HL Deb 21 June 2002 vol 636 cc985-1029

11.5 a.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill would allow for the identification and protection of a network of nationally important marine wildlife sites throughout the territorial waters of England and Wales below the mean low water mark, without preventing legitimate economic use of the marine environment. Areas designated under the Bill would be known as marine sites of special interest.

Noble Lords might be forgiven for wondering why I, who come from a land-locked county, would sponsor such a Bill. I am certainly not an expert in matters of the marine environment, but I am trying to learn. I firmly believe that the marine environment is valuable to all of us, wherever we live, and it is not sufficiently protected. The Bill comes at the right time to enable us to take the first pragmatic step towards broad legislation for the marine environment around England and Wales.

Over half of the wildlife in the UK is found in our seas—from weird and wonderful sea squirts to majestic basking sharks, from deep-water corals to immense kelp forests. That wildlife is as much a part of our natural heritage as Windsor Great Park, where I walk on a Sunday, or the Lake District, where I walk in the rain in the summer.

The Bill was introduced in another place by my honourable friend Mr John Randall last summer and received broad all-party support. Mr Randall carried out extensive consultation, which included participants in the Government's review of marine nature conservation and representatives of the ports, fishing organisations, energy interests and leisure interests. Most respondents agreed on the need for nationally important marine sites to be designated, although views on how to go about that varied. My honourable friend listened to all those views and tailored his Bill to respond to the specific requirements of the marine environment. It is not a case of creating SSSIs at sea.

After Committee stage, the Government made amendments that were designed to meet the remaining concerns of those who had a direct interest in the Bill. In addition, all interested bodies were offered meetings on the Bill at the second stage in its development, and, of course, that offer still stands. Some environmental organisations would like the Bill to go further and have expressed their keen disappointment that it was amended by the Government in another place to reduce its power. Most other bodies with a direct interest in the economic development of the marine environment were reassured by the government amendments that the Bill would not make any unreasonable changes.

My noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord Geddes and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, were kind enough to let me know in advance of the debate that some of the port representatives still had some concerns and that they had contacted my noble friends. English Nature had a further meeting with representatives of the ports before the Jubilee recess. This week, I met two representatives, Mr Dempster and Mr Whitehead, whom I thank for their time and consideration. I know that they will send me further briefing about their concerns before Committee stage.

It is clear that activities that currently fall within the category of legitimate commercial use of the marine environment will continue to do so, if the Bill is passed. The Bill does not give new powers to anyone to prevent development in the marine environment and does not impose further restrictions on port expansion. Indeed, most major ports already operate in internationally important wildlife sites. The Bill will not present additional obstacles to the development of ports or of offshore wind energy.

The Bill seeks to build upon the work of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which created an effective system of protection on land through the SSSI network and introduced a power to designate sites as marine nature reserves. Since that date, only three sites have been so designated under that Act. Successive governments have undertaken reviews that have identified the need to address shortfalls in the Act with respect to the marine environment. In 1999, your Lordships' 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 a workable and effective protection for important marine areas of nature conservation interest. That is just what the Bill is designed to do.

Too few protected sites have been designated in the marine environment. Of the 6,500 or so sites of special scientific interest in the UK, virtually none extends below low water. There is an urgent need for marine sites of special interest to be defined in order to protect and manage nationally important wildlife sites in the marine environment, sites that do not or will not benefit from European designations. The Bill would cover English and Welsh territorial waters from mean low water level out to 12 nautical miles. The responsibility for Scottish and Northern Irish territorial waters has, of course, been devolved.

Protection and enhancement of nationally important marine sites of special interest will need proper enforcement. To that end, public bodies will be given a new duty to further the conservation of such sites, and they will be able to develop management schemes for that purpose. The statutory nature conservation agencies concerned are English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales. They will be able to make by-laws for the protection of a marine site of special interest, but importantly, those by-laws cannot affect the exercise of any competent marine authority's functions or the rights of anyone, wherever vested.

One of the main things that the Bill would do is simply allow work to take place to identify nationally important marine areas. I will explain the provisions of the Bill in more detail. Explanatory Notes are available in the Opposition Whips' office and they go into far more detail than is appropriate for me at this stage. I have placed a copy in the internal post to all noble Lords who I was aware would speak today. As the notes were not produced by the Government, they were not accepted by the PPO for display there, but they are always readily available at the Whips' office for any noble Lord.

Clauses 1 to 6 list the powers under which nationally important marine sites of special interest can be notified and if necessary amended or withdrawn at a later stage. The Bill permits the identification, designation and modification of marine sites of special interest. They may be "special" on wildlife, geological or physiographical grounds. These clauses ensure that the Bill is complementary to the designation of European marine sites and that there is no duplication of protection measures at a site.

It is also important to note that English Nature and CCW cannot forge ahead on any of this until the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales have first published the criteria by which MSSIs are to be selected.

In another place, the Minister made it clear at the Report stage that consultation would be taken very seriously at all stages, both in the drafting of the criteria and then in the decision about whether to confirm a notification of a site.

If English Nature or CCW decide that they should use their power to notify a site as an MSSI, they must notify all competent marine authorities which have functions in or adjacent to the proposed MSSI and also, as far as possible, anyone who has property rights or other statutory rights in relation to the site. I recognise that adequate consultation concerning the designation is vital.

The period of consultation is three months and the period during which the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales consider whether to confirm that is a maximum of six months.

Clauses 7 and 9 state that English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales must establish and maintain a register or list of the designated MSSIs and keep the list up to date in the light of any changes made to the sites designated. The register must include the co-ordinates of each site and a chart illustrating its boundaries. The register must be available for inspection free of charge and at reasonable times in local English Nature and CCW offices. It is open to English Nature and CCW to put the information on the world-wide web. In addition. Clause 7(1) states that the appropriate conservation body may install markers.

These provisions were introduced to the Bill by the Government at the Report stage in another place and the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, who is unable to be present today, raised a concern on the matter with me and would ask the Minister to give an explanation of why the Hydrographic Office cannot be required to place the relevant information on its charts.

Clause 9 imposes duties on competent marine authorities to further the conservation of marine sites of special interest. But the Bill does not give anyone any new powers to veto activities in a marine environment.

Clause 9(2) provides that when a competent marine authority, such as a port, plans to undertake an operation, it must consider whether that operation is likely to damage a feature for which an MSSI has been notified. But the body would make that decision on its own behalf: it would not be imposed upon it by another body or person.

Subsection (3) provides that if the body decides that an operation is likely to damage the particular interest for which the MSSI has been notified, it must notify the appropriate nature conservation body of its intention to take action. Before going ahead with its development plans, the body must then wait a maximum of 28 days to receive the advice of English Nature or CCW. But if the body wants to ignore the advice and press ahead with its plans, it can do just that. It is only asked to do as little damage to the site as is reasonably practicable.

If the body concerned believes that the action it wants to take is an emergency, it can go ahead without doing any consultation at all. Indeed, it does not need to consult where its activities are in accordance with a management scheme. In addition, the clause does not require a review of existing and ongoing activities.

Finally, for repeatedly consented activities, rather than going through the process over and over again a competent marine authority can enter into an agreement as part of a management scheme which would avoid repeat consultation for the same activity. That is common sense.

Clauses 10 and 11 provide for the establishment of management schemes for MSSIs. Not all sites would need a management scheme, as not all sites would be subject to activities that need managing.

Clause 12 was one of those introduced by the Government and sets out a requirement about sustainable development. I invite the noble Lord. Lord Whitty, in response, to explain the Government's intention behind this key new clause, which states that a person or body must have regard to the desirability of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development in the exercise of any function under the Bill.

Clauses 13 and 14 allow English Nature and CCW to introduce bylaws for the protection and management of MSSIs where other relevant marine authorities are unable to act due to statute constraining the making of by-laws themselves. The by-laws are made under Section 37 of the 1981 Act and it is important to note that they may not interfere with the exercise of any competent marine authority's functions or affect the rights of anyone else.

The offence created is one of intentional or reckless disturbance of marine sites of special interest. The offence does not apply to competent marine authorities which are exercising their functions. The Bill also provides a defence where the damage was the incidental result of a lawful activity that could not have been reasonably avoided.

This provision was inserted by the Government at the Report stage in another place and it would be most helpful if the Minister could expand a little on why the offence should not trouble the legitimate user of leisure craft in particular.

Finally, Clauses 15 to 17 deal with technical issues such as application to the Crown, expenses, Short Title and commencement and the fact that the Bill covers only England and Wales.

I hope that in the time available I have given a reasonable explanation of the objectives and provisions of the Bill. I thank all those organisations which have briefed me, in particular the RSPB and English Nature and I thank DEFRA for its extensive and invaluable assistance. The work done by the department to amend the Bill to meet concerns expressed by environmental bodies and commercial concerns was invaluable. Any errors today and henceforth are mine alone.

I thank those noble Lords, whatever their standpoint on the Bill, who have put their names down to speak today. I believe that the Bill gives us a valuable opportunity to take a step forward for marine nature conservation. I commend it to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Anelay of St Johns.)

11.19 a.m.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the Member of Parliament for Uxbridge, John Randall, for his success in the Private Member's Bill ballot in another place. He has done remarkably well, getting the Bill through all its stages. Wisely, he then liaised with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, to see whether she would introduce it in your Lordships' House. He did so, I believe, because of her knowledge of our national heritage. If the Bill is passed, it will be a remarkable achievement for that young man.

I welcome the Bill. It augurs well and is full of promise. It covers a wide area of conservation possibilities, including most of the countryside and some seas and rivers. So much that one immediately doubts what specifics will emerge, but at least the framework is there.

My interest in the Bill concerns mainly fishing. I am convenor of the Lords and Commons Fly Fishing Club, former chairman of the Anglers Conservation Association and a member of the Salmon and Trout Association—although, as the years role on, my activities in these counsels are lessening.

So, in regard to conservation and protection, I draw attention to the North Sea drift-net fishery—a subject I have raised on the Floor of the House many times—and the problems connected with it. The main conservationist complaint concerns the use of nylon monofilament gill nets. Trawling the North Sea, at times a mile in length, the nets are white, practically invisible and take, quite indiscriminately, thousands of salmon which are returning to their spawning grounds, especially to the Yorkshire Esk and the Scottish salmon rivers. But, worryingly, they also take diving birds, marine mammals, porpoises and dolphins. When the gill nets break they become ghost-net killers of all those species—silent, unseen, plundering the oceans of marine and bird life. Unlike hemp nets, they carry on for years. For the sake of conservation, these nylon monofilament gill nets should be banned. What is more, the North Sea drift-net fishery should be closed.

I know that some progress has been made on gradual closures because the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and his working group are working with the Salmon and Trout Association and the Government to try to do so, but the need is more urgent. Even the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which helped to frame this legislation, must be concerned at the effect on diving birds, which are being continually threatened and killed.

Is the Minister aware that we are constantly embarrassed within the fishing nations of the North Atlantic and the North Atlantic conservation organisations? Only Ireland and probably Greenland still use gill nets. So why allow this anti-conservation practice to continue, bearing in mind all those who want a ban? We know that Scottish interests and sporting and tourist organisations want one, but so do conservation groups, the Salmon and Trout Association and NASCO, the North Atlantic Salmon and Conservation Organisation.

Another of my concerns is the increasing activities of the predatory cormorants operating over and in our rivers and inland waters. They are an absolute menace. In small trout lakes and fish farms, they catch and maim rainbow trout. Their take kills the profit of small fly-fishing lakes. Apart from their killing rate—that is, those fish that are taken—many of the bigger trout are scarred from the attacks on them. They become diseased and spread contamination. So there is a need on conservation grounds for a stricter control of cormorant numbers. There should be a relaxation of the shooting allowed and, indeed, periodic culls. More worrying still, they are now nesting around lucrative fish-feeding waters. Some 250,000 winter in the United Kingdom, and the number is increasing each year.

