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One basis of my previous argument was that such an amendment is necessary to enable the Government to fulfil their obligations under the European Landscape Convention. I understand that the convention does not refer specifically to seascapes, although it extends out to sea to the 12-mile limit. The Minister wrote to explain his department’s thinking on how the United Kingdom already complies with the convention. That

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was appreciated, but it did not go quite far enough. I understand that this is an area where thinking is developing. I also understand that both Natural England and English Heritage have plans for implementing the convention which would include historic seascapes assessment, so that the characterisation work carried out by English Heritage in Liverpool Bay and other places will not be lost.

While I have been reassured by the fact that work and thinking on this subject are ongoing, it will nevertheless be up to us to ensure, if the amendment is not accepted, that the issue is followed up and made clear in primary legislation when a suitable vehicle is presented—that will possibly be the heritage protection Bill if it ever sees the light of day.

I have also noted the part to be played by the recently published, high-level marine objectives document, Our seas—a shared resource, which will, I understand, inform the marine policy statement and marine planning. The document defines “seascape” as follows:

“An area of sea, coastline and land, whose character results from the actions and interactions of land with sea, by natural and/or human factors”.

This definition will be very helpful for the future and is certainly a first step.

As the ministerial policy statement process may be the next opportunity to deal in a suitably flexible manner with the developing thinking on seascapes, I would appreciate it if the Minister would give us comfort on four points: the recognition of the importance of seascapes; support for further work on defining what they are, and the identification of nationally important seascapes; confirmation that the marine policy statement will specifically address seascapes and include recognition that nationally important areas may be so defined in future; and confirmation that these areas will be a material consideration in the marine consenting process.

I know that a number of noble Lords wished to speak in support of the amendment, but have found it impossible to be here today. However, I am delighted that my co-signatories to the amendment are here and able to participate. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I meant to put my name to the amendment, but I missed the deadline. I support the amendment and the spirit behind it. I ask the Minister to consider the fact that we are talking about the grounds for the designation of MCZs. If the grounds for designation can be features of geological or geomorphological interest, which are in the list, it is strange—as the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, explained so well when she talked about the interaction between sea and land—that things other than those of geological or geomorphological interest seem to be excluded. Seascapes are about the totality of the picture.

I recognise, as does the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, that this is an evolving issue. It is crucial because it is in these areas, between the mean high water mark and the mean low water mark, that local authorities and MMOs will have to work closely together on planning issues. Those issues will be very real to people: they will concern the coast that they see, love and look at. It is critical, as the high-level objectives are worked

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towards—whether in the forthcoming heritage Bill or guidance that goes out to local authorities and the MMO—that this matter is developed with all speed.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Hooper for tabling the amendment. We had a good debate on this in Committee, where noble Lords widely accepted the concept of special areas of coast that are of exceptional beauty. We know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My favourite maritime view, of the Wash from Shep Whites, may be too strong on the horizontal to suit all tastes. However, my noble friend has drawn our attention to an important aspect of our coastal heritage.

There are two ways of looking at seascapes. Is it the prospect of the sea from the land, or of the shore from the sea? Perhaps both are equally important. What can be accepted without argument is the need to ensure that, on land or at sea, there is a requirement to observe the context and to seek to maintain the natural beauty of place. We cannot doubt that this area will develop and become more, rather than less, important. I expect that the Minister will assure us that the planning system and the Bill seek to ensure that this will happen. I hope that he can make that clear in his reply to this important amendment.

