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Certain aspects of United Kingdom merchant shipping legislation can be applied to UK-registered vessels wherever they are and—in broad terms and consistent with international law under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—to other vessels when they are within the United Kingdom’s jurisdiction. Vessels registered in British overseas possessions are subject to the laws of their respective Administrations when outside UK jurisdiction.

Clause 112, as drafted, refers to,

but fails to address the distinction, important in exercising regulatory powers, scope and coverage, between a vessel registered in the United Kingdom and one registered in a British possession. This amendment,

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which links the British vessel to United Kingdom registration, will, I hope, correct the anomaly. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, for his amendment, which the Government are pleased to accept. It will effectively, as he says, remove vessels registered in British Overseas Territories from the need to obtain a marine licence from the Secretary of State when they are depositing, scuttling or incinerating in waters outside the UK marine licensing area. We have, as the noble Lord indicated, an obligation under international agreements to ensure that adequate environmental controls apply to British Overseas Territories and their vessels. However, the territories are already obliged, under the Environment Protection (Overseas Territories) Order 1988, made under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985, to license vessels registered in their territory for depositing, incinerating or scuttling outside their waters. Therefore, needing a marine licence from the Secretary of State under the Bill would constitute dual licensing. I welcome the clarity that this amendment brings to the Bill and the licensing arrangements faced by vessels registered in overseas territories. I am therefore happy to accept the amendment.

Lord Greenway: My Lords, I can only express my gratitude to the Minister.

Amendment 110 agreed.

Clause 113: Marine conservation zones

Amendment 110A

Moved by Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

110A: Clause 113, page 68, line 8, at end insert “or as a highly protected marine conservation zone”

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, with this amendment we move back to what I think we agreed in Committee was, for many of us, at the heart of the Bill. This is the part that deals with marine conservation zones. I have brought this amendment back, first, because I believe that the terminology is in itself very unhelpful in discussing what is meant by marine conservation zones. Secondly, the Government are still denying the MMO a vital tool in the box. I thank the Minister for sending the various pieces of draft Defra guidance around; it was very helpful. Having said that, it increased my fear that the terminology is mixed up here; it really should be better defined in the Bill.

In the beginning, when we talked about marine conservation zones, we were just talking about something that would improve dramatically the conservation effort in marine areas. There were some impassioned speeches, notably by the noble Lord, Lord Eden of Winton, in Committee. I will not rehearse all the reasons why we should have this strong effort towards conservation. However, there are zones in the Bill that can be designated as marine conservation zones at the moment, but all sorts of activities can still apply to take place within

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them. That is fine; there are many places where lots of activities may still be applicable. There may be one sort of fishing denied and another sort admitted. There may be no dredging at all. Recreational activities may be fine. There is a whole gamut of things.

However, then we come to those places that I think the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, referred to in Committee as “pristine”. The Defra guidance now has a new word for it, which is “naturalness”. These are places that really have not been disturbed at all. If you have a zone that really exhibits that, and which has lots of rare species and all or many of the other things that Defra has on its list, surely that place has a claim to being a highly protected marine zone, where it is pointless to apply for a licence because you simply should not be granted it. Any human activity that encroached on the place would spoil it. It should be in the MMO’s power to designate such a zone straight away.

I think that there is still confusion around this subject. Defra’s guidance, Delivering Marine Conservation Zones and Marine Protected Areas, refers to marine protected areas’ benefits for fisheries. The place that it quotes, again and again throughout this—and under benefits for tourism—is the Lundy no-take zone. If there is one example of a highly protected area, this is it. You cannot extrapolate everything about marine conservation zones from one highly protected area. It would be terrific to achieve the objective of all our seas being as they are around Lundy. However, when the Government talk about designating marine conservation zones, it is not a realistic aim at this point to say that this is where they believe that they will be, even by 2020, let alone 2012.

