Clause 117 — Grounds for designation of MCZs

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 9:30 pm on 26th October 2009.

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Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran 9:30 pm, 26th October 2009

I beg to move amendment 3, page 78, line 32, at end insert-

'(d) the marine ecosystem as a whole.'.

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 16, page 79, line 8, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

Amendment 1, page 79, line 9, at end insert 'only where-

(a) a choice exists between two or more potential MCZs of equal ecological value; and

(b) to do so does not hinder the achievement of the objective in section 123 to create a network.'.

Amendment 43, page 79, line 10, at end insert-

'(7A) In considering the setting of the conservation objectives for the MCZ (under subsection 2) the appropriate authority shall have regard to the economic and social consequences of doing so; particularly in respect of traditional or long established marine activities.'.

Amendment 2, in clause 123, page 82, line 18, at end insert-

'(d) that the network includes highly protected sites.'.

Amendment 19, in clause 125, page 85, line 26, at end insert-

'(11A) In carrying out its duties under this section a public authority must have regard to the social and economic consequences of its acts.'.

Amendment 22, in clause 126, page 86, line 42, at end insert-

'(10A) In carrying out its duties under this section a public authority must have regard to the social and economic consequences of its decisions.'.

Amendment 20, in clause 130, page 88, line 39, leave out '(7)' and insert '(8)'.

Amendment 21, page 89, line 6, at end insert-

'(4A) In drawing up any byelaw under this section the MMO must have regard to any social or economic consequences.'.

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Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran

It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I wish to speak to amendment 3, which I tabled. It would amend clause 117, which deals with the grounds for the designation of marine conservation zones. The amendment relates to the Minister's power to order that a zone should be designated as an MCZ. The Bill enables the Minister, where he or she finds it desirable, to create an MCZ for the purposes of protecting and conserving flora and fauna, our marine habitat, and features of geological and geomorphological interest. The amendment would strengthen the Bill by enabling the Minister to create a zone to protect the marine ecosystem as a whole. We are no longer in a position whereby we can regard our sea as an unlimited renewable resource. As most of us know, the intervention of humankind has not only caused significant depletion of our fishing stocks but led to the degradation of all sorts of other forms of marine life. The amendment aims to strengthen the range of circumstances in which an MCZ could be designated.

I have personal experience of this matter in that for 15 years in my constituency there has been a significant campaign for an MCZ in Lamlash bay. Earlier this year, it was announced that there would indeed be an MCZ, but there has since been a great deal of frustration at the lack of progress towards that proposal becoming a reality. The organisation Coast-a community-based campaign in my constituency with more than 1,800 members-has been campaigning for an MCZ, and the work that it has carried out shows the difficulty that there is in obtaining such zones.

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Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments and commend the work of the Coast group on the Isle of Arran. It has done much good work in trying to create a community initiative on marine conservation. I will be happy to meet her and the group's members if that would be of assistance to them in brokering progress as regards their very good work.

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Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran

It would be of great assistance; I appreciate the Minister's comments.

Coast proposes that the whole bay should be considered as a conservation zone. At the moment, there is only a no-take zone in part of the bay. To assist hon. Members, a no-take zone basically means that there can be no fishing, whereas in some marine conservation zones fishing is allowed in particular circumstances. Lamlash bay is the first zone of its type in Scotland. We have already heard about the experience on Lundy, where there has been an MCZ since 1993.

This is not a problem for Britain alone-it is worldwide. Similar debates are taking place in countries throughout the world. South Africa has already taken the decision to designate 20 per cent. of its territorial waters as marine protected areas. I understand that it has already achieved 18 per cent. In Australia 40,000 square miles of the great barrier reef are designated as a marine reserve. Country after country have taken steps in that direction, but we have been slow to go down that path. The Bill is a significant development, and I welcome the fact that we will soon be getting legislation on the matter.

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Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

I have been looking forward all day to speaking on this group of amendments, and I congratulate the hon. Lady on hers. Given the disgraceful guillotining of the Bill, it is unlikely that many of us will be able to speak tonight. Will she at least give us the comfort that she intends to press the amendment to a vote when the time comes?

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Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran

I will listen very carefully to what the Minister has to say at the end of the debate, but I agree that it is a great shame that we have such a short time to debate these issues. It is a complete underestimation of their importance. I will keep my comments relatively brief to enable other Members to come in.

