HC Deb 26 October 2001 vol 373 cc527-48

Order for Second Reading read.

9.33 am
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Winning the ballot for private Members' Bills is like winning the national lottery, except that one does not get the money. However, one does get all the begging letters. Coming out of the Committee Room where I had gone to see which poor soul had come top in the ballot, I felt rather like someone coming into a mediaeval court, having petitions thrust into my hand.

Sometimes I feel that we in this place make too many laws and regulations, and the idea of adding to the burden on our population was a little much for me. However, I decided that deregulating was not my job—nor would I be capable of it—so I thought carefully about the Bill that I wanted to introduce. Ever since I was very young, I have had a passionate interest in wildlife and wildlife conservation, so despite the many obvious and worthy candidates for a Bill, I decided on the present subject.

The Bill fills a significant gap in protection for the marine environment. I should say at the outset that the Bill should not be the final word: the Government need to take action on a much wider scale than my Bill would hope to achieve. Indeed, they have made such statements, and we in all parts of the House will make sure that they keep their word. A comprehensive approach is needed to marine management and conservation, including integrated planning and strategic environmental assessment. I hope that the Government's working group reviewing marine nature conservation will take matters forward.

I introduced the Bill because I passionately believe that the marine environment needs better protection. The postbags of parliamentary colleagues on both sides of the House, which are full of letters from constituents supporting my Bill, indicate that the wider public share that passion. That may to some extent be fuelled by the BBC's excellent series "The Blue Planet".

At least half of the United Kingdom's biodiversity is found in the marine environment, but existing laws do not adequately address its protection and management. Protection for marine habitats and species is far weaker than that for their equivalents on land, where protection was recently further improved by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 The UK has international commitments to protect marine wildlife through the habitats and birds directive and the Ospar convention. However, there is no domestic legislation to underpin those obligations or for us to meet our national aspirations to conserve wildlife.

For too long, the marine environment has been the Cinderella of wildlife conservation—a case of out of sight, out of mind. Surely it is a matter of great concern that such sensitive areas as Lyme bay in Dorset are unprotected, and that in areas where dolphins, porpoises, puffins and gannets can be found, their habitats are still vulnerable.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

When I was Northern Ireland Minister looking after agriculture and environment, we found that to be the case with Strangford lough, where it was difficult to find the powers to stop beam trawlers wrecking the lough bed. Proposals such as those that my hon. Friend is making would be useful not only outside territorial waters, but inside them.

Mr. Randall

I thank my hon. Friend. He will know that Strangford lough is now a marine nature reserve and the Bill does not deal with Northern Ireland, but the point is well made. Such areas need protection.

Coastal policy guidance states that sites of special scientific interest do not normally extend below the mean low water mark but can do so if there is local authority jurisdiction. That means in general that SSSIs—a land-based designation—are doing very little for the marine environment. My hon. Friend referred to Strangford lough, which is one of three marine nature reserves. They can be designated in coastal waters out to a distance of three nautical miles. However, since 1981 only those three marine nature reserves have been designated, the other two being Lundy and Skomer. The Government have accepted that the concept of MNRs has not been as successful as had been hoped and concluded that procedures are regarded as complex and unwieldy, and in need of an administrative overhaul".

Since the passage of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, successive Governments have undertaken reviews which have identified the need to address shortfalls in the Act with respect to the marine environment. I am a relatively new Member, but I understand that in 1985 the Environment Select Committee suggested that one solution might be to extend the SSSI provisions of the Act to marine sites. In 1992, the Committee recommended that the Government address the issue of how to protect sites of marine conservation importance, and considered an option to extend SSSI-type mechanisms below the low water mark.

In 1999, the House of Lords Committee Select Committee on the European Union concluded that a new approach was required to protect sites in the marine environment and that the relevant provisions of the 1981 Act should be reviewed to provide workable and effective protection for important marine areas of nature conservation interest.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) and I were active members of the Committee that considered what became the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

We struggled hour after hour to wring out a concession for marine nature reserves. The hon. Gentleman is right when he says that the outcome has been a disappointment. Is part of the disappointment the fact that insufficient effort has been made to get local people, especially the fishing community, to accept MNRs in areas such as Loch Sween? I know that that is a Scottish example.

Mr. Randall

I am sure that there was concern in the past, and I am sure that local people will be concerned about in today's environment. There is usually some reaction. During consultation on the Bill, we did not find significant local opposition. It might be true that the world has moved on—people are much more aware now of the importance of such sites and their responsibilities to them.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, there is an important economic benefit in being near areas of marine importance, as with any wildlife area. There is increasing eco-tourism, and people want to visit pleasant places to enjoy them. The Government responded to recommendations by establishing the review of the marine nature conservation group, which was chaired by the then Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Earlier this year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs submitted an interim report to Ministers that was based on work and discussions with the group. The membership of the group was a broad representation of interest groups, Government Departments and conservation bodies. The report concluded that only retention of the status quo seemed likely to require no statutory action. New duties imposed on DEFRA and the National Assembly for Wales, which apply throughout the territorial waters of England and Wales, coupled with new duties on public bodies, open the possibility of protecting sites and marine waters. I agree entirely with the marine nature conservation group's view that retention of the status quo is not desirable, which is why I have introduced the Bill.

I wanted there to be an inclusive process. At the end of July, I put my initial proposals out for wide consultation. Those consulted included the participants in the Government's review of the marine nature conservation working group, including ports, fishing organisations, energy interests and leisure interests. The response to the consultation paper was excellent. Most respondents agreed on the need for nationally important marine sites to be designated, although views on how to go about that varied.

I listened to the respondents' views and took account of them. For example, my initial idea of simply extending SSSIs into the marine environment was dropped in favour of something specifically designed for the marine environment. The idea of introducing an offence of recklessness for users was dropped. I have been grateful for the assistance of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds both in helping me to consult and assisting me in drafting the Bill. I mention particularly Duncan Huggett, Ben Stafford and Sharon Thompson. I thank also David Lloyd of the Public Bill Office, who was waiting for an addition to his family. I am pleased to say that that addition has arrived safely.

I put on record also my grateful thanks to DEFRA, which has helped me to define what should be achievable. I was happy that the Department undertook a more joined-up approach by consulting other Departments.