Lundy is a particular place. There will be other places around the coast that scientific evidence will show should be a highly protected zone. That is why the Bill needs to give this tool to the MMO, so that it can say that most places that demonstrate good reasons and scientific evidence for having particular protection will simply be marine conservation zones, where licences can be applied for and may be granted if they will not be damaging. However, there will be a few special places that should have absolutely nothing granted that will damage their naturalness or pristineness at all. For example, around Lundy, you cannot even drop an anchor; you must attach to a buoy. I am interested to hear why the Government want to deny the MMO this one very important tool. It has been proved internationally. Every time that the benefits of highly protected areas are widely quoted, it is because they are very highly protected and there is no human activity in them.

The Wildlife Trusts produced a very attractive brochure, Marine Reserves, which covered what they had campaigned for. The section “Do marine reserves work?” mentions 160 of the world’s most eminent marine experts assessing work and deciding that full protection is critical to achieve the full range of benefits. It highlighted that the last point is the important one. The full range of benefits may not always be possible for social or economic reasons, but where the science is driving you to say that an area deserves the full range of benefits, it deserves full protection.

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I ask the Minister to accept that there is a difference in definition and that it is a waste of everybody’s time to have people apply for licences and go through the whole bureaucratic process that they would for one sort of conservation zone; and to accept that there should be a few of these particularly special areas that are recognised by this one particular designation. I beg to move.

7 pm

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I strongly agree with what my noble friend has just said in support of her amendment and I wish to comment on it, very briefly, from a Welsh perspective.

The Welsh Assembly Government have already confirmed that in Wales a marine conservation zone designation will be used to establish some highly protected sites and zones. Such sites have the greatest potential for delivering biodiversity and the example given by my noble friend of Lundy Island is outstanding. It is well known on both sides of the Severn estuary that, because of the no-take zone, the quality of the fish stocks and biodiversity in Lundy sets a good example throughout the whole of the British Isles. Indeed, I know examples of a similar kind in New Zealand which have produced similar quality results.

The Countryside Council for Wales, which advises the Welsh Assembly Government, believes it is particularly important for Wales that the Bill enables and supports the creation of highly protected zones in the way described in the amendment. I agree that the inclusion of highly protected zones would be a welcome improvement to the Bill. It would provide a benefit for the Welsh marine ecosystem and could be pursued throughout the waters around the United Kingdom.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. I used to be completely dubious about highly protected marine conservation zones. I was not convinced that it was necessary—this will be music to the Minister’s ears—to have this provision in the Bill. A number of groups tried to persuade me otherwise and, of all the arguments I heard, one changed my mind considerably and I now believe that the Government should fulfil the commitment they made in their response to the Joint Committee report to include a reference to such sites in the Bill. They have not carried out that commitment.

The reason I was persuaded otherwise was rather bizarre. I, too, commend the very good book produced by the Wildlife Trust movement, but other groups spoke to me about this. We are still in the infancy of marine conservation science. We do not know very much about what goes on under the sea; we do not have good baseline information; and we do not know the true richness of our seas, particularly those closer to our coasts, or what they are capable of because we have not got a memory that goes back to a time when they were not quite so heavily exploited, particularly by fisheries. So, unless we get some sites where economic activity is excluded—they do not need to be extensive—and the absolute requirement is that nature be allowed to bounce back to whatever level it naturally bounces back to, we will not know what the marine environment is capable of.

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We all bang on about Lundy, but it is the only live experiment of that kind that we have had so far and it is not a particularly good one. But the richness, size and robustness of the marine ecosystem that was generated as a result of excluding fishing and lobster exploitation from that area should encourage the Minister to go back to the original intention in the Government’s response to the Joint Committee and signal to the Secretary of State that some highly protected areas are desirable and should be in the Bill.

I am not exactly sure of the quotation—something about a sinner saved being worth more than anyone else—but I was a sinner. I did not believe in highly protected marine conservation zones; but now I do.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I am tempted to start quoting from the Bible about the sinner that repenteth but, as there are no right reverend Prelates here to get it right for me, I shall not pursue it any further.

