Salter speaks about Fishing, gets Plaid and the LD mixed up (what A twit)

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
It is truly a pleasure to follow Mark Williams. I am happy to inform him that I shall spend part of my annual holiday in his constituency, mainly because I am too mean to go abroad, given the fall in the value of the pound. I am still struggling to get my head round the notion of a Plaid Cymru Member who has an accent that makes him sound like he comes from Slough.

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Simon Burns (Whip, Whips; West Chelmsford, Conservative)
He’s a Liberal Democrat.

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Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
Oh, well that explains it all. I do apologise; there is nothing wrong with the accent at all, and there is nothing wrong with Slough, either. I had better talk about the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, which is a long-awaited measure.

Last year, I served on the Joint Committee on the draft Bill with hon. Members who are present. Nick Herbert, who spoke for the Conservatives, was a little churlish; the Bill has had extensive pre-legislative scrutiny. That is why we can have a constrained Committee stage, and why, following the extensive pre-legislative scrutiny and extensive, comprehensive debate in the other place, we can get the Bill passed by the summer, after 12 Committee sittings, with co-operation from Members across the House. I understand that the Government have already conceded about 50 cross-party amendments. This is a much-improved Bill. However, we still have some improvements to make, and in my short contribution, I shall sketch out further improvements that I seek to make, hopefully with the support of colleagues from across the divide, in order to make a good Bill even better.

I shall primarily concentrate on issues of concern to recreational sea anglers and people in the recreational angling world more generally, as hon. Members would perhaps expect, but there are three other issues that I want to mention. Before I do that, I should like to read into the record something to show how widely the Bill has been welcomed. It is an international first. It is a major Bill that will introduce a new framework for the seas, based on marine spatial planning that balances conservation, energy and resource needs. Perhaps one of the most powerful non-governmental organisations, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, of which a number of Labour colleagues and Mr. Randall are members, probably spoke for the NGO community as a whole when it said in December last year:

“The future of the UK’s globally-important marine wildlife looks…brighter with the introduction of a Marine and Coastal Access Bill in the Queen’s Speech.”

It went on to say that it trusts that the new legislation will protect the natural wealth of our marine environment while providing a framework for the sustainable use of our seas. I have no doubt that introducing the Bill is a truly honourable role for us to play, as others have said. The Bill is a once-in-a-generation, or once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity, and I have absolutely no doubt that with the combined resources and passion that have been demonstrated in this debate and will be demonstrated in Committee, we will improve the Bill still further. Future generations will thank this House and this Parliament for doing that.

I now come to my three points. On the marine management organisation, clause 36 brings in, through guidance, a sustainable development duty. That is very important, and it is the result of a worthwhile amendment. On marine planning, amendments to clause 58 mean that it now provides for a duty to report on marine planning every three years. That was a crucial change; it focuses and tightens that essential function. I do not want to repeat arguments that other hon. Members have made, but there are a number of issues to do with marine conservation zones. Clause 123 contains a requirement, once the process starts, to designate an MCZ within 12 months. It is ridiculous, is it not, that following the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981—groundbreaking but fundamentally flawed legislation that is need of overhaul, which is basically what we are providing—about only 2.2 per cent. of our amazing coastline is protected? I want that figure to be increased by a factor of 10 very quickly, and I understand that we could have some interesting announcements shortly from colleagues on the Front Bench.

I support the lobby by the NGOs for an ecologically coherent network of sites. I know that the NGOs want, and will get, probing amendments on that issue. My right hon. Friend Mr. Morley, who is an acknowledged expert in this area, was right when he raised the problem of the inter-tidal zones. Natural England got a bit of a pasting from one contributor from the Opposition, in one of the less impressive speeches we have heard today. Natural England does a good job managing the SSSIs. The MCZs will have enough on their plate without worrying about the inter-tidal zones, and where an SSSI stretches into a tidal area, let us leave well alone. If it ain’t broke, let’s not fix it. These new bodies will have many other things to do, and additional powers and responsibilities can come later.

