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Commons Chamber

Volume 77: debated on Friday 26 April 1985

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House Of Commons

Friday 26 April 1985

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock

The Clerk at the Table informed the House of the unavoidable absence, through illness, of MR. SPEAKER from this day's sitting.

Whereupon MR. HAROLD WALKER, THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, proceeded to the Table and, after Prayers, took the Chair, as DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Orders Of The Day

Motor Cycle Crash-Helmets (Restriction Of Liability) Bill

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Clause 1

Amendment Of Road Traffic Act 1972

9.35 am

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 10, leave out from 'law' to end of line 14 and insert—

"no person who drives a motor cycle shall be guilty of an offence if carrying a passenger who is committing a contravention, if it can be shown that a suitable crash helmet was made available for the passenger to wear at the time.".
The amendment would make regulations affecting motor cycles much more comparable to those affecting motor car seats belts. The necessary safety equipment is made available in a car and a passenger can be regarded as criminally responsible if he does not use it. Such responsibility should not devolve to a motor cyclist. The amendment would be a considerable improvement of the law. One of its advantages is that it would leave out the vexed issue of what should be the age of responsibility —14, 16 or 21—as the age of the passenger does not arise.

The amendment obliges the owner of a motor cycle who is in the habit of giving a lift to carry with him a spare crash helmet. If a helmet is attached to the pillion seat, for example, the driver will have discharged his responsibilities. We shall then have provided as we have with motor cars, and it will be up to the passenger to make use of the safety equipment—in this case a crash helmet.

Most passengers who use the front seat of a motor car do up their seat belts. A driver's duty is discharged when the passenger's attention is drawn to the existence of the seat belt, irrespective of whether it is used. Car passengers often do not wear seat belts on medical grounds or because of claustrophobia, for example. However, the driver of a car does not break the law if he carries a passenger who is not wearing a seat belt if one is provided. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister and the House will accept the amendment.

I oppose the amendment, which purports to amend clause 1 so as to make relief from criminal liability dependent upon the availability at the time of a suitable crash helmet. However, as drafted, it would relieve the rider of liability for not using a crash helmet himself if a suitable one was available to his passenger. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) seems to have drafted an extraordinary new escape to meet a mischief that is not even found in the original law. That suggests that my hon. Friend does not understand the purpose of the Bill.

The purpose of the Bill is to exempt the rider from prosecution as an aider and abetter if his passenger is not wearing a crash helmet, unless that passenger happens to be a child. It does not exempt the rider or passenger from prosecution if he is not wearing a crash helmet. The amendment would relieve the rider of liability for not wearing a crash helmet himself and is thus, in my respectful submission, misconceived and plain bad.

If my hon. Friend wants to exempt anyone from liability for not wearing a crash helmet or for the passenger not wearing one, where a suitable crash helmet has been provided—I understand that that is what he is saying—it would be better to amend the principal Act and to specify that the regulations allow for the availability of a suitable helmet in every case. But, with respect, it is neither appropriate nor logical to amend the Bill in this way, as it would defeat the whole purpose of the principal Act, which is to make it a criminal offence to ride a motor cycle when not wearing a crash helmet, whether or not a passenger is carried. If the amendment was accepted, it would make nonsense of the Act, and I therefore ask the House to reject it.

Crash helmets are vital for both riders and pillion passengers, but they have to be the right crash helmets. I understand why my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Fan) has tabled this amendment, but I also understand only too well why my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), whose Bill this is, has spoken against it. I do not wish to take up the time of the House with drafting objections to the amendment, but hon. Members should note in passing that, as drafted, the amendment says nothing about what is meant by a "suitable" helmet or about by whom the helmet is to be made available. Thus there are two gaps in the information supplied by it.

However, I shall leave those issues aside, as I do not want to be nit-picking. There are more fundamental objections to the amendment, which my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington has outlined. As he has said, the aim of the Bill is to restrict liability to the person actually committing the offence of not wearing a helmet while riding or driving a motor cycle. The amendment would thwart that aim completely by protecting the rider from aiding and abetting charges only where it could be shown that a helmet was available for the passenger to wear.

I am also concerned that the amendment seems to imply an obligation on the rider to provide a helmet for the passenger. That would be of very doubtful road safety value. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough tried to make an analogy with seat belts, the situation is entirely different. Seat belts are permanently fixed in a car. It is true that they are adjustable. Their length is adjustable, and sometimes the angle over the shoulder can be changed according to whether there is a special purpose-made clip.

However, crash helmets are not fixed. There are many different types of crash helmet, and, as my hon. Friends will know, we have sought to improve their standard so that only suitable ones are worn. The only adjustment that an occasional passenger could make to a helmet that had not been bought to fit his head would be to alter the chin strap or occasionally to make alterations inside. But that is not enough. It is perhaps a truism to say that heads vary in size, but I wager that at least five or six different sizes of crash helmet would be needed for those of us in the Chamber today. That means that there would always be a risk —

9.45 am

Small helmets on this side and big ones on the other side.

I am not sure about that. I think that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington might go for small helmets—(Interruption.] However, I shall not be tempted down a path which has nothing to do with the Bill.

A crash helmet that is provided by someone else for the occasional use of any passenger could be very dangerous. If it was too loose it might slip on impact, and if it was too tight it might make problems for the wearer's head. An ill-fitting helmet gives the wearer very little protection, and the rider could scarcely be expected to provide his passenger with a helmet that fitted exactly. Often it is neither practical nor safe for motor-cyclists to travel with a selection of spare helmets.

Perhaps the Minister will emphasise that the change in the design of crash helmets has made an enormous difference to head injuries, and that most accident departments are not having to deal with so many frightening head injuries. An increasing number of deaths occur as a result of necks being broken, but that is a different problem. It is important to stress that as helmets are now much better designed, lives are being saved.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The change in helmet design over the past 10 years is a tribute to the manufacturers and to all those who have worked on the problem. Nowadays, helmets are significantly better. However, anyone who uses a very old helmet may be running a severe risk, because those improvements have now been made. We now know that better protection is afforded by helmets that have been approved, although not by those that have the awful stickers on them which can sometimes make the helmets weaker than they were on manufacture.

Quite apart from the fact that the helmet may not fit, it would be wrong to expect the rider of a motor cycle to have to carry a selection of spare helmets of various sizes. That is why I cannot commend the amendment to the House. Although I have tried to explain what a suitable helmet is, as there is no clear definition of that in the amendment and no clear drafting of by whom the helmet has to be made available, it does not make sense—despite the good intentions of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough—to include it in a fairly straightforward and sensible Bill.

I therefore-ask the House not to accept the amendment, because I think that it would nullify much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington is seeking to do.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) and my hon. Friend the Minister for their carefully reasoned arguments against my amendment. Of course, their arguments are convincing, especially the important point made by my hon. Friend the Minister about the condition of crash helmets. My hon. Friend said that not every helmet would fit every passenger. However, there are hon. Members who could not get into a standard seat belt because of their physical proportions. Therefore, that is not a parallel that she can pursue with great success.

More important was my hon. Friend's point about the condition of crash helmets. I tabled a couple of amendments relating to that point and also one on the vital need to wear a chin strap. The latter was prompted by a fatal accident in Loughborough only last week. A girl pillion rider was wearing a crash helmet but the strap was not fastened. When there was an accident she was thrown off the motor cycle, the helmet came off and she was killed.

Although I appreciate that the Bill is not necessarily the vehicle to use, I hope that the important points that have been raised will not escape the attention of the Minister when an appropriate vehicle occurs, perhaps in a road traffic Bill.

In view of that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 14, leave out

'a child under the age of fourteen years'
and insert
'under the age of 21 years'.

With this we may discuss the following amendments:

No. 3, in page 1, line 14, leave out 'child' and insert 'person'.

No. 4, in page 1, line 15, leave out 'fourteen' and insert 'sixteen'

The three amendments relate to the age of the passenger. Amendment No. 2 would raise the age from 14 to 21. Amendment No. 3 is consequential on amendment No. 2, because a person of 21 is no longer a child. Amendment No. 4 would raise the age from 14 to 16.

If amendment No. 1 had been accepted, these amendments would have fallen. I wish to concentrate mainly on amendment No. 2. I do not believe that it is proper to provide only for
"a child under the age of fourteen years".
I should like "fourteen" to be replaced by "21". I understand that prior to the Committee proceedings last month the Royal Automobile Club suggested a similar amendment, but specified the age as 16 rather than 21, and that that suggestion was raised indirectly with my hon. Friend's Department.

As my hon. Friend said in her forthright speech in Committee, it would be wrong to change the age of criminal liability for this offence. She explained that the cut-off age of 14 had been chosen because it was the legal age of criminal liability, below which the driver of the motor cycle was responsible for the pillion passenger if he allowed that passenger to ride without a helmet.

That misses the point. The criminal liability of a pillion passenger is not in question. It is the criminal liability of the driver as the aider and abetter that we wish to alter. I am trying to establish not whether the pillion passenger is criminally liable, but whether he or she should be regarded as responsible for his or her actions. The driver of the motor cycle can justifiably be assumed to be responsible.

The age of 21 is still widely regarded as coinciding with adulthood, but I choose that age mainly because it will cover the most vulnerable age groups, as shown in the accident statistics. I shall give the House details of accident statistics later, and at this point I shall refer only briefly to the road accident statistics for Great Britain for 1983, which are the latest available figures. In that year, 75 pillion passengers were killed, more than 1,000 were seriously injured and more than 3,000 reported injuries of varying severity. The majority of those accident victims were in the age groups up to 19, with the highest number in the group 16 to 19.

If I favour one of the three amendments, it is amendment No. 2, which raises the age to 21. I hope that it will find favour with my hon. Friend the Minister and with my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook).

I support the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir. J. Farr) and wish to go one stage further in looking at the reason why we both feel that the age of 14 is inadequate to protect pillion passengers.

We are concerned not with the criminal liability of the pillion passenger, but with whether the rider of the motor cycle should have some responsibility towards that passenger if he or she is aged 14 or over. The most susceptible age for young people to be taken for a ride on a motor cycle for the sheer thrill of it—without duly considering the consequences—is 14 to 19. It is not right to suggest that the rider of a motor cycle should not have responsibility for ensuring that his passenger is properly equipped.

I do not see any logical reason for distinguishing between 13 and 14 years of age. Why should the responsibility for ensuring the safety of a passenger be removed at the age of 14? With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend the Minister, I do not believe that because the pillion passenger has criminal responsibility at the age of 14, which he did not have at the age of 13, it is adequate reason for taking away from the driver the responsibility that he would have for a younger passenger.

I would not necessarily wish to pin my entire case on 21 being the right age. It is possible that 18 is more sensible. Indeed, I should even be happy with the age of 16, which would be an improvement on the present drafting. Fourteen and 15-year-olds suffer from a lesser degree of self-restraint and self-discipline than a 16-year old.

I am extremely unhappy with the legislation as drafted, for the simple reason that it offers inadequate protection to passengers in the age group mentioned.

10 am

I have some sympathy with the thought behind the amendment. While I suspect that the Minister will say that its drafting is defective, she will appreciate that behind it is the fact that motor cycles appeal greatly to youngsters.

I make no excuse for the fact that I went to extraordinary lengths to prevent my three children from riding motor cycles when they reached the age at which they could use them. I succeeded in doing so by a combination of political skills which have stood me in reasonable stead for most of my life.

In discussing the amendment, we are really talking about the danger that results from riding motor cycles. Certainly the age of 21, as proposed in the amendment, is unacceptable; it would have to be younger than that. It is nonsense to say that a person is an adult at 18 but that pillion riders up to the age of 21 should be protected.

The accident statistics are interesting. More youngsters are dying from fractures of the spine than from injuries to the head. Having spent many months being associated with a neurosurgical unit in Scotland, when my father had a stroke, I feel strongly about the need to do all we can to reduce the number of motor cycle accidents.

We should consider how to encourage people to find another form of transport. When one is hard up but must get about, a motor cycle seems not only pleasant but necessary. The amendment would not achieve what its proposers intend, and it might even distract from the real task of persuading people that motor cycles are lethal weapons and should be treated as such.

While I oppose amendment No. 2, I should be prepared to support amendment No. 4 if that were put separately. That would retain the liability for prosecution of the rider as an aider and abetter in respect of a passenger not wearing a helmet, that passenger being a child under 16.

I have always regarded that to be a fair point, one which I would have accepted prior to the Standing Committee stage had I been approached in that sense, but I was not, and therefore I left the Bill as drafted. Sixteen is the age at which, at common law, parental rights over children come to an end, and 16 would, therefore, be a more appropriate age in this respect.

It would be wrong if a stranger was responsible for a child of a greater age than the age at which a parent has responsibility. It would be contrary to common sense, therefore, if the age were set at over 16. Thus I reject amendment No. 2, for not only would it be inappropriate, but when the age of majority is 18, it would be absurd to speak of legal responsibility for anyone over the age of majority right up to 21. Indeed, to do so would be offensive to the lobby that suggests that at 18 all persons are capable of taking their own decisions in life, and bearing responsibility for the decisions that they take and should be liable for their own mistakes and folly.

A child, for the purposes of the criminal law, takes us to the age of 14. A young person goes up to 17. Sixteen is, therefore, about right when we are talking of vicarious responsibility for that child on the part of a person who is a stranger in law and happens to be the rider of the motor cycle. A motor cycle rider should have responsibility not only for his wearing of a crash helmet but for his passenger also doing so, if that passenger is a child, and I suggest that 16 would be the correct age for that purpose.

I appreciate the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). As I explained in Committee, the age of 14 was originally chosen because it was consistent with the provisions of the seat belt law and because it was in line with the legal age of criminal responsibility.

Hon. Members have pointed out that it is in the age group 16 to 19 that we have the awful peak—it is a truly awful peak — of motor cycle accidents. They happen for a wide variety of reasons. They sometimes happen because of the daredevil nature of those in that age group. Sometimes they happen when they could be avoided, and that is the saddest thing of all.

Part of that avoidance relates to the proper wearing of helmets, the proper maintenance of bikes and the proper actions of motor cyclists and all other road users. Whatever the age cut-off point, until we achieve a better level of behaviour on the roads on the part of all road users —pedestrians, cyclists, motor cyclists, and car and lorry drivers—we shall not achieve a decrease in the number of motor cycle accidents.

Because the accidents peak between the ages of 16 and 19, amendment No. 2—which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) said, would give a cut-off point at the age of 21 — would not be appropriate. As hon. Members have said, 14 is the legal age of criminal liability; 16 is the age at which one may start to ride a moped; 17 is the age at which one may start to ride a motor cycle; and 18 is when one may vote. Therefore, to put it as high as 21, three years after the age at which voting is permitted, would go against the excellent intentions of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington in the Bill. It would deny the benefits of the Bill to those riders who feel most strongly about the aiding and abetting issue, which is the kernel of the Bill. For that reason I could not accept the amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) said that there was not much difference whether a child was 13 or 14. I am not a parent, but I have two nieces who are dear to me and I should have been horrified at their using motor cycles, however well protected they may have been, at such young ages. I may have adopted a similar attitude to their riding motor cycles as that adopted by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) to her children riding motor cycles.

Judgment comes with age. At least, that is what I am frequently advised. These young and intense years for young people often lead them to be tempted into doing things which, with a little more sense, they would not do at a somewhat older age.

That is why I now refer to amendments Nos. 3 and 4 and to amendment No. 4 with some welcome. Amendment No. 3 simply seeks to raise the age from 14. Therefore, it is very much within amendment No. 2. It is not quite right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough does not propose to move it formally, I shall concentrate on amendments Nos. 2 and 4.

Amendment No. 4 interests me greatly. I have had brief discussions with the Royal Automobile Club, which would like a change from the age of 14. I mentioned that we chose the age of 14 because we were seeking to be consistent with other legislation and also the legal age of criminal liability. However, it seems to me that 16 being the age at which one can be responsible enough to learn to ride and take a test for a moped, that is the age when we should most sensibly have a change in the legal age of criminal liability in this case. Therefore, if the House shares my view that 16 is a more appropriate age, it would not be reasonable for me to offer any further objections to amendment No. 4.

However, in the House it behoves us always to remember that at whatever age the responsibility is, it must be enforceable. There is a great problem with that, the point being that under the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) the police would stop any biker anyway who had a pillion passenger who was not wearing a helmet. The question of the chin strap is difficult, and some have said that we should make a provision referring to people not properly wearing the helmet. That would be difficult to enforce.

Nevertheless, I believe that we could change to the age of 16 without losing any of the intention in my hon. Friend's Bill. Therefore, I hope that that outcome satisfies those who were not happy with 14, those who would not be happy with 21, and those who feel that there should be some movement in the legal age of criminal liability for not wearing a crash helmet when sitting on the pillion seat of a motor cycle or moped.

Once again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for her convincing arguments.

I should like to correct the record that I placed before the House. The figure for those killed and seriously injured that I gave to the House a moment ago referred only to males. If the total of females is added, instead of the figure of 75 motor cycle pillion passengers killed in 1983, the total becomes 119. Instead of over 1,000 pillion passengers on motor cycles seriously injured in 1983, the figure becomes 1,984. The total for all severe injuries in 1983 of all motor cycle pillion passengers is not the figure that I gave, which was for males only, but 6,473.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State is acutely aware of the problem. The House must keep those statistics constantly before it. I have every confidence in her and her Department monitoring them as closely as possible so that as soon as a change in the age from 16 in an upward direction is justified, she will not hesitate to introduce the relevant legislation to the House. I hope that my hon. Friend will keep an open mind, bearing in mind those horrifying statistics. After what she has said, I have pleasure to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 4, in page 1, line 15, leave out 'fourteen' and insert 'sixteen'.— [Sir J. Farr.]

10.15 am

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister of State for her kindness and co-operation in assisting me with the passage of the Bill to this stage. It removes some of the burden of criminal liability from a small, usually young and not well-off section of our population. For that reason, I believe that it is a good Bill, and I am happy to commend it to the House.

10.16 am

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) on getting as far as he has done with his important Bill on motor cycle crash helmets.

We have had a useful discussion on the various amendments that were selected. I am delighted that the Bill has made progress. It is now in a slightly improved form. It could have been improved still further, but unfortunately that was not possible. I wish the Bill a speedy passage to the statute book.

10.17 am

In joining my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) in welcoming the Bill, I should like to say that the underlying reason for it is extremely good and perhaps can be usefully applied in other spheres of the criminal law.

My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) and I practised together at the criminal Bar for about nine years, and we are both keenly conscious of the unfortunate effects that are often felt by young people who find themselves against the law, mostly without having had the slighest intention of being so and without having any real criminal intent. The Bill will lighten the burden on those who often come from deprived backgrounds or poor families, as my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington said, and get much of their enjoyment from riding their motor cycles, sometimes to the annoyance of other road users, but that is the nature of youth. When I was that age, I briefly had a motor cycle. It was only because I had a motor cycle briefly that I managed to persuade my father to buy me a car. My parents were anxious to get me off two wheels and into the slightly safer environment of four.

Therefore, the reasoning for the Bill is excellent. The improvement made today by raising the age from 14 to 16 will make a significant contribution in ensuring that we do not go too far in removing responsibility from those who have pillion passengers. I warmly welcome the Bill.

10.18 am

We have made it clear at all stages that this measure has the Government's fullest support. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) has been right to say, as have others, that it is often young people and perhaps some less well-off people—but by no means all of them—who ride motor cycles. Motor cycling has an excitement and verve for those who become addicted to it. It is even greater than for those of us who have the four sides of a car safely around us. It has a thrill and special impact on its enthusiasts, whatever age they may be, especially young motor cyclists.

We are firmly and fully committed to the helmet law as an indispensable aid to road safety. As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) has said, the reduction in head injuries, which are those most likely to be fatal, has been dramatic since the law was improved in this respect. Nevertheless, awful injuries still occur, so if we can continue to safeguard at least one part of the body we shall be doing a better job in allowing people to go on enjoying their motor cycles, which is the object of the exercise.

The Transport and Road Research Laboratory continues to undertake research on this and other aspects of road safety and to seek further ways to make motor cycling safer so that other vulnerable parts of the body can also be properly protected. Nevertheless, we should not forget that two-wheeled motor vehicle casualties still include about 1,000 killed and 20,000 seriously injured every year, more than half of them still in their teens. Clearly, we cannot afford to do anything that might increase the risk to motor cyclists.

Helmets are one of the few forms of protection that have really minimised the vulnerability of motor cyclists and their pillion passengers, and I have no doubt that the vast majority of riders wear helmets as a matter of common sense. Inevitably, however, there are just a few who in the absence of legal compulsion or the sight of a bobby on the beat may forget how vulnerable they are and perhaps be tempted to ride with unprotected heads. That is what we seek to avoid and that is why successive Governments have taken the view that helmet wearing must be required by law. This Government in no way depart from that view or intend to do so

My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington has argued that it is both unnecessary and undesirable, however, that the helmet law should include the facility to bring charges of aiding and abetting against a rider whose pillion passenger fails to wear a helmet, save in cases where the offender is a child, and the Bill now takes that into account. Indeed, the Bill is now more generous in that respect than it was when it left the Standing Committee.

