Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I should like to congratulate, and thank, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, on introducing this subject, having been successful in the ballot. To my knowledge, the noble Baroness certainly has tabled many Questions on the subject over recent months and years. Therefore, there is quite a background to today's debate formed by the Answers received.

Of marine nature reserves, only two have so far been designated during a period of 14 years. It seems that agreement must first be reached among all users of the sea area concerned and that it is not easy to reach that agreement. For example, to my knowledge, fishermen have been worried that the formation of a reserve would interrupt and curtail their normal activities. I believe that they are wrong in most cases; but, nonetheless, they are worried. Those engaged in the recreation of sailing have also lodged objections because they thought that that recreation would be spoiled or even brought to an end in certain areas.

17 May 1995 : Column 567

Marine nature reserves have proved difficult to establish. I understand that their special purpose is to protect limited, defined areas of sea where species of marine life can flourish without interference from the effects of the presence of the human species or from pollution. I believe that they must be within our territorial waters at 12 miles. However, I am not sure about that fact and would be most grateful if my noble friend the Minister could confirm that in his reply. I believe that their designation and establishment should be encouraged in appropriate places. I look forward to hearing the Government's views on the matter at the end of the debate.

MNRs can contribute to scientific knowledge and studies of natural history because they preserve what would be the normal mix of species, their life cycles and the interrelated food chains when protected from man-made interference. What can be done about other parts of Britain's exclusive economic zone that go beyond the territorial sea, where conservation measures can help the environment but where routine human activities such as shipping cargoes and dredging must continue? Let us consider steps that can be taken beyond the special places where MNRs could be developed.

Around the coast of England I note that English Nature has identified 27 marine areas suitable for conservation measures. I remind your Lordships that Scotland, with the Scottish Islands, has about half the coastline of Britain. The Department of the Environment of course is responsible for England and the Scottish Office for Scotland and for those many miles of coastline.

I suggest that the Government and conservation bodies could concentrate also on the other concept which the noble Baroness mentioned; namely, marine special areas of conservation (SACs). They can be on land and also at sea. This will tie in with the requirements of the EU Habitats Directive to designate such areas by June 1998 and for formal designation to be completed by 2004. I see no reason why they could not be created earlier. If they are to come into existence, let us press ahead. I do not think that we need be tied by those dates, which seem a long way ahead, as the noble Baroness indicated.

Those involved will not only be the nature conservation agencies but also local authorities, harbour authorities and their equivalents. I understand that the Department of the Environment has already set up a Coastal Forum for England. I presume that the Government are aiming to promote good coastal management, with guidelines and persuasion. Is similar action being taken by the Scottish Office, Welsh Office and Northern Ireland Office for the parts of the United Kingdom for which they are responsible?

I understand that sites are already being proposed for SACs, including 15 in Scotland. All users of the seas for legitimate purposes should be able to work together. There have been encouraging experiences in Scotland. For example, in the Inner Moray Firth, near my home, there has for some years been a happy school of bottlenosed dolphins. They have not been disturbed by the presence of the Beatrice oilfield, only 13 miles from shore, which has been producing oil for the past 10 years or so. Of course great care was taken to avoid any disturbance or pollution of the natural environment and that was successful. The dolphins have added to the

17 May 1995 : Column 568

tourist attractions of the area. What is causing most concern now are the many enthusiastic sightseers and well wishers in motor boats who are traversing the dolphins' playground in the Firth.

There are also several drilling rigs close to this area. I usually count 10 or 12 of them at a time. They are there for maintenance but they do not disturb the wildlife. Even the noise of the maintenance, which can be loud, does not appear to affect the dolphins or the birds. Care is taken by the offshore oil industry and also by local shipping in the Firth. Nearby there is a bird sanctuary on the Black Isle near Cromarty where only a year ago I was asked to perform the formal opening of a hide on behalf of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

In the Minch, in the sea of the Hebrides, exploration for oil and gas took place over a period of about three years, starting about six years ago. Of course the greatest care had to be taken, and was taken, in that area. For example, birds might well have been badly affected by the work. I remind your Lordships that the adult guillemots who were resident in that area have to spend at least two months of the year swimming because they are unable to fly during that period. A great deal of trouble was taken over the work and the only disappointment was that no oil or gas was found. Those most disappointed were the islanders of Barra and other parts of the Hebrides.

I wish now to discuss a subject which is attracting attention at the moment, and that is the disposal of platforms used in offshore oil and gas production. I am not referring to rigs but to platforms, although of course the word "rig" is used by the media as a short headline word. Rigs are small mobile structures which can be moved around. It is the permanent structures which are floated out to sea and then are stationary for a period of 12 to 40 years in an oilfield which cause problems when they are no longer needed. The basic legislation on this matter passed through Parliament a few years ago, as some of us will remember. That legislation was in tune with IMO guidelines on this subject. The principle was that each redundant structure should be considered as a separate case.

In shallow water it seems likely that total removal of a platform is the solution. But in deep water of more than 400 feet in the middle of the North Sea, halfway between the United Kingdom and Norway, that may not be necessary. However, these matters must be worked out at the time with the fishing industry in particular but also with other interests. When the relevant legislation was passing through your Lordships' House a few years ago I was in touch with the leaders of the fishermen's organisations. They agreed that there were no fishing problems in some deep water where the seabed was not normally trawled and no one could remember trawling it for demersal fish. However, circumstances can change. Personally, I favour a case by case consideration of this matter, as is the purpose of the legislation which is already on the statute book.

It has been pointed out that wrecks and stumps of platforms encourage fish to congregate and to multiply. However, I must point out also that they cause obstruction and difficulties for the operation of normal fishing methods for trawling the bottom of the sea. I have raised this subject because of the suggestion that wrecks and

17 May 1995 : Column 569

stumps of platforms can be helpful in encouraging colonies of fish. That may be the case sometimes but in other cases they may simply be obstructions in the path of normal fishing methods on fishing grounds. I was encouraged to raise this subject because I was a Member of the Cabinet who was much involved in 1970 to 1973 when the oil in the North Sea was being discovered and when there was no Department of Energy. I have also been chairman of an international organisation which seeks to prevent pollution and to protect the sea. I have added that to my speech knowing that at least one of the speakers has retired from this debate.

3.28 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I find myself in somewhat of a difficulty speaking after the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who knows much more about the subject than I and whose research is always thorough. I congratulate the noble Baroness on raising her favourite subject; she is right to do so. Indeed we are right to try to protect as many special areas as possible throughout the countryside and on the coastline. It is important to do that. However, I must say that I cannot entirely agree with her when she objects to the consultations which I think are necessary to protect the human inhabitants who have been there for quite a long time and whose interests must be considered.

There are only two official schemes in the whole of the country at present. I was in touch with Bob Allan, who is secretary of the fishermen's association. I asked him about the proposed scheme for Loch Sween. The fishermen there were desperately worried. They fought the scheme as hard as they could. They were successful in delaying it. They have a strong case in that Loch Sween itself is important to them. Therefore, they will always object.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, I should like to widen the issue. We are in terrible trouble on the seas due to over-fishing resulting from our tremendous technical ability to catch fish. Thirty years ago when I was Member for Caithness and Sutherland one of my supporters and a great friend was a chap called Jock Mowat in John o'Groats. He was a part-time lobster and crab fisherman who put out his pots. Suddenly a seine netter would descend on the area from the Orkneys and lay 200 pots. That would remove most of the lobsters, and his income would drop. Yet at that time he defended the right of everyone to the sea. He said that the sea is for everyone. I suggested that stretches of the coast should be licensed and rented to a particular person.

We have come to that now and quotas have to be established. We have to husband the lobsters, crabs and wildlife. We have reached the stage where fishing for sand eels and Danish industrial fishing is threatening the food chain of both birds and fish. Generations of people have dug for cockles with a spade. Now that they have started using the steam shovel they are beginning to destroy the life cycle of the cockles, and that affects birds.

When considering prohibitions and the harm that has been caused by certain human activities which are important to the people who earn a living from them, we

17 May 1995 : Column 570

ought to consider other ways of preventing the harm caused while allowing people to continue their activities. I can give some examples.

Many years ago, as a strawberry grower, I found that there were new pesticides, weedkillers and so on which would enable us to grow strawberries without digging them up for seven or eight years, which was a considerable saving. However, the strawberries became rather small and I ploughed up the field. I went to watch the ploughing. (Those were the happy days when a farmer could go about with a stick; nowadays I would be on the tractor myself.) I thought that there was something wrong: it was the absence of any gulls behind the plough. We had applied so many pesticides that the worms had been driven down and there were no earthworms there. That terrified me and I modified the way we proceeded. Never again did we find that we were harming the structure and the biological content of the soil. My point is that it was possible to use modern aids to grow good strawberries without going over the top. That is true in a great many cases.

Salmon farming is important in Scotland, but salmon farming can pollute the sea and be very harmful. Salmon farmers are doing extremely well. The site is important; there has to be a strong current running through it. The farmers have learnt that one does not need to pour in antibiotics. A large company has told me that it used to spend £¾ million on antibiotics but with new procedures it is now spending only a few thousand pounds a year.

That is the area where government bodies should be undertaking research so that we can ally human needs to the needs of nature. That is enormously important. I argue simply that all the measures that we necessarily take to protect nature should be allied to research, and decisions should be taken on the basis of scientific evidence and study.

3.35 p.m.

Lord Chorley: My Lords, marine nature reserves may seem a rather esoteric subject for debate, but they are nonetheless important and I thank the noble Baroness for giving us this opportunity to discuss the subject. I congratulate her not only on the thoroughly comprehensive way in which she introduced the subject but also on doing so in nine minutes. That is a lesson to us all.

I begin with a rhetorical question, which echoes the remarks of the noble Baroness. Why is it that we are so backward in achieving effective protection for marine nature in the UK? I find that all the more puzzling because we have undoubtedly the finest, most diverse and richest coastline in Europe. We pride ourselves on being an island nation. We live at the end of the Gulf Stream, which gives us an enormously rich marine environment. We have cliffs, we have estuaries, we have our wonderful Scottish lochs and we have over 6,000 miles of coastline. Yet we have managed to achieve only two marine nature reserves in 14 years, as has been said by every speaker so far.

In contrast, on the land we have a variety of forms of protection. We have 6,156 SSSIs and no fewer than 298 national nature reserves. We also have a system of

17 May 1995 : Column 571

designation. Why then are we so backward in relation to marine nature reserves? Does the answer lie in the wider issue of coastal zone management?

Three years ago the Environment Committee in another place produced a most useful and thorough report on this topic. Among other things it identified that there are no fewer than 240 government departments, local authorities and public agencies, both at national and local level, capable of having some interest or responsibility in the coastal zone. That is without counting NGOs, commerce, industry and so forth. No wonder we have a problem.

The committee had some fairly strong things to say. I shall not go into the details of those remarks, but shall confine myself to two of their conclusions. The committee stated:


    "We are disappointed that there has been no progress with protecting marine conservation areas since our recommendation on this issue seven years ago. We recommend that when the Government reviews marine conservation legislation it explore approaches other than those of Marine Nature Reserves and Marine Consultation Areas"—

I note that the marine consultation area idea was not pursued, so far as I am aware—


    "which have so far proved to be unsatisfactory and unworkable.


    "We are concerned that the conservation of areas below the low water mark are hampered by the inability of landward designations to straddle the land-sea divide. This problem is ultimately linked to the wider issue of planning regimes in the coastal zone, which we dealt with in previous recommendations. We recommend that in its review of marine conservation legislation, the Government address the issue of how to link conservation of land and sea areas, how to protect sites of marine conservation importance, and consider as an option extending SSSI type mechanisms below the low water mark".

Rather defensively in reply, the Government acknowledged that,


    "the progress in designating MNRs since the legislation came into force has not been satisfactory".

You can say that again, my Lords.


    "The principal reason for this has been the difficulty of obtaining agreement from all interested parties, before designations are made, and ensuring that conservation objectives can effectively be secured using the powers and jurisdictions that are legitimately operated by other bodies".

The report continues; but I must move on.

That was in July 1992, three years ago. Since then little has happened. As has been stated, we still have only two MNRs. There has, it is true, been a meeting of the Coastal Forum—it was referred to by a previous speaker—I think last December, but I am not sure that it achieved a great deal; it was perhaps too large. Certainly the meeting brought together the interested parties; and that is to be welcomed. But talk is no substitute for firm commitment, let alone action.

My interest in the issue is in my capacity as chairman of the National Trust which now protects nearly 600 miles of coastline in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It so happens that the UK's only two MNRs are around the two islands to which the noble Baroness referred, Lundy and Skomer, both of which are in our ownership. We have many other properties where it would strengthen our hand if they were MNRs. First, there are two sites which have been proposed: the Menai Strait, to which the noble Baroness referred where we have extensive landholdings, and Strangford Lough where we own or lease a very high

17 May 1995 : Column 572

proportion of the shoreline of that wonderful and important lough, and most of its bed. We have lobbied strenuously to see both designated, so far without success.