Marine diversity is not about one particular type of fauna, flora or fish. We are facing a situation in which our whole marine ecosystem is under threat. We have to recognise the scale of the problem not just by passing the Bill but in the steps that we take thereafter, to ensure that we get a network of marine conservation zones to protect the whole marine ecosystem.

Often, steps are taken to provide protection for fashionable types of creature, and some of the most important types of ecosystem might be protected, but the reality is that the world we live in and the marine environment are interlinked and interwoven. The consequences of the ecosystem deteriorating are significant for all of us. We debate climate change and other environmental issues regularly, but we often do not give marine life the attention that it deserves. Unless we ensure that we have a significant network of marine reserves, we will all be under threat.

I will listen carefully to what the Minister says. I would like an explanation of why the Government believe the amendment is not necessary, and I want assurances that this Government or any future Minister will be able to do whatever they can under the Bill's current wording. Many of us feel that the amendment would be a significant improvement and extend the range of circumstances in which an MCZ could be created.

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Photo of Richard Benyon Richard Benyon Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I congratulate Ms Clark on tabling the amendment. Right from the start, we have supported an ecosystem approach to the designation of marine conservation zones, and we believe that the amendment would provide further options for designation.

In Committee, I was opposed to attempts to require the designation of a defined percentage of our seas, and I stand by that position as I want the Bill to be effective. It would be easy for any Government to achieve a particular percentage by designating relatively benign or uninteresting parts of the sea. We want an ecologically coherent network of MCZs to be implemented as quickly as possible.

I am inclined to support amendment 3, as it leads on from that original proposal in a more sensible way. It would not serve to upset the balance that has been achieved between socio-economic and environmental considerations, and if it is pressed to a vote, we will support it.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

I shall not detain the House long, but I am concerned to introduce the principle that the existing social and economic interests of fishing communities be a dominant consideration in deciding on and running MCZs. The embryonic science that could underpin a scientific basis for designation does not exist-we do not know enough about the marine environment and the science is not strong enough. Therefore, a science-only approach is not going to work-it needs to be supplemented by a concern for safeguarding the interests of coastal communities, which have a special interest in keeping the fishing industry going and in fishing in such areas.

In other words, the science is uncertain, but fishermen's livings are clear and certain, and they need to be taken into account. Amendments 16, 19 and 21, which I tabled, simply emphasise the importance of the social and economic interests of existing fishing communities and the fishing industry in the zones. To my mind, that must be a dominant and important consideration, but it is not in the Bill.

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Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I rise to support amendment 3, which has been moved by Ms Clark. The first reason is that to talk about the zones without talking at this point about ecosystems misses the point-it does not make the vital point that the system is a central part of a sensible conservation measure.

We have for too long believed that we can take bits out of the natural order of things and protect them, and not think about the total system. I must tell Mr. Mitchell that to say that not knowing enough about something means that we should not do it is a very frightening concept. We would actually never have taken any conservation measures, because the truth is that the less we know about conservation, the more we may be doing very serious damage.

In fact, we have done a huge amount of work, as a result of which the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran has moved her amendment. The Government will have to explain extremely carefully why they do not want what is so obviously a necessary addition. Indeed, not to go for the ecosystem approach is to ignore all the sensible views of environmentalists, because the amendment would remind us of the real nature upon which the species that we are seeking to protect depend.

I hope very much that the Government, at this last moment, agree that the measure is a necessary step. If they do not accept the amendment, many people outside this place will believe that they have gone only halfway to understanding the issues before us. The measure is a natural addition and I hope that they accept it. If they do not, I hope there is a Division in which the House supports what is a crucial part of the defence of our marine habitat.

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Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood

It is a great pity that there is such a limited amount of time to talk about marine conservation. It lies at the heart of the Bill and has been discussed throughout the Bill's passage, which has been an awful long time.

Amendment 1 is about the importance of socio-economic criteria in deciding MCZs. The amendment would make it clear that socio-economic factors should be taken into account only when they are the final factor in deciding between two zones.

My hon. Friend Ms Clark and Mr. Gummer made strong cases for a network of marine sites-a holistic approach-and my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell talked in very blunt terms about science. May I draw the Minister's attention to a letter about the importance of science that her colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Huw Irranca-Davies, who has responsibility for the marine and natural environment, wrote to the Wildlife and Countryside Link on 22 October? He said:

"I would like to reassure you that science will be the first consideration in the selection process. When considering potential MCZs, only when the ecological requirements of the network would be met in such considerations, will the Regional Projects be able to consider whether, and if so how, to factor in socio-economic considerations to their decision making".

