HC Deb 15 March 2002 vol 381 cc1132-55

'(1) The appropriate nature conservation body may install markers indicating the boundaries of a marine site of special interest.

(2) Markers may be installed at any time after a notification has effect.

(3) If a notification ceases to have effect, or has effect as modified, the appropriate nature conservation body must if necessary and as soon as reasonably practicable remove or alter markers installed under this section.

(4) Before doing anything under this section, the appropriate nature conservation body must obtain the consent of the owner of the land or sea bed on which a marker is to be installed.

(5) Nothing in this section exempts the appropriate nature conservation body from a statutory requirement to obtain any other consent (in particular any consent which may be required under section 34 of the Coast Protection Act 1949 (c. 74) or section 1 of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 (c. 33)).'—[Mr. Meacher.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Meacher

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government new clause 4—Meaning of "marine area" and "marine site of special interest".

Government new clause 5—General interpretation.

Government new clause 6—Notification of marine sites.

Government new clause 7—Further provisions about notification.

Government new clause 8—Modification or denotification.

Government new clause 9—Denotification in relation to European marine sites

Government amendment No. 30.

Amendment No. 41, in clause 1, page 1, line 13, after "kind", insert— 'or person or body who customarily carries on a trade, occupation or business'.

Amendment No. 42, in page 1, line 18, leave out "one month" and insert "three months".

Amendment No. 44, in page 1, line 20, after "consider" insert "in public".

Amendment No. 45, in page 2, line 5, at end insert—', after taking due account of international best practice'.

Amendment No. 46, in page 2, line 10, after "features" insert— 'and the management structure and its financing'.

Amendment No. 47, in page 2, line 13, leave out "six" and insert "three".

Amendment No. 50, in page 2, line 23, leave out "six" and insert "three".

Amendment No. 51, in page 3, line 1, after "body", insert— ', after consultation with the persons mentioned in subsection (1)'

Amendment No. 52, in page 3, line 13, at end insert—

'(11A) Any notice issued under subsection (10) or (11) shall be accompanied by a statement of reasons for that variation or denotification as the case may be.'.

Amendment No. 55, in clause 3, page 3, line 24, at end insert— 'and taking account of international best practice'.

Amendment No. 56, in page 3, line 33, after "body", insert— '(ia) take account of international best practice;'

Government amendment No. 38.

Amendment No. 67, in clause 7, page 5, line 19, at end insert—

'or (c) any river estuary'.

Mr. Meacher

This group of new clauses and amendments goes to the heart of the mechanisms by which the Bill will be implemented. I apologise in advance for the length of my remarks, but it is necessary to spell out as clearly and succinctly as possible exactly how it will work in practice.

The purpose of the new clauses and amendments is to clarify the procedures and definitions for the selection, notification and confirmation of marine sites of special interest. They may look complicated, but I assure hon. Members that their purpose is simple. New Clause 4 aims to identify areas within which an MSSI can be notified. The Bill will allow an MSSI to be notified in any area that is covered by tidal waters between mean low water mark to the limit of territorial waters. A notification may include the water column and the sea bed. In order to cover any burrowing species, it can extend to 30 m below the sea bed. That depth is consistent with the depth to which byelaws under clause 6 can be made.

New notifications should not duplicate similar designations under different legislation. New clause 4(3) would ensure that an MSSI could not be notified in an area in which an SSSI existed, and subsection (4) would ensure that an SSSI—a terrestrial one—could not be notified within an area already covered by an MSSI.

Apart from SSSIs, the other major relevant nature conservation designations in the marine environment are European marine sites. The new clause would ensure that an MSSI could not be notified in an area containing an EMS for the same reasons for which the EMS had been designated. However, although the list of species and habitats covered by an EMS will be of international importance, on occasion other species or habitats of national importance may occur within an EMS. In those circumstances, an MSSI can be notified within an area covered by an EMS. On occasion, the designation of an EMS may occur after an MSSI has been notified. Subsection (5) would ensure that the MSSI was denotified if an EMS were designated in the same area for the same reasons.

Clause 1 lays the groundwork for notification, the effects of which must be clear and unambiguous. Amendment No. 30 would delete the whole of clause 1 and replace it with new clause 6, which is designed to clarify the procedures for notifying MSSIs. Subsection (1) would provide that the appropriate nature conservation agency may notify a marine area as an MSSI by reason of its flora, fauna, or geographical or physiographical features. That would provide the conservation agencies with a power, rather than a duty, to notify sites.

I said in Committee that I believed a power to be more appropriate because it would give nature conservation agencies greater flexibility in exercising that function, and more time to plan and programme the work required for the identification and notification of sites. It would allow time to gather scientific information and to undertake work on the criteria. The House will know that we are currently in the process of implementing regulations that transpose the habitats directive in respect of marine sites. That is crucial work in which the conservation agencies are heavily involved, which is why it is relevant to the question of time. I cannot guarantee at this stage when that work will be completed, although we want to complete it as soon as possible.

The interim report of the review of marine nature conservation identifies a need to draw together the identification of those habitats, sites and species which are nationally important and which justify conservation action". Given that the Joint Nature Conservation Committee will be looking at criteria for the identification of nationally important marine habitats and species as part of the review, I propose that the Bill's provisions should not be implemented—at least in respect of England—until the review has concluded its work. That is not designed to create delay, but is a common-sense procedure in the circumstances. The work of the review will assist in the drawing up of selection criteria and the identification of sites under the Bill, and will help to influence the size and scope of suitable areas. The Bill will form an intrinsic part of a strategic approach to marine nature conservation.

Mr. Swayne

Will the Minister elaborate on the nature of the criteria being developed: for example, will he confirm that they will be based purely on the site's scientific interest?

10.15 am
Mr. Meacher

That is so, and I will say more soon. The hon. Gentleman is on to an important point and I am able to give assurances in that respect.

While the work of the review is ongoing, I would nevertheless expect English Nature to start looking more closely at the mechanisms for site notification, identifying the costs involved and mapping out new procedures that can be put in place in advance of the outcome of the review. I assure the House that the Government regard protection of the marine environment as a priority: we will give it due consideration in the appropriate allocation of resources to English Nature. I expect English Nature to give the implementation of the Bill's provisions similar emphasis in its corporate plan, and to use its power to notify sites wherever it has identified areas that fully comply with the criteria. I hope that that demonstrates the extent to which we are putting Government resources wholly behind implementation of the Bill.

