HC Deb 15 March 2002 vol 381 cc1170-2
Mr. Meacher

I beg to move amendment No. 31, in page 3, line 18, leave out from beginning to "available" in line 20 and insert— '(1) Each appropriate nature conservation body must maintain, in such form as it thinks fit, a register of marine sites of special interest. (2) The register under subsection (1) must include the coordinates of each marine site of special interest and a chart illustrating its boundaries. (3) A copy of the register maintained under subsection (1) must be'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 53, in page 3, line 21, at end insert — 'in a land-based location as conveniently near as is reasonably practicable to the marine site of special interest.'.

Mr. Meacher

The purpose of the amendment is to make drafting improvements to clause 2, which relates to the duty of the nature conservation bodies to compile and maintain a register of marine sites of special interest. It also adds the need for the register to include the co-ordinates of each site and a chart illustrating site boundaries to ensure that they are clearly identifiable.

A copy of the register must be available for public inspection. It is reasonable to expect the appropriate nature conservation body to keep a copy at each of its local offices that cover the area relating to the MSSI. With that assurance, I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) not to press amendment No. 53 to a vote, because it is not necessary.

Mr. Randall

I am a little confused about how people who are unaware of the presence of an MSSI will be made aware of its existence if the information is not held by the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office or included on maritime charts. They might not know that they should visit the offices of English Nature or whatever. I am not suggesting that the information should be included immediately. I am not sure of the system, but perhaps it can be added when the charts are revised. In addition, why is there no duty on English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales to notify the Hydrographic Office of the boundaries of MSSIs?

Mr. Dismore

It is important, perhaps for the same reasons as the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) adumbrated, that people know where the boundaries of the marine sites are located. Having the maps in the headquarters of a nature conservation body in London is not much use if a site is off Cornwall or Yorkshire. It should not be beyond the wit of man to make the charts available in the local headquarters and on the internet so that people can look them up even if they are a long distance away.

It is important that we make every effort possible to ensure that everyone who lives, works or participates in recreational activities in an area knows where the boundaries lie. The best way to do that is to give the sites as much publicity as possible locally.

Mr. Swayne

The point is simply that such measures are desirable. We have just discussed the provisions of new clause 3 in relation to offences. An offence of damaging an MSSI is not committed if the person who does the damage does not know that the site is part of an MSSI. To provide that the information has to appear on all the available charts is elementary. There should be a duty to notify the information to the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office so that it can be put on the charts.

Mr. Meacher

The debate has centred on ensuring that people have access locally to information on the existence and boundaries of the MSSI. I fully accept the points made.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge asked whether a copy of site boundaries would be shown in the Hydrographic Office, and whether that information would be placed on maritime charts. We certainly expect English Nature to forward a copy of site boundaries to the Hydrographic Office, although whether to mark the boundaries on Admiralty charts would be a matter for the Hydrographic Office. It would be helpful if that were done, but I do not think that it should be a statutory requirement.

I entirely agree that such information should be available locally. In my opening remarks I said that I certainly expect the appropriate nature conservation body to keep a copy at each of its local offices covering the area relating to the MSSI. Such provision would give persons in the vicinity who are likely to use the relevant waters a perfectly adequate opportunity to acquaint themselves fully with the fact that an MSSI is present locally and with its precise boundaries. I do not disagree with amendment No. 53, but its provisions are already covered by the Government's proposals.

Mr. Swayne

The question is simple. Would it be a defence for someone in a leisure craft who had damaged an MSSI by some operation, for example, by weighing anchor, to argue that there was no offence because he did not know that the area was part of an MSSI because the Admiralty chart he was using did not contain the information?

Mr. Meacher

My belief is that that would not constitute a defence because the person in question had not taken all reasonable steps to acquaint himself with the information he needed. One cannot rely with certainty on the contents of Admiralty charts, although as I said it would be helpful if the information were included. I would expect such a person to contact other bodies that could provide a guarantee and certain clarification. On that basis, I hope that Government amendment No. 31 is acceptable to the House.

Amendment agreed to.

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