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Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I confirm that we stand by every sentence in that letter.

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Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood 9:45 pm, 26th October 2009

I am grateful that the Minister has put that point on the record, because it reinforces the importance of science in the designation of MCZs. I hope that she will ensure that the four regional areas that will make MCZ proposals will look closely at her words, because a discussion of the Irish sea regional project said:

"The project must balance protection with the interests of commercial fishing, shipping, oil and gas extraction, the aggregates industry"- and so on. That does not imply, however, that it should be science and the designation of the marine landscape that is most important. Will the Minister ensure that her words are heard by the regional bodies? In particular, will she make it clear that any draft guidance that goes to those bodies is just that-draft? I understand that the guidance on designation will be released in March next year, but not in draft form. These are important issues of great sophistication, and to issue edicts from on high without further discussion will not be helpful. However, I am grateful that the importance of science has been stressed tonight and placed firmly on the record.

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives

I am disappointed and angry that this central element of the Bill has been allowed so little time. I urge Ministers to use whatever powers they have to allow us an extended debate tomorrow if at all possible.

I congratulate Paddy Tipping, and I support his amendments. I also congratulate Ms Clark. I have tabled five of the nine amendments, but I shall not detain the House too long. I also support amendments 1, 2 and 3. I know that the Minister's response to the suggestion in Committee of a more highly protected area was to say that it would create a two-tier system, but I urge her to reflect on the fact that in land use planning, there are areas of outstanding natural beauty, national parks, listed buildings of various designations, article 4 directions and conservation areas-none of which diminishes the other designations.

Like the hon. Member for Sherwood, I think that the designation of MCZs should be fundamentally based in science. Yes, socio-economic factors may be taken into consideration, but they should be taken into account to a far greater extent in implementation. If the hon. Member for Great Grimsby looks at my amendments on the designation of conservation objectives within the MCZs and the byelaws that might be introduced under them, he will see that it is entirely appropriate that socio-economic factors-especially those of traditional fishing coastal communities whose livelihoods will be affected, whether to their benefit or detriment-should be considered when managing and implementing conservation policies. That balance is missing in the Bill at present. Throughout our debate on the Bill, both Ministers have perpetually argued that there is a balance to be had between socio-economic and conservation matters, but it applies only with a "may" in relation to the designation. Beyond that, socio-economic factors are entirely ignored.

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Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

One minor point is that the science is often not unchallengeable, but the question that often arises, particularly in my coastal area, is who commissions it. There is an inequality of resources available to fishing communities to challenge the science, which is often driven by conservation bodies.

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives

That is a fair point, but on the other hand scientists increasingly depend on fishermen to gather their science. There is an increasing coming together of scientists and fishermen to glean a far better understanding of what is happening in marine conservation. Indeed, that is one of the fundamental raisons d'être for finding sanctuary around the south-west coast. However, unless it is entirely peer reviewed there will inevitably be debate about the science, so I entirely accept what the hon. Gentleman says.

I will bring my remarks to a close now. What is missing from the Bill is a balance that allows socio-economic factors to underpin the implementation of conservation measures beyond designation.

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Photo of Frank Doran Frank Doran Chair, Administration Committee

I will be brief. I want to reinforce the point that a balance is important. The Bill is extremely important for our whole environment, not just the marine environment. At the same time, however, the balance has to take into account the view of stakeholders-a point that I made in the previous debate.

I am in the fortunate or unfortunate position, depending on what side of the argument one is on, of having a number of stakeholders based in my constituency. I have a fishing industry, which is mainly fish processing now, although there are still remnants of a fishing fleet. I also represent part of the European energy capital, Aberdeen, where we have the headquarters not just of the north-east European oil and gas industry, but of a part of the oil industry that now controls operations throughout Africa, Asia and other parts of the world. Developing out of that, we also have the renewables industry. Indeed, we are becoming a centre for all sorts of marine energy, including wave, tidal and offshore wind. All those views need to be taken into account and it is important that the economic and social arguments are properly understood.

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Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I am pleased to be a signatory to amendment 3, although it is a great shame that the issue was not picked up in Committee.

Essentially, the argument is about whether the word "habitat" goes far enough in protecting our marine environment or whether it should be added to with the word "ecosystem". According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "habitat" means

"the natural home or environment of an organism," whereas "ecosystem" is defined as

"a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment."