New clause 6(2) deals with the publication of criteria for site selection by the confirming authority, after consultation with the appropriate conservation agency. New Clause 5 would provide that the confirming authority would be the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in England, and the National Assembly for Wales in Wales. I think it wise to introduce criteria to ensure that sites are notified on a sound and consistent basis, and that they add value and do not duplicate existing designations.

To answer the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), I confirm that the criteria will be scientific and will not take account of socioeconomic considerations. I expect the site selection criteria for England to be based on the JNCC's work under the review. There will be full consultation with the appropriate nature conservation agencies, enabling us to work together to understand the features that merit notification and the likely size of sites. There will be public consultation on the criteria, and before publishing them the Secretary of State will take full account of the views of colleagues. Subsection (3) would allow revision of the criteria after further consultation.

Subsections (4) to (6) deal with the practicalities of notifying a site, clarifying whom the conservation agencies should advise of a site notification and where the notification should be published. The use in subsection (4)(b) of the phrase so far as reasonably practicable acknowledges the difficulties the agency might have in identifying all competent marine authorities who have or could have functions within the area. It is not meant to suggest that the agency will not take account of the views of all those that are known, or do its best to reach them all, merely that certainty is not always possible.

Subsection (5) stipulates the effective date of a notification under the new clause. Protection applies from the date the notification is first published. A similar provision applies to land-based SSSIs. The purpose is to prevent any deliberate action to destroy the special interest while representations are being considered.

The provisions of new clause 7 would replace those in clause 1(3) to (8) and deal with the options open to the confirming authority in considering a notification made by the conservation agency. The notification should specify the features by reason of which the site is of special interest, and contain a statement that sets out both the conservation agency's objectives for the conservation of those features and its views about the management necessary to secure those objectives. Subsection (1) proposes a period of three months, not one, for the submission of representations, and subsection (3) states that the confirming authority should make a decision on the notification within nine months of the notification having first been published. That is a longer period than the one proposed in the Bill, but it matches the timetable for the consideration of a site of special scientific interest on land under the 1981 Act. To ensure that there is a full opportunity for representations to be made, the longer period based on that precedent is right. I give an assurance to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall). As a notification takes effect as soon as it is advertised, the longer period allows better decision making but poses no threat to the conservation of the proposed site. I hope that we can get the best of both worlds.

The statement of views about management of the site is likely to include an indication of the operations which, in the agency's view, would be likely to cause damage to the special features. Representations may be made about this statement, including the listed operations. The statement is likely to prove extremely helpful in, for example, taking decisions under clause 3 in relation to the carrying out of or consenting to operations. It will be important that the competent authority is fully aware, in advance, of the operations that the conservation agency considers are likely to damage the site, and takes full account of these in making its own careful and informed assessment.

Subsection (3) would provide that the powers of the confirming authority extended to modifying the notification, as well as to confirming it as made, or withdrawing it. I should make it clear that the modification may only reduce— not increase—the size of the site, so it may not cover a new and previously not notified area; and it may only remove, not add, features of interest. It may also amend the conservation objectives. If it is not satisfied that the case has been made, the confirming authority may withdraw a notification. However, there must be a notice giving a clear statement of the reasons for the decision.

In considering a notification, the most important issue is the special interest, and whether the conservation agency has demonstrated its existence. Representations may question the scientific basis, but in exercising its functions the confirming authority will also be under the duty, set out in new clause 1, to have regard to the desirability of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. Environmental sustainability requires the highest level of protection for irreplaceable natural assets, but this cannot be addressed in isolation from proper consideration of economic and social needs, and the wider environmental agenda. We shall consider these issues on a case-by-case basis, carefully balancing all the benefits and costs. That is the only way forward.

New clause 8—the House will be glad to know that I am gradually coming to the end of my remarks—addresses circumstances in which the conservation agency wishes to vary the confirmed notification, perhaps because of increased scientific knowledge about the special features or changes in the marine environment.

Notification of a marine site of special interest includes a number of different features. It marks a boundary within which the marine area is of special interest, identifies features of special interest, and includes conservation objectives and a statement of views about how the site should be managed to conserve the features. The provision allows any of these components to be modified and, at subsection (2), power for the conservation body to propose the cancellation of the MSSI, but only if it believes that the area is no longer of special interest. The procedure for varying a notification is the same as that which applies when a site is first notified. There are restrictions on the confirming authority's capacity to modify in subsections (8) and (9).

These provisions are modelled on those that already apply to notification of SSSIs under section 28 of the 1981 Act, as amended by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. They provide a necessary degree of flexibility so that the conservation agencies can ensure that notifications remain accurate and take account of new information and knowledge.

Where the conservation body proposes to cancel a notification it may do so only if it is satisfied that the area is no longer of special interest. The site will continue to be protected until such a notification is confirmed, and the confirming authority will consider the arguments, and any representations made, extremely carefully. I believe that I should mention that for the sake of completeness and thoroughness. In my view, the procedure will be used only exceptionally. If we are to provide a means of identifying and protecting nationally important sites, it would be inappropriate to include sites which we recognised were not, or no longer, of special interest.

Amendment No. 38 deletes clause 7, and new clause 5 would replace it with provisions that clarified the definitions used in the Bill. They are technical in nature and place the definitions in alphabetical order, for ease of reference.

As the only function of relevant marine authorities is the establishment of management schemes, the list of authorities permitted to establish management schemes is proposed in amendment No. 2. The definition of "relevant marine authority" is therefore deleted as this term is no longer used.

The definition of a "European marine site" has been clarified to ensure that it has the same meaning as the 1994 habitats regulations. The definition of "competent marine authority" is now much closer to the definition of "competent authority" in the habitats regulations. I am sure that that has been done to make things simpler and easier to understand and administer. As with the habitats regulations, bodies such as the Crown Estate Commissioners and sea fisheries committees are competent marine authorities.

Subsections (2) and (3) would enable the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales, as appropriate, to amend the definition of "competent marine authority" by statutory instrument in respect of sites that have been notified by English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales.

New clause 2 replaces clause 1(9). It merely clarifies procedures on the installation of markers indicating the boundaries of MSSIs. The nature conservation agencies must seek the permission of the owner of the land or sea bed on which the markers are to be placed, and must remove markers if the site is denotified. We expect English Nature to forward a copy of site boundaries to the Hydrographic Office, which will consider whether to mark these on Admiralty charts.

I apologise to the House for the extreme detail and the length of my remarks. However, it is extremely important that there should be no dubiety about the operation of the Bill. I hope that my remarks have been positive towards that end. On that basis, I commend the new clauses and the amendments to the House.

