HC Deb 29 October 1981 vol 10 cc1019-22

The Lords agree to the following amendment made by the Commons:

Leave out clause 34 and insert the following new clause— (1) Where, in the case of any land covered (continuously or intermittently) by tidal waters or parts of the sea in or adjacent to Great Britain up to the seaward limits of territorial waters, it appears to the Secretary of State expedient, on an application made by the Nature Conservancy Council, that the land and waters covering it should be managed by the Council for the purpose of

  1. (a) conserving marine flora or fauna or geological or physiographical features of special interest in the area; or
  2. (b) providing, under suitable conditions and control, special opportunities for the study of, and research into, matters relating to marine flora and fauna and the physical conditions in which they live, or for the study of geological and physiographical features of special interest in the area,
he may by order designate the area comprising that land and those waters as a marine nature reserve; and the Council shall manage any area so designated for either or both of those purposes. (2) An application for an order under this section shall be accompanied by—
  1. (a) a copy of the byelaws which, if an order is made, the Council propose making under section (Byelaws for protection of marine nature reserves) for the protection of the area specified in the application; and
  2. (b) a copy of any byelaws made or proposed to be made for the protection of that area by a relevant authority,
and an order made on the application shall authorise the making under that section of such of the byelaws proposed to be made by the Council as may be set out in the order with or without modifications. (3) Byelaws the making of which is so authorised—
  1. (a) shall not require the Secretary of State's consent under subsection (1) of section (Byelaws for protection of marine nature reserves); and
  2. (b) notwithstanding anything in the provisions applied by subsection (4) of that section, shall take effect on their being made.
(4)The provisions of Schedule (Procedure in connection with orders under section (Marine nature reserves)) shall have effect as to the making, validity and date of coming into operation of orders under this section; and an order made under this section may be amended or revoked by a subsequent order so made. (5) The powers exercisable by the Council for the purpose of managing an area designated as a marine nature reserve under this section shall include power to install markers indicating the existence and extent of the reserve. (6) Nothing in this section or in byelaws made under section (Byelaws for protection of marine nature reserves) shall interfere with the exercise of any right of passage by a vessel other than a pleasure boat, any functions of a relevant authority, any functions conferred by or under an enactment (whenever passed) or any right of any person (whenever vested). (7) In this section and section (Byelaws for protection of marine nature reserves)— "enactment" includes an enactment contained in a local Act; "local authority" means—
  1. (a) in relation to England and Wales, a county council, a district council, the Greater London Council or a London borough council;
  2. (b) in relation to Scotland, a regional council, an islands council or a district council;
"relevant authority" means a local authority, a water authority or any other statutory water undertakers, an internal drainage board, a navigation authority, a harbour authority, a pilotage authority, a lighthouse authority, a conservancy authority, a river purification board, a district board for a fishery district within the meaning of the Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1862, or a local fisheries committee constituted under the Sea Fisheries Regulation Act 1966; "vessel" includes a hovercraft and any aircraft capable of landing on water, and "pleasure boat" shall be construed accordingly.

but propose the following amendment thereto:

No. 11, in subsection (6), leave out: any right of passage by a vessel other than a pleasure boat".

Mr. Macfarlane:

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 12 to 16.

Mr. Macfarlane:

The Lords amendments deal with two distinct aspects of the control of pleasure boats in marine nature reserves—access and discharges. I should like to deal first with the question of access.

As it was worded when it left this House, the clause on marine nature reserves, subsection (6), allowed a byelaw to prohibit absolutely the entry of pleasure boats into a reserve. Although the Government gave categorical assurances that the byelaw-making power would never be exercised in that way, certain interests, as hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee will know, protested strongly that the mere existence of an enabling power was an infringement of the cherished rights of innocent passage.

In another place, amendments Nos. 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16 were agreed. They have the effect of removing the Secretary of State's power to confirm byelaws which could stop all pleasure boats from entering or passing through any part of a reserve at any time, while at the same time allowing the prohibition of access to certain areas within the reserve at certain times of the year. Since this is closely in line with the way in which it was expected that the previous provision would have been applied, the Government saw no need to resist. I trust that the House will feel likewise.