There are extensive explanatory notes, which I hope will be helpful to Members in understanding the intention behind the Bill.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport)

My constituency has an SSSI for wildfowl. Indeed, it is an area where there is a great variety of wildfowl. There are, however, quite promising environmental proposals for wind farms, which would be adjacent to the SSSI. As I understand it, the intention behind the Bill is not to have no development in a marine environment but to have controlled and sensitive development, and it will not necessarily prevent wind farm development out at sea. Is my understanding correct?

Mr. Randall

The hon. Gentleman has hit the nail on the head. I have a feeling that there is some confusion in the wider world. It is thought by some that the Bill will mean no further economic development and no wind farms, for example. That is untrue. The Bill will lay down a designation of an area to ensure that if any development is considered, its importance as a scientific site will be taken into consideration.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

Is there not an argument that the Bill would assist the rational development of offshore wind farms? It would make possible an agreed protocol for the development of wind farms. At present, the development of onshore and offshore wind farms is fraught with controversy. Sometimes there is irrational opposition from the Ministry of Defence as well as from local protesters. Is there not an argument for supporting the Bill in that it would enable a more rational, planned development of renewable energy in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Randall

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making a valid point. Some of the objections to the Bill stem from a misunderstanding of the objectives that lie behind it and of what will be achieved by it. I think that those who support the Bill would also support the idea of renewable energy sources. In doing one thing, it would be foolish to shut off something else in which we all have a great interest. I shall possibly touch on wind farms later in my remarks.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

I take up the point about renewable energy and offshore wind farm development. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is well aware that the British Wind Energy Association has been clearly opposed to his Bill. I support what the hon. Gentleman is trying to do, but does he recognise that SSSIs—the terrestrial equivalent of what he is trying to achieve—have been used by onshore objectors to wind farm projects as a way of delaying, stalling and thwarting onshore wind farm proposals? Should the House agree to the Bill being considered in Committee, will he agree to meet representatives of the British Wind Energy Association and to address their concerns before the Bill makes further progress?

Mr. Randall

The British Wind Energy Association is one of the groups that I consulted. Its representatives expressed the notion that there was absolutely no need for this sort of Bill. It was the only organisation to express that view.

Of course I will meet representatives of the BWEA. My approach throughout, and that of the RSPB, for example, which helped me to prepare the Bill, has been to consult. However, there must always be a compromise. I would not necessarily wish to place wind farms or any other development over and above a scientific interest. Neither would I say that a scientific interest should be placed first. That is why the Bill provides that the Secretary of State has ultimate power. I hope that my commitment to meet BWEA representatives and to consider in Committee any amendments that they may propose will go a long way to sorting out any problems that they have.

It may be useful if I point out what my Bill does not do: it does not overlap with terrestrial SSSIs or duplicate the international designations of special areas of conservation or special protection areas; it does not give English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales the power to designate sites without any further safeguards; it does not give new powers to anyone to prevent development in the marine environment and it certainly does not impose further restrictions on port expansion—most major ports already operate within internationally important wildlife sites; and it does not provide any new powers to constrain existing uses of the marine environment, such as fisheries, except when powers to manage those activities do not exist.

Hon. Members may find it useful if I gave a couple examples of candidate sites. Worthing lumps is an area which my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) probably knows well. It is an expanse of sub-tidal chalk cliff exposures with rich wildlife, including the black tar sponge, leopard-spotted gobies, tompot blennies and, of course, the lesser spotted dogfish. The Bracklesham balls are also off the coast of West Sussex. Sites that have been identified are widely scattered, but those in West Sussex have interesting names. The Bracklesham balls is an area of spherical and hemispherical boulders embedded in the sea bed. It is much beloved of anemones, soft corals, sponges and sea squirts.

Economic benefits of designating and protecting areas in the marine environment will help to increase fish stocks and tourism revenue and will create safer tourism. For example, I discovered that the diving fraternity is concerned about ghost nets—drifting fishing nets—in which divers can get entangled. Hopefully, the designation will result in those areas being cleaned up.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell those of us who have not followed the arguments in this field in as much detail as he has why he is introducing separate legislation, rather than including his proposals in the existing SSSI legislation?

Mr. Randall

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not hear that in fact that was my original intention. However, after consulting all the interested parties, it seemed that terrestrial designation—things like marking the location of a site—is much easier on land than at sea, so a separate designation is more appropriate.

I am pleased that several Ministers have recently acknowledged the importance of protecting the marine environment; I therefore hope that they will support the provisions in the Bill that do so. During the passage of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, Lord Whitty, speaking on behalf of the Government in the House of Lords, said: I accept that there has been a lack of progress on designating marine conservation areas, as compared with land-based ones".

I agree wholeheartedly with that. Referring to the review of marine nature conservation, Lord Whitty said: We now have the will to pursue an increase in identification and powers to enforce marine conservation areas of all kinds".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 October 2000; Vol. 617, c. 840-41.]

In March 2001, the Prime Minister said: We will be launching measures to improve marine conservation here and abroad".

The commitment of the Minister for the Environment is well known, and I should like to thank him on the record for what he is doing for marine conservation. Only on Wednesday evening, at the RSPB's parliamentary reception, which many of my colleagues attended, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), paid tribute to the work that the RSPB and I have done on the Bill. He said that he looked forward to working with me; I certainly look forward to working with him.

This week, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, speaking at the Royal Horticultural Halls, said: Biodiversity too is an area where the new department can make a real difference … At least half of our biodiversity is found in our oceans and seas. Protecting marine areas around the UK and more widely will be one of our key goals.

I am happy to find something on which I can agree with the Government wholeheartedly.

I am sure that the Government will welcome the opportunity to move towards that key goal. However, I have seen signs in the last 24 hours that seem to suggest that their interest in the marine environment has gone from lukewarm to cold. If that is the case, my colleagues on both sides of the House, our many constituents who have expressed interest in and support for the Bill and I would be grateful if the Minister would explain the Government's objection.

Mr. Dalyell

Who is the sea squirt that is causing the trouble?

Mr. Randall

I am not sure that it is a sea squirt; I think that it is a much larger beast that is beached a little further down Whitehall. I still hope to persuade the Government to support the Bill, so I do not want to finger anybody at this point, but it may well be a spotted blenny.