Let me mention three other cases of sites where we should like to see designation. First, there are the Farne Islands with their high quality submarine communities, large seabird colonies, and major grey seal colony. Then there are some of our estuaries in the South West, for example Salcombe and Kingsbridge. Estuaries are perhaps a special responsibility of the UK because something like 28 per cent. of Europe's estuaries occur in our island. Thirdly, in default of statutory designations, a number of voluntary arrangements have grown up, for example in Purbeck and Wembury. But voluntary arrangements such as these should be seen only as an interim solution. We need long-term proper statutory protection.

The trust has four concerns regarding the process of designating MNRs. First, there is the considerable workload imposed on the statutory agencies in developing proposals. As the noble Baroness said, they, too, are short of money. Secondly, there is the very long timescale involved, including the lengthy and extensive consultations. They make building a new road—even the Newbury bypass—seem child's play in comparison. Thirdly, there is the apparent requirement of the Secretary of State—it has been mentioned by all speakers—to achieve a unanimity of all interest groups regarding a proposal. Fourthly, there is the ability of special interest groups to delay, apparently indefinitely, the implementation of proposals.

With only two MNRs achieved in 14 years, it must surely be apparent that the legislation is simply not working. That being the case, are there alternative mechanisms? Is a better starting point a proper system of coastal zone management which dealt with, in a co-ordinated fashion, the use of sea areas adjacent to the coast? That is what the Select Committee argued and it is what both the National Trust, the Marine Conservation Society and others have lobbied for.

I understand that some progress has been made in that direction at a local level. But these CZM plans are only local plans. They need to be co-ordinated. There needs to be consistency between plans. There is a need for policy guidance, as with the land-based PPGs. Nor is there any authority to implement them; and plans are no substitute for management. Nor is there any overall strategy, nor an overall framework.

Those CZM initiatives have undoubtedly been useful. But one would have been much more enthusiastic about them if they could be seen to be part of a process which paved the way for, and speeded up, the process of achieving MNRs. However, unless the Minister is going to give us some specific and concrete news this afternoon, I am bound to say that I remain rather sceptical about the possibility of future progress.

It seems to me, bearing in mind the large number of interested parties to which I referred in my opening remarks, that no progress is likely if unanimity is required. Except in a few cases, it is just not conceivable. What is needed are arrangements similar to those that operate on the land—a planning system, a planning process and planning powers. That, I suppose,

17 May 1995 : Column 573

means legislation—not an attractive proposition. I hope, therefore, that my analysis is wrong. But I suspect that it may be right; and, therefore, I am afraid that I end on a rather pessimistic note.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness White: My Lords, those taking part in this debate know that our discussion today is in effect a continuation of the interchange between my noble friend Lady Nicol and the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, on Tuesday, 2nd May—an interchange in which several other noble Lords took part. The date is important because in the intervening two weeks matters have become more complex, at least in Wales.

Out of concern for the noble Viscount, I shall not stress the local government elections on 4th May, except to note that the result in the Principality of the reorganisation of all our local authorities leaves us with uncertainty in every direction among elected members, especially those with no previous experience, and among staff, many of whom are not sure whether they are coming or going.

Closely germane to our debate today is Saturday, 6th May. When the whole country was concerned with VE Day commemorations and most offices were closed, this was the morning that the Secretary of State for Wales chose, with an almost unbelievable lack of sensitivity, to launch his new proposals for the Countryside Council for Wales. CCW is, of course, the body in the Principality which is directly concerned with marine nature reserves, in particular with the Menai Strait, an area which has been considerably discussed already this afternoon. In his press release on 6th May, the Secretary of State emphasised the desirability of local authorities taking over certain work now in the hands of CCW, even if some statutory responsibility remained with the Countryside Council—hence my reference to 4th May as well as 6th May.

This is not the time to consider the almost universal dismay aroused among the main conservation bodies by the Secretary of State's treatment of CCW. That must be for another occasion. Today our concern must be with the seemingly endless delays—they have been referred to by every speaker—in reaching firm conclusions about the Menai Strait, the most important potential MNR, which has been under active discussion for so many years, as my noble friend Lady Nicol reminded us, beginning in 1982 and being formally proposed in 1988. A second formal public consultation started in January 1993. According to my information, 83 per cent. of those responding were in favour of the MNR. A submission was then sent to the Welsh Office on 21st March 1994. This has been formally acknowledged.

There the matter seems to rest, with innumerable proposals being suggested, as by the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, from the Government Front Bench on 2nd May when he referred to a draft order subject to a non-statutory inquiry—whatever that may mean.

By far the best description of possibilities and improvements which would result from marine nature reserve status was published by the Countryside Council for Wales. It pointed out that already there was a large number of coastal protected areas on the straits, far more

17 May 1995 : Column 574

than I had recognised. They were under a variety of regulations or consents and the bodies might have limited powers. Nevertheless, there would be major advantages, including those for research and education, if a formal marine nature reserve were in place.

I refer in particular to the revised consultative document which was widely distributed in 1992 and which I have here. It is worth examining the document entitled Menai Strait Proposed Marine Nature Reserve—Revised Consultative Document. It goes into considerable and valuable detail and points out:


    "The Menai Strait, being a microcosm for much of the N. Wales coast, is uniquely suited for such study, under the controlled conditions that would be provided by a marine reserve.


    If it can be shown that an activity is producing undesirable effects, such as threatening the survival of a species in a particular area, or causing harm to public amenity and enjoyment, then there is reason to bring in controls. However, it is anticipated that, for the most part, no active intervention by the Countryside Council for Wales will be called for. This is because of the ability of the Strait to assimilate the pressures placed on it, due to the durability of some of the habitats and communities".

The area has been occupied by human beings for the past 2,000 years, so it has not been a desert. The document continues:


    "the over-riding objectives will be to provide for long-term studies of the marine environment, and for education and interpretation".

I was glad to read that because I know that there are some anxieties in the University of Bangor, to which is attached a well-known marine college. People there are concerned that it might be more difficult for their students. However, if they had read the document, they would agree that, if the Countryside Council for Wales were allowed to be in charge of matters, they would be well catered for.

The document continues:


    "A marine nature reserve will allow certain forms of study, under controlled conditions, which could not be provided by other means. Besides having value in its own right, the research will complement work being done at Skomer Marine Nature Reserve, and at other marine centres in Britain and Europe".

Nevertheless, there are undoubtedly still apprehensions—or misapprehensions, according to one's point of view. As has already been mentioned by previous speakers, there are some situations where other public authorities, such as those concerned with fisheries or the NRA, have legal obligations. I am told that commercial interests would be likely to benefit from a marine nature reserve, which would ensure that the health and amenities of the Menai Strait would be sustained.

So one can go on. But the challenge is there. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Nicol is right to pursue the matter. A satisfactory solution can and must be found. Simply to indulge in delays shows a lack of statesmanship which as a good Welshwoman I strongly deplore.

3.54 p.m.

The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, I am delighted to support the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in her demand to speed up action on marine nature reserves. The noble Baroness is always at the forefront of all matters to do with conservation and is to be congratulated on the debate.

17 May 1995 : Column 575

As has been remarked, especially by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, the problem is of delay and prevarication, with 240 different views as to which sites should be selected. We had a Starred Question today on the Newbury bypass and the thought occurs to me that what was said clearly demonstrates that there is no right answer to the problem of the bypass. All that is needed is for someone to take a decision and do something about it. Much the same applies to MNRs, as I wish to put to my noble friend, with due deference.

I have only one point to make in supporting the initiation of MNRs. It is that they should be strategically sited to incorporate research into the problems of disease in fish farming. That is a pressing problem in the face of the loss of fish stocks in the open ocean, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. Incidentally, I am glad to welcome him to the world of organic farming as a result of his discovery of the importance of the humble worm. Long may it continue! The problem is pressing in the face of the loss of fish stocks in the open ocean and in such relatively closed sea areas as the North Sea. I know that MAFF has initiated major research in the area and I ask the Minister whether there is an opportunity here to combine the interests of both great departments of state. In that way, perhaps progress may be speeded up.

The concept of MNRs is, I believe, Commission-inspired. Like all its inspirations, the concept can readily be improved by the application of common sense and subsidiarity. I venture to suggest that an opportunity presents itself in this case.

In fish farming the Norwegians are far advanced, with the great opportunity presented by their deep water and extensive fjords. A great opportunity occurs for us with the deep water lochs in large areas off the west coast of Scotland. The Norwegians are leading the way in preparing for the day when rapacious and greedy fishermen have finally eliminated the only resource that supports their lifestyle. The view that that day may be closer than we imagine is illustrated by the ferocity of the competition for fishing grounds around the world and by universal recognition in the councils of the free world that fish stocks are not the unlimited resource that we all once thought they were.

We already have a thriving fish farming industry, largely directed towards the more expensive species—or at least those with a large mark-up in the retail sale price. But historically fish has been a reliable and essentially cheap source of food which has disappeared from the shops as the fish caught on each country's continental shelf become ever more scarce. Indeed, I am advised, in shopping expeditions with my wife, that meat is now cheaper than fish. We need to think in terms of many hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food from fish which will probably require research into the farming of species not usually available in the UK. I ask my noble friend again whether there is an opportunity here which we should not lose, especially in terms of co-operation between the two departments.

The noble Baroness mentioned the particular instance of the Menai Strait and the report thereon. That report highlights, in its introduction to Chapter 2, the advantages and opportunities presented by MNRs to promote research. That is the basis of my submission—that the

17 May 1995 : Column 576

promotion of MNRs can best be enhanced by the establishment of an MNR with a fish-related disease research programme in conjunction with MAFF and other commercial interests. If nothing else, I hope that my words may serve to flag up this important issue.

4 p.m.

Lord Moran: My Lords, we must all be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for giving us an opportunity to debate this important matter. The noble Baroness is one of the most notable environmentalists in this House. The Government would be well-advised to pay very close attention to her remarks on these matters.

It is, I think, obvious to everyone that the present arrangements for protecting important sites for national marine conservation in United Kingdom waters do not work. Two marine nature reserves in 14 years is a dismal record. If I live to be 100, I can at this rate hope to see another four MNRs created. Yet marine surveys of the past 20 years have identified several hundred sites of marine conservation importance. The degree of protection afforded to the existing MNRs by present legislation is also inadequate. And the procedure does not work. The remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady White, about the Menai Strait illustrate that point very clearly. To have held two consultations, discussions over 12 years, to have more than 90 per cent. support from the consultees, to have the proposals sent to the Welsh Office and then have them wait there for a year with only an acknowledgment is hardly a glittering record.

Moreover, reliance on voluntary conservation measures is not adequate for the problems we face. Special areas of conservation to be created under the habitats and species directive are certainly welcome. But they will apply only to sites of European importance; and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, pointed out, they will not come into force for another nine years. Apart from the two MNRs about which we know, there is no statutory protection for marine areas of national, regional or local importance, compared, as my noble friend Lord Chorley pointed out, with the large number of national nature reserves on land. Wildlife and Countryside Link, of which I have the honour to be chairman, has a marine group under the chairmanship of Dr. Susan Gubbay, including organisations such as the National Trust, the RSPB, the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Marine Conservation Society and others, which has done a lot of work on this subject. The Government would do well to pay attention to the suggestions of experts in that group.

I have a positive proposal for solving this problem. As noble Lords know, there is a crisis of over-fishing all over the world. The FAO reports that 15 major fishing grounds in the world are at or beyond their limits. In our own waters, cod and haddock stocks have crashed. I heard only yesterday on the BBC a report that at Arbroath, the home of the "Arbroath smokie"—which is a smoked haddock—there are no more haddock offshore. Although the Arbroath fishermen have stopped fishing for haddock for some considerable time, when they have gone out to look for them, they have found no sign of the stocks regenerating. That is very sad. The whole situation is extremely serious. It is well summarised in an article by David Fleming in the current issue of Country Life.

17 May 1995 : Column 577

I was a member of your Lordships' Agriculture Sub-Committee which held a full review of the common fisheries policy in 1992. We investigated all the technical conservation measures: mesh sizes; square mesh panels; the one-net rule. But the great difficulty seemed unquestionably to be enforcement. Our own fishermen are not guiltless. What are called "black fish" are landed illegally at points on the Scottish coast. And we all know that Spanish fishermen have recently disregarded the rules in many parts of the world. Having served on that sub-committee, I was left with the conviction that there is only one way in which fish stocks can be preserved in our waters, and indeed in all waters; namely, by the creation of no-go areas in which fish can spawn and grow up undisturbed.

In this area there has been some progress. We have the Norway pout box off north-eastern Scotland and the Shetland box. But those only restrict fishing. My proposal is that the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, whose skilful guidance of the Environment Bill through this House we all admired, should talk to his colleagues, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and Mr. Waldegrave, and persuade them to propose in the European Community, and more specifically at the fourth North Sea ministerial conference which will begin on 8th June next in Denmark, substantial conservation boxes to conserve vanishing fish species and to meet nature conservation needs. That is in accordance with the evidence that the Joint Nature Conservation Committee gave to our sub-committee in 1992. I believe that it is the right answer.

It is essential that in such conservation boxes there should be a complete prohibition on fishing. It is very much easier to enforce an area in which there is no fishing at all. There should be no dredging for aggregates and no dumping, but of course there should be free passage for ships and yachts, which is no problem. This method has been tried out in New Zealand with notable success. What is interesting is that it is now enthusiastically welcomed there by commercial fishermen, who realise from the results that this method enables fish stocks to regenerate, which is of course in their interests. Fishermen in New Zealand now want more boxes. I am not altogether surprised that the New Scientist should say that New Zealand is 10 years ahead of the United Kingdom on this matter. It is also interesting that the Dutch propose for the North Sea conference two major reserves in their sector of the North Sea.

Therefore I very much hope that we can put forward proposals along those lines. At Lowestoft we have excellent fisheries scientists who can advise on where the key areas for fish are. There are indeed maps of these areas in our 1992 report (pages 153-155). They were provided by the UK Association of Frozen Food Producers, but we should obviously rely on the Lowestoft experts to tell us where they are. The JNCC, under the notable leadership of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, can advise on the nature conservation aspects, so that both can be put into the requirements. We should very quickly be able to determine what the areas should be. We should press very strongly for something to be done quickly along those lines. It should be done this year. If we did that, we should transform what has been a dismal record

17 May 1995 : Column 578

of failure into something that really would work and be effective, and would meet the needs of fisheries and fishermen, and of conservationists.

4.10 p.m.

Baroness David: My Lords, it is entirely fitting and right that my noble friend Lady Nicol should have come out first in the ballot for the debate today after her perseverance year after year in pursuing the Government about their dilatoriness in designating marine nature reserves. I am delighted. The large number of your Lordships speaking shows the real and widespread support that she has.

I thought that it would interesting to look back at the debates on the subject when the Wildlife and Countryside Bill was going through this House in the spring of 1981 and remind myself of the Government's attitude at that time. The background was that the NCC (the Nature Conservancy Council) had produced a document in 1979 entitled Nature Conservation in the Marine Environment, which showed the need for action in that area. Clearly, it had expected there to be provision in the Bill for designation of those reserves. The Government had signed the Berne and Bonn conventions but had taken no legal steps to implement them.

In March 1978 an inter-governmental working party was set up by the DoE to examine the legislative and administrative aspects of MNRs (marine nature reserves). Rightly, there was much consultation preceding the Bill and a reasonable time was given for responses. But then, one day before the Committee day when this subject was due to come up here, another consultation paper, two pages long, was produced. It asked for responses by the beginning of August, six months ahead. That was rightly described by my noble friend Lord Melchett, speaking from this Front Bench, as:


    "a blatant try-on by the Government and really not on".

At Second Reading, six noble Lords supported the idea of MNRs and had given notice of their intention to move amendments at Committee stage. The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton (sadly not still in his place), moved a very comprehensive amendment on 3rd February at 11.44 p.m. It had all-party support. He pointed out the great need and said that the several reserves that had been set up by the voluntary compliance of users—Bardsey and Lundy being examples—remained unsupported by law and vulnerable to an unscrupulous operator. He pointed out that already in some 60 countries statutory provision had been made for designated marine conservation areas. Many of them were in temperate seas and protected habitats similar to those found round our shores. He was supported by my noble friend Lord Melchett, Lord Craigton and Lord Chelwood.

Lord Chelwood described it as one of the most important amendments in the whole of the Bill. He said that the subject had been of great concern to conservationists for at least 20 years; that the Nature Conservancy Council, as it then was, in March 1968 had raised the question in a paper called Conservation Policy in the Shallow Seas; and that the NERC had set up a working party on marine wildlife conservation under Professor R. B. Clark in 1971. He suggested that, if the

17 May 1995 : Column 579

Government could not accept that particular amendment, they themselves should propose an enabling clause at Report stage, which clause need not become operative until the consultation period on the present paper was over. There was an interesting intervention from the noble Earl, Lord Peel—in support, of course—who described his experiences of the marine environment as a result of his deep sea diving in all parts of the world. He censured Italy for allowing criminal damage to happen.

Lord Avon, speaking from the Government Front Bench, gave exactly the kind of response that we have learnt to expect. But he undertook to go to his Secretary of State to see whether it were possible to include an enabling power. So the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, withdrew his amendment.

At a later Committee day on 17th February at the more reasonable hour of 5 p.m. Lord Craigton made another attempt to have MNRs written into the Bill and moved a simpler amendment, which would have extended the land of Britain for SSSI purposes for three miles out, leaving the NCC to get on with it. That was supported by my noble friend Lady White, who enlarged on the great length of time that this matter had been on the agenda and agreed that, at the very least, an enabling clause should be introduced, though she would have preferred something more positive. My noble friend Lord Melchett was rather cross that the Government had shown no sign of shifting their position and urged a Division. There was further support. Lord Craigton put the amendment to the House and won by a substantial majority (98 to 54), which showed the strength of feeling on all sides.

We move to Report stage on 12th March. Clearly there had been discussion between Lord Craigton and the Minister and his department. Lord Craigton proposed a rather lengthy amendment on the grounds that it would be more acceptable to the Government as giving greater flexibility. The Minister promised that if Lord Craigton withdrew his earlier amendment, by then in the Bill, he would accept this one and come up with a similar Government amendment in another place. That was agreed.

On 9th June in another place, at Committee stage, some lengthy amendments were put forward by the Government and even lengthier discussion went on for the whole of that day until past midnight. Eventually, at the end of the day Mr. Peter Brooke moved that the Question be put and it was. So that clause was put into the Bill. Clearly, there was more discussion at Report stage because the Opposition had not been satisfied that what the Government had promised to do had been fully carried out. But amendments were made at Report stage, which resulted in the present Sections 36 and 37 in the Act going into the Bill.

So the saga is one of reluctance and feet dragging. It was only when beaten in the Lobby that the Government did the decent and sensible thing. But the results after 14 years are not what all those fighting for designation in 1981 would have wanted. My noble friend has made the case. One just has the gravest doubts about this Government's commitment to environmental issues. I hope that the strength of feeling that is emerging today will shame the Government a little—although shame is not something that they seem to feel very easily—and that they will feel, if they want their credentials to be believed,

17 May 1995 : Column 580

that they really must get a move on and not use every excuse to delay and procrastinate; or at least in the meantime take advantage of some of the positive suggestions that have been made by the noble Lords, Lord Chorley and Lord Moran, during the course of this debate. I hope that at least we can have that assurance.

4.16 p.m.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, what will be done to stop the wanton destruction of the marine environment? We continue to exploit this vast and diverse resource with little regard for the consequences. Oceans, coastal waters and estuaries cover 71 per cent. of the earth's surface. Its environment provides the world's population with products essential to human existence. We fish into extinction or near extinction many of the world's marine species. We pump toxic and human waste and agricultural pollutants into the ocean. We dredge the seabed and undertake projects which cause major damage or destruction.

But there are promising worldwide initiatives: local communities, fishermen, governments, environmental agencies and private enterprise are coming together to establish marine nature reserves around the world. Those reserves provide a respite from exploitation and development and allow over-exploited species to recover and reproduce. Indeed, they protect the oceans' biodiversity. Many sectors of the economy also benefit: fishermen see a rise in stocks and tour operators discover a market for those who wish to see the marine environment in its natural state. Marine reserves provide the opportunity to balance development with protection and create sustainable development for the future.

I have had the good fortune to scuba dive in two countries where successful projects exist. The Hol Chan marine reserve in Belize is an excellent example. After initial local scepticism, that reserve now attracts thousands of tourists each year to the town of San Pedro, situated at the northern end of the Belize barrier reef. Visitors pay a fee and adhere to strict regulations, swimming in the waters of the reserve. Increased tourism has been matched with increased fish stocks. Indeed, Dr. Callum Roberts of the University of the Virgin Islands has said that the reserve now has perhaps the highest abundance of commercially important fish likely to be found anywhere in the world. It is not surprising therefore that local pride has led to support for the implementation of measures to protect the area's coral reef. Another reserve is also now proposed.

I believe the involvement of local communities is the key ingredient. In the Philippines the establishment of the Apo Island Marine Sanctuary involved the local community in the management process of a marine conservation and education programme. Once again increased fishing yields and tourist revenues encourage the locals in a form that they recognise and value.

That project contrasts with the Sumilon Island reserve. The local fishermen were not involved in the management process. That resulted in the breakdown of the reserve, with a corresponding decrease in fish yields through over-fishing, from approximately 36 tonnes per square kilometre to just 20 tonnes. Those are important lessons.

17 May 1995 : Column 581

Yet financial support for marine nature reserves is elusive, though many are self-funding once established. The Bonaire Marine Park, for example, was established for 0.52 million US dollars, with an annual running cost of 0.15 million US dollars. By 1992 the park was raising 0.19 million US dollars in visitor fees, with another 23.2 million US dollars entering the local economy in directly related activities undertaken by tourists visiting the marine park.

Despite the good will and enthusiasm, problems exist. Governments in all countries are reticent to sanction, let alone fund. Willing governments in the developing world find it hard to allocate the money that is required to cover set-up costs and are less willing to sanction the collection by marine nature reserves' management of visitor fees that possibly do not return directly to the public purse.

NGOs have an important role to play both in the UK and abroad to foster enthusiasm. One such British group, Coral Cay Conservation, has been assisting the Government of Belize to establish marine reserves at a number of sites along the barrier reef. Over the past six years more than 1,000 scuba divers have travelled to that country to collect data for the Coastal Zone Management Unit. That workforce has not only assisted with the establishment of marine reserves, but has also provided training for numerous young Belizeans in the skills necessary to undertake marine resource assessment and protection projects themselves. All of that has been done at no cost to the Government of Belize. Her Majesty's Government could well consider using the enthusiasm of such organisations. What is clear is that willingness exists to make marine reserves work.

In conclusion, I propose eight areas where I believe HMG can help. First, they can facilitate introductions through diplomatic channels to foreign government departments, industry and NGOs. Secondly, they can provide core funding for key NGO scientific staff and science programmes. Thirdly, they can facilitate greater involvement by British students of marine science in science programmes. Fourthly, they can assist in the dissemination of information. Fifthly, they can support education and awareness programmes both in the UK and abroad. Sixthly, they can support project development and the development of human resources in emerging countries. Seventhly, they can support the development of training centres. Eighthly, they can second NGO personnel to government advisory boards.

Perhaps I may be permitted to make a quick point for emphasis about the UK in my remaining time. I understand that an estimated 500,000 hectares of inshore sea-bed have been identified as being of particular importance for nature conservation, but only 5,000 hectares of the subtidal component are protected under wildlife legislation. I wonder whether the Minister could be tempted, in the spirit of deregulation about which we heard a great deal last Session, to propose the streamlining of the 17 government departments with more than 80 pieces of legislation that are responsible for this.

17 May 1995 : Column 582

On that note, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for the opportunity to debate this important question. It has been a most important initiative.

4.25 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I join previous speakers in thanking my noble friend and colleague Lady Nicol for introducing this important subject. I intended to follow the previous speaker down the same road. I might as well say that I am going swimming in the same water; my contribution will be confined to our marine reserves.

I took the trouble to obtain a copy of a voluminous but good report produced by the inquiry headed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, entitled Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas. I concentrated on the part regarding cleaner seas. There is a massive number of recommendations to the Government in the report, and I was glad to see that they accepted most of them. But one must judge a government by their actions and, sadly, only yesterday the Minister charged with the responsibility gave approval for Shell to dump the Brent Spar oil installation in the North Sea, which will produce further fouling of our shores.

I listened with great care to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, in his exposé of his responsibilities, and naturally we wish him every success. But the pollution of the sea starts far outside the area of his responsibility. If pollution starts to come ashore, it does not matter what we do. It swamps not only our coastline but other coastlines as well. And I am not talking particularly of so-called accidents that could possibly be avoided.

If we look at the oceans, the seas and the estuaries of the world as marine areas which need protection, we find that global pollution is on the increase and fish stocks are reducing alarmingly. One of the biggest culprits is the discharge of oil and the cleaning out of tanks well away from shore lines and in areas where the vessels cannot be checked. Inevitably that discharge finds itself on a coastline and appalling damage is done. We should take a more serious view of that type of practice and the way it is sometimes carried out by ships operating under a flag of convenience. That issue must be grasped internationally. At the moment very little is being done about it.

Dare I put forward the suggestion that the pollution of our shores has something to do with the fact that very few of our own merchant navy ships ply around our shores as there are so few of them left? The Government could certainly have helped to prevent some of that decline. But we are surrounded by ships. We saw a crash in the Channel only last week where the behaviour of the foreign ship that ran into the British tanker left a lot to be desired. No action was taken. Once again the Channel in that area is saturated with oil.

The Government must look at these issues more keenly and promote measures to deal with them more forcefully to incorporate the European dimension. Europe covers an enormous area of coastline, with the seas that encapsulate it. The Government should then move on to the international scale and persuade the major powers to agree to an international policy that will assist us. It was interesting to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. I do not say that he was making

17 May 1995 : Column 583

excuses, but he appeared to be saying that it was all right to sink oil installations in deep water but not in shallow water, and anyway the wreckage acted as some sort of aphrodisiac for the fish. It seems to me, from the way stocks are being reduced, that that policy is not working very well.

It is a tragedy that the Government made the decision yesterday to allow the sinking of the oil installation in the North Sea. It sets the scene for other people to do the same. There is no point in this Government going to other governments in Europe who have oil installations offshore and when they start to sink them in the sea complaining, "You have no right to do that". We have set the scene in Europe and I believe that we have gone down the wrong track.

Greenpeace, with all its faults, does a very good job in some areas. It specially commissioned a report entitled No grounds for dumping which deals with the decommissioning and abandonment of offshore oil and gas platforms and sets out some of the costs involved. It states:


    "Estimates of the cost of total removal of the full inventory of North Sea platforms for the UK vary from just over GBP 3 billion to just over GBP 4.5 billion. Further, if a removal market is created, cheaper and more efficient methods of removal will develop. When considering cost, it is also worth comparing the relative expenditures and income of North Sea oil and gas:


    Capital expenditure on new facilities in 1994 is estimated to be GBP 4.7 billion, and total expenditure between 1994 and 1998 is estimated at GBP 21.7 billion;


    The value of oil and gas sales in 1993 was GBP 13.8 billion and the total tax take between 1984 and 1994 is estimated at GBP 44.9 billion;


    The total capital expenditure on developing the UK fields is GBP 130 billion;


    The total UK Government tax take has been GBP 100 billion;


    The annual UK operating expenditure is GBP 3 billion;


    The annual oil and gas exploration expenditure is GBP 1.5 billion".

The report states quite clearly that the £4.5 billion involved, with all the jobs that would be created at a time of very high unemployment, would be money well spent. It would remove the oil installations and completely negate any effects they might have in spoiling the North Sea. We have to look at the mistakes made in the past on land. What did the coal owners do to the land of the Lancashire coalfields, the South Wales coalfields, the Scottish coalfields, the north eastern coalfields and the Midlands coalfields? Wherever there were coalfields the land was scarred. There were no provisions to deal with the rubbish, the slurry and the slag which those pits produced. The people who were responsible for producing it got away scot-free. The land had to be reclaimed at public expense, mainly by ratepayers, in order to make it workable and acceptable again.

I know that what I have said has been a little wide of the subject of the debate but I hope that the Minister will understand why I have said it. I thought that this was an excellent opportunity to make the point. I ask the Government to look at the situation internationally. We are an island. Because of that we have to exercise more care than people who live in landlocked areas. If we do not get it right, our children and grandchildren will never forgive us for what we leave them.

17 May 1995 : Column 584

4.33 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, on her good fortune in the ballot and I thank her for giving us the opportunity to discuss this subject today. It has been an interesting debate. What has come out clearly from the contributions of several noble Lords is the strong feeling that we have been surprisingly and disappointingly laggard in our provision of marine protected areas and reserves. The noble Baroness, Lady David, did us a great service and has done a great service to those who are interested in this subject by trawling back through Hansard to see exactly what happened in the early 1980s, which was before I entered the House. It shows something of the reluctance of the Government at that time to commit themselves on this important subject.

I hope that when discussions take place between this country and the European Commission following the European Union habitats and species directive there will be a more energetic and positive approach to these matters. It will be a long time before we can reasonably hope to have the agreements which will result in a final list of sites across Europe to accord with the directive. A good deal of deterioration is taking place in the area of marine life and in the areas discussed by other noble Lords. A consultation list has been sent out to conservation groups. It reached the hands of conservation groups only two months ago, although it was expected a good deal earlier. Their responses have to be in next month.

Noble Lords have spoken most eloquently about our "island nation", if I may describe it as such, with its astonishing coastline and in some areas its exquisite beauty and its enormous variety of wildlife. It is extraordinary that so many of the birds which breed around our coasts occupy breeding sites which supply the major number of birds for Europe. There are those which breed here and there are those species which visit here. The UK population of the Manx shearwater, which I mentioned the other day when the noble Baroness raised the subject in a Question, accounts for about 94 per cent. of the total world population of that bird. Its breeding area in the United Kingdom is fairly localised. According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the trends in population are not well known so we cannot say yet whether that species is particularly threatened. Nevertheless, it is an important species. The petrel, the gannet, the great skua and the Sandwich tern are other species which immediately come to mind. Other birds which visit here and are important in our coastal areas are the diver, the scoter and the long-tailed duck. Those varieties of bird have an important part to play in our coastal bird life.

There are also important mammals. The bottle-nose dolphin is the subject of some concern among those who are interested, particularly the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. The habitat directive requires that provision should be made for dolphins and for harbour porpoises, a subject which has been brought up before in a Question in your Lordships' House. The United Kingdom's response has been disappointing in relation to those important mammals. I believe that it has been argued that harbour porpoises do not have a sufficiently

17 May 1995 : Column 585

identifiable breeding area. However, experts tell me that there are clearly identifiable areas around the Shetlands where such porpoises can breed.

Can the Minister tell us what position the Government will be taking in the conference that is to be held in June in Esbjerg in Denmark? I believe that eight states with North Sea coastlines will be at that conference, plus representatives from the European Commission and Switzerland. Obviously, that will be a useful and important opportunity to discuss the marine environment. Will the Government be taking into account at that conference all the waters of the United Kingdom, from the Shetlands to the Scilly Isles? Do the Government have a coherent and integrated plan to improve marine conservation, following the clear feeling that has been expressed in this House that there has been reluctance to move in that direction in the past? Will the Government take into account all the elements about which concern has been expressed, including the leisure industry, which has already been discussed, the extraction of marine minerals and the fishing question, which other noble Lords have mentioned?

In summary, this has been an enormously important debate, although not altogether an encouraging one. I wonder whether the Minister could inject into the debate an element of optimism which I have felt to be sadly missing. If the Minister could provide a counterbalance to the extremely clear and useful account of what happened in the early 1980s, we would then feel that we were going forward. This country is an important contributor to European discussions on this subject. I accept that I have been somewhat critical of many European directives, but I believe that the Habitats and Species Directive is important because birds and animals do not recognise boundaries. They move across them freely. Conserving the marine environment is one area in which the European Union can make a contribution not only for us but for our descendants. We must preserve an extraordinary and priceless part of our heritage.

4.43 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, the House will be grateful to my noble friend Lady Nicol for tabling this Motion and we are glad that she won the ballot. We have had an interesting and informative debate through which two themes have run. The first relates to the protection of the marine environment in general, by which we may mean the North Sea, the Celtic Sea or the seas around Scotland. Indeed, the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, took us to the Philippines and Belize. The second theme relates specifically to the protection of marine wildlife within UK territorial waters. That raises the question of the marine nature reserves and the Habitats and Species Directive, to which I shall come in a moment.

Before addressing those two themes, I should like to raise with the Minister a problem that he knows that I had with the Environment Bill when it was considered by your Lordships' House. Is there really a political commitment on the part of the Government to protect the environment? For all their fine words, what is the Government's real position? I ask that question again—I have asked it several times—in the light of what my noble friend Lady

17 May 1995 : Column 586

White said about the Countryside Council for Wales. As my noble friend rightly said, the Secretary of State for Wales slipped out, at a most curious moment, a document that was designed, as I understand it—I have read the action plan—to reduce CCW to little more than a cipher. In doing so, the Secretary of State for Wales has, it is alleged, been somewhat less than frank in some of the statements that he has made. They will no doubt be taken up in another place, but the basic question remains: are the Government seriously committed to the protection of the environment?

I turn now to the first theme, the protection of the marine environment in general. My noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick referred to the Brent Spar installation. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, rightly said that we are talking about platforms, not rigs. Rigs are ships. They float and can therefore be towed elsewhere. We are talking about fixed structures which are platforms. The noble Lord said that there might well be occasions when such structures could be toppled straight into deep waters in the North Sea. I doubt that. Given that the Government have given approval for that installation to be toppled over so that it can rest at the bottom of the North Sea, can the Minister say whether that is meant to be taken by all oil companies all over the world as an indication that that is the right policy? Indeed, will the Government do the same with even larger platforms as they become redundant? We must remember that their lifespan is limited. As the noble Lord, Lord Moran, pointed out, the North Sea is already nearly dead in terms of fish. Is it to be cluttered with disused platforms that are simply junked there for lack of any better alternative?

To follow what the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said, there is a serious risk that the seas not only around our coasts but generally will die. I cite the Mediterranean as an example. Even the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, with his enthusiasm for fish farming would find the Mediterranean a no-go area for a fish farm. It is simply dead. There is not enough food or organic matter in it to support a fish farm. There is a danger that what has happened in the Mediterranean will happen not only in our own seas but in the Atlantic and some parts of the Pacific also. As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, pointed out, there is a serious risk that unless we do something internationally we are in danger of depriving the human race of one of its major sources of food. I hope that the Minister recognises that problem and that he can give us the Government's attitude to it.

I turn now to our own territorial waters. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, the Wildlife and Countryside Act applies to our territorial waters. It seems to me that there are considerable difficulties with the legislation. On the one hand, we have the Wildlife and Countryside Act, the proceedings on which my noble friend Lady David related at length, which is a United Kingdom Act which allows for the creation of marine nature reserves. On the other hand, we have the Community's Habitats and Species Directive which creates special areas of conservation but which will apply only to sites of European importance. So there is a clear conflict between the two. Are we to take it therefore that the Wildlife and Countryside Act arrangements will be subsumed wholesale into the arrangements created by the

17 May 1995 : Column 587

habitats directive, or will we still have a programme of marine nature reserves under our own domestic legislation?

Many noble Lords have pointed out, quite rightly—my noble friend Lady Nicol opened by saying this—that the Government have been somewhat dilatory on marine nature reserves. Let me just rehearse the list for your Lordships. In 1982, the following areas were proposed as marine nature reserves under the Wildlife and Countryside Act: St. Abbs, the Isles of Scilly, Lundy, Skomer, Loch Sween, Menai Strait, Bardsey and Strangford. Of that list, two have been declared as marine nature reserves—that is, Lundy and Skomer—two, St. Abbs and the Isles of Scilly, have become something called voluntary protection reserves. I hope that the noble Viscount will help us as to what on earth is meant by a voluntary protection reserve. The rest are all subject to consultation, submissions and so on: 13 years since that list was proposed—only two resolved.

The reason is clear. As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, pointed out, there has to be, in the Government's view, total unanimity before any MNR is declared as such. In the case of Skomer—I hesitate to cross swords with the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley; I am not a sub-aqua or scuba diver—I understand that the Sub-Aqua Federation held up designation of the MNR for something like five years because it could not agree to the idea that its members would not be allowed to put on their gear and dive wherever they wanted to dive because it was an MNR. When we get to that stage, and to the yachtsmen in the Menai Strait saying, "We are not going to agree to this", we will never achieve unanimity. In no way will we achieve unanimity. So by insisting on unanimity the Government have indeed scuppered their own programme.

Many suggestions have been made as to what should happen. First, what should happen is that the Government should get their act together in terms of legislation. We should know whether the habitats directive or the Wildlife and Countryside Act will be the relevant pieces of legislation when it comes to marine nature sites.

Secondly, we should adopt, or at least look at, some of the ideas, for instance, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, that SSSIs may be possible below the low water mark. The noble Lord put forward other ideas about coastal zone management which I thought were interesting. But, above all, as the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, remarked, there is on 8th and 9th June 1995—in a very short time from now—a ministerial conference, which is the fourth North Sea Ministerial Conference, which will gather in Esbjerg in Denmark. That will be an ideal opportunity to gain international agreement to protect the marine environment.

All the eight states with a North Sea coastline, as the noble Viscount pointed out, together with Switzerland and the European Commission, will be represented. We want to know—here I echo the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland—what proposals the Government have to make to that conference. Not what attitude, but what specific proposals will the Government make to that conference?

Furthermore, we want to know—this is where I end—whether the Government will show a greater political will than they have shown to date in enforcing and

17 May 1995 : Column 588

implementing whatever legislation comes out of that conference or any other conference that may take place. There is no doubt that the Government have been seriously dilatory in fulfilling their obligations under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. I only hope for their own sake that they are more speedy in the future.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page