10.30 am
Mr. Randall

I thank the Minister for his detailed remarks. He need make no apology for clarification. I think that some of my questions have been answered already, but some of them are so important that it may be appropriate to repeat them. That is the only apology that I make.

As the Minister said, the duty in clause 1 has been reduced to a power in new clause 6. The Minister flagged that up in Committee. In some respects, it will make the Bill slightly weaker. However, that may be necessary for the reasons outlined by the Minister. Will the Minister confirm that if the new clause is accepted and the duty to notify is reduced to a power, English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales will still be given the resources to enable them to establish effectively a network of nationally important marine areas throughout territorial waters within a reasonable period of the Bill's enactment? Will he confirm that when a site clearly merits designation as a nationally important MSSI, English Nature or the CCW will be expected to notify the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales of that fact?

I was grateful for the Minister's clarification of new clause 6, and his explanation to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) that the criteria to be agreed will be scientific and will require sites to be notified on the grounds of their scientific interest alone. What consistency will there be between the criteria developed for England and for Wales? Will interested parties other than the statutory nature conservation bodies be consulted during the development of criteria? Will the Secretary of State or the Welsh Assembly be able to set aside the advice of English Nature or the CCW on criteria for site selection?

New clause 7 deals with further provisions about notification. Given the widely recognised difficulties that have dogged the designation of marine nature reserves because of the need to achieve complete consensus, is there an intention to require 100 per cent. agreement by all interested parties before notification of an MSSI is confirmed? Will the Minister confirm that, as long as English Nature and the CCW take reasonably practicable steps to secure consensus, the Secretary of State or the Welsh Assembly will confirm notification of an MSSI despite outstanding objections, providing the science clearly justifies notification?

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas

May I echo the hon. Gentleman's concern about the need for 100 per cent. consensus before an MSSI is designated, and flag up a parallel concern about inland waters of which the British canoeing fraternity is only too well aware? Riparian owners can exclude canoeists from their waters, even when there would be no impact whatever on the environment or their land. There is a danger, as the hon. Gentleman said, that the 100 per cent consensus may stop sensible action.

Mr. Randall

I am afraid that I am not an expert on canoeing, but I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. As the House knows, it is almost impossible to achieve 100 per cent. consensus; it would be a great shame if the requirement meant that one small voice could stop something as important as notification going ahead.

Mr. Swayne

Is not the key point that we are seeking reassurance from the Minister that we are not going to give legal effect to the guidance which has stalled the marine nature reserve programme?

Mr. Randall

My hon. Friend is astute.

Mr. Swayne

My hon. Friend is very kind.

Mr. Randall

My hon. Friend deserves it.

Will the Minister confirm that operations likely to cause damage can be included in the conservation statement in new clause 7 and will constitute part of the statutory notification? I am pretty certain that he said the Crown Estate is considered a competent marine authority under clause 3 on the duties of competent marine authorities. Clause 4, on management schemes, would be amended by Government amendment No. 2, which we shall debate later. Will the Minister confirm that the Crown Estate could be added to the proposed list of authorities able to establish management schemes for MSSIs by virtue of Government amendment No. 14?

On that note, I shall conclude, and await the Minister's response.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

I congratulate the Minister on many of the Government's amendments. Some of the amendments that I have tabled have been overtaken by the Government amendments, but I should like to push others for the sake of clarification.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas

Before my hon. Friend launches into his speech, will he join me in seeking clarification from the Minister about whether new clause 2(4) is needed? To return to my intervention on the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), there are 10,800 miles of rapidly moving water or other waters suitable for canoeists in this country. However, because the consent of the owner of the land is required, canoeists have access to only 1 per cent. of those waters. Subsection (4) would surely prevent the sensible development of MSSIs, and would provide a bitter parallel with the circumstances of canoeists in this country.

Mr. Dismore

My hon. Friend makes an interesting intervention. I shall shortly address the need for consent in the context of notifications. However, the point that I am about to make may be of more interest to my hon. Friend. I assume that he is primarily talking about canoeing on rivers which, of course, the Bill does not address. My amendment No. 67 seeks to extend its provisions to river estuaries. It is a probing amendment; I am not sure of the extent to which river estuaries are already protected under arrangements for sites of special scientific interest.

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)

As my hon. Friend will be aware, my constituency is bounded by the River Humber, which has one of the largest river estuaries in the country. Many SSSIs among the mudflats at the edge of the river are already protected.

Mr. Dismore

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; I was going to use the Humber as an example. As she knows, I grew up in east Yorkshire in the seaside town of Bridlington, and I was going to refer to one or two of my experiences. However, I wish to refer specifically to tidal rivers.

In introducing the Government amendments, my right hon. Friend the Minister referred to the definitions of high and low water marks. Many years ago, in my professional life, I had to interpret the high water mark in relation to the Fire Services Act 1947 to determine when the fire brigade's duty began and ended. I know from that complicated legislation that determining such marks can be difficult, which is why I have flagged up the issue of river estuaries and tidal rivers. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend would deal with that in his reply and assure us that we are covering all the bases, either through existing legislation or the Bill, if it is enacted.

I am grateful for the Government amendments which clarify the timetable. My amendments Nos. 42, 47 and 50 attempt to do the same, but far less scientifically; I defer to my right hon. Friend, and shall not seek to press them. However, I echo some of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Uxbridge in response to my right hon. Friend's substituting a power for a duty in new clause 6. I, too, am worried about that, although I recognise that there are resource implications, so I understand his reasons. I shall return to the question of resources.

With regard to notification, there are three options. I assume that my right hon. Friend's amendment will prevail. The first option as to who should be notified is in the original Bill. In amendment No. 41, I set out an addition to that, and my right hon. Friend dealt with it in new clause 6. My main aim is to make sure that the people who are likely to be affected by the designation of a marine site are properly notified and consulted.

Clause 1 states that as far as is reasonably practicable, every holder of a property right or statutory right of any kind in relation to any of that marine area should receive notification. My right hon. Friend's new clause 6(4) states: If a body decides to make a notification under subsection (1), it must notify… any other person who the body is directed by the confirming authority to notify"— the confirming authority in this context being the Minister. Similar provisions apply in Wales. My aim is to make it clear who will be the subject of that direction from the Minister. Many. many people will be affected. My amendment No. 41 would have incorporated into the original wording a provision that anybody who carried out a trade, occupation or business that could be affected by the introduction of a marine site should be notified. If we are not careful about the wording, people may fall through the net.

New clause 6 makes provision for advertisement of the notification in a local newspaper, but that may not reach everybody. For example, fishermen who are out at sea for several weeks may not see the local paper. That must be taken into account. On Second Reading—I think—my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) dealt with the problems that the fishing industry could face as a result of the Bill, and with how it could benefit as well. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) nods; there is still something of a deep sea fleet based around the Humber. We must make sure that the fishing industry is consulted—both the inshore fishing industry, which is based in towns like my old home town, Bridlington, and the offshore fleet.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas

If my hon. Friend's amendment No. 67 is successful, river estuaries will be incorporated into the terms of the Bill. I echo his concerns about the need for clearer specification of who should be consulted. The relevant authorities are pretty good at consulting the fishing industry and fishing interests in general, but the British Canoe Union might be a suitable addition to my hon. Friend's list of consultees.

Mr. Dismore

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I intend to deal with some of the recreational uses of our waters. I know that he is a great advocate of the canoeing fraternity. I used to do a little canoeing in my youth, until I did an eskimo roll once and came up on the other side without my glasses, which somewhat put me off the sport.

We must consider not only the commercial fisheries but recreational fishing, which is indirectly quite an important trade or business to the day-trip boats that go out of harbours such as Bridlington. I am surprised that the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) is not present to speak up for his constituents in that regard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West has drawn the attention of the House to recreational uses. Apart from canoeing, there is a great deal of sailing and yachting activity. Yacht clubs are important not just as recreational organisations but as businesses. The diving fraternity will be affected, as will pleasure boats. I know that the pleasure boats that go out towards Flamborough Head and up and down that part of the east coast are important businesses which could be affected by the introduction of a marine site in that area.

10.45 am
Mr. Randall

I assume that, knowing the area so well, the hon. Gentleman also recognises that it is a good feeding ground for all the sea birds that breed along that coast, particularly at Bempton cliffs.

Mr. Dismore

That is my next point. I have been a regular visitor to Bempton cliffs and I still am, when I occasionally go home to see my mother in Yorkshire. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that the cliffs are a spectacular site. The boats stay well away from that area.

New recreational industries are growing—for example, whale watching.

Shona McIsaac

And seal watching.

Mr. Dismore

Indeed. I see from the report entitled "Whale Watching 2001", which was prepared by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, that that is a growth industry. In 1991, some 400 people in the UK were engaged in that activity, spending $43,000 directly and $330,000 indirectly, but in 1998 there were more than 121,000 whale watchers, who spent almost $1.9 million in direct expenditure and more than $8 million in indirect expenditure. So, it is an important industry.

Much of that activity, I expect, would take place in the sort of area that we are talking about protecting. Such industries also need to be protected. According to the same report, 28 per cent. of visitors to the Moray firth said that the presence of dolphins had been the sole reason for their visit. Through my amendment, I am trying to ensure that all those whose livelihood is likely to be affected—sometimes positively as well as negatively—are properly consulted.

New clause 7 introduces the concept of management, to which my amendment No. 46 refers. New clause 7(2)(b) provides that the notification statement must include details of how the site should be managed. Several of my amendments, in this group as well as later groups, refer to the importance of the management regime for the site. Without a good management regime, many problems could occur.

Amendment No. 46 goes beyond that and deals with how the management regime is to be financed. It is important to recognise that if we do the job properly, there will be costs. The question is where the money will come from. It is all well and good for us to talk about introducing marine sites of scientific interest and looking after them, but if the resources are not put in to achieve that, whether from charitable trusts, the Government, nature protection bodies or Europe, we will not accomplish a great deal.

I return to new clause 7 and the representation procedure, and my amendments Nos. 44 and 51. With regard to the people who should be consulted about a marine site, the new clause refers to the need for representations and consideration of those representations, but it makes no provision on how those representations should be made. For example, should they be produced in writing, or would a picket of angry fishermen suffice?

We need to be a little more specific about how representations should be made. For example, there is no power to make regulations that would specify in subordinate legislation how representations should be made, a timetable for their consideration and so on. That is a feature of similar legislation, but it is lacking from this Bill. When he replies to the debate, perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell us how he sees such representations being received.

In its briefing for this debate, English Nature states that it wishes to see the Bill tightened in some areas, particularly in relation to how competent authorities are expected to take account of English Nature's advice when deciding what might constitute a damaging operation. Consultation is an important theme that should run throughout the Bill, and although such considerations do not necessarily form part of that aspect of consultation, they need to be addressed in our approach to implementing the legislation.

Having discussed how representations should be made, we should next ask how they will be considered. New clause 7 refers to the "confirming authority"—in other words, the Minister— having regard to any representations or objections The Opposition expressed criticism about the issue. Does "having regard" mean having due regard, having full regard, or simply looking at such representations and throwing them in the bin? I am sure that my right hon. Friend would not throw them in the bin, but the provision needs a bit more substance.

My right hon. Friend doubtless would not accept the procedure outlined in my amendment No. 44. Nevertheless, it goes to the heart of what we are trying to achieve: the consideration of representations "in public". If the process is to work, we must build consensus among all who are affected—be they those engaged in trade, such as fishermen, or nature conservation enthusiasts and bodies. The best way to achieve that is to consider openly and in public all the views that are expressed. I believe in open government, and such a procedure would make a very important contribution to it. The amendments are important, and I shall be interested to hear my right hon. Friend's comments on the way in which representations should be made and considered, and decisions confirmed.

I welcome new clause 7(3), which states that if the original notification is withdrawn or modified, notice given by the confirming authority must include a statement of reasons That chimes with my amendment No. 52. It would be appalling if, after hearing various representations, a blue pen was simply struck through various parts of the original notification decision, and no thought was given to explaining why the change was made. Without representations, certain decisions taken under this legislation could give rise to heated views on both sides.

Amendments Nos. 45, 55 and 56—relating to the need to take account of international best practice—constitute my main contribution to this group, and I was pleased to note that they were indeed selected. Although the concept of protecting our marine wildlife through this kind of legislation is relatively new, such protection has been offered throughout the rest of the world for some time. We can learn a lot from what has happened elsewhere, and perhaps I might illustrate the point with two or three brief examples.

The first two examples concern Greece, a country that I know well and have visited widely. The national marine park of the northern Sporades, on the island of Alonissos—which incorporates six smaller islands—was founded on 28 May 1992, so the Greeks have considerable experience of such matters. It is a very isolated area in which there is only limited human interference, so there was already a good natural environment for making the land and sea areas of the park an ideal habitat for many of the Aegean's threatened species of plants and animals. Severe restrictions are imposed on commercial activities such as fishing and tourism. They could have a serious impact on the people of the northern Sporades, who earn their living from those two industries. In fact, there is little else for them to do. The marine park deals not only with fish but with certain rare sea birds and, perhaps most importantly, the Mediterranean monk seal, which is under threat. It is an ancient animal that has been represented throughout history, including on ancient Greek coins. It is one of the largest seals in the world, but its rate of reproduction is very slow.

Until recently, the monk seal was hunted intensively for its fur and skin, and fishermen who worried about its stealing food from their nets also used to bump it off. It is important to note that, since the marine park's introduction, virtually no such incidents have occurred. The marine park has actively engaged the region's fishermen and the fishing co-operative of Alonissos in its protection efforts, which has contributed greatly to stopping the killing of those seals.

When one arrives in Alonissos, a little presentation—it is almost a museum—takes place on the dockside, explaining what the Government of Greece are trying to achieve in promoting the marine park. It engages tourists in the concept of the marine park, and perhaps encourages them to proselytise elsewhere. On visiting it. my eyes were certainly opened to the benefits of protecting marine wildlife in that way. An interesting documentary by a friend of mine, Mrs. Lydia Carras, recently won the Europa Nostra award for the best European nature documentary. It is called "The Song of the Monk Seal", and I am happy to lend my videotape copy to anyone who wants to watch it.

One downside of the Alonissos marine park is that protection is voluntary. Although the inhabitants of Alonissos and the neighbouring island of Skopelos were united in pressing the Government of Greece to establish the marine park, and although there is a biological station, a formal management system has yet to be put in place. That can be contrasted with the island of Zakynthos, which is famous throughout the world for its turtle beaches. Such a management regime has been established in Zakynthos for a couple of years. However, unlike in Alonissos—where people want, but have yet to get, the protection afforded by a management scheme—ections of the Zakynthos population are against such a scheme. A management scheme is perhaps more important in Zakynthos, given the hostility of local businesses to such measures.

The Zakynthos marine park also integrates protection of the territorial zones on land—the nesting grounds of the loggerhead turtles—with protection of nearby affected sea areas. It has achieved a great deal, despite being unable to bring the local community along with it. Greece therefore offers a couple of good examples of how international practice can inform the way in which we develop our own arrangements.

My final example is from Australia. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit the great barrier reef, which is the largest world heritage area. Some 1,500 species of fish, more than 300 species of reef-building corals, 4,000 molluscs and 400 species of sponges have so far been identified there. Australia probably has more experience of such matters than anywhere else. In 1976, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority—a joint federal Government and Queensland state government body—assumed responsibility for the conservation and management of one of the world's largest and most unusual parks: the great barrier reef underwater park. On visiting the reef, I was impressed by the way in which the company that took us there by boat applied strict rules and regulations governing the conduct of visitors. For example, people who were snorkelling or diving were not allowed to stand on the coral, and the authorities made sure that they did not. That is an extremely important area, and it is part of Australia's national oceans policy.

We could learn a great deal from the way in which the Australians established their authority, which undertakes a variety of tasks, including management plans, research, monitoring and interpreting data, and providing educational services and management advice. The day-to-day management is carried out by the Queensland agencies, subject to the authority's mandate, and they issue permits and give advice and assistance, nationally and internationally. I am sure that they would be prepared to help us to make our own arrangements.

Will my right hon. Friend look beyond our own shores to international best practice to see how we can learn from what is good and bad overseas? Will he also take account of the need to ensure that those who will be most affected by the designation of a marine site will be properly consulted and involved in the process? Only by doing that can we achieve the success that the Bill very much deserves

11 am

Mr. Heath

I certainly concur with the point made by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) about the need to look at international best practice. There is considerable experience elsewhere in the world of operating marine reserves, and we should learn from that.

These are important new clauses and amendments, and I do not dissent from the broad sweep of their intent, but I want to raise several important issues. The compass of new clause 5(1) underlines the extraordinary complexity of current coastal zone management and we need to address that. On a general point, it is absurd that we have so many bodies with different powers and responsibilities, often overlapping and sometimes in conflict. It is right to review that, and I note what the Minister said about the intention to implement the Bill, if it is passed, after the review of marine conservation. Some, including major UK ports, have said that the entire Bill should have been delayed until after that review; I do not agree. We need to get the Bill on to the statute book as well as to review our arrangements for coastal zone management.

It is perhaps for that reason that subsection (1)(g) refers to any other public body of any description", which is the catch-all phrase for all the bodies that the Minister either does not wish to list or fears that he may have omitted earlier in the subsection. I should have liked the sea fisheries committees to be explicitly included. They are essential to the Bill, and after all they are hardly a new invention, having been around since 1888. They deserve to be listed, not least because of the resource implications for them of implementing the Bill—something to which I am sure we shall return. The Minister said that the intention was to include them as a competent marine authority, but it would be better if they were listed in the new clause.

If sea fisheries committees were named in new clause 5, it would be clear that, under new clause 6, they had to be notified when an area was to be designated a site of special interest. It would be remiss of any body that was, within the meaning of the Bill, a competent marine authority not to notify the appropriate sea fisheries committee when it intended to designate an area. On that point, the Bill differs from the equivalent legislation relating to land, in which there are requirements to consult relevant agricultural interests and landowners. It is unfortunate that the equivalent parts of the fisheries economy are not included in the Bill.

Shona McIsaac

It is a little unfair of the hon. Gentleman to say that sea fisheries committees are not mentioned. Government amendment No. 2 refers to any local fisheries committee provided for under section 1 of the Sea Fisheries Regulation Act 1966". So the committees are in fact mentioned in amendments that we will discuss today.

Mr. Heath

Those are amendments that we will discuss later, and I would be out of order if I responded to a point about amendment No. 2. There may a reference to the committees, but they are not named as a competent marine authority, which would put them at the heart of the Bill, where they ought to be.

I have another slight problem with new clause 6. Subsection (2) says that criteria will be published. As we have heard, those are the scientific criteria that will be used to judge whether a marine SSI should be established. However, there is no requirement in the Government's proposals to publish any form of statutory advice. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) made that point in Committee when he tabled amendments of his own. The Minister said that he would consider the matter carefully and determine how advice should be given. That advice is not mentioned in the amendments that we are discussing today.

