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Many organisations have contacted Members in both Houses to raise the possible discord of oil and gas developments being authorised under the Petroleum Act;

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barrages, bridges and tunnels getting the go-ahead via the Transport and Works Act; and, of course, the larger renewable installations proceeding via the Planning Act. Is it possible, for example, that the MMO may reject an application for 10 or a dozen wind turbines only to see a development of 100 being given permission for that same area and its surrounding seas?

A similar set of concerns applies to marine planning. What mechanism will ensure that the marine policy statements agreed under this Bill will be acknowledged, never mind followed, by other departments with an interest in marine matters? Would the Navy, for example, forbear using sonar causing underwater explosions in areas where the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs decides that whales and dolphins need peace and quiet? How will the marine strategy be integrated with river basin management plans, regional spatial strategies and local development frameworks? Will the Government set up a hierarchy of decisions or will planning delay caused by the public’s right to inquiry merely be supplanted by that arising from the public policy paralysis? Will the Government continue their fixation with consultation and if so, who will be the stakeholders and who will be entitled to respond to the consultation? I am not expecting the Minister to answer these questions today but we will need to discuss them in great detail in Committee.

The finer details of setting up the MMO are not specified in the Bill but I recall some of the issues that arose when MAFF and parts of other departments were subsumed into Defra. Will there be another situation where salary levels in one department are noticeably higher than those in another? Will the post-holders in that department have to reapply for their jobs, or will they just be moved or automatically given new jobs? Will the top jobs be open to all-comers or are they reserved for named staff in existing posts? And should parliamentarians and politicians be concerned with any of these issues?

The MMO has a responsibility out to the 200-mile mark at sea—page 14, paragraph 78 of the Explanatory Notes—for the enforcement of marine nature conservation and national and EU fisheries provisions. What will happen to the existing arrangements; for example, the memo of understanding between the EA and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency governing enforcement between sea and land-based pollution? Will the MMO take over the direction for the four emergency towing vessels that operate around the clock to help prevent groundings and other problems that might result in oil spillage? Will the MMO take over responsibility for the fishery protection vessels and any naval deployments relating to the fisheries provisions? The enforcement of the EU ban on bottom-trawling in the high seas is another issue. Who takes responsibility for that? Will the MMO have a role in preventing pollution at sea from the sulphur content of marine diesel, which I understand contains some 15,000 parts per million compared with the mere 10 parts per million of our forecourt diesel? How and when will these matters be decided?

Finally, there is the question of coastal access. Coastal paths exist already. I declare an interest in that I have a home in Suffolk which stands less than 200 yards from the sea. I and other members of my

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family enjoy walking along the dunes for miles, on tarred roads, over heath land and along the seafront itself. Access to that system of paths and roads is easy to the point where one does not even have to think about it. Surely it will be possible for a coastal path all around the country to cover many miles of sea frontage without any formal access to the hinterland. In some places, this may not be a problem because the hinterland itself will be open-access. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has just said, there are implications for the wildlife features based there.

When the hinterland is laid to grass or cultivated, particularly where it houses livestock, the general public will have no rights of entry or thoroughfare. There are implications for safety, the treatment of emergencies and the response to weather conditions that are not covered in the Bill. As I said earlier, there are no appeals and no compensation.

That leads to considerations of liability. The seaside is not a playground. A sandy beach with a lifeguard, under constant observation by the police and coastguard and with lifejackets every few yards, can still be the scene of death and tragedy. A lone walker on a lonely cliff-top path without any of those amenities will carry a vastly greater risk. I wish to be certain that those who own the land over which the path progresses will not find themselves caught up in the distress of walkers, whether to rescue them or to pay for any injuries.

The Bill has to be made to work the first time round and completely so, as I suspect we shall not have a Bill like it again in the near future. As it stands, in spite of the work that has been done in advance, there are issues around national, regional and geographical boundaries that must be resolved before implementation is attempted. I was interested that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his introduction, referred to the fact that there had been agreement, and I would be grateful if he could tell us a little more about the agreements that have been reached in this regard. I believe that Natural England has too much unregulated power. Insufficient recognition has been given to the fact that the interface between the sea and the land involves action in and on the former that has profound implications for the latter and its population.

I welcome the Bill but we must ensure practical solutions to enable business, preserve fishing, allow recreation and, most importantly, protect the sea and its natural wildlife and habitats. Overall, the Bill is missing someone who is champion for the seas.