If there are Government objections to the Bill, I should be grateful to be told what they are. I have approached the measure in the mood of trying to consult and make sure that we get good legislation; I do not want bad legislation or something that, perhaps, is thoroughly worthy but causes problems for interest groups. I come from a business background and, as I said at the outset, sometimes regulations do not help the economic environment. If there are problems, such as those suggested by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) with regard to wind farms, I would be willing to discuss them in Committee. If Second Reading is completed, I am sure that many concerns could be looked at; I approach that with an open mind.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)

My hon. Friend talked about economic interest. Obviously, inshore fisheries are a crucial economic interest. Will he come to that point in a moment? What consultations and discussions has he had with those bodies?

Mr. Randall

By and large, the fisheries have welcomed the Bill because they realise the great importance of conserving fish stocks; it will not be a problem for them in any way. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State, who has a great deal of expertise in the fisheries directorate—not always the best directorate to be in charge of, hon. Members may agree—said he believes that fisheries will welcome the measure. I am pleased about that.

I know that many Members wish to speak. Our debate will be interrupted for an important statement and, at a time when we have international concerns and worries, people may feel that marine conservation is not the most important matter. However, conserving our environment for future generations is every bit as important as current problems. I am sure that the Government will welcome the opportunity to move towards achieving one key goal of their biodiversity policy now. The Bill will allow them to do that and I commend it to the House.

9.59 am
Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on his good fortune in coming first in the ballot and on all the hard work that he has done to get the Bill to this stage. Let me say very firmly that I hope that it succeeds in getting on to the statute book.

The United Kingdom has a pretty appalling record of neglecting the natural environment during the 19th and 20th centuries. During the 20th century, we gradually learned how to protect the land, but our record on the sea is still appalling. The view is that we can tip almost anything into it and try to extract anything from it. It is seen as a sort of piggy bank without a bottom, or a dustbin that never has to be emptied. We must change that attitude, and this Bill could achieve much in that regard.

My hon. Friend the Father of the House referred to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Along with one or two other hon. Members, he and I kept the Standing Committee that considered the Wildlife and Countryside Bill sitting for long hours. Eventually, we were offered a sop. We were told that, if we finished reasonably early, the idea of marine nature reserves would be included in the Bill. We got that sop, but nothing happened for about 15 years. The Government had the powers, but they did not designate any areas. I think that we now have three designated areas in the United Kingdom. That is a very sad record of inactivity, especially as, under Governments formed by each of the main political parties, we were making pretty good progress on land. As far as the sea was concerned, however, we made virtually no progress at all.

I do not want to make a long speech, as I am well aware of what is happening today, but I should like to apologise to the Whips Office. In yesterday's business questions, I suggested that the Whips might be plotting to stall the Bill today. I have been working hard to find out what was happening and I am assured that the Whips, and especially my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), have been trying very hard during the past three weeks to persuade all the Departments to agree a common-sense approach. Sadly, as I understand it, my hon. Friend has not succeeded. We are likely to hear a series of speeches made in support of the Bill, but it will probably then run out of time. That would be tragic, as I am sure that we could introduce the legislation that is needed via a private Member's Bill. As I understand it, the Government are saying that they want legislation on the matters with which the Bill deals, but perhaps not just yet, and that they need a bit more consultation. Surely consultation can occur as the Bill progresses, and now is the time for the knotty problems to be sorted out.

Piecing together the situation, I understand that the Ministry of Defence has objected to the Bill, but that those objections have been overcome and we now have its support. Allegedly, there were to be some problems with fishermen, but I understand that their objections have also been overcome. So where is the objection coming from? I am told that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is still making objections because it is alleged that people who use high-powered speedboats, go water skiing and so on are worried about the Bill. However, I am sure that negotiations could be conducted to allay their worries. It is very sad that people who have an interest in big boats do not have an interest in ensuring that the beauty of the sea can be conserved.

I understand that the Department of Trade and Industry is worried. I know that offshore oil and gas interests must also be considered—again, there are legitimate needs for pipelines and so on—but surely their concerns could be allayed in negotiations.

We have heard about people who are promoting wind farms. I very firmly believe in wind farms, but those who promote them seem to be brilliant at destroying public support. I am sure that thousands of people will be absolutely appalled if they believe that the wind farm industry has scuppered the Bill. I do not see why we cannot accommodate those with interests in wind farms. Of course, they will want to build some wind farms in the sea, and I would commend such development, but it should be possible to negotiate some way around the problem. I am told that there is also concern in ports and harbours, but surely it is not beyond the powers of negotiation to meet their needs.

The final argument that has been put to me concerns devolution. It is suggested that the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales are unhappy about the Bill. I would not like the Bill's remit to be reduced to cover England alone, but I am sure that the hon. Member for Uxbridge would be prepared to consider making such a change if it was necessary to secure its passage. All those groups say that the Bill should be blocked, but they do not have fundamental objections, and the Government have made a commitment that they want the legislation.

I do not want to take up any more time. My plea now is that we get the Bill into Committee and initiate effective negotiations. I remind the Whips and those who pull their strings that, even if the Committee stage begins and we cannot secure agreement on all the issues, there is still Report and Third Reading. But, please, let us get it moving today.

10.6 am

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall)

I wholeheartedly support the views of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett). I welcome the Bill as a contribution to much-needed environmental protection and conservation.

It is not always necessary to have grand international conferences about environmental conservation measures, which do not always have to be introduced in huge Bills. We can introduce varied legislation that works in the same direction and helps to achieve the ultimate aims. The range of international agreements and national designations needs to be complemented by local initiatives. Private Members' Bills should be given the same support and assistance if we are to achieve the real aim of ensuring the environmental stability that we all want.

As has been mentioned, the current system of marine conservation in this country is highly inadequate, in contrast to that of conservation on land, where significant progress has been made without some of the perceived problems about which concerns were expressed when legislation was introduced. The Bill would provide much-needed protection for marine sites of special biodiversity interest.

The sea is extremely important to my constituency. In the fishing ports of Looe and Polperro it makes a significant contribution to the local economy. Sailing takes place from Saltash, Torpoint and Fowey, and there are commercial docks at Fowey and Par. I have not received a single letter from any organisation representing interests in fishing, sailing or ports in objection to the measures, of which I am sure that such organisations have been properly notified.