I believe that people who ride motor cycles either as drivers or as pillion passengers without wearing helmets are plain crazy. At 16, they are old enough to know that that is asking for very bad trouble. That is why I believe that motor cyclists should seek to make their pillion passengers more responsible by putting the onus on them. That will be one of the consequences of the Bill, assuming that their Lordships support it as strongly as Members of this House support it. The position of drivers in relation to seat belt law is very similar and it has long been a sore point among members of the motor cycling fraternity that they have been treated differently from car drivers. We are now content that motor cyclists should not be in a different position in terms of the law on safety helmets. The Bill removes an unreasonable and anomalous feature of the law which would have continued to cause annoyance to many perfectly responsible motor cyclists.

It has been necessary to look afresh at the law on the responsibility of the individual, and I was interested to hear the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) on other adjustments in this respect. I must not, however, be tempted to stray outside my area of responsibility and away from the subject of motor cycling and crash helmets.

I give a clear assurance that the Bill will in no way impede the effective enforcement of the Bill on helmet law. That is most important. I hope that the House will therefore give the amended Bill a Third Reading today. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington on piloting the Bill through the House and I congratulate all Members who have contributed on the part that they have played in ensuring that we have ended up with a sensible measure, however small, which improves the law of this country. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Wildlife And Countryside (Amendment) Bill

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

New Clause 5

Further Duties Of Agriculture Ministers With Respect To The Countryside

'After section 41 of the Principal Act, there shall be inserted the following section—
"Further duties of agriculture Ministers with respect to the environment
  • 41A. (1) In regard to those functions of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which may affect the physical environment, the Minister shall, so far as may be consistent with the proper discharge of such functions, endeavour to secure a reasonable balance between (a) the promotion and maintenance of a stable and efficient agricultural industry and (b) the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside, the protection of wildlife habitat, and the conservation of flora and fauna and geological, or physiographical features of interest.
  • (2) Without prejudice to its generality, the duty under the previous subsection shall apply in particular to—
  • (a) the making of a scheme under section 29 of the Agriculture Act 1970 (farm capital grants) and the exercise of the Minister's functions thereunder.
  • (b) the provision of advice under section 1(1)10 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1944 to persons carrying on agricultural business.
  • (c) the implementation of any Community obligation in relation to the common agricultural policy of the European Economic Community in so far as may be consistent with any such obligation.
  • (3) In the application of this section to Scotland, references to the Minister shall, where appropriate, be construed as references to the Secretary of State.".'.—[Dr. David Clark.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    10.26 am

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 15, in Title, line 1, leave out 'sections 28 and 43' and insert 'Part II'.

    I am pleased to give the House another opportunity to discuss a vital issue—the protection of our very beautiful and precious countryside. A similar clause was included in the Bill when it received its Second Reading, but the Standing Committee felt it right to remove that clause. I expressed the view that that was an error and regretted the removal of the clause.

    Since then, we have had discussions with a view to producing a clause which would achieve the same object, but without the disadvantages which some people claimed were inherent in the earlier clause. As there was some misapprehension about the earlier clause, and as some of the comment on the radio did not match the reality of the situation, it is important that I should state categorically that the new clause has the wholehearted support of the National Farmers Union. Not only have I seen the NFU press release, but I have been in telephone contact to ensure that there is no confusion.

    The new clause is supported not only by people working in agriculture but by the other major organisation in this country—the Country Landowners Association, which this morning issued a statement endorsing the new clause. I am happy to bring forward a clause on which there is such unity and consensus and I hope that the House will approve it. Many hon. Members have told me that they support it, and I hope that we shall be able to persuade the Government of the error of their ways at an earlier stage.

    I felt that I should bring back a clause of this kind because of the strength of feeling throughout the country, from Lands End to John o' Groats, about the changing countryside of Britain. That concern is felt just as strongly in the towns as in the countryside. Strangely enough, the British people care passionately about their landscape and about the flora and fauna thereon. Members of Parliament have probably received more mail on this subject than on any other issue in this Parliament. That confirms the strength of feeling on this issue throughout the country.

    Our constituents find the changes that have occurred in agricultural practice very disturbing. The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, when he appeared before the Select Committee on the Environment looking into the operation and effectiveness of part II of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, coined the phrase "the engine of destruction". There is no doubt that Ministers appreciate that there are problems, and it is time that we addressed ourselves to these problems and tried to grapple with them. That is why I am introducing the new clause.

    I shall highlight some of the key factors that have affected the countryside over the past decade. We have lost 150,000 miles of hedgerows—a quarter of the total of hedgerows in Britain. All of us know that it is not only the visual amenity that has been lost, but the necessary habitat for animals, birds and flowers. The loss of hedgerows has gone too far, and I know that steps have been taken to rectify the situation. However, I recently visited Norfolk, to which I had not been for a while, and I was horrified at the change in the landscape. I had seen the removal of hedgerows from Lincolnshire and other parts of East Anglia, and the landscape is barren there. It is not pleasant to look at, and it does not appear to be part of the British scenery. I saw the same phenomenon in Norfolk, where the banks on which the hedgerows had been planted remain, but are denuded of growth. It is unpleasant to everyone, and we must take some action.

    We have lost 50 per cent. of our ancient and semi-natural woodlands. I welcome the moves by the Forestry Commission to rectify that by increased grants for broadleaf planting. We have lost 95 per cent. of our flower-rich meadows and 30 per cent. of our wild and open moors. There is consensus across the Floor of the House that enough is enough and that we have to start working out a way to tackle the problems.

    The Labour party recognises the need for a sound and efficient agricultural system. We have this problem today because of the success of the British farming industry. It has done what it was asked to do by Governments of both parties and has produced food. The basis of our agricultural production is the Agriculture Act 1947. It is odd for us to think back and realise that there was a shortage of food then. Quite rightly, it was decided that we should maximise food production. Thanks to modern technology and the EEC, in certain sectors we are over-producing our food. It does not make sense for us to continue to do so, and especially not if we do so at the cost of destroying our environment.

    The time has rightly come when we must add another dimension, equal with food production, to our Agriculture Act, and that is the preservation of our natural environment. With the agreement of the NFU and the CLA, I have introduced a tentative step in this direction by tabling the new clause.

    I welcome discussion on this matter, as I think all hon. Members do. I know that the Government are worried about the new clause. They have come up with all sorts of reasons why it should not be passed. I realise that all Government Departments, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, must have regard to conservation under section 11 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, but we must be a little bit more positive than that. Therefore, when we were drawing up the new clause, we went back to the Government's wording in a similar measure on the Forestry Commission. We have adapted that wording to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We felt that if the Government found the Forestry Commission section acceptable, they would presumably find a similar clause applying to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food acceptable as well.

    The Government sometimes argue that a measure such as this is unnecessary, but I hope I have shown that, with the best will in the world, and with all the moves in Brussels and the efforts on areas such as the Halvergate marshes, there is still a need for Parliament — it is Parliament which determines the broad direction of national policy — to say that we want to go a little further. We want a national guideline and a national signpost, and a national signal going from the House to the Ministry. We realise that it has been constrained in the past, but now we are asking it to have regard specifically to further conservation. I hope that the Government will accept that.

    The Government may say that the new clause is unconstitutional, but that is not so. We have sovereignty of Parliament in this country, and it is Parliament, not Ministers, that makes the law. There are precedents for the new clause. For example, section 54(1) of the Transport Act 1968 directs the Secretary of State for Transport, in considering rail closures, to
    "have regard to any matters which …appear to him to be relevant, including any social or economic consideration".
    We are similarly directing the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in this new clause.

    The Education Act 1944 was an all-party Act passed by the coalition Government. Section 76 places a duty on the Secretary of State for Education, in providing education to do so
    "so far as is compatible wth the provision of efficient instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure."

    It is saying there that education must operate under financial constraint. It is laid down in the Act that the Secretary of State for Education must have regard to public expenditure. I can give other examples, but those are two which clearly show Parliament telling a Department to carry on doing its job and meeting its prime responsibility, such as producing food, but at the same time having regard to something else, such as the wider environment.

    I hope that what I have said has not been too controversial, and that the House will find the new clause acceptable. I know that there is good will on both sides of the House for this measure, and I hope that we can persuade the Government to accept the new clause.

    I am glad to have the opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), not least because I felt constrained not to take part in the Second Reading debate. I was asked to stand by to chair all the Bills in Standing Committee C, and the hon. Member and I expected that his Bill would appear before that Committee. He was skilful in getting his Bill into Committee ahead of the line, and into standing Committee E.

    As my hon. Friend says, the hon. Member for South Shields was not the only hon. Member so skilled.

    Now, I do not have to maintain a stance of neutrality, and I am glad to have the opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member not only on his initiative in deciding upon this important subject but on his sensitive persistence. It would have been easy for him, having had an understandable disappointment in Committee, to be aggrieved and obdurate. Instead, realising that what he is dealing with is a matter of great moment, he has been skilful and persistent in his negotiations and has now produced a clause that I hope will meet with widespread and general acceptance. It is no mean feat to produce something that has the backing of both the Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union. It is the hon. Gentleman's implicit recognition of the fact that farmers have created the British countryside as we know it and as we love and wish to preserve it that has enabled him to reach a conclusion that is acceptable to these two very important and rightfully powerful lobbying bodies.

    One statistic above all illustrates the need for the measure that we are debating: the 150,000 miles of hedgerows to which the hon. Gentleman referred as having been lost in the past decade. As hon. Members know, I have always taken an interest in heritage and conservation matters and I should not like it to be thought that my interest is confined to the "built" environment. —[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) interjects with a most unfair accusation. Most certainly it is not. The fact is that this problem has become worse and worse over the past decade.

    I know of my hon. Friend's interest in arboricultural matters. He has requoted the devastating statistic of the uprooting of 150,000 miles of our hedgerows which, as he knows, are the seed bed of much of our rural tree stock. Does he know of another statistic: that it is fairly accurately estimated that during the last 30 years over one third of our ancient woodlands have been felled?

    I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He has done a great deal, perhaps more than any other hon. Member, to draw attention to the dangers facing our woodlands. I have done some research into this matter and nine years ago, produced a book entitled, "Heritage in Danger", which dealt with this subject as well as with the threat to our country houses, churches and cathedrals. At that stage it was alarming to have to rehearse the statistics relating to both our broadleaved woodlands and to our hedgerows. The danger is now very much worse. That is why it is necessary for Parliament to take action and for a united message to be sent out from this House.

    Not the least of the contributions of the hon. Member for South Shields to our deliberations has been the way in which he has been able to maintain all-party consensus on this issue. Such consensus is absolutely necessary upon matters affecting the arts, the heritage and the preservation of our countryside.

    I am very glad that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) is nodding agreement. Although we differ profoundly on many political issues, we are at one in our regard for these matters. It is important that all-party consensus and all-party determination should be maintained in Parliament.

    I commend most warmly the new clause. I hope that my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench will be able to accept it with good grace and, indeed, enthusiasm. It reintroduces the teeth that were extracted from the Bill in Committee. The Bill would otherwise have gone forward as a toothless wonder.

    I was unable to observe, because of the position that my hon. Friend is occupying, whether our hon. Friends on the Treasury Front Bench nodded at that point. It would help me greatly in my future activities in this debate to know whether they did nod.

    I must apologise to my hon. Friend for being more visible than other hon. Members and therefore blocking his view. However, I can tell him that both of our hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench are looking, as they always do, good-humoured, benevolent and interested. I am sure that their enthusiasm is mounting. I am not sure whether they are nodding at the moment, but I am sure that they will in a few moments. It is very important that this new clause should be accepted. As I say, it puts back into the Bill the necessary teeth. It would be very much of a toothless wonder if it went forward without the new clause. The hon. Member for South Shields—I nearly called him my hon. Friend, and in this context I regard him as a friend in every possible sense—has performed a great service and I wish him well. I urge my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench to accept the new clause.

    10.45 am

    The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
    (Mrs. Peggy Fenner)

    It might be of assistance if I intervened at this stage. Not having been able to catch your eye immediately, Mr. Deputy Speaker, has caused difficulty for my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack). I have to correct what he said. This new clause does not represent the teeth of the Bill. The teeth of the Bill are the elimination of the loopholes in the sites of special scientific interest.

    I am sorry; it is the hon. Member's new clause and I must not argue with him about it.

    There are at least two sets of teeth. This set is a least as important as the other set.

    I must accept my hon. Friend's view, just as I must accept the description of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) of his own clause. I listened with great interest to his introduction. It is a much more sensible measure than clause 4 of the original Bill, which would have caused very severe practical difficulties. I see that the hon. Gentleman is nodding his head and that he is aware of that fact. He has endeavoured generally to follow the wording that was tabled in Committee relating to the Forestry Commission.

    Nevertheless, I have to ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the new clause. In the first place, it is defective in a number of respects. It would place a duty upon my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to endeavour to secure a balance —

    No, I should like to finish my explanation.

    It would place a duty on my right hon. Friend to endeavour to secure a balance between agriculture and conservation in regard to all of his functions which may affect the physical environment. However, some of those functions, such as those dealing with fisheries and forestry, have nothing whatever to do with agriculture. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, to whom this clause would also apply, has an even wider range of responsibilities which affect the physical environment but which do not concern agriculture. Therefore I have to point out the defective nature of its description.

    However, it is not only for technical reasons that I must oppose the new clause. The object of the clause, as was made clear in Committee, is based upon the assertion that agriculture Ministers are not sufficiently responsive to the needs of conservation. However, as all the evidence shows, that view of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is quite wrong. The hon. Member for South Shields has tried to undermine that evidence, but the most recent is the very successful attempt of my right hon. Friend in Brussels to make European Community agricultural legislation more sensitive to the environment. As we participate in the common agricultural policy, I am sure that my hon. Friends recognise that this is a very important new initiative.

    My right hon. Friend has already begun consultations with the Department of the Environment and the statutory conservation agencies about how the special agricultural measures to be applied in environmentally sensitive areas should be implemented. An experimental scheme for the Broads has recently been announced. This is aimed at safeguarding the Halvergate marshes and their environs and is a joint initiative of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Countryside Commission.

    I could quote many other examples of the commitment to securing a proper balance between agriculture and conservation which have been demonstrated by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The new clause would not create that commitment. It is already there. The new clause is therefore unnecessary and is also anomalous in singling out one Ministry from all the others, many of which doubtless have less commendable records than the Ministry of Agriculture, for special treatment in this way. Basically, it is defective and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw it.

    The question of nodding in the House is assuming titanic proportions. It was singularly absent when the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) was speaking. There were no nods from the Treasury Bench, and it has now emerged why. It is sad that a request has been made to withdraw a necessary clause, on which I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) for persistently working towards.

    Like the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South I am a conservationist. I am a city man, but I spend my leisure moments in the countryside as a member of the Ramblers Association. I work jealously to preserve what there is in the countryside.

    The new clause has wider connections with what is happening and what has happened. I worry, and I hope that all hon. Members worry, about the rain forests of the world. I wonder how many realise how the whole of our planet is being steadily denuded and how deserts are being created where at one time cities existed, many of them now under sand.

    We are surely more aware than our ancestors were of the terrible problems that we are facing, not only on the planet as a whole, but in our countryside. The denuding of various aspects of the countryside in the past few years is the biggest event since the enclosures. The destruction of woodlands and trees is possibly the greatest destruction since the Norman Conquest. Somebody must cry halt, and I was hoping that the Government, after watching what has happened, would help us cry halt and lend their immense strength to the cause which my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields has so persistently and consistently pursued.

    I went through east Yorkshire recently, where I was stationed during the war, and I was horrified at what I saw. Areas which I had not visited for many years had literally become prairies. Last time I spoke I said that the "prairieisation" of the British countryside was going on apace. Somebody must stand up and point out regularly, with intensity and conviction, that if it goes on much longer we shall not merely be altering the habitat of many creatures, but that we shall, in the long run, create dust bowls and similar conditions which in time will not be conducive to good agriculture.

    Much money has been made from the drive for food, but now we have a surplus. I regret the cash nexus that has developed on a grand scale and made many millionaires out of many farmers. They are not, I hasten to say after my surgery last Saturday, in my constituency, where I have poverty-stricken milk fanners coming to me about milk quotas.

    As I went through east Yorkshire I was positively alarmed. The noise of the chain saw has hardly been out of the ears of ramblers in south Yorkshire and Derbyshire —areas which I know and love so well. What my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields said about Norfolk is profoundly true, but if one takes the train from King's Cross to Edinburgh one sees vast areas not only in southern England but in Scotland where the drive for food and wealth has had its impact.

    I should have thought that my hon. Friend's new clause would be acceptable to all of us. Cross-party consensus has been mentioned and, when protecting our countryside, which is so dear to us, I hope that we can all join hands. I am sad that the new clause is being opposed by the Government Front Bench.

    When one thinks of the number of hedgerows which have disappeared which were once so familiar, and the wildlife whose main roads those hedgerows are, the copses and woodlands, the walls and so on, one realises that the situation is appalling and that one must cry halt somewhere.

    I beg Conservative Members to join hands with us and my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields to defend the countryside by passing the new clause.

    I have great sympathy with the new clause. It is fair to accept that everyone on both sides of the House wishes to seek a better balance between conservation and agriculture. There is certainly a great need for that in our countryside. The destruction of habitat and valued aspects of our landscape has been described on many occasions. Therefore, we all accept the need for action.

    In addition, there is a huge feeling around the countryside in support of conservation and further measures to protect our natural heritage. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) was right when he said that that feeling exists not only in the countryside but perhaps even more strongly in urban communities. There has been a huge expansion in interest in wildlife and conservation on television and in the membership of groups such as the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the National Trust, which shows how close the subject is to the hearts of people in Britain.

    Therefore, I understand why the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) has brought forward the new clause. However, I must return, as I did in Committee, to the principle that on a private Member's Bill one must often adopt different tactics. One must be specific and exact and avoid controversy. We must be clear about our objectives. If one tries to make grand gestures in a private Member's Bill, it may become controversial and fail. Therefore, if the House wishes to be effective and practical on private Members' Bills, it has a duty to impose a self-denying ordinance on itself.

    Like my right hon. Friend the Minister, I believe that the most important aspect of the Bill is the closure of the two loopholes in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The countryside and habitat are protected by a series of practical measures and, in my heart, I do not see how a vague duty placed on the Minister will make more likely the saving of habitat or the protection of various species. I understand that it will in many ways help the general climate, but the way to make progress in this Bill is by closing two loopholes which will save habitat and protect species.

    The Government had the opportunity to close those loopholes 12 months ago when my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) introduced a Bill, but refused to do so. That could have gone through the House quickly, but the Government ignored that opportunity. This Bill was intended to go considerably further, and it is sad that on occasions such as this the farmers on the Conservative Benches are again trying to stop us making major progress in defending the countryside.

    11 am

    That was an unnecessary and extravagant intervention, introducing the type of emotion and grand gesture that must be avoided in a private Member's Bill if practical advance is to be ensured.

    Without any doubt, the loopholes in the Wildlife and Countryside Act have led to the destruction of habitat and to the ploughing up and drainage of sites of special scientific interest and other special sites. We know that; the evidence is catalogued. By closing those loopholes the Bill will protect habitat and take a firm step towards the protection and conservation of the countryside for future generations. I do not want that progress to be put at risk by opening up the Bill to all sorts of objections. That is why I reiterate that it is important for a private Member's Bill to be concise and practical

    At the same time, it is fair to accept that there has been a change of attitude in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. In the past 18 months it has changed substantially its attitude to farming and conservation. I welcome the various steps—I listed them in Committee — which the Ministry has taken in regard to conservation interests. However, I hope that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will take clear note of the new clause, because it represents the strong desire of people throughout the country that he should go even further in recognising the valid interests of conservation and the need for balance in the countryside. There is even more need for that desire to be taken into account by the Scottish Office. Many of its attitudes have been far less progressive than those of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and I particularly hope that the debate will be read by the Scottish Office.

    It is one thing for the Ministers and others to read the debate in the Official Report, but it is what is written into a Bill that eventually becomes good or bad law, is applied in the courts afterwards, and affects the way that we protect the countryside. I recognise the genuine way in which my hon. Friend is speaking, and that he has a great deal of knowledge, but surely it is what is written in the Bill that counts.

    Absolutely, but before a Bill becomes law it has to go through Parliament, and there is a danger of not even closing the loopholes which have so often led to the destruction of habitat. Therefore, I emphasise that it is important to be practical if we have a real concern for the needs of the countryside.

    No, I am sorry. My hon. Friend has had his chance.

    I should like to mention four matters to which the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should pay greater attention in the coming year. First, I hope that the Ministry will reintroduce pre-notification for agricultural works which attract grants. Without any doubt, the changes made in 1980 have been detrimental. To bring back the system of pre-notification would not be very bureaucratic, and it would certainly help to protect certain aspects of habitats. I understand that since the change in the system no grants have been refused by the Ministry, yet without any doubt the habitat has been damaged and destroyed by grant-related work.

    Secondly, I particularly welcome the consultative paper which the Ministry has produced on drainage, and the suggestion in it that the cost-benefit analyses for large schemes will be subject to public scrutiny. That is a welcome advance, but it is necessary to go further and not to have grants for drainage, because drainage is destroying habitats and bringing new land under the plough, only to add to surpluses. That is a misuse of public funds. There is further progress to be made in that respect, and I am glad that the Ministry is moving in the right direction.

    Thirdly, I welcome the extension of EEC grants to systems which bring about a proper balance between farming and conservation. That policy is in the early stages of development. We shall be watching carefully to see that the grants are used in an imaginative way. Much work has to be done on how to achieve a practical system which balances the interests of farming with those of conservation. It is easy enough to talk about integrated farming, but it is very difficult to achieve it effectively in practice.