The word "ecosystem" is used to describe natural living systems. An ecosystem consists of plants, animals and micro-organisms in an area and their functioning together in combination with the physical character of that area. Necessarily, ecosystems are frequently complex. An ecosystem includes not only the physical habitats in an area and all the species that live in them, but the full range of interactions among all the different species in an area. Amendment 3 would add a new paragraph (d) to clause 117(1). Central to the ecosystem concept is the idea that living organisms are continually engaged in a set of relationships with every other element, living and non-living, in the habitat in which they live.

That has huge legal implications. Friends of the Earth has obtained legal opinion that argues that the common fisheries policy can be challenged as a result of that definition. Under EU law, the EU can forbid fishing in an area when the prohibition is for the purposes of both nature conservation and the protection of the marine ecosystem as a whole. Thus, if fishing were damaging the fundamental fabric of the marine ecosystem in an area and a member state wished to protect the marine ecosystem as a whole, that member state could establish a marine reserve covering that area and prohibit all damaging activity.

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Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am listening to what the hon. Gentleman is saying about ecosystems, but does he accept that they are, of necessity, dynamic with cycles of years and sometimes decades, so they are not fixed in time? Duff science often creates the understanding or belief that ecosystems are fixed in time, and are the same over years and decades.

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Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I accept that ecosystems can move around. I am sure that there is scientific debate about that, but it would be nonsense to say that ecosystems must always be in the same place.

Another important point is that this part of the Bill gives Her Majesty's Government a power, but not a duty. It would remain at the Government's discretion whether to implement the law if the amendment were accepted. I see no reason why the Government should not be brave enough to accept the amendment. They would not have to implement the measure, but they would have the power to do so if they were enlightened enough to accept the amendment.

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Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I confirm to my hon. Friend Paddy Tipping that the Minister's letter of 22 October will be put in the House of Commons Library. I also confirm that the guidance on designation of MCZs will be finalised and published in March next year.

We have had an interesting short debate, and it is interesting to note that when we had the debate in Committee, it finished early. In the short time remaining, I want to talk about amendment 3. I ask my hon. Friend Ms Clark to withdraw her amendment for two reasons. First, it is difficult precisely to define what the phrase

"the marine ecosystem as a whole" means. Secondly, it is unnecessary, given the construction of clause 117. I firmly agree with the purpose of the amendment in that we want to ensure that we take an ecosystem-based approach to creating a UK network of marine protected areas. I am pleased to assure her that the Bill provides for the ecosystem to be conserved as a whole.

It is clear from clause 117(5) that we should not interpret the provision narrowly. Sites may be designated to conserve the diversity of flora, fauna and habitat, and those features need not be rare. We may conserve sites that simply represent our marine environment. There is a vital and direct link between that provision, which relates to individual marine conservation zones, and clause 123, which places a duty on Ministers to contribute to the creation of a UK-wide network. The network must meet certain conditions, including the fact that it must contribute to the conservation and improvement of the marine environment in the UK marine area.

How can the provision not relate to the ecosystem as a whole if we are bound to consider the conservation and improvement of the marine environment in the UK marine area? I cannot understand how, when selecting individual sites, we could ensure that the network protected sites that represent the range of features present in the UK marine area without thinking about what features and habitats are present in the UK marine area, and the extent to which they are already protected.

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Photo of Linda Gilroy Linda Gilroy Labour, Plymouth, Sutton

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, as the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in Committee, failure to make a designation decision on the basis of scientific evidence would mean, first, that the designating authority did not take account of reasonable considerations; secondly, that they would have acted unreasonably; and, thirdly, that the decision could then be considered for judicial review?

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Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I am pleased to confirm that that is indeed the case, and I am pleased to put that on the record.

Hon. Members will recall that in Committee the Government gave a commitment to use seven principles for creating an ecologically coherent network of sites, including representivity, replication, viability, adequacy, maximum connectivity, protection, and use of the best available evidence.

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Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

No, I have only one minute left.

My other concern about the amendment is more technical. We have had numerous debates throughout the Bill's passage both here and in the other place about definitions and the precision of language. Unfortunately, the phrase

"the marine ecosystem as a whole" does not define the boundaries. It does not define the boundary of an estuary or a bay, for example, or that of the North sea with the Irish sea, and does it include the North Atlantic? That is why I ask my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran to withdraw her amendment-

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

Mr. Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the amendment be made.

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The House divided: Ayes 158, Noes 246.

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Division number 230 Home Department — Clause 117 — Grounds for designation of MCZs

Aye: 158 MPs

No: 246 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

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Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).

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