Bob Spink (Castle Point)

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that there are also fishing interests in my south-east Essex constituency. Does he agree that small fishermen want a measure such as the Bill, as biodiversity is very much in their interests? They, more than anyone else, want to protect our marine environment.

Mr. Breed

That is absolutely correct. Many fishermen are beginning to recognise that their economic livelihood at sea will not depend only on fishing. Leisure interests—especially diving and so on—will provide a significant proportion of their work and income.

A number of areas in south-east Cornwall could benefit from the Bill, including the Eddystone rocks. Although I have been out to sea above water, I have not ventured down below, but I understand that the rocks are formed by a huge outcrop of pink granite that rises from a level sea bed in a wonderful cliff-like structure that dominates the area. The rocks are extremely important not only to fishermen, but to divers. Like other sites, they should be protected as use of the area increases. Of course, protection assists the continued use of such features. Thus, the ingredients of protection and economic well-being can be married.

Cornwall has a considerable number of wind farms. Although some may object to wind farms at sea, I suspect that many would prefer wind farm development at sea rather than on land.

Environmental protection needs to be continued, both on land and at sea. Although we are a long way behind in marine protection, we are not as far advanced in land environmental protection as we would wish. I hope that the Government will not only support the Bill today but, during this parliamentary term, introduce even more legislation to ensure stronger sustainability throughout the UK marine environment.

The Bill is a useful stepping-stone; it certainly goes in the right direction. Judging from the considerable number of letters that I have had from constituents and other residents of Cornwall, there is significant public interest in this matter. If the Government somehow prevent the Bill from proceeding, people will want clear answers about why that happened.

We require a broader range of measures to achieve real sustainability of our marine resources, but we must also encourage others in that direction. The Bill deals with measures taken in our territorial waters, but the whole subject of marine conservation needs to be further up not only our agenda but the European agenda as well.

My final point is about the growing problem of bycatches from fishing, which include porpoises, dolphins, birds, sharks and turtles. Although some of those are protected by law, the number of victims is causing concern because it is increasing, albeit inadvertently. The problem is particularly acute in the south-west approaches. Will the Government consider funding more conservation research to increase our understanding and knowledge of how bycatches occur so that we may find ways of preventing that tragic loss of marine life?

For now, I wish to give the Bill a warm welcome and I hope that it will be strongly supported today.

10.12 am
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on coming first in the ballot for private Members' Bills in this Session and on his choice of topic. My reasons for saying that are particularly strong because of my constituency, Plymouth, Sutton. I am delighted to have a chance to speak in this Second Reading debate.

I wish to discuss why the subject matter of the Bill is of growing interest and importance to our constituents, particularly those who live in Plymouth and the surrounding areas of Devon, Cornwall and the south-west peninsula. I hope then to relate that to the measures proposed in the Bill.

To most people, the seas are inaccessible and mysterious. Why should we be concerned about what we cannot see? To those hon. Members present in the Chamber, most of whom are enthusiasts, that may seem anathema, but many people do not understand these matters. They regard the seas as either grey and choppy or, when the tide is out, a load of old mud. We know little about the sea and treat it as an endless cornucopia. It is a treasure chest on the one hand and, as others have said, a carpet under which we can sweep our waste—anything and everything, from human to nuclear waste—on the other.

We reap but we do not sow. We exploit with little knowledge of what we are doing and of how it might affect the ocean ecosystems, yet 1 cu m of that unattractive load of mud contains the same amount of energy as five Mars bars. All chocoholics, including me, should take an interest in the quality of our marine environment, because seaweed extract is present in much of the chocolate that we eat. As nearly £4 billion of chocolate is eaten every year in Britain alone, we have an interest in ensuring that the environment in which seaweed grows is healthy.

We need to conserve our coastal waters because they are still richly biodiverse and still have much to offer us. We know that they are essential in the food and reproductive chains that eventually bring us food from the sea. The tiniest organisms, the plankton, have a profound influence on climate and will play an even greater role as changes in global climates accelerate. However, we need to gain a much deeper understanding of how they work; we then need to encourage public appreciation and participation through education.

If we are to do all of that, we must ensure that the marine environment is conserved—that we hold it as much in trust for tomorrow as we do the atmosphere, and the land mass and its waterways. The United Kingdom is already a world leader in marine-based research, much of which is carried out through a unique partnership in Plymouth—the Plymouth Marine Sciences Partnership, which is a world leader in research, education and, of course, conservation. It consists of five organisations: the Plymouth Marine Laboratory; the university of Plymouth; the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom; the National Marine Aquarium; and the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science.

Mr. Breed

Have those organisations written to the hon. Lady to support the Bill?

Linda Gilroy

I have consulted them, and they are certainly most interested in the Bill and in all the other developments that the Government are pursuing, as well as those that form part of our manifesto commitment to the marine environment. Each organisation is independent, but works closely and often collectively to deliver world-class marine research, education and conservation.

Bob Spink

Is the hon. Lady saying that, in her opinion, those organisations would want the Bill to make progress so that the issues can be developed?

Linda Gilroy

I shall come to that in a moment, and to the views of the Devon Wildlife Trust, which has briefed me on matters that affect Plymouth sound in particular.

Mr. Dalyell

As a Member of Parliament from the other end of the country, may I just say how excellently the organisations to which my hon. Friend has referred cope with casual visitors? Our family was entranced by what we saw in Plymouth. They are to be congratulated.

Linda Gilroy

I thank my hon. Friend. I hope that he was able to visit the National Marine Aquarium, about which I shall say a few more words in a moment.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; she has been most gracious in giving way. I know that she is an avid reader of the Plymouth Evening Herald. Did she see the article that appeared in it the other day about a 30 ft piece of wood on which more than a million goose barnacles were found? I understand that a 3 ft section of it has now been lodged in the National Marine Aquarium and is proving to be one of the strongest visitor attractions.

Linda Gilroy

I have indeed read about that development this week, although I have not been to the marine aquarium recently. However, I hold an annual membership and hope that I can visit it soon. I urge other hon. Members to make the journey to Plymouth, far though it is, to view the Jewels of the Sound exhibition, which has been running this summer. Some hon. Members may already have visited it.