I want to say two or three very quick things about the amendment. First, generally, I thought my noble friend Lady Miller was a little dismissive about the bits of paper that the Government have sent round to us. I think that the latest mailing we have had from the Government on marine conservation zones is extremely helpful and shows how far and how quickly the thinking and work is progressing. We received the latest version of the draft strategy on Delivering Marine Conservation Zones and European Marine Sites and the draft guidance on Selection and Designation of Marine Conservation Zones (Note 1)—one in a series of how many, I wonder. The fact that we have received these in time for Report stage here and that they will be available before the whole of the debate in the House of Commons is extremely useful. Those who have obviously been putting in a large amount of work in producing all this documentation and those who are carrying out work on the ground and in the sea are to be commended.

Secondly, the Government seem to be implying in their briefings that there is not much difference between us. They are saying that there will be a spectrum of marine conservation zones—or perhaps a kaleidoscope of them—which will all have their own individual regimes, rules and regulations and will be different in each case. Some of them will be highly protected at one end and some will be protected for only one purpose at the other end. We understand that. However, the reason there should be a small number of special zones is partly symbolic and partly a declaration that there are some areas where, no matter what people put forward and what they argue, the answer is no. They are special areas, based on the science and on the facts, and are qualitatively different from all other zones, which will be bespoke in the sense that their regimes will vary based on what is in them.

There will be relatively few special places where the regime is absolute, and that is the difference of opinion between us. I think that difference will run to the end of the Bill, and I hope that the Government will find ways of moving on this. They say that they do not want a two-tier system; we are not talking about a two-tier system. Having a relatively few special areas will not in any way detract from whatever regime there may be in all the other areas. The argument that if you

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have these special areas everyone will think that it is open house to do anything they want anywhere else does not stand up at all.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, once again I cannot support the noble Baroness’s amendment. I have not had the conversion that came fortuitously to the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Not for me the possibility of seeing this differently from my initial reaction.

I understand the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that marine conservation zones should be, when appropriate, of suitable strength properly to protect the environment over which they are established. I also understand the important and often significantly underappreciated contribution that pristine areas, or areas of naturalness, can make to the overall ecosystem. I, too, hope that, in designating the network, the appropriate authority will have the will and power to impose the necessary restrictions over the features that we are seeking to conserve. Listening to the arguments presented by noble Lords only reinforces my view that within marine conservation zones will be many specific designations. Therefore, I still hold the view that I expressed in Committee: that establishing a two-tier system—as it would be if there were two different levels of designation—where the appropriate authority would have to weigh up whether a habitat was worthy of a higher status of protection would be counterproductive.

MCZs will, I hope, be flexible, targeted webs of different restrictions, changing over time for many reasons. Migratory habits, ever-improving scientific knowledge, the impact of global warming and even the recovery of some features will all make necessary the review of by-laws and planning decisions. Adding another arbitrary feature that would need to be changed would not add to the network but instead make it a little more cumbersome and unresponsive. My later amendment, to Clause 119, to tighten up the duty to designate a network, is my preferred way forward.

I hope that the Minister will reassure us that what the noble Baroness seeks in her amendment can happen anyway. There is, I presume, no top limit on the amount of restriction that the appropriate authority can impose on an area of sea. If the habitat is found to be so vulnerable and so valuable that it is decided that the only way to protect it is to prevent all activity in that area, that is, as I understand it, possible under the existing drafting.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am relieved that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has not strayed from the path of righteousness on this amendment. Having listened with great attention to this debate, I feel that there is no disagreement in principle between us. The Government fully understand the intent of the noble Baroness’s amendment, but are concerned that it could have perverse consequences. I generally plead with the House to be very cautious about going down the two-tier route and causing confusion and difficulties in putting the legislation into practice. That, I think, is the argument between us.

I am glad that the benefit of the draft strategy, Delivering Marine Conservation Zones and European Marine Sites, has been acknowledged. I hope that it is

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helpful in highlighting the Government’s aims and commitment to marine nature conservation. As I have said, I do not believe that there is disagreement between us on the principles. We believe that the powers in the Bill are broad enough in appropriate cases to protect marine conservation zones from all damaging human activities. I can assure the House that the Bill allows for this. We have heard mentioned a number of times the marine nature reserves at Lundy and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, suggested, they are highly protected by anyone’s standards. However, I cannot see how the Bill as it is currently drafted would in any way cause a reduction in those standards of protection.