NGOs and hon. Members have talked about socio-economic factors. I tilt towards the Government position here—although I do not guarantee to do so throughout the Committee stage—which is that socio-economic factors “may” be taken into account, not “shall” be taken into account. That is significant, and the House would do well to reflect on that. We will have an opportunity when looking at MCZs of equal value, and socio-economic factors could come into play then. I caution against placing a blanket ban on that.

I turn now to specific issues relating to recreational sea angling and wildfowling. Mr. Stuart proved that he is a true Tory, because he was worried about coastal access on behalf of the landowners. Of course he was: he is a Tory, and that is what they do—

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James Gray (North Wiltshire, Conservative)
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Link to this Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 23 June 2009, c743)
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Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
Go on then—the hon. Gentleman is a proper Tory.

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James Gray (North Wiltshire, Conservative)
The hon. Gentleman is a true old socialist. Of course my hon. Friend Mr. Stuart was not talking about large landowners. He was talking about farmers and people whose houses go down to the sea. It is a dreadful misrepresentation of what my hon. Friend said to pretend that he was speaking on behalf of dukes.

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Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing that point to my attention, but I was talking about landowners in general. The serious point—on which I think I will find common ground with my neighbour, Mr. Benyon—is the little glitch in the Bill’s drafting on the difference between tenants and landowners. Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000—CROW—there is an appeals process, which is not only open to landowners, but to sporting tenants. For instance, that might mean the local angling club, which has some fishing on the tidal Stour in Dorset. It might mean the local wildfowling club—wildfowling is a far more working class sport than shooting on grouse moors. Under the CROW, the Labour Government gave the owner of the grouse moor the right to lodge an appeal, and the shooters on that moor have the same right. Under the Bill, however, the poor little wildfowling club will have no rights at all, if they are—as most of them are—sporting tenants.

Many of us have received representations on that point from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, an organisation for which I have a lot of time. It says:

“The problem revolves around the definition of ‘a relevant interest in land’ within the Bill. . . It differs from the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, because it excludes holders of sporting rights—which of course include fishing”

and wildfowling clubs. The Association goes on to say:

“It seems that the civil servants have a poor understanding of shooting”

and recreational angling

“on the coast and have taken a position based on the lack of knowledge. . . It is ironic to see a Labour government giving grouse moor owners a right of appeal in CROW but dismissing the rights of wildfowlers, rough shooters and pest controllers. We will return to that issue in Committee, and I am sure that we can resolve it.”

The Marine Bill is the mechanism by which we will deliver much of the salmon and freshwater fisheries review of 2001. We have waited eight years to put some of this into legislation. I have noticed a small technical issue regarding the sale of salmon and sea trout. A number of obsolete provisions in the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 will be repealed under part 7 of the Bill, but the Government have left section 22 untouched. Surely that is also redundant, given that the dates when the sale of salmon and trout was prohibited no longer correspond to the close seasons for those species. Furthermore, we are giving the Environment Agency complete flexibility to set close season byelaws. We must return to this issue in Committee, but I wanted to put a marker down for the Whips to expect an amendment on that point.

A few days ago, in my capacity as chair of the all-party angling group and my party’s spokesman on angling, I convened a meeting with the new governing body for angling, the Angling Trust, which brought together representatives from coarse, game and sea fishing. It discussed several issues, some of which have already been mentioned. I welcome the demise of the sea fisheries committees—they were unbalanced—but we must ensure that there are at least as many recreational sea anglers on the new committees, the IFCAs, as there are commercial fishermen. If county councillors who have links with the commercial sector are on those committees, that must be declared; otherwise, we cannot get the balance right.

I am delighted that officials in DEFRA have announced that, by and large, recreational sea angling will not be banned in the MCZs—it will be banned only in some of the marine protected areas. We have a unique opportunity to help with the enforcement of the MCZs. Recreational sea anglers would welcome the opportunity to fish in the buffer zones on the edge of the MCZs. Those would provide excellent fishing and it would also assist in enforcing the MCZ. It is all very well drawing imaginary lines in the sea, but unless anglers—who have a vested interest in reporting illegal commercial fishing—are there as the eyes and ears, we will have made policy in a vacuum. I want to see on the face of the Bill a definition to improve, develop and maintain fisheries, and to enhance their social and economic contribution through recreational angling.

Finally, I turn to the freshwater part of the Bill—the bit that will enact the review. There is and has been an ongoing problem with fish thefts, especially in public fisheries. It is difficult to define who owns a fish or a stock of fish in, for example, the River Thames, much of which is tidal. The current system of byelaws is arcane and unenforceable. Yesterday, the Environment Agency began consultation on new legislation to make it an offence to take fish without permission. We have had problems, especially with people from other cultures who take fish for the pot and do not recognise our catch-and-release culture. I welcome the fact that we can overhaul outdated fisheries legislation and I am delighted that the Minister has agreed to use this Bill as a mechanism for delivering that review. I am also delighted that we will have an opportunity to protect eel fishing—eels are under particular threat at the moment. Finally, I ask the Minister to think again about the nonsense that the new sea fisheries committees would have responsibility for enforcing the tidal limit. That cannot be right.

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8:29 pm

James Gray (North Wiltshire, Conservative)
It is a pleasure to follow Martin Salter, with whom I have spent the last 12 years in this place hoping that he as an old socialist and I as an old Tory would find lots of areas of fundamental and sharp disagreement. Sadly, over 12 years I have found that we have agreed on far more than we have disagreed on. Today’s debate is no exception to that. We even agree on the removal of those obnoxious little notices in the cafeteria that say, “Members must take priority at all times.” The hon. Gentleman and I pride ourselves on removing them.

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Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
Will the hon. Gentleman read on to the record that it is he and I who have been acting in guerrilla warfare against the House authorities on those objectionable notices? We stand accused.

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James Gray (North Wiltshire, Conservative)
We are a pair of hoary old guerrillas, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and we stand guilty as charged. We remove those dreadful notices and will continue to do so. Once he has left this place—it will be a poorer place once he has gone, although of course he will always be welcome to come down to Malmesbury in my constituency to go fishing, as he does at the moment—I pledge to him that I shall continue to remove those dreadful little notices until I am even older than he currently is.

Most of the people who have spoken in the debate have said, perfectly correctly, that the principle behind the Bill is outstandingly good. I certainly would agree with that. It has been a long time coming, as my hon. Friend Nick Herbert said. There has been pre-legislative scrutiny over the past year, but that is no excuse. The Government have been 12 years in post, and the fact that we have spent six months looking at the Bill does not excuse the fact that it has been so long in coming. Nor do I believe that the fact that there has been pre-legislative scrutiny is a good excuse for curtailing the Committee stage, as has been proposed in the programme motion. It seems to me that many of the things proposed by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on which I serve, have been entirely ignored in the drafting of the Bill. An opportunity to re-discuss those matters in Committee would be useful.

Overall, most people who have spoken in the debate so far have agreed that the marine conservation aspect of the Bill is a long time coming, is entirely to be welcomed and will be of great benefit to those of us who love the sea and the seaside, which most people in the United Kingdom do. Incidentally, Ms Smith, who is not here, rather apologised for being from an entirely inland constituency. North Wiltshire is one of the most inland areas that there is, but I am proud of the fact that the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society is based in Chippenham, in my constituency, and it does a good job in preserving whales and dolphins despite the fact that it is hundreds of miles from the nearest whales and dolphins. It does a fine job, and we need feel no embarrassment about that.

In that context, I would prefer to leave the outstandingly good marine conservation aspects of the Bill to one side and to focus on an aspect that has not been given sufficient consideration in the debate but that is an important central part of the Bill—that is, the coastal access provisions.

Perhaps I should start by saying that I am a strong supporter of rambling, walking, getting into the countryside, cycling and riding horses. The more we can encourage people to do that, the better. We are very strong supporters of that. The Labour party acknowledged that in its manifesto by saying that it intended to improve access to the coast. That manifesto did not say that it would create a coastal access path, but made a commitment to improve access to the coast. I strongly support that. The more we can do to encourage people to go to the coast and to go into the countryside, the better it will be. That is not the issue. The issue is the means by which we do that.

As we have heard this evening, two thirds of the coastline is already open to walkers. Hundreds of miles of coastline are perfectly open to walkers. That has been done by mutual consent and traditional rights of way, and large parts of the coastline are available. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough argued that the average length of coast available is only 2.5 miles. How she came to that average, I am not at all sure, because large parts of the coast offer hundreds of miles of walks without walkers’ having to leave the main part of the coast. Of course, when one comes to estuaries, towns, yacht basins and caravan sites, there will be parts where one cannot continue along the edge of the coast, and it is only reasonable that one should then move slightly inland.

I am by no means convinced that thousands of people in our towns and cities are desperate to go for a walk along our coastline and cannot find one to walk along. I simply do not believe that that is the case. Indeed, I have spent most of my summer holidays for the past 25 years at a house high on the cliffs in Cornwall, on the coast path. I tend to be there for the first two weeks in August, which is the high point of the holiday season. In my 25 years at that house, on that cliff, on the very best part of the coastal path in Cornwall, I suspect that I have seen no more than 10 or 20 walkers. That is the best stretch of coastal path. I do not believe that tens of thousands of people around the nation desperately want coastal paths. The polls demonstrate that most people want to walk for between half an hour and an hour before returning to the car park that they started from. I am not certain that there is a huge demand for allowing people to walk all the way from Newcastle to Carlisle via the coastline, and Land’s End. Anyone who wanted to do that walk would probably go along Hadrian’s wall instead. I respect and admire committed long-distance walkers, but I am not convinced that there are an awful lot of them.

With that as background, I turn now to the fact that the Bill proposes spending a minimum of £50 million on opening the remainder of one third of the coastline to walkers. Some of the money would be spent on employing full-time coastal access monitors in each region. Knowing Government estimates, I suspect that the cost would be very much higher over the 10 years for which the scheme is proposed. At a time like this, can we really justify spending tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on something that only the dedicated few want?

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Andrew George (St Ives, Liberal Democrat)
It is important to put the matter in the current economic context. Does the hon. Gentleman therefore accept that the South West Coast Paths Association has estimated—I am sure that its estimates are right—that the south-west coastal path alone is worth £300 million per annum to the area’s economy?

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James Gray (North Wiltshire, Conservative)
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and he is of course right. I shall say more about the south-west coastal path in a moment, and in particular the economic advantages that come from it. It is a wonderful path, and I have walked many parts of it. It was established not by Government diktat but by voluntary agreement between local authorities and the landowners to whom the patches of land involved belonged. The path goes most of the way round Devon and Cornwall and, although some sections remain incomplete, it owes its existence to entirely voluntary arrangements. I am very strongly in favour of that.

It is also true that those landowners who did not want the path were persuaded to accept it by the large sums of money that local authorities were willing to pay them. That is perfectly legitimate: if a local authority wants a patch of land, or the use of it, why should it not be encouraged to pay large sums of money? However, the Bill does not provide that encouragement. It says that the Government will not pay large sums of money to landlords, but that they will simply drive their plans through.

I very much welcome the improvements to the Bill achieved in the other place, and especially the introduction of a right of appeal. That is very important, and it something for which the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee called. I hope that the Government will allow that provision to remain.

Other aspects of detail need to be improved, and the hon. Member for Reading, West raised a most interesting point about the definition of “landowner”. Moreover, the Bill simply ignores the question of sporting rights, but that is also something that needs to be looked at. Members of local wildfowling or angling clubs do not necessarily want walkers right beside them, and I am sure it must be possible to find ways to push them further away.

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David Drew (Stroud, Labour)
Given that the Bill on heritage protection is not being brought forward, does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the lacunae in this Bill is the issue of inter-tidal wrecks? These are vessels that have been tied up along our coastline. In my constituency, the now-famous Purton hulks are not subject to any protection and are consequently being vandalised, even though they are a very important historic site. Does he agree that the Bill could be extended to protect such sites?

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James Gray (North Wiltshire, Conservative)
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. He serves with me on the Select Committee and came along on our visit to the Essex coast. We saw a number of cases where, for various reasons, the simplistic notion of driving the path around the entire coast will not work. Marine archaeology may well be one of those reasons.

I am glad that, after some discussion, the Government exempted parks and gardens from the provisions of the Bill. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough, who is sadly not in her place, said that she did not like that exemption. She thought that parks and gardens should be included in the Bill, but the fact is that 47,000 people could be affected. We are not talking about landlords or dukes; we are talking about the 47,000 ordinary people whose parks and gardens lie along the coast. I very much welcome the fact that the Government exempted parks and gardens and that the exemption was maintained by the House of Lords.

I am, however, concerned by the fact that Natural England has argued throughout in favour of the inclusion of parks and gardens. In the briefing sent to us today, Natural England says:

“Further work is needed to clarify the scope of the Government’s proposed parks and gardens exemption, and we welcome the commitment from Government to look further at this issue.”

In other words, Natural England seems to imply that the parks and gardens exemptions might be waived. It must not be waived; 47,000 very ordinary people living on the coast of England are watching what happens in the House today and in Committee to make sure that their privacy and right of ownership is protected. An Englishman’s home is his castle, and the right of ownership is an important part of what we stand for in the House. Those people are watching the debate carefully to make sure that the legislation does not cut across their rights.

The same points apply to spreading room. Of course, I believe in headlands and beaches being available to people walking the coastal path, but the Government have introduced the rather bizarre notion of spreading room—a large area, often inland from the path, which will allow people to do all sorts of things, irrespective of what might be happening on the land, most of which is grazing land. There are cows, sheep, horses and—to a lesser extent—pigs on much of that land, but the spreading room provisions take no account of that fact. That, too, seems an unreasonable invasion of the right of the farmer to make use of his land.

The whole question of farmers’ liability is not properly addressed in the Bill. What if horses, or cows, grazing on the land attack the walker—as may occasionally happen? It appears that the landowner may have some residual liability under the Bill, which seems quite wrong to me.

There are many similar things. The question of dogs has not really been addressed. I have four of them. Of course we want to take our dogs for walks along the coast and in the countryside, but those of us who take things seriously know that we must keep the dogs under close control anywhere near livestock. If the Government are indeed right in thinking that tens of thousands of people from Sheffield, Hillsborough will be walking along the coastal path, will they keep their dogs under close control, as those of us who are used to the countryside do naturally?

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Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about parks and gardens, but does he see the contradiction in his argument? He fought the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000—the right to roam Act—tooth and nail on the grounds that thousands of people would be wandering willy-nilly over the countryside. Now he says that will not happen.

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James Gray (North Wiltshire, Conservative)
The hon. Gentleman is of course quite wrong. I opposed the Act simply because I believed there was no need for it, and I have been proved absolutely right. Since it was passed, the number of walkers has collapsed; far fewer people go into the countryside than before the CROW Act was passed, and I am using precisely the same argument about the Bill.

I am strongly in favour of encouraging people into the countryside and on to the coastal paths. Two thirds of our coast is already satisfactorily pathed and people are making significant use of it. I do not believe the Bill does enough to encourage that use with regard to business. It could do more to help walkers reach the seaside businesses that would benefit. Islands were mentioned earlier, but the Government have not given enough thought to estuaries and precisely where the path will go. A whole variety of detailed matters could result in an extremely good idea being brought into some disrepute. I hope that in Committee the Government will think carefully about those aspects of the Bill and allow us all to be proud of the end product.

salter fish

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Published in: on July 4, 2009 at 12:07 am  Leave a Comment  

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