Plymouth overlooks one of the finest natural harbours in the world and is the largest city on the UK south coast. Its maritime heritage goes back thousands of years. Some of the organisations in the partnership that I mentioned can trace their roots back well over 100 years to the middle of the 19th century. The Plymouth navigation school, which eventually evolved into the Institute of Marine Studies within Plymouth university, was founded in 1862; and the Marine Biological Association of the UK was formed in 1884 and opened its Plymouth laboratory in 1888. The 20th century saw the consolidation of Plymouth as an international centre of excellence in marine research, education and conservation with the formation of the partnership organisations.

In the 21st century that lead position will be enhanced and developed in the spirit of discovery. Society will need to grapple with the oceans' role in sustainable development, regionally and globally, and the trends in and consequences of climate change.

The oceans, with an average depth of several kilometres, cover 71 per cent. of the earth's surface. They provide the largest, mostly unexplored, living space on the planet and contribute enormously to global diversity. There is growing awareness of the need to manage the world's seas and their coastlines sustainably to ensure the maintenance of biological diversity and productivity. It is right to try to be at the forefront of developing the best possible framework for the marine conservation that the Bill's promoter envisages.

Natural stresses and those from our activities are increasingly important through the economic impacts that threaten the quality of life for communities around the world. To monitor, understand and predict those impacts, we must identify the processes and interactions that are involved, and understand the role of the oceans in the global system.

Oceans play a crucial role in many natural cycles and processes that support life on earth, controlling global weather patterns and key chemical processes in the atmosphere. The oceans sustain and dictate the shape of life on earth. However, to study, we must be able to conserve and vice versa. The Bill is therefore especially relevant to my constituency and the people who live and earn their living in it.

Independent organisations from the research, academic and education sectors in Plymouth have come together to pool expertise and resources and to increase understanding of the many questions that will help us to appreciate fully the operation of marine systems and how we can sustainably use them. That includes the identification, development and exploitation of alternative energy sources. I was interested in the points that hon. Members made earlier about renewable energy. That is of special interest to Plymouth, which has dramatic sites where such developments could occur. Some people in Plymouth have an ambition to make it the first city to become carbon neutral. Hon. Members who understand such matters will realise the extent of that challenge.

Indeed, if it was not already possible to claim that Plymouth is now the focal point of marine sciences in the UK, it soon will be, especially as it continues to extend its influence and breadth of interest. An exciting new development is the proposed national centre for marine science and technology, which will bring the partnership together on a single site in Plymouth. This will greatly enhance the ability of the separate organisations to work together to unravel the mysteries. That will lead to greater knowledge of the oceans and how humans can interact with them without destroying them.

The centre will have a strong emphasis on outreach work in the community, drawing on the expertise of the National Marine Aquarium and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The new centre could become a focal point for the popular as well as the academic interpretation of the sort of marine sites that the Bill covers.

There are already strong links between the National Marine Aquarium and the renowned Eden project in Cornwall. That visitor centre is becoming a focal point for people to appreciate land-based biodiversity in all its glory. So, too, could the marine science centre build on the sound base that the National Marine Aquarium established, and prove an enjoyable and attractive showcase for the challenges of climate change, and the link between our use of energy and floods, tides, the sea and all that lies within it.

That is a major project of considerable vision and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment will take an interest in it. It could have great relevance to the Bill's provisions and to their environmentally responsible interpretation by the world at large. One of the centre's major aims is to inspire and encourage nine to 13-year-olds to take an interest in marine science and technology issues and careers.

The centre is the subject of a major bid to the Treasury for money from the capital modernisation fund. I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to lend his support to such an important scheme when it is considered by his colleagues. I know that he will understand that the technological spin-offs of such a centre can generate employment output similar to that from our successful Tamar science park. In addition to building on the experience of the National Marine Aquarium, the centre will also have at its disposal the experience of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. It undertakes numerous projects that are linked to marine conservation and would be enhanced by the provisions that the Bill proposes. The laboratory's biodiversity group has a long and active involvement with nature conservation agencies in the United Kingdom.

In the marine environment, too little is currently known about the distribution of species and habitats for researchers to employ methods commonly used in terrestrial and freshwater habitats. Part of the laboratory's role is to contribute to understanding the distribution of species and habitats in nature and how they are affected by man's activities. The main thrust of its work is to develop methods and techniques that are useful to those who do the work that the Bill envisages, or those with regulatory responsibilities for the conservation of marine and estuarine areas.

The methods that the laboratory has developed are widely used by the Environment Agency, English Nature, wildlife trusts and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science as well as environmental consultancy companies and universities. Those methods and the associated training are marketed successfully by a spin-out company and continue to be developed as part of the laboratory's continuing core programme. The prospects for that company will be enhanced by the Bill.

The laboratory is currently celebrating because, in the past month, the National Environmental Research Council has unanimously approved its business plan for the next five years. After a difficult period, staff are excited by the prospects for their science and the exploitation of their intellectual property.

Successive Governments have already done much on marine conservation. Some hon. Members have already referred to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and its weaknesses. There is no statutory basis for regulatory bodies that operate in the marine environment; they rely on voluntary consensus and tend to be established in areas where human activities and impacts are remote or non-existent.

In addition, the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 provide for establishing special areas of conservation and special protection areas. The habitats directive is Europe's most important nature conservation measure, creating a range of safeguards for the Community's most endangered plant and animal species.

The Government's commitment to improve habitat conservation is being developed through the directive, with the help of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, which is due to report to DEFRA in March 2002. It is important that the Bill takes account of that work, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell us today that that will be possible. I also hope that he will comment on the work of the review working group, which was established in 1999 to evaluate the success of previous nature conservation measures, and the resultant pilot project.

The Prime Minister announced on 6 March in his speech, "Environment—the Next Steps" that the Government are committed to launching measures to improve marine conservation at home and abroad, including a series of marine stewardship reports. The first report will set out the Government's goal for integrated and sustainable management of the marine environment across the range of marine sectors. As I have said, a commitment to improve marine conservation overseas and in the UK was made in the manifesto.

