Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for, as ever, giving us an excellent explanation of why he has tabled these amendments and for raising these very important issues. I also thank the Minister for confirming in the earlier debate that net gain will be extended to major projects in the marine environment in the future, once a suitable approach has been developed. This is certainly a step forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, rightly made the point that our coastal territorial waters are in urgent need of protection and recovery, and, if we do not use this Bill to make that happen, what other opportunities will we have? The latest Committee on Climate Change adaptation report has highlighted concerns about the quality of our terrestrial waters. It says:

“There is clear evidence that warming seas, reduced oxygen, ocean acidification and sea-level rise are already affecting UK coasts and seas … with effects seen in seabed-dwelling species, as well as plankton, fish, birds and mammals.”

It also reports that there has been a decline in the overall condition of protected coastal sites.

So, on the one hand, we need to tackle the hazardous pollution, including plastic waste, that has led to the failure to meet the environmental targets to which the noble Lord referred. On the other hand, there is an opportunity to harness the power of nature in our coastal waters to sequestrate carbon through the growth of seagrasses and seaweed, such as at the innovative kelp farm being developed in Shoreham. But a strategy is needed to provide a framework for the change, which is why preparing and publishing a nature recovery strategy for the UK exclusive economic zone seems such a good idea. It is also why linking our coastal waters into local nature recovery strategies will ensure that those initiatives do not end at the shoreline.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, rightly referred back to our consideration of the then Fisheries Bill and our frustration that sustainable fishing was not allowed to be at the heart of the Bill, despite all our efforts. As a result, it seems that fishing quotas are very much business as usual, and overfishing—above the recommended scientific limits—remains rife. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, that this continues to be unacceptable and needs to be addressed by the Government. A nature recovery strategy would allow the opportunity to revisit that strategy, taking different criteria into account.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that we need a joined-up strategy between the Agriculture and Fisheries Acts and the Environment Bill. We have said that all along; every time a Bill comes along, we ask, “How come these pieces of legislation do not speak to each other?” She is right to raise again today our need for a joined-up approach.

Finally, I am pleased that the noble Lord has given us the opportunity to implement the recommendations of the Benyon Review into Highly Protected Marine Areas. The limits of the current standard marine protected areas are all too obvious, as damaging human activities are still allowed to destroy the marine habitat. Therefore, we very much welcome the definition of highly protected marine areas as those that allow the recovery of marine ecosystems while prohibiting “extractive, destructive and depositional” human activities. We welcome the amendment that sets out that the proposals for the initial locations should be published within six months of the Bill passing. The noble Lord said that he felt that the Government had caught up with his amendment; he might be on to something, but I feel that there are great advantages to having this spelled out in the Bill just to make sure that that progress is followed through. These are indeed key amendments, which could help to transform the quality of our marine environment. I hope that the Minister agrees and will feel able to turn these into government amendments, which I am sure would receive widespread support.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his powerful advocacy for the marine environment throughout these proceedings and, indeed, last year throughout the proceedings on the Fisheries Act, in which he knows I had some involvement.

I will focus first on Amendments 226, 227 and 229. I sympathise with the intention behind this group of amendments, but the Government do not agree that this is the right approach. Local nature recovery strategies build on the important role that local authorities play as local leaders and decision-makers within their areas, as the noble Lord will know from his time spent on the Cornwall pilot. Clearly, actions taken on land can affect the marine environment and vice versa, and we should not create false barriers to nature’s recovery.

As such, our intention is that local nature recovery strategies should integrate with existing spatial plans of marine areas. This is in order to understand the area’s current uses and its potential in adjacent marine areas. It is something that we have explored through recent pilots, which, as I said, the noble Lord has kindly supported. However, local authorities are not best placed to produce marine strategies, as these areas are largely beyond their remit and authority. I believe that requiring this would lead to significant complications and potentially unhelpful duplication with existing processes. It would include duplication with the Marine Management Organisation, which is England’s main marine regulator and manages the licensing of marine activities, recreation and fisheries beyond six nautical miles. The inshore fisheries and conservation authorities also manage fishing out to six nautical miles and any marine nature restoration strategies should include their input.