I hope that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds will co-operate with the Government on this matter. We shall be taking more positive steps to curb the activities of these fish killers. That is what they are. So, here again, what of protection and conservation? No doubt the Environment Agency and DEFRA should be brought in to process a solution and should be encouraged by the Government to do so.

11.24 a.m.

Lord Bridges

My Lords, I, too, express my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important Bill.

The protection of wildlife in our country has made significant advances in my lifetime. Living, as I do, in an area where there are important reserves for marine wildlife, I recognise the value of the work and the importance of the Bill. At the same time, we have to recognise the possible effects of legislation such as this Bill on human activities, which are also of general utility, and the need to achieve the required balance between nature protection and beneficial work by human beings. There is a potential conflict and we will need to work hard to ensure that there are no unnecessary differences. To explain my meaning I shall give a few examples drawn from my own experience.

Some 10 years ago, I stayed on the island of Islay as the guest of a Scottish lady. My visit coincided with an awkward local argument. The nearby distillery at Bowmore used peat in the production of its excellent spirit, the rich flavour of which derived in part from the peat and peaty water used in the process. The peat bog used to produce turf was nearly exhausted but the distillery had foreseen this and had bought an alternative hog nearby. It then appeared that the replacement site was being used as a resting place by barnacle geese in their long annual migration to the Arctic. As this species was protected by European legislation, local wildlife groups, including the RSPB, protested vigorously to the Commission in Brussels, which sent its environmental inspector—a redoubtable gentleman, Herr Dr. Ludwig Krämer—to look into the complaint.

The Scottish Office was uncertain how to guide the inspector, wishing to appear impartial but, at the same time, to be helpful to him. It eventually provided a comfortable car, driven by a very sensible Scottish lady chauffeur—an admirable arrangement. After some days of negotiation, the distillery located another peat bog nearby which met its requirements, not used by the migrating geese, and bought it. Thus the interests of both conservation and local prosperity were safeguarded, a model solution.

Some years later, having spent five years in Rome, I received an urgent plea from the RSPB, of which I am a member, which was alarmed at the threat to the annual migration of the honey buzzard across the Mediterranean. This rare bird winters in West Africa and migrates each spring to Northern Siberia. It is a heavy bird and cannot maintain its altitude in level flight on long sectors. So, to cross the Mediterranean, it waits on the coast of North Africa for a thermal up-current. Having reached the required altitude, it locks on its navigation to cross the Mediterranean, eventually arriving in Sicily or Puglia, by which time it is very tired, losing altitude rapidly and presents a target for the lines of waiting marksmen.

Normally the Italian League for the Protection of Birds, LIPU, which is an RSPB affiliate, arranges for the Carabinieri in southern Italy to be present and to protect this scheduled species. But, during the year in question, the Carabinieri had been diverted to other urgent matters and the birds were suffering severe losses. Could the embassy please intervene with the Italian authorities as a matter of urgency? Fortunately, the Minister responsible was a good friend and he quickly responded to the request. I cite this case to show that formal legal protection of an endangered species may not be by itself sufficient to provide protection in every case.

Another interesting event involving marine birds, which I am sure your Lordships will recall, was the proposal to build a new civil airport for London on Maplin Sands or Foulness. This, too, was vigorously opposed by the RSPB because the mudflats were being used by a different protected species, the Brent Goose, undertaking another long seasonal migration between, it was said, Siberia and Iceland. Maplin was an invaluable resting place for these geese, which were able to refresh themselves by eating a particular type of salty grass which grew on the mudflats and was very nourishing. There was no alternative source of food for the birds, we were informed.

This campaign had a powerful impact and the proposal to build an airport at Maplin was eventually abandoned early in the lifetime of Harold Wilson's second administration, I think chiefly at the instigation of Anthony Crosland, who disliked a large project which he felt we could ill afford. By chance, some years later, I happened to meet an arable farmer who cultivated land near Maplin, in Essex, and I asked for news of the Brent Geese. His reply was that they were flourishing exceedingly and, having exhausted the supply of salted grass, had found his winter wheat just as nourishing. The moral of this tale is more mixed, and we may now be inclined to think that, if Maplin had gone ahead in the 1970s, our airport problems would be a good deal less severe than they are, and that the migrating birds would not have suffered unduly.

My current interest derives from observing the great work being done near my home in East Suffolk at Orfordness. There is an important RSPB reserve at Havergate Island and other bird and botanical sites on Orfordness, protected by EU legislation, our own SSSI designation and the Ramsar convention. The threat here is nature itself, given the expected rise in sea levels and the increased volume and velocity of the tides in the neighbourhood. It appears from some remarks made to me informally by Mr Elliot Morley after a recent briefing meeting at Portcullis House that the Government regard themselves as having a legal obligation in international law to protect these sites, but see no equivalent obligation to protect the physical integrity of some neighbouring territory on which the livelihood of local farmers depends. I am not one of their number.

I cite this last example because I cannot believe that, however great is the obligation to protect birds—and that is beyond dispute—there is no corresponding obligation to examine what more could be done to protect the legitimate interests of those living nearby, citizens who make a valued contribution to the economy and who pay their taxes. We may feel, at present, that we have no need to grow more food, or to maintain production at current levels; and that we can always import more from elsewhere if required. But we cannot be sure what the international balance between demand and supply will be of, say, wheat in 50 years' time—although I note that the consumption of the best quality white bread flour is growing rapidly in Africa as embourgeoisement of the population proceeds; nor can we assume that we shall be wealthy enough to pay for a greater volume of food imports at some future date.

In short, the conservation of marine wildlife is an excellent and praiseworthy objective which requires legal protection. But let us not forget the reasonable interests of citizens and of the farmers who inhabit our country and produce food. I do not oppose the Bill, but I suggest that we have not yet found the necessary point of balance. However, the wording of Clause 9(1), referring to physiographical features, appears to give the new management agencies greater freedom of action than the Government are themselves yet ready to contemplate. I invite them to consider these aspects afresh, and to help in seeking practical solutions which combine the protection of marine species with the protection of the environment itself, to the benefit of society as a whole.

One other lacuna seems to be the absence of any reference to marine archaeology in the areas covered by the Bill, which refers entirely to marine wildlife. At a recent meeting of the All-Party Archaeological Group with English Heritage—which was, happily, brought about by its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, there was general agreement that Her Majesty's Government need to pay more attention to the protection of marine archaeology in the offshore area that is covered by the Bill.

This is not a subject where lasting solutions can be found which relate only to abstract rights for particular species in isolation.

11.34 a.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I have no financial interest, but I must declare two former "hats"—one as Minister for shipping and one as a Minister for the environment. I have therefore seen this problem from both sides.

I congratulate my noble friend Lady Anelay on finally getting her Second Reading debate. As the House will know, we have waited a long time for it, at great inconvenience. I was looking forward to the debate some weeks ago. I was looking forward to it again when, for a second time, it was removed from the list of business without any consultation. Today is considerably more awkward. Having been shabbily treated in the past in terms of the Bill, I feel that I might treat your Lordships a little shabbily by leaving early this afternoon in order to catch a flight to Inverness. It is my only recourse. It would have been preferable had this debate been held at the normal time when I could have kept your Lordships happy with a much longer and more interesting speech.

I believe that my noble friend is well meaning in her proposal, but that on this occasion—unusually—she is misguided. This is not a Private Members Bill; let us be absolutely clear about that. It is a government Bill. It has been substantially drafted by DEFRA. Indeed, my noble friend gave the game away. She said on more than one occasion: you will have to ask the Minister to give an answer. She said that in response to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. At another point, she said that she would have to ask the Minister to explain one of the new clauses.

I strongly object to Back-Benchers using Back-Bench time to deal with a government Bill. It has happened once this Session with the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill, which was clearly a government Bill; and here we are again taking up Back-Bench time with government legislation.

Any noble Lords who know DEFRA well will realise that, sadly, anything that comes out of that department has to be scrutinised line by line. Some of us have been very bruised in the past by what DEFRA produced. The department's record to date gives me no great confidence that this Bill will be any better. At Committee stage I shall table a considerable number of amendments in an attempt to rectify some of the deficiencies and to elicit further answers. I shall certainly seek to alter the Bill as it stands.

What is the need for this Bill? My noble friend spoke glowingly of what it could do. What she failed to declare is that there are already 42 different types of designation in the coastal zone, most of them statutory. They vary, and include: world heritage sites; nature conservation sites; Ramsar sites; marine nature reserves; national nature reserves; concerns relating to fish farms; country parks; blue flag beaches; heritage coast; national parks; and nature conservation review sites. There is a mass of statutory and non-statutory provision already affecting our coasts. So this is not the first piece of glowing legislation; it is not the first shaft of sunlight coming in to help the environment. As the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, will know, there is a huge and complex mass of legislation already covering this area.

But there is more to it than that. There are the water framework directives. As I understand it, most of their content is duplicated in this Bill; so all we are doing is wasting rather a lot of time. I hope that the Minister will explain how he sees the water framework directives working.

More glaringly, there is no mention of the current review of coastal areas being carried out by the Government. A major review group, including all those involved with this important part of our landscape, is currently meeting to examine all the aspects, not just some aspects. It will take about two years for its work to come to fruition. Why are we legislating when that work is still being undertaken? If we continue with this legislation, what is the point of the review group? I should be very upset if I were serving on the review group attempting to devise a sensible blueprint for the way forward only to find that the Government were legislating in the middle of discussions and undermining part of that work.

Moreover, some of your Lordships will have seen DEFRA's lovely glossy brochure entitled Safeguarding Our Seas. The glossier the brochure, the less detail there is. There are some good, hopeful things in this one. The executive summary on page 3 highlights a new initiative on protecting important habitats. The Secretary of State writes: we will announce the first sites to receive Special Area of Conservation and Special Protection Area status under the Habitats and Birds Directives beyond 12 nautical miles later this year". She goes on to say that the Government, will follow up the Interim Report of the Review of Marine Nature Conservation by testing some of the ideas developed during the review in a regional seas pilot scheme in the Irish Sea". A considerable amount of work is already being carried out and monitored. Together with the work of the review group, that should be the basis on which we legislate for marine coastal areas. We should not be debating a government Bill in Back-Bench time, tackling only a small portion of the problem.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I have had the pleasure of debating with the noble Earl on many occasions. I am very glad that he is not on this side now. Is he really saying there has not been consultation between departments in the past when Private Member's Bills have been introduced?

The Earl of Caithness

No, my Lords. I have introduced a Private Member's Bill to your Lordships' House. There is always consultation with departments. That is perfectly natural and usual. However, a Bill of this nature is unusual as a pure Private Member's Bill. It has been mostly written by the Government, so it is much more of a government Bill than a Private Member's Bill. It is good to see my old sparring partner from the European Commission and this House and I look forward to hearing what he has to say.

If we are to proceed with the Bill, it needs strengthening. It will be easy for lawyers from both sides—the environmental side and the port side—to attack the Bill as it stands. They will inevitably benefit. The Bill needs to be clarified, particularly on the environmental side. Much could be done that is not done in the Bill. There has been a substantial retraction from the environmental aspirations of my honourable friend in another place. That was done by the Government. We should review that and examine many of the environmental areas. There should be exclusion zones against the fishers and certain types of shipping. There should be protection to maintain rights of access to and from ports. We also need better provision for review and for change of circumstances. It would probably be extremely difficult to create another Felixstowe, given the amount of legislation. Felixstowe has done wonders for the economy of south-east England and for the whole of Britain. We want to preserve the right to establish a new port to take advantage of new opportunities.