5.15 pm

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, for me, it is a case of, “New readers, start here”, as it is clear that many noble Lords have contributed substantially to this Bill. I am no expert in marine matters, although my noble friend on the Front Bench reminded me that I should declare an interest as I live on—or by—the tidal Thames. Like others, I am a veteran or survivor of the CROW Act, and more recently of the Planning Act—I cannot quite get my head around the fact that that is no longer a Bill.

This Bill raises many points of principle, as well as connections with that earlier legislation. I was thinking a few days ago how I might start this speech, and

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thought: we are an island and a seafaring nation. But my roots are not in that, and I suspect that many noble Lords have roots that are not those of the old British bulldog caricature of our nation. Our nation has changed. Certainly, it is one that holds property interests dear, as we saw from the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.

Perhaps the most interesting philosophical issues are those that arise from the notion of sustainability and its component parts. Almost every briefing that we have mentions the clause providing that regard must be had to economic and social consequences when considering the designation of a marine conservation area. It is clear to me that that does not give equal weight to the three component parts, but I wonder how far it is possible to legislate for a precise and unchanging balance, not least because society’s standards, expectations and aspirations change. Sometimes that means a particular duty on Parliament—usually the Government or maybe a quango—to give weight to issues that do not have the loudest voices clamouring for them. I hesitate to say this, with a geographer on my Front Bench, but external conditions also change. We hear about the possibility of the Gulf Stream moving, which would have major implications for the seas as well as the land.

None of that means that I will not support a duty to promote sustainable development where it is necessary. The Government were right in the then Planning Bill to put climate change in the context of sustainable development. However, I know that not everyone shares that view. I am sure that we will debate this issue, not least because of the renewable energy targets.

Another philosophical issue arises from Part 9. The briefings that we have had made much of the dangers to walkers from mud flats and salt marshes. I have no doubt that there are dangers, but should they defeat the objective of access to the coast? Do we want to be such nannies that we cannot leave it to walkers to assess the risks? Risk is a matter that, until recently, we have not talked much about, and something that people of my generation were never trained to assess. It would be dangerous if the Bill gave the message that access means that a route is approved for holiday strollers in flip-flops.

A greater difficulty that has already been alluded to is “access to the access”—in other words, routes from inland to the coast. We must ensure appropriate safeguards. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that we would have to watch “like a hawk”. I do not know whether she realised what she had said: no other noble Lord appeared to register it, but noble Lords are expert at keeping straight faces.

There are many resonances for those of us, both inside and outside Parliament, who considered the Planning Bill; for example, in the creation of marine policy statements and how they would fit in with national policy statements. The noble Baroness rightly said that we had to consider the sea as a whole, not in separate precious little parts that might tick boxes in some people’s minds.

Clauses on the marine policy statement consultation say that the marine plan must conform with the MPS,

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That is less than strict conformity with the MPS. Presumably it is less than general conformity. What is a “relevant consideration”? One clause is headed “Relevant matters”, but I am not sure whether those are the same things.

In normal life, a relevant consideration would be cost, and, as always, resource issues arise from the Bill. I am also intrigued by the interaction between the Marine Management Organisation and the Infrastructure Planning Commission. I expect that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is armed with a list of assurances given by the Government during the passage of the Planning Bill.

I am unclear, no doubt because of a lack of preparation on my part, about responsibilities for what the non-technical among us would call beaches—the bit between the land and sea—and about the responsibilities and conditions for licensing. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to land-based pollution. I need to do a great deal more work to understand how all the responsibilities fit together.

Those of us who felt strongly about the accountability issues that arose in consideration of the Planning Bill will, I am sure, find issues in this Bill, too. However, given the level of support for the Bill, the responsibility of this House is to get it right; not to discard the work that has been done, but to use it as a basis to tease out unresolved issues.

5.25 pm

The Earl of Shrewsbury: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. In doing so, I declare an interest as a member of the Salmon & Trout Association and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and as a supporter of the Deveron, Bogie and Isla Rivers Trust. For most of my life, I have been a keen game angler, so I find this afternoon’s discussion way above my head, as I am a simple fisherman.

I wish briefly to raise the subject of the coastal waters of the east coast of Scotland and the various threats to marine life, migratory fish and other wildlife in that region. I believe that my comments also relate to many other rivers and their estuarial and coastal waters in England and Wales but, having fished for well over 30 years on the river Deveron on the east coast of Scotland and having gained some knowledge of that river, my comments will be based primarily on my experience of that region in the north-east of Scotland.

