New Clause 8 — MCZs: duty to manage and mitigate impacts upon existing activities

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 26th October 2009.

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'The Secretary of State, the Scottish Ministers and the Welsh Ministers must take all reasonable steps to manage and mitigate the impact on fishing and other existing activities resulting from the designation and management of an MCZ.'.- (Mr. Austin Mitchell.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

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

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Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 18, in clause 124, page 83, line 40, at end insert-

'(ea) the extent to which, in the opinion of the authority, the operation of the MCZs have had an impact upon the marine economy in general and the commercial and recreational fishing industry in particular;'.

Amendment 44, page 83, line 43, at end insert-

'(2A) The appropriate authority must also make annual assessments of the cost and impact of the MCZs to the fishing industry and submit these to the Secretary of State, Welsh Ministers or Scottish Ministers who must manage and mitigate such effects.'.

Amendment 24, in clause 141, page 95, line 44, at end insert-

'(g) was done by a person fishing in a responsible manner within an MCZ and the act resulted in damage which that person could not have avoided.'.

Amendment 28, page 96, line 9, at end insert-

'(b) the act occurred on the seaward side of the 0-6 nautical mile fisheries zone in a location where foreign vessels have fishing rights, and'.

Amendment 23, page 96, leave out lines 10 and 11 and insert-

'(b) (i) the person was aware of the protected feature in question;

(ii) there was no intention of causing damage to a protected feature; and

(iii) they took all reasonable steps to avoid causing damage or a contravention.'.

Government amendment 5.

Amendment 42, page 96, line 11, at end insert-

'(4A) The Secretary of State must make regulations by statutory instrument that make provision for the equal treatment of-

(a) UK registered vessels,

(b) other EU registered vessels and

(c) third country vessels, in relation to the contravention of byelaws and offences under sections 129 to 141.'.

Amendment 29, page 96, line 21, at end insert-

' "foreign vessel" means any vessel other than a relevant British vessel, Scottish fishing boat or a Northern Ireland fishing boat.'.

Amendment 17, in clause 229, page 145, line 22, leave out paragraph (a).

Government amendment 13.

Amendment 15, in clause 66, page 45, line 3, at end insert-

'(c) no item applies to any form of fishing activity.'.

Amendment 36, page 45, line 3, at end insert-

'(c) nothing therein shall be taken to apply to any form of commercial sea fishing by any method.'.

Amendment 41, page 45, line 8, at end insert-

'(5) For the purposes of this Part, a licence granted under section 4 of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967 is a marine licence permitting the holder to carry on marine activity to the extent permitted by the licence conditions permitted under that Act.'.

Government amendments 9 and 14.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

I wish to discuss not only new clause 8, but amendments 41, 17, 15 and 24. I wish to do so because of a concern for the interests of commercial fishing, which remain a factor, although not as big a one as before, in the health and prosperity of Grimsby. They are more important to communities up and down the coast-many of them isolated-in which fishing is the main industry. Their needs, views and industry need to be taken into account more effectively than they have been. I wish that some of the passion, enthusiasm, interest and involvement that have just been shown in discussion of the rights of coastal access in the Bill were also demonstrated in concern for fishing, because it is a more important activity to this country economically. The industry employs 13,000 people on the catching side, 26,000 in processing and 40,000 in distribution, it contributes about £6 billion a year to the national economy and, as I said, it is particularly important to remote communities.

The Bill affects fishing in many ways. It is primarily a Bill that has been pushed by non-governmental organisations-the conservation and environmentalist groups-and, in a sense, it is too far weighted towards them and insufficiently weighted towards preserving the interests of fishing as an existing activity. Even I-the MP for Great Grimsby-have been deluged with cards telling me, "These marine conservation zones should be extended to a quarter, a third or even more of the North sea." I have replied by asking these people, who are from Grimsby, whether they had not realised that it is a commercial fishing port with an interest in fishing in these zones. Members have gone around telling schools that the interests of fishing should be precluded altogether and that fishing should be stopped because we are endangering stocks.

The Bill is primarily about conserving the marine environment; it is not a Bill for controlling or regulating fishing. We need to make that absolutely clear, because it cannot do both-indeed, it should not do both, because the fishing industry has a major interest in conservation. It is one of the natural agencies that Governments should look to and be concerned with, because its interests are in conservation, in sustainable fishing and in maintaining a resource on which the livelihoods of fishermen depend and which they want to hand on to their children and to their area. That interest has to be taken into account. This Bill should not be seen instead as yet another restriction on fishing-commercial fishing in particular-which has been harassed and weighed down with regulations, controls, quotas, limits, the days at sea limitation and exclusion from certain areas and certain stocks to the point where it has become desperate.

We cannot use this Bill to impose another series of controls on fishing, because that would alienate the fishing industry. Such an approach would fail to generate the enthusiasm for conservation that exists within the industry and would fail to use fishing as a means of ensuring proper conservation. The fishing industry wants to build up stocks and avoid damage, and, in that sense, it has the same interest in conservation as the Bill. Like New Zealand, whose marine conservation areas are perhaps more natural than ours because they are based on reefs-the more natural way of having conservation areas-this country's approach, in this Bill, should be based on consulting and involving the fishing industry. I want the Minister to take that approach and I know that he wants to achieve that end too.

We are dealing with an area in which scientific knowledge is inadequate; we do not have scientific knowledge about the marine conservation areas, about the sea or about what is underneath the surface. The fishing industry has more knowledge than the scientists, so it should be involved not only when consulting on what is decided in the Bill, but in policing that and in reporting to the Minister and the authorities about what is going on in these areas. Anything that restricts fishing weakens that superintending role and the conservation concern that the industry has; anything that weakens fishing weakens conservation. That is why I wish to include in the Bill some of these safeguards that have been mentioned.

I should mention that the responsible fisheries schemes, which have been energetically, and rightly, promoted by Seafish, now have the support of 44 per cent. of the fishing industry-by weight of vessel. That demonstrates the degree of involvement of the fishing industry in the conservation issue.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West 7:00 pm, 26th October 2009

I am listening, as I suspect many hon. Members are, with some incredulity to the arguments being made by my hon. Friend. Will he clarify for the House his earlier statement that it is impossible to introduce conservation measures that restrict commercial fishing? Does he not see that that statement might be a problem for some of us?

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

I am surprised at my hon. Friend's incredulity, because the interests of commercial fishermen and anglers are much the same.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

No, we are in favour of this Bill.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

I am defending the interests of fishing as an industry and as a leisure activity-I would have thought that my hon. Friend would have supported that. My assertion is that fishing is an agent of conservation, and one cannot have marine conservation areas, which are intended primarily to conserve the marine environment, by also placing added restrictions on fishing. That defeats the purpose of the marine conservation areas.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

Well, if my hon. Friend wants to tell me that fishing is damaging the environment, he is wrong.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

I shall certainly continue the exchange. Does my hon. Friend recognise that probably precisely the same speech was made in about 1988-89, just before the collapse in the cod stocks off Newfoundland? It is precisely because the fishing industry does not recognise the value of conservation, engages in overfishing and opposes steps to allow fish stocks to recover and replenish themselves that fishermen lost their jobs?

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

Fishing might have overextended its ambitions there, but that has nothing to do with this and nor has the conservation of cod stocks anything to do with this Bill. We are talking about the conservation of the marine environment. This is not a measure that deals with the conservation of stocks. Any attempt to impose that on this measure will defeat the measure, because it will alienate the fishing industry, which is an agent of conservation. We have a very changed fishing industry now; it is on a much smaller scale, it is much more based on sustainable fishing and, as I said, it is committed to responsible fishing. My hon. Friend, in trying to produce a gulf between his anglers, whom he has worked so hard to protect, and commercial fishing, is doing the whole issue a disservice, because their interests are very much the same. An interest in conservation is an interest in keeping fishing at a sustainable level in a sustainable way. That is what I am arguing today. He is making an entirely artificial distinction, which makes me take a detour from my main purpose, which is to argue for the interests of fishing. By that, I mean his kind of fishing, and my kind of fishing or Grimsby's kind of fishing-commercial fishing.

I return to these amendments, many of which are similar to those moved by Andrew George, who is the vice chair of the all-party group on fisheries-I am its chair. Our interests are common and we work in the same way, except that he tends to run with the fishing fox and hunt with the conservation hounds. That is understandable, because he is a Liberal Democrat and, thus, naturally confused about his objectives. I do not think that we are sharply opposed, but it is difficult to have it both ways on this issue.

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives

I caution the hon. Gentleman that it would be unwise to attack people who are on his side. In any case, he should recognise that the golden thread that runs through the amendments that I have tabled and that I am supporting is that the fishing industry should be properly represented at every stage. The problem with the Bill as drafted is that the socio-economic considerations may be considered only at the point of designation, and they will not be considered at the time of a report or the introduction of a conservation policy or byelaw. I simply want to ensure that there is consistency throughout the Bill. I am merely looking for consistency, not trying to run with different groups at different times.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman. I should not have made jibes; I am stirred to such anger and passion by my hon. Friend Martin Salter that I am lashing out in all directions. That was very naughty of me and I think we should blame my hon. Friend, not me, for that.

As the hon. Member for St. Ives says, the designation and the management of the regimes associated with marine conservation zones will impose significant costs on fishing activities. They will vary according to the size, nature and designation of the zone, but the regulatory impact assessment estimates that impacts on fisheries will be worth between £157 million and £346 million over 20 years. That can be found in table 8 on page 34 of the impact assessment. That will be a significant cost for fishing and it cannot be right or fair, if those impacts on fishing are to be produced by the Bill, for fishing to be expected to bear those costs without some intervention from the Government.

The Bill as drafted does not place any obligation on Government to manage the losses resulting from such impacts or the loss of fishing rights. For that reason, I want a duty imposed on the Minister to manage and mitigate such effects on fishermen, because I think that it is important to the industry to give it such a guarantee. That is the basis of new clause 8. Amendment 44 is very similar and calls for estimated costs to be assessed. We need to know what the impact on fishing will be and what costs will be imposed on the industry by the fishing zones.

Amendment 24 concerns what is generally called the fishing defence. In other words, when accidental damage is done in the course of fishing-we do not advocate that deliberate damage could or should be done by fishing-there should be a defence on the grounds that the damage could not have been avoided, if a fisherman was acting responsibly and fishing within a zone under the provisions of the byelaws or conservation orders. We need a defence that protects against accidental damage for those who are fishing, which is a traditional activity that has always gone on in these zones and that is to a degree threatened by them. The measure will not protect in cases of intentional or reckless damage; it is merely a safeguard for those who are fishing in accordance with the existing fishing regimes and management plans should they cause accidental damage. Without that protection, fishermen might consider that the risks of fishing in a marine conservation zone are too great. Effectively, it could become a no-fish zone, adding to the huge restrictions that operate in areas around our coast. I would not want that to happen. Fishing needs some kind of guarantee and protection.