It would be extremely helpful if a code of statutory guidance were to be published by Ministers for the assistance not only of the marine authorities responsible for designation and notification but of everybody else concerned. Everyone would know exactly where they stood, and they would know which points to consider, not least so that they could make objections. Hon. Members will recall that we debated that matter at great length during proceedings on the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. The more grounds for objection one can eliminate, the more focused any objections will be, and the easier it will be to deal with proper objections. That is important, so I would be grateful if the Minister told the House whether he intends to publish such guidance, statutory or otherwise.

I want to make two points that may appear fatuous, although I hope they do not. One has to consider what may go wrong when the Bill is implemented. Under the designation and notification procedures, the appropriate nature conservation bodies are defined as English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales. What will happen when the area concerned is in the jurisdiction of both bodies, in the Bristol channel? There is no provision for them to act jointly.

It is not inconceivable that the problem will arise. The water borders between England and Wales, off Somerset. are quite odd. Because of local authority boundaries, a spit of English water goes down the middle of the Bristol channel; Steep Holme is in one country and Flatholm is in the other. My point is not therefore completely ridiculous: can the two nature conservation bodies act together?

My second point may seem even sillier, but I must ask the Minister to consider it. It concerns the definition of a marine SSI. The sea bed and land below the sea bed is mentioned, as well as the water column. In the legislation dealing with land sites of special scientific interest there is a clear legal understanding that the column of air above the land is also included. Will the Minister assure me that that is also the case in this Bill, which refers to the water column but not the air above it? Clearly, one of the nature conservation interests may be sea birds, and disturbance of sea birds above the surface of the sea could be detrimental to the reasons for designation. I would hate to find that that was not included in the definition in legislation because of a misunderstanding or a misconstruction of the terms used.

Mr. Randall

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. However, it is most likely that the birds affected would be sea duck, whose feeding area is on the surface, and not necessarily birds that are in flight above it. However, it is an interesting point and I would be grateful to the Minister if he were to clarify it.

Mr. Heath

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is right. Sea birds, with the exception of the albatross, do not tend to stay airborne for long periods. However, as we have discussed previously with regard to SSSIs, disturbance to the birds rather than destruction of the habitat is included. One can imagine a construction that causes no damage to the sea or the sea bed but that, nevertheless, irreparably damages the sea bird interest of a particular area. If a clever lawyer working for a corporation somewhere were able to say that that was not part of the marine site of special interest because it was above the water column, it would be a great shame. Perhaps the Minister will consider that point or take advice on it. I hope that I am barking up the wrong tree about that, and that my argument is a complete waste of time, but let us be sure.

Shona McIsaac

First, I apologise to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and the Minister for not being in the Chamber earlier to hear their opening remarks.

As I said earlier, my constituency is bounded by the River Humber, one of the biggest estuaries in this country. Indeed, it is an important breeding ground for migratory sea birds, and many of the mud flats above the low water mark are already designated as sites of special scientific interest. Those areas are covered by what we might call land-based legislation, whereas I understand that this Bill relates to areas below the mean low water mark. When the tide goes out in the Humber, it goes out an awful long way. On some days, one feels that one can walk to the Netherlands or Denmark, such is the expanse of mud flats. However, when the tide comes in, it comes in fast, which causes a problem when people get stranded on sand banks.

I support the Bill, but I would like clarification from the Minister on a couple of points. The Bill makes it clear that designation of a marine site of special interest will be based on scientific evidence of its flora and fauna or on geological or physiographical criteria. Earlier this week, the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) managed to get a private Member's Bill on marine archaeology through Committee. That Bill mainly gave responsibility for marine archaeology to English Heritage, which had not occurred before, and it had all-party support. What is the interplay between that Bill and this Bill? Under this Bill, geological and physiographical aspects will be taken into account, and submerged landscapes are of scientific interest in marine archaeology.

11.15 am
Mr. Randall

I was on the Committee that considered the National Heritage Bill to which the hon. Lady refers, although, unfortunately, I was only briefly present for its proceedings. That Bill has the support of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and is seen as part of a wider picture. It might cover wrecks that would be marine sites of special interest because of the important biodiversity found there. The Bills are compatible rather than being in competition.

Shona McIsaac

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification, because I wanted to establish whether the two Bills would be compatible. The hon. Gentleman is right that many archaeological remains such as wrecks of ships and even aircraft become important marine habitats, which create great biodiversity. We must therefore strike the right balance in that regard. I hope that the Minister will shed light on the interplay between marine archaeology and this Bill. and on submerged landscapes that are the result of changed sea levels.

Mr. Randall

The hon. Lady may also be interested to know that the National Heritage Bill was introduced in the other place by my noble Friend Baroness Anelay, who has said that if we were lucky enough to obtain the passage of this Bill to the other place, she would help to support it. That emphasises the compatibility of the two Bills.

Shona McIsaac

Again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. My fondness for this Bill is growing by the minute.

Fishing and the fishing industry is a slightly more controversial subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) mentioned that there was still a distant water fleet based mainly in Grimsby and Hull. Some—not all—fishermen are concerned about this Bill. Those concerns revolve first around notification. Many distant water trawlermen are away for long periods of time, and I hope that they are notified in some way. Fishermen are saying that the introduction of these special sites will exclude them from important fishing grounds. Because of the slim margins that exist today in the fishing industry, some fishermen are fearful that the Bill may affect their livelihoods. Given that quotas can be draconian, I hope that the Minister will appreciate the concern expressed by some trawlermen in my constituency. I have explained to trawlermen that the introduction of these sites will create important breeding grounds for fish species, and that excluding commercial fisheries from those sites could be beneficial to the fishing industry.

The other point that I want to mention on behalf of the fishing community is the level of fines imposed for damage—£20,000, I understand. Again, concern has been expressed that that is a high level. Will there be any way for fishermen to appeal against fines imposed on them? Trawl nets are very large and can create damage. Marine biologists have expressed concern about the damage done to coral reefs off Britain.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon said, coral reefs are not just found in Australia, and concern has been expressed about the effect that trawl nets and fishing equipment might have on the reefs. Given the size of the nets, we must be very careful where we place markers in such areas. Trawl nets might damage the reef even though the boat itself was well outside the area. We must consider how we can deal with that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon referred to whale and dolphin watching and I was surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) did not suggest that we could watch whales from canoes. That would have given him another opportunity to mention canoeing in the debate. However, I wanted to refer briefly to grey and common seals, because the United Kingdom has about 40 per cent. of the world's population of these species.