Who wrote the Explanatory Notes? I understand that the Government did not write them. It would be helpful to know who did and what authority they have, as that will influence the amendments that we table.

I apologise again for having to slip away early to catch the plane north. At least Scotland is not burdened with the Bill.

11.45 a.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has a good flight to Inverness and that his stay in that beautiful part of the United Kingdom will cheer him up a bit and enable him to return to our deliberations in a slightly more positive frame of mind.

I declare an interest as vice-president of the Council for National Parks and a supporter of other nongovernmental environmental organisations. I warmly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, for the patient way in which she has waited for the debate and her dogged determination to ensure that we have proper time for a sensible debate. What are Fridays for, if not to have the space for a sensible debate rather than bemusedly discussing issues in the early hours of the morning?

The Bill is welcome. As the Wildlife and Countryside Link has argued in its Marine Charter, the seas around the British Isles are a particularly special asset to value and protect. Our marine environment supports many thousands of jobs and industries and is a place of enjoyment for millions of people each year. It is home to a particularly rich maritime cultural heritage and is one of the most diverse marine environments of any country in Europe.

However, there is a developing crisis, which makes urgent action imperative. The crisis is evidenced by, for example, dramatic declines in fish stocks, which now face collapse, increasingly litter-strewn and oil-covered beaches, the poisoning of marine mammals by toxins and the disappearance of natural sea defences such as wetlands. Other signs of stress include the build-up of radioactive substances in sediment, the impact of sex-changing chemicals on marine life, threats to human health and cultural heritage and changes in sea condition as a result of climate change.

The Bill will be judged by its effectiveness in helping to meet such challenges. However, effective action for the rest of the British Isles beyond England and Wales is also essential. The Bill can be only a beginning. There is an indisputable and pressing need for long-overdue measures to secure a comprehensive and integrated approach to management of the marine environment as a whole—a point well made by English Nature. In that respect, the Government's recently published strategy for the conservation and sustainable development of that environment is timely.

In the mean time, however limited our consideration of the Bill, it is important for the Government to convince us that the current complexity and dilution of responsibility, evidenced in the confusing number of authorities with different priorities, is being overcome. They must also convince us that there will be adequate arrangements for enforcement and that legislative aspiration will not remain little more than just that because of a shortage of resources to turn the legislation into convincing action.

As a resident of a national park and as a vice-president of the Council for National Parks, I have seen the immensely important role that they can play in bringing different interests together and ensuring effective co-ordinated management. It is far from clear to me why the Government remain so reluctant to look at the relevance of the national park model for the management of the marine environment.

There are other issues on which we need reassurance from the Government. For example, can we be certain that the required laudable commitment to sustainable development in Clause 12 will not, in a perverse way, lead to decisions by Ministers not to confirm sites which are clearly of special interest? In connection with Clause 9(2), can we be left in no doubt that competent marine authorities will be expected to take full account of the advice of the nature conservation bodies about whether an operation is likely to damage the special interest of a site? Can we be told exactly how the Bill is expected to play its part in the regulation of sea fisheries which have the potential to damage marine sites of special interest? It is worth noting that these are three issues on which, for example, the Countryside Council for Wales, among others, is understandably exercised.

There is no doubt that this Bill is an indication that we may at last be inching towards a meaningful environmental and heritage strategy in our legislative concerns. As such, it is to be commended and those behind it congratulated. But surely it is self-evident that unless we are unforgivably to fail our grandchildren and their descendants, we have to change our mind set in politics from one of policy beginning to take the environment into account to one of an overriding central and muscular political commitment to the environment, and indeed to heritage, against which almost all other legislation has to be tested. Time is certainly not on our side.

11.52 a.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, in the 32 years I have sat in your Lordships' House, I have always welcomed the very few and far between occasions when a noble Lord has said that someone else has said all that he is going to say and he is not going to repeat it, and then actually sat down. It has not happened very often: it is going to happen now.

I would like to associate myself with all that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has said. I would like to add that my party, the Green Party, is very much in favour of this long overdue Bill. At Committee and Report stages I shall do my best to see that it goes forward. I will cast my vote against any attempt to sideline or change it in a major way. I very much welcome the Bill. I thank those who have brought it forward and I sit down.

11.53 a.m.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, in rising to speak on this Bill I declare my interest as a patron of the British Wind Energy Association. As a director of Clipper Windpower, a company that is based and operates exclusively in the United States, we may well consider devoting future investment to offshore wind projects in the United Kingdom, but this activity is not in our current portfolio. I am also executive chairman of Consort Resources Ltd which has interests in offshore UKCS gas production. I do not intend to concentrate my remarks on issues to the potential benefit or disadvantage of the oil and gas industries.

My concern, my contribution, is based on my longstanding interest in the marine environment and my life-long commitment to the importance of renewable energy, strengthened during the years I worked as a Minister for the Environment in the late 1980s and Minister for Energy in the early 1990s.

It is the case that the Bill before us has a title which will appeal to everyone. No rational individual can be opposed to marine wildlife conservation. The headline is indeed the best part of the Bill, matched only by the conviction and excellent intentions of its proposers both in your Lordships' House and in another place. I agree with them that we have a duty and an imperative to protect our marine habitats in the same way as we should devote resources to protect the offshore environment for future generations.

My principal concern is that the Bill can be seen as representing an ad hoc piecemeal approach to the conservation of marine wildlife, which, in the context of the work already announced and commissioned by the Government, fits uneasily with the well co-ordinated international collaborative work programme taken forward at Bergen earlier this year. Consequently, it is in danger of becoming muddled, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, alluded, with other work and particularly with the important Bergen work programme and marine conservation and thus risks being compromised by the passage of this legislation at this time. I argue that there are important initiatives in train as a result of Bergen, which make this well-intentioned Bill potentially piecemeal, potentially unnecessary and pre-emptive and which may ultimately be inconsistent with the Government's approach to marine conservation generally; namely, the pathway, target, objective route best encapsulated in the phrase "environmental management".

The North Sea conference in Bergen promised an integrated approach, recognising that a holistic approach was required by all member states. It is right that marine wildlife conservation is quite properly heading in the direction of the target, objective pathway approach that I have mentioned. Ministers in Bergen in March of this year emphasised the need to take as a priority an integrated eco-system approach to the management of human activities affecting the North Sea. The important point is their recognition and agreement that considerable further work was required before new national legislation could effectively reflect results of that important work programme.

The work programme to which I refer was detailed in Section 1, paragraphs 3 and 4 of the Bergen declaration. Together these paragraphs constituted an important 13-point plan, which include research and information gathering, shared integrated expert advice and assessments of the North Sea, designing and implementing a strategy for achieving dialogue with all relevant stakeholders for the development and implementation of the eco-system approach, and much more.

This is no insignificant work programme. As the basis for future policy formulation at national and trans-boundary levels in Europe, it has considerable merit. But even fast tracked, it is recognised in paragraph 7 that this work will take time. The Ministers, agreed that by 2010, relevant areas of the North Sea will be designated as marine protected areas belonging to a network of well managed sites, safeguarding threatened and declining species, habitats and ecosystem functions". It is therefore my firm view—here I am in total agreement with my noble friend Lord Caithness—that this Bill is in danger of pre-empting this process; a process which eschews new designations, although the declaration acknowledges, as will the House, the designation-based approach to the Wild Bird and Habitats Directive.

Committed to implement the ecosystem approach, the first priority of Ministers was to develop, focused research and information gathering which address the driving forces of North Sea ecosystems variability". This Bill fails in that objective. It pre-empts that welcome and important work. In that context this very well intentioned Bill is before us at the wrong time.

However, my concern does not end with the importance of the timing of this measure, for I believe that there are a number of issues in the proposed legislation which are flawed. Not only is the legislation before us at the wrong time, but it may be the wrong Bill at the wrong time. The fact that this Bill is necessarily limited to the territorial seas of England and Wales is a case in point. It is essential that any legislation we consider on this subject addresses marine wildlife conservation in all United Kingdom Continental Shelf waters.

I have already mentioned the importance Ministers attach to stakeholders in our coastal waters. Interestingly, in the Bergen declaration, there is specific reference in Section 9 to "the promotion of renewable energy". Section 68 is worthy of your Lordships' consideration and is welcomed by all of us who seek a thriving offshore wind energy business. This paragraph is strong endorsement from Bergen for offshore wind energy, which has already been blighted by over-lengthy, prescriptive, legislative processes in the UK.

If we are to be anywhere near the Government's target for renewable energy sources by 2010, we shall have to depend on a flourishing, well financed offshore wind energy industry. Yet this Bill provides neither clarity of responsibility nor the framework necessary to see the accelerated development of offshore wind projects. For example, the British Wind Energy Association, the DTI and Crown Estates have readily appreciated, in planning for offshore wind energy developments, that there is no magic to the 12-mile limit. What should be addressed is the entire ecosystem of a discrete bio-geographical area. European law recognises this through the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive which will become UK law in the foreseeable future.

Additionally and against this background, the notification process as drafted could damage the prospect of offshore wind energy achieving its potential contribution to the UK energy mix.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, has there been any communication by the European Commission that the Bill is not to be welcomed?

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, I have had no communication from the European Commission either welcoming or rejecting this Bill. The point that I am making and, I hope, arguing as cogently as I can, is that this Bill which is very well-intentioned in many respects, is pre-empting the exhaustive, important and welcome process that Ministers have agreed as a result of their meetings in Bergen. And that process has been welcomed and initiated by consecutive Ministers from both sides of this House over the years.

What I would regret is that however well-intentioned and welcome this Bill is—I know the noble Lord feels that very strongly—it should not come to your Lordships' House piecemeal or fail to take into account the wider implications for the far more important work, recognised by the Government, which has emerged from the Bergen declaration. This work needs to be taken forward. It is recognised by both sides of your Lordships' House as requiring a good six years before we get the sort of results coming from the sort of quality research we need to protect our marine wildlife.

I am for that objective as strongly as the noble Lord is. I have believed in that passionately since the days when I was a Minister in the Department of the Environment. I would not wish to see hasty legislation pre-empt that important process. It may well be that the noble Lord will persuade me that I am wrong in having come to that conclusion. I look forward to hearing from him.

Let me give the noble Lord some examples about how this process could pre-empt important work. The notification process as drafted, could damage the prospect for offshore wind energy achieving its objectives. Let us consider how this notification process is drafted. By Section 3(1), English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales can: notify a marine site of special interest by reason of…flora, fauna". Under Section 3(2), the Secretary of State for the National Assembly must, following consultation with English Nature or CCW, publish his criteria in accordance with which nature conservation bodies are to notify MSSIs. It is not clear to me which comes first.

It appears that under Section 3, English Nature or CCW can notify an MSSI at any time even if there are no published criteria. It may be that, in due course, some consistency may he achieved, but this can only happen over time in the absence of any pre-published thresholds for designation.

What this means is that any offshore wind promoter may have no advance knowledge of interests that could lead to a designation. This is a development risk which those funding wind power developments will find difficult to accept. The increased risk will commensurately increase the cost of financing projects and this, in all probability, will limit the number of projects the Government need to see brought to development if they are to meet renewable energy targets.

A further difficulty arises in that it is the wind developers who are often the very organisations discovering offshore nature conservation interests on behalf of the nature conservation bodies. There is, in most cases, very little pre-existing information. The very process of E1A involves producing information which, in turn, may lead to a designation. We need to give very careful thought to such overlapping roles if conflicts of interest are to be overcome.

