the local environment, our procedures are in place to avoid that. That is a better way of tightening up control over such developments than attempting a definition, as the noble Baroness suggests.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, does he mean that strategic environmental assessments will be undertaken before any or all of the projects are commenced?

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