Lord Greenway: My Lords, I express the concern of the trade association representing boating interests and the commercial boating people. They are worried about this particular development. As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has just said, people enjoy seascapes from the sea, which implies from a boat. The boating authorities are worried that moves at this stage on seascapes might inhibit their activities, which would also rebound on those countless millions of people who go to sea for leisure activities in the course of the year in this country. This is much too broad, at this stage. I appreciate that the Government are looking at this in the longer term, but seascapes are something that we did not look at in the pre-legislative scrutiny committee and it is too early to get too involved in this at this moment in time.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken on this amendment and to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for having proposed it. As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, indicated, there was an interesting and wide-ranging debate in Committee on these issues, which clearly showed a range of opinions and the interest in the issue. I have borne in mind the point of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, when he emphasised the fact that the seascape could be enjoyed by looking from the sea to the land as well as from the land to the sea. I always recall that individual who, in that most attractive of lakeside views in the north Italian lakes, admired so much a monastery on a little island in the centre of the lake that he moved from his side to the monastery when a property became available. Never again did he have as good a view as he had from the land, looking at the house that he had bought. Therefore, we have to bear in mind the question of seascapes, which has a certain subjective quality, as well as the issue of whether one is looking at them from the land or from the sea.

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Of course, the Government have considered the issues a great deal since Committee. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for indicating that the meeting that took place with officials advanced the cause somewhat further. There was no difference between the Government and noble Lords about the value of seascapes and the extent to which this Bill would not reach its objectives if it did not take them into account. However, our problem is the issue of definition. The Government published the high-level marine objectives on 20 April, and there are a number of references in that document to seascapes. It highlights the fact that the Government have a clear commitment on this issue. The objectives also contain a high-level definition of what might be considered a seascape, which is inevitably very wide—even to the point, noble Lords may think, of vagueness. But we have all struggled with the issue of definition, and we all recognise how difficult it is.

The definition refers to:

“An area of sea, coastline and land, whose character results from the actions and interactions of land with sea, by natural and/or human factors”.

This is the Government’s commitment to seascapes. We have a working definition; I am all too well aware of the fact that my noble friend Lord Howarth seeks to participate in this debate and might be a little scathing about the limited dimension of the objective and the vagueness of the definition. We were under pressure from the committee to recognise the issue of seascapes and produce some definition, which is what we have done. I appreciate the work that the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and my noble friend Lord Howarth have done in seeking a definition, but there is a great deal of work still to be done.

We need to develop our understanding of the nature of seascapes. That is why, inevitably, the Government are somewhat nervous about enshrining the current position in legislation. Legislation, after all, has some degree of permanence to it and a great deal of work still needs to be done on definition. It is difficult to set out what we mean by a valued seascape and, consequently, one that deserves special protection. Our ideas are bound to evolve over time as we understand these issues more. I hope noble Lords will appreciate the extent to which the Government have wrestled with this issue and the fact that we are making some progress. I say to the noble Baroness and to all noble Lords who supported her—although the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, entered his caveat—that there are sufficient difficulties about this issue for us to have anxieties about how we express them in legislation.

English Heritage is looking at the characteristics of historic landscapes in parts of the marine environment where aggregate dredging takes place, and Natural England recognises the importance of seascapes. Its landscape policies explicitly encompass seascapes and, as a statutory adviser on the natural environment, the advice it gives takes into account all relevant impacts on landscapes and seascapes. It has recognised in its action plan, the European Landscape Convention to which the noble Baroness referred in her opening remarks, the need to develop a seascape characterisation of the English coastline to help inform planning and management decisions. So work is going on.

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We cannot accept a definition in the Bill, but there is clear recognition in the high-level objectives—which will feed into the marine policy statement and, in turn, inform the marine plans—of a commitment. As the plans are drawn up under the widespread consultation mechanism we have defined clearly in the Bill, the regionally important seascapes of whatever formulation —views from or towards the land, or precious coastal environments—can and will be identified. Decisions on licensing and consenting developments which then follow will need to take account of these matters. This may not be a designation process, as such, because we have some problems with that concept, but nothing may be deposited or built in the sea, and so affect a seascape, without a licence to do so. So there is protection with regard to our valued perspectives.