Amendment 233 would require the Defra Secretary of State to create a nature recovery strategy for the United Kingdom exclusive economic zone for England. The Government already have a strong framework in place to ensure ocean recovery through the UK marine strategy. Its goal is to ensure that all UK seas are of good environmental status, exactly as the noble Lord’s amendment would require.

In March this year, we published the updated UK Marine Strategy Part Two, setting out the monitoring programmes that we will use to assess progress towards our updated good environmental status targets. This will be followed by the update to our programme of measures, which will set out a comprehensive list of measures to help to achieve good environmental status. As the UK already has a strategy for ocean recovery, this well-intentioned amendment is not needed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, generously welcomed the Benyon Review into Highly Protected Marine Areas. The Government published their response to the review on World Oceans Day 2021 and accept the majority of its recommendations. In answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, about when we will designate HPMAs, that will be done in 2022. We do not agree that HPMAs should be only within existing marine protected areas, which was recommendation 13 of the report, and we will consider designating HPMAs outside the current MPA network to ensure that we can maximise nature recovery. Existing governance structures of ALBs were beyond the scope of the Government’s response to this review.

I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, also asked about joined-up thinking, which I know has concerned a number of noble Lords throughout the passage of this Bill, the Agriculture Act and the Fisheries Act. A number of measures in all three Acts will have benefits for the marine environment. The Fisheries Act will benefit the environment, as will the Agriculture Act. They have all been put together at a policy level and have been thought about comprehensively.

Amendments 246, 247 and 251 aim to create highly protected marine areas. The Government have committed to designate HPMAs by the end of 2022, using the definition of the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, as set out in his review, which was carried out before he joined the Government Front Bench. The Government will work with their arm’s-length bodies and stakeholders to identify a list of potential pilot sites for highly protected marine areas. On 5 July, we published the ecological criteria that we will use to identify highly protected marine areas and we will create a list of potential sites this year. We plan to designate pilot sites in 2022 as marine conservation zones, with higher levels of protection than existing zones, using powers under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, had a number of concerns about controlling harmful marine activities. Introduced under the Marine and Coastal Access Act, marine licensing is a process by which those seeking to undertake certain activities are required to apply for a licence. The requirement for a licence extends across much of our territorial seas, including the foreshore, and covers a diverse range of activities, from depositing a marker on the seabed through to large-scale developments. Authorisation or enforcement decisions must be taken in accordance with the appropriate marine plans.

In answer to the noble Baroness’s other question about drilling for oil and gas and refusal of future licences, I refer her to the Ten Point Plan and to the energy White Paper, which address her questions on oil and gas exploration. The Government have had to tread a careful dividing line and balance between keeping energy costs as low as we can while fulfilling our commitments to the net-zero target.

I assure the noble Lord that the requirements of the amendments are already covered, as the Government have committed to identifying potential sites this year and pilot sites designated as marine conservation zones in England will be covered by the protected site strategy clause. I thank the noble Lord for raising this important issue, which I know is close to his heart, and I hope that he is reassured by the Government’s commitments in this area. I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, would like to ask a question of the Minister before he decides how to dispose of his amendment.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
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My Lords, I will sum up in just a moment but I have a question for the Minister. I am very disappointed by her reply. It seems to fly in the face of what nature recovery networks are all about. However, I will come on to that later.

The Minister said that local authorities are not competent to deal with these issues—for example, the six-mile limit. However, she mentioned in particular IFCAs, which are the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities. They are nominated partly by the Marine Management Organisation—I agree with that—but appointments to them are also hugely influenced by local authorities. Local authorities are already hugely engaged in the first six-mile limits; they already have duties in that area. When it comes to the Marine Management Organisation and its licensing, which is within that same area as well, it has to talk to a number of statutory organisations before it can make decisions—for example, Natural England and the Environment Agency—and it has a concordat with local authorities to discuss those developments with them as well. Local authorities are already hugely involved in that area. Why not make it so that there is some structure to that within at least the six-mile limit, so that those decisions become coherent and make more sense—they are also probably more quickly made by the Marine Management Organisation and IFCAs—and so that the whole system becomes better and more efficient, and works for the environment as well? That is my question to the Minister.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I take the noble Lord’s point, but the three coastal pilot areas that we considered—Cornwall, Cumbria and Northumberland—all took very different approaches to voluntarily including adjacent marine areas in their pilots. There will be a sense of duplication in what the noble Lord is suggesting, because the spatial assessments of a marine area, capturing current uses and signalling future potential, are led by marine management organisations. To go further than that, I would like to take this back, consider it and perhaps write to the noble Lord if I can add any more flesh on those bones.

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Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I wanted to return to the question of sustainable fishing, which was mentioned by, among others, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. On 22 February, I asked a Question for Written Answer on what the Government’s strategy is for reducing quotas is fish stocks fall below their maximum sustainable yield. The Answer, which was rather long-winded, ended up saying:

“Where appropriate, they will set out actions to improve data collection and ways to establish sustainable harvest rates.”

My question for the Minister today is: is now the appropriate time and, if so, what action will the Government be taking to ensure that fish stocks are harvested at or below MSY?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I am sorry, my briefing does not include that sort of detail. May I write to the noble Lord with an update on the maximum sustainable yields and how we are faring?

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Finlay of Llandaff) (CB)
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I call the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and apologise again to him.

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Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in support of Amendment 251A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, to support the protection of our national parks.

National parks are havens for birds, animals, fish and humans seeking respite from the cares of daily life. They exist all over the world, from Chile up through North America and across Europe. We are exceptionally lucky to have a wide variety of national parks sprinkled across the whole country, from Cornwall to Wales and up to the Cairngorms in Scotland. Each has its own individuality and beauty, sometimes gentle but often rugged and wild. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, mentioned their role in tourism.

These national parks are currently protected by the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, but this should not allow us to take them for granted. Amendment 251A inserts a new clause into the Bill to provide some protection for the parks when public authorities are making decisions which could affect neighbouring national parks. The duties under the 1949 Act are supported by guidance from Defra, but this guidance is out of date and was last updated in 2005—it is not available on the Natural England website and refers to the now extinct regional development agencies and government regional offices. The current duty provides a backstop when conflict arises between competing interests. However, national parks see this as a last resort.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, laid out the reasons why the duty should be strengthened and gave excellent examples of lack of forethought on the part of public bodies. National parks have management plans; these should be promoted with public bodies, which should have due regard to them. The protected characteristics of national parks should be preserved and public bodies should have regard to both the characteristics and management plans, but this is very weak in terms of compliance and protection.

I fear I will go off on a tangent for a moment. During the passage of the ill-fated Housing and Planning Bill, there was discussion about affordable housing for those working in the parks and young people. This was in reference to Exmoor National Park, which the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred to. There were agricultural workers, farmhands, firefighters and other essential workers who worked in the park but could not afford to live there. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, referred to the pressure for housing but suggested that it should be on the edge of the parks. While protecting national parks, I urge them all to have provision for affordable homes included in their management plans to enable those working in them—those who would like to—to be able to live nearer to their place of work. Unnecessary travel adds to climate change and pollution. Living close to your place of work on a national park means you may be able to cycle or walk to work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, supported the argument that the current protection measures are not strong enough, and I agree with her. This amendment gives reassurance and provides the mechanism for local authorities and other public bodies—such as the MoD, which operates on Dartmoor and on the borders of other national parks—to take account of how their actions may affect the park, access to it and those living or working in or visiting the park in future. It should be remembered that people live in the parks. National parks should not be wrapped in cotton wool as anachronistic relics. They should be assisted to be fit for purpose today but protected from harmful developments. I fully support this important amendment.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome Amendment 251A from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the contributions of all those who spoke about the importance of our national parks, on which I think we are all agreed. From the meres and hills of the Lake District to the chalk of the South Downs—and a lot of Wales, I must add—they are some of our most valuable landscapes.

That is why the Government commissioned the independent Landscapes Review, which set out a compelling vision for more beautiful, more biodiverse and more accessible national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. The panel’s report recommended strengthening the duty on public bodies to have regard to the purposes of the national parks and to support implementation of management plans. This would have a very similar effect to the proposed amendment from the noble Baroness.

In a Written Ministerial Statement of 24 June, the Government committed to address the review’s recommendations in full and consult on draft proposals later this year. Those draft proposals will address this recommendation. This has been an unprecedented year for the country, so work since the review was published has indeed been delayed, but the Government are working very closely with partners on their response to it. We have committed to address its recommendations in full and to consult on draft proposals later this year. I am of course very happy to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, as part of the consultation, or we can discuss it earlier if that would be helpful.

The Government support the intention of the noble Baroness to ensure that our public bodies work together more effectively in our national parks. We all agree there has been a problem here. We are currently working closely with partners, including the national park authorities, to consider how best to achieve that aim through our response to the review. However, we cannot accept this amendment, as it is important to work with our partners and consult on any such changes before changing the law, particularly to understand potential implications for those public bodies likely to be affected. The Landscapes Review found strong evidence that public bodies are failing to have adequate regard to the statutory purposes of the national parks. It also found that the effectiveness of the management plans is limited by poor implementation by local partners, including public bodies. The Government take this finding seriously and are working with partners to consider carefully how to address it.

A number of noble Lords raised the question of infrastructure plans in the national parks. The 2010 National Parks Circular and the National Planning Policy Framework are very clear that national parks, the Broads and areas of outstanding natural beauty are not appropriate locations for major development. I will look into the specific cases that they raised and provide more detail on those if appropriate.

I also assure the Committee that, since the Glover review was published, the Government have been supporting important work in our protected landscapes through our nature for climate fund and green recovery challenge fund to restore nature, tackle climate change and connect communities with the natural environment. The Government have also recently announced their new farming in protected landscapes programme, which will provide additional investment to allow farmers and other land managers to work in partnership with our national park authorities to deliver bigger and better outcomes for the environment, communities and places.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked a number of questions, particularly on ELMS. This funding will help to drive forward delivery of the Landscapes Review on people, access, nature and job creation, responding to the public appetite from Covid-19 for better access to nature. Specifically, the fund should help to support delivery of the Landscapes Review recommendations on connecting more people to protected landscapes, delivering the new environmental land management schemes, increasing the diversity of visitors through tourism, creating landscapes which cater for health and well-being, expanding volunteers and rangers and providing better information and signs. Specifically, this funding will help farmers to shift towards delivering environmental benefits which, in the future, could be supported by environmental land management, particularly the components that support local nature and landscape recovery.

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for his contribution. Sadly, I have not been able to receive divine intervention quite in time to respond to his specific questions, particularly about earlier legislation, but I will write to him and put a copy in the Library. I hope that I have now provided assurance to the noble Baroness that we share her aims for national parks: we just need a bit more time to work with public bodies, including national parks themselves, to get this right. I therefore hope she will agree to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that we are blessed with very special national parks, each one unique in its own way. As we have heard from the contributions, everybody has their favourite and the particular one that they are a cheerleader for. We sometimes take the national parks for granted, but the experience over the last 18 months has ensured that they are back in the front line and are rightly seen as the national treasures that they really are. They have played an important part in people’s sanity, and mental health, over the last period.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that the national parks have to be integrated into the work of the Agriculture Act—an issue that we addressed earlier when we talked about joined-up policies—and it is important that they play a rightful role in the rollout of ELMS. We welcome the Government’s proposals for farming in protected landscapes and the additional investment that will come from that, because the farming community in the national parks has to work in a way that is properly sympathetic to the landscape that we are hoping to develop there. There are special challenges, but also great benefits if we get this right.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned the South Downs ambition of 33% to protect our landscapes. I agree that we should be ambitious: every national park is unique and will have different constraints. South Downs has an awful lot of people living there and a lot of businesses already operating there. Obviously, we need to push to the limits of our capacity in order to make sure that nature recovery takes place in the widest possible area. We will obviously do that.