Amendment 42, tabled by the hon. Member for St. Ives, echoes a number of amendments that I tabled less successfully. It says that there should be a level playing field between British and European vessels. That is an important principle. My amendments were probably rejected because those in the Table Office and their associated psychologists know that whenever the common fisheries policy is mentioned I froth at the mouth and become incomprehensible. To protect the House and to protect me, they did not select my amendments. They selected those of the hon. Gentleman and I am delighted that they did. We cannot have a situation in which British fishermen are excluded because an area is designated as a marine conservation zone whereas European fishermen-either because they have historical rights or because they are fishing under the basic principle of quotas allocated by Brussels and the basic principle of equal access to a common resource, which has been the ruin of the British fishing industry-and others can continue to fish. Such a regime could not be enforced-fishing would not accept it, and it would be disastrous.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on this amendment. He must have steeled himself up to a degree of anti-European enthusiasm that is uncharacteristic of his party-I should not make jibes, I am sorry; he does not need to respond. I congratulate him, because it concerns an important basic principle. I hope that the Minister can guarantee that any restrictions on fishing will not come into force until they apply uniformly to all fishermen, be they European or of other nationalities or be they British. We cannot have a regime that is enforced unilaterally on British fishermen.

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Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox Conservative, Torridge and West Devon 7:15 pm, 26th October 2009

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the equal application of the law is fundamental to its respect? The situation that he is powerfully and rightly describing is likely to bring the law that the Minister is introducing into disrepute. For example, if Belgian beam trawlers are hoovering up fish on the edge of the 6-mile limit in an area that is a marine conservation zone, that will cause immense concern to fishermen if they are prosecuted for straying over the line.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

That is absolutely correct. We have already seen the anger that was produced on the east coast when French fishermen came in and disrupted the pots of fishermen from Scarborough, Bridlington and Whitby. I do not want a repetition of that, because it could lead to violence and would certainly lead to anger and disrespect for the law. I hope that the Minister can give us some guarantees on that situation. I know that it is a difficult one, because of the principles of the common fisheries policy, but it is still important that the principle of equal access to a common resource should not allow European fishermen to fish in our marine conservation areas when British fishermen cannot. That is a basic principle.

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

Is my hon. Friend aware that President Sarkozy, in July, announced his intention to designate 20 per cent. of France's territorial waters as marine protected areas, with half of them to be fishing free? Does he agree that it would be in the interests of British fishermen and women to have no-take zones in the areas where we have responsibility?

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

Yes, but I am not sure what follows from that. If fishing is to be totally excluded from the French conservation zones, I would not want it to be excluded from our conservation zones. I am not sure that there is a quid pro quo there, but both systems have to be treated the same, and fishermen in our areas must be treated the same as European fishermen. The basic principle is clear.

I come now to the masterpiece of my speech. I am glad that it has been so entertaining, but I am extremely concerned that the White Herring Fisheries Act 1771 should not be deleted, as proposed in the Bill, and I say that not only as an historian and natural defender of old-the Minister would say otiose-laws. He will note that opposition to the repeal of the Act comes from all sides of the House and from all parties that supported my amendment, and is strongly felt by the fishing industry. That is the most important point. We discussed the matter with the Minister, who told us that the law is irrelevant and that its repeal was part of the process of clearing the broom cupboard of unnecessary legislation.

Fishermen see the 1771 Act as a protection of their rights. It is an exciting Act; we should read it some time. It provides a legal right for British fishermen to use all UK ports and harbours, which is an important principle to maintain. It allows fishermen to draw their boats up on the beaches, which is particularly important in areas such as Hastings, where there has been friction about bringing the boats up on to the beaches. The Act provides the legal right for fishing vessels to use wasteland for storage purposes-all exciting stuff. Given that all the fishing organisations have argued against its repeal and want the Act maintained, I do not see that it is necessary to scrub it.

I ask the Minister to reconsider and to keep the white herring fisheries flag flying because of the importance attached to it by the fishing industry. I draw his attention to the fact that all parties in the House oppose the repeal. It is not appropriate that the Act should be repealed, given the rights that it gives to maintain access for fisheries around the coast. Keeping it would not contradict any other provisions of the Bill, so why not keep it?

My last amendment is amendment 15, which is very similar to amendment 41 tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Doran. He is a lawyer and I am not, so his opinion is likely to be more valuable, interesting and important than mine. I speak from a concern for fishing. He brings legal expertise to the matter. We want to exclude fishing from the list of restricted activities in the conservation zones. There is no reason why fishing should be on the list. Fishing is exercising its traditional right. Fishermen have always fished these areas.

The Bill is not about conserving fish stocks. It is about conserving the marine environment, which is not damaged-I repeat, for the benefit of Reading listeners-by fishing. It is conserved by fishing. It is therefore legitimate to exclude fishing from the restrictions imposed. That is what amendment 15 and, more eloquently, amendment 41 would do. If fishing needs a licence, as it does, it should be excluded from the restrictions imposed in marine conservation zones.

That is the list of amendments that I wished to speak to. The common thread, which will emerge in the next group as well, is a concern to clarify and sustain the interests of fishing, which has a real concern about conservation and should be mobilised for the Bill, not restricted and damaged by it. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister, who has consulted closely both with the industry and with the all-party fisheries group, has the interests of fishing at heart, but I would like him to give us assurances before we decide whether to withdraw or pursue the amendments. I do not want to be disruptive in any way. That is not my disposition.

We need to clarify and assert the interests of fishing. I hope the Minister can give us some guarantees against the anxieties that I have spoken about, and guarantees about the position of fishing. I trust my hon. Friend, who has done a brilliant job in consulting and carrying the industry with him. I hope he can give us some kind of assurances before we decide on the fate of the amendments.

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

The amendments tabled by Mr. Mitchell are very interesting and, in some cases, very similar to those that I submitted about 30 seconds after he did. We will come to those later.

On new clause 8, the impact on the fishing industry is a fundamental consideration. Groups of fishermen that I have met over recent months have all been acutely aware that without the conservation measures that they are already implementing, such as real-time closures, targets on discards-in some cases, those targets have been extremely successful, although there is an enormous amount of work to do-and technical measures, the future of the industry would be far more bleak.

Marine conservation zones are a fundamental part of my desire for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the hon. Gentleman's constituents who are fishing today to have a job tomorrow, and to be able to do the important work that fishermen do in addressing issues such as food security, obesity, and healthy eating. It is vital that we address the concerns about the marine environment and ensure a long-term future for a variety of socio-economic activities, of which fishing is the primary one in our minds.

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Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox Conservative, Torridge and West Devon

Does my hon. Friend agree that the demonisation of the fishing industry by some of those to whom I have been listening this evening is unhelpful and unfair? In my constituency, the fishing industry has co-operated in maintaining the pioneering no-take zone around the island of Lundy, with which Labour Members may be familiar, for many years. The no-take zone has resulted in much greater amounts of fish for the inshore fishing fleet, so co-operation exists between the fishing industry and the marine conservation community. Is that not the model that we should follow, rather than the demonisation and polarisation promoted by some of the old-fashioned Members on the Labour Benches?

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

I take my hon. and learned Friend's point. Let me be conciliatory. We should use the Lundy case as a basis. The "finding sanctuary" approach in the south-west is important. If we create no-take zones, or zones where the seabed is protected while fishing activity is allowed to continue higher up in the sea, and angling opportunities, which enhance tourism, we create a virtuous circle. It is a matter of getting the balance right.

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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 has just said. If we get it wrong, we end up with a self-perpetuating marine bureaucracy which rides roughshod over the wishes of fishermen and local communities, as I see constantly in the Outer Hebrides. The fear of what Scottish Natural Heritage is going to do, clamping down on the rights that people have traditionally held, cannot be allowed to grow any greater than it is.

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

I entirely understand what the hon. Gentleman has pointed out-just as we can get this issue right, we can get this issue wrong. When I last checked, however, his party was actually in government in Scotland, so it needs to rein in the SNH, if the SNH is really driving his people out of business.

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

I shall give way to the Minister in a minute.

Mr. MacNeil has made the fundamental point that we have to get the balance right. If we do not do so, and if we do not involve fishermen at the very earliest stage of MCZ designation, we will fail, if only because such measures will fail the test of credibility.

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

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, the Minister wants to intervene, but I shall then give way to him.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

I alert the hon. Gentleman to the fact that, during the Bill's development, there has been very good co-ordination throughout the UK. There are great benefits to that approach: we are signed up to UK high-level objectives; the marine policy statement will bind us together; and the engagement with my Scottish Executive colleague, Richard Lochhead, who has introduced the Scottish Marine Bill, which will tally with the Bill before us, has been very good. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby that we have to engage on the Bill at all levels with the fisheries industry, but the whole of the UK is signed up to the Bill.

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

Rightly so. I look forward to meeting Richard Lochhead in a couple of weeks. It is vital that we balance the Scottish Bill with the Bill before us. It would be absurd if we did not, not least for border areas, where we will be trying to create synergies through the ecologically coherent network of MCZs that we are trying to establish. I now give way to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, who has been very patient.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

The hon. Gentleman has been very patient, although he has provoked many interjections. I rise to disagree with his initial point, which was that the marine conservation zones are a means of preserving fish stocks. They are not; they are a means of preserving the marine environment. Preserving fish stocks is not compatible with that objective, because fish stocks are migratory and that issue has not been dealt with. The industry's efforts, including square mesh panels, no-take zones and seasonal closures of grounds, are a means of providing sustainable fishing and nothing to do with MCZs, so we should not get the two mixed up. One is about the marine environment; the other is about the conservation of fish stocks.

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

One benefit of the Lundy island case is that shellfish, for example, have increased in size and are more productive in areas just outside the no-take zone. There has been a benefit in terms of stock. In terms of marine conservation zones, we should identify the spawning beds of at-risk stocks. That is an entirely legitimate activity. This is an interesting debate, but perhaps we should return to the specifics of the new clauses and amendments.

Socio-economic factors are already a part of the designation process for MCZs, and we absolutely must not tip the balance too far in one direction or another; we should keep it structured between the demands of a socio-economic and legitimate activity, such as fishing, leisure boating and all the other important activities that support our coastal communities, and the needs of conservation. Equally, however, those needs must be credible to all sides, and we sought at every point to develop that balance in Committee.

Sometimes the balance will not be struck, so we need to work on the basis of best practice, and that is already under way. I recently met the chief executive of Natural England, and I sought reassurances from her about the process of designation. If Natural England is as good as its word, fishing communities will be at the centre of the process. My party and I see fishermen as part of the solution, not part of the problem. No one will hear me demonise fishermen-particularly not the coastal fleet, which, as one of the most sustainably minded groups of fishermen anywhere in Europe, is moving fast towards accreditation under the Marine Stewardship Council.

Andrew George has tabled an amendment that he will no doubt discuss. I am inclined to support its general thrust, because I understand the spirit of it. Clause 124 is really important, because it allows the Government, through a transparent process, to look at each MCZ and ask what it is designated to achieve; what feature it seeks to protect, which may address some of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby; and, what should be done if it is failing to achieve that objective. One could argue that the clause is missing a requirement to state accurately how the success or otherwise of the management of a marine conservation zone is measured, however.

Clause 124(2) notes that the report that will be submitted annually must contain

"the conservation objectives which have been stated for the MCZ...the extent to which...the conservation objectives stated for each MCZ which it has designated have been achieved" and

"any further steps which, in the opinion of the authority, are required to be taken."