I want to reassure the House that we do not have to wait for marine plans to be in place for seascapes to be taken into account. We are already able to consider them through consultation on current development applications, which are handled by the department. English Heritage and Natural England advise strongly on cultural and conservation matters, and decisions are influenced accordingly. We try to obtain consensus through amending proposals where we can, and we have, for example, moved the siting of wind farms further offshore after representations. If the marine plan conflicted with local consensus on a view which should be protected, we would not automatically expect one to trump the other. Decisions will be taken on a case-by-case basis. One of the reasons for allowing “relevant considerations” to be taken into account by marine plan authorities such as the MMO is precisely because of the kind of issue to which the noble Baroness has given voice with her amendment.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, the Minister said that if a marine plan conflicted with the local consensus about the seascape, it would not automatically go through. Surely the marine plan should have taken account of such things in advance and, therefore, local sensitivities about the seascape should be incorporated within the marine plan before it is adopted.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is absolutely right. We hope that that will obtain in the vast majority of cases. I am just anticipating circumstances where it is felt that the marine plan has not been sensitive enough to a local position or where the consensus has been established that what is suggested in the marine plan conflicts with other views. I am merely indicating, within that framework, that the issue of the seascape could provide an important part of the necessary discussion. The noble Lord is right: this is to reflect what we hope will be a minority of positions where the marine plan has not evolved on the basis of a sufficient consensus to have taken those factors into account and obviated the anxieties that he identified.

9.15 pm

The nature conservation mechanism has been designed to address scientific evidence rather than what we are discussing here, which are more subjective and esoteric considerations of the aesthetic value of our seas. I am

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not denying the importance of the concept, but merely seeking to indicate—I am sure that all parts of the House appreciate this—that it is more difficult for us to give categorical evaluation with regard to scientific evidence on certain parts of the development of marine plans. This is a more difficult concept to wrestle with. That is why we are seeking to identify that the Government have been persuaded of the importance of this issue. We will take these factors into account. We do not expect marine plans to evolve without consideration of this matter and we have agencies that will advance the cause, but the marine planning system is a powerful tool. It will certainly provide the protection that noble Lords are seeking through this amendment, but we cannot constrain the planners quite in the way that the amendment suggests by attempting a definition on the face of the Bill which, at the present time, still lacks a unifying consensus and raises difficult issues.

I hope that the Government will be given credit for wrestling with the issue and making progress and that the noble Baroness will feel that that is a basis on which she can withdraw her amendment. I hope that my noble friend Lord Howarth agrees with her.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, I am delighted to be a co-signatory to this amendment. The case for it was laid out very well by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hooper and Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, so I thought that I would wait to see what my noble friend the Minister had to say before offering any thoughts of my own. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, I enormously welcome the serious thought and care that the Government have taken in addressing this issue. We were very grateful for the meeting that was recently held under Defra auspices with the participation of a number of other bodies such as Natural England and English Heritage. It was particularly pleasing to learn about the work that Natural England—

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, do I understand that the noble Lord is wishing to speak after the Minister, who has sat down?

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, I understood that it was in order. If I am incorrect in that, I will sit down. I have not previously spoken in the debate, but if I am in breach of the conventions then of course I will refrain from speaking.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, if my noble friend can keep his remarks reasonably brief and within the context of “before I have sat down”, I have not yet sat down.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister, who is the most adept of politicians, Ministers and friends. I am also grateful to the House for its tolerance. I will of course be brief.

Yes, we recognise that there are definitional difficulties. There are definitional difficulties in defining an area of outstanding natural beauty, but the planning system has learnt to do that. The evolution of policy legislation and marine planning practice should lead us to a

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capacity to designate seascapes in due course. But I also recognise that a considerable amount of work is needed before we get to that point. It is good to know that the need for that work is being taken seriously by the relevant agencies.

I was particularly appreciative of what my noble friend had to say about the marine policy statement. Developing that statement will be an evolutionary process, but when we have it, that statement will, at least for the time being, be an authoritative statement. It will be a policy that creates the context within which those responsible for the marine planning system, and decisions taken under it, will have to do their work. The assurance that the Minister has given that the high-level objectives stated in the recently published document will feed through to the marine policy statement and the indication he gave that the commitment to seascapes will be a material planning consideration give us a great deal of reassurance.

On that basis, I am very grateful to the Minister and the department for the seriousness with which they are addressing this issue. This has been a valuable debate, but we should probably be content with what the Government have said this evening.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, I am most grateful to those who have supported this amendment and I say to the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, that we do not want to spoil anybody’s pleasure in recreational activities on the sea or in the sea. It is a question of getting the right balance and not forgetting that those who are enjoying the pleasures of the sea are not ruining somebody else’s enjoyment of a beautiful seascape.

I did not hear the Minister, in his remarks, specifically answer the four points that I raised about the marine policy statement, although he was able to give some new reassurance about it and about the proposed functioning of the marine planning system. I do not fully understand why a definition of “seascape” is so difficult, especially when there is a perfectly adequate one in the high-level objectives document I quoted. Nevertheless, I appreciate that this is a very complex area and we want to get it absolutely right. Since we are aware that work is ongoing in getting it right, I will live in hopes of another opportunity to see this enshrined in primary legislation. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 110C withdrawn.

Amendment 110D

Moved by Baroness Young of Old Scone

110D: Clause 114, page 69, line 20, leave out subsection (7)

Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, this feels a bit like Groundhog Day again; we have debated the socio-economic requirement in the designation of marine conservation zones on several previous occasions. I must confess that I tabled my amendment at a time when I predicted that there would be another amendment which would strengthen the requirement so that it would not just say that in designating marine conservation zones, account “could be taken” of the socio-economic

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issues, but that account “must be” taken of the socio-economic conditions. So I tabled my amendment in order to counteract that opposing tendency and to toughen up the need to take the socio-economic conditions into account, but I have been rather wrong-footed by the fact that no such amendment is now on the Marshalled List. Nevertheless, needless to say, in the spirit of soldiering on in a lost cause, I shall continue to make the point. First, I thank the Minister for all the additional information that we have had in the last few days about the designation, the draft strategy for marine protected areas, the quaintly-noted “Note 1” draft guidance on selection and designation of marine conservation zones and indeed the briefing note on Part 5 of the Bill.

I quote from that briefing note, because it goes some way towards reassuring me that socio-economic factors are indeed, as it says, optional, secondary considerations. It says that it is implicit that the appropriate authority must make such a decision—that is, the decision to designate a particular area as a marine conservation zone—based primarily on scientific evidence; it would not otherwise be exercising its duty in a reasonable way. It goes on to say:

“We believe this underlying scientific foundation is the correct approach ... The consideration of social and economic factors should be an option open to the appropriate authority and not a compulsory part of the process”.

I suppose that the least that I might get tonight is for the Minister to say that he does indeed endorse his own briefing note, and have that in Hansard for perpetuity as opposed to on a piece of paper that has been circulated to us and which nobody will remember existed in a year’s time. I thank the Minister for those statements in the guidance. I hope he will endorse it and that the briefing note is indeed right.

I should briefly state why I would prefer it if the socio-economic requirement were stated in a completely different way; that is, that it was not possible to reduce the power of the scientific evidence that ought to underpin marine conservation zones by tempering it in the initial stages with socio-economic issues. The evidence is exactly as I stated in Committee and at Second Reading. We have been struggling for 25 years to get protected areas in the marine environment but we have hardly any at all. We have three small sites, mainly because every other site that was ever raised fell foul of socio-economic pressures.

There are other mechanisms in the Bill and assurances from the Government about the pace of creating a network and the need to create an ecologically coherent network, and other issues that we will discuss under other amendments. In a way, perhaps the Government have nowhere to hide on this. We cannot face another 25 years of socio-economic conditions getting in the way of the designation of marine conservation zones, or at least I hope not.

On several successive occasions I have raised another argument about the fact that socio-economic conditions should not be taken into account in the initial designation. It has not been an impediment with the terrestrial environment, where socio-economic conditions have not been taken into account in European legislation on protected areas under the European Natura 2000

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network or in the selection of sites of special scientific interest. They are designated entirely on the basis of the intrinsic merits of their importance to nature conservation, which is how it should be.

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