I want to consider some of the Bill's possible implications for Plymouth. I am indebted to the Devon Wildlife Trust for a specific briefing on that. It is especially keen for the voice of Devon's Members of Parliament to be heard, and I am sure that it would also welcome the contribution of the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed). It has pointed out that, with the exception of two, the constituencies of all Devon Members of Parliament border the sea, and that the coast is a natural capital asset essential to tourism in the whole county. No other county has two discrete and very different coastlines to protect. I hesitate to say this, as I look at the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall, but I think that there is a marked contrast between the north and south coasts of Devon, whereas the coastlines of Cornwall have many more similarities.

The Devon Wildlife Trust has been active in marine conservation for many years. It has a team of marine experts second to none in the country; it regularly conducts sea bed surveys and monitoring in support of its marine conservation programmes; it runs two voluntary marine conservation areas at Wembury near Plymouth and on the north Devon coast around Ilfracombe; it has been involved in the Lyme bay reefs project for many years; and it has been instrumental in drawing up and agreeing voluntary conservation measures with local fishermen to protect two of the reefs, Lanes Ground and Saw Tooth Ledges. It is currently working on a similar initiative for Beer Home Ground, and supports a large team of volunteers working on the seaquest south-west project to report sightings of marine megafauna. It is in the process of developing an "estuaries for life" project for the conservation of these special habitats. Richard White, its marine conservation manager, will be well known to those who follow Select Committee inquiries into reform of the common fisheries policy.

The trust tells me that the marine life of Plymouth sound and the approaches has been well studied, and the presence of the Marine Biological Association, the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the university of Plymouth ensures that valuable research work continues in this area. As well as work on the shore, underwater surveys are also carried out. Indeed, some of the earliest diving surveys were carried out in Wembury bay adjacent to Plymouth.

In 1993, the Devon Wildlife Trust carried out a survey to fill gaps in the knowledge of this important area, which reported: Plymouth Sound and its approaches were found to possess a wide variety of habitat types many of which are of high nature conservation importance. A number of species were found that are rare in the UK, or at the limit of their natural distribution in UK waters, including seaweeds, sea slug, the yellow trumpet anemone and soft corals such as the pink sea fan. Those species were found among rich and diverse plant and animal communities. In addition to the importance of the area's marine wildlife, the estuary complex of the Tamar is valuable in its own right, providing an important feeding and breeding area for large numbers of waders and wildfowl.

The international conservation value of the wildlife in Plymouth sound and the surrounding estuaries is recognised by its designation as a European marine site under both the birds directive and the habitats and species directive.

Mr. Bellingham

The hon. Lady mentioned wildfowl and other species. What sort of wildfowl is she talking about in particular?

Linda Gilroy

There is a wide range of wildfowl. As a result of these designations, English Nature has drawn up conservation objectives for the area.

Mr. Bellingham

Does the hon. Lady not know?

Linda Gilroy

I do, but I am not going to stop.

Those objectives are implemented through a combination of management plans for the Tamar estuaries complex, the Wembury voluntary marine conservation area and the Yealm estuary, which together cover the geographical extent of the European marine site. The Devon Wildlife Trust sits on the advisory groups for the management of the Tamar and Yealm estuaries, and manages the Wembury voluntary marine conservation area.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon)

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) made an important point about wildfowl. It would be helpful if you could explain to the House which wildfowl you are talking about and how you feel—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must refer to other hon. Members in the third person.

Linda Gilroy

As I said, these points were made to me by the Devon Wildlife Trust. My key interest in this subject arises from my close association with the National Marine Aquarium. I am more familiar with the flora and fauna in the sound, but I trust that through my developing association with the Devon Wildlife Trust I will learn a great deal more about the birdlife in both estuaries that surround my constituency.

The Bill establishes a framework for the notification of sites of importance for marine biodiversity, geology or physiography, and for the setting of conservation objectives for those sites. The Bill is unlikely to have any effect on the management of those areas of Plymouth sound already designated as European marine sites. The initial designation excluded some important habitat features, but a recent review has addressed that problem, so current conservation objectives cover all key marine habitats in the area.

However, the Bill would allow the notification of some important areas of rocky reef habitat in the approaches to Plymouth sound that fall outside the current boundaries of the European marine site. The reef habitats support some unique seabed communities, and include dense beds of pink sea fan, which is a species protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. As a result, the wildlife trusts have suggested an extension of the proposed boundaries in our response to the original Government consultation on the designation of coastal and marine sites in 1995.

The Bill would enable English Nature to notify and set conservation objectives for those sites that remain outside the current boundaries of the European marine site. In the wider context, the Bill would enable the notification of new marine sites of importance for biodiversity, and as such would add to the effectiveness of site-based conservation in the marine environment. However, there are limits to what could be achieved by this site-based approach alone, and a wider approach to marine management is required. In addition, we have seen in Devon that the emphasis on specific sites has tended to divert resources from other areas that are just as important for biodiversity, but which fall outside the network of protected sites.

The wildlife trusts, including the Devon Wildlife Trust, are calling for a significant improvement in the way we manage the activities and demands that we make on the marine environment. Ideally they would like the Government to publish a White Paper on an integrated approach to marine policy and management. An aspect of that approach would be a marine Act to provide the framework for legislation to manage our use of marine resources and provide protection for wildlife and habitats. Such a new approach would improve on previous regulation by integrating the management of the full range of activities that take place at sea, to which a number of hon. Members have referred.

The trusts see the Bill, which aims to protect wildlife and habitats within territorial waters, as one step towards achieving the wide range of improvements that are needed if our seas are to receive the protection and management they deserve. I look forward to discussing with them the outcome of today's debate.

I hope, too, that the trusts will confirm that there could be some benefit in protecting seahorses, which I am keen to see. The National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth is home to the largest collection of seahorse species in the world. Working in collaboration with the university of Plymouth, the NMA carries out research into the diets and consequent growth of seahorses with a view to captive breeding and rearing as a means of eventually minimising the pressure on wild specimens that results from the oriental medicine trade and other forms of exploitation.

Seahorses are particularly susceptible to disturbance of coastal habitats, as they are generally regarded as shallow water species with restricted habitat preferences, such as sea grass beds. The status of the two UK seahorse species is largely unknown, although it is generally felt that they are threatened by a variety of human actions that affect coastal waters. The two species are Hippocampus hippocampus, the short-snouted seahorse, and Hippocampus guttulatus, the long-snouted seahorse.