I was impressed by the North sea regional advisory council proposal that very simple tests be applied to marine conservation zones. Broadly speaking, that means most of the Bill, but a little more, including: what we are seeking to protect; how our ability to protect a feature or species is measured; and, whether there is an exit route. I do not necessarily mean that we should dissolve an MCZ, although that option may have to be considered, but we may have to move one.

We know that a lot is happening in the North sea, including changes to sea temperatures, cod moving further north, the availability of cocopods at particular times of year and acidification, and we have to be fast on our feet to ensure that any conservation measures work. They have to be embedded in what fishermen already do, such as in real-time closures and other conservation benefits.

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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)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned what is being conserved, but the fishing communities in my constituency ask not only, "What is being protected?" but, "Who is it being protected from?" and, quite often, "What authority is doing the protecting?" The protecting authority's agenda can skew it quite markedly against the perceived group from which it seeks to do the protecting. Sadly, that often means a skewed view of fishermen and of fishing activities. Rather than take that approach, we should all look to support and protect fishing rights, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby is trying to do.

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

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. In a recent European Committee sitting, I was amazed to read "success" and "common fisheries policy" in the same sentence. It was an act of audacity which left me breathless. I would not have started from this point, but what we try to achieve must be linked at every stage with CFP reform. I know that the Minister sees that, and, from my conversations with Commissioner Borg, I certainly think that he gets it, because in my last meeting with him he referred to the CFP as a "disaster". I shall no doubt be accused of breathtaking naivety to believe that CFP reform is possible, but I really believe that it is, because, with the growth of the European Union, the CFP cannot continue in its current form.

I shall return to the case in point, because this aspect of the Bill is about nature conservation, fishermen and conservationists. Both groups understand that fishing activities have to change in certain areas if we are to achieve a sustainable future for our fisheries. We agree that the impact on the marine environment and on the recreational fishing industry should be considered when implementing MCZs, but enshrining that point in the Bill might water down the environmental thrust of MCZs and, ultimately, threaten the industry, too.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby made some interesting points on amendment 24, but I repeat my argument that altering the Bill in that way would allow the irresponsible few to damage the future of our fisheries. However, the vast majority of our fishermen would not do that. MCZs are being introduced for a reason, and some of them will be no-take zones. Such zones will need to be flexible and subject to change if improvement occurs, and they absolutely must be upheld where they are needed.

I look forward to hearing from Mr. Morley about his amendment, which comes at the issue from another direction. It is very much from the left side-not politically, but more in the football context. I believe that the measure would disadvantage our fishermen by making the sea fisheries defence apply only to UK vessels. A balance is needed here. Irresponsible fishermen need to be held to account, and responsible fishermen, who want a sustainable future for our seas as much as the conservationists, should not be unduly punished. The last thing that I want us to do is impose measures that protect the seas only from our fishermen and allow others to fish in our waters.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

I find myself in the unusual position of coming from the left field, as my hon. Friend describes it, because I cannot see how what he has just said-that we must have some MCZs that are effectively no-take zones-is consistent with having an absolute sea fisheries defence. Surely, those ideas are not consistent. Can he lead the debate on how these issues could be dealt with through the development of the common fisheries policy in the reforms of the next few years?

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

Looking at you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I see that I shall have to use my words carefully to keep them relevant. The reform of the CFP, which has to run parallel to our attempts in this Bill, is vital. The European Commission's green paper talks about having much more localised control and about pushing power down, away from the micro-management that has failed at every stage, toward a much more devolved power. In that way, local people such as fishermen could take responsibility for the management of their industry and say, "These are the measures we are going to bring in; we are going to get Marine Stewardship Council accreditation; these are the technical measures we are going to adopt; this is our target for discards; this is the market we are going to produce; and these are the relevant organisations-the scientific bodies and the university-we are dealing with." That would allow fishermen to take back control of their industry. There is a direction of travel in the EU's green paper. I am sure that in thinking that the CFP can be reformed, I will be open to all sorts of accusations, such as that I am showing breathtaking naivety, but let us give it a crack. We have to achieve our aims by 2012, and the direction of travel is very much in our favour.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

I want to help the hon. Gentleman, because he is fishing for flounders at the moment. It is interesting to hear such a staunch defence of the CFP from the Opposition Front Bench, given that we have rightly heard nothing good about it before now. If he does not earn the trust of fishermen, because they have inflicted on them the consequences of accidental damage in MCZs, and if he will not allow for the fishing defence that my amendment proposes, he will not have a working co-operation with them by which to enforce the rules that he wants to enforce.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me this opportunity to say that I have not at any stage supported or praised the CFP. Indeed, I have nothing but contempt for it, because it has failed to conserve fish or enhance the fishing industry. I want a very different policy to emerge from this process. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should read the Bill. If I may say so, for someone who is so experienced in these matters, he betrays an ignorance about what the Bill is intended to achieve.

As I have said, I am not in the game of demonising fishermen, and I believe that they have an important role to play in marine conservation. However, I am concerned about the irresponsible, dishonest few who do not understand the damage that unsustainable fishing practices are doing to our planet. It is the activities of those individuals that the Bill must address, not those of law-abiding people or of people who, through no fault of their own-perhaps because of the weather-find themselves fishing in an MCZ. There should be measures in the Bill to protect them, and I urge the Minister to read the relevant clause. I would prefer to see this matter addressed as part of the CFP reforms in 2012. That seemed to be the direction of travel that the Minister was taking in Committee, and I seek his reassurance that that is still the case.

On Government amendment 5, I note that we raised concerns in Committee about the sea fishing defence. The amendment gives reassurance that the Minister will address the loophole. We are glad that the loophole is being addressed, so we support the amendment.

We agree with the sentiment of amendment 42, but we also have concerns. Foreign vessels should be subject to the same rules as UK vessels. We are bound by the CFP in this area. This is an important issue, and there are legal issues to consider. We need to push this matter in relation to CFP reform. If the conservation measures in the Bill are to be truly effective, we must ensure that they are respected by all vessels operating in this area, whether foreign or UK.

I support the sentiment behind the hon. Member for Great Grimsby's amendment 17, which is very similar to one that we had tried to introduce, regarding the fascinating White Herring Fisheries Act 1771. In the interests of rationalising legislation, the Bill will repeal that law along with a number of others. He has rightly referred to Hastings. I was in Hastings all day on Thursday to hear about the level of crisis in the community, and about how people are clinging on by their fingernails. Hastings has the largest beach-launched fishery in Europe, and those people want to know that the Bill provides for them. The 1771 Act provides British fishermen with the legal right to use all UK ports and harbours, allows fishermen to draw their boats up on the beaches and provides fishing vessels with the legal right to use wasteland for storage purposes. For the sake of rationalising legislation, it is not appropriate to repeal the 1771 Act, given the rights that it affords to maintain access to fisheries around the coast. Furthermore, maintaining that legislation is not contrary to any other measure in the Bill. No other part of the Bill extends the statutory rights that would be lost, so the proposed repeal should be withdrawn.

The hon. Gentleman's amendment 15 and our amendment 36 try to achieve the same thing, so although we might disagree on some things, we agree on others. At this late stage in the Bill's passage, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has suggested that clause 66(1) would apply to fishing activity. This issue is an important concern for fishing communities. The right to fish in the UK is a public right, and its exercise should not require, constitutionally, a licence. If it does not require a licence, it cannot subsequently be exempted under subsection (3). To avoid any doubt, the non-application of this measure to a fishing activity must appear in primary legislation. If anyone is worried that I am asking for a completely de-regulated fishing industry, that is not what I am saying. In any event, the ability to deploy fishing gear is strictly controllable through other legislation. To apply this measure to it as well would mean that fishing boats having to comply with two licensing regimes, which would complicate, rather than streamline, licensing for fishing.

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Photo of Frank Doran Frank Doran Chair, Administration Committee 7:45 pm, 26th October 2009

Now that I am rising to speak, I think that we are to hear a full set of office-bearers from the all-party fisheries group, as Matthew Taylor will probably speak later.

For those of us who represent fishing communities, it is important that we protect and argue for our industry, and we must make it clear-I am sure that my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell takes the same view-that we welcome the Bill. It is important to get it right, but we must also take account of all the stakeholders, the key stakeholders being those in the fishing industry. I was interested to hear the comments of my hon. Friend Martin Salter, who tends to put a lot of vitality into all the campaigns that he fights. I appreciate that. However, Reading is a long way from having a fishing industry and a real understanding of how it operates.

I was interested, too, to hear the measured approach taken by Mr. Benyon, which is a welcome relief from what we are used to hearing from Conservative Front Benchers in any debate involving the fishing industry: basically, a call for UDI-a unilateral declaration of independence from Europe. I think that we all share the same view on the CFP, which has not been good for the industry anywhere in Europe, and far less here in the UK. However, their previous position was not sensible, and I am pleased that they are moving towards a much more appropriate one.

I wish to speak principally in support of amendment 41, which I tabled, and amendment 17, which I signed, but also in support, more or less, of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby. I do not foam at the mouth when the CFP is mentioned, as I hope to make clear.

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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 would like to speak in support of Mr. Mitchell and against the CFP. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the CFP a couple of times. He refers to its shortcomings, yet I understand that he is supportive of it. What does he want to do to limit its effects on fishermen? Would he support an extension of national control up to 199 miles, thereby rendering the CFP effectively useless? What is his approach to tackling the problems and injustices of the CFP, or does he just complain about it and leave it exactly as it is?

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Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will resist the temptation to lead us into a full-scale debate on the CFP, which would take us very much off-centre as regards this group of amendments.

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Photo of Frank Doran Frank Doran Chair, Administration Committee

I appreciate your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I would just point out that Mr. MacNeil has only just arrived in the debate and that I did not say anything suggesting that I supported the CFP, which has failed the British industry. The Government, now with the support of the Opposition, are well on the way to dealing with the issues. Negotiations in Europe are the way forward.

In speaking in support of amendment 41, I want generally to try to ensure that the interests of the fishing industry are properly taken account of. My amendment links the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967 with the Bill to underline the fact that the industry already has its own licensing system. There is a huge amount of bureaucracy. I get the Scottish Fishermen's Federation diary every year, and the first few hundred pages are taken up with the rules-all the legislation-that the fishing industry has to comply with. It is a very complex area, and one that I would have been reluctant to tackle in my own days as a legal practitioner. The industry has its own licensing system, it is heavily policed and controlled, and it is subject not only to UK legislation but to EU directives under the CFP.

Clause 66 looks as though it will impose another layer of licensing on top of that which already exists. I do not know whether it is possible to find some compatibility with the 1967 Act, or how the problem could be mitigated beyond excluding the fishing industry in the way that I and others have suggested. For centuries, fishing has been seen as an essential public right. Now that the industry is so heavily policed and controlled under our own UK licensing regime and European law, there is a heavy weight of regulation, and in these difficult times it does not need any more. The industry is important to the economy, particularly to rural communities around the country where fishing and fish processing are vital to the stability of the community. It needs more certainty, not less, and that is what it is looking for.