7.15 pm

Clause 113(1) states that the appropriate authority—for England, this is the Secretary of State—may designate marine conservation zones. It applies no restrictions on the power of the appropriate authority to set stringent restrictions. Clause 120(2)(c) refers to the requirement to report to Parliament and talks specifically of areas where licensable or extractive activities are prohibited. Licensing conditions can be set under Clause 68(3). They can be as stringent as necessary and they will come under the duty of public authorities in Clause 121 to best further or least hinder the conservation objectives of each marine conservation zone.

I accept, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, that there is much scientific knowledge that we need to seek and understand in the years ahead. It is therefore very important that the flexibility exists for the restrictions to change over time. We accept that the levels of restriction required to achieve conservation objectives can change over time, and the Bill, as drafted, allows us to change the conditions. If because of the science it is necessary for further conditions to be set, there is nothing in the Bill to prevent it.

I come to the two-tier approach. As I have said, we have deliberately designed the marine conservation zones as a flexible mechanism that can be tailored to deliver the precise level of protection needed by the features of each individual site. We think that a two-tier approach is not only unnecessary but could undermine the flexibility which is fundamental to our vision for marine conservation zones.

As I have said already, we have debated on many occasions the complexity of the marine environment, how our understanding of it is still developing and how our seas are changing in the face of climate change and other factors. Each new scientific study reveals more of the complexities of the living environment in our seas. The dynamic nature of the marine environment means that the levels of protection for individual sites will need to change over time. We therefore need flexibility. Noble Lords should not be concerned that such flexibility will mean that, where we need high protection and very stringent conditions, those conditions will not be applied, because they can be and will be.

The problem with the two-tier approach is, first, bureaucracy, where the level of protection for marine conservation needs to change in the light of new information. A two-tier approach would require all kinds of processes to enable a zone to be designated in

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the way that the noble Baroness’s amendment envisages, as opposed to what might be called an “ordinary” marine conservation zone.

Moreover, the two-tier approach does not fit comfortably with the fact that there may need to be different levels of protection within the same site, either at different times of the year or in different parts of the site. The noble Baroness said that if one had a highly protected zone, as in her amendment, it would make it clear to potential applicants for licences that they would have very little chance of success, thereby creating greater certainty. However, I come back to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that it could also cause a lot of confusion. There is a risk of the lower designation of marine conservation zone being taken to imply that the zone has less conservation value. That is not the case: these zones will be as vital to our network as zones with the highest level of protection. There is a real danger that ordinary marine conservation zones—or lower marine conservation zones, as I describe them—would receive a lower level of legal protection. That would be a problem.

I feel very strongly about this and I know that the noble Baroness does, too. I assure her that nothing in the Bill prevents an MCZ being designated with the kind of conditions that she wishes to see. It is a genuine concern that her well meant amendment could lead to perverse incentives. Again, the disagreement is not on principle, but simply on the impact that her amendment would have.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I warmly thank my noble friend Lord Livsey of Talgarth. His comments about Wales will be the shining example that shows the Government what a trick they are missing here. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, because a conversion is probably worth as much as the huge number of us who already thought as we did. She is absolutely right about the evidence of nature bouncing back; that is a good way of putting it.

My noble friend Lord Greaves, who supported me, seemed to think that I was dismissive of Defra’s guidance; and perhaps I did not say enough about it. It was extremely useful in spelling out the different categories of ecological significance—high natural and biological diversity, representivity, sensitivity, naturalness and so on—because this gave us a flavour of how Defra sees a marine conservation zone working.

I was extremely disappointed when those on the Conservative Front Bench said that they would not support this. They said that it would establish a two-tier system and would be counterproductive. However, in the terrestrial area there are many protective tiers, such as SSSIs and AONBs, that protect the landscape. National parks protect social activities within a special landscape, and the landscape itself. We are used to working with different tiers to protect and conserve. It is not a new concept, and I am astonished that those on the Conservative Front Bench, who have often talked volubly about conservation matters, and even worked with us on the CROW Act to further their aims, are now withdrawing from them in the context of the marine landscape. That is extremely disappointing.

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