HL Deb 08 May 1996 vol 572 cc111-2

3.13 p.m.

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made in discussions on the designation of the third marine nature reserve at Menai and the remaining four sites identified in 1981.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, the draft order for the designation of the Menai marine nature reserve will be published as soon as possible. No further designations are expected. Of the other sites identified in 1981, three are now protected in other ways. Strong local objection has resulted in the withdrawal of Loch Sween, the fourth site, but one additional site at Strangford Lough was designated in July 1995. Protection of internationally important marine sites will take place under the habitats directive. We have to date proposed 35 marine special areas of conservation of which 10 have already been submitted to the European Commission.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, but I find that relating to Menai particularly disappointing. Your Lordships will recall that in May last year we had two debates in this House in which almost exactly the same answer was given; that designation was more or less imminent. Do the Government not recognise that in this case, and in the case of the other four sites, there is a special need for the designation of a statutory marine nature reserve? Do the Government not understand that for scientific and teaching reasons the protection given by a statutory marine nature reserve is necessary and that without it there is a real danger that valuable resources will be lost?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I can say without doubt that the designation is now closer than it was six months ago. As regards the other questions which the noble Baroness asked, I am afraid that at this moment I must keep my mouth firmly shut because my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales will, following a public inquiry which may take place, be the person charged with taking the ultimate decision. Therefore, as regards the Menai Straits there is little I can say at this moment.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, will the Minister consider opening his mouth, because the people of Anglesey are deeply frustrated by the delay? The discussions to which he and my noble friend referred appear to have been going on since Edward I sent his ships up the Menai Straits in 1281. Will the Minister say whether the discussions, which are awaited with hope, are to continue for a further 700 years?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I very much hope that it will be faster than that.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the present designated areas and the future programme could be destroyed by an accident similar to the tanker disaster which occurred off the coast of South Wales? In view of the destruction caused to the Welsh coastline and the wildlife in the area as a result of that incident, will the Government review their policy and introduce more stringent measures on shipping in such areas and make the penalties for such mistakes far more punitive?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I note what the noble Lord says but he is rather wide of the Question.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, in my view the Minister did not respond adequately to the second part of my noble friend's Question about the remaining four sites identified in 1981. Am I right in believing that those sites will come under the habitats directive and will be submitted to the European Commission? Will we then be in a position in which Brussels decides which of our seas we protect?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, no, we decide which of our seas we protect. In fact, St. Abb's Head is not being submitted for SAC status. The other two sites, which are the Scilly Isles and Bardsey, are being submitted, but the decision which to submit is ours. The Commission has a function merely in terms of reviewing our decision.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, is it not the case that the protection afforded under the habitats directive—that is, the status of special areas of conservation—is a different kind of protection and that what is needed for the four sites is the kind of special protection which comes with a statutory designation enabling research and teaching to be carried out? Will the Minister discuss with his right honourable friend the possibility of looking again at these areas, because that is most important from the scientific point of view?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, no. As regards the other three sites we are content that the voluntary arrangements already in place, coupled in two cases with the SAC status, will be all that they require.

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