    Finally, much more needs to be done about the control of chemicals. In the past year I have become convinced that the use of agricultural chemicals is doing more than anything else to damage wildlife in the wider countryside away from the special sites. The Bill deals to a certain extent with the problem of chemicals, but in setting the direction of our research, in the development of new techniques and products, and in the general education of those in the farming industry, we must concentrate especially on the problem of chemicals, because it is the most dangerous problem facing the countryside, and we are too complacent about it.

    Clearly, there is much for the Ministry to do. As I wish the Bill to proceed so that the loopholes may be closed, I shall not vote against the Government today, but I remind them that in conservation matters there will be a great deal of public scrutiny. They have much still to do in furthering the genuine wishes of many people in the country.

    I found the intervention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food reactionary and appalling. [Interruption.] I say clearly to the hon. Lady that it was totally unacceptable.

    The hon. Lady said that there were technical objections to what is already a retreat from the best position, which is that advocated in the Bill as originally drafted. She knows perfectly well that it is a compromise proposal, trying to insist that the Department in which she has ministerial responsibility has a duty to look after the conservation interests set out in the clause.

    Even if there are technical objections—if there are, I do not believe that they are overriding or sufficient to make the Bill technically invalid—the hon. Lady could at least have shown some sign that the Department felt the need to respond to the pressures on it. I will tell the hon. Lady why the duty should be imposed on her Department. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is responsible for 80 per cent. of the land that we are talking about this morning; it is responsible for what goes on in 80 per cent. of our natural heritage. Therefore, if we are to start with one Department, it is right to start with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. There is no argument about that. The House knows my view that agricultural land should also be subject to planning consent and planning control, in the way that all other land should be.

    We have to slay the dragons that are emanating from the Ministry, in alliance with the so-called Department of the Environment. It was argued in Committee by the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment—the hon. Lady made the same point this morning—that there is a constitutional objection to imposing on a Government Department duties such as those set out in the new clause. I wonder whether either Minister has considered the role of the Department of the Environment in the Netherlands. That Department sees itself as having a duty to argue for the environment and not to seek to do as little as the Government can get away with, given the pressures from Europe as well as national pressures.

    It might be thought that the vested interests—the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association—are the reason for the Ministry being so resistant, but that is not so. Both bodies have said that they are in favour of the clause. It is totally unacceptable that the only remaining vestige of reaction, caution, and unwillingness to respond is to be found in the Ministry of Agriculture. What right has the Ministry to say that it is the best judge of these matters? The unions representing farming interests, the association of those who own much of the land and the conservation groups all agree that the duty should be imposed.

    About 53 per cent. of the sites of special scientific interest that have been lost were destroyed by intensive agriculture and the Government did not respond by closing the loophole. Indeed, in May last year the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment said that there was not a particularly good case for doing anything about the 1981 Act because it had not been proved to be failing.

    It is because of the unwillingness to accept the evidence —Ministers know the statistics and how much of our heritage has been irretrievably lost—that we must act now. I hope that hon. Members will put their duty to the country ahead of the need to bail out the Government when they need support.

    The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) has a good record on conservation matters, but it is ludicrous for him to argue that merely because a private Member's Bill does something controversial and important it should be watered down. The history of this place is not that the Government dictate what legislation goes through; Parliament dictates that, and hon. Members have a right to introduce legislation. Private Members' Bills are an important part of our constitution. The fact that the Government may not like them does not mean that controversial matters should not be debated. Some of the best legislation ever passed in this country has got through because of the persistence of Back Benchers.

    I pay an unreserved tribute to the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). He did not respond to the kicking that he was given by Ministers in Committee by giving up, but sought cautiously and responsibly to ensure that he carried with him as many influential bodies as possible. It is not good enough to say that if the Government say no on a controversial matter, hon. Members should give up.

    I do not propose to give up and I think that many other hon. Members will not give up. If this House cannot get what it wants, I am sure that the other place will try to make sure that we get the Bill right.

    I thought that the hon. Gentleman would return to a subject that he mentioned earlier and on which I should like clarification. He said that agriculture should be subjected to the full rigours of planning control. I understand that that is Liberal policy. Will the hon. Gentleman expand on that?

    That is Liberal policy. I know that we have to win the argument with some of the vested interests. The anomaly has existed for a long time. The production of food is an important activity and I pay tribute to our agriculture industry for doing its duty so well. However, I do not agree that that industry should be treated differently from any other.

    I fear that the hon. Gentleman is about to move on without clarifying Liberal party policy. Is he talking only about planning permission for buildings or about planning permission for land use? Will a farmer have to apply for planning permission to change from milk to cereals or when he alters the size of his fields? Will the hon. Gentleman tell us exactly what is Liberal party policy?

    The planning permission requirement would not apply to changes of crop or a change from crops to dairy farming. It would apply to buildings and, for example, to the removal of hedgerows and woodlands. Perhaps I shall excite the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) if I tell him that, although the first arrangements have not been made, I understand that our joint Liberal assembly this year will include a major debate on that, which will put some of the details into our policy. A document that is recognised as valuable and valid by planners throughout the land has been produced and will be the basis of the discussion in September. I shall send the hon. Member for Upminster a copy of the report of that debate and the text of the resolution.

    11.15 am

    It should be the duty of the Ministry of Agriculture to have an overriding consideration for the whole environment, of which it is a principal steward. That is why the provisions of the Bill, closing the loopholes in the legislation affecting sites of special scientific interest—

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
    (Mr. William Waldegrave)

    The hon. Gentleman has tied up farming with detailed planning controls. As I have some responsibility for rates, will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether it is also Liberal policy to re-rate agriculture?

    In that case, I shall not respond to the Under-Secretary.

    The duty to ensure the conservation of our environment cannot be put off any longer. The ravages that have occurred since the war are on the record. I assure the House that the feeling outside is that it is about time that Parliament responded to the increasing desire of our fellow citizens to make sure that conservation is regarded as being as important as any other task of Parliament in 1985.

    I am privileged to be a sponsor of the Bill and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) for introducing a sensible and balanced new clause which is an effort to seek reconciliation and the support of many diverse interests.

    I declare an interest as president of the Arboriculture Association and vice-chairman of Wildlife Link, an umbrella organisation for 33 environment groups interested in our flora and fauna. I have to add that, using that dreadful modern terminology, they wanted to make me the vice-chair, but I reminded them that I prefer to be called Mr. Chapman than Mr. Chap, and they took the point.

    It is a humbling experience to understand the dramatic changes that have taken place in our countryside in the past three decades. We should not preserve our countryside in aspic, because it must respond to changing agricultural demands. However, the frightening pace of the change over the past 30 years has caused justifiable anxiety among many people. Hundreds of thousands of miles of hedgerow have been uprooted, many acres of lowland heaths have disappeared and many upland heaths have been destroyed. More than half our fenland has been drained. The sheer scale of what has happened is frightening.

    The Select Committee on the Environment, of which I am a member, investigated the effectiveness of the 1981 Act. We came to conclusions that were reached by the Minister, and part of the present Bill seeks to close the loopholes. We also came to the conclusion that we did not believe that planning controls on land use in the countryside would be relevant. We noted the heartwarming increase in the farming community's awareness of, and co-operation on, conservation matters. It is because of that change that I believe that the new clause nicely anticipates a feeling that is growing among all our constituents, whether they live in the country or the town. This is not just a matter for countrysiders. Sensible conservation of the countryside is a matter of deep concern to urban dwellers too.

    If I were less charitable, I might opine that the last refuge of a Minister on a weak case is to say that a clause proposed by someone else—not by the Government; those can be changed in Committee—is defective. If it is—and the last thing that I want to do today is to delay the progress of this modest and sensible Bill—I hope that the Government will use their good offices to try to remedy the defects when the Bill is considered—as I hope that it will be—in another place.

    I believe that the new clause reflects what our constituents want to see—all our constituents, as well as those who are farmers and members of the National Farmers Union. I hope that the Government will have second thoughts. If it is necessary to withdraw the clause at this stage, I hope that it will reappear, without defects, at a later stage.

    It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) who is, jointly with me, a vice chairman of Wildlife Link.

    I also wish to express support for the new clause of my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), and my deep sadness that the Parliamentary Secretary felt unable to accept it. The Government have advanced various arguments for not accepting the new clause. First, they spoke about defective legislation. As several hon. Members have pointed out, that is not an argument against the principle of the clause. It is an argument for tightening up the wording. If the Government had been keen on the principles behind the clause, they could easily have suggested their own phrasing. I hope that if my hon. Friend feels that it is necessary to withdraw the clause because of its technical defects, the matter will be pressed further in another place and the defects remedied.

    The Government's second argument was that the teeth of the Bill were designed to deal with the sites of special scientific interest and the closing of loopholes, rather than the principles of conservation as they relate to the Ministry of Agriculture. That is nonsense. Parts of the Bill are about tightening up loopholes, but when the Bill was passing through its earlier stages, with very broad support on both sides of the House, it was regarded as doing more than close some precise loopholes. If the Government had simply been concerned with closing loopholes, they could have done it 12 months ago and some of the 451 SSSIs damaged since my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) introduced his private Member's Bill on the matter could perhaps have been saved. However, the Government did not take that opportunity. That was sad, and for the Government to say now that the Bill was primarily concerned only with that matter is, frankly, cheek.

    Thirdly, the Minister complained that her Ministry was being singled out for special treatment. Of course it is. No other Government Department has the same power to have a potentially damaging impact on the countryside heritage. It is precisely because of the power vested in the Minister that the new clause seeks out the Ministry for special treatment. The Minister's argument misses the whole point of the issue of the balance between conservation and food production.

    The Minister's fourth and major argument was that the clause had been tabled because it was thought that agriculture Ministers were not being sufficiently responsive to the needs of conservation, and that the commitment was already there and the clause was therefore unnecessary. Again, that is not an argument against the principle of the clause. If the clause was not strictly needed because the work was already being done, the Government could have said that, in order to demonstrate clearly to the people that they were already doing all that was necessary, they would accept the principle of the new clause and the duties that it imposed on them. If they were already carrying out those duties, why should they complain if they were laid down in legislation?

    Although there have been dramatic improvements in the past few years in the practice of the Ministry of Agriculture and in the attitudes of the farming community towards conservation and its activities, not enough progress has been made. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment himself, when he addressed the Select Committee, spoke about the engine of destruction. We have only to look at what has been happening on Exmoor, at the ploughing up of wild land and the impact of agriculture on many parts of the countryside, to see that in some respects and in some instances we have not yet got the balance right. That was why my hon. Friend introduced his new clause.

    His original new clause was, sadly, deleted in the Standing Committee. It was much stronger. It sought to give the Ministry a firm duty to further the cause of conservation. My hon. Friend then produced a watered-down version that, in the mildest and most reasonable form, seeks simply to state that the Ministry of Agriculture must preserve "a reasonable balance" between the interests of conservation and agriculture. Nothing could be milder, more responsible or more sensible than that. Yet, even though my hon. Friend has gone to great lengths to make it possible not just for the farming community but for the Ministry to accept the principle of reasonable balance enshrined in his new clause, the Parliamentary Secretary still says that she is unable to accept it.

    I am deeply disappointed and saddened by the Government's failure to accept my hon. Friend's proposal. If the new clause, or a similar new clause, is not reinstated in the Bill in another place, it will be a sad day for our countryside. There will be continuing destruction that could perhaps have been prevented if such a clause had been added to the Bill.

    The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) told us that he is a townsman who frequently rambles in the countryside and therefore feels strongly about it. It is a shame that there are not more Opposition Members present to support him.

    I also am an urban Member of Parliament and can speak with some feeling because I have received correspondence from constituents on this worthy measure. However, I cannot claim that my postbag has been anywhere near as large as on the Bill presented by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), which we are to discuss next Friday.

    Feelings in urban areas about Bills such as this are often mixed and muddled. The conservation lobby, which is worthy but sometimes a tiny bit fanatical, brews up feelings that lead to statements which are essentially overkill. There was recently some correspondence in The Times about the alleged massacre of some hedgerow in East Anglia. The editor of that newspaper received many letters, not least from members of another place and conservation campaigners. Eventually, the farmer under attack listed the conservation measures that he had taken, such as the planting of hedgerows and spinneys and works related to water and wetlands. It would have been gracious of many of the correspondents to return to their pens to congratulate him on what he had done. We should consider this matter rather more coolly than we often do.

    11.30 am

    Although urban constituents urge on us the need for planning measures, as, it seems, does the Liberal party, they also call for greater and cheaper food supplies. They are thus putting a great onus on farmers to farm as efficiently as possible. There is a muddle and I fear that the new clause is moving in that direction.

    It is difficult for any hon. Member to deny that Britain still has the finest and most varied wildlife and countryside in the world. Although I am now an urban Member of Parliament, I was born in rural Warwickshire, which is one of our finest counties. I have spent half of my life in London only because of work, so I suspect that I can speak with as much authority as the hon. Member for Hillsborough.

    I hope that the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) will consider what he has said and not tend towards planning such as we have heard advocated by the Liberals. I hope that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and his colleagues will make themselves a bit clearer before next Thursday's county council elections or they might suffer for what they have said in passing this morning.

    My hon. Friend the Minister should consider our policies and give greater financial support to the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service and the farming and wildlife advisory groups. We must move forward through co-operation and good will. We must recognise that the farming community has contributed a great deal to conservation. The countryside rests in its hands and it is much more sensitive to these issues than the 85 per cent. of us who live in urban areas but nevertheless scream loudly.

    Can my hon. Friend advise us what to do about new clause 5? It merely asks for the Minister to have a duty to observe the balance between food production and the conservation of the environment. My hon. Friend has spoken in favour of both. Presumably he wants the balance. Does he not want the new clause? What is wrong with it?

    I have urged co-operation and good will rather than the slightly rigid ideas in the new clause. I hope that the hon. Member for South Shields will accept the drafting advice of the Government once again and will withdraw the new clause, perhaps with a view to provision being made in another place.

    I congratulate the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) on introducing his new clause. I understand the reasons for it, but I cannot support it because, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, its drafting is defective.

    The hon. Gentleman might be a little ambitious in trying to secure a major change of direction in a massive Ministry by adding a clause to a private Member's Bill. Nevertheless, I wish the Bill all good fortune. It was originally a seven-clause Bill, and it is now a five-clause one. The original Bill covered the protection of sites of special scientific interest — we all want that — the mapping of national parks, marine nature reserves, the direction of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which we are discussing now, the role of the Forestry Commission, moorland and badgers.

    It is a little ambitious to expect the new clause to be added to the Bill. If there is a case for the role of any major Government Department to change, there can be change only after the preparation of a Green Paper and a White Paper. The role which the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food plays today is different from the one that it played yesterday, and it will be different again tomorrow. The type of crop needed today is different from the type of crop needed yesterday, and it will be different again tomorrow. The point is that it is not for any Back Bencher to expect a new clause which seeks to shift the whole balance and direction of a Ministry to be accepted.

    There are three or four Bills before us today. We have already talked about the Bill relating to motor cycle crash helmets, and that has made good progress. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), who successfully steered it through the House, did not seek to change the whole role of the Department of Transport. Had he sought to do so, he would not have got very far with the Bill. The next Bill for consideration today, the Gaming (Bingo) Bill—

    Order. The hon. Gentleman should wait until we reach that Bill. He must take one Bill at a time, like the rest of us.

    I was merely trying to point out that it is grossly ambitious and imaginative of the hon. Member for South Shields to expect to achieve a major shift in direction in the Ministry via a Bill which fundamentally seeks to achieve the essential protection of SSSIs and of badgers, which we all demand.

    I am particularly worried that hon. Members on both sides of the House apparently do not realise what the Ministry is doing for conservation. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) rightly referred to the tragic loss of many of our forests and broadleaved woodlands. However, I have with me an article from a magazine which he may well take, the London Conserver. Three pages of its May issue are devoted to the work which the Forestry Commission has done for conservation. It is said that its work could not be better. The same applies to the Ministry —

    I should be the last not to give credit where credit is due, and I have frequently paid tribute to the Ministry and to the Forestry Commission for their achievements, particularly in recent years, but I am a native of Lincolnshire and spent the first 28 years of my life there. In that county I have seen the most terrible despoliation of one of the most beautiful areas of England. Therefore, I do not think that it is over-ambitious of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) to seek to provide some extra powers. There have certainly been good developments during recent years, but we have also lost much that is totally irreplaceable. My hon. Friend must recognise that.

    Once again, I am grateful for that intervention. My hon. Friend has made a sensible intervention, and knowing him as I have done for so long, I know that he treats this matter seriously and is concerned, as we all are, for good reason. However, there are some hon. Members on both sides of the House who have implied that the direction currently taken by the Ministry is hopeless. That direction may need changing, but a private Member's Bill is not the vehicle for that. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South, must surely accept that.

    Much is now being done. However, I shall be brief, as I want the Bill to make progress. Mention has been made of the farming and wildlife advisory groups which have been set up by the CLA and the NFU. There is a network of them, funded entirely by farmers and landowners, and they are working well. For years, farmers have been receiving descriptive leaflets from ADAS on how to make use of the odd, neglected corner of the farm to promote conservation, and I welcome that.

    No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will later tell the House in which direction the Ministry is moving, but perhaps now is not the right time.

    11.45 am

    I am glad that we have had an opportunity to discuss this broad subject, It is right, however, that the House should concentrate on specific issues and that a private Member's Bill should not be over-ambitious. We are looking for practical measures to benefit the environment. Consequently, we must ensure that this Bill, with its limited objectives, reaches the statute book and achieves them in respect of badgers and, above all, the three-month loophole. We must ensure that it is not lost on the plains of the grand gesture.

    The Liberal party has said that it intends to introduce planning controls for farming in relation to buildings, woodlands, and hedgerows. We take note of its approach towards the countryside, but I believe that its attitude is mistaken. We should instead urge the Ministry to accept certain specific points. It is important not that the Ministry should be saddled with more duties that can easily be fudged but that it should take into account certain specific considerations.

    I strongly support the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle), who not only has a good track record on this subject — as the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) was kind enough to say—but who has promoted some very constructive changes that are likely to have practical effect.

    We must return to pre-notification of applications for grants. We cannot have grants going through after the work has been done and after any adverse conservation effects have been felt. Secondly, we must have publicly available cost-benefit analyses in relation to drainage schemes, so that we and interested bodies can check them to see whether we are benefiting farming and the countryside generally, or whether we are continuing to destroy habitat—as we have done far too often in the past—and to increase surpluses in a way that no farmer using his own money without subsidy would do.

    Thirdly, we should encourage the Common Market in its provision of grants towards a balanced programme of farming and conservation. Fourthly, we must take action over chemicals. My hon. Friend the Minister will no doubt tell me if I am wrong, but if we are indeed now putting about three times as many chemicals on the land as only four years ago, that should be the subject of urgent and detailed research. Bodies such as the Game Conservancy are carrying out research, and the farming and wildlife advisory groups are also playing an important part. But the problem is so great that it cannot be overcome unless the Ministry takes the lead with a crash programme.

    There should be a more specific use of chemicals, and we need to know more about the methods of application so that they can be more effective and so that fewer chemicals are put on the land. In that way, fewer costs need be incurred and less damage will be caused.

    There are always fashions in these matters. Although I strongly support the move towards conservation, I do not support the fanner bashing that is becoming far too widespread and indiscriminate.

    Farmers are entitled to complain that only 10 years ago everybody thought that they were angels; now everybody thinks that they are devils. They are neither. However, we depend upon the farming community more than on any other to preserve our heritage and to keep a balance in farming and conservation.

    Does the hon. Gentleman agree that all grants should be checked to ensure that they are spent for the purposes for which they were originally given?

    I have no evidence that they are not, but if there is such evidence I would agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am not an expert on that point. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will develop it if he thinks it important.

    Most fanners are conservationists. They take an enormous amount of trouble about the landscape. Often, they need to be helped to do so, which is why I pressed the point about research into chemicals. Most farmers care for the countryside. I regret that there are some serious lapses from the generally reasonable and often high standards, and we must discourage such lapses for all we are worth. But the object of the Bill should be to close the three-month loophole and to make other comparatively limited gains. We must not let the Bill founder on the grand gesture. I ask the Minister to take most seriously the points that I have raised. If she has any objection to my comments, perhaps she would write to me.

    I am in some difficulty with the new clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) said that it is ambitious and imaginative. It is, and should be. My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) suggested that the new clause could, perhaps, be reinstated in another place without its defects. That is an interesting line, but I doubt whether it will happen. The new clause does not deal only with hedgerows, nor is it only about the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Our environmental policy is in some confusion.

    The new clause is also about water meadows. We have been told that the public must have access to cost-benefit analysis on drainage schemes. Some of the most ancient traditions in lowland farming are being expunged from the environment before our eyes because of drainage policies and commercial pressures on farmers. Indeed, sometimes the Nature Conservancy Council has turned down requests for the preservation of water meadows on the ground that the land has already been spoiled by the use of herbicides. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) spoke of the attention that we need to give to chemicals used in agriculture. It is absurd that water meadows cannot become sites of special scientific interest because chemicals have destroyed some flora. That is a phoney argument.

    Fish farming and chemicals, too, have changed the face of the land. MAFF should have more responsibility for that, and that would be encouraged by the new clause. Although water authorities usually say specifically that no antibiotics may be used in fish farms where water is put back into the drainage system of a valley, in fact fish farmers tell one, "Oh, everyone does it." Antibiotics are used as a preventative measure, not a curative measure, in fish farming.

    There is confusion in our environmental policy on trees — for example, our broadleaf policy. We also have difficulty with many other aspects of countryside management. However, for the first time a wide range of interests agree with the aims of the new clause, and have written to us and said so. The Council for the Protection of Rural England, the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association all agree with the aims of the new clause. The farmers are conservationists and farmer bashing is a fruitless activity.

    In my part of the world, a large proportion of the land is used as military training areas, which are also important areas of conservation. All areas, whether military, farming, plain or valley, need a positive environmental policy to protect them. That also applies to land owned by the new National Heritage Commission. I wholly support the steps that it is taking to encourage the National Trust in the protection of Stonehenge. It is all very well The Times today printing emotive pictures on its back page of barbed wire surrounding Stonehenge, but at the Stonehenge so-called free festival last year the free-living, liberal-minded participants cut down more than 1,000 trees on Salisbury plain, no doubt under some misplaced belief in a right-to-fuel argument. I understand that a similar act of vandalism was carried out by the same people at Molesworth.

    Is it fair to place responsibility only on MAFF? Perhaps it is not. The Department of the Environment is also involved, and I am glad to see its Minister on the Front Bench today. He has already mentioned rates and his responsibility for that. I must press the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)—if I could have his attention for a moment—on his party's policy on rates. Does he speak for the SDP also? This is not some cheap line; it is crucial. If there is to be re-rating of agricultural buildings, let alone woodlands, hedgerows and land, there will be a severe impact on conservation and on the cost of conservation. The new clause would ensure that the Minister takes a positive line.

    I repeat that we have a confused environmental policy. I understand that trees, which may have an impact on agricultural policy — there has been a great deal of controversy about that — are the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Scotland. The improvement of marginal land and the conservation of land on the edge of, for example, the New Forest, which we might think would be the responsibility of MAFF, is in fact not its responsibility. I recently tabled a parliamentary question to MAFF on the improvement of marginal land through the use of natural fertilisers such as sewage sludge. The question was transferred to the Department of the Environment, which sent me a letter supposedly telling me what MAFF was doing—except that it did not say what MAFF was doing. The new clause would place a clear and sensible responsibility on one Minister.

    I urge conservationists not to pull the rug from under the feet of those who are trying hard to move forward in the cause of conservation. Conservation is not preservation. We must look to the future. The message of the new clause is clear—we must start somewhere. This is a private Member's Bill. I am sorry that MAFF has drawn the short straw, which is of no comfort to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench who I know have moved very far in supporting the Bill. I shall listen to the comments of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) with great interest.

    12 noon

    I shall be brief, though that will be difficult, as I am tempted to go into a number of issues because the debate has ranged widely. There were moments when you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, seemed to be signalling that it might be getting too wide, so I shall not even mention Liberal policy on re-rating agriculture.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) got involved in a dental argument about whether there were teeth in the Bill. I shall not follow him in his expertise in that matter. It has been fascinating to examine the large volume of correspondence that we have had about the Bill. The emphasis has shifted from the writers originally expressing views on what they called the "loophole Bill" to what they are now describing as the "MAFF duty Bill." That is fair enough, and there is no reason why the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) should not press for other changes which he wants made. Let us remember that the Bill contains an important central part. Nothing that we do must endanger the loophole-closing aspect of it.

    With respect to a number of extremely good speeches, I thought that the most thoughtful was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr), because what he did not say was just as interesting as what he did say. He is a powerful representative of agricultural and countryside interests, and he argued against such a duty as the new clause would impose being placed on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

    My hon. Friend pointed out—my colleagues at the Ministry of Agriculture are well aware of it—that we are at a time of transition and flux in agriculture. It may be that in due course my right hon. and hon. Friends in that Department will present White Papers or Green Papers on the whole subject. I note, for example, that the chairman of the Countryside Commission has urged such a course. It may be that a whole land use or estate use White Paper will be introduced in which we map out the policies towards land use in the round in this country.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough pointed out that, although it is understandable that the House wishes to emphasise aspects of that debate at an early stage, we need to take a more fundamental look, at greater leisure, at the whole issue, and that should involve the whole collective force of the Government over some time to ensure that we get it right. I say that because I am not sure that the best way to proceed is to approach one aspect of it in a private Member's Bill.

    The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) made an attractive reference to his country seat. I hope that he was not thinking of moving to another place, because that would be a great loss to this House. I strongly agreed with him when he said in an eloquent speech—although he was arguing the other side of the case—that he wanted the great strength of the Government, as he described it, to be behind the conservation cause as a whole.

    That is part of our argument for saying that the addition of specific duties does not necessarily address the point, because if it is not collective policy, with senior Ministers behind it, it is nothing, whatever duties may be laid on Departments. However, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and I are not saying that we do not understand the concerns which led to the introduction of the new clause, and the remarks of my hon. Friends may carry weight with Ministers as they approach these issues.

    The Parliamentary Secretary made great play of the technical deficiencies of the clause, and I would not challenge what she said. May we take it from what my hon. Friend is now saying that detailed consideration will be given to all the points that have been made today with a view to introducing something in another place?

    No, that is not what I said. I am arguing that if there is a case for making such changes, there is a case for making them in a wider context than in this Bill. I said that that context might produce documents about the future direction of agriculture and of land use as a whole, the sorts of subjects to which the uplands report of the Countryside Commission addressed itself, and there are other, wider issues to be considered.

    The Parliamentary Secretary made the fair point that it is sometimes forgotten that the Ministry of Agriculture is also the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and that the Scottish Office, which is tacked on to the end of the new clause, is an even wider Department. It is equally fair to point out that provisions of this type are extremely difficult to draft.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) in a sense made speeches which fitted together. They are all formidable proponents of the countryside and practical measures to improve it, and they all made eloquent speeches.

    The Food and Environment Protection Bill, which is at present in Committee, is relevant to some of the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln. In due course, regulations will be introduced under that Bill and I am sure that he will cross-examine them closely. He and other hon. Members made important points about changes which they would like to see, and their remarks are part of the discussion that we need about environmental policy. Their remarks, in particular the way in which they bite on agricultural policy, were of course heard by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary.

    Although the hon. Member for South Shields and I have been in disagreement about some aspects of what is proposed, we have managed to avoid personalising the matter. I regretted, therefore, the slightly venomous tone of the remarks of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). We were, however, interested in his commitment to planning controls. Poor old Gladstone must be spinning in his grave. But, then, I suppose that he has been spinning ever since his poor Liberal party became a subsidiary of the SDP.

    The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey mentioned what he described as his great commitment to conservation, a commitment which I would not dare to challenge when expressed by the hon. Members for South Shields or for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). For that reason, I looked in Dod to find what major contributions the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey had made, and I discovered that he has a long list of special interests. Indeed, his interests are much wider than those of anybody else, covering human rights and civil liberties, youth affairs, social injustice, housing, Europe, devolution, Anglo-Irish relations, recreation, music, theatre, history and sport. There was not a mention in that lengthy entry of his interest in today's issues. I thought, therefore, that what I really heard from the hon. Gentleman was the well-known sign of a politician getting on to somebody else's bandwagon.

    The hon. Member for Surbiton must be a brave man. He said that he had muddled constituents. I do not have such constituents, nor does anybody else. I am sure that our constituents, like customers in the market place, are always right. However, the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed to the way in which we sometimes have difficulty in explaining to our constituents conflicts that arise, and on that he made some fair comments, such as the way in which people want cheap and reliable food, but in some cases wish to put constraints on farmers.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) and the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury made speeches which went well together. Their co-operation on the Select Committee might have been behind their similarity of interests, and we respect their views on those issues. We share their concern for the intentions which lie behind the new clause, although we do not think that this is the right way, or place, to pursue them.

    A number of other Departments, from the environmental point of view, have a major impact on the countryside. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey is a great enthusiast for reducing smoke emissions and air pollution. That is why I say that other Departments — responsible for transport, energy and industry, for example — have a major impact on the environment.

    In view of the dramatic progress that has been made by Ministers concerned with agriculture in the past two years, it seems unfair to single them out. On those grounds, we do not welcome the new clause and I hope that it will not be forced to a Division.

    I shall follow the example of the Minister and be brief. Having listened with interest to the remarks made by hon. Members on both sides, it is clear that we have had an interesting and illuminating debate, one which reflects the concern in the country' that we must get the balance right in agriculture, and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, despite what the Under-Secretary said, has an overwhelming interest in the affairs of the countryside.

    It is interesting to note that the discussion is taking place not only in what might be called the middle-class and upper-market press but elsewhere. For example, I was delighted in recent weeks to see the involvement of the Daily Mirror with its "Living Britain" campaign. I wish Robert Maxwell as much success with that campaign as he has had with Oxford United. It does an enormous amount of good for such a newspaper to try to sell, in simple terms, interest in the problems that we are now discussing.

    I listened closely to what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture said. I take on board her point about the defective drafting. It is always a great problem for a private Member in particular to try to draft a complex and detailed clause. I am grateful for the help that I had from the CPRE and also from the National Farmers Union and the CLA.

    I hope that the Minister listened to the united message that came from the Opposition. It came in a more or less united form from Conservative Benches. The exception was the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle), whose change of attitude was disappointing. However, the almost united message from Conservative Members was that they wanted to have a look at the matter. They wanted some Government action along those lines.

    We have talked about reconciliation and co-operation. This is not the last chance for this Parliament to look at the Bill. In view of what the Minister said about the defective drafting, I still maintain that, because of its spirit and purpose, it was right to move it. I should like the Bill eventually to end up with that clause in it. I hope that the Minister has taken note of the messages from both sides of the House and that in some way or another the Government will look at the matter in the next few months when the Bill is still before Parliament. Personally, I hope that in another place the noble Lords will take note of my comments and that they will wish to discuss the matter again.

    In that spirit, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion. Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 1

    Amendment Of Badgers Act 1973 S I

    I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 7, leave out '(2)' and insert '(a)'.

    With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 2, in page 1, line 9, leave out from beginning to end of line 18 and insert—

  • '(b) before subsection (2) there shall be inserted —
  • "(1A) If, in any proceedings for an offence under subsection (1) above consisting of attempting to kill, injure or take a badger, there is evidence from which it could reasonably be concluded that at the material time the accused was attempting to kill, injure or take a badger, he shall be presumed to have been attempting to kill, injure or take a badger unless the contrary is shown.".'.
  • No. 3, in page 1, line 18, at end insert—
  • '(2) Section 2 of the Badgers Act 1973 (digging for badgers etc.) shall be amended as follows
  • (a) before "If" there shall be inserted "(1)";
  • (b) at the end there shall be added—
  • "(2) If, any proceedings for an offence under subsection (1)(c) above, there is evidence from which it could reasonably be concluded that at the material time the accused was digging for a badger, he shall be presumed to have been digging for a badger unless the contrary is shown.".'.
  • No. 17, in title, line 2, leave out 'section 1' and insert 'sections 1 and 2'.

    The Bill has been called many things. On new clause 5, it was called the MAFF Bill. There has already been reference to the "closing the loopholes Bill". For many of us, it has been the badgers Bill. In the early stages, most heat was generated on that issue. It is an emotive issue. I am sure that not a single person in the House could support the cruel pastime of badger baiting. I think that the whole House is united in that. I am pleased to be able to say that from this Dispatch Box. We have no time at all for the cruelty involved, when people dig for badgers, take them, possibly blinding them or breaking their limbs, and then set dogs upon them. That is vicious and immoral, and the House condemns it.

    12.15 pm

    The real point is how we try to ensure that that "pastime" does not take place. When, back in 1979, I cosponsored the Bill on badgers of my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), we thought that we had overcome the problem. Sadly, ingenious and detemined people have shown that that Bill, although effective, has not been as effective as it should have been. Undoubtedly, there are many cases where prosecutions are not brought because of a weakness that has become apparent in the law.

    With that in mind, along with several bodies, particularly the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Royal Society for Nature Conservation and the League Against Cruel Sports, I entered negotiations with Ministers at the Home Office to tackle the problem. It was with the best will in the world that we approached those discussions. We thought that we had come up with an approach when we originally drafted the Bill. I accept that there may have been drafting inadequacies in that first clause. It was also intended that that clause would be altered if it was found to be incorrect. I do not want to regurgitate the history, but we were surprised when the Government tabled an amendment in Committee. We are disappointed with it. I shall say no more about that. It was a genuine attempt and I think that the Home Office thought that it was pursuing the right course of action.

    All our legal advice has been to the contrary. I have further confirmation of that today from one of the leading counsel in the country. Talking about the previous amendment, which I am seeking to change through this series of amendments, he said:
    "The amendment makes it essential that a badger is actually either killed or injured. This means, I think, that the Prosecution might have to produce a dead or injured badger"—
    the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) said that in Committee—
    "so the case might well be far more difficult to prove. Therefore in my opinion it is a retrograde step and the amendment should be resisted."
    That opinion was given by John Mortimer, QC. A similar opinion was given by Lewis Blom-Cooper, who said that, although in the strict matter of the law the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment was correct in what he said in Committee, in practice it was his view that it would weaken the present legislation.

    This matter has caused a great deal of trouble. Does the hon. Gentleman accept, despite what he quoted from those letters, that it is a fact that what was added in Committee was a new offence, and that it in no way weakened the existing law? It provided an additional protection, albeit that we may now have found further protection to add.

    The great difficulty is that, once one starts down that route, one gets drawn on to tangential lines. I half accept what the hon. and learned Gentleman said. The second leading counsel's opinion was:

    "What I do think is that Magistrates' Courts, in applying the law after the passing of the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Act 1985, may be inclined to impose a stricter interpretation on what constitutes an attempt than hitherto; they would do so by concluding that the relevant acts or omissions were not sufficiently proximate to the killing or injuring to constitute an attempt in law. In so doing they would be wrong in law, but one cannot escape the feeling that Parliament's intention in section 1 A might be interpreted as requiring an actual killing or injuring before anyone could be convicted of an attempt under section 1."
    I take the hon. and learned Gentleman's point. The amendment was moved with good intent. I am just saying that in practice the leading opinions that we sought suggested that the situation would not have been interpreted that way in the courts. I believe that today's amendment overcomes those obstacles. I do not want to pursue too much of the history.

    Would it not be better for the debate not to be an inquest—[Interruption.] It would seem to be better to debate the amendment that is on the Notice Paper.

    I take my hon. Friend's point. I think that I have done enough of my inquest. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department accepts that I have been fair and frank, and have tried to outline what happened. There has been a difference in interpretation of the law. The Government have put forward their interpretation, and we have put ours. We have had a meeting of minds. I hope that the amendment that I recommend to the House will find approval.

    I agree that we should get on to the new clause, but, in view of the wide circulation of misleading leaflets, it is important that the promoter should publicly recognise the constructive help that he has received from the Government and from the British Field Sports Society in producing the new clause and in seeking to promote the Bill at every stage.

    The hon. Gentleman pre-empts what I am about to say, but I have been giving way in an attempt to be helpful. There have been a large number of misconceptions, misunderstandings and disputes about the law and we do not want any more. That is why the Bill is before Parliament, inadequacies having been found in both the 1981 and the 1973 Acts. Last week, a meeting was held with the Home Office, the British Field Sports Society and the Master of Foxhounds Association as well as with representatives of the amenity bodies. We all know that the League Against Cruel Sports is against hunting, but in a spirit of compromise it has dropped that objective in this instance and sought to work, almost uniquely, alongside the British Field Sports Society and has recognised that the interests of legitimate field sports must be protected. That is a step forward and I am sure that the House is grateful for the co-operation.

    I am sorry to press this, but since the Committee stage Conservative Members have been inundated with literature accusing us of putting in a clause which deliberately sought to make the prosecution of offenders more difficult. As I believe that the League Against Cruel Sports was undoubtedly behind the wording of that literature, I cannot accept that that body has cooperated in a full and fair manner either with the British Field Sports Society or with those of us who have been adamant throughout that we must find a satisfactory clause. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that that has now been achieved, but one cannot simply pass over the way in which the matter has been misrepresented to the country.

    The hon. Gentleman has made his point forcefully and now, at the last moment, an amendment has been agreed. I am grateful for the assistance of the Home Office in the drafting as this was an incredibly difficult maze to negotiate, given that we did not wish to injure the interests of legitimate field sports.

    It is important to put it on record that many people who are not opponents of field sports are extremely concerned about this. For instance, the great naturalist Phil Drabble, who is a personal friend of mine, knows as much about badgers as anyone in this country and he is extremely concerned, so it is not just a question of representation by certain antagonistic bodies.

    The hon. Gentleman has an excellent record in this area. It is sometimes easier for him to make these things clear to the House and I am grateful for his assistance.

    I have come to listen to the debate because I am as concerned as anyone about the badgers and I respect what the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) is trying to do. My constituents have been extremely disturbed by the leaflets and stories that have been circulating. The hon. Gentleman quoted the view of a playwright, or perhaps it was a barrister, but that is not a statement of the law. That opinion concerned the way in which a magistrates court— a very low level court—might interpret the law in practice, but that is not an opinion as to the law itself.

    I have been giving way not only in an effort to be helpful but in the hope that if hon. Members are able to raise points in interventions fewer of them will wish to make speeches and time will be saved later. I take the thrust of the Gentleman's comment, but we are concerned about the protection of badgers and the first level of legal protection is prosecution in a magistrates court. I was not disputing the purity of the law. I was quoting an opinion as to the protection that the law would give to badgers in practice. The object is to protect the badgers and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman joins me in that aim.

    The amendment to section 1 of the Badgers Act would oblige defendants to show, regardless of the methods being used, that they were not after a badger. At present the prosecution has to prove that the defendants were after a badger, so the attempt provisions are strengthened.

    The amendment to section 2 would oblige defendants to show that they were not digging for a badger. Currently, the prosecution has to prove that the defendants were digging for a badger, so here, too, the attempt provisions will be strengthened. In that sense, the provisions follow the line adopted in section 1(3) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

    This is a very complicated matter, but for my own benefit I shall describe it in simple terms. At present, many people caught digging around badger setts, often with badger baiting equipment, have said that they were digging for foxes, which was quite legal. Because it was impossible to prove that they were not digging for foxes, prosecutions too often were not brought and it was clear that a shift in the onus of proof was needed. Defendants will now have to prove that they were digging for foxes and not for badgers, which safeguards the interests of legitimate field sports such as fox hunting.

    I believe that this is a sensible amendment and I am delighted to put it forward with the backing of the British Field Sports Society, the Masters of Foxhounds Association and, I hope — no doubt the Minister will wish to say something on this — the backing of the Home Office. The arguments have been well rehearsed and I hope that the number of interventions that have been made will considerably reduce the number of speeches.

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
    (Mr. David Mellor)

    I am glad to give the Government's view on this important issue, which has become even more important as a result of the public debate — much of it, unfortunately, not too well informed — surrounding the various discussions and negotiations.

    I should make it absolutely clear at the outset that I speak in favour of accepting the amendment for one clear and unsurprising reason. The amendment was thought out by my officials and presented to a meeting of the various interest groups last week. When the substance of it seemed to be acceptable, the amendment was then drafted by parliamentary counsel on the instructions of the Home Office and presented to the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). I therefore stand at the Dispatch Box as the parent of the amendment and not as one dragged along behind an amendment thought out and pressed by others. It is the Government's amendment and the hon. Member for South Shields has been kind enough to accept it and put it forward in his name. If there is any praise or blame to be attached to the amendment, it should be directed to the Government.

    I am as appalled as anyone at the thought that, in this day and age, people can go out into the countryside with dogs, sticks, spades, or some combination of all three, and take the pleasures of the countryside as being to dig into a badger's sett and capture the badger to use it in some sport or to beat it to death. That is utterly disgraceful. It was plainly the intention of Parliament in the 1973 Act to outlaw such behaviour. I condemn such behaviour unreservedly on behalf of the Government. If the law is defective, I wish to recognise that and to put the full weight of the Government behind proposals to change it.

    12.30 pm

    I make it clear that that is a pious aspiration which I share not only with the hon. Member for South Shields but with a number of those concerned with wildlife matters. Some of these people have been traduced by those who seek to exploit the badger, not by beating him over the head, but by using him for partisan ends to make tendentious and wholly wrong attacks on the Government and on some of those who believe that it is legitimate for country folk to involve themselves in legitimate country sports. No one involved in such legitimate country sports, any more than someone who abominates all forms of hunting, wants anything to do with the killing or torturing of badgers.

    In assembling my thoughts on this matter I have been enormously assisted by the British Field Sports Society and the Masters of Foxhounds Association, who have always been ready to work with the animal welfare group, to whose views I also attach importance. I commend in particular the approach of my hon. and learned Friend for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell), who has brought his considerable skills in the detail of the law to bear on this matter, and has been of enormous help

    The debate, both in the House and outside, has been long on tendentious but rather short on the detailed thinking that needs to be done to translate pious aspirations into effective statute law. In that regard, apart from the advice that I have received from my officials, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire stands alone. Many of those who have been most vocal in advocating the cause of the badger have been extremely limited when it has come to putting forward drafts which would be workable and made sense in the courts.

    When people come to allocate blame out of what has been an unhappy story, they should perhaps give most of it to those who have sought to blacken the characters of others whose only intention has been to find a proper way out. They have aimed to find a solution which ensures that an individual walking through the countryside with his dog does not run the risk of being hauled before the magistrates. Nobody who cares about the countryside wants to stop legitimate enjoyment of it by those who are playing their part, as people have done for centuries, in enjoying the countryside and appreciating our rural heritage.

    Some matters need to be put on the record. My task is not only to commend the amendment to the House as I intend to do, but to set it in the context of the debates that have taken place. I am not in favour of seeing my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) traduced in the way that he has been in some of the literature, or of seeing colleagues' postbags full of some of the most malicious assertions about the Government, none of which is grounded in fact. I put on record our involvement in this matter, and in doing so I shall go through the three drafts which have appeared before the House in order to set them in their context.

    Just as I have challenged some individuals whom I have met privately to come forward with any assertion that they may wish to bring about bad faith and so on, so I shall happily give way to any hon. Member who wishes to pursue an assertion of bad faith. I do that so that I can deal with these points fairly and openly in the presence of those who will later bring our debates to a wider public knowledge.

    Long before the hon. Member for South Shields had the good fortune to be drawn high in the ballot, this matter was raised with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and myself by that most distinguished battler for animal welfare, Lord Houghton. It is no secret that I have worked closely with Lord Houghton on a number of matters in our plans to reform the law on animal experiments. We worked together on the extremely successful venture, which perhaps passed without notice at the end of the last Session but should not have done, on the sale of pets in open street markets. The law was changed to prevent the scandal of places such as Club row. That began with an initiative by Lord Houghton, and it was taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) and me.

    When Lord Houghton said that he was unhappy about the working of the Badgers Act, I was glad to meet him. My right hon. and learned Friend and I met Lord Houghton and Mr. Richard Course. My right hon. and learned Friend made it clear that we would look favourably at any provision to tighten up the law on badgers, with only one caveat—that it should not be used as a stalking horse to make unlawful what was legitimate field sport. Provided that that distinction could be maintained, my right hon. and learned Friend was wholly in favour of making these changes. That happened on 12 November 1984.

    On 19 December, just before Christmas, I had a further meeting with Lord Houghton, at which I indicated my view that if the mischief which he wished to address was that of dogs going into subterranean refuges and the difficulty of proving that when a dog entered a subterranean refuge its owner wilfully intended to take a badger, the proper way to address it would be to import the element of recklessness into that conduct so that, whether or not somebody could demonstrably be proved to have intended to take a badger by putting a dog down a hole, if a reasonable person knew, as a reasonable person would be deemed to know, that the hole concerned was a badger sett and not a rabbit warren, the element of recklessness would make it easier to prove the offence.

    It is important for the House to recognise that the problem being drawn to our attention was that of dogs entering subterranean refuges. The problem, however, which needed to be addressed was that the requirement in section 1 of the Badgers Act 1973 that wilfulness was required in relation to intention to take a badger was too high a fence for the prosecution to leap over. On that basis I suggested in good faith to Lord Houghton that a provision for imported recklessness would be the way forward.

    I welcome the involvement of the hon. Member for South Shields in these matters. Leaving party politics on one side, in general he has been prepared to accept the good faith of the Government, subject only to one caveat, to which I shall turn later. On 20 December 1984 I met the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) at which I offered drafting assistance on any proposal that he might wish to make relating to the badger. The difficulty that faced us at that time about the hon. Gentleman's Bill was that he had committed himself to amending the Wildlife and Countryside Act. His short title so provided.

    It seemed logical to me that to amend an Act which did not deal with the badger when there was already a specific Act dealing with the badger on the statute book made very little sense and that the appropriate course to take was to amend the Badgers Act. This was discussed at a meeting between Lord Houghton, the hon. Member for South Shields and myself on 16 January 1985, at which Lord Houghton suggested that an amendment to the Wildlife and Countryside Act might be a marker and that later it might be converted into an amendment to the Badgers Act, either in the House of Lords, whose rules are more flexible than ours, or in the House of Commons. At that stage, however, we doubted whether the Badgers Act could be amended in this House, on the basis that it would be outside the scope of a narrowly drawn short title which set out only to amend another Act.

    At that point we were troubled by the intervention of the dog and the difficulty of proving intent where a dog was allowed to go down a hole, whatever dark suspicions one might have. I stress that point only because the condemnation that was seen to rain down upon our unprepared heads dealt with a totally different point. One of the interesting aspects of the argument is that, like the sands of the Sahara, it has shifted as the winds have eddied and flurried. In no sense have we had at any successive point to meet precisely the same argument. However, at this point we were dealing with dogs. Therefore, when the hon. Member for South Shields drew up his Bill, he included an amendment to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, being fully aware that in due course it would have to be changed into an amendment to the Badgers Act 1973.

    The hon. Gentleman is a generous person, and he was typically generous in his Second Reading speech on 8 February when he said:
    "I am pleased to say that the Home Office has helped me. The Home Secretary saw a deputation of which I was not a member, and offered general support to try to tighten up the legislation. The clause was given to me by the Home Office. I am grateful for its assistance and the time it gave me to get this point right." —[Official Report, 8 February 1985; Vol. 72, c. 1239.]
    I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman was trying to make his Second Reading speech quickly, and I do not criticise him for that, but he was inaccurate to suggest that we had handed the amendment to him. We had not, but we had said that the importation of the concept of recklessness was important and we had promised to assist in making the amendment to the Badgers Act 1973 in due course.

    It is important that that point should be cleared up. If that is the case, I was under a severe misapphrension on that occasion. I still have in my possession a draft of the amendment on ministerial notepaper, which I thought had ministerial backing. Therefore, if I have misled the House it was because I misunderstood the situation, as, indeed, I think most of the amenity societies misunderstood the situation. If that is the case, 1 apologise to the Minister for what I said on that occasion, which appears to have been inaccurate.

    I ask the House to believe that, apart from one quibble about the suggestion that the hon. Gentleman may have made at his press conference yesterday that the Government had made a U-turn, I wholly exonerate the hon. Gentleman. It is to others that I am directing my remarks. The hon. Gentleman is in a difficult position, being committed to the countryside and being drawn into the necessary partisanship of being an Opposition spokesman. He has not much for which to stand condemned. However, it is necessary to make those points clear.

    The original Bill said that the prohibition should be on using

    "a dog underground, (whether actually or ostensibly in search of another wild animal) to take, injure or kill, or to attempt to take, injure or kill a badger if he knows or has reasonable cause to believe that it is likely to do so"
    We are here dealing only with the use of a dog. That is important to the points that are soon to come.

    Further consideration was then given to what the shape of the Bill should be. At that point others entered the fray, at a meeting on 19 February 1985, at which Lord Melchett and others proposed to my officials a different badger clause. It was at that point that a number of other considerations, such as the protection of the badger's sett, began to enter into the arrangements, when that had never been part of the original proposal.

    I then engaged with my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West, who has only wanted, as I have, to try to make progress on this matter, to draw up a clause which would be an amendment to the Badgers Act, not to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which would have had the consequence of bringing into law a legally cogent way of expressing the intentions which had been agreed between myself and the hon. Gentleman.

    We then came to a difficulty upon which a great deal of the propaganda hangs, so I shall expose it for a moment if I may. The original clause drafted by the hon. Gentleman suggested that it was possible recklessly to attempt to commit an offence. One does not need to be a lawyer to appreciate that "recklessly to attempt" is a contradiction in terms because to attempt to do something one must have an intention to do it and then to fail. The attraction of "recklessness" in the scheme of things which the hon. Gentleman and I worked out was that it is not a settled intention. One would not have to establish a settled intention to take a badger, only that someone was reckless but that what he did would have affected a badger. To put it another way, a reasonable person would not have done it because he would have appreciated the consequences to the badger, whereas a reckless person would have blundered on.

    Much turns on this. If one looks at the leaflets with which we have been showered, one sees that they all fail to recognise that one crucial point. In law one cannot recklessly attempt an act. Therefore, to give effect in legal sense, and not to commit a contradiction in terms which even Parliament, which has sometimes put the most unusual things into statute, might subsequently have cause to blush with shame about, we determined that the appropriate thing to commend to the Committee, and my hon. Friend did so, was to remove the attempt, on the basis that we wanted to keep recklessness. That passed the Committee and has been traduced in a number of documents that have been before the House.

    Let me make it completely clear that it cannot be the case that, if a new offence is set alongside an existing offence, that can weaken the law. One may argue that the amendment does not do all that one wants it to do, but the idea that the amendment in some way derogates from a quite separate, free-standing offence that is already on the statute book is again legal nonsense.

    12.45 pm

    The assertion contained in the badger factsheet that a conviction in Derbyshire in 1984 would not have occurred under the Bill as it left Committee is nonsense. If, when a person uses a dog, it is clear that a court is prepared to impute that that person had formed an intention to harm a badger and was attempting to do so, the prosecution would proceed under the 1973 Act and would be untouched by the new subsection (1A) which was inserted into the Bill by the Standing Committee of this House. That subsection would come into effect where it was not possible to prove an intention, but where recklessness in the use of a dog could be imputed.

    Although much has been made of legal opinions, we have never to this day seen a legal opinion in writing which backed up any of the assertions. I say this in all gentleness to the hon. Gentleman. What he read out, as he acknowledged in the course of a vigorous cross-examination by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire — a man to whom, if one could sign a big enough cheque, one should always turn if in trouble in the courts—was not a legal opinion to suggest that we had derogated one whit from the strength of the law. It was a tendentious assertion that the courts might be confused, based on the rather patronising view that some lawyers take of magistrates—a view with which, on the whole, I am not inclined to agree.

    My hon. Friend is deploying his case with clarity and vigour, as we would expect, and I can completely understand why he feels aggrieved and that certain people might have behaved irresponsibly. May I suggest to him, in all humility, that the tone that he is adopting could be misinterpreted outside this House, because—I say this as a friend of my hon. Friend and not just in a technical sense—the people who have been showering us with the leaflets have been genuine in their fears. It is important to recognise that fact.

    It is also important to recognise—as my hon. Friend has — the good faith of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), and the fact that, when he reads out letters from people such as John Mortimer, he is genuinely believing that, because they are eminent lawyers—as well as eminent playwrights and so on—their views have some validity. Therefore, I urge a little charity on my hon. Friend.

    I think that my hon. Friend has a point about the badger factsheet leaflet. I do not say that that leaflet was issued in bad faith. I say that its authors were misled and that they have now sought to place the blame wrongly. I hope that anyone who subsequently reads what I have to say —I am grateful to my hon. Friend for saying that it was clear; that is always an advantage—may feel, like me, that it was misleading. My venom is directed at another document which I am about to read to the House. The badger factsheet is merely misleading.

    Let me state my position clearly before I move on to the other document. The Derbyshire case would certainly not have been decided differently if the law had remained as it was when the Bill left Committee, and that is an important point. I believe that the case in Retford will be dealt with by the new amendment which we shall be discussing later. That is why it will be a considerable step forward.

    Not for the moment. I shall give way in due course, but I should be given the opportunity to give way when I feel like it, rather than when the hon. Gentleman thinks I should give way.

    Even my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) who wants to impute good faith to everybody—as I generally do—would have objected to the letter circulated by the League Against Cruel Sports. At a meeting in my Department last week, I challenged Mr. Course of the LACS to say whether he thought that anyone at the Home Office had acted in bad faith, and he did not pursue the matter. However, he sent out a leaflet urging his members and others to write to hon. Members. The leaflet said:
    "However, the pro-hunting BFSS puppet MPs who initially indicated their 'full support' for a crackdown on badger baiters have resorted to their usual dishonest and treacherous tactics. They persuaded another of their puppets, Mr. William Waldegrave, the Government Minister from the Department of the Environment, to propose an alternative clause on badger baiting which would, if passed, effectively wreck Dr. Clark's measure and worse still, actually weaken the existing 1973 Badgers Act. Because this was a Government Amendment, the Conservative MPs on the Committee supported Mr. Waldegrave's Amendment."
    That is false and, I have reason to think, is known to be false. It is grotesque, and I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South nodding in agreement. As I have made clear, the Government amendment adds to the law and does not detract from it.

    In so far as a gap in the law has been revealed by the Retford magistrates court case, the gap would have remained as yawning if we had left the Bill as drafted. It should be understood that the only difference between the Government amendment and the original proposal was that the amendment made legal sense and the original proposal did not. Their ambit was the same.

    The original proposal sought to impose responsibility for reckless attempts and would not have assisted clarity of the criminal law.

    As I replied in the House last week to two important Bills on glue sniffing and on drugs, in the absence of any alliance Member, the fact that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is here makes me feel sufficiently warmhearted to give way to him.

    If I were shadow spokesman on home affairs, I would have been here last week. I am here to deal with an environment Bill.

    If the 1973 Act had remained, without this Bill it could be argued that using an animal was covered by that Act. However, as the Bill specifically relates to animals and the use of dogs in setts, it is possible that the courts could —rather than would—have interpreted that to mean that the 1973 Act did not cover the use of animals and dogs down setts. That would have weakened the law.

    The amendment proposed by the Government — at 11.15 pm on the night before the Standing Committee met —required the production of an animal at the end of the exercise. That was not in the Bill. There was ambiguity. The office of the League Against Cruel Sports is in my constituency, but I do not argue the league's case without judging its merits. There was ambiguity in the last-minute amendment of the Government and there was a risk that it could have weakened the 1973 legislation.

    If one is looking at the intention of the individual rather than of the dog, who is not on trial anyway, it is possible to rely on the 1973 Act. One would move to the amendment of the hon. Member for South Shields or of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment only if one needed to rely on something which was not a settled intention, but was recklessness involving the use of a dog.

    The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey is saying that, at most, this is a matter about which lawyers could squabble over a glass of port and a piece of Stilton. It is not the sort of error which could have led to all my hon. Friends who do not think that fox hunting should immediately be made illegal being impugned as "dishonest and treacherous" and so on. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey is not attempting to defend what seems to me to be a wholly gratuitous insult directed against my hon. Friends. If others were as prepared to lay their interests aside and join in discussions to resolve problems with as much willingness as those of my hon. Friends who are interested in field sports, the House might make much more progress on a number of other pressing problems.

    The amendment was proposed after my meeting on 17 April 1985 with the hon. Gentleman and representatives of a number of wildlife groups. I made it clear at that meeting that I was prepared to instruct my officials to make every effort to resolve the problem. There was a further meeting on 23 April, which the hon. Gentleman attended, as did representatives of the animal welfare groups and the British Field Sports Society. At that meeting, my officials suggested a way forward which would have involved requiring an individual to give an account of himself once a prima facie case had been established that he was attempting to take a badger. I am glad to say that that idea has found favour with the groups and is acceptable to the British Field Sports Society and to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire. Parliamentary draftsmen were then instructed to do the work, and the amendment comes before the House with unanimous support. I hope that where there was discord there will now be concord.

    The amendment affects the case where someone is digging at a badger's sett, or putting a dog down the sett, and the person who sees him apprehends him—as he may very reasonably wish to do—before that person has had a chance to ascertain whether there is a badger there or to catch it. Once that evidence has been proved before the court, the man will be required to rebut the presumption that he was after a badger. Under the present law, the situation is quite different. Unless it can be shown that someone has wilfully set out to take a badger, he cannot be successfully prosecuted. If he said — even with a smirk—"I was after foxes, Guv", that might wash under the present law. It will not wash under the amendment.

    I have been concerned to ensure that someone whose dog suddenly runs down a hole is not put to proof in a magistrates court, that people legitimately engaged in clearing out vermin are not caught, and that legitimate field sports are not inhibited from finishing off a hunt. I am wholly satisfied that, in all those circumstances, the necessary evidence to determine a prima facie case that the man was after a badger could not be established. It is only those who cannot demonstrate any right to be where they are, or any interest in being there, who are actually acting against the badger sett. The arguments over the past two months have been not about dogs but about the protection of the badger's sett. I suspect that it is only in the context of the badger's sett that the necessary prima facie case would exist. Thereupon, and rightly, people would be required to give an account of themselves.

    If all the disharmony has resulted—as I believe it has —in much greater protection for the badger, it will have been of use. My only regret is that when, with the Home Secretary, I embarked on this task six months ago, we had no idea that some people would be so willing to impugn our motives. To slam a door in the face at the outset might have led to much less hostility than the fact that at every material point we have sought to deal seriously with the arguments.

    We now have a proposal which we can commend to the House, and which not even the most distorted mind could distort. The badger is an ornament to the countryside. How it treats its animals is the test of a civilised community. I believe that Parliament will have rightly responded to the concern of the British people about the badger if it passes the amendment with acclamation.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) said earlier that he comes from Warwickshire. I also come from that beautiful leafy county—the part of it known as Arden. It remains a mystery to me why the oaks of Arden are answerable to the Secretary of State for Scotland as the Minister responsible for the Forestry Commission.

    I also congratulate the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). If I had his skill in bringing forward a private Member's Bill, I should have been privileged indeed to have been the sponsor of such an excellent piece of legislation. If I had presented it half as well as the hon. Member, I should have been very pleased with myself.

    All right hon. and hon. Members present are pleased that the various parties have been able to come together on amendments Nos. 2 and 3. uncivilised and utterly unacceptable. That any people should regard it as some form of pastime beggars my comprehension. It seems to me to be a straight exercise in sadism which has no place in proper society.

    1 pm

    There is a double mechanism in these amendments which enable the prosecution, if it can cross a preliminary and not very demanding hurdle, to put a citizen to proof of his innocence. That is not a happy concept in the traditions of English law. I hope that I can be reassured on that matter, because I intend to support the Bill. Indeed, I am here today especially to support it. My reservation is narrow and I am confident that the Front Bench will be able to deal with it.

    I was especially glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) said what he did because he enabled my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to explain why they felt rather keenly about some of the matters that seemed to have been directed at them with some animus and spite. I am glad that they had that chance to respond.

    Rather patronising mention has been made of magistrates. Having humbly practised before magistrates' benches for some 20 years, I believe that magistrates and their learned clerks dispense an admirable form of justice and I am sure that they will look properly to the implementation of this splendid Bill when it is on the statute book.

    The only interest that I have to declare in this debate is my anxiety about the fate of the badger and my desire for the law to be amended and improved.

    I agree with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department about the rather convoluted history of this matter. Many Conservative Members agree with the aim and intent of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) to ensure that the law is improved. It is clearly inadequate, as it allows those who go digging for badgers to give the feeble and untrue excuse that they are digging for foxes. However, I must agree with the Minister that the original clause was something of a nonsense as it is not possible in law recklessly to attempt to do something.

    The Bill went into Committee sooner than most of us expected, and the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment was only put in the tray at the Public Bill Office at 11.15 pm the night before, so there was no opportunity for the usual consultation and exchange of views. That led to great disappointment in Committee. I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell): the amendment introduced in Committee would not have weakened the law, but I thought that it was not much help either. That is why I declined to vote for it.

    Some of those lobbying on the Bill have been politically motivated, but I believe that political prejudice as a basis for argument is no ally of the cause of animal welfare. Like many of my hon. Friends, I was prepared in Committee to take at face value what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment said. It is worth briefly reminding the House that on 6 March he said:
    "We are trying to make an improvement in the protection of badgers …The aspect of the present legislation which we are
    seeking to improve is the fact that in some cases it has been difficult to prove intent." — [Official Report, Standing Committee E; 6 March 1985, c. 8.]
    On no fewer than three other occasions my hon. Friend clearly said that he was concerned about the inadequacy of the law, and wanted to see some improvement. That is why I and several of my hon. Friends worked quietly behind the scenes to put our point that the amendment was not what was wanted, but that something more was required, and could and should be done. Accordingly, I am delighted to support this amendment.

    I shall illustrate my argument in case any hon. Members question whether the law needs amending. I do not normally quote from the Daily Mirror, but on 10 April 1985 it carried an article together with a photograph of a badger. The heading is "Victim of the Brutes". The article says:
    "The pitiful survivor of an evil badger-baiting session sucks hungrily at a feeding bottle. Vet Geoff Allan is trying to keep Bessie, the eight-week-old orphan, alive. She was found in a sack in South Yorkshire with her brother who later died. Their mother and another cub were torn to pieces by the baiters' dogs. The mother's jaw had been broken to give the dogs a better chance."
    I find that utterly disgusting.

    An article in the Daily Telegraph of 23 March shows that badger baiters have no regard at all for animal welfare. It is not only badgers that suffer at their hands. The article is headed:
    "Driver Forced 11 Dogs into Boot of Car".
    It states:
    "A man who drove 80 miles with 11 dogs crammed into the boot of his car was fined £330 with £40 costs yesterday by magistrates at Narberth, West Wales …Mr. Ivor Rees prosecuting, said the inspector accused Moon"—
    that is the defendant—
    "and three other men of using the 10 fox terriers and a lurcher to fight badgers. Moon denied this and said they were for chasing foxes."
    Is any more evidence needed to convince the House that we should take a step in the right direction today by supporting the amendment?

    Hon. Members have rightly raised several questions about the amendment. I take note of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor). The question is not only whether the new clauses will be effective but whether they are an acceptable way of changing the law. I understand that he was slightly concerned that we were shifting the burden of proof to the defendant. I think that he was questioning whether that was acceptable in a free society, and was saying that a man should be considered innocent until proved guilty, and should have a right to silence.

