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Lord Hardy of Wath: I recall pressing for marine nature reserves during the proceedings on the 1981 Act. The grey seals around the British Isles are a very significant part of the world population of that species. We are, therefore, morally obliged to maintain a significant population of grey seals. The best answer to the problem which the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, quite rightly identifies is to ensure that the world produces more salmon than it does at the moment, which may well suggest a more searching look at fish farms and practices associated with them.
One of the reasons why it is essential to pay greater attention to our marine reserves is that, although we have a rich variety of species around our coasts, I understand that the vast majority of the post-mortems carried out on dolphins, to which my noble friend referred, reveal high levels of poisons of various kinds. That may be a threat to the long-term survival of that very attractive species which has been around our coasts for millennia. I hope that we shall see more marine reserves which encourage a greater application of modern science and study so that, not only do we know more about them but, with that knowledge, we are able to contribute to their survival. I support the amendment and hope that that assists my noble friend.
Lord Greenway: I hesitate to intervene in this cosy little debate, but I believe that at this late stage it is entirely inappropriate to introduce substantially new powers of a maritime nature into what was, until the introduction of the dolphin and shark amendment in
Baroness Young of Old Scone: My noble friend Lord Judd is right to raise this issue. The marine environment is a new and undiscovered country of incredible importance to the biodiversity of the United Kingdom. A marine working party is looking into this matter and, ideally, one should wait for its findings before moving ahead. However, it is 20 years since we last secured some decent wildlife legislation, and I am not sure that we can wait another 20 years for further legislation. I believe that we must seize this opportunity as it goes past and anticipate the fact that we must implement OSPAR. Effectively, marine conservation will require the kinds of regulations which are outlined in the amendment. Although the marine working party is doing extremely valuable work, it is looking at the matter in a much wider context, not simply some of the regulations covered by the amendment.
Lord Glentoran: I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. We both spoke strongly on this subject on Friday in the debate on biodiversity. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. Action on this front is urgently needed because of the damage which is being done daily. I have had the privilege to be a commissioner of the Irish Lighthouse Service and a yachtsman of one kind or another for 40 years. I have travelled the coast of Ireland regularly by sea, road and, at times, helicopter. I have travelled the whole of the coast of the United Kingdom and a good part of Europe in small boats and experienced inshore biodiversity regularly over the years. I have also visited the Mediterranean. I have observed the rapid deterioration of the marine biology, particularly in France and the south coast of England.
As my noble friend beside me said, marine biodiversity is not glamorous because what happens on the seabed is not seen. One does not see all the sewage that is released from yachts into estuaries. In certain parts of Europe, in particular the Mediterranean, it is already totally forbidden to discharge anything from a yacht or ship of any kind within a number of miles of the coast. Yachts at anchor may look attractive, but chains permanently rub along the seabed and keep it clear. There is no chance of life of any kind in those vicinities. The numbers of yachts and ships doing that are increasing. Valuable lichens and animals live on the rocks and cliffs where climbers go--I have done that as well--and they can be destroyed by boots. In short, our marine biodiversity seriously needs looking at in many respects. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said. This is a big subject. It needs to be properly researched. But we cannot wait.
Baroness Nicol: I welcome the conversion on this issue of the Opposition. I have spent something like 17 years-- particularly when I was sitting on the other sideof the Chamber--trying to get a positive response on marine protection. It has been quite impossible to make any progress. I am delighted now that we are to have the support of the Opposition in this particular field.
Earl Peel: I think I am right in saying that under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 the noble Baroness pressed for these recommendations to be accepted by the then government. Furthermore, a number of marine SSSIs were actually designated on the back of the recommendations of the noble Baroness and other Members of your Lordships' House.
Baroness Nicol: I was not a Member of your Lordships' House at the time of the passing of the 1981 Act. I arrived a couple of years later. But I was quickly made aware of the fact that marine protection had to be forced into the 1981 Act. It was not done willingly. When one looks at the history of what has happened to marine protection since that Act, I wonder whether my noble friend is wise to pursue a similar course and force it into this provision. I am keen to have a proper Act on marine conservation.
Lord Whitty: As I indicated in the debate on Friday at which several noble Lords were present, I accept that there has been a lack of progress on designating marine conservation areas, as compared with land-based ones, and in affording the protection which would be achieved by them. That is why we have put into effect this current review on marine conservation to report by the end of this year.
However, the question in the amendment is whether we should use the Bill to implement Article 2 of Annex V of OSPAR. We ratified--to correct my noble friend Lord Judd--the annex earlier this year. Now, because an adequate number of countries have ratified it, it will come into effect on 31st October. We welcome that. We have indeed in part taken the lead in this.
However, the provision of a new international agreement does not necessarily mean that we need new powers in this country. Indeed, the logic is slightly the other way round in that we would not have ratified the treaty if we did not think we had adequate powers. We think that we have adequate powers, both European powers and under the Merchant Shipping Acts and the Petroleum Acts, which could be used to legislate for measures under Annex V. If we were to adopt new specific powers before the Bill came into force, and indeed before we had completed the current review of marine conservation areas, it may actually lead to us adopting the wrong additional provisions, should we conclude that we needed them.
Therefore, we believe that we have a substantial number of powers already. We now have the will to pursue an increase in identification and powers to enforce marine conservation areas of all kinds, and we will have the international obligation to do so from the 31st of this month. In the mean time, legislation is also being drafted to extend the UK's implementation of the habitats directive--for example, up to 200 nautical miles--to reflect the High Court decision on the judicial review last year. There are significant similarities between the habitats directive and the birds directive so we are also considering whether we should extend the provision in relation to birds as well.
A good deal is happening on the maritime side. There are new pressures on us in this area. But we do not think that this is the appropriate vehicle for implementing our obligations under Annex V. We can probably do so already, and if there are ways in which our present powers are inadequate, we do not yet know what they are. We would have to address that in what my noble friend has already identified as the preferred solution, which was underlined by my noble friend Lady Nicol just now.
Lord Judd: I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply. The hour is late. I would love to get into a long debate with my old friend, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, about seals. I hope he will forgive me if at this hour of night I choose not to get into that specific debate except to say that what would be necessary under legislation is for the species and its future to be appropriately managed. That does not mean that one would not control the number of seals, but one would have to be certain that a policy was in place to ensure that the species survived.
I am a little concerned that in some of the contributions to this interesting debate there was what could be interpreted in one or two quarters as something approaching complacency. When we are all so disturbed about what has happened in the terrestrial setting and how we have almost lost control in terms of the rate at which species are declining, it is impossible to overemphasise the need for speedy and timely action in the marine environment. If the working party brings forward a report which facilitates proper regulation sooner rather than later, that will be altogether good. But if it leads only to further delay while still further debate takes place about what should be done, that will be approaching disaster.
What has heartened me is that my noble friend the Minister--I have known him for many years and he knows how much I respect him--has used some very important words. He said that the will exists. When my noble friend says that the will exists, that is on the record and we respect that he has said it. I interpret that as meaning that the Government will act and act effectively. All I say is that we have no alternative. I am delighted to hear that the annex has now been ratified. I thought that it was about to be ratified. The fact that it has been ratified is good news. But if the annex is ratified and the convention is signed, we have no