The south-west region is geographically one of the UK's largest and most sparse. It contains 60 per cent. of England's heritage coastline. It is one of the most rapidly growing regions, due largely to inward migration arising from its attractive environment. We have two national parks on land and parts or all of 12 areas of outstanding natural beauty. Almost a quarter of England's listed buildings are there, as well as more than 1,200 conservation areas. Parts of the region have been designated as special protection areas because of the wildlife and wetlands found there.

Developing the infrastructure for marine conservation can only further enhance the environmental attractions of our region. Indeed, the environment has been identified as one of the key drivers of the regional economy from a number of perspectives. Undoubtedly, a strength of the region is the attraction that a good-quality environment generates, both in its direct impact on tourism and as an attractive location for business.

Mr. Bellingham

The hon. Lady mentions SSSIs in Devon. Which ones does she have in mind in particular?

Linda Gilroy

The flatlands around Torbay. I have forgotten their exact name at the moment, but, as I have said, the marine environment represents the main thrust of the Bill and my interest. I am also representing the views that the Devon Wildlife Trust has expressed to me, and I look forward to developing with the trust a greater knowledge of those wetlands and the birdlife in my area. I have been birdwatching only once in Devon, when I visited the birdwatching area at Dawlish warren, with which the hon. Gentleman may be familiar.

Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

Does the hon. Lady support the Bill; or, having spoken for 30 minutes, is she really trying to talk it out?

Linda Gilroy

I have almost reached a conclusion. I have been representing very significant interests, as the right hon. Lady will understand, and trying to outline the Bill's impact on my constituency. I will come to my position on the Bill in my concluding remarks, which will be heard very shortly.

Some assessments rate the environmental protection industry as second in potential only to the information and communications technology industry. Ensuring and contributing to sustainable development is a key role for all of us, and I welcome the opportunity that debating the Bill offers to explore how we can make progress on issues of exceptional interest and importance to my constituency. I am sure that the Bill's promoter and, indeed, the Minister will be welcomed if they visit my constituency to find out more about why many people now regard Plymouth as the United Kingdom and European centre for marine science and technology.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge is to be congratulated on his choice of Bill. I am sorry not to see him in his place. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is here."] I beg his pardon. I am particularly pleased that he chose the Bill. He may remember the number that he selected in the ballot. He selected the number that I try to obtain in each ballot—usually successfully—but he just pipped me to the post this year. It was the number that secured me a place in the ballot during the first Session of the first Parliament in which I served. That, of course, involved me in the ill-fated Fireworks Bill, which has the doubtful privilege of holding the record for being the Bill that most nearly reached the statute book without actually doing so, as the last two technical amendments were being debated on its Report stage from the House of Lords when it was talked out. I wish the hon. Gentleman's Bill a better fate.

10.43 am
Virginia Bottomley

I, too, warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on his success in the ballot and, indeed, on his selection of subject. It is a matter of very great importance. I do not wish him to misunderstand my support—I am not demonstrating such abject support simply because he is my Whip. I wondered whether the Whips had anything to do with speech made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), because we have read much in the newspapers this week about the activities of Whips in political parties, but my support for the Bill is heartfelt and sincere.

Like the hon. Lady, I also have a strong constituency interest. Given that Surrey is landlocked, it might not be thought of as an immediately obvious marine site, but when I became a Member of Parliament the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences had its headquarters in Wormley. I am sorry that it took sight of its new Member of Parliament and moved to Southampton, but Sir Anthony Laughton and his team were extremely vigorous in their campaigning for such subjects. Of course, the institute continues to make an extremely important contribution.

I am pleased that the hon. Lady mentioned the Eden project, because one of the key aims of many of those Millennium Commission projects was, in fact, to promote sustainability and the environment. I include not only the Eden project, but many of the new forests and cycleways, and even the ill-fated dome, before it was given a dose of new Labour rhetoric, was actually a regeneration project. But the message of regeneration and protecting the environment for the new millennium echoes widely in the wider community.

The primary reason why I am so energetic about such issues is that I have the privilege to have in my constituency the United Kingdom headquarters of the World Wildlife Fund. It has made a very important contribution in raising the priority given to this subject. Robert Napier, its chief executive, leads an excellent team. I particularly mention its communications director, Perdita Hunt, an extremely good lobbyist who ensures that this subject and others are given the priority that they deserve in the House.

The WWF has been calling for some time for a significant improvement in the management of the marine environment and for the delivery of an ecosystem-wide approach. It believes that an aspect of that approach is strong legislation to protect our marine wildlife and the habitats on which it is dependent. In its view, it is also important to integrate that protection with improved legislation for the management of the wider marine environment, as that will ensure that the seas are healthy and clean.

In the WWF's judgment, the Bill provides an opportunity to stimulate parliamentary debate on the need for greater protection and management of the marine environment. It thinks that the protection that the Bill would enforce would be important to species and habitats in the territorial waters of England and Wales. Like others, it thinks that the Bill represents a first step in forging a new approach to the management of our marine environment and the economic and social resources that we gain from it. The idea that the Bill represents a first step is widely echoed.

Again, like the hon. Lady, I congratulate the wildlife trusts on their work. Surrey Wildlife Trust acknowledges the perhaps apparent anomaly in its position. It says: Although at first glance, this may not seem to be an issue of direct impact to the residents of Surrey, we should not overlook the impact of our lifestyle on our coastal waters, nor that many Surrey residents will be regular visitors to our beaches.

I was extremely worried to hear that one of the obstacles to the passage of the Bill is the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I hope that it does not think that fast motorboats, jet skis and water skiing justify preventing the Bill from reaching the statute book. As someone who always spends her holidays in this country and on the Isle of Wight, in a marine environment, I hope that the DCMS will certainly tell the jet skiers, water skiers and others to leave our shores, but that view may just be a reflection of my age.

The Surrey Wildlife Trust argues that this country's system of marine conservation is extraordinarily inadequate. The Bill would provide much-needed protection to the special diversity interest of marine sites. The trust wants the Government to go further to ensure sustainability throughout the United Kingdom's marine environment and to introduce additional measures that meet those wider needs. However, it believes that the Bill should be viewed as a useful stepping-stone towards a much broader range of measures that will be required to achieve the sustainable use of marine resources.