Turning to controls over development, the fact is that there are none. Under Section 9 a decision-maker who perceives that a proposed operation may damage the interests of the MSSI, must notify English Nature or CCW who have a maximum of 28 days to give their views. The decision-maker can ignore any negative views expressed by the nature conservation body, although it must tell that body how its representations have been taken into account. It must give consent to the proposed operation in such a way that is consistent with management schemes which are provided for within the Bill.

There are many other aspects into which we shall go in detail during the committee stage. I should like to conclude by saying that offshore wind energy is an industry which enjoys strong encouragement from the Government, the European Community and in the Bergen declaration of March 2002. It should not be prejudiced by well-meaning but unnecessary legislation at this important stage in the Bergen process.

12.7 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, could I first declare an interest as chairman of the All-Party Conservation Group in your Lordships' House and as a Member with close involvement in a variety of conservation bodies.

Like other Members, I am appreciative of efforts made in the other place to present this Bill. I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, on the presentation of the Bill and on the case that she offered the House in support of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, spoke of hasty legislation. I recall in 1981 in the consideration, with colleagues, of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, seeking to promote the protection of the marine heritage. We did not get very far. That was 20 years ago. There have been suggestions over those two decades that progress should be made and I am glad that we are likely to make some progress.

The Bill has been described as not terribly significant. I believe it is significant. It is important. I would hate to think that we would have to wait for another decade, because in the 20 years that have elapsed since the 1981 Act the damage to the marine fauna and flora has been substantial and, I believe, accelerating.

When one reads that our coastal cetaceans are dying of poison or we see the destruction of fish stocks or the damage done in our estuarial and coastal areas, then this seems a modest Bill. It is not designed to stop development around our coasts; it is designed to establish some areas where there is a prospect of our ecological inheritance being maintained.

The House should also be aware that over the past 20 or 30 years there has been a great deal of progress in cleaning up our rivers. When I think back to my first days in the other place, the rivers serving and adjacent to my constituency were little better than open sewers. There was no prospect or fish in the Rivers Don, Rother and Dearne. Not long after I entered the other place, I discovered one contractor who was ma king a lot of money removing acid from steelworks and disposing of it by driving to the River Dearne at two o'clock in the morning and discharging it straight into the river.

Yet today there are lots of fish in the Rivers Dearne, Don and Rother because of determined action not to wait at great length for the passage of laws. People were committed to taking action. The public and private sectors were involved, as were local authorities and the Yorkshire Rivers Authority, then the Yorkshire Water Authority, now Calder. The steel industry in my area spent a vast sum of money to ensure that it did not discharge poison into the River Don.

We have cleaned up the rivers, so the amount of filth entering our estuaries is reduced, but we are not prepared to do anything hastily to ensure that estuaries and coastal areas see a reduction in pollution.

This is an essential Bill. There may be attempts to change it but I am not sure whether there is any merit in change. But it is essential that this Bill, in a suitable form, becomes enacted. It is about time that we took greater care in and gave priority to the proper stewardship of our coastal areas.

12.9 p.m.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, it is as much a pleasure to follow—in more ways than one—the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, who played a most distinguished part in Committee in another place on the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as it is to congratulate my noble friend Lady Anelay on introducing this Bill in your Lordships' House.

This is of course Second Reading, but, as my noble friend Lord Caithness reminded us, in the words of clergy reading marriage banns, it is also the third time of asking. One happy consequence of our taking this debate in mid-morning instead of, at our earlier essays, in the middle of the night, is that the number of noble Lords wishing to speak has grown and nature has been reversed—if the metaphor is excused and not misunderstood—by a rolling stone gathering some moss. Those of us who have loyally sought to support this Second Reading from the beginning can reasonably echo the remark of the Bellman in The Hunting of the Snark, itself of course a marine expedition: What I tell you three times is true". I have to confess, however, that though my stamina would have kept me here till the close in the small hours on the earlier occasions, I have had a three-line Whip engagement at the University of London just after lunch today since long before our first putative Second Reading. I therefore fear that I may not be here at the close, and ask your Lordships to forgive me. I shall avoid asking any questions for the Minister not to need to answer.

I am myself a Londoner from way back, apart from evacuation, parts of education, the Army and abroad, but I have lived beside the Thames for the past decade, where the voracity of cormorants, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, not only outside this Palace but also on stretches such as Wapping Reach, demonstrates vividly how in the past 40 years fish have come back into the Thames—as the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, was saying elsewhere a moment ago—in species now in three figures. However, my lot has also on vacation been cast beside the sea in our own waters. As a boy, eight of our family summer holidays in 11 years, between my age of eight and 18, were spent in or around St. David's in the Pembrokeshire National Park, where offshore Skomer, one of the three marine nature reserves referred to by my noble friend Lady Anelay, is found; where the beaches get all the EU stars; where the cliffs have all the colours of John Piper's palette; and where the seabirds would effectively illustrate any textbook of their 27 British species without need for a printed page.

When my own children were young, we had a similar number of holidays at Lochaline, on the Sound of Mull, where the ruins of Lochaline Castle, the ancient castle of the Lords of the Isles, watch over the whales, dolphins and seals which reign over that channel just as the cormorants reign over Wapping Reach. My children were also for eight years at school within a mile of the sea in the Isle of Purbeck, where of course the Dorset and east Devon coast was in December last year made a world heritage site and thus recognised as having the same global significance as the Great Barrier Reef. Finally, in Northern Ireland, I used to sail in their marine nature reserve, at Strangford Lough, in a remarkable boat, self-built by its owner, with a concrete hull.

All of this experience was both an education and a joy. Closer to home in the context of this debate, I was the government Whip in the Committee to which the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, referred, on the Wildlife and Countryside Bill 1981, opposite the noble Lord, Lord Graham, as opposition Whip. The government's piloting of the Bill was in the hands of my noble friends Lord King of Bridgwater and Lord Monro, and on the government side my noble friends Lord Kimball and the late Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish notably supported us. I have referred to the part played by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy. In another place, the Father of the House, Tam Dalyell, is a veteran survivor of that Bill. That Committee stage too was a joy, for everyone on it was both in love with the subject and deeply expert upon it. Unlike Bills in the Commons today, it received 105 hours in Committee without guillotine or programme Motion.

With the benefit of experience, the SSSIs were perhaps not sufficiently protected by that legislation. However, a greater omission at the time, as the noble Lord, Lord Hardy said, was felt to be the attention, or perhaps inattention, given to marine conservation. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 did not make a significant difference in that respect. This is why the admirable initiative in this Bill of John Randall, the Member of Parliament for Uxbridge—happily referred to in a ministerial slip of the tongue in another place as the MP for Oxbridge—has been so widely welcomed. He had demonstrated his naturalist prominence, notably in ornithology, during the Committee stage of the Greater London Authority Bill in the previous Parliament. He consulted widely on this Bill last year with representatives of what he described at Third Reading as the marine industries, including fisheries, ports, shipping, offshore oil and gas and wind energy as well as with leisure interests.

Of course I acknowledge that the Bill was substantially rewritten by the Government on Report. Of course I acknowledge the Bill is not everything that wildlife interests would wish. Of course I acknowledge that the Government's own thinking and programme on these marine matters is still in gestation, but the strategy document Safeguarding Our Seas, to which my noble friend Lord Caithness referred, and published last month, is an index of present government attention to these matters. Of course I realise—my noble friends Lord Moynihan and Lord Caithness have introduced the thought into the debate—that that hoary academic standby, the doctrine of unripe time, may be adduced. I should perhaps add diffidently that I hold a Harvard MBA and that I am not unaware of economic considerations and would not discount them. However, for myself, I hope that these alternative siren voices will not be heeded by your Lordships.

The Minister in the Commons, Michael Meacher, himself alluded to Scylla and Charybdis in recommending the Bill at Third Reading in another place. Legislative time is always at a premium, but the 19 years between the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, as the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, said—interrupted only, I think, by the Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations 1994—demonstrate how difficult it is to find time for conservation legislation in this Parliament. Those who might wish to delay this legislation could cite the judgment of Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson's great Texan colleague, that the three wisest words in the English language are "Wait a minute". But a minute, an hour, a week, a month or two decades are not proof against the opposite aphorism that the best is always the enemy of the good.

Mr Meacher said at Third Reading: The Bill is very worth while", and that, The measure has also shown us a new and significant role for private Member's Bills. Although they are often enacted, they are sometimes confined to a relatively small role. I would never describe their role as insignificant, but it could be more important. This is unquestionably an important Bill".—[Official Report, Commons, 15/3/02: col. 1190.] He went on to illustrate that in three particular ways.

I followed the arguments of my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord Moynihan about the Government contribution to the Bill, but it was Mr Randall who introduced his Bill, to which the Government added their own amendments and new clauses. I myself hope that, once this Bill is an Act, we shall return to these marine issues as and when further thought has been taken. But in the mean time, I remind your Lordships of the Chinese advice: In long journey first step most important".

12.18 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I must first declare an interest as a vice-president of the RSPB, of the Marine Conservation Society and of the Council for National Parks, all of which have declared an interest in the Bill.

I most warmly welcome the Bill, and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on the way in which she has introduced it. She has left very little which needs to be explained. I hope that her success with the Bill continues.

I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has left the Chamber because I wanted to express to him my disagreement with his assertion that government support for a Bill makes it a government Bill; it does not. I have been a Member of the House for 20 years. I had the privilege of steering three or four Bills through the House when my party was in opposition. On at least two of those occasions the then Conservative government were very helpful to me and gave me a great deal of advice and information which resulted in the Bills' successful passage. I should like to think that that still applies. If the Government help anyone in opposition, that does not invalidate a Bill. The noble Earl was perhaps a little too bitter about that matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, made some interesting points. I am afraid that I did not absorb everything that he said. I shall need to read his comments and perhaps return to them at a later stage. However, perhaps he might consider that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

I believe that we are all agreed that the Bill could be a useful step in marine protection and that in the past the subject has excited far more than its fair share of disagreement. Several noble Lords referred to the difficulties arising from the 1981 Act. I remind noble Lords who were not Members of the House at the time that the section on marine nature reserves had to be added at a late stage with support from all sides of both Houses. It is significant that of the eight sites that were identified initially, only two have been notified. However, a third, Strangford Lough, was identified later and has since been approved.

All protected marine sites have a commercial value. It has been established beyond doubt that commercial interests in the vicinity of a protected marine site have improved. Generally, fish stocks well outside a marine protected area have improved and have gained in commercial value.

The Marine Conservation Society welcomes the Bill as a means to identify and protect sites of national rather than European importance. However, the society has concerns about some of the clauses. I wish to mention just two. First, Clause 9 requires the appropriate conservation body to be consulted before any potentially damaging operation is undertaken. That is quite right. However, if the site is damaged by the operation, there is no requirement in the Bill for the damage to be restored. That is a sad omission.

Secondly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, there is no statutory requirement for the boundaries of MSSIs to be marked on admiralty charts, which means that there is no practical way in which the majority of sea users will know when they are passing through an MSSI unless it is one of the sites selected for designation by markers. I do not expect the noble Baroness to deal with those points today. If we have a later stage of the Bill, they could be discussed then. However, despite those concerns, the Marine Conservation Society believes that the Bill in its present form is well worth while and it would not seek to endanger its progress by trying to amend it.

My noble friend Lord Judd dealt thoroughly with the views of the Council for National Parks. Will the Minister ask his department to look into the concept of marine national parks based on the land national parks? Of course the regulations would have to be substantially different.

There is general agreement that the Bill as it stands is welcome and valuable, and that given the pressure on parliamentary time it should be allowed to pass in its present form. I am sure that both the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, are aware that if we make even the slightest amendment to the Bill it will not pass as there is no time for it to go back to the Commons. It would he sad if we were unable to obtain this useful measure for that reason. Therefore, I hope that noble Lords will give the Bill a speedy passage.

12.24 p.m.

Baroness Wilcox

My Lords, I add my voice to those of other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lady Anelay for giving us the opportunity to discuss the Bill today rather than the other night when I had lost my voice! First, I declare an interest as vice-chairman of the Port of London Authority which is responsible for providing a safe regime for navigation from a line drawn approximately between Harwich and Margate to Teddington at the end of the tidal Thames. This is an area of approximately 400 square miles of water which includes a number of marine nature conservation sites already protected under the habitats regulations, as well as the water that flows past your Lordships' House as we speak.

London is one of Britain's three largest ports, handling over 50 million tonnes of cargo in 2001, with some 39,000 commercial ship movements within its area last year alone. I am pleased to tell your Lordships that the Port of London Authority enjoys good working relationships with the conservation agencies which also have significant interests in the environment of the Thames and its estuary.

It is a fact worth drawing to noble Lords' attention that 95 per cent of all the United Kingdom's trade by weight and volume is transported by sea and that efficient and safe access to and from the nation's ports, such as Felixstowe, Southampton, the Humber, Tees and Hartlepool, as well as London, is essential to every man, woman and child living in these islands.

In November 2000 the Government published a policy document, Modern Ports: A UK Policy, which placed great emphasis on safety, economic success and environmental sustainability. In the document the Government recognised the need for future port expansion to meet growing demand in some sectors and emphasised that sustainable development must recognise the importance of meeting economic, social and environmental objectives at the same time. In Modern Ports the Government also promised a review of the existing marine nature consents regime with a view to rationalising and simplifying the consent and inquiry procedures for port developments.

The review commenced only three weeks ago and the ports have not yet had the opportunity to make their input into the process. It is, therefore, to be regretted that this well-meaning Bill is being promoted prior to the conclusions of that review; for I am sorry to say that our existing marine nature conservation laws and regulations appear to have grown like Topsy, with differing requirements depending on whether they are based on UK (home grown) proposals or European diktats (directives). What is needed is an integrated system, not piecemeal legislation. Indeed, English Nature has itself called for a streamlining of the regulatory consents process without diluting the associated environmental standards. The Minister of State, Michael Meacher, when speaking on this issue in another place, stated that government should not further complicate an already complex, piecemeal mosaic, and that a simplistic solution should not be applied to a complicated problem. I agree with him wholeheartedly.

I fear that those promoting the Bill may have got the cart before the horse. We should really encourage the Government to produce the conclusions of their review before the Bill receives further consideration in your Lordships' House. I am not convinced that the Bill in its current form takes sufficient account of the importance of balancing social and economic interests with environmental concerns. For instance, harbour authorities do not specifically have to be consulted regarding the criteria for selecting sites. That cannot be right. At a later stage I shall propose an amendment to redress that.

There needs to be much wider recognition by everyone that it is in our estuarial ports that the conflict between nature conservation and economic necessity is most acute. It is the role of government to ensure that social, economic and environmental needs are accorded equal consideration and that an equitable balance is maintained between them in the interests of all who live in these islands.

12.30 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I rise to speak after the noble Baroness; I love to follow her but I cannot do so on this occasion. She indicated her opposition to the Bill. Nothing that she said prevents discussions from taking place afterwards on a major basis.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for circulating the Explanatory Notes, which were most helpful, and for her speech, which at times was extremely graphic and even poetic. I, like others no doubt, have been tempted to amend the Bill to make it even more environmentally benign. But, like Eve's apple, amending the Bill represents a temptation we should resist.

I do not say that idly. I hope that my credentials in relation to the environment are not in question. I had the honour of being the Commissioner for Environment in the European Community. One of the principal successes of those years was the European Year of the Environment. The conservation of marine wildlife formed a significant part of it. I am talking about 1986 to 1987.

That is why I want to conserve the Bill. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, supports that view. The Bill has been substantially considered and amended in another place. Some now want to wreck it altogether; I want the Bill to become part of our law. If it goes back to another place, it is likely that it would never return here, or perhaps would do so in 20 years' time. That would be a dire outcome.

Like my noble friend Lady Nicol, I do not think that we have the pleasure of seeing Bills of such importance being introduced into either House of Parliament with sufficient regularity. This Bill has a decided advantage. We have heard various suggestions, particularly from my noble friend Lady Nicol, which I am sure would be very helpful. At a later stage, they could be carried through. However, that is not the case today. My plea is that the Bill, as redrafted, should now be agreed to. Within reason, debating ameliorations today could be helpful for the future. However, I repeat that the incentive to introduce such alterations should not be put to the test.

It goes without saying that what is required is an even more comprehensive approach so far as conservation and marine management are concerned. We have every reason to hope that the Government's working group on marine conservation will be enormously influential in the longer run. Having set it up, the Government must take account of its expert views. The UK has entered into various important international obligations. I hope that they will have the effect of protecting marine wildlife beyond our territorial waters. However, there must be sound domestic legislation to ensure that the wildlife within our islands, and their habitats, are properly safeguarded.

Following extensive consultation, the Bill as it stands contains a provision that is designed specifically for the marine environment. It provides for the proper consideration of the importance of any scientific site prior to the go-ahead being given to any contemplated development that may threaten it.

In considering the Bill, it is important to emphasise that the last word in determining the status of SSSIs and marine sites of special interest lies with the Secretary of State. One would assume that he or she would have the interests of the environment at heart.

My noble friend Lord Whitty spoke on this matter in 2000 in your Lordships' House. He said: I accept that there has been a lack of progress on designating marine conservation areas, as compared with land-based ones". The Member of Parliament who sponsored this Bill, Mr Randall, said that he agreed wholeheartedly with that. My noble friend went on: We now have the will to pursue an increase in identification and powers to enforce marine conservation areas of all kinds".— [Official Report, 16/10/00; cols. 840–1.] It goes without saying that the Bill, soon, I hope, to become an Act, will be tested in everyday practice. If it is found wanting in any material respect, we should have no qualms about amending it at a later stage. Let us see. Equally, however, we should have no hesitation about having further consultation with those who have specialist knowledge. This is a moving feast of which we should be a part. That, I believe, is the aim of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. Let us examine carefully what has been best practice internationally.

The Bill has been considered and reconsidered elsewhere. National sites of marine importance are protected to a degree that was simply not the case before. The ability to reconcile development and conservation through the Bill is greatly improved. What has been achieved through wider discussion is also highly significant. That, together with the protection afforded to international sites through European legislation, means that many problems are on their way to resolution. It is true that we have not addressed all the potential difficulties—some will reveal themselves in the future—but I believe that a very good start has been made.

12.40 p.m.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, the House is surely extremely grateful to my noble friend Lady Anelay for introducing this subject. As the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, reminded us, the proposals in the Bill require us to look again at the potential conflict between the objectives of environmental conservation on the one hand and economic and recreational activity on the other. I believe most sincerely that all those objectives are laudable. As has already been said today, the issue is how to strike a balance between them.

I say at the outset that I do not have any direct interest in ports, offshore energy or other commercial activities that will, or may be, potentially affected if the proposals in the Bill reach the statute book. However, as some of your Lordships may be aware, I have long had an interest in maritime affairs and renewable energy, and therefore I have studied the Bill with considerable interest.

It is hoped that all informed commentators will agree that present legislation governing marine environmental protection is in need of overhaul. Indeed, the Government acknowledged that when promoting the Countryside and Rights of Way Act., As has been said, they recognised that marine conservation raised a series of special and distinct issues. Therefore, as my noble friend Lord Caithness advised the House, they established a Review of Marine Nature Conservation to look at the whole area.

The terms of reference for that review were to evaluate the present statutory and voluntary marine nature conservation measures, including European initiatives, and to put forward, practical and proportionate proposals for improving marine nature conservation". The review is being conducted by a committee which comprises representatives of government departments and conservation agencies, together with sectorial interests, including ports, leisure interests, fishing and offshore operations.

Again, as we have been told—I believe that it is well worth repeating it—the review produced an interim report in May last year. That interim report recognised that current legislation for marine conservation was not satisfactory and noted that marine nature conservation raised complicated and difficult issues. In particular, it recognised that the answer was not simply to extend the SSSI regime into the marine environment. The report proposed that a pilot scheme should be established, known as the "Regional Seas Project", to demonstrate both the application of new concepts and examine how far the conservation management needed within the pilot area no pun intended there— could be delivered through existing systems". The pilot scheme has now been set up, as we have been advised, in the Irish Sea, and the results are expected to be available by the end of next year. When those results are available, the review of marine nature conservation will have completed its work.

It is of interest that when the Bill was originally published, it was discussed at a meeting of that review group in August last year. Saving the presence of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, who, sadly, is not in her place at present, with the exception of the RSPB representative, all other members of the group agreed that, while the objectives of the Bill were laudable, it was not an appropriate solution to the issues which the group had been considering and that the "quick-fix" approach in the Bill was not the answer.

The problem is the familiar one of a series of statutory regimes enacted at different times for different purposes, which now constitute a complex web of legislation. Arguably that does not serve the best interests of either the conservationist or business. My noble friend Lady Wilcox has already reminded us that the Minister, Mr Meacher, in another place—I shall not give the whole quotation again, but it is significant—said, we must not apply a simplistic solution to a complicated problem".—[Official Report, Commons, 26/10/01, col. 594.] As my noble friend Lord Caithness reminded us, do we really want a 43rd piece of legislation on this subject before the review has had a chance to give its report?

That said, I recognise of course that the other place, in its wisdom, has seen fit to give the Bill its blessing, albeit in an amended form. It was substantially amended, and thereafter unscrutinised, in another place. Therefore, I believe—indeed, I am absolutely certain—that it is the duty of this House to look most carefully not only at the provisions of the Bill in the form in which they are now presented, and in particular to look at the implications for the ports, offshore energy, fishing and recreational interests, which may or may not be affected; it is also important that we look at its timing.

As I said at the outset, overarching all this is the need to strike a reasonable balance between desirable but potentially conflicting objectives. This country has a rich heritage in its coastline and its marine environment which we must surely seek to protect. However, again, as the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, so wisely said, our coastal waters are also the scene of considerable and important economic activity. I am concerned that, in its present form, the Bill may not strike the right balance. Assuming that the Bill proceeds, I shall, at a later stage, table amendments to redress that imbalance.

Quite separately from the review of marine nature conservation, the Government have, as my noble friend Lady Wilcox has just said, embarked on a review of the marine consents procedures with their White Paper, Modern Ports. The paper undertook that the Government would, work with the industry and other interests to rationalise and, where possible, simplify the consents and enquiry procedures for port developments". After some delay, this exercise has now been launched. It was announced in the marine stewardship report published last month, which undertook that the Government would—this is my final quotation— review the regulatory framework affecting coastal and marine development, including ports, with a view to simplifying the regulatory system and protecting the marine environment". But, as my noble friend Lady Wilcox has just reminded us, the exercise started only last month. It has only just got under way, and the initial fact-finding stage is therefore the very beginning of its progress.

Surely it is not an appropriate moment to introduce yet another new regime for designation of protected marine sites at a time when the Government are in the process of seeking to rationalise and simplify an already complex regime. Marine environment is very close to my heart. I dearly want to see it protected, but surely we must get it right and not get off to a false start.

12.49 p.m.

Lord Chorley

My Lords, at this stage of the debate I do not have much to contribute by way of technical considerations, but I have a background of past activities that make me aware of the importance of our marine coastal environment and its conservation. For five years I was a member of the Natural Environment Research Council, which has several inshore—I do not know whether to talk about "inshore" or "offshore"—marine research stations. Prior to that I was president of the Royal Geographical Society, and although I am not a geographer I became familiar with our geomorphologically more important stretches of coast. I also recall my experience as chairman of the National Trust which protects nearly a half of our heritage coast in England and Wales, although its ownership does not extend into the sea.

From that background I find it increasingly odd that there is no protection of the coastal marine environment equivalent to that provided on land by the SSSI designation under the Act of 1981, to which reference has been made. I understand that the SSSI designation could not automatically relate to the sea. As we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, it enabled the MNRs to be set up. Of course, the MNR designation is not the same as an SSSI, nor has it been particularly successful. I am glad that the Government recognise that.

For all those reasons I am glad to add my support for the Bill. Either the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, or the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, said that we had waited 21 years since the Wildlife and Countryside Act and even if I were a life Peer I would not be here if we had to wait another 21 years. It does not make sense to wait any longer. We would have to wait for a Private Member's Bill to achieve the progress that we hope will be made by this Bill.

I have been impressed by the debate. We have heard a long and distinguished list of knowledgeable speakers who for the most part have been supportive. It is encouraging that the White Paper—nowadays it is a glossy paper but I believe that it amounts to a White Paper—has been most supportive of the Bill. Therefore, I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply to the debate.

I found Safeguarding our Seas a most encouraging document. It is an excellent overview of the whole maritime environment and of the Government's intentions. If there is a gap, it is perhaps in relation to where responsibilities lie and who does what. In that sense the Bill fills at least part of the gap.

I shall not say anything about the details of the Bill, which for the most part appear unexceptional. I wondered what was meant by "sustainable development" in Clause 12. It is a fashionable, much over-worked phrase that can mean almost anything to anyone. However, I believe that the White Paper has a perfectly sensible definition which is good enough for me and I imagine that it could be the basis of ministerial guidance. I hope that that will allay the fears, for example, of the Countryside Council for Wales which had a concern on that point, as did one or two noble Lords.

Previous speakers have raised many points. Some want to strengthen the Bill; some wish to weaken it, wreck it or destroy it, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. As I believe the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said, "Remember that the best is the enemy of the good". I too had written that down. Changing the metaphor, I add that half a loaf is better than no loaf. The Bill is somewhat modest, but it is better than anything that has gone before.

I have been sent material by English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales. English Nature, as we have heard, is supportive and makes the point, which is surely right, that the Bill, is seen in the context of the comprehensive and integrated approach", highlighted in the White Paper. On the other hand, the CCW was rather dismissive. I do not propose to deal with what it said, but I found its reasons somewhat insubstantial.

I also made contact with my old organisation, NERC. It advised me that while conservation falls largely outside NERC's remit, colleagues at marine laboratories are generally supportive. The Wildlife and Countryside Link, an important umbrella body, goes further and regards the Bill as a major step forward.

We have a wonderful coast with rich and variegated marine eco-systems. Nevertheless, the Bill, modest though its measures appear to be, gives us the capability to improve significantly how we look after our marine environmental heritage.

12.55 p.m.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for presenting the Bill to the House. Like the previous speaker, and as a relatively new Member of the House, I have been very impressed by the knowledgeable debate. I believe that the strength of the House is the knowledge possessed by noble Lords, irrespective of whether they agree with each other.

One of the first Bills that I followed in any depth was the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. Among other matters, that touched on conservation issues about land. I believe that this Bill complements the CROW Bill because it aims to strengthen the laws relating to nature conservation and to protect wildlife in the marine environment.

In 1999 the UK Government defined "sustainable development" and among other objectives they outlined effective protection of the environment and prudent use of natural resources. I believe that this Bill covers those two aims admirably. Sustainable development has become an increasingly important part of public consciousness; they are certainly words that are used more often, as the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, said. It has become part of the Government's thinking as witnessed in their publication Safeguarding Our Seas: A Strategy for the Conservation and Sustainable Development of Our Marine Environment. It is also part of the debate surrounding the European Union's strategy for sustainable development. The union defined that phrase as: A dynamic process which enables all people to realise their potential and improve their quality of life in ways which simultaneously protect and enhance the earth's life support systems". We need to emphasise the need for this kind of legislation in the UK and in Europe in relation to our seas. I want to read to your Lordships a short extract from an article in the May report of the Labour Animal Welfare Society. I declare an interest as a member of that society (mid-water) trawlers, operating to the south and west of Britain and France are catching unacceptable numbers of dolphins. While these fisheries are yet to be properly monitored, hundreds of dead Dolphins wash up on English and French beaches every year. The UK and other National Governments and the European Commission have a responsibility and a legal requirement under EU law to monitor and address this problem—although a small number of UK boats are involved in the fishery, the overwhelming majority are based in France who have failed to take action As has already been stated, the Bill is supported by such powerful advocates as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which estimates that 70 sites would gain protection in England and Wales under this legislation, and by English Nature, which stresses the importance of seeing the Bill in the context of a comprehensive and integrated approach to the marine environment.

As the RSPB said in its support for the Bill, protected marine sites are needed to allow sensitive species, including dolphins, porpoises, puffins and gannets, to breed, feed or over winter safely without disturbance. Better enforcement of wildlife protection measures is also essential. The changes proposed in this Bill would help level the playing field, giving marine sites and species similar protection to those on land.

I particularly welcome three parts of the Bill: the register of marine sites of special interest; the powers for the establishment of management schemes of special interest and, if necessary, by direction; and the offence of international or reckless disturbance of marine sites of special interest. This is an important Bill and I hope that it receives the support of the Government.

1 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

My Lords, I am sorry to make my intervention in the gap. Having one's name knocked off the list of speakers in a deferred debate without notice is an arcane aspect of Lords' procedure of which I was unaware.

I declare an interest as chairman of ACOPS. I returned this morning from Nigeria where we were dealing with an inter-governmental conference on the devastated and endangered environment of African coastlines. I welcome the introduction of this Bill by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. It is an important step in protecting the marine environment which my noble friend Lord Callaghan fought for when setting up ACOPS 50 years ago in 1952.

I have two substantial points which I hope the Government will consider carefully as they take their policies forward following this Bill. The first, touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is the marine sites of special interest introduced in Clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill. Will the Minister ensure that when those sites are under threat from the expansion of ports and other developments, changes will be permitted only for genuine conservation reasons and with real consultation as is proposed in the strong Clause 4, especially subsection (4)(c). It should be more thorough than has happened in recent years in the highly questionable permission given for the abandonment or even movement of outstanding sites of special scientific interest we have seen in the UK.

My second point is that this legislation should be followed by more comprehensive marine legislation, as other noble Lords indicated. That has been called for by many organisations in the UK, from the commercial to the environmental and scientific. Such legislation, which I and colleagues discussed earlier with Mr Meacher, should include some significant change to the administration of ocean policy in the UK so as to bring ocean policies together with those of the atmosphere and wider global and regional environmental questions.

In the United States the policy branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fulfils that role and provides unique global leadership. That administration also includes fisheries. Because the movement of fish, birds and pollution are not confined to coastal waters, they have to be considered globally. We need an agency in the UK to deal with those issues more effectively and transparently than hitherto. The introduction by this Government of the Food Standards Agency has been a great success in the complex area of food, health and agriculture. Why not an Ocean and Atmospheric Agency for the future?

I conclude by saying that I hope noble Lords have read Moby Dick. The author commented that the British sovereign, at his coronation, is anointed with whale oil and when kings ate their feasts in London, before 1350, they would always eat whale meat, such was the nature of the marine environment in those days. It seems we are getting back to it.

1.3 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, from these Benches we warmly welcome the arrival in this House of the Marine Wildlife Conservation Bill. I join other noble Lords in congratulating, first, the honourable John Randall who introduced the Bill as a Private Member's Bill in the other place, and of course the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who has had to be so patient in awaiting its consideration on the Floor of your Lordships' House.

We associate ourselves with the wise remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, relating to the Government's attitude to Private Member's Bills throughout the decade. Reading the debates in another place, it was clear that one of the things that pleased Members was that the debate was good natured and centred around a common interest. That is all to the good for political life.

For that reason I regret the remarks made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. Perhaps he was sitting so close to where the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, normally sits that he was overtaken by a wish to play the role of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who likes to create debate in your Lordships' House by making comments with which we can all disagree.

In common with the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, and other noble Lords, I am pleased to see this matter come before us, having been disappointed that the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill could not contain provisions relating to marine conservation. I suffered a baptism of fire as a Front-Bencher on the CROW Bill and hope that this Bill will have a swift passage through this House.

It is a great mark of recognition that we have arrived at the position where marine life, for all the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is to be given the importance it warrants in that at least half the species under the sea are to be found in our coastal waters. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, mentioned that the Dorset coast—my home area—recently received the accolade of becoming a World Heritage Site. It is indeed a wonderful coast.

This Bill will protect areas equally worthy of protection but which would probably fail to have any recognition under European designations because of containing, for example, the RAF site on the Taw and Torridge estuary. That would probably preclude the area being a European site, but it may well be able to benefit from a designation under this Bill.

The Government will have to consider carefully how to link the protection given in this Bill with the 42 different types of designation mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the way that this Bill links to those and other pieces of legislation. Guidance given to agencies trying to enact them will be important.

The noble Lords, Lord Mason of Barnsley and Lord Bridges, gave us examples of how good conservation can make good economic sense and the whole adds up to sustainability. That is where the National Park model raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol—I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Council for National Parks—could prove valuable. It enables issues to be considered in the round and concentrates on the involvement of stakeholders. There is much to be learnt from working with that model.

I listened with interest to the long experience of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, particularly with the National Trust, which has much to offer as an example in the way it has managed to involve stakeholders in its decisions.

The noble Lords, Lord Judd, Lord Chorley and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, by association with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, expressed reservations about exactly what Clause 12 will mean. I look forward to the Minister's explanation as to exactly what the Government intended when they added Clause 12 to the Bill.

The main opposition to the Bill in this House seems to have arisen from those with a specific interest in wind farms. I share their concern that renewable energy sources should be able to go ahead. It would be pointless to offer species protection only for them to die out as a result of climate change. So we must examine the issues of renewable energy and ensure that they are enabled by this Bill and not prohibited. Noble Lords have spoken only of wind farms. Of course there are huge opportunities in tidal power. In Committee, I shall want to return to that matter and explore how the Bill in the Government's view affects tidal power, in particular in view of the interesting point raised by my honourable friend David Heath in another place, that the Bill only protects that which is under the water, not above. So the Bill might be said to have bigger implications for tidal power than for wind power.

I ask the House authorities to consider the issue of Explanatory Notes not being available in the Printed Paper Office for Private Member's Bills. That does not help Members of your Lordships' House. It is an arcane rule which could do with overhaul.

Finally, I turn to the issue of charts. Can the Minister explain why there will be a requirement to register the sites when no map will be available to those who use the seas? It is strange to have the one requirement without linking it into the other. Perhaps over the years one of the mistakes of land-based maps has been that they have not identified N1SSIs. That may be why so many sites have declined into unfavourable conditions—no one knew where they were.

With those few reservations I should like to wish the Bill a speedy passage through the House. I would not wish to see any amendments tabled that would preclude that speedy passage and the Bill being put on the statute book forthwith.

1.11 p.m.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Anelay for introducing her Private Member's Bill today and for giving noble Lords a chance to express their views and to share in many cases—predominantly behind me—some of their concerns.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to taking the CROW Bill through the House as a baptism of fire. It was not my first baptism of fire. But with hindsight, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is acknowledging, I think we missed a trick. At the time I indicated that my knowledge of what went on under the sea was not as good as my knowledge of what went on on land. I suspect that for most of us it is true that we see what we see above the land. We do not—obviously, perhaps—give as much thought to that below.

Therefore, certainly from my point of view—I know we spent an enormous amount of time discussing that Bill in this House—it was one of the aspects that we did not conclude. We got the biodiversity plan on to the statute book, but the marine part we missed.

On first reading through my noble friends Bill I thought it rather wishy-washy, too conciliatory in tone and unlikely to make an impact. I then began to realise how very little had been done by anyone else. It was, I thought, better to support a little Bill, simple and short as this one is, advancing one step at a time—a step perhaps in the right direction.

The world's awakening to the fragility of our environment has been sluggish. Even today many governments pay only lip service to preservation, conservation and the application of sustainable technologies, but I recognise too, as has been repeated today, the need for a balance between conservation and commercial and social activity.

The Rio Earth Summit was back in 1992, some 10 years ago. The Jakarta mandate, setting the scene for action on marine and coastal biodiversity, was in 1995—seven years ago.

There are now over 6,500 SSSIs. But they normally stop at the mean low water mark. Only a few go beyond. There are now three such marine nature reserves—Lundy, Skomer and Strangford Lough. As my noble friend, the originator of the Bill, pointed out, there is no special protection for the likes of Bracklesham Balls, Lyme Bay or the Worthing Lumps. There must be many other candidates for protection and conservation all around our coastline.

I am aware that there are interestes, particularly in shipping, wind farm and fishing that would prefer the status quo. Perhaps I may say that if I were English Nature, looking at the length of our coastline, I would not go picking fights at this stage in all aspects. Instead, if the Bill were to pass, I should concentrate on the areas where there are no major commercial activities and wait for some of the measures outlined in Chapter 2 of Safeguarding Our Seas to catch up with me. There is a balance to be struck.

However, I believe that we should do something. The Bill gets an honourable mention in Safeguarding Our Seas in the chapter on "Protecting Marine Biodiversity". Section 2.41 states: The Government is pleased that the Marine Wildlife Conservation Bill, a private member's Bill produced by John Randall MP, has completed the Commons stages and now will be considered by the House of Lords. The Bill, if enacted, will permit the notification of marine sites in England and Wales which arc of special interest by virtue of their fauna, flora or geological or physiographical features. Such sites will be of national importance". The rest of the chapter on protecting marine biodiversity sets the historical background. It tells the reader that the UK is working internationally to protect coral reefs, is currently carrying out a review of Ramsar sites, failed with its proposal to give basking sharks international trade protection and has established a consultative forum on whaling—another forum, another form of consultation.

Noble Lords have recognised that there is a great deal of disjointed activity and a great deal of consultation taking place. The chapter talks about negotiating agreements, exploring feasibilities, working to develop legislation, developing new approaches to evaluate, and so on. Fine, but at the moment we are not doing anything. Some of my noble friends say—quite rightly—with a good deal of force that there are current negotiations taking place and perhaps it would be wiser to wait.

In 1998 there was a consultation on SSSIs, from which came the review of marine nature conservation. To speed this on its way the Government set up yet another working group. They stated: This group includes Government Departments and agencies, regulatory bodies, the devolved administrations, conservation NGOs, commercial and leisure interests". The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to that. In March 2001, after two years work, it produced its interim recommendations. That was 14 months ago. I am confident that we should expect its final report sometime before Christmas 2003 on the evidence of that timetable. My noble friend Lord Geddes referred to that.

However, even then, there will doubtless need to be other layers of consultation. I notice that local authorities are not mentioned in the working group. But I am sure that, as usual, they will do the lion's share of the tacky end of the work. As with the control of imports of illegal meat, it will be the local authorities who get to enforce the marine protection regulations—whatever they turn out to be.

The protection of marine animals is no easy task, but we need to smarten up our act and—perhaps I may suggest—get on with it, although I know that three or four of my noble friends behind me do not agree.

On 7th June 2002 Mr Elliot Morley MP, in a "Newsnight" interview, stated that it would cost a lot of money and take three years to research the damage done to dolphins, porpoises and some small whales by pair trawler nets. He did not take into account the great body of evidence already gathered by animal welfare bodies, the Institute of Zoology and concerned private individuals. Yet he seemed to know precisely what would be involved.

By March this year, only three months short of two years later, he was able to respond to a Written Question on cetacean by-catches. He replied that the Sea Mammal Research Unit would be conducting trials during March into the use of separator grids in nets in the offshore bass fishery in the South West. Can the Minister give us some idea of how successful those trials have been? Are plans underway to make use of those separated grids immediately and make them compulsory in United Kingdom territorial waters or even on UK registered vessels?

As my noble friend Lady Anelay said, this is a little Bill. I recognise that it has been heavily altered in another place. It has strong connections with the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, as I mentioned. But the fact that it poses questions and difficulties for us is no reason why we should not at least debate it further. The one issue on which, I believe, we are all are agreed is that we want marine life to be conserved and to flourish. The question is: is the Bill the right measure at the right time and in the right place? How do we balance commercial sensitivities with conserving our wildlife? I thank my noble friend—my good friend—Lady Anelay for giving us the opportunity to have a full debate today.

I shall now touch on one other matter raised by noble Lords: the need for renewable energy. That is a huge problem for this country. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, spoke of wind energy, as did my noble friend Lord Moynihan. To consider the matter in a different context, I find it totally unacceptable that we have about 800,000 acres of set-aside land in our country that could be providing us with energy crops at a time when half the world is starving.

My noble friend has set us a great challenge today. I thank her for introducing the Bill.

1.21 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, must be gratified by the course of this debate. There has been much praise not only for her work and the knowledge of the subject that she has gained in promoting the Bill but for the way in which she presented the Bill today and for her energy in pursuing it and in talking to everyone involved, so that we could have the kind of informed debate that we have had today.

I have no doubt that the noble Baroness herself will want to pick up many of the remarks in support of the Bill in her summing up. I shall largely concentrate on the criticism of the Bill, but in doing so, everyone should recognise that throughout the Chamber from every speaker there has been either outright support for the Bill or support for its principle and objectives. That is a commendable achievement and a demonstration that we are close to consensus in the House, although some important problems of timing and balance remain.

My noble friend Lady Nicol and others have dealt with the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who is not in his place. The Bill was not initiated or even provoked by the Government. It is a Bill that the Government felt had merit and which we have amended significantly. Nevertheless, the principle of the Bill is that of a Private Member's Bill and it should be treated as such, although the Government's support is clear.

I am of course aware that some users of the marine environment have significant concerns about certain of its provisions, while, on the other side of the argument, some environmentalists fear that it does not go far enough. There are also concerns about its timing. Timing for any Bill is never exactly right. There are parallel processes and inevitably some people will argue that we should have acted sooner and others that we should wait until something else occurs.

The important thing is that the Government have a coherent overall approach to marine conservation set out in the document that has been referred to and by my right honourable friend Michael Meacher on many occasions. The Bill forms part of that overall strategy. Parts of the Bill will not be implementable until other things have happened—I shall return to that later. The point is that we now have parliamentary time to set the main principles in primary legislation.

One of the main processes taking place in parallel with the Bill is my department's Review of Marine Nature Conservation, to which several noble Lords referred. That brings together all the major stakeholders and is intended to develop an ecosystem-based approach to managing the marine environment. It has already issued an interim report, which sets out its general sense of direction. The interim report recognises the need to identify and protect nationally important sites. The ongoing work of the review will assist in the drawing up of selection criteria and the identification of such sites and will undoubtedly help to influence the size and scope of suitable areas of the kind facilitated by the Bill. So, contrary to that work being in contradiction to the Bill's purpose, it is complementary to it, and the Bill's provisions will form an intrinsic part of the strategic approach to marine conservation.

As I said, in order to take account of the outcome of the review, the Government will need to delay implementation of some of the Bill's provisions until the review has concluded its work. If I understood him rightly, the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, said that that group had registered its concerns that the Bill's provisions pre-empted its conclusions. I am informed that that was not precisely the group's conclusion, although it undoubtedly expressed reservations about the difficulty of transposing the SSSI regime into the marine environment and about the possible burdens and difficulties that aspects of the Bill present.

But most of those concerned—certainly most of those concerned with the conservation and preservation of the marine environment—recognise that those are two strands of a strategic approach. We set out that overall strategy in Safeguarding Our Seas, and the first of a series of marine stewardship reports has been produced, which is also an ongoing process, the benefits of which will feed into the Bill's implementation.

This is a complex area, and I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and others have complained that we are adding to the complexity and layers of regulation in the marine area. The Government recognise that issue and one of the amendments made in another place was to ensure that there is no duplication between internationally important sites and MSSIs. Some noble Lords also consider that the Bill increases the complexity of existing marine consent regimes and pre-empts the findings of other government initiatives in the marine area. But, again, how the Bill is implemented will be informed by those reviews—not only the review to which I referred but the Review of Development in Coastal and Marine Waters, begun by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer in his previous capacity. That is now being continued by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. That review, too, will feed into how the Bill is regulated. It is a review of regulations and consent procedures and is obviously an important element in how the Bill is implemented.

In summary, the other activities and initiatives that take into account and deal with the stakeholders are part of that overall strategy. Rather than pre-empting or going against the principles of the Bill, they are complementary and supportive. The whole point is that we end up with a balance. The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, referred early in this debate to balance and many other noble Lords have picked up that theme.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, if I heard the Minister correctly, he said that the reviews that are under way are complementary to the Bill. I do not understand how he can say that, as the reviews have not come to their conclusion.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the Bill provides powers for the competent authorities in this area that they will implement in designating and managing sites and in establishing criteria for the balance in reaching those judgments. The operation of those authorities will be informed by the outcome of those various reviews. In other words, the substance of several of their decisions will be helped by the outcome of those reviews. That should not stop us enacting the powers and, eventually, implementing those powers, in order to carry out those decisions. It is important that the kind of considerations that the reviews address are taken into account when the authorities come to exercise their judgment. Because we are looking for a balance, it is important that they take into account each of those reviews.

Legislation is a complex matter, and it is important that we take account of a wide range of other interests, in addition to conservation issues. In its interim report, the group to which the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, referred emphasised that there must be a maximum community of interest. As far as it goes, the Bill strikes a balance. The amendments made by the Government in another place made that clearer. That is exemplified, in particular, by the clause on sustainable development, to which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and my noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen referred. It enables us to take into account all strands of sustainable development—economic and social, as well as environmental.

It is important that we are in a position to evaluate all the dimensions without allowing any of them to override another. The environmental considerations are vitally important, but the other considerations must also be taken into account. In some cases, developments that might, in the first place, be seen to be of economic importance might bring substantial environmental benefits, greater perhaps, in some cases, than those brought by the full powers of protection for the site. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, referred to the issue of sustainable, renewable energy, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. There are environmental benefits with that, as well as potential economic benefits, and they may outweigh any damage to a protected site caused by construction. We do not want the judgments to be made in such a way as to act to the detriment of the development of renewable energy—offshore wind farms or the other forms of renewable energy suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer.

It is important that we allow port development and other economic activities to continue. However, we must take account of the principles of the Bill. The clause relating to sustainable development means that having protected sites will not create a series of no-go areas for developers—that is not the intention—provided that the development is compatible with the aim of sustainability. It is also true that, in dealing with the marine environment, we are dealing with risk areas, about which there is, sometimes, uncertain knowledge. In such cases, decisions on the likelihood of a negative outcome are not based on sufficient information. We must, therefore, take a precautionary approach.