The river Deveron rises in the heather-clad Cabrach hills and flows steadily through mainly rolling agricultural land and is joined by the rivers Isla and Bogie on its journey to the North Sea at Banff in the lower part of the Moray Firth. In the past, the Deveron was well known not only as a world-class sea trout river but also for her substantial summer and autumn runs of grilse and salmon. The Moray Firth is a spectacular ecosystem. Indeed, it is a marine super-system, rich in wildlife including whales, porpoises, bottlenose dolphins and a wide array of smaller creatures and seabirds. It is, or used to be, a rich feeding ground and the home ports of many fishing fleets stretched from the north of Inverness to Peterhead and Fraserburgh. These

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days, much of that fishing industry has sadly gone. Into the firth flow some of the great rivers of Scotland including the mighty Spey and the Beauly. Migratory fish pass through the firth on their journey south to the Tay, the Tweed and other great rivers on the eastern seaboard of England.

On the subject of sea trout, I can do no better than quote from a paper produced in 2005 by various experts in that field, including Scotland’s network of fisheries trusts, RAFTS, which covers 90 per cent of the country. Those trusts have more than 50 biologists and scientists working to enhance and restore fish stocks. Since that paper was written, sea trout stocks have declined even further, and the species should be viewed as being at serious risk. Indeed, on a prime lower beat of the river Deveron, the annual sea trout catch plunged from 268 in 1985 to 147 in the 2000 season, completely collapsed in 2003 to 14, and was 33 last season. Many of the fish are so thin that they resemble pipe cleaners. The paper is called Observations on sea-trout in saltwater in Scotland and beyond.

“In saltwater sea-trout are opportunistic and often voracious feeders ... Sand eels are a staple part of their diet and it is certainly likely that relatively poor marine survival of sea-trout in Scotland over the past three or four years is possibly due to some extent to the declining availability of this vital prey species as a result of higher sea surface temperatures and commercial fishing pressure ... Sea-trout are subject to predation by a wide range of animals including other fish, fish-eating birds, dolphins and seals. As seal numbers burgeon in Scotland, the inshore feeding habits of sea-trout make them particularly vulnerable ... There is little doubt that seals could have a substantial impact on both sea-trout and salmon smolt runs”.

Further evidence of the demise of sand eel stocks, as touched on briefly by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, comes from Dr Richard Alderson as reported in the Salmon Farm Monitor in December 2005. I quote:

“The North Sea sand eel fishery has now closed but until it closed upwards of 800,000 tonnes of sand eels were being taken each year, for at least the past 20 years ... The depletion of sand eels by industrial fishing is directly linked to the gradual decline over the same period of both wild salmon and sea-trout. When smolts leave their freshwater environment to go to sea, they do so in late April/May when there will be the greatest abundance of sand eels there for them to eat. If there are no sand eels, or not enough sand eels, then these wild fish starve to death or are eaten by something larger than they are”.

In conclusion, I hope that I have demonstrated that enormous damage has been done over the past years by man to this wonderful ecosystem. Through this Bill, we now have a golden opportunity to strive to improve the situation and to build for the future. I will ask the Minister three brief questions. First, what steps are Her Majesty’s Government intending to take to enhance and improve the population of sand eels in the coastal waters of eastern Scotland? Secondly, will they consider the creation of coastal conservation areas for sand eels and other food chain elements? Thirdly, bearing in mind that sport fishing for salmon and sea trout on the east coast Scottish rivers contributes considerably and vitally to the local rural economy and that the main predator of such fish is the seal, what action, if any, are the Government or the Scottish Executive taking to control the seal population to sustainable levels and what do they intend to do in the future?

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I support the Bill. I think it is an excellent Bill, but it needs to have real teeth. To do nothing is not an option and it would be unforgivable to let this opportunity to repair the damage of the past, done by man, slip through the net.

5.30 pm

Lord Oxburgh: My Lords, I, too, welcome the Bill. A century ago the waters around our islands were places where hardy, professional fishermen made a tough living and where our parents and grandparents regarded the ferocity of the seas from the safety of Victorian piers and promenades. There was greater popular enthusiasm at that time for the health-giving properties of cold sea water and bracing sea air than there is today, but that was before the days of central heating and cheap flights to the Costa Brava.

Today it is a different story. A UK population that is roughly twice what it was a century ago and advances in technology that make our surrounding seas much more accessible mean that the pressures on our coastal environment, particularly the coastal seas, are enormously increased. At sea, we have seen the development of major oil and gas fields, of seabed pipelines, of networks of submarine telephone cables, of a profusion of commercial and private leisure craft and the development of a fishing industry, both domestic and foreign, that is so efficient that, if unconstrained, our fish stocks would be wiped out in a decade.