As it left this House, the Bill provided that discharges from pleasure craft could be controlled by byelaws while discharges from other craft could not. The Lords held that this was discriminatory. As the Bill is now worded as a result of Lords amendment No. 15, all craft are now subject to the same controls. The only effective control at present available is the Prevention of Oil Pollution Act 1971, which covers the discharge of any oil or oily substances except bilge water from boats of under 80 tons. The Dumping at Sea Act 1974, which was mentioned in another place, does not cover pleasure boats. I hope that that clarifies the matter.

What we must now do is look to the future, and to the next couple of years in particular. When section 31(5) of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 comes into force, the Secretary of State will have power to prohibit by regulation the deposit of any polluting matter into areas which he may designate. Where there is an international dimension to the problem, section 20 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1979 can be brought into play. Under that, Orders in Council could be made to give effect to any international agreement which relates to prevention, restriction or control of pollution of the sea by matter from ships. At present there is no relevant international convention in being but the subject is of great international concern, and to attempt to treat our marine nature reserves in isolation is not necessarily the most effective way forward. Pollution from outside the reserves can so easily flow in I asked the House to agree, as the NCC has agreed, that the broad front approach is the right one. Meanwhile, the Royal Yachting Association has agreed enthusiastically to co-operate with the NCC in drawing up a code of conduct for our marine nature reserves. If this proves ineffective and if pollution from pleasure craft is seen to be a problem, it will always be open for the NCC to make out a case for the application of the power to make a byelaw to route vessels away from sensitive areas.

I hope that what I have said will be of reassurance to the House.

Mr. Dalyell:

As will be known to the Minister—and I take this opportunity of thanking the Department for all its courtesies throughout the long passage of this Bill—I contacted the Department this morning about our worries on this issue. Has there not been a little misunderstanding? I am not casting blame on the Minister in the House of Lords. I understand that notes were passed frantically to him—which may be the source of the difficulty. I have had notes passed frantically to me by Friends of the Earth, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the World Wildlife Fund, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Council for the National Parks, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Nature Conservancy Council, the Council for the Preservations of Nature and, indeed, on occasion, the National Farmers Union——

Mr. Graham:

And the Whip!

Mr. Dalyell: *Certainly the Whips—and my colleagues on the Front Bench. I know what it is like to have notes suddenly thrust in front of one, so I do not blame Lord Avon for having misunderstood one. However, I should have thought that if there had been a misunderstanding, something could be done about that by a very tiny alteration of the legislation over which we would not create difficulties. As I understand it, the directorate of rural affairs in the Department, advised by the departmental lawyers, thought that the Dumping at Sea Act would cover the dumping of rubbish from pleasure boats. I understand, however—and the Minister has confirmed it—that that is not so, because that Act concerns specific dumping of items such as sludge and sewage.**

*In reality, it is in the interests of pleasure boat users and those who are concerned about marine nature reserves that the clause be restored, because if there were no control of dumping, boats would be restricted in their access to marine nature reserves. If the clause is restored, pleasure boats would gain greater access since dumping would be illegal. If this provision goes through, is it not a fact that the pleasure boat fraternity would be the losers and would possibly be forced to do things that they do not want to do?

I understand also that there is a problem concerning the code of conduct with the Nature Co nservancy Council. One would hope that implementation of part II of the Control of Pollution Act through means of orders by the Secretary of State would take care of it in the short term, but surely that could very easily be put right next Session for the long term.

Some of us think that one of the best things to come out of the long arguments on this Bill was the preservation, in its pristine form, of the idea of the marine nature reserve. We really care about it, and we hope that this will not be vitiated by a comparatively small matter. Can it not be put right in the early period of the next Session, when, as the Minister knows, Governmemts traditionally have very little business that is ready?**

Mr. Macfarlane: *I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I refrain from commenting in detail on that latter aspect. I cannot speculate on such affairs. I am grateful for his recognition of the difficulties facing Ministers in both Houses when legislation is at a certain pitch. I pay tribute to my colleague in another place, Earl Avon, who made the observation. It was an incorrect recognition, and he was ill-advised on that occasion. I hope that we have now satisfied the House. There is existing legislation. There is a framework within which we can proceed. This is of great benefit for our marine nature reserves.**

Mr. Dalyell: *By leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to make a further comment.**

*Like many other things in relation to the Bill, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.**

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 12 to 16 agreed to.

The Lords agree to the following amendment made by the Commons: