Government Refuses to Budge on Highly Protected Marine Conservation Zones

The UK Marine Bill continued its passage through Parliament yesterday with the first debates on clauses in the Bill taking place in the House of Commons Committee stage. The Bill entered the Committee Stage on 29 June with a first ‘programming’ or procedural sesssion to discuss the order in which amendments and clauses to the Bill would be tackled. Yesterday’s sessions focused on the early clauses of the Bill, including clause 117 which concerns the grounds for designation of Marine Conservation Zones.

The BES contacted MPs sitting on the Committee earlier this week, along with the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Huw Irranca-Davies, to express concern at the omission of ‘ecological coherent network’ from the face of the legislation, concern that there is no duty to designate highly protected marine areas and concern that socio-economic considerations may override scientific evidence in the designation of marine protected areas. Many members of the Public Committee debating the Marine Bill at this stage had proposed amendments related to these concerns but in discussion these were withdrawn, or were not chosen by the Chair of the Committee for debate.

It was encouraging that, in responding to MPs concerns, Huw Irranca-Davies stated that “science is absolutely fundamental in determining where we will designate sites for MCZs”. In response to questioning from Martin Salter MP, asking for reassurance from the Minister that “the inclusion of phraseology such as ‘socioeconomic factors [is not] a Trojan horse and an excuse not to designate marine conservation zones” and that designation would be based on scientific evidence, the Minister stated that the Government would take this on board and look at strengthening guidance to this effect. Encouragingly, he recognised that “They [MCZs] will be able not only to protect on an individual site basis, but to allow for the replenishment and regeneration of species”. The Minister seemed committed to the development of an ‘ecologically coherent’ network, yet in earlier debates has expressed that the Government will not place this term in the Bill itself. Neither would the Government commit to including a duty to designate highly protected areas during yesterday’s meeting, stating that this would create an undesirable “two-tier” system which would undermine the conservation goals of the less highly protected areas within the network.

The BES plans to submit amendments to the Bill in relation to these points, to be heard during the next, Report, stage, which is likely to take place in October, following the summer parliamentary recess.

Read up to date proceedings from the Public Committee on the Marine and Coastal Access Bill and track the Bill’s progress through Parliament.