I hope that the Minister, and those of my colleagues who are on the other side of this argument, will understand that, certainly in Scotland, where my main experience lies, there has been a huge shift in the attitude of the fishing industry towards more sustainable methods of fishing and an industry-wide recognition that protecting the environment is crucial to the maintenance of fish stocks. There is strong support from the industry for the Bill and for the equivalent legislation that will be produced in the Scottish Parliament. The industry wants to be part of the process that protects the marine environment, which will be strengthened by the Bill. I hope that the Minister can spell out exactly how industry interests will be met in the operation of marine conservation zones.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby mentioned my legal background in referring to clause 229, which is a standard repeal clause. As a lawyer, I will be pedantic and dig into it a little. At first sight, the repeal of any Act from the 18th century would appear to be a necessary tidying up. However, the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, having taken legal advice, has come to the strong view that the White Herring Fisheries Act 1771 should be retained. In its view, it gives fundamental rights to fishermen: the right to fish and various others. I got myself a copy of the statute, or the bits of it that are still in force, and-this is where I get pedantic-compared it with an Act of the old Scottish Parliament: the Fisheries Act 1705. The old Scottish Acts were fascinating in the way they linked in with the ordinary workers and common people. In the 15th and 16th centuries, those that related to the masses started off with the wonderful expression: "For the safety and favour of the puir folks that labours the ground". The 1705 Act does not use those words, but it is interesting to read the first sentence:

"Our Sovereign Lady and the Estates of Parliament taking to consideration the great and many advantages that may arise to this Nation by encouraging the Salmond White and Herring fishings they being not only a natural and certain fund to advance the trade and increase the wealth thereof but also a true and ready way to breed seamen and set many poor and idle to work".

That sounds like a piece of legislation from the 1980s. [ Laughter. ] Interestingly, the same justification, using different language, appears in the 1771 UK statute, but it is limited to the white herring fisheries. I checked, as far as I could, to see whether the 1705 Act was still in force, and I was told by the Library-the information also appears on the UK statute law database-that it is.

I am not sure whether that complicates matters or makes things easier. However, as there is to be Scottish legislation, it may be appropriate for the Scottish Parliament, if it so chooses, to repeal the 1705 Act. The old Scottish Acts have rules that do not apply in the UK. For example, an Act that is obsolete can be put through a process called desuetude, which effectively repeals it. That needs the authority of the courts, but it can be done. I suspect that the Scottish Fishermen's Federation is making the same appeal to the Scottish Parliament that it is making to me and to others, but it is unlikely that the Scottish Parliament will want to repeal the 1705 Act. That may lead to a situation whereby fishermen north of the border have a statutory right to fish, to land their boats on the shore and all the other rights that the Act gives to fishermen, whereas fishermen in the rest of the UK will not have that right because the 1771 Act has been repealed. That may be a bit more of a grievance for the fishermen in Hastings, for example, than to those north of the border.

I hope that the Secretary of State will try to clarify the situation. Those two Acts are still in force, and because his legislation does not attempt to repeal the 1705 Act we will be left with a different set of rules on either side of the border.

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Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman does not have to move them. It is only if he wishes to press them at the end of the debate or at the appropriate time that he will be called upon to move them.

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your advice. I did not want to miss the opportunity and later find out that I should have moved them at this point. It was a belt and braces approach.

As I said in an intervention on Mr. Mitchell, I am keen to ensure that there is a common thread-a golden thread-of balance between social, economic and environmental factors in the Bill. The Minister keeps coming back to that balance. That theme should run through the Bill from start to finish.

Some of the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks and some of his exchanges with other Labour Members presupposed that fishing and marine conservation must necessarily be in conflict, but I do not think that needs to be the case. I do not know whether he is perhaps seeking conflict where there need not be any. Part of the problem in the past has been that the fishing industry has been seen as something of a macho trade and marine conservation as rather effeminate and quite different. However, it is interesting and significant that over the past 10 to 15 years, the fishing industry and the environmental movement, for want of a better expression, have come together. Scientists and fishermen have worked together to understand each other a great deal more, help each other and find a way forward that is good for both marine conservation and sustainable fishing.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that last point. The fishing industry and conservation groups have come much closer together, which is why the fishing industry feels a bit let down by the obsession with controlling fishing in marine conservation zones.

In response to some of my hon. Friends, I am not saying that fishing is not about marine conservation. Of course it is-it is the industry with the most interest in conservation. However, the patchwork quilts of marine conservation zones are not an appropriate way of controlling fishing effort or catches.

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives

That is an important point, but there is a shared interest in ensuring that there are controls on activities in certain marine areas. On some occasions there may be a shared interest in protecting both the marine environment and the future sustainability of the fishing industry. I often give the classic case in point of the Trevose ground, off the north coast of Cornwall and Devon, which is closed each year in the spawning season between January and April. That initiative was driven by the fishing industry, which effectively said, "Please save us from ourselves. If we do not collectively agree that we must not plunder the stocks, we won't have many stocks in years to come." Increasingly, fishermen are engaging much more constructively with marine conservationists and scientists to find means by which medium and long-term sustainability goals can be pursued.

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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)

The hon. Gentleman mentions MCZs. Can he envisage a time when fish are protected from creatures such as seals, and when some limitation by whatever method might be put on seal numbers in some areas?

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives

There will increasingly be an opportunity, particularly under the IFCAs, to recognise that there is a balance between the range of predators and the stocks in any area. That balance may well involve some difficult questions, and perhaps unpalatable answers, about creatures that are in too great abundance and are predating upon vulnerable stocks.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his bravery in attempting to tackle the matter. Will he inform the House of his preferred method of culling seals?

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives

I was encouraged down a route that was not part of my speech, which I shall return to.

Before I turn to the amendments that I have tabled, I wish to speak to amendment 17, which I have signed. I remind the Minister that, in Committee, I urged him to review the decision to annul the White Herring Fisheries Act 1771. As a result, we entered into correspondence. He wrote to me on 8 July, I responded on 31 July and he wrote again on 4 September, giving further explanations of the background to annulling the Act.

Mr. Doran, as a lawyer who has obviously studied the Act in great detail, articulated his arguments far better than I possibly could. All I say to the Minister is that, quite apart from the clear technical arguments that the hon. Gentleman advanced very well, erasing the Act does not pass the "what harm" test-what harm is there in leaving it in place? Nor does it pass the "what hurry" test-what is the hurry to get this done now? The correspondence that I have had with those in the fishing industry who are keen to keep the 1771 Act extant suggests that they believe that elements of that rather ancient-sounding Act are relevant today. The Minister denies that, but I say to him that in any case it is doing no harm and there is no hurry to remove it.

I turn now to the amendments in my name. The purpose of amendment 18, to clause 124, is to establish the balance that the Minister has said he wants to achieve. Subsection 2(e) and (f) state that the regular report that the MMO will produce must refer to

"the extent to which, in the opinion of the authority, the conservation objectives stated for each MCZ which it has designated have been achieved" and

"any further steps which, in the opinion of the authority, are required to be taken in relation to any MCZ in order to achieve the conservation objectives stated for it."

To balance the conservation objectives with socio-economic considerations, which are after all to be acknowledged at the point of designation, it seems appropriate for some attempt to be made to assess in the report the impact of policies in MCZs on the socio-economic vitality of the coastal communities affected. The amendment would dovetail with the rest of what is proposed for the report by adding that it must mention

"the extent to which, in the opinion of the authority, the operation of the MCZs have had an impact upon the marine economy in general and the commercial and recreational fishing industry in particular".

I think that that would be a reasonable amendment. It would simply establish a balance that the Minister told the Public Bill Committee that he wishes to achieve, and that I believe we all wish to achieve. There is an opportunity for the Minister to accept the amendment.

The purpose of amendment 23 is slightly different. A number of conservation bodies are concerned about the fisheries defence. I think that they have a justification for their concerns because, as the provision is drafted, the defence could be used by some in the fishing industry who are less reputable-the vast majority do not do this-and who might not go about their trade in an MCZ or around a feature that we are seeking to protect with the care that we would hope for.

The Minister and the Secretary of State, through Government amendment 5, are proposing that at some point-I think the Minister suggested quite soon after the Bill becomes an Act-the fisheries defence will simply be removed. I propose a tightening of the Bill. Clause 141 states:

"It is a defence for a person who is charged with an offence under section 140 to show that...the effect of the act on the protected feature in question could not reasonably have been avoided."

Under the Bill, it is incumbent on the enforcement body to disprove the defence. I am proposing that a fisherman would need to demonstrate a three-pronged, higher hurdle of proof to be able to use the fisheries defence as effectively as the Minister is seeking to achieve.

The purpose of amendment 42, which the hon. Member for Great Grimsby clearly supports is, as it says, to achieve "equal treatment". The last thing we want to do as a result of the Bill-the Minister has perpetually reassured those of us who have raised the issue-is tie the hands of UK fishermen and allow fishermen from other nations, including EU nations, to be able simply to plunder the fish stocks in areas to which UK fishermen have effectively been told they cannot go and fish. If that is not achieved as a result of the Bill, it would undermine its authority and the support for it.

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Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Chair, Justice Committee

May I put it this way to my hon. Friend? It would be irresponsible to designate an MCZ if it was known that it would be open to access to trawlers from other countries, when access to the UK fishing industry is denied. That result cannot ever be seen to be the intention of Parliament.

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Such a situation would not only undermine the authority of the UK agencies responsible for enforcing the Act, but it would not actually save any fish or the marine environment. All we would be doing is stopping UK vessels doing something that all other vessels would be able to do in any case. We would have achieved nothing at all. It would simply undermine the authority of the Act itself. I hope that the Minister reflects on that. If he does not accept amendment 42, I hope he will table a Government amendment that will achieve the same object.

Mr. Benyon, who is no longer in the Chamber, said that there were legal reasons why such an amendment could not be introduced, but I do not think that we are proposing to apply laws to EU vessels that are not lawful under European law. We are simply trying to achieve a situation in which we do not constrain UK vessels in a way that we cannot constrain their competitors around the UK coast.

I hope that the Minister will reflect on those amendments. Their purpose is to achieve a balance and to recognise that the assumption that there is ongoing conflict between fishermen and conservation bodies is simply not the case. Increasingly, over time, they are working together. I think we should be trying to achieve that through the Bill.

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Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Labour, Scunthorpe 8:15 pm, 26th October 2009

I very much welcome the progress that has been made on issues such as the fisherman's defence since I spoke on Second Reading. I congratulate the Minister and Committee on the work that they have done. He has clearly listened to representations and there was clearly an effective debate, demonstrating all that is effective in the Committee system.

My proposals would deal with some of those problems and strengthen the Bill. I particularly wanted to speak about inshore limits and to seek clarification from the Minister, who has moved a considerable way on the matter. I accept many of the points made by Andrew George, in that there should be no contradiction between the fishing industry and effective marine conservation, which have shared interests.

There are good examples of what the fishing industry has done in recent years to improve marine conservation. Certification schemes such as the marine stewardship scheme have grown, and a lot of the big retailers, including the Co-op and Marks & Spencer, take the issue of sustainable fisheries very seriously. Wholesalers such as Young's seafood group, which is based in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell, have a good record on the issue. That has spread through to the fishing industry, which I think has recognised that it is in its interests to work with conservation groups and conservation policy. The Isle of Lundy, which has been mentioned, is a good example of that. Fishermen have benefited from, for example, larger shellfish and increased catches. There is no contradiction in the principle.

I was concerned, as were groups such as Wildlife and Countryside Link, that the fisherman's defence was far too widely drawn. My hon. Friend knows as well as I do that one attractive thing about people in the fishing industry is that they are open and honest when they talk about things in detail-they will be quite open about some of the extremely damaging, and in many cases illegal practices, within the industry. They generally point to the other fishing point down the road and say that the fishermen there and not they are involved in such practices.

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Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Labour, Scunthorpe

Or up the road. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the fact that if we are not careful, we will leave loopholes that will be exploited.

As has been said, this is an exciting Bill and I have been very keen on it for a long time. I know how difficult and complicated it has been to introduce-it has been a lot more complicated than many people understand. It is a great tribute to the Government and the Department that they have managed to make progress with the Bill and that it is heading towards the statute book with such widespread support. I very much welcome that.

The issue is how we can ensure that there are no loopholes that can be exploited. We also need to ensure that British fishermen are not discriminated against. It is not acceptable to have measures in place that apply only to the UK fleet and not to other EU or non-EU fishing boats. As the Minister knows, we have absolute control within the inshore limit of 6 maritime miles. One could argue that the defence in clause 141(4) does not need to apply up to the 6-mile limit because there can be no discrimination within that area. The Minister will say that that point can be addressed through the new IFCAs, and indeed it can. We have an opportunity to establish some really good examples of sustainable fisheries management within the 6-mile limit, and the inshore fleet has led the way by, for example, using creels to catch prawns-which is much less damaging than trawling-and hand-lining, which is much more selective than many other forms of fishing. We have seen some tremendous examples of good conservation by the sea fisheries committees on shellfish, which were agreed by the inshore fleet. We have a real opportunity and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take the opportunity to emphasise that this is something that the IFCAs could do.

Within the 6 to 12-mile limit, some non-UK vessels have historical rights in those waters. I am very concerned about the exploitation of loopholes, but I do not want to see our vessels in those areas being discriminated against by having to comply with measures that do not apply to non-UK vessels. For example, there are long-running tensions in the sole fisheries and conservation areas, and this Bill may provide opportunities to address those problems. Can the Minister explain how the Bill will work within the 6 to 12-mile limit, where we do not have exclusive competence? The Commission itself recognises that we need these measures, and we have heard from other hon. Members that other countries are introducing their own measures on marine conservation zones, and that is right.

As has been said several times, we need to achieve the right balance between protecting the marine ecosystem and recognising the existence of the fishing industry and the jobs and economic activity that accompany it. The Minister is moving towards finding the right balance, but if it is not right, people will exploit the situation through legal challenges or by making excuses for damaging activities. We must also be fair and even-handed so that our fishing industry is not unduly discriminated against. I think that we are going in the right direction and I seek further assurance this evening.

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Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

I listened to Mr. Mitchell with great interest. I did not agree with everything that he said, but I did agree that our fishing industry has been extraordinarily badly served by this House and the common fisheries policy. Of course, the interests of commercial fishermen and of recreational fishermen should be convergent, but that is not always the case.

There is also a flaw in marine conservation zones, because they may create great strife and angst if UK fishermen have to sit on the sidelines watching EU vessels merrily trawling through them. That would be an absolute disaster and make a mockery of what we are trying to achieve here-

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Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

I am sure that the Minister will provide us with great comfort on that point in the future.

Marine conservation zones are critical if we are to preserve and conserve fish stocks. Everyone here is a conservationist-we want to see healthy fish stocks and a flourishing commercial fishing industry. I want to see a flourishing recreational fishing sector as well-I declare my interest at this point-because it is an important contributor to the economy. I know that Martin Salter will address that issue later.

We must ensure that commercial fishermen understand that this is not yet another attack on them. However, a marine conservation zone that allows commercial fishing is not a conservation zone-it is just another fishing zone. So I am not entirely clear about the argument on that point. However, let me also reflect on the point made by my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Cox, who said that commercial fishermen have been responsible for very successful innovations to protect and safeguard fish stocks. He mentioned the case of Lundy, and that is an example of best practice. Mr. Morley mentioned innovative new methods of shrimping and catching scallops. Several commercial fishermen are trying different net meshes to ensure that non-target species can escape and do not end up as by-product, which too often is thrown back into the sea for seagulls-a crying shame.

I am worried about the fishing defence. I would have thought that all damage caused by commercial fishermen would be accidental. I cannot see commercial fishermen setting out to cause deliberate damage, but we know that there are certain trawling methods that cause significant damage to the sea bed. There are also forms of fishing that take a high number of non-target species. Yes, that is accidental damage, but it is damage, and that is what we are worried about. We need to find a sensible way forward that allows nursery areas to flourish and lets us restock our inshore waters with bass and other important fish. We also need to ensure that in the medium to long term our commercial sea fishermen see the benefit of the Bill.

I repeat that we have served them badly over the past 30 to 40 years. The CFP affects all fishermen in Europe, but our fishermen used to enjoy the richest fishing grounds and our industry used to employ many hundreds of thousands of people, not tens of thousands of people. Over the past 40 years, we have left far too many fishing families high and dry. I do not want to be a rabid anti-European, because it is not in my nature to be rabid about anything, but I hope that a future Government-whether Labour or an incoming Conservative Government -get to grips with the CFP so that it works in favour of our fishermen more than it does now.

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Labour, Sheffield, Hillsborough

You will not hear me demonising fishermen this evening, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for although I come from generations of steel and coal families on my mother's side, on my father's side I come from fishing families from the port of Great Grimsby. I therefore understand, perhaps more than most, how important fishing has been to the livelihoods of families down the generations, whether we are talking about fishing in the Arctic circle, which my father did in the late 1950s, or working in the fish processing factories that my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell mentioned. Ross, Young's Seafood, Findus, Birds Eye-you name it, it has been in Grimsby.

For some time, the existence of towns such as Great Grimsby has depended on the fishing industry. The town of Great Grimsby was the world's premier fishing port and, it has to be said, it was bigger than Hull's fishing port.

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Labour, Sheffield, Hillsborough

Indeed, but now it is the ex-premier. Grimsby benefited in the 1950s and 1960s because of a no-take zone, which was established because of the second world war. Between 1939 and 1945, fishing operations were suspended in the North sea and the Arctic circle. The fishermen of Grimsby were employed in minesweeping and dangerous war operations that involved sailing small boats under German radar into Norway, and so on. They did that work only because the Royal Navy could not do it, being unable to take the sea conditions that it involved. That gives hon. Members an indication of how dangerous fishing is, especially in the conditions out in the Arctic, and why it is probably the most dangerous occupation in the world. Nobody knows better than I do about the realities of fishing and what it involves.

However, in the '50s and '60s the healthy stock in the North sea was exploited to the nth degree. Indeed, the fishermen were also heavily exploited, thanks to the greed of those companies that were trying to make the most of the stocks available. I therefore disagree with Mr. Walker that this House is entirely or perhaps even largely to blame for what happened to the fishing industry. To some extent we have to blame the conglomerates and the owners of the fishing industry, who took the fish out of the sea and drove those men to the extremes of their occupation in order to get as much fish as possible on the quayside in Grimsby and Hull in the '50s and '60s. We all know the consequences of those actions. In some cases those actions were piracy. Indeed, one of the skippers in Grimsby was arrested for piracy over in Iceland in the 1960s-he came to a sticky end, although not at the hands of the Icelanders. That shows the level of exploitation of the industry, and we live with the consequences even now.

More than anything else, the story of what happened to trawling in places such as Grimsby indicates why we have to take forward some of the measures in the Bill. We have to strike the right balance between marine conservation and sustainable fishing. That is the core of what we are trying to do. I agree entirely with what Andrew George said about an increasing understanding between the industry and the conservationists. In fact, their interests are completely compatible. They can work together to ensure that there is a future fishing industry and, equally, that the marine environment is not exploited as it has been in the past.

None of the amendments before us addresses the key issue, which is the incorporation into the Bill of the defence against damage to the marine environment. I understand entirely why that defence cannot be taken out, because of the 6 to 12-nautical mile limit, which involves the rights of European vessels to fish in our waters, and the rights of our fishermen within the nought to 6-nautical mile limit. I understand the Minister's argument that taking action on that limit runs the risk of damaging our domestic fishing industry while giving European vessels the right to run riot in our marine environment. I therefore understand the Minister's position on one level.

The way forward is reform of the common fisheries policy in the 2012 negotiations, as Mr. Benyon outlined from the Front Bench, to deal with the 6 to 12-mile limit. However, on the nought to 6-mile limit, I would appreciate some remarks from the Minister about the possibility of issuing guidance from the legislation on using existing byelaws to protect our precious marine environment not just from reckless damage but, where necessary and on a case-by-case basis, from accidental damage.

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Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Shadow Minister (Scotland) 8:30 pm, 26th October 2009

I represent a constituency where fishing is still an important part of the local economy. Fishermen support the Bill. They fully recognise the importance of conservation, and they support the Bill because it sets out a path for sustainable protection of the marine environment and a coherent management structure. However, fishing organisations have one or two concerns.

I start by referring to an 18th century Act to which reference has been made tonight-the White Herring Fisheries Act 1771. Fishermen and fishing organisations feel strongly about preserving the Act because it sets out basic rights that have existed for more than 200 years. I support amendment 17, tabled by Mr. Mitchell, and to which I am a signatory.

The Government's case is that the Act is obsolete. If it were, it would make sense to repeal it, but the problem is that it may come to light that it is not obsolete. It provides basic rights to fishermen, and they feel strongly about it. It gives fishermen throughout Great Britain rights that do not seem to be replicated in other statutes. It gives them the legal right to fish the British seas, subject to complying with subsequent regulations, such as the common fisheries policy and British licensing regulations. It also gives them the right to use all British ports and harbours, subject to payment of harbour dues. Without the Act, private interests could exclude our fishermen from their harbours.

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Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the Act is obsolete, keeping it on the statute book does no harm? If it is not obsolete, it is useful to have it. Why do the Government always tidy things up in this nannying way, which is most trying? Would it not be possible on this occasion for them to learn that a bit of untidiness does a lot of good?

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Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Shadow Minister (Scotland)

I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I was coming to that. If the Act is obsolete, there is no point in repealing it. If it is not obsolete, it should be kept on the statute book.

As well as rights to fish and to use ports and harbours, the Act gives fishermen the right to draw their vessels up on beaches, and to use uncultivated land in a 100-yard strip above the high water mark for fishing purposes, subject to any other legislation in force. The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation are adamant that only the 1771 Act gives fishermen those rights throughout Great Britain. As Mr. Doran said, the Scottish Fisheries Act 1705, gives rights in Scottish waters, but the 1771 Act is the only one that gives rights throughout Great Britain.

Legal advice to fishermen's organisations is that when the 1771 Act was passed, "white herring" referred to all sea fishing and not just fishing for white herring. By inference, it has continued to apply to all forms of sea fishing that have existed at any time thereafter. The courts have always interpreted the Act as applying to all forms of fishing, not just white herring fishing. When it was passed, it was intended to apply to all forms of fishing, which is how it has always been interpreted. As hon. Members have said, keeping the 1771 Act can do no harm, but repealing it could cause great damage to the fishing industry because of the law of unintended consequences.

I hope that the Minister will assure the House that the rights given to fishermen by the 1771 Act will be preserved by other enactments. If he cannot quote other enactments that give fishermen those rights, I hope that he will accept amendment 17, and keep the 1771 Act on the statute book. If it is repealed, we may find later that unintended consequences result in fishermen losing rights to fish the seas, to use harbours, or to lay up their boats on beaches.

I want to refer to another theme of the Bill that other hon. Members have also mentioned: equality of treatment for our fishermen and other EU fishermen. There would be absolutely no point in declaring a marine conservation zone between the 6 and the 12-mile limit, only to find that our own fishermen were excluded from it, while fishermen from all other EU countries were able to fish there. It is a flaw in the Bill, which the Minister must address.

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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)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if that situation were to arise, the MCZ should be declared null and void almost immediately?

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Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Shadow Minister (Scotland)

The hon. Gentleman is quite right: there would be no point in declaring an MCZ between the 6 and 12-mile limit if European fishermen were able to fish there and ours were not.

To summarise, I support the Bill. It is a good Bill that sets out how to make progress towards the future for the sustainable development and protection of the marine environment. There are, I believe, one or two flaws, and I have referred to two of them this evening. I hope that the Minister will reflect further on those flaws, keep the 1771 Act and look again at the 6 and 12-mile limit to ensure that our fishermen would not be discriminated against if MCZs were declared in those areas.

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Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I propose to confine my remarks to new clause 8 and to amendments 44, 23 and 5. The tone of the debate on the new clause was set by the opening speech of my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell. One thing we learned from my hon. Friend, and from other contributors, was about the White Herring Fisheries Act 1771, but he also introduced two socking great red herrings. My hon. Friend appears to be under the impression that marine conservation zones will, perforce, ban fishing in them, because he claims that is integral to an MCZ. I would be most obliged if he would intervene and tell me where exactly the Bill says that, as I cannot find it anywhere in it.

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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)

A marine conservation zone implies a degree of protection, so the question arises, "From whom is it to be protected?"

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Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

It does, and I shall come on to that, but I shall give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

I did not say that there were proposals to ban fishing in the marine conservation zones, but what I will say right now is that if that is the proposal, it is unacceptable to the fishing industry; it is a monstrous proposal. We cannot have a patchwork quilt, which is what the MCZs will be. They will not be universal, but they will be no-go zones in which fishermen cannot fish. That is an impossible way of ensuring conservation.

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Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

There we go, that is another red herring, as it is not in the Bill. If we look at the Bill, we find that clause 117(6)(b) refers to

"enabling or facilitating ...recovery or increase" of stocks. Clause 129(3)(b) talks about "prohibiting or restricting entry", so there could be a prohibition, but the word "restricting" also appears in the Bill, which is of course different from "prohibiting". Clause 123(3)(a) refers to measures contributing to "the conservation or improvement" of stocks.

The red herring is in amendment 44 and new clause 8, which my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby tabled, because he sees things as one or the other, as do elements in the fishing industry. Yes, I will demonise the fishing industry, although not individual fisher folk, because the industry has an appalling record. Sadly, that record has been maintained for many years, although, gradually, it is getting a bit better. Historically, it has an appalling record of fishing stocks out: we see that all over the world-we see it in the North sea; we see it in the collapse of the Canadian cod fishery off the Grand banks of Newfoundland; we see it in the collapse of the Pacific fishery off the west coast of Canada. By the way, that did not happen under a common fisheries policy, as that fishery is not covered by the North American Free Trade Agreement under national legislation.

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Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

Let me make my point and then I will give way. Inherent in amendment 44 and new clause 8 is the concept that conservation and preservation of marine stocks-marine fauna and marine animals are mentioned in the Bill-is counterpoised to the interests of the fishing industry. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby and others, "Be careful in what you wish for because you might get it". If marine conservation zones improved fish stocks and thus improved the circumstances for the fishing industry, passing new clause 8 and amendment 44 tonight would mean that the Government would have to take statutory measures to mitigate the consequences of that improvement. That is inherent in the wording of new clause 8 and amendment 44, which shows that those who framed them and support them see conservation and preservation of marine fauna and the interests of the commercial fishing industry as counterpoised, but they are not. I firmly believe that, handled sensitively, marine conservation zones could help increase fish stocks and, therefore, in the medium and longer term, help the commercial fishing industry.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

My point was simply that conservation measures are best handled on a universal basis within our fishing area. My hon. Friend is obviously scarred by the experience of Canada, which he has quoted previously in the House. As he comes from Canada, I can understand that. However, the Canadian depredation of cod stocks was caused not by the absence of conservation zones, but by universal over-catching by Canadian and other vessels. The fishing industry's record has been good on occasions-Iceland is a classic instance of conservation of stocks. We should contrast the fishing industry as it was with the industry now. An increasing proportion-44 per cent.-of the British industry conforms to the responsible fishing agenda set out by Seafish. The fishing industry now believes in conservation, and fights for it.

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Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

On that basis, my hon. Friend no doubt realises that there is no contradiction between marine conservation zones and the commercial fishing industry, and will withdraw his new clause 8 and not press amendment 44.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby 8:45 pm, 26th October 2009

One cannot do conservation in itsy-bitsy pieces in minute marine conservation zones-or small marine conservation zones; I am not sure how big they will be-that are not linked up as a network.

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Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

That depends on how big those marine conservation zones are and how deep the pre-existing depredations, which the marine conservation zones are designed to help to restore, are in relation to the sea bed. If the opportunities for commercial fishing were lessened or, in some cases, subject to temporary exclusion, that would help. I accept that we cannot do anything with marine conservation zones of 1 square metre, but the Government are not making such a proposal, as the Minister will no doubt elucidate. If, given that there is no such contradiction, the scales have fallen from my hon. Friend's eyes about the Aunt Sally that he has set up, he will no doubt withdraw new clause 8 and not press amendment 44.

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Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

When the system is localised, Mr. Mitchell says that a generalised system would be better. However, when we wanted to have generalised systems, nobody was more antagonistic to them than he was. He might not agree, but he steadfastly supported the dock labour scheme in Grimsby, which did more to damage the industry than almost anything else.

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Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

That is one of the few illuminating pieces of evidence in this part of the debate. Right hon. and hon. Members will not be surprised to learn that Wolverhampton is one of the furthest places from the sea in the United Kingdom, and as far as I am aware-I am aware of my family history back to 1050 on my father's side-I have no fisher folk in my family. Surprisingly, however, SBS/Fletcher, which manufactures boats, is in my constituency.

One piece of evidence that stood out, as several hon. Members have mentioned, came from Mr. Cox, who was briefly in the Chamber and spoke about the experience of the fishery closure in Lundy. Another piece of connected evidence was provided by Andrew George, who spoke about the success of the closure of a spawning area between January and March or April each year. Those relatively small-scale-relative to the geography and the coast of the United Kingdom-schemes have worked to the benefit of not only conservation but the commercial fishing industry in those areas. Those are two pieces of evidence for my assertion that the Aunt Sally contradiction simply does not exist.

I want to consider the other red herring suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby. When talking about criminal sanctions and so on, he referred to accidents. Perhaps he will intervene to tell me where the Bill refers to accidental damage. What I do see is a reference to recklessness, in clause 140(2). The word "recklessly" appears in paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d). Subsection (2) contains only those four paragraphs, and they all contain the word "recklessly". As a lawyer, I must tell my hon. Friend that the term "accidental" means something rather different from what is meant by the term "reckless". Perhaps he sees no difference between the two, but I assure him that there is one.

I do not think that the Government should get rid of clause 141(4)(b), as amendment 23 suggests. Government amendment 5 and amendment 42 also seek to alter the subsection. Paragraph (b) states that it is a defence for a person who is charged with an offence to show that

"the effect of the act on the protected feature in question could not reasonably have been avoided."

That takes us to the reckless rather than the accidental end of the scale. Government amendment 5 states:

"The Secretary of State may by order amend this section so as to remove, or restrict the application of, the defence provided by subsection (4).'

That is relevant to the passage that I quoted a moment ago. Amendment 5 would give the Secretary of State regulatory powers to remove the defence in subsection (4)(b).

I believe it was the hon. Member for St. Ives who seemed to have gained the impression from the Government that, if granted by the House tonight and enacted by Parliament, those powers would be used quite quickly, and I am concerned about that for constitutional reasons. I freely admit that my lack of knowledge is to blame, but I hope that, when he winds up the debate, the Minister will tell us where else in statute a provision exists enabling a Secretary of State, by regulation, to remove a defence.

We all know that regulations create offences from time to time, but removing a defence and doing it so quickly-if that is the Government's intention-strikes me as very surprising. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the Government have any such ideas, if not a fixed intent. If they have such ideas, perhaps he will explain why the removal of the defence in subsection (4) is not itself a Government amendment, rather than the Secretary of State's being given an order to take such action on a whim and on the basis of regulations that will have much less scrutiny.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

I congratulate Mr. Mitchell on lightening our proceedings. I think that most of us wondered whether we would achieve such levels of excitement.

Let me begin by identifying an absurdity that has featured in a number of statements made today. Members have said that it is not possible to create a patchwork quilt of marine conservation zones-that they will not work. Every Member has been lauding the achievements of Lundy as a no-take zone. That is the first patch in the patchwork quilt that we need to establish around these shores, if there are to be any fish left for the people of Great Grimsby and elsewhere to fish for.

I oppose new clause 8, and I oppose amendment 24, which seeks to enhance the sea fisheries defence. I support Government amendment 5, which seeks to minimise that defence in the context of the reform of the common fisheries policy, as outlined by Mr. Benyon. By way of a change, I support Government amendments 13 and 14, which seek important reforms to the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975.

It is a pleasure to follow a number of speeches, particularly those of my hon. Friend Rob Marris and Mr. Walker. However, I must take issue with what the hon. Member for Broxbourne said about accidental damage. There is nothing accidental about beam trawling. Beam trawling is an environmental disaster. If we were to translate it to the agricultural field-pardon the pun-it would mean a farmer ploughing the same field seven times in a single growing season. Beam trawling does long-term environmental damage and cannot exist alongside conservation and sustainable fisheries. They are completely opposed, and such damage is not done accidentally.

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Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that I was expressing concern that accidental damage might be a universal get-out clause for the fishing industry.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

I welcome that clarification.

There need not be a conflict between fishing-whether commercial or recreational-and conservation, provided that the fishermen decide to come down in favour of conservation. Turning to my own sport, I have lost count of the number of arguments I have had with salmon anglers who opposed the bringing in of the rule of returning spring salmon before 16 June. It has finally got into the psyche of Britain's game anglers that we cannot continually remove spawning fish from the food chain and expect a run of salmon in subsequent years. Fishermen can be conservationists, but the choice is theirs, and fishermen or their public representatives who choose to oppose the single most important piece of environmental legislation affecting the coastline and seas of this nation have clearly not opted to come down on the side of conservation.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

No, I will not.

I have huge affection and respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby. He is a doughty champion for his constituency and for the commercial fishing interest, but I say to him that he will do them no favours in the long term if he encourages people to set their faces against the very conservation measures that are designed to protect the existence of the fish that his constituents wish to catch.

I get tired of listening to the argument that people have had a traditional right to pursue their quarry in this way. The same argument was made about the white rhino in Africa until it was hunted to extinction, and the Spanish and the Portuguese are making the same argument about the bluefin tuna fishery. Bluefin tuna have got probably months, and certainly no more than two or three years, left to exist as a species that can be sustainably harvested. Sadly, a couple of years ago in Luxembourg the European Fisheries Council recommended quotas that were twice as generous as those that should have been introduced in order to secure sustainability.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

No, because there is very little time.

The commercial sector broke those quotas by a factor of 100 per cent. Unless we change the terms of this debate, and unless we in this House come down forthrightly on the side of conservation, there is no hope for the commercial fishing industry or recreational fishing.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his moving tribute to me, but, as far as I know, we are talking about white herring, not white rhino. It is not true that the fishing industry is opposed to conservation measures; it supports them, but it wants its position to be made clear within them. As my hon. Friend is such a passionate supporter of marine conservation zones, will he tell us whether he wants them to become no-fishing zones?

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

I certainly support the power in the Bill to have, on the basis of good scientific evidence, MCZs that are no-take zones where appropriate. They could be established for a host of reasons, but particularly in nursery areas for recovery species. We have already witnessed commercial fishermen in the south-west praising the fact that their catch has risen as a result of the Lundy no-take zone. I offer a potential golden future to my hon. Friend's constituents through having no-take zones.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

No.

The Marine Conservation Society wrote the following to the Minister back on 3 July:

"The true value in marine reserves lies not in their ability to protect the most fragile species as is often put forwards. Instead marine reserves, where no extraction or disturbance takes place, allow the sea to fully recover for species diversity and productivity."

There is a common interest between conservationists and the commercial sector to ensure a more productive sea.

I turn briefly to the Government amendments that seek to amend and improve the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975. The Environment Agency has just concluded a consultation on the removal of freshwater fish that the Bill allows for. The consultation overwhelmingly came down in favour of a catch-and-release regime for our freshwater fisheries. Henceforth, the archaic, anachronistic system of regional byelaws is to be replaced with a national catch-and-release regime for coarse fish, which is long overdue. Yes, there will be some exceptions for fishery management, predator fishing or conservation purposes, but in their response to the Environment Agency consultation as part of this Bill, freshwater anglers overwhelmingly came down on the side of conservation, and it is to their credit that they did so.

I take issue with the argument that somehow, only Members with coastal constituencies have the right to argue about the condition of our sea. Actually, some of the finest contributions came from my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West and the hon. Members for Broxbourne and for Newbury-constituencies that are a considerable distance from the sea. The sea is a common heritage that we all share.

Given that time is of the essence and that we have other groups of amendments to move on to, I would like the last word in my contribution to go to a trawlerman. Mr. Dave Murphy was a trawler captain for Interfish until two years ago, when he became the outreach officer for the Finding Sanctuary project. He says:

"Protecting habitats has got to do fish stocks good in the end. I've had the opportunity to make my life fishing. I'd like my two boys to have the same chance."

That is what the Bill is about: ensuring that the fish stocks that we value, and that we want to see protected and enhanced and flourish, are there for future generations.

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Photo of Linda Gilroy Linda Gilroy Labour, Plymouth, Sutton 9:00 pm, 26th October 2009

I am pleased that my hon. Friend has heard from Mr. David Murphy, who is doing excellent work in developing "Fishermap" for Finding Sanctuary. However, will he urge the Minister, as I should like to do, to issue the ecological guidance necessary for that project to do its work?

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

As my hon. Friend bears the scars of the Bill Committee and we shared many hours on this subject together, I certainly commend her remarks to the Minister.

This is an excellent Bill that is good for fisheries and good for conservation. It needs us to be big people and take on vested interests, and to be prepared to make the arguments for the next generation.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

Once again, this has been an excellent debate. To refer to the last point first, I confirm that we are very close to issuing guidance for the criteria underpinning the evidence base and science upon which the partnerships-importantly, they involve fishermen as well-will bring forward proposals for the marine conservation zones. All those interests are working together, and the most notable example is of course the Finding Sanctuary project in the south-west, which is very well advanced. It is a triumph in bringing together a wide range of diverse interests, all of whom, including fishermen, own the solution to these challenges as well as the problem.

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Photo of Linda Gilroy Linda Gilroy Labour, Plymouth, Sutton

Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is a perception that these guidelines might not be issued until as late as next March, and will he please offer an assurance that it will be a great deal earlier than that?

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

Yes, indeed I can. I cannot give my hon. Friend a date, but I can tell her that we have actively been working on the guidelines for some time to finesse them and make sure that they are the right criteria. I intend to bring them forward a lot sooner than that, but I cannot give her a date today.

I am very tempted, bearing in mind some of the remarks that have been made, to discuss reform of the common fisheries policy and how the UK is leading the agenda, long-term sustainability and maximum sustainable yields, regionalisation and ownership of fisheries management at a regional level, and bringing marine and fisheries together, which much of this debate is about. However, I will not try your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will go straight to the amendments.

First, let me deal with new clause 8 and amendment 44. I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell for tabling those provisions, the first of which would require Ministers to

"take all reasonable steps to manage and mitigate the impact on fishing and other existing activities resulting from the designation and management of an MCZ."

Amendment 44 is broadly similar in its aim, but is linked to the reporting duty in clause 124. There has been much debate during the passage of the Bill on whether Ministers should have a power or a duty to take account of social and economic implications when deciding whether to designate a MCZ. These provisions are slightly different, because they would place a legal duty on Ministers to manage and mitigate the social and economic impacts that follow designation. The impacts of designation will be wide-ranging: they are likely to vary in scale; many different sectors and stakeholders might be affected; and there may be both direct and indirect impacts. These provisions would require Ministers first to identify and then to implement whatever steps are reasonable to manage and mitigate all the impacts.

I am not saying that Ministers, and the other public authorities with a role in MCZs, should not have regard to the social and economic impacts of the decisions that they take-in fact, we have had a lot of debate on that-or that they should not keep those impacts under review and seek to manage and mitigate those impacts whenever they reasonably can. I expect that to happen, but I do not want to place a specific legal duty on Ministers for a number reasons.

First, such a duty would be an extremely difficult and onerous obligation to meet, because of the range and variety of impacts to which I have just referred, and because measures to mitigate the impact on one type of activity, for example, fishing, might have a greater adverse impact on other types of activity, for example, diving, recreational activities and so on. In fact, a broad duty to mitigate the impacts on a number of activities, which are not necessarily always compatible, would be impossible to fulfil.

Secondly, a range of public bodies will be involved in managing MCZs. Ministers will take the final decisions on designation, but MCZs will be managed by a number of public authorities, including the Marine Management Organisation, the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities and other public bodies that carry out functions in the marine environment.

Thirdly, I am concerned that under these proposals anyone who disagreed with the Minister's decision would challenge it through judicial review. For example, Ministers could face a legal challenge on their interpretation-I could be challenged on my interpretation-of what would be reasonable steps to take, as well as on their assessment of the scale of impacts, and on whether the measures undertaken were sufficient.

MCZ measures are not, in any event, set in stone. In appropriate cases, designation orders could be varied and byelaws amended. The Bill has been drafted so as to ensure that all those carrying out activities in the marine area-including fishermen-have a chance to be heard and to help form our policy, be it the marine policy statement, marine plans, MCZ designations or byelaws. I also have technical concerns about the drafting of the provision, which does not tie in with the terminology in the Bill. I hope that, in view of the considerable burden that the proposal would impose and the risks involved, my hon. Friend will withdraw the new clause.

Let me move on to amendment 18, which stands in the name of Andrew George and seeks to require Ministers carrying out their reporting functions to include information in the reports on the extent to which, in their opinion, MCZs have

"an impact upon the marine economy in general and...commercial and recreational fishing...in particular."

The purpose of the reporting duty in clause 124 is to require Ministers to report to the relevant legislature with information on progress being made. The amendment would considerably extend the scope of the reporting duty to include an assessment of the economic consequences of the actions that have been taken. Social and economic implications may be taken into account in deciding whether to designate an MCZ and also in the subsequent management of the site. We will take decisions on which areas to designate on the very best scientific evidence available to us, and we are keen to involve-I hope that I have made this clear-all relevant interests in identifying and selecting those sites.

We also want stakeholders to help us gather the evidence on which to base these assessments, which will identify management scenarios, and the associated costs and benefits of the proposed sites. The impact assessments will inform the Secretary of State's final decision on whether to designate sites.

The designation of a network of MCZs is likely to have an impact across a wide range of economic sectors and individuals, and that impact could be both direct and indirect and vary in size. I am concerned that placing a legal duty on Ministers to report on the impact that MCZs have on the marine economy in general, and on commercial and recreational fishing interests in particular, could be difficult and costly to comply with in any meaningful way. Although the high-level or generic assessment of such impacts might not present great difficulties, that could be of very little value when we are considering local and regionalised issues.

That is not to say that the economic impact of designations will be ignored once the sites have been designated. MCZs have been designed to provide protection that is proportionate and able to change over time and that takes into account the wider needs of society. That means that the costs and benefits of any management measures that are introduced following designation should be reviewed by the appropriate authorities so that, if necessary, they can be adjusted and fine-tuned in the light of new information or changes in conditions.

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Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

On the grounds for designation of marine conservation zones, clause 117(7) refers to the "economic or social consequences" of so designating. Will the Minister confirm that those economic or social consequences could be positive and that they are not always negative?

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

Yes, indeed. That is where the debate has to take us, both now and in future months and years. Although we absolutely recognise the impact that the proposal might have on parts of fisheries, if that is managed appropriately we could also have positive benefits-with activity going either into other types of fisheries or into recreational or scientific opportunities and so on.

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives

Even so, the Minister has perpetually repeated that the Bill represents a balance between conservation and socio-economic factors. The only stage at which socio-economic factors will-or rather may-be considered under the Bill as drafted is at the point of designation. In my view, that should be based on sound science in any case. Is he saying that the balance will not then run through the operation of the MCZs? Will the MMO not be informed of, or even make any kind of assessment of, the impact that these MCZs will have on the coastal economies?

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

Quite the contrary. Let me make it clear that the reporting requirement in the Bill is there so that Parliament can take a view on how well the duty that it has placed on Ministers to create the network is being fulfilled. There is nothing to stop Ministers including relevant information on the social or economic impact in the reports that they submit under clause 124. Indeed, I can see merits in doing so if relevant information is available. However, I do not think that it would be appropriate to include a legal obligation in the Bill.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

Does the Minister accept that although there might be short-term pain, it could be for long-term gain? That long term might not be too far away. Evidence from St. Lucia in South Africa, where marine protected zones were introduced in 1995, showed that in just three years the biomass of that reserve tripled, making a strong economic argument for those who would have opposed it in the first place.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

My hon. Friend rightly makes the point that there can be positives as well as negatives in these measures if we manage the marine environment correctly. In fact, we want to reach a point where the positives significantly outweigh the negatives, but that requires an approach such as that which we see in this Bill-a properly planned and managed approach to the marine environment.