I hope that the Minister will recognise that it is now widely appreciated that the British isles comprise island nations with a maritime heritage of which they can be proud. They also possess one of the highest diversities of marine habitats and species in any European country. It is time for the legislation that protects the marine environment to catch up with some of the interesting and important improvements in land protection.

The Minister will be well aware that, in my earlier days as a junior Environment Minister, I had some involvement in the SSSI programme. My primary concern on SSSIs now is that the A3 improvement at Hindhead should continue to ensure that that SSSI gets the protection that it needs.

Before I am called to order for straying from the subject, let me wish my hon. Friend's Bill well. I know he will be disappointed that I did not mention Worthing lumps, but I suspect that others can refer to them with more knowledge than I can.

At a time when there is often cynicism about what we debate in Parliament, and a lack of interest, many of our priorities do not seem to reflect the priorities of our generation. I think that the Bill has an important future in terms of the stewardship of our planet and the sustainability of our marine areas, and I hope that all Members will support it.

10.50 am
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I want to follow the important speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett). I hope that, even at this late stage, inquiries can be made into who is behind the failure to grasp the opportunity to do something about an issue that we all want something to be done about.

To establish my credentials, let me quote from Hansard of 27 November 1962. The passage is headed "British Territorial Waters (Undersea Development)". In Question 3 to the Prime Minister, I asked whether he would appoint a Minister responsible for development underneath the sea within British territorial waters". Harold Macmillan replied "No, Sir."

Then I asked a very stupid question: In the light of the remarkable breaks through in marine science, is not the Prime Minister prepared to look into the future and, so to speak, beyond his own nose"—

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North)

Young puppy!

Mr. Dalyell


I asked the Prime Minister to recognise that here is a vast potential for British exploitation in a completely new sphere of industry". I earnestly went on: In particular, will not he consider the possible manufacture of marine equipment for the new sciences in areas such as the north-east of England, Northern Ireland and Scotland? Well, I was a young puppy.

Mr. Pound

Insolent, too.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Pound

No change, then.

Mr. Dalyell

I was put in my place. Harold Macmillan got up and said—in an accent that I cannot imitate— This is not a question of looking beyond one's own nose; it is a question of looking three miles under the sea. The House erupted at my expense.

The Prime Minister went on to give a serious answer. He said: I do not think that it would really help to have a single Minister in charge of these very varied methods of exploiting mineral power. Sir James Duncan—now departed—asked: Would it not be enough to put the Minister of Agriculture into a skin-diver's suit? Macmillan replied: We must not impose undue strains on Ministers."—[Official Report, 27 November 1962; Vol. 668, c. 203.] To complete the tale, I should say that the leader of the Labour party, Hugh Gaitskell, was not at all pleased. He said that that would teach me not to ask silly questions. It was the last silly question I asked in the House.

There is, however, a serious aspect to this. May I echo the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish—although I shall express them less eloquently than he did? We naturally understand what the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), to whom a great deal of credit is due, has tried to do, and it is clear that a great many people have worked hard on this, not least the Department. If the Department is prepared to work hard and we all agree that something must be done, surely something should be done. It may not be perfect, but what on earth are House of Commons Committee stages for? Their purpose is to iron out, to allow negotiation, and to get it right.

Given the shortage of parliamentary time, I do not know whether there will ever be another opportunity in the foreseeable future for us to do what we think has to be done very soon. Following what was said by my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, I beg those in charge, before 2.30 pm, to go to those who are objecting and say "Do you really know all the facts? Even if you think you do, are you entitled to put a stop to parliamentary discussion on a Bill proposed by the person who has come top of the so-called lottery?" Responsible Bills should not be snuffed out if they are in the top five. That makes a mockery of private Members' time. I plead with those in charge to go back to Downing street, or wherever it is, and say, "For heaven's sake, change your mind. Let the House of Commons have discussions." If, at the end of the day, the position is not satisfactory, that is an entirely different matter; but the Bill should certainly not be snuffed out at this stage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish said that he and 1, Lord Hardy of Wath—as he now is—and Ted Graham, led by Denis Howell, had spent hours in Committee speaking at enormous length about Halvergate marshes and a number of other important subjects in order to wring out of Hector Monro and Tom King the principle of marine nature reserves. I do not think that Tom King would recall it any differently. Those in charge became exasperated. They did not want a closure on the Floor of the House, or a guillotine. Eventually, they gave way—quite honourably, but they gave way.

As my hon. Friend said, MNRs have been a terrible disappointment. Earlier I interrupted the hon. Member for Uxbridge, and I will tell him why. An MNR was proposed at Loch Sween, a beautiful loch in Argyllshire. It was ideal, almost top of the list, for an MNR.

Some years after the debate to which I have referred, I went to Loch Sween as a paying spouse with an annual visitation from the Historic Buildings Council of Scotland, of which my wife was a member. Late at night we had a reception, and after a good deal of conviviality it became clear why the MNR at Loch Sween had not gone ahead. In their cups, the locals said "Of course we do not want a marine nature reserve here. If we have one, inspectors will come." I asked "Which inspectors?" They said "The inspectors from the Inland Revenue." They did not want the tax men messing around Loch Sween, poking their noses into their business and asking awkward questions.

There are all sorts of extraneous reasons why MNRs may not have gone ahead. I hope that, following the introduction of the Bill, sense will prevail, and a great deal of trouble will be taken in proceeding with this worthwhile concept. It is vital for fish stocks, and for a number of other reasons eloquently deployed by the hon. Gentleman.

10.59 am
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). I was delighted to hear his Macmillanesque comments of 39 years ago.

I want to speak briefly—I realise that my speech will soon be interrupted—to support my hon. Friend the Member for landlocked Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on his excellent Bill, the purpose of which, to put it simply, is to establish, protect and manage nationally important marine areas.

Of the 6,500 SSSIs, only about 300 border seas or estuarial levels, and even they do not go beyond the low tide. I believe that there is an urgent need for marine sites of special interest to be protected. I appreciate that the Bill is confined to England and Wales.

It being Eleven o'clock, MR. SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings)