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That seems to me to imply designation. However, in the other place that was ruled out because of various practical difficulties, although on Report the importance of seascapes was again acknowledged.

One possible way forward was addressed at the inquiry into the proposed South Downs national park in 2007. It had been suggested that the marine environment adjoining the south downs should be included in the national park. The inspector decided that there was no legal basis for including a marine area in an existing protected area. He regretted that, because as he said in his report to the Secretary of State:

the proposed South Downs national park—

He went on to recommend that

Hear, hear to that, and I would add AONBs as the other half of the protected landscape family. Why do we not follow that advice and look first for candidates for quality seascape designation to the seas off our many coastal AONBs and national parks, many of which owe their designation to their relationship with the sea? As I have said, this is a very good Bill, but with a bit of tweaking it can be even better.

7.2 pm

Sir Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the chance to follow the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton), whose speech was steeped in the beauty of his lovely constituency.

The Bill carries with it a great deal of hope. It is rare for me to receive as many messages from constituents asking me to support a Bill and press for it to be brought forward as I have on this one, beginning some years ago and continuing to the present day. That is not surprising, because my constituency is closely linked to the sea. Gosport is a peninsula and was originally developed as a support area for the Royal Navy. No part of the constituency is more than about 2 miles from the sea or the harbour. Boatbuilding and the sea are important to industry in the area, and marine transport is also important in the constituency. Indeed,
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I am one of the few people I know who went to school by boat. Leisure industries in the marine field—yachting, sailing, swimming, sailboards—are extremely important in the Gosport area, as is access to the coastal area.

The priority in the Bill must be to get the whole issue right and hand on the environment to our successor generations. Special interest groups in the coastal area, such as yachting, fishing, dog walkers and equestrian interests, have lobbied on the Bill, and their views must all be taken into account. However, the overriding priority must be conservation. It is disturbing that the wildlife trusts have said that an area of the North sea the size of Cambridgeshire is virtually devoid of life as a result of activity by the oil and gas industry. Whatever the Bill does, there must be no change to the marine environment unless it is consistent with the highest standards of conservation.

Of course, the Bill must be consistent with improving standards worldwide, starting with the UK. I am disconcerted to find that the Bill is quite complicated when it comes to responsibility in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I hope that it will be possible to co-ordinate activities so that it is effective across the whole UK. We must also ensure that it is effective across the whole European Union and entirely consistent with EU efforts. We must go further and ensure that all the international bodies—the United Nations and others—work together in a consistent manner to preserve our environment.

My questions to myself are whether the Bill will be effective and whether it will provide the right and necessary powers and duties. Coming fresh to the Bill and reading it through, I must say that I was not fully convinced. This is a once-in-a-generation chance to get things right, as we missed the chance to pass the Randall Bill—I see my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) in his place, and he has made a notable contribution to the dialogue. However, it does not feel to me like a once-in-a-generation Bill.

The MMO will be accountable to Parliament through the Secretary of State, but it will be independent. I am not convinced that passing responsibility to an independent body is really the right thing to do. The Secretary of State must be capable of standing at the Dispatch Box and accepting responsibility for all the activities of the MMO.

Obtaining independence for an independent body is very difficult. My immediate experience of that comes from a completely different field, which is the Electoral Commission. It was set up as an independent body, but it had to be responsible to somebody. The somebody to whom it was responsible was the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, on which I serve and a number of whose meetings I have chaired. That body, accountable to Parliament, gives the Electoral Commission independence.

It is stated that the MMO will be independent, but of course Ministers will appoint the chairman, and they will appoint members after consultation with the chairman. The appointment and, if necessary, dismissal of members is not fully spelled out in the Bill, so I am not sure exactly how that would work. My preference would be to give that body rather less independence and more Government accountability. It must have the powers
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and capacity to carry through its responsibilities, and we need it to be given wide, sweeping powers with resources to match.

Looking through the Bill, we find a great many bodies for which the MMO will not actually have responsibility. It will instead have a duty to liaise with them. The consultative document states that its success

inshore fisheries and conservation authorities—

the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science. There are many bodies with which the MMO will have a responsibility to liaise, and one would be happier to see it being given broader powers.

I welcome the Bill, but as it passes through its subsequent stages I hope that the approach taken will be to press for all necessary powers, facilities and budgets to be given to the MMO so that it can be fully effective in its role.

7.8 pm

Nick Ainger (Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire) (Lab): Like everyone else who has spoken so far, I welcome the Bill. It may have been a long time coming, but it is even more welcome for that. I pay tribute to the ministerial team, who have been plugging away at it and getting agreement, particularly with the devolved Administrations. I know that it has not necessarily been too easy to achieve that, bearing in mind the idea of trying to have UK coverage while recognising that responsibilities have been devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I welcome the Bill from a constituency perspective in particular. Until the 1997 general election, I represented Pembroke, which was the county of Pembrokeshire. If we want a microcosm of why we need the MMO and why we need the licensing, the planning and the marine conservation areas, we just have to look at Pembrokeshire and its coast.

We are probably the biggest energy hub in the United Kingdom and we have one of the largest ports in the UK. We also have a coastal national park and 187 miles of completely continuous coastal path. The Pembrokeshire coast and islands were designated as a special area of conservation some years ago. We also have Ministry of Defence ranges. We depend on our coast for our massive tourist industry, as well as for the energy industry. In Skomer, which is immediately offshore, we have one of only two marine nature reserves, which is a special designation from Europe for conservation purposes, yet we also have all the other social and economic activities taking place, both recreational and industrial. Pembrokeshire is therefore a prime example of why we need the Bill.

What brought home the importance of their coast and sea to the people of Pembrokeshire was—the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) referred to this—what happened on 15 February 1996, when the Sea Empress ran aground and, within four
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days, deposited 72,000 tonnes of crude oil on my constituency. That event brought home to people how vital the coast and the seas are, not purely from a conservation point of view, but from a social and economic point of view, because for the next six months the coast and the seas around Pembrokeshire were shut down. The compensation claim, when it was finally settled, totalled more than £60 million. That shows how important maintaining and improving the quality of our marine environment is, from both a conservation and a social and economic point of view. I therefore warmly welcome the Bill.

There are new developments taking place off the Pembrokeshire coast. We have two pilot sites, one of which is for wave energy off Marloes, quite close to the Skomer marine nature reserve. Further north, in Ramsey Sound, we have a pilot scheme for developing tidal power. The MMO and the licensing procedures contained in the Bill are therefore welcome for my constituency.

Like other hon. Members, we want the Bill to work as well as it can. Opposition Members have referred to it as a once-in-a-generation opportunity. I agree with that; therefore, it is vital that we get it right. However, I want to raise a couple of concerns about the detail of the Bill.

On the marine management organisation, the Countryside Council for Wales and the Welsh Assembly’s Sustainability Committee have brought to my attention their concerns about cross-border issues and the need for the Bill perhaps to require marine planning and marine statements to be done jointly, particularly in relation to the Dee and Severn estuaries. I would welcome a response from my hon. Friend the Minister to that point when he winds up. The renewable energy organisations have also brought to my attention their concerns about whether the MMO will have sufficient expertise and personnel to deal with applications for renewable energy generation below 100 MW, particularly where they involve small offshore wind generation or wave and tidal power.

I welcome the inshore fisheries conservation authorities. In the past, I have been critical of the fact that sea fisheries committees have not had the resources. I hope that they will have sufficient resources in England, bearing in mind that they are to be given wider powers, which is the right thing to do. However, I am concerned that the same powers are not yet being given to Welsh Ministers, who will take over ultimate responsibility for the sea fisheries committees. The Countryside Council for Wales and the Welsh Assembly’s Sustainability Committee have raised concerns about that, too.

Other Members have raised their concerns about the designation of marine conservation zones. I share their concern that it would appear from the Bill that sea fishing would allow damage to be done in those zones. That needs to be addressed in Committee. I would also like the term “disturbance” to be used in the Bill in relation to such zones.

Finally, to those Members, mainly on the Opposition Benches, who have expressed concern about the coastal path, let me say that the 187 miles of the Pembrokeshire coastal path show that, with some imagination and, in certain circumstances, quite radical action, we can achieve something through negotiation that delivers for people who want to have access and enjoy the coast, but which has huge economic benefits as well. In 1996-97, the Pembrokeshire coast national park conducted a survey
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that showed that there were 915,000 user days on the coastal path. The park now estimates there to be well over 1 million user days a year. Twelve years ago, it was estimated that walkers on the coastal path generated nearly £20 million for the local economy. I think that the figure is at least twice that now. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) was concerned about the cost. In fact, the benefit is enormous.

Mr. Gray: Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that there is an important difference between the Pembrokeshire path, which he has described, and the one described in the Bill, namely that the one in Pembrokeshire was created by entirely voluntary action and that where a landowner or farmer was not prepared to let it cross their land, compensation was paid to them? That will not occur under this legislation.

Nick Ainger: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is correct about compensation. What was done was done by agreement, and it took an awfully long time. The Welsh Assembly wants to complete the round-Wales coastal path by 2012 and is funding that. Like other Welsh Members, I have been briefed by Jane Davidson. The Assembly thinks that it can achieve that by using local authorities and by negotiating with landowners. However, it is seeking the same powers as those in the Bill, through a framework clause, because it recognises that there may be difficulties in future. The Pembrokeshire coast national park would have preferred the powers offered in the Bill, because then we would have achieved a Pembrokeshire coastal path much sooner and the benefits could have flowed to the local community sooner.

I welcome the Bill, but I hope that we will see some significant changes to certain bits of it.

7.20 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): I should like to thank the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for their kind words. I should also like to offer my apologies to the House and to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Owing to a long-standing prior engagement at a constituency event, I will not be here for the winding-up speeches. The event is the diamond jubilee anniversary of the Uxbridge History Association and, as I am anxious not to become part of Uxbridge history just yet, it is important that I attend.

I echo the Secretary of State’s words about the many thousands of ordinary people who are members of conservation organisations throughout the country. Those people have remained keen, from the time when I first introduced my private Member’s Bill right up to today, to ensure not only that we get this legislation through but that it is also of the very best. In these days of openness and transparency, I should like to say that I am a member of several wildlife trusts including the Marine Conservation Society, and I estimate that I have been a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for 45 years. That makes me feel rather old, but I was very young when I joined.

As has been mentioned, in 2001 I was lucky enough to be No. 1 in the ballot for private Members’ Bills, and I decided that it was time to introduce legislation that would match the legislation protecting the areas of
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special scientific interest that we have on the land. I soon discovered the complexity of the marine environment. It was not easy just to come along and implement such legislation. We have heard about the legislation that exists in relation to the extent of our territorial responsibilities, for example, and about the amount of interests in the marine environment. I was lucky that the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) was the Minister responsible for these matters at the time, and he was instrumental in helping me to get through the process. However, there were some vested interests knocking around in Whitehall that were not making things too easy for my Bill, and I realised as I got more and more into the subject that it was far outside the scope of a private Member’s Bill. I realised that it would need primary legislation from the Government to produce the kind of Bill that was needed.

Back then, the RSPB identified various areas that needed protection, including the Seven Sisters and the Worthing Lumps, which are areas of rare underwater chalk habitats, and the Royal Sovereign Shoals, an extensive offshore sandstone reef. Happily, they are still important areas, but we do not know how long they will last, and we need to get this legislation in place to protect them.

We have waited a long time for the Bill. I am greatly encouraged by the number of Members on both sides of the House who are taking part in the debate and suggesting serious improvements to it. It has been through the other place, and good improvements have been made to it there. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Sir Peter Viggers) said, we must now seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to get it absolutely right.

We have all been approached by constituents and by the various non-governmental organisations with a serious vested interest in making this a proper Bill. I will not repeat all the arguments, but I would like to make a point about the marine conservation zones, which will be very important for seabirds. They will be important for lots of other things as well, but as the House will know from my long membership of the RSPB, birds are my primary interest in this context, although biodiversity involves many kinds of creatures being dependent on each other and we cannot concentrate on only one.

Perhaps we sometimes forget that our seabird colonies are among the great wildlife spectaculars of the world. I am sure that the hon. Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger) knows well the areas of Skomer, Skokholm and Ramsey Island, for example, which are wonderful places for birds, as are the many seabird cliffs up and down the coasts of Britain. We can protect those areas, but we must protect the other places that the seabirds go.

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