    We are entitled to ask what the aim of the law is. Its aim is to achieve the correct balance between the rights of the individual and the ability of the state to secure prosecutions for abuse. There are precedents for adopting such a line. I hope that I will be forgiven for using an animal metaphor if I say that the precedents may not be on all fours with this case. However, if the police stop a motorist and wish to inquire whether he has committed the offence of driving without insurance, without a licence or without an MOT certificate, the onus is on the motorist, because he has specialist knowledge of his situation, to show the police that he possesses those documents.

    I believe that a similar analysis can be made in this case. Where a person is lawfully going about seeking to rid an area of foxes that the farmer regards as a nuisance, he can show that that is the case. When a person is part of a fox hunt, he can show that he is genuinely after foxes and not seeking to take part in the disgusting practice of badger baiting. Therefore, I cannot see how this relatively modest amendment will lead to any injustice. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull is satisfied on that point.

    I hope that both sides of the House will support the amendment. It raises a couple of questions. Can a rational argument for change be sustained and can a valid case be made for increasing the protection for badgers? In my submission, the answer in both cases is a resounding yes, and I commend the amendments to the House.

    I am glad to support the amendment. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) on his perseverance and his approach to this difficult, and at times vexed, subject.

    I speak on behalf of the British Field Sports Society. I wish to make it clear that neither I nor the society has any wish to condone or encourage the practice of badger baiting or digging. The society is strongly in support of measures that will assist in convicting those who carry out such activities, provided that such measures do not interfere with the genuine activities of fox hunting or pest control. I emphasise pest control because I do not believe that the clause contains any dangers for hunting as such. However, it does pose some dangers for the liberty of individuals involved in pest control. Parliament has a duty to look at that aspect.

    My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that fox hunting does not take place in certain parts of the country, so it is necessary to adopt pest control methods to control the number of foxes, which would otherwise get out of control.

    My hon. Friend is right, which is why I was emphasising the pest control aspect. Although I do not wish to speak at length, I must refer to it. We must fulfil our duty as legislators and not produce unfair legislation when taking the fairly drastic step of shifting the burden of proof, which is what we are seeking to do.

    I thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department for his kind remarks. From what I have seen of both his Department and that of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, there has been a consistent effort to make constructive proposals to add to the protection of badgers.

    The Badgers Act 1973 offers considerable protection. It was strengthened in 1981 and is being further strengthened today. While the hon. Member for South Shields has not sought to take party political advantage, others have. Therefore, it is fair to point out that those three measures have come about under Conservative Governments. I say that only to correct the record and not to make a party political point.

    The amendment tabled in Committee undoubtedly provided an additional offence and in no way weakened existing legislation—the 1973 Act, as amended in 1981. I support hon. Members who have deplored the criticism of magistrates, who would have been perfectly capable of dealing with the legislation. I am sure that they would not have been bamboozled by the fact that to have a successful prosecution for recklessness an animal must be killed, injured or taken.

    I intervene only because I think that it will save time later. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that Shooting Times did not take that view? On 29 March it stated about the amendment that was passed in Committee:

    "An amendment to the Wildlife and Countryside Act, the result of Dr. David Clark's private Member's Bill, means that terrier men can only be convicted if a badger is actually killed or injured."
    The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to magistrates courts. A solicitor who has been concerned with perhaps more of these cases than any other solicitor, Peter Quinn, is reported to have said that the amendment was
    "scandalous …and nothing better than a badger-baiters' charter."
    I accept that that may have been an exaggeration. I mention it simply to show that there was a legal divide on the issue, with people in the legal profession taking a different view from that of the hon. and learned Gentleman. However, that is behind us now and I am satisfied with the new amendment.

    1.15 pm

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, though, with respect to the solicitor to whom he referred, it was, as the hon. Gentleman said, an exaggerated opinion. As for the article in the Shooting Times, one only needed to show that a badger had been killed or injured under the offence proposed in Committee because what had been done recklessly was to kill or injure a badger. It is inaccurate to suggest that one would necessarily have to produce a body, although to do so might have been helpful.

    I agree that we are putting that difficulty behind us, and I too am happy to concentrate on the new clause, the effect of which will be to shift the burden of proof. That may cause difficulty for some people in connection with their defence, and it also emphasises an important point for the prosecution.

    It is important that the standard of naturalism—of understanding wildlife and their habits and habitats—is improved. That applies both to the prosecution and those seeking to defend themselves. It is important, when a prosecution is brought, that it is established that the place where the person was found digging was a badger sett. That is not always obvious, but it can be ascertained by fresh marks-fresh droppings and so on— and fresh indications of the badger's bed.

    I emphasise that, because I wish to examine the burden that is placed on the defence. 'There is no danger for the legitimate fox hunt. That will be well known in the locality and its objective appreciated and understood. It is a clear rule of the Masters of Foxhounds Association that one not only never hunts a badger but that if one comes close to a badger sett or finds oneself having anything to do with a badger, one withdraws, even if one is digging for a fox at the end of a hunt. Thus, the legitimate hunt is not endangered.

    As my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) pointed out, in large parts of the country there is no hunting and the digging of foxes is necessary for pest control. The tunnels, earths or setts into which it is necessary to dig to carry out that pest control are not, to the layman, immediately distinguishable, although they are to the naturalist and expert. It will be necessary for those carrying out pest contol to prepare themselves so that if somebody, misguidedly or otherwise, accuses them of badger digging they can explain themselves.

    Those people can take certain measures to protect themselves. First, it is important for them to obtain the permission of the landowner or farmer. There may not be an obvious landowner, but they should go to the person who farms the land or who has an interest in it nearby and seek his permission, preferably in writing, to dig for foxes. The fox is a nuisance in such areas, and has to be controlled.

    Secondly, one needs to have evidence as to why one is digging in the hole, such as the fact that foxes are known to be using it as an earth and working from it. Thirdly, those who dig at such holes should look carefully for signs of fresh or recent occupation by a badger. They should look for the droppings, the bedding and the disturbance of earth. They should be prepared for that, and if they find those signs, they must keep away. That is the object of the legislation — to protect the badger. If, subsequent to their starting to dig, they find any sign of a badger, they must clear off. Again, that is what we want to achieve. I strongly support all those things.

    Those people would also be wise to be members of a recognised terrier club which has as its known and published rules duties to do nothing to injure the badger and to take the sort of precautions that I have mentioned. If they are challenged, they should explain their reasons at once, and if it is wrongly put to them that it is a badger's sett whereas they have good reason to know that it is a fox's earth, they should make that clear to those who accost them. If they do those things, they will have nothing to fear and are unlikely to be prosecuted.

    This is an emotive subject, and fears have been expressed that people might bring a misguided or even a malicious prosecution. That is a little bit of a worry, but the independent prosecution service is coming forward and by autumn 1986 it should be in being. There will be more professionalism in prosecutions at all levels. I hope that it will be made clear that those who prosecute will need to be satisfied that it was a badger's sett and that they will exercise the same proper discrimination and restraint that they should exercise in any offence. Then I do not believe that there will be too much to fear.

    I should like to refer to the background, because this is an emotive subject on which many people are ignorant. We are adding a strong measure of protection for the badger to a series of Acts that already give more protection than has often been recognised or accepted.

    On Second Reading I mentioned the number of prosecutions that were successful in recent years. Since then I have managed to find the figures going back to the Badgers Act 1973. Between 1974 and 1978 there was an average of 14 prosecutions every year, of which more than 10 were successful. In 1979 there were 25 prosecutions, of which 24 were successful. In 1980 there were 24 prosecutions, of which 20 were successful. In 1981 there were 39 prosecutions, of which 26 were successful. For some reason, the 1982 figures are not available. In 1983 there were 57 prosecutions of which 50 were successful. We do not have the up-to-date figures for 1984, but I know of at least 33 successful prosecutions and no failures. In relation to the argument that one has to produce a dead badger to be able to succeed, 50 per cent. of all the prosecutions to which I have referred were for attempts. That shows that in the magistrates courts there are already a great many successful prosecutions. A great deal of myth is attached to the difficulty.

    I have in my hands —I shall show it privately to anybody who wishes to see it—an opinion given to me by one of the societies that is deeply involved. It shows that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the difficulties of prosecution. The society had evidence that badgers were being set upon by dogs and being cruelly mistreated by dogs with the encouragement of five men. An eye witness saw that. Nevertheless, the society's lawyer says that those concerned could not successfully prosecute. Those facts cannot be accurate. There is the clearest possible evidence of an existing offence under section 2(a). It is a serious offence of which we would all hope to see those responsible convicted. There must be deep misunderstanding among some of those who are involved in prosecutions.

    Therefore, I ask for a higher standard of naturalism and higher appreciation of wildlife by those who prosecute in future. People who dig for foxes will have to take sensible measures to protect themselves. I believe that this will be a powerful measure for the protection of badgers, and I am happy to support it.

    I warmly welcome the initiative of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) in introducing this change in the law. There is no doubt at all that badger digging or pestering or baiting badgers in any way is utterly repulsive to right-thinking members of the community. I know that countrymen are deeply repelled by it. Unfortunately, many cases have shown that marauding gangs of "cowboys" from the towns and cities have been going out into the countryside to do these dreadful deeds. There is no doubt at all that the hon. Gentleman has introduced a very worthy amendment.

    Having sat on the magistrates bench for a number of years, I am grateful for the compliments paid to magistrates today, but I am rather worried about the presumption of guilt before innocence that has crept into the amendment. It is a cardinal principle of our law that a person is innocent until proven guilty. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) cited various precedents in motoring law, but from my experience as a magistrate I hope that some of the mish-mash in that area of the law will not creep into serious areas such as this. In this context, I am slightly surprised that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, whom I greatly respect and who is himself a lawyer, has allowed this instance to slip through his fingers so quietly, because I believe that lawyers should be very worried by it.

    I certainly do not wish to hold up the passage of the amendment or, indeed, of the Bill, but I hope that in another place noble Lords such as the Lord Chancellor and Lord Scarman will examine this closely and perhaps, with their wisdom and expertise, produce something rather more acceptable which will be welcomed by everyone.

    I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) on his initiative in this respect. I am also grateful to the Ministers involved for taking such great pains with what I believe will ultimately be a thoroughly workable clause. It strengthens the law to protect badgers, which is what we all want.

    The hon. Member for South Shields has been entirely constructive and non-political. Those who seek to use matters of this kind as a stick to beat the Government will have no satisfaction today, but those who are genuinely concerned about these matters must feel that progress has been made. Only those who seek to exploit animal welfare for their own political ends will be disappointed.

    Let it not be thought that badgers reside only in the country. In many parts of London the countryside comes to the town and these beautiful animals can exist there, too, but barely so. In my constituency there are badger setts not only in Richmond park but on the land that I share with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. There are also badgers on a stretch of urban land. I shall not mention the location in view of the activities of perverse people who, despite the law, will try to kill anything that moves—the kind of people who shoot at swans with crossbows, and throw darts at dogs and cats and at the deer in Richmond park.

    It may be suggested that London has no interest in wildlife but a growing proportion of the population, which is still more than 6 million, feel passionately about animal welfare. More and more children now appreciate the importance of wildlife and even of the badgers within our towns and are anxious to know more about conservation and the protection of animals. I am glad that so many schools now teach children about conservation matters and I am grateful to the RSPCA for its constructive help in this respect.

    I wish particularly to commend the London Wildlife Trust. The hon. Members for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and for Peckham (Ms. Harman) are vice-presidents of that trust with me. It is a constructive, all-party group trying to preserve the flora and fauna within the capital in spite of the commercial pressures that are always there to clear and build on open urban land. The trust is composed not of extremists but of people who wish constructively to redress the balance of extreme exploitation in our cities.

    These amendments are welcome on a day when the RSPCA announced that cases of cruelty to animals increased by 30 per cent. last year. The clause as amended is stronger and puts the onus the right way round—on those who act in a thoroughly suspicious and uncivilised manner. It does not put the onus on the state to prove such behaviour. It answers the demands of many of my constituents, who join me in welcoming any attempt to reduce man's cruelty to animals.

    1.30 pm

    I hope that the Bill will pass today and will soon be law. The only reason that many of my colleagues have left for their constituencies today is that they know that on Wednesday an all-party agreement was reached on the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). Without doubt, it will be approved and it is to be welcomed. The difficult and complicated negotiations have produced progress. I hope that many thousands in this country, both urban and rural dwellers, will welcome what we have done and will help us in future to do even more to ensure that the wildlife habitat is better preserved every year.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) for putting fully on record what happened. Some hard and unfair things have been said in some of the outside lobbying. Some of the people who write those things, while they may care about badgers, do not appear to care about the morality of being unfair to people. That is up to them, but it is exceedingly bad lobbying to proceed in such a way. The result of such lobbying is that my right hon. and hon. Friends, when they hear about proposals for improvements in animal welfare, do not wish to get involved with those people because they feel that they will tell lies about what is intended and publish misleading pamphlets. They feel that it is not worth the candle, and that there will be no gain to anybody from proceeding with such improvements. That is why such behaviour is incompetent lobbying as well as being unfair and wicked.

    We have heard some good speeches this morning. I particularly commend the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) who is rapidly establishing himself as one of the leading animal welfare campaigners. He made a number of fair points and covered the ground. He explained clearly why the clause is a major step forward.

    Like my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey), I am a magistrate and grateful for today's kind words about them. Magistrates are rarely misled about anything. My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) made an important point, backed up by my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton, about whether change in the law in this way is right. However important and emotive the issue, it is essential that we should not be pushed into writing bad law. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North gave one previous precedent for the change of onus of proof and I have a couple more which I hope will encourage my hon. Friends the Members for Solihull and for Surbiton. They fit the changes that we are making today.

    The first comes from the Prevention of Corruption Act 1916. Section 2 provides:
    "Where …it is proved that any money, gift, or other consideration has been paid or given to or received by a person …or agent of a person, holding or seeking to obtain a contract from His Majesty …consideration shall be deemed to have been paid or given and received corruptly … unless the contrary is proved."
    That is a powerful precedent.

    Section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, about the carrying of offensive weapons, says:
    "Any person who without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, the proof whereof shall lie on him, has with him in any public place any offensive weapon shall be guilty of an offence".
    That is a little comparable to the cases that will have to be proved in a court under this Bill. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton that a matter of this importance which affects wildlife will not have escaped the attention of my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor who has vetted it closely.

    We have brought before the House, as was always our intention, a clause that represents good law. It will provide additional protection for the badger. I thank my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department for having put on record all the facts. The House can be proud of the work that it has done today for the protection of the badger.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 2, in page 1, line 9 leave out from beginning to end of line 18 and insert—
  • '(b) before subsection (2) there shall be inserted—
  • "(1A) If, in any proceedings for an offence under subsection (1) above consisting of attempting to kill, injure or take a badger, there is evidence from which it could reasonably be concluded that at the material time the accused was attempting to kill, injure or take a badger, he shall be presumed to have been attempting to kill, injure or take a badger unless the contrary is shown.".'.
  • No. 3, in page 1, line 18 at end insert—
  • '(2) Section 2 of the Badgers Act 1973 (digging for badgers etc.) shall be amended as follows—
  • (a) before "If' there shall be inserted "(1)";
  • (b) at the end there shall be added—
  • "(2) If, in any proceedings for an offence under subsection (1?(c) above, there is evidence from which it could reasonably be concluded that at the material time the accused was digging for a badger, he shall be presumed to have been digging for a badger unless the contrary is shown.".' . — [Dr. David Clark.]
  • Clause 2

    Notification Of Areas Of Special Scientific Interest

    I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 2, line 6 leave out 'three' and insert 'six'.

    With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

    No. 6, in page 2, line 14 leave out 'nine' and insert 'twelve'.

    No. 7, in page 2, line 27 leave out 'nine' and insert 'twelve'.

    These three amendments relate to section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) has substantially amended section 28 of the 1981 Act which has been said to be a defective provision relating to sites of special scientific interest. In certain respects, the 1981 Act may be defective. There are defects in section 28 and I congratulate the hon. Member for South Shields for incorporating a clause which, in the view of a number of hon. Members, provides the main reason for the Bill. Such questions as badgers and the Forestry Commission are very important but what is critically needed is a tightening up of the legislation relating to sites of special scientific interest.

    The purpose of my three amendments is to extend the period during which a person who has been notified of an area of special scientific interest can consult and prepare his representations about that notification. The recipient has only three months in which to make a considered response. I know that the hon. Member for South Shields wishes to be fair. Therefore, I must point out to him that three months is a ludicrously short period. In my constituency there are farmers who employ no farm workers. At certain times of the year, therefore, they are working flat out and would be unable to respond to a notification from the Nature Conservancy Council. This might happen during lambing and probably at harvest time. A three-month period is unfair. It would be very difficult for a small farmer, a smallholder or landowner who received such a notification to respond within three months.

    The Bill will block that loophole, but the recipient should be allowed a longer period within which to respond. Therefore, I have suggested in amendment No. 5 that he should be given six months in which to respond.

    Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 give the Nature Conservancy Council a little more time to make a response and final decision. At the moment the Bill gives a period of nine months and I am suggesting 12 months. Although I have not entered into formal consultations with the Nature Conservancy Council, I understand unofficially that such a lengthening of the time would not be unacceptable.

    I understand the intentions of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) in lengthening the various time scales, but the proposed amendment to subsection (2) to increase the time for representations is unnecessary because the three-month period is a minimum. It is left to the good sense of the NCC not to seek quick responses from farmers at the times of year when they are under most pressure. Sufficient flexibility has been built in and we do not need to establish a longer minimum period.

    My hon. Friend's amendments to subsection (4A) to lengthen the time for consultations from nine to 12 months run the danger of prolonging matters and we do not want to do that without good reason. It might be thought helpful in a general way to allow more time for objections and consultations, but such changes could mean up to a year of uncertainty before the resolution of a particular situation. That could be particularly trying to an owner or occupier of land, especially in the event of a notification finally being withdrawn or inconclusively lapsing.

    There are possible gains from the amendments but they could only be obtained at the price of a good deal of delay and a general slowing down of the process of notification of an SSSI. As the clause, which we all welcome and which is in one sense where we started, is generally agreed, I ask my hon. Friend not to press his amendments on this occasion, although I understand why he has moved them.

    I have listened to what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has had to say. I hope that there will be an opportunity on another occasion to consider afresh the matter and the evidence that I have. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 3

    Maps Of National Parks

    I beg to move amendment No. 9, in page 4, line 39, at end insert—

    '(2A) In subsection (1)(b), for the words from "at" to "year)," there shall be substituted "at intervals of not more than five years".'.

    With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 12.

    This pair of amendments relates to the timetable governing the preparation and review of the maps which the national park authorities would be required to produce under section 43 of the 1981 Act as amended by clause 3.

    Under the terms of the Government amendment accepted in Committee, the clause extends the scope of the maps to other areas in addition to moor and heath and requires that they be prepared and reviewed in line with guidelines issued by the Countryside Commission after consultation.

    At present the clause carries forward the requirements of section 43 for the maps to be prepared within two years of commencement and reviewed at 12-monthly intervals thereafter. It would be more sensible to extend that timetable, bearing in mind that national park authorities are effectively prevented from starting work on their maps until the Countryside Commission has issued its guidelines, and that both the initial preparation and the subsequent reviews are subject to public consultation. Accordingly, the amendments have provided for the two-year period of initial preparation to begin from the date when the Commission's guidelines are issued.

    The amendments will have the added advantage of substantially reducing the call on the resources of the national park authorities by providing that subsequent reviews should be carried out at intervals of not less than five years after publication of the maps rather than annually. That will mesh in with statutory arrangements governing the review of the national park plans as laid down in schedule 17 to the Local Government Act 1972. The amendment has the support of the national park authorities, the Countryside Commission and the Council for National Parks.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 5, line 16, at end insert—

    '(ID) At least six months before such consultation takes place the Commission shall have prepared a list of the bodies it proposes to consult and shall have such list available for public inspection. '.

    With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 11, in page 5, line 16 at end insert—

    '(1E) Any body not included in the consultation exercise outlined above may apply to be consulted and such application shall be considered.'.

    Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 relate to clause 3 and seek to clarify the situation relating to consultation by the Countryside Commission.

    1.45 pm

    Under clause 3, the proposed new subsection (1B) says that
    "The Countryside Commission shall issue guidelines …and may from time to time revise any guidelines so issued." Subsection (1C) says that

    "Before issuing or revising any guidelines the Commission shall consult such bodies as appear to them to represent interests concerned".
    The two amendments have been tabled to suggest to the House, and in particular to the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), that the Bill is unusually elastic and generous towards any concern, whether public or private. There should be a little more public accountability. There should be a little more of the spirit of open government on the part of the Countryside Commission. The question of whom it consults and does not consult in arrivng at decisions is of critical importance. I have every confidence in the Countryside Commission, but there should be provisions of the sort that I have included in the amendments to show how the consultation process is carried out.

    Obviously, before the Countryside Commission acts, certain bodies will be consulted, such as the local branch of the Ramblers' Association, the local CLA and the local NFU, but there might be certain other bodies which feel they have a right to express an opinion—perhaps an historic right of which the Countryside Commission might not be aware. I do not think that it is right that matters should be left entirely to the discretion of the Countryside Commission and its officers, however excellent they may be, and indeed are.

    I hope that the Minister will respond positively. There are many bodies which would want to be consulted. The amendment has a good deal of support, particularly from the less nationally-based bodies. There have been errors in the past. The Forestry Commission, for example, has failed to consult adequately on its document on broadleaves in Britain. I hope that the Minister, even if he says that today is not the time and place to do it, will bear the amendment in mind. Perhaps his Department will bring something forward in the other place so that the sense of the amendments can be accepted before the Bill becomes law.