Let me turn to amendment 42 and new clause 10, tabled by the hon. Member for St. Ives and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby. They were tabled with the objective of making it a legal requirement that UK and foreign fishing vessels must receive equal treatment under offence clauses in MCZs. The sea fishing defence is a blunt instrument that the common fisheries policy-itself in urgent need of reform-requires us to put in place. The amendments become relevant in the light of my own amendment in this group to create a power for the Secretary of State to restrict or remove the sea fishing defence by order. As I said in Committee and have made clear again today, it is my firm intention that that power should be used in an equitable way. We will not use it to discriminate against part of the UK fishing fleet, as to do so would be to shoot ourselves in the foot.

Neither of the amendments is therefore necessary to ensure fair treatment of UK fishermen. The Government are happy to commit that any exercise of the new power would be made in close consultation with Scottish and Welsh Ministers, the industry, the MMO, inshore fisheries and conservation authorities and many others. All these people and organisations have an interest in supporting a vibrant fishing fleet, and not disadvantaging our fishermen.

The amendments also have a technical deficiency as they could have a consequential impact on our ability to manage local fisheries matters where, to pick up the point raised by my hon. Friends earlier, we can bring in byelaws, after local consultation, to manage local fisheries impacts. The amendments could bring into doubt our ability to bring in MMO byelaws in the 6 to 12 nautical mile zone restricting sea fisheries activities which apply only to UK vessels, because in practice foreign boats do not and will not conduct the same sort of activity. The amendments would remove that flexibility.

We have the ability actively to manage our inshore area through IFCAs and MMO byelaws in the Bill, and the House has made it clear that it wants to see effective enforcement take place. I would not want to undermine our ability to act where necessary at a local level.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

We have other amendments to deal with, so I shall make progress.

Amendment 23, which was tabled by the hon. Member for St. Ives seeks to raise the hurdle for fishermen to make use of the defence available in clause 141(4), which we have come to know as the sea fishing defence. We must of course treat our fishermen fairly, and in that I completely agree with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's arguments. The Bill is already fair to fishermen in the balance that it strikes. In clause 141(4) it recognises that fishing is a legitimate activity, and a vital part of our economy, not to mention being a provider of employment in places where jobs can be hard to come by.

The fact that I have been regularly called upon, on the one hand, to strengthen the sea fisheries defence-for example, in the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby-and, on the other, have been under great pressure from different quarters to weaken or remove the defence altogether, reinforces my view that we have found the right balance in the current drafting.

Let me reassure the House that where fishermen are fishing in accordance with the relevant rules and take reasonable steps to avoid damaging the site, they will be able to rely on the defence set out in clause 141(4), but when they break these rules, the legislation will not offer them an easy get-out. The common fisheries policy means that we cannot reduce the defence, and it is not necessary to increase it. Indeed, to provide a stronger defence would start to undermine the point of part 5, which is about improving protection for the marine environment.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

I have so much to get through.

In any event, the amendment does not work. It undermines the offence provision in the Bill, confuses the level of knowledge that a fisherman would need for a prosecution to be brought, and would almost certainly constitute a breach of our common fisheries policy obligations. For all those reasons and more that I do not have time to explain, I urge the hon. Member for St. Ives to think carefully and withdraw the amendment.

Amendments 28 and 29 were tabled by my right hon. Friend Mr. Morley, my predecessor and a great supporter of the Bill. Together, the amendments would significantly narrow the geographical area within which a defendant could claim the sea fisheries defence in clause 141(4). That would mean that the defence would not be available out to 6 nautical miles. It would also mean that the defence would not be available in those waters between 6 and 12 nautical miles where there are no historic fishing rights for vessels from other member states. However, the defence would continue to be available in most of our waters between 6 and 12 nautical miles, and in all waters beyond 12 nautical miles.

The reason for including the sea fisheries defence in the Bill was to avoid breaching European law. The amendments are consistent with that purpose, and I am satisfied would not lead to a breach of European law. However, my concern is that they would complicate matters for fishermen and enforcement authorities without delivering any significant conservation benefits. They would also have an impact primarily on UK fishermen. However, throughout the passage of the Bill we have been clear that as a matter of principle we do not want to discriminate against the UK fleet. Doing so would still leave marine conservation zones vulnerable to the activities of foreign vessels.

If my right hon. Friend's amendments were accepted, it would mean that the sea fisheries defence was available to fishermen in some areas, but not in others. The defence would always be available in relation to offshore waters beyond 12 nautical miles, but never available to inshore fishermen operating within 6 nautical miles of baselines around the coast. Between 6 and 12 nautical miles, the situation would be very confusing. Within those waters, fishermen would need to possess a detailed knowledge of the historic fishing rights enjoyed by all foreign vessels. For all those reasons, I do not think that the amendment is absolutely necessary, and when I come to the Government's amendments I shall explain why.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby tabled amendment 24 to make it clear that, where a fisherman is pursuing his or her trade in a reasonable way, they should not be guilty of an offence under byelaws made under clause 139 or under the general offence set out in clause 140. I assure my hon. Friend that the Bill already provides the effect that he wishes to see. Clause 141 provides that where a fisherman causes damage while fishing within the law and the damage could not reasonably have been avoided, he is entitled to the defence in that part of the clause. In fact, it is arguably a slightly broader defence. The Bill speaks of damage that could not reasonably have been avoided, whereas my hon. Friend's amendment would provide a defence only if the damage could not have been avoided at all-whatever the cost in time, money, or perhaps even safety. There are other reasons why I have issues with the amendment, but I hope that I can assure my hon. Friend that the Bill already contains the protections that he seeks.

I turn now to sea fisheries defence and Government amendments 5 and 9. In the light of the very persuasive points that were made today and in Committee, I shall move amendments 5 and 9, which future-proof the Bill in anticipation of the reform of the CFP. The amendment to clause 141 would give a power to the Secretary of State to restrict or remove the sea fisheries defence in subsection (4). It is necessary to include that defence in the Bill at the current time in order to comply with European law, but I have considered the concerns that were raised in Committee. We are currently-right now-pursuing the greater integration of fisheries and environmental policies for the forthcoming round of common fisheries policy reform negotiations. As I said at the outset, the UK is leading the way.

The future status of the defence is dependent on the outcome of discussions that are currently under way, but its purpose is to enable us to provide the protection that marine conservation zones need, in compliance with the common fisheries policy, so the associated amendment to clause 311 would ensure that the power was exercised by means of a statutory instrument, subject to an affirmative resolution. That is important, because removing the defence will mean amending primary legislation and, in effect, widening the scope of what is considered to be criminal activity.

The amendment would give the order-making power to the Secretary of State, who has responsibility on behalf of the UK for negotiations on fisheries matters with partners in Europe. However, I know that the devolved Administrations have a keen interest in how and when the power would be used. Consequentially, it would be exercised only following early and close consultation with Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Ministers. Appropriate arrangements would be agreed with the devolved Administrations and incorporated into a concordat that is being developed on how the separate Administrations will work together to deliver the nature conservation aims of the Bill.

Many people have spoken about amendment 17, which relates to white herring fisheries. The amendment would remove from the Bill the repeal of the remaining sections of the White Herring Fisheries Act 1771. The hon. Member for St. Ives, who has added his name to the amendment, raised the issue in Committee on 7 July. I undertook to write, as he said, and I did so over the summer. My letter of 4 September confirmed the Government's view, which we still hold. Although I heard all the views expressed today and am not an unreasonable man, I still hold the view that the 1771 Act should be repealed. I recognise that some in the fishing industry, particularly those in Scotland, remain concerned about the potential impact of its repeal. Let me explain.

Clause 229 repeals a number of old fisheries enactments, including the 1771 Act. The effect of the repeal in Scotland will be rather different from that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, because in Scotland the repeal will have little effect, as the relevant rights are effectively covered by the Scottish Fisheries Act 1705. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the repeal will remove the remaining rights set out in the 1771 Act.

Only fishermen who are employed in the white herring industry are entitled to the rights of free access to natural ports and harbours for curing fish, erecting tents and huts and drying nets. Repeal of the 1771 Act is appropriate because there is no longer any good reason why one group of fishermen should enjoy a benefit that no others have. The Act was designed to encourage the white herring fishery of the 18th century, and our view remains that that purpose, and the policy behind it, is no longer relevant.

Let me add why we are repealing the Act, rather than simply leaving it. Hon. Members will agree that redundant legislation should not be left on the statute book to gather dust. The 2006 Davidson review looked at where outdated legislation could be scrapped, simplified or consolidated in line with the principles of better regulation. It identified 30 such fisheries-focused Acts and recommended that DEFRA should use this Bill to repeal out-of-date primary legislation and to consolidate much of the rest. In response to the review, it was decided not to undertake a wholesale review of fisheries Acts, but to identify those that should be repealed through the Bill. Nine such Acts were identified, of which six, and part of another, were put forward for repeal. I understand people's concerns about this matter, but those concerns do not apply to Scotland because of the 1705 Act. Indeed, they apply only to fishermen who are fishing for white herring.

Finally, on Government amendments 13 and 14, I am grateful to my hon. Friend Martin Salter for proposing a similar amendment in Committee. I was not able to accept it, because the wording did not quite achieve the end that he and I both desired, but I am pleased to bring it back now in a form that is fit for purpose. The amendments add section 22 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 to the list of sections to be repealed. Quite simply, that section is obsolete-first, because it bans the sale of salmon and sea trout at the wrong times of year. The dates in section 22 originally mirrored the close seasons for salmon and sea trout, but, over time, the Environment Agency has used its powers to move those close seasons to more appropriate dates, and the two are now out of kilter.

Secondly, section 22 is obsolete because its contribution to the Environment Agency's fight against poaching has been overtaken by powers under the Salmon Act 1986. I could go on, but this section is a classic example of out-of-date legislation that should be repealed. With those comments, which were slightly rushed, but comprehensive, I hope, I urge hon. Members to withdraw their amendments and accept the Government's amendments as good improvements to the Bill.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

I do not intend to prolong the debate, but I am surprised by the amount of passion against the fishing industry that has been roused in the breasts of Members who represent urban constituencies that are scores of miles from any fishing port in the country. I shall not go on, because there would be a big educational job there, about the £6 billion a year contribution that the fishing industry makes to our economy. I will say, however, that I was very happy with the Minister's reply. My main intention, in defending the interests of the industry in this way, was to get him to undertake certain commitments that he has wholeheartedly given.

I am disappointed by the Minister's response on the white herring legislation, because it leaves Scotland, once again, in a privileged position. The Scots have their own white herring Act and the protection that it gives, whereas that legislation will be removed from English fishermen. That is another advantage of devolution in Scotland. Joking aside, I am happy with the commitments that the Minister has given, and I am grateful to him for giving them, because they recognise the importance of fishermen. With those comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. We have had some good debates so far, and we are about to enter into a debate on a very significant element of the Bill-in fact, many people consider it central-on marine conservation. We have only half an hour left for that debate, yet tomorrow we have debates on matters that several of us consider to be less significant, if important nevertheless. Can you use your offices, or find some means through the usual channels, in order that the debate on marine conservation can be extended on to tomorrow's Order Paper?

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

Unfortunately, these matters are not in the hands of the Chair. To be honest, points of order like that simply take time out of the debate at this stage of proceedings.

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