Under previous legislation, issues relating to the various strands of sustainable development are handled together. Section 37 of the Countryside Act 1968, which deals with the designation of SSSIs—mainly on land—requires the authorities to, have due regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry and to the economic and social interests of rural areas". It is not a one-dimensional approach to sustainable development.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, also referred to international developments and, in particular, to the Bergen declaration, in which process my colleague Michael Meacher is also heavily involved. That declaration does not imply that states should wait until all the information handled in those proceedings is brought together in international decisions before taking steps to protect sites of national interest. The Government accept that the provisions of the Bill should not be implemented, until the review of marine nature conservation has been completed, but measures to protect sites of national interest need not await the outcome of the Bergen process. We can take steps that are compatible with that before that review reaches its conclusions.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, also asked about the criteria for notification and suggested, I think, that marine sites of special interest should be notified prior to the publication of the criteria under Clause 3(2). The criteria allow the agencies to identify the sites, so we will publish the criteria before the sites can be identified.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, said, the Bill specifies—mostly in Clause 9—the way in which competent marine authorities should act when they propose to carry out operations or authorise any activity that would be likely to damage a marine site of special interest. Clause 9(1) specifies that, in exercising its functions, a marine authority must take reasonable steps to ensure that, before deciding to undertake or give consent to an operation that is likely to damage an MSSI, it must inform the appropriate nature conservation body, which will then have 28 days in which to comment on the proposal. The authority must make its judgment on the basis of the comments received. My noble friend Lady Nichol asked whether there was also a power to take action if damage had been done. That is not covered by the Bill, which deals with the designation of sites.

Noble Lords also asked why the legislation was not UK-wide. We always tend to get such questions in your Lordships' House. Most of the matters are devolved matters. Although we wish to maintain an overall UK approach to international matters, there may be different legislation for different parts of the United Kingdom.

My noble friend Lord Mason of Barnsley raised the issue of the use of drift-nets. My noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, raised issues relating to North Sea fishing and the effect of the use of drift-nets on other species. Beyond a limit of six nautical miles, drift-net fishing for salmon is prohibited. It is also the Government's policy to phase out the North-east Coast Salmon Drift-Net Fishery. That was started 10 years ago in 1993, and the number of licences has reduced since then by over 50 per cent. We will continue to phase out that activity. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked whether I could report on the research into that matter. I cannot do so today, but I shall make inquiries and get her an answer.

There were several queries about shipping. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, referred to concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, who is not able to be with us today. There is nothing in the proposals that restricts the general right to navigate the territorial seas. The Bill is fully compliant with our international obligations in that regard.

For mapping and identifying sites, it is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, said, important that seafarers are made aware of the location of MSSIs and that the conservation body is required to keep that register. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, would want to know why the Bill does not require it to be put on the authoritative charts. The answer is not very satisfactory; it is rather technical and legalistic. We are in discussion with the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office to see how we can ensure that such sites are marked on the appropriate charts. However, in terms of law and statute, I regret that the Bill cannot provide for that because it cannot provide for the Hydrographic Office to mark the sites on Admiralty charts. Despite its great authority in the area, the office has no separate legal identity under any Act of Parliament and therefore cannot have a duty placed on it by any Act of Parliament. That is the technical answer but we hope that Admiralty charts come to identify the sites.

I hope that I have dealt with some of the issues of concern. I believe that the Bill strikes the appropriate balance in the mechanism it proposes. It is part of a coherent whole to the strategy on marine conservation identified by the Government which will take into account other interests in addition to the environmental dimension.

I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and others who said that 21 years is long enough to wait. There are difficulties in respect of parliamentary time for Private and Public Bills and we ought to seize this opportunity to put the principles of the Bill on to the statute book. I therefore hope that we will bear that in mind in moving to the next stage of the Bill.

1.41 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken today. I am grateful for the kind words spoken from the three Front Benches and I thank in particular noble Lords who have supported the Bill from the Back Benches: the noble Lords, Lord Mason of Barnsley, Lord Judd, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, Lord Hardy of Wath, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, Lord Clinton-Davis, Lord Chorley and Lord Hunt of Chesterton, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Nicol and Lady Gibson of Market Rasen. All made it clear that it is vital to have protection of our marine environment and that we need it now. Others who have their own objections supported the Bill's objectives but questioned whether now is the right time to introduce it, whether it goes too far or not far enough.

Perhaps I may refer as best as I can to some of the issues which were directed specifically at me. If I omit any matters, I shall he pleased to talk to noble Lords about them between now and Committee stage. I begin with the timing of the Bill which is at last being debated at Second Reading. My noble friend Lord Caithness was offended that the Bill had been "pulled" twice having appeared on the Order Paper. I regret any inconvenience to him with regard to the timing of this debate.

It is right that an explanation should be given. On the two previous occasions, the Private Member's Bill, which does not take precedence over the time of government Bills, had been listed at a time which it was hoped would be convenient to your Lordships. On the first occasion, government business had to jump ahead of the Bill and it was estimated that we would finish our debate between 2 and 2.30 a.m. On the second occasion, government business suddenly became longer. A speakers' list, which it was thought by usual channels would extend to only a dozen, finally totalled 35, which would again have meant finishing our debate between 1 and 1.30 a.m. I can only apologise for the delay in reaching Second Reading but I hope that for most noble Lords eleven o'clock in the morning is somewhat more convenient time to start the debate than eleven o'clock at night.

My noble friend Lord Caithness objected to the fact that the Bill had been amended so severely in the Commons and believed that it had become a government Bill. My noble friend Lord Geddes expressed similar concern. I can state only what I know to be true: that it is very much the Bill of my honourable friend John Randall. It is his "baby"—or perhaps as he is such a keen ornithologist I should say that it is his "chick"! If in the other place the Government gave it extra feed to fatten it up, that has made it a healthier Bill but certainly not a government Bill. I was grateful in particular for the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, with her experience of what has happened over many years under both governments, about the assistance which may be given by governments to Private Members' Bills. If it were the position that a government could not amend a Private Member's Bill for fear of it becoming a government Bill, I suspect that noble Lords would find there would be no Private Members' Bills.

My noble friend Lord Caithness asked a specific question about who provided the Explanatory Notes. In my opening remarks, I commented on the fact that they had been written by the RSPB with advice from DEFRA. My noble friend wanted to know the precise name of the person. As is the wont when these notes are produced from someone's computer, the evidence appears in hard print. We see the name of Duncan Huggett, who works for the RSPB, and even the date and the file name on his computer.

The noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, used this Private Member's Bill debate as an opportunity to raise matters on fishing which are dear to his heart. I feel that that is a legitimate use of this kind of debate and I thank him for his support of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, referred to the importance of attaining a balance between economic development and conservation. I agree with every word he said on that matter. He questioned the fact that the Bill makes no reference to marine archaeology and referred to a meeting last week with English Heritage. I, too, attended that meeting as a member of the All Party Archaeology Group, now the second largest such group in both Houses.

When I took the National Heritage Bill, a Private Member's Bill, through your Lordships' House, I commented that I had looked carefully at whether it would in any way contradict the Marine Wildlife Conservation Bill. At that stage I received advice from the RSPB that although there had been initial concerns, it decided that the two Bills were complementary and not contradictory. That remains the belief of interested parties. There is therefore no mention of marine archaeology, it having been dealt with as satisfactorily as possible in another Bill.

Several concerns were expressed about the fact that the Bill might pre-empt the results of the review of the marine nature conservation currently being undertaken by the Government. My noble friends Lord Caithness, Lord Geddes and Lord Moynihan raised issues on that and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for pointing out that the provisions of the Bill are complementary to that review and that the Bill can be built into the wider process of marine conservation which is currently under way.

The regulatory impact assessment of the Bill also identifies the fact that it will fit in with the RNMC's continuing work. As Ministers made clear today and in another place, it is envisaged that the implementation of the Bill if passed would be delayed until the review had concluded its work and made its final recommendations. In this way, the work carried out by the review in identifying species and habitats of national importance will be vital in assisting the implementation of the Bill. That appears in paragraph 13 of the RIA, which I should be delighted to make available to noble Lords if they wish. As I mentioned in opening, passing the Bill now will allow the preparatory work to be done so that the Bill can be implemented more quickly when the time comes.

My noble friend Lord Moynihan was concerned about an issue addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty: sites might be notified before the criteria are published. As I hope that I made clear in my opening remarks, the Bill makes it essential that criteria should be drawn up by the Secretary of State and published before a further step of notification could take place. Indeed, there will be consultation at that stage.

Questions were posed by my noble friend Lady Wilcox about the criteria for selecting sites. It is the intention that the ports shall be consulted on the criteria before they are published.

My noble friends Lady Wilcox and Lord Geddes raised the issue of the review of consents. My noble friend Lady Wilcox asked that the Bill should not proceed until after the government review on consents has been completed. I join the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in believing that the Bill will not prejudice the outcome of that review or the legislation that will flow from it. Furthermore, it is important to take into account the statement made in another place on 16th May by Mr Michael Meacher. When questioned about the review of the marine consents regime, the Minister said—I apologise for the length of the quote but it is relevant to the point properly raised by my noble friend— The purpose of the review of the regulatory system that affects development in coastal waters is to reconcile the divergence of interest that has been apparent so often in the past between economic development and marine conservation. The Marine Wildlife Conservation Bill that the hon. Member for Uxbridge … promoted is designed to do precisely that: designate marine sites of special interest and involve all the economic players—for example, those who want port development, offshore oil development and wind farms. They all need to be involved in developing policy. It is not one or the other; we can do far better than in the past in reconciling interests".—[Official Report, Commons, 16/5/02; col. 899.] I firmly believe that it is important to reconcile those interests. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for pointing out that the consents review will feed into how the Bill is implemented.

The issue of whether or not this Bill should be UK-wide in its application was raised. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for addressing that matter. The reason that I have looked at this issue in great detail is that on these Benches my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour, who is not in her place today, has always made it clear to me that I should consider in particular the case of Scotland. It was in that respect that I looked very carefully to ensure that where devolution had occurred, the Bill was complementary to it and that the matter of the boundaries between Scotland and England had been properly resolved.

My noble friend Lady Wilcox made the point that this was another piece of the mosaic in legislation and that one ought to wait further. The word "wait" has been used many times today. She quoted Mr Michael Meacher when he was apparently saying, "Do not let us do this. Let us hold off". But, of course, that was at Second Reading before amendments were made which ensured that the Bill could be taken forward in a proper form. By the time the Bill reached Third Reading Mr Meacher said that it is unquestionably an important Bill and listed the reasons why it should go on the statute book as soon as possible.

There was a rightful concern, which I share with my noble friends, that regulation should not be too burdensome. No one likes regulation. Human nature is such that we all want to be able to act as freely as possible, whether in our personal or commercial environment. But I do not believe that the marine environment is any more legislatively complex than the terrestrial environment. The sustainable development clause which underpins the Bill will ensure that there is a right balance and that economic development is not unfairly affected.

If I have missed anything, I shall write to noble Lords. I am aware of the time and the fact that the Minister has had questions addressed specifically to him. It would be wrong for me simply to duplicate some of his answers where they covered my points too.

I believe that the Bill gives us the opportunity to change for the better the way in which we manage our environment without compromising the needs of those carrying out the economic and commercial development that we all need. It is about achieving a balance between economic development and nature conservation, and improving our knowledge about what is out there and needs to be protected. Marine wildlife may largely be hidden from view—apart from the cormorant, which has had an extremely bad press today—but, however hidden it is, its conservation matters to the public and, I am sure, to all noble Lords. I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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