Some members of the fishing industry suggest that some of those seals should be culled because of the amount of fish they eat. However, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley)—he has responsibility for fisheries—has made it clear that there is no scientific evidence that would justify the culling of the species. In fact, the scientific evidence shows that dolphins eat more fish than seals ever do. However, seals are more visible to fisherman, who then blame the seals and want to cull their numbers.

My family is from an area on the coast of Scotland and I know that many seals breed near the islands there. Will the Bill offer more protection to colonies of seals? I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will he able to confirm that there is no scientific basis for culling seals. In fact, the seal population in this country is much lower than it was before the distemper outbreak took place in the 1980s. We must also consider this aspect of marine conservation.

I support the Bill and wish it well. However, I hope that my right hon. Friend will clarify some of the issues that I have raised.

Bob Spink (Castle Point)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), who spoke eloquently about her constituency interest in the matter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on his persistence and skill in bringing the Bill this far. I hope that he will be successful in getting it on to the statute book. He has a good chance of doing that because of the constructive and helpful approach that the Government have taken. I congratulate the Minister on his contribution.

I do not intend to delay the House for long, but I hope that the debate on this group of new clauses and amendments—in particular that on new clause 4, which relates to the identification and notification of MSSIs—is the appropriate one on which to discuss fishing interests. We now better understand the dynamic nature of the marine environment.

Although I did not serve on the Committee considering the Bill—that is my loss—and although I am only a humble Back Bencher, I wish to consider two constituency interests: conservation and the inshore fishing industry. Those interests are complementary to each other. Furthermore, my constituency lies in and on the Thames estuary; Canvey island and part of Two Tree island are in the Thames.

The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations has a valid interest in the Bill. Commercial fishermen depend on the marine environment to sustain and replenish fish stocks, so I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the NFFO's concerns have been fully taken on board. I was interested to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) on the subject—he spoke quite wisely—so will the Minister place on record how the Bill will affect, if indeed, it will, the imminent and much-needed reform of the common fisheries policy? Although my views are well known in the House—I believe that we should get out of the policy and have nothing to do with it—clarification on that point would be appreciated.

I wish the Bill well. I will not detain the House any further other than to congratulate again my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and the Minister on their approach.

Mr. Meacher

I felt the need to apologise for the length of my opening remarks, and I now have to apologise for the length of my closing remarks. This is the main group of amendments and a range of important and highly pertinent questions have been asked by Members on both sides. I shall try to deal with them as quickly and as succinctly as I can.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) asked about the effect of the duty to notify being reduced to a power and wondered whether English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales will still be given the resources to enable them effectively to establish a network of important marine areas. I said—I hope that he accepts this—that a power may be appropriate on the ground that it would offer greater flexibility and provide more time given the work that the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and conservation agencies are doing on other issues. The change will allow for scientific information to be gathered and for work on the criteria to be carried out. As I have said, the nature conservation agencies already have priorities for marine work.

On the point about resources, I said that we intend to provide the extra resources that will enable English Nature properly to implement the provisions in the Bill. In Wales, it will be a matter for the National Assembly, but the Government are putting their resources behind the Bill.

When a site clearly merits designation as an MSSI, the hon. Gentleman asked whether English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales will be expected to notify the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales of that fact. The answer is yes. I assure him that, where a site merits designation as an MSSI against the criteria published by the confirming authority, I certainly expect English Nature to notify that fact, and I am quite sure that it will. Notification in Wales is, of course, a matter for the National Assembly.

When English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales go as far is reasonably practical to secure consensus between interested parties, the hon. Gentleman asked me whether I could confirm that when English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales have gone as far as reasonably practicable to secure consensus between interested parties, the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales will confirm notification of an MSSI despite outstanding objections. Is absolute consensus required? The answer is that the confirming authority is quite properly obliged to consider all the representations made to him or her in deciding whether to confirm a site. However, I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that it will not be necessary to obtain 100 per cent. consensus of opinion before the authority confirms the site.

11.30 am

The hon. Gentleman asked whether interested parties other than the statutory nature conservation bodies will be consulted during development of the criteria and, again, the answer is yes. As I said, I would expect the site selection criteria for England to be based on the work that is being carried out by the JNCC under the auspices of the review, and there will be full consultation with the appropriate nature conservation agencies, but we intend to have public consultation on the criteria. As I said, before publishing them, the Secretary of State will also take full account of the views of colleagues or other bodies making representations.

On the question of consistency between the criteria developed for England and those developed for Wales, this is a devolved issue and there is the potential for discrepancy, although I think that there is a recognition on both sides that, if possible, it is best avoided. I would expect the criteria for England to be based on the work on nationally important site selection carried out by the JNCC as part of the review of marine nature conservation. That will have a Great Britain perspective and it will be the responsibility of the Secretary of State, in consultation with English Nature, to ensure that the criteria are suitable for England. I repeat, because it is the formal position, that the criteria for Wales are a matter for the National Assembly for Wales, but there will certainly be discussion between us to ensure that we obtain a common view if possible.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales would be able to set aside the advice of English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales on criteria for site selection, and the answer is that in considering a notification the most important issue is—

Tony Cunningham

This might sound strange, but where we have, as we have in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), huge areas of sand once the tide goes out and we are establishing an MSSI according to various criteria, can we bear in mind the criteria for the SSSIs on land? If the low water mark is the benchmark, sea birds could be protected on a certain amount of sand once the tide goes out, but not when it comes in, and there could be two different criteria. Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the criteria for SSSIs when establishing the criteria for their marine equivalent?

Mr. Meacher

I had intended to deal with that when I replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), but in the light of that intervention I shall do so now.

In deciding the boundaries between SSSIs and MSSIs we shall seek to avoid there being a point at which there is a discontinuity. The mean low water mark has been chosen as the upper landward limit of an MSSI, as that generally corresponds to the lower seaward limit under which SSSIs are designated under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, so the problem about which my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) is concerned should not arise.

I return to the point raised by the hon. Member for Uxbridge about setting aside the advice of the nature conservation agencies. I repeat that in considering a notification the most important issue is the special interest and whether the conservation agency has demonstrated its existence. That is the heart of the process. Representations may choose to question the scientific basis of the proposed notification, but in exercising its functions, the confirming authority will also, as I said, be under the duty set out in new clause 1 to have regard to the desirability of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.