    I appreciate the desire of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) to ensure that all interested bodies have an opportunity to press their case for inclusion in the consultations for which the clause provides, but I believe that the objectives can be achieved without a statutory provision on the lines suggested.

    There are two quite separate consultation processes involved. The first concerns the consultations which the Countryside Commission is required to undertake before issuing or revising the guidelines for which it is responsible under the clause. The second concerns the consultations which individual national park authorities are required to undertake before preparing or revising the maps for which they are responsible.

    The first of my hon. Friend's amendments relates only to the consultations by the Countryside Commission. It would effectively delay the issue of the guidelines, and thus the commencement of the map-making process, perhaps for six months or so. We do not believe that the amendment would serve a useful purpose.

    I have no doubt that it will be the Countryside Commission's intention to consult all the main bodies likely to have an interest in the guidelines. If any of them are doubtful about the likelihood of their inclusion, they have only to register their interests with the Commission to be considered as consultees. Perhaps that assurance will help the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).

    If any hon. Members have any organisations in mind, I shall be happy to pass their names to the Countryside Commission to ensure that they are not missed.

    Similarly, I am sure that the national park authorities will consider any approaches they may receive from bodies wishing to be consulted on the maps.

    I am entirely with my hon. Friend in his concern to ensure that there is wide and open consultation, but I am not convinced of the need to have a statutory provision of the sort proposed to ensure that consultation takes place.

    One is always inclined to think that if one speaks a little longer one might get a different reply from the Minister. However, I am impressed with what my hon. Friend has said and I hope that he will look at any evidence that I produce of malpractices or injustices.

    I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Amendment made: No. 12, page 5, in line 22 leave out from 'date' to end of line 23 and insert

    'of issue of the first guidelines under subsection (1B).'.—[Mr. Waldegrave.]


    Amendment made: No 17, in line 2, leave out 'section 1' and insert 'sections 1 and 2' .—[Dr. David Clark.]

    1.50 pm

    I beg to move, That the Bill he now read the Third time.

    The Bill was brought before the House as a consensus measure. It was the result of hundreds of hours' work and was supported by amenity lobbies, the CLA and the NFU. We have had a bit of a battering en route. We made it plain at the outset that this was not a single issue Bill, and that has been a worry to a number of hon. Members at various stages.

    The Bill strengthens the protection of badgers, which will meet with almost universal approval. It also strengthens the protection for sites of special scientific interest, and everybody agrees that that was badly needed. The important mapping clauses will ensure that we know which are the key areas of our national parks and that we can protect them.

    The Forestry Commission has a good record in many respects, and the new duty imposed on it will add to the protection of our environment. Of course, I am disappointed that we have not persuaded the Government that a similar responsibility should be imposed on the Ministry of Agriculture. However, I hope that, in accordance with the views expressed on both sides of the House, the matter will be considered in another place.

    Little mention has been made of marine nature reserves. I feel that the provision of such reserves is vital. I have had meetings with Ministers at the Department of the Environment and the issue is being watched closely. If no provision is made for marine nature reserves within the next few weeks, perhaps the other place will look at the matter.

    I thank hon. Members for their contributions to an interesting series of debates.

    1.52 pm

    I support the Bill, as amended, and I hope that it is given a fair wind in another place.

    I am particularly glad that the House has supported amendments dealing with the protection of badgers. That will be warmly welcomed in Derbyshire where we have had problems. Badger setts in the county have been dug out at the rate of about one a week.

    I express my appreciation of the work of the Derbyshire naturalists' trust, which has provided me with information, and I am grateful for the support of some of my hon. Friends in Derbyshire, including my hon. Friends the Members for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris), for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) and for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins).

    There was some acrimony because of leaflets which were distributed after the Committee stage, but we can all be pleased that we have got it right in increasing the protection for badgers. My only remaining wish is that the Bill should reach the statute book as soon as possible.

    1.53 pm

    I echo the congratulations to the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) whose Bill is a notable step forward, particularly in the protection of badgers.

    I know of no hon. Member who has anything but respect for badgers and a firm conviction of the need to strengthen protection for them. The badger is a bit defenceless nowadays, especially with the sonic underground listening kits which some so-called sportsmen use. The badger needs protection and help by the sort of Bill which the hon. Member for South Shields has presented.

    To put it mildly, there is no desperate need for part of the Bill. We had an interesting debate on the duties of the Ministry of Agriculture.

    The only other significant measure in the Bill not touched on in the debate, because of a lack of time, is the amendment to the Forestry Act 1967. In the May issue of the London Conserver, produced by the London conservation group, there were two or three pages about the fantastic record of conservation work done by the Forestry Commission in its forestry lands. There were some photographs too. I am not convinced that the Forestry Commission is lagging behind. That article suggested to me that it has a forward-looking policy on conservation, and I am not sure that any steps needed to be taken.

    I congratulate the hon. Member for South Shields. He was ambitious to begin with. He is still ambitious, but I am delighted to welcome his Bill.

    1.56 pm

    I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), and I congratulate the Ministers on the constructive work that they have done with the hon. Gentleman in producing the Bill. The measure represents significant advances for wildlife and the countryside. I am delighted that the three-month loophole has been closed, and I am delighted, too, with the strengthening of the law in relation to badgers. The law will now apply to the gangs who simply wander round digging recklessly at holes without any clear idea of what they want to catch. The Bill will play a real part in stopping such activities.

    I am grateful for the way in which the hon. Gentleman has kept all those who are interested involved with the progress of events. I wish the Bill success in another place.

    1.57 pm

    I congratulate the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) on the progress of his Bill. My constituents will be delighted by its successful passage. After we left the Chamber following the Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) said to me, "It is all right—we have saved the badger." However, when I started to receive letters from worried constituents, I began to have doubts. Common sense has prevailed. There has been a victory for the sensible pressure applied by people who care about animals.

    The hon. Member for South Shields is one of the supporters of my Horses and Ponies Bill. I hope that later today the Government will look favourably at that Bill too.

    1.58 pm

    I offer the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) a warm and generous tribute, not only for selecting such a Bill after being successful in the ballot, but on the way in which he has conducted it. He has gained a degree of popularity which cannot last. He had better enjoy it while it does.

    The hon. Gentleman has done a great service to those who love the countryside. I am sure that he will accept the good wishes of my many constituents who have taken the matter to heart. I am here to support the hon. Gentleman today. God bless the Bill and speed'it on its way.

    1.59 pm

    The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) must be blushing, but all the plaudits are justified. He has sought the co-operation of all those who are interested. The Bill does not do as much as we would have wished, but it certainly improves the lot of badgers, ensures that SSSIs are preserved rather than ruined, allows people better to look after and enjoy the national parks, and enables people to enjoy the forests in the knowledge that conservation will be one of the guiding lights of those who deal with afforestation in Britain.

    The Bill is worthy of this place. It is worthy of a more explicit and less mundane title. Perhaps it should be called "The Wildlife and Countryside (Amdt for the Better) Bill" or the "Wildlife and Countryside (Improvement and Conservation) Bill". That is what it is. We hope to improve it still further elsewhere, but even in its present form it is much to be welcomed and the hon. Member for South Shields is much to be congratulated.

    I am happy to join those who have wished the Bill a successful and rapid passage to the statute book. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) on picking a subject which has enabled us to make some useful gains.

    The hon. Member had the difficult task of playing a little poker and pushing us a little further than we initially wanted to go. He has persuaded the Government to take some steps, although there is no question of his having to push us on the matter of protecting badgers and the closing of loopholes. I know that he is the first to accept that.

    We are pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), who has joined us at the end of our debate. He need not have worried about the letters that he has received from his constituents. If he had heard my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department earlier today, he would have known that some of the accusations were quite groundless. We spent some time showing how irresponsible they were. My hon. Friend had nothing to worry about then, and has nothing to worry about now, and we welcome his support for the Bill.

    I should like to thank some of my hon. Friends for the part that they have played in helping to negotiate through the House a Bill which has received such general assent, especially my hon. Friends the Members for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) and for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell). I am sure that I have missed some important person, but they have played an important part in ensuring that we have a useful, positive and sensible Bill, although it is not as wide as was originally intended.

    Several hon. Members have expressed hope about things which might be added in another place. That is entirely for another place, but I remind the House how fragile a ship is a private Member's Bill. Those who want to open wide arguments must assess the risk of doing that. It is difficult to avoid an animal analogy. Once the cat is out of the bag, or the badger is out of the sett, it is difficult to get it back in again. The Bill in its present form should go forward rapidly and provide useful additions to the law protecting badgers and wildlife habitat.

    I have said before, but would like to repeat to the House, that the Government recognise that if there is no progress on marine nature reserves in a given time—I should say 12 to 18 months— we must have another look at the matter. I am advised that we are relatively near, with any luck, to achieving —

    I have just said what relatively near is. If we have not achieved progress within the next 12 to 18 months, we shall have to look at the matter again.

    The Bill is sensible and practical. It provides additional protection for habitats and national parks and puts an additional duty on the Forestry Commission, which it is delighted to accept. Its latest proposals and consultation papers on broadleaved deciduous woods demonstrate that. The House can be proud of the Bill. I hope that nothing, however well intentioned, interferes with its speedy and smooth passage to the statute book.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

    Gaming (Bingo) Bill

    Considered in Committee; reported, without amendment.

    2.3 pm

    On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), who is unavoidably unable to be present today, I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

    The House and many people in the country will be grateful to my hon. Friend for his work in bringing the Bill forward. It might be convenient if I remind the House of the purpose behind the Bill. It makes changes in the gaming legislation to allow licensed bingo clubs to join together for the purposes of playing games of bingo for maximum prizes of up to £50,000.

    The Bill calls these bingo games "multiple bingo". The Bill has a little bit of history. Two years ago a Bill was introduced in another place by Lord Harmar-Nicholls with the same intention of seeking to help bingo clubs. As hon. Members may be aware, there has been a steady decline in the fortunes of bingo clubs in the past decade or so. The annual reports of the Gaming Board for Great Britain have made sorry reading for the bingo halls. The bingo clubs, which rightly believe that apart from generating income they also provide a useful social facility for their customers, felt increasingly handicapped in trying to compete with other forms of recreation. The advent of newspaper bingo added to their sense of concern.

    To its credit, the licensed bingo industry considered what could be done positively to turn round the position in which it found itself. It came up with several ideas and it turned its mind to the possibility of fresh legislation, not because it necessarily wanted to turn to the Government for assistance but because it found that its scope for making more attractive the form of recreation that it provided was restricted by the array of controls found under the Gaming Act 1968. The authors of that legislation —this is an observation rather than a complaint—chose to deal with bingo in an analogous way to casinos, where hard gaming was available. The result has been that bingo on licensed premises—not the so-called bingo played by reading a newspaper—is subject to a great number of controls.

    Among other things, the controls operate to limit the size of the prizes that may be offered. Thus, although the Gaming Act 1968 did not preclude bingo clubs from getting together in order to pool the stakes received to go towards larger prizes, the size of the prizes is pegged to £3,000 in any one week. That effectively limits the number of clubs that can profitably take part in a joint game of bingo—known as link bingo—to a handful of clubs. Most of the link games involve no more than four bingo clubs.

    The Bill introduced by Lord Harmar-Nicholls sought to stem the tide flowing against bingo by amending the law to allow clubs to join together in games of bingo on a group, regional or national basis. By so doing, the clubs could offer more attractive prizes. At that stage the Government were not able to lend wholehearted support to the Bill but helpfully pointed the way towards further talks between the industry and the Gaming Board, and identified the problem areas.

    The Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough proceeds on a similar basis to the earlier Bill debated in the other place, but benefits from the discussions that have taken place in the intervening period. I trust that today my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be able to confirm that the Government are content for the Bill to make further progress and, in anticipation of that happy outcome, I thank him on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough for the co-operative and constructive approach that the Home Office has adopted towards it.

    The Bill provides for multiple games of bingo to be played within a predetermined period on licensed premises for a number of prizes, none of which may exceed £50,000. That figure represents a useful increase in the prizes that may be offered in bingo in this country, but no one can surely regard it as excessive. It does not compare with the prizes offered by some of the other activities with which bingo must compete, such as the football pools or newspaper bingo, and I remind the House that with bingo the prizes are offered in return for a modest stake. Moreover, the amount of money which may be asked of players is tightly regulated along with the conditions under which games of bingo are conducted.

    The remainder of the Bill puts in place a system of control so that games of multiple bingo are organised or co-ordinated in a way that accords with the standards demanded by the Gaming Board.

    I hope that hon. Members will agree that the bingo industry deserves the modest boost which this Bill seeks to provide. It is not so long ago that bingo was providing a form of social recreation for average daily attendances of 500,000 people. We all know that those who tend to look at bingo for their enjoyment are not ideally placed to find other forms of recreation. There are more than 9 million pensioners in this country, two thirds of whom are women. A recent survey found that 85 per cent. of those who enjoyed bingo were women, and that the average age was about 52.

    I believe that this Bill will make a substantial contribution towards alleviating one of the difficulties of old age. For the most part, we cope with health problems and financial hardship in old age, but loneliness and isolation are very difficult to overcome. The Bill will make a significant contribution to the leisure of people in that age group. I remind the House that the bingo industry provides a source of employment for thousands of members of staff and, through the levying of duty on bingo, a source of revenue for the Government.

    With those words of explanation on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, I ask the House to give the Bill a Third Reading.

    2.10 pm

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
    (Mr. David Mellor)

    It was with great pleasure that I listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley). I am most grateful to her for stepping into the breach created by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), who is unavoidably absent today. The House will want to congratulate him and my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West on steering the Bill through its parliamentary stages. He was drawn 19th in the ballot — not the easiest position. However, the Bill is here. He must have had some help.

    I think that the benevolent smiles on the faces of the organisers of our business prove that, so we should not forget them when handing out praise.

    The Home Office supports the Bill and the purposes behind it. It will allow bingo clubs to join together in much larger numbers than has previously been possible and allow them to offer more attractive prizes. The Bill represents a second attempt in recent years to give effect to that intention. On the last occasion, a few years ago, when a Bill was debated in another place, the Government felt the need to be a great deal more cagey and circumspect. I am happy to say that many of those reservations have now melted away.

    The first point of which we have had to take account has been the decline that has bedevilled the bingo industry in recent years. Attendances have fallen, clubs have closed —and are continuing to close—and the trade, quite naturally, wishes to stem the decline of the past 10 years. One does not have to be an avid bingo player to share some of the sadness of the trade at the pattern of decline. I do not suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West is a regular denizen of her local bingo club, any more than is my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough.

    No one should doubt the importance of bingo in the lives of a good many people, especially women, in the community. My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West brought out that point from her experience of social work in the community. For many people, a weekly or twice-weekly visit to a local bingo club provides a priceless form of recreation. The bingo club provides not only an interest but a useful meeting place away from home. Of course, there is also the attraction of winning a prize, which adds to the interest.

    The decline of bingo, by itself, would not be a reason to pass legislation. Part of the reason that we thought that the time had come for legislation lies in the way in which the attempt to clamp down on the excesses of commercial gaming in the 1960s—embodied in the 1968 Act—sought to deal with bingo at the same time as casino gaming. Therefore, bingo found itself bound up with a licensing system and a very detailed network of control. Inevitably, its ability to compete with other forms of leisure is impaired by the fact that it must observe the rules over almost every aspect of bingo.

    We took account of what some regard as the rather hard position in which bingo finds itself because of the inevitably difficult decisions that the Government must take about other forms of gaming. I am sure that I do not need to persuade the House that they need to be the subject of rigorous control. That is why I make no apology for the controls.

    The Bill proposes an amendment that would allow clubs to choose to join together in games of multiple bingo, and prizes of up to £50,000 could be offered from the aggregated stake money. We have had to look at the issue with care, and a good deal of discussion remains ahead about the way in which games of multiple bingo will be played. We are aware of fruitful talks that have been held between the gaming board and people who might be responsible for running games of multiple bingo. They have cleared up many questions that were initially in our minds when we had to determine whether to permit the practice to go ahead.

    Now that we have a better idea of how games of multiple bingo will be played, it is clear that we are talking about a grander version of what is known as linked bingo, which may already be played under the provisions of the Gaming Act 1968. Multiple bingo will be played at a specified time each evening and involve the use of a central computer, with each of the participating bingo clubs having its own terminal. Bingo clubs wishing to take part in a game of multiple bingo for that evening will indicate their intention to participate by means of the computer equipment.

    There is still some way to go before the joint games of bingo contemplated by the Bill may be played in practice. It will be necessary for representatives of the bingo clubs to have further talks with the Gaming Board so that the board may be satisfied with the proposed arrangements and can issue a certificate of approval. The Home Secretary will want to consider, after consultation with the board, what regulations should be made under the Bill. I believe that such obstacles can easily be pushed aside.

    I am delighted to support the Third Reading of the Bill. We believe that the measure incorporates a number of safeguards and that it may, therefore, safely proceed to the statute book. We hope that the further negotiations prove successful and that games of multiple bingo played in accordance with the terms of the Bill will provide the assistance that the bingo clubs are seeking.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

    Official Secrets Act (Amendment) Bill

    Order for Second Reading read.

    2.16 pm

    I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

    The Government are in a mess over section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. They used it last year to bring a prosecution against Sarah Tisdall and were successful in that prosecution. They then used it to bring a prosecution against my constituent, Mr. Clive Ponting, and, fortunately, they were unsuccessful. The Old Bailey verdict in that case represents a tribute to the good sense of a British jury. The upshot of that decision is that the Government are in a complete fix about whether they can use section 2 of the Act.

    In the case of Cathy Massiter, who revealed detailed evidence about what was happening in MI5, the Government decided not to prosecute. The Government investigated the case of Lord Lewin, and decided not to prosecute. Having considered the case of Commander Wreford-Brown, the commander of the Conqueror, who revealed details of the Conqueror's course long before the information was declassified, they decided not to prosecute.

    All of that is evidence that the Government do not know what to do about official secrets, and particularly about any proposed or considered use of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. By introducing the Bill I am doing the Government a favour, for I am seeking to remove the problem from them by removing section 2 from the statute book.

    Section 2 has been widely criticised—for example, by the Franks committee long ago, by a series of eminent judges and lawyers and by the present Home Secretary —of course, when in opposition—who described it as indefensible. It has also been criticised in many letters that I have received since laying the Bill before the House. One which may be of interest to hon. Members was from Mr. Chapman Pincher. He wrote to me at the beginning of February to say:
    "Dear Mr. Smith,

    I wish you well with your Bill to abolish Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. It is 13 years since I gave evidence on that issue to the Franks Committee and successive governments have done absolutely nothing."
    The Bill is an attempt to ensure that the House of Commons will seek to do something; to tackle a problem which Governments of all political persuasions — we should remember that it was a Liberal Government who brought in the Official Secrets Act — have failed to tackle.

    The basic points that must be made are simple. Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act is an absurdity. It is a catchall section which covers every piece of paper that crosses any civil servant's desk, any information to which a civil servant is privy, any details about where, how or on what he is working. It is quite simply nonsense that a civil servant should be subject to potential criminal prosecution for revealing details of any sort whatsoever about his work. The common examples which have been quoted frequently in the House stand as testimony to that absurdity.

    For example, it is an offence under section 2 of the Official Secrets Act to reveal information about where the tea comes from that is supplied to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food canteen. It is also an offence to receive that information. It is nonsense that we should have on the statute book a piece of legislation which covers every detail about what civil servants do.

    More importantly, the Official Secrets Act is more insidious than that. It is not just an absurdity that it has such a catch-all nature and effect. It is also a dangerous piece of legislation because it can be, and has been, used by Governments—again of both political persuasions, but particularly this Government—for political purposes. If the Government do not like what a civil servant has done or said, even though that doing or saying may have had no genuine impact whatever on national security, simply because they are politically embarrassed, they may decide to use section 2 for their own political purposes. I believe that that is what happened in the case of my constituent, Mr. Ponting. I fear that we still have on the statute book an Act which enables Governments to proceed in that manner. It is for that major reason—the political danger of having that measure on the statute book—that I wish to see section 2 removed.

    I hope that in the brief time available the House will not simply allow the measure to be talked out, because it is a serious issue. It is an issue of major public concern, and many Governments have failed over many years to do something about it.

    In introducing the Bill I am offering the House an opportunity to clear the decks of this long-discredited piece of legislation. I know that the next Labour Government will do so, but I hope that this Government will be a bit more enlightened on this issue than many others and bring forward some of their own proposals. In place of section 2 we need a much tighter definition of national security and espionage, with which section 1 purports to deal, but does so ineffectively.

    At the same time, we need to replace this highly discredited piece of legislation with full and proper freedom of information legislation to open up the over-secretive processes of government in this country.

    In that spirit, I commend this very simple, direct and proper Bill to the House. I hope that it will be overwhelmingly supported and read a Second time.