The new century brings new challenges as well: marine wind farms and the possible commercial deployment of devices to harness the energy of tides and waves. Furthermore, the abandoned gas fields of the southern North Sea are likely to be the sites in which carbon dioxide, trapped at fossil fuelled power stations, will be stored. Even further ahead, the North and Irish Seas are likely to be the routes of major electrical inter-connectors that link remote offshore and near-shore land-based renewable energy sites to the south, where much of the energy is consumed. We are going to be making very full use of our neighbouring seas indeed.

As my noble friend Lady Young pointed out, all of this is happening in an environment in which there is a complicated and subtle interaction between the plants and animals in, around and abovethe water. The complexity of this environment means that we have to treat it with enormous care and that the risk of unwittingly doing serious damage to systems that we do not understand is real. Not very long ago, a seafloor cable was laid across the mouth of the Wash. It appeared to be located where it could do little damage. Only subsequently did it emerge that it had disrupted the life-cycle of shellfish, which, in their mature state, were found in beds sometens of miles away.

Whether we like it or not there has to be a coherent and internally consistent regulatory system for this complex and important part of our immediate environment on which we are imposing an increasing load. The present Bill seeks to provide such a regulatory framework through the Marine Management Organisation. Unfortunately, this does not mean that the myriad of competing interests will necessarily be easier to reconcile, but the decisions of the MMO

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should at least be made in a fuller understanding of their wider consequences for the various competing interests and for the marine environment itself. These competing interests will also have to recognise that, very often, there is no best or even good answer to the problem of competing agenda, but simply one that is, at least, fully informed and, one hopes, the least bad.

I have a couple of specific points on the Bill today. Both have been touched on by other speakers. The first is the welcome inclusion of sustainability among the objectives of the MMO. It would be highly desirable for the Bill to make it clear that this did not simply mean the sustainability of the UK marine environment but included sustainability in the broader national context. One could, for example, imagine a situation in which meeting a national requirement appeared to have some adverse consequences for the local marine environment. It might be the need for a new submarine cable to bring ashore electricity produced in an offshore wind farm. It would be unfortunate if the MMO interpreted its remit so narrowly that it disregarded national need as well.

Similarly, if we deploy wave energy machines offshore, we should not be surprised if the clean sandy beaches, inshore of the wave farm, are no longer quite so sparkling clean. It is the energy of the waves that washes away the mud and, if we extract the energy offshore, the less may be available inshore to clean the beaches. As they say in Yorkshire, “You don’t get owt for nowt”. This means that we have to recognise the wider environmental implications of any development. In this context, it would be useful, as both the noble Baronesses, Lady Byford and Lady Hamwee, on the Benches opposite pointed out, to be clearer about the relationship of the MMO with the Infrastructure Planning Commission set up under the Planning Act.

The present Bill is a long one and I cannot claim to have read every word, but I was not able to find any reference to the point raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Byford and Hamwee, with reference to chemical or physical pollution of the marine environment and whether this comes from land sources or sources at sea. At present, these are the responsibility of a diversity of organisations and it would be useful to have it clarified at some stage whether these responsibilities would be, in part, subsumed by the MMO or whether this is an interface that the MMO has to manage.

In conclusion, I repeat that I have no doubt that this Bill is needed but, once more, the devil will be in the detail. I declare an interest as President of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, as a director of Falck Renewables but, above all, as an enthusiastic walker who is overjoyed at the prospect of a continuous coastal path, although I recognise that it may be a long time in coming.

5.38 pm

Lord Whitty: My Lords, like most noble Lords, I welcome the Bill. Others have said it has been a long time coming, but it is worth it. We have had from my noble friend the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, a vision of how we need to manage the coastal and

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marine environment and also a reflection of the complex eco-systems involved and the many pressing, different requirements that we are placing on them from renewable energy through to the need for recreation. This is an area where there are conflicting pressures and we need institutions which can balance and reconcile those pressures. In some cases, difficult and often unpopular choices may have to be made.

Just to confuse my noble friend the Minister, I am going to work backwards through the Bill and my points and focus first on Part 9 on coastal access. I do so largely out of nostalgia. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, many noble Lords in the House today are survivors of debates on the then CROW Bill. I was the poor Minister who had to steer that Bill through those difficult days. I never let on to the House but I had been instructed by the business managers not to lose a vote during the Bill’s passage because we had run out of time in another place. That meant that some rather odd compromises were established in the Bill, with some consequent inconsistencies in the legislation’s delivery and application.

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