We will consider those issues on a case-by-case basis and the aim is to balance them carefully. I cannot give an assurance that either those who have particular concerns for development interests or those who have particular concerns for conservation interests will automatically override the other. Sustainable development is designed to try to obtain a balance in which neither automatically overrides the other, but in a particular case the aim is to reconcile them.

The hon. Gentleman also asked me to confirm that operations likely to damage can be included in the conservation statement issued under new clause 7, and that where they are included they will constitute part of a statutory notification. The statement of views about the management of the site is likely to include an indication of the operations which, in the agency's view, would be likely to cause damage to the special features. That is an essential part of the statement. Representations may be made about the statement, including a list of operations. The statement is likely to be helpful, particularly, as I said, in taking decisions under clause 3 in relation to the carrying out of or consenting to operations.

The hon. Gentleman also asked me, for the purposes of clause 3, which relates to competent marine authorities' duties, whether the Crown Estate Commissioners are considered a competent marine authority. Under new clause 5, the definition of competent marine authority is now a great deal closer to the definition of competent authority in the habitats regulations and, as with those regulations, bodies such as the Crown Estate Commissioners are competent marine authorities.

I come now to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) in the course of an intervention on new clause 2(4). The majority of the sea bed covered by the Bill is owned by the Crown and new clause 2 is about the placement of markers to mark the site. If markers are to be placed, it is only right that the landowner's permission is sought. The refusal of permission to place a marker does not mean that a site cannot be fixed, but it is certainly right that that permission should he sought and I imagine that in the overwhelming majority of cases it would be given.

I come now to several points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) and the many amendments that we have considered carefully. First, with regard to whether river estuaries are included, the answer is that they are if they are intertidal. As I said earlier, an MSSI can be notified in any area covered by tidal waters between the mean low water mark out to the limit of territorial waters.

My hon. Friend asked about notification and advertisements and I can assure him that the appropriate nature conservation authority will, as a matter of best practice, try to involve all relevant persons about a notification. During the work on the review, I would expect English Nature to start looking more closely at the mechanisms for site notification. I have taken on board my hon. Friend's comments and I shall convey the organisations that he has listed to English Nature for consideration. Of course, the Secretary of State will and, I think, must, retain the power to direct conservation agencies if he or she feels that any relevant bodies have been missed.

My hon. Friend mentioned advertisements. The Secretary of State retains a power to direct, but I am sure that the conservation body will consider placing appropriate advertisements in journals covering the industry, such as Fishing News, as well as using electronic means of communication, which could be especially important in respect of fishing fleets that go out to sea for considerable periods. My hon. Friend also asked about giving notice. That means notice in writing, but includes notice given by electronic means; we certainly do not want to shut our eyes to new technology.

My hon. Friend referred to international best practice and mentioned Zakynthos and the Great Barrier reef. Obviously, the Government are advised on conservation issues by conservation agencies and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. I assure him that those bodies are fully involved in the international scientific community and will take account of international best practice—that is obviously what we want to do—including site management that takes account of tourism interests.

My hon. Friend also asked how competent marine authorities would take account of advice on what constitutes a potentially damaging operation and how representations would be considered. When deciding whether an operation is likely to damage the features for which a site has been designated, we would expect the competent marine authority to have regard to any list of potentially damaging operations that may be contained in the conservation statement for that site. I repeat the term "have regard to", which means taking the issues seriously, and considering them carefully and fully—it does not mean looking at them and discarding them—and is used in statute. In line with other considerations to which the competent marine authority must have regard when taking decisions, I must accept that the need for the operation may outweigh the pure nature conservation consideration. That is the essence of sustainable development.

Finally, my hon. Friend asked me how representations would be considered. Of course, representations about notifications will be considered fully. Where possible, we will encourage a dialogue with English Nature to see whether the concerns can be resolved. That is the best way of proceeding, as it is best to achieve the least confrontational approach possible. Currently, we see no need for the confirming authority to consider those representations in public before reaching a decision, but we will obviously consider very carefully the procedures that we propose to adopt, taking account of what hon. Members have said, before the Bill is implemented. We will certainly ensure a full and fair process.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) asked about the production of guidance. I repeat that it is our intention that guidance on the provisions will be published before the Bill takes effect. That makes sense; it ensures as far as possible that everyone fully understands exactly what is required. I can certainly give a full commitment on that point, but I do not see a need for statutory guidance. Indeed, it is much easier to change such guidance where appropriate if it is not statutory.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome is correct that sea fisheries committees will be important in terms of the Bill's implementation. The list of competent marine authorities is drawn from a similar list for SSSIs on land. I can assure him that sea fisheries committees are competent marine authorities and are mentioned as one of the bodies capable of making management schemes. He asked about cross-border sites and made an ingenious suggestion about the Bristol channel. The general rule is that sites in England will be notified by English Nature, while in Wales they will be notified by the Countryside Council for Wales. There will be no cross-border sites, but sites can be notified to each other. Where sites abut, I expect their management to be carried out with a high degree of co-operation. In terms of the middle of the Bristol channel, those involved will have to talk fully with one another.

11.45 am

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes asked about whether archaeological sites such as wrecks were covered by the Bill. If fauna and flora in or near wrecks merit notification under the specified criteria, we expect such sites to be notified on that basis.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome referred to protection of the air above the water. The Bill is primarily a site-protection mechanism. I understand that the protection afforded to species such as birds while airborne is covered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The arrangement is similar to SSSIs on land, which protect the habitat, but not the air above it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes also referred to seals, which are protected by the Conservation of Seals Act 1970. In the UK, four seal colonies are protected by European designation. Whether seal colonies will be covered by the Bill will be down to the criteria that may result from the work of the review of marine nature conservation.

I think that I have dealt with all the points that have been raised, apart from those made by the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), who asked whether the Bill would affect fisheries. Of course, sea fisheries committees already have powers to make byelaws that regulate fisheries for marine environment purposes, including the conservation of flora and fauna. Powers to control fishing already exist separately. The Bill will clarify the position of nationally important sites of marine interest and provide a mechanism through management schemes whereby appropriate operations may continue.

I think that my very last point relates to what the hon. Gentleman asked me about the common fisheries policy. [Laughter.] Much as one might like this private Member's Bill, I do not think that it is an instrument for changing the common fisheries policy. Conclusions from the review of the policy may have implications for the operation and management of inshore fisheries, but we will have to await the outcome of the review before those implications can be assessed. I understand that the Commission's proposals are likely to emerge shortly and decisions are needed by the end of the year.

I hope that in light of the assurances that I have given, the House will accept the new clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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