    2.24 pm

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
    (Mr. David Mellor)

    The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) is certainly right in saying that his Bill could not be shorter or more straightforward. It consists of just two clauses, the first of which reads:

    "Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 is hereby repealed."
    The second reads:
    "This Act may be cited as the Official Secrets Act (Amendment) Act 1985."
    For 15 to 20 years successive Governments have been bedevilled by the problem of how to erect a modern mechanism for the protection of official secrets and have found it difficult to arrive at a conclusive answer. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, however, is not a man for the half tones, the half lights or the subtleties of the situation. He simply comes in with his size 15 boots and says, "Just throw the whole thing out and end the problem." The hon. Gentleman's approach reminds me of the late Professor Maitland's observation that for every complex human problem there is an answer that is simple, plausible, easy, obvious and wrong. We can rely on the hon. Gentleman's unerring instinct for the wrong answer to bring him here with a measure of this kind, and he will not be offended if I say that it provided a light conclusion to a heavy morning's legislation on badgers, bingo and the like to hear him put the case with such spurious charm for a measure which is no more attractive to me than it would have been to the last Labour Government.

    If the hon. Gentleman's Bill were enacted, section 2 of the Official Secrets Act would be repealed and the improper disclosure of official information could be dealt with only under section 1. Subsection (1) of that section provides for it to be an offence:
    "If any person for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State—approaches or is in the neighbourhood of, or enters any prohibited place",
    a provision which clearly does not concern us in this instance, or:
    "makes any sketch, plan, model, or note which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be …useful to an enemy",
    which is the classic case of spying.

    the third and final part of subsection (1) makes it an offence if any person
    "for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State …obtains, collects, records, or publishes, or communicates to any other person any secret official code word, or pass word, or any sketch, plan, model, article, or note, or other document or information which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be …useful to an enemy".
    I have quoted those provisions to illustrate the fact that section 1 protects documents only if they are disclosed
    "for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State"
    and only if the disclosure is
    "calculated to be or might be or is intended to be …useful to an enemy".
    In other words, it is a fairly narrow offence intended to deal only with spying and related activities.

    No responsible Government—far be it from me to speculate about whether some future Labour Government would be responsible, such a circumstance being likely to arise so far in the future, if ever—could accept that section 1 should stand alone, because grave damage could be inflicted even if the information would not be useful to an enemy or was not disclosed for a purpose prejudical to the interests of the state.

    I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman is really suggesting that any unauthorised disclosure not falling within the narrow ambit of section 1 should not be addressed by the criminal law. What of the person who reveals information entrusted to us in confidence by the Government of another state? What of the person who releases information likely to be useful in the commission of an offence? What of the person who releases documents revealing confidential commercial information or personal details given by individuals in the expectation that they will be held in confidence? Does the hon. Gentleman really believe that the criminal law has no part to play in those serious cases?

    The hon. Gentleman might well ask whether we could not rely on internal disciplinary measures, and there are instances where these are sufficient. Equally, there are cases where they are not. Furthermore, the sanction which is so often mentioned in this context, the sacking of the perpetrator of the unauthorised disclosure, can, by definition, be directed only against those currently in the public service. However, it is not only those who are currently in the public service who might be possessed of information which could fall into any of the serious categories.

    If the hon. Gentleman were to have his way, no sanctions could be applied either against people who have left the public service or against those, such as Government contractors, who have never been in the public service, because some of those—

    It being half past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

    Debate to be resumed upon Friday 14 June.

    Private Members' Bills

    Social Security (Cold Climate Allowance) Bill

    Order for Second Reading read.

    With the leave of the hon. Member concerned, Sir, Friday 5 July. Second Reading deferred till Friday 5 July.

    Horses And Ponies Bill

    Order for Second Reading read.

    Working Conditions Of Government Trainees Bill

    Order for Second Reading read.

    With the leave of the hon. Member concerned, Friday 3 May. Second Reading deferred till Friday 3 May.

    Protection Of The Rights Of The Elderly In Home Ownership Bill

    Order for Second Reading read.

    Second Reading deferred till Friday 3 May.

    Marina (Ilfracombe)

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Archie Hamilton.]

    2.31 pm

    A short while ago, we gave a Third Reading to the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Bill. It was a pleasure to be in the House to support the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), whose Bill is important to my part of the world. I congratulate him because the preservation of the countryside is of paramount importance to Members with constituencies such as mine, which includes Ilfracombe and Exmoor, about which I shall speak.

    It is now nearly three years since the Ilfracombe harbour extension became the keystone of my policy for my constituency. No one is in any doubt about the natural beauty of Ilfracombe or the unnatural decline in its business and industrial position. This is the third time that I have had the honour of bringing this matter before the House. I look forward to the reply of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who was gracious enough to reply to my debate a few months ago.

    I have never seen the logic in seeking to make a seaside town such as Ilfracombe into a factory-based industrial centre. It is good to have factories, but equally it is clear that any firm locating a factory so far from its market, and probably from its raw materials, will always have difficulty in justifying that factory when times are hard. I congratulate Pall Europe, Coutant Electronics and several less-known firms who work hard, employ staff and prosper in Ilfracombe and the adjacent areas. We must consider how best the resuscitation of the economy can come about, while, equally importantly, the natural beauty and the pleasure of living in Ilfracombe are not harmed.

    My conclusions are straightforward. We have the sea, we have the seashore and the beautiful hinterland from Lee to Berrynarbor and back over to Exmoor. It is on this natural beauty that we should build for the future. Development must be related to sea, to shore and to things that can be harvested from land or sea. This includes factory and industrial premises, but they will be an adjunct to the sea and the shore rather than the main employer of the future. Tourism is as much a harvest of land or sea as is farming or fishing.

    I congratulate the North Devon district council—the EEC is also involved—on accepting the problem and putting its hand into its pocket to commission the Coopers and Lybrand report and for taking a positive stance over the issues raised. I was disappointed in parts of the report and do not accept in particular its low forecast of marina income. I congratulate the Ilfracombe town council on its support, and organisations such as the hoteliers and the guest house associations, which have been of the greatest help to me. I also thank the many grant-aided bodies which have spoken and offered help, provided—as always—that someone else does something on the way along.

    If Ilfracombe is to expand the harbour must be expanded. I have carried out surveys along the English side of the Bristol channel and on the Welsh coast. There is no form of major safe harbour or marina development anywhere along the northern coasts of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. Organisations as disparate as the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, which does not have a sea berth for a lifeboat in the area, and the Swansea city council, which has a marina but nowhere to sail to on our side, wish that we had a marina in Ilfracombe. There are some minor boating and fishing facilities but nothing that touches the potential of Ilfracombe or its potential harvest from the sea.

    The first requirement is a harbour extension and an inner harbour which does not dry out. Then as night follows day, or in this case perhaps I should say as light follows dark, all the good things will follow to help Ilfracombe through into the 21st century. In 1984 the English tourist board produced, in conjunction with Wallace Evans and Partners, "The Study of North Devon and Somerset Yacht Harbours". The conclusion was that Ilfracombe would be the most desirable place for a major scheme.

    We need a marina for 250 boats; harbour facilities for fishing boats, pleasure craft and ferries; harbour facilities for commercial and private fishing; and all the ancillary services to serve the new maritime extension to Ilfracombe: hotels, restaurants and allied developments to cope with all these new features. Shops, workshops and warehouse facilities will be needed. This will result in jobs, jobs and more jobs for our people. It will mean not just jobs for sailors from elsewhere, but jobs for young people in the docks, on the boats, in the shops and workshops. It will mean jobs for the young, including those without special skills, who will revel in the healthy, open-air life. It will also mean jobs for older people, including those who are possibly less skilled. There will be a great need for people to tend the shops, maintain the equipment and, not least, guard the premises. It will result in jobs in both existing and new firms.

    Prosperity will not come from talk. If it did, every hon. Member would be a millionaire. None of this is a pipe dream. All of it is readily attainable, but, first, we need the will to carry out the work and, secondly, an organisation which can pull together the strings of economic Ilfracombe, beautiful Ilfracombe and environmental Ilfracombe, not forgetting the residents of Ilfracombe, so that neither commerce nor conservation reigns supreme but work together for a harmonious and prosperous future.

    The loss of development status was a heavy blow to Ilfracombe but, although useful, it was never the key. To some extent it may have been the lock on our minds, as we sought grants when we ought to have sought opportunities. My believe is that the way forward is to find that genuine, good body which has the experience and the reputation to be acceptable not only to the population of north Devon but to the economic and environmental bodies in the great world outside. I do not believe that such a body is impossible to find. On the contrary, I have spoken to a number of organisations which might fill the Bill.

    Today I am happy to be able to announce publicly for the first time that one organisation which is interested in helping fills my bill entirely. The trustees of the Dartington North Devon Trust decided last week that they wished to help Ilfracombe, if at all possible. I welcome their support with open arms. Dartington is well known and respected in the west country. In north Devon in particular the Dartington North Devon Trust has done a great deal to help us with youth training and many other projects, both social and economic. I pay special tribute to Dr. David Davies, the director of the trust. It is no coincidence that a man of his calibre should have been appointed to the Warnock commission.

    A first meeting was held in this House between Dartington "chieftains", the chairman and the chief executive of the North Devon district council and myself some weeks ago. I believe that it will prove to have been a fruitful meeting. But the trust is by no means the only body that is interested. I hope that other commercial interests, including marina operators, which have been in touch with me will join us in the battle for prosperity. The locally based Ilfracombe and North Devon Heritage Wall Committee, soon to become a trust, I hope, has received substantial pledges of cash support and has, in turn, promised that this money will be made available to help build the harbour wall. Mr. Alan Kift, who originally brought to me the concept of the Ilfracombe initiative, and Mr. Nigel Vince are among the main sponsors of this committee. I pay tribute to them and to their fellow committee members, Mr. Peter Rawle and Councillor Ron Green. Councillor Green, who owns the Harcourt hotel, has offered free accommodation to an interested group of investors. Those men typify the hard workers of Ilfracombe. I must not fail them, and nor must the committee.

    There is no shortage of well wishers. Devon county council, North Devon district council and Ilfracombe town council will support us. I trust that the British Tourist Association will sell us overseas and that the English tourist board and the West Country tourist board will participate. Locally, the North Devon Manufacturers' Association is one of the best, if not the best, of such organisations. Various chambers of commerce and trade and many other excellent voluntary organisations will help.

    As I said earlier, the RNLI would like a water berth for its lifeboat. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food must surely approve of a decent fish quay and fish landing facilities and the Welsh tourist board — yes, Welsh—would wish to see a port on our side of the Bristol channel. Lovely Lundy Island needs a port of embarkation for visitors, and Exmoor national park will get welcome tourists from across the water in Wales.

    The list of those who can offer support is almost endless. There is the Countryside Commission, the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas, which has done so much to help in our part of the world2 English Industrial Estates, builders of many local light factory developments, and the Sports Council, which will provide the water sports in the extended harbour.

    The Department of Trade and Industry will be involved as we improve both the trade and industry of the whole area. As we improve the environment the Department of the Environment, too, must come to us. If the next step is to find an organisation to research and put together a package, along the line somewhere finance will be needed from within the area. I understand that the Government cannot provide everything for everybody.

    The sea wall extension in itself will not earn money. I praise the efforts of the Heritage Wall committee which will help us and which has pledged money running into tens of thousands of pounds. That shows the extent of local support and so far that support is still local. I am prepared to subscribe to whatever development corporation or company takes up the challenge and I believe that many others will do the same as well, with faith in the project and hope for an ultimate dividend.

    It may be that whoever builds the sea wall, if we cannot get national or international Government to do the work for us, or at least subscribe considerably, may also have to be given the right to some part of the rewards from the business that will follow, perhaps through a right to marina, hotel or fish quay development. In a commercial world, those who give their time and effort are entitled to a fair reward.

    I am in constant contact with the most important body in the whole matter—the North Devon district council. It controls the harbour and owns much of the adjacent land. It is a good council, full of truly independent men and women of all political shades. It is now up to that council to decide what priority and, in due course, how much finance it may be able to make available for Ilfracombe.

    I look forward to the day when one ferry will be back from Swansea as another leaves for Lundy. I look forward to the day when trawlers will be landing fish for sale or for processing at Mullacott Cross. I look forward to the day when young people can carry on water sports in the extended outer harbour as the older generation perhaps watches from seats around the harbour. I look forward to the day when the tourists come to mess about in boats in the inner harbour, buying their food, fuel and sails from the traders of Ilfracombe, while the young people of Ilfracombe work to support the fun and the finances of that lovely town and the surrounding areas, all of which will benefit, from Exmoor to Barnstaple, from the success of Ilfracombe harbour.

    Finally, and from my side, I look forward to the arrival of the link road, far more important than all the development grants, together with the improvement of the road from the motorway up over Blackmoor Gate and the A39 from the Exmoor side as well.

    We are awaiting a ministerial pronouncement on stage 2A of the inquiry into that road. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to help on that because the decision is overdue. That on stage 2B from South Molton to Barnstaple should be with us by the end of the year and work completed around 1988.

    There are so many national, provincial, local and statutory bodies that may be able to help, without mentioning the EEC social and regional funds.

    The Department of the Environment has responsibility for environmental management, regional affairs, environmental protection, and sport and recreation. Ilfracombe is not within the Exmoor National Park but is, as agreed by the National Parks Authority and the English tourist board, an integral part of the park economy.

    The Department of Trade and Industry is responsible for regional assistance under the Industry Act, regional policy, tourism, and small firms. Would not Ilfracombe make an ideal enterprise zone. Many departments are involved—the Department of Transport and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The problem is, which will be responsible?

    The fish quay and fish landing facilities might qualify for grants under section 2 of the Fisheries Act 1955. The tourism part might receive aid from the English tourist board, for which the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is responsible, although the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry deals with the subject.

    Surprisingly, there are no specific grants that I can find available from the Department of Employment for starting a project which will improve employment. It might be possible to employ people on the youth training scheme or the community programme. Whether the EEC can help, now that we are no longer receiving regional funds, I do not know, but I believe that the EEC has been asked by the district council—it did so in time, by the end of March—to see whether funds can be made available to help Ilfracombe's fine but somewhat derelict pier, which is an integral part of the harbour.

    The grants system is so complex that it is possible that in some way other grants might be available which I have been unable to find. Whoever takes up the job of "umbrella" man or woman to the project, with a base in Ilfracombe town, and employment for, say, two years, will have to take up the many and varied ideas that have been floated, to discuss their finance, to check on environmental considerations, and to seek prospective developers.

    I ask the Minister to give me some assurance on the Government's attitude to this essay in self-help. Will he list now—or later in correspondence, if the list is too long—where we may look for help and whether the Government will look with favour on our request?

    I am proud to represent an area which is fiercely proud and independent, where we Devonians have been joined by many "incomers" from up country, and where we all work together for the health and harmony of our most beautiful part of Britain.

    As a footnote for the Minister — we entered the House together on the same day; he is a young man—I should like to say that, thanks to the Outlandos trust, founded by the Police pop group, and chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), a generous award has just been given to the Ilfracombe youth and community centre to help with the purchase of musical instruments. I am delighted that arrangements are in hand for me to make the presentation. But I offer my hon. Friend the promise that, if he can help us, we shall serenade him on his next visit to Ilfracombe. Since the money is funded by the Police, perhaps their hit single, "Message in a bottle" would be the appropriate tune. I look to the Minister to be tuneful and helpful to a good area.

    2.48 pm

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
    (Mr. David Trippier)

    I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) on his speech, and on his customary diligence in raising important matters which affect his constituency. As he has indicated, the various matters that he has drawn to the attention of the House traverse a number of Government Departments, including my own. I shall endeavour to cover as many points as I can in the time available to me. In any event, I give him an undertaking that I will draw the attention of the various Departments to the subjects which have been raised in the debate.

    Since the Government published the White Paper on "Regional Industrial Policy" in December 1983, I have been impressed by the enthusiasm with which the people of north Devon have drawn to the attention of Ministers the problems of Ilfracombe and the ambitions and plans that they have for the town's future. I venture to say, however, that enthusiasm needs to be generated and nurtured. That has been done in no small measure by their representative in this House, my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North, whose advocacy on behalf of his constituents is second to none. They are indeed fortunate to have such an able and tenacious MP. He saw my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, last December and has managed to secure three debates on the subject in just over two years. As a result of those debates, and the dozens of letters received from his constituents, Ministers can honestly say that they are fully aware of the problems of the area.

    My hon. Friend has drawn my attention to the economic study of Ilfracombe and the associated feasibility study of packages of schemes which might be promoted in or around Ilfracombe, and which was commissioned by the North Devon district council. I have seen the final copy of the report, and the number of schemes put forward for consideration by the council is very impressive and ambitious.

    A seaside resort containing such facilities as a fishing quay, winter gardens, cable car, first-class hotel and other facilities would, I am sure, be attractive to many people but, like most things in life, as my hon. Friend has implied, such schemes do not come cheaply, and finances have to be secured.

    The five possible options put forward in the report each contain different combinations of the schemes assessed. The common factor in them is that all have a grant element of one form or another written into costings. That is not a bad thing, provided, of course, that grants are available, but, as my hon. Friend has pointed out on numerous occasions, access to grants from the European Regional Development Fund was lost — except during the transitional period—when the Barnstaple and Ilfracombe travel-to-work area lost its assisted area status.

    In four of the options, it would appear that if grants were not available the packages would fail on purely financial grounds, but interestingly one package appears to be financially viable even if no grants were available. Admittedly, that option excludes the marina scheme which I understand from the report would be extremely popular with local people.

    My hon. Friend has stated today and on a number of other occasions that there should be a good road link from the M5 motorway to the north Devon coast. The proposed north Devon link road, together with the planned bypasses of Barnstaple and Bideford, will provide an excellent route.

    The first stage of the A361 of the north Devon link road between the M5 at Sampford Peverell and Tiverton has been open to traffic for just over a year, and progress is being made on the other two stages of the link road.

    A public inquiry was held in the early part of last year into stage 2A of the link road between Tiverton and Newtown. The inspector's report following the inquiry was delivered towards the end of October 1984 and is under consideration. My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Transport and for the Environment hope to announce their decision shortly.

    My hon. Friend will be aware also that the public inquiry into stage 2B of the link road, between Newtown and Barnstaple, was concluded last month. The report of the inspector is awaited.

    Proposals for the A39 Barnstaple bypass similarly were the subject of a public inquiry and my hon. Friend may know that the inspector's report was submitted last month and is being considered.

    My hon. Friend has stated the importance of tourism in Ilfracombe and I accept that tourism there has been in decline for a number of years and the town is currently one of the most depressed of the south-west's traditional seaside resorts, with relatively poor facilities and accommodation. A further erosion of its market position is likely if steps cannot be taken to reverse the decline and, against that background, I understand the district council attaches considerable importance to the harbour and marine proposal which it sees as a catalyst for revitalising the local industry and attracting new investment from the private sector.

    The council has been in touch with the non-statutory West Country tourist board to discuss its proposal and the WCTB agrees that a major tourism development is necessary if Ilfracombe is to have a brighter future as a resort town. Funds for the section 4 tourism grant scheme administered by the English tourist board are limited and, although some help might be available via the scheme for individual elements of the development, I accept that it could not provide a material contribution towards the cost of the harbour project as a whole.

    On a more positive note, the Government will continue to provide support for the area's tourism industry through its funding of the statutory English tourist board's promotional and development activities, including the scheme of selective financial assistance for tourism projects which the board administers under section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969. As I have said, the West Country tourist board has already had contact with north Devon concerning the proposed harbour and marina project and will be happy to provide advice on any other development proposals that the council and local entrepreneurs may have.

    A number of local tourism projects have also benefited directly from assistance under the section 4 scheme. Since the scheme was extended to the whole of England in August 1982, grant offers totalling £154,700 have been made to 21 tourist projects in north Devon.

    My hon. Friend has spoken of the desirability of reviving the fishing industry around Ilfracombe and I should like therefore to explain about the aid available from the FEOGA farm fund. The aid is available for investment projects which improve the conditions under which agricultural and fisheries products are processed and marketed. To be eligible, projects must meet the conditions laid down in EC regulation 355/77 and must involve investment facilities covered by programmes submitted by member states and approved by the Commission. New fisheries programmes for England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland respectively have been submitted to the Commission and are awaiting approval.

    The scheme is discretionary and if a project is successful it will receive up to 25 per cent. of eligible costs from the EEC. The Commission selects for aid those projects which most closely meet the aims of the scheme and awards are made, by the Commission, twice a year. I should emphasise that an important condition of the scheme is that work should not have started on the project before the Commission acknowledges receipt of the application. Grant cannot be awarded for work already started.

    I am informed by my colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that, although aid has not yet been sought under this regulation by processors in the Ilfracombe area, developments involving marketing and processing activities at Ilfracombe could be eligible for consideration for FEOGA grant. Since 1977, seven applications from within Devon and Cornwall have been successful in attracting aid, receiving some £400,000 from the EEC funds.

    If it can be shown that there is real potential for commercial fishing development from Ilfracombe, very limited grant might be considered under the Fisheries Act 1955 for that part of the harbour cost which could be identified as relating to that development.

    The position with regard to fishing potential remains as stated in the debate on 7 February 1983, when it was explained that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had no knowledge of significant unexploited fisheries potential in the Bristol channel area. I can only reiterate that if commercial assessment of such a potential indicated a need for harbour development in north Devon, grant might be considered for approved costs under fisheries legislation to the extent that it could be demonstrated that there would be a benefit to the fishing industry. My colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be pleased to give any assistance concerning eligibility of projects in Ilfracombe.

    My hon. Friend will be aware that on 23 April the Ports (Finance) Bill had its Second Reading. Clause 6 repeals section 9 of the Harbours Act 1964 which gave the Secretary of State for Transport power by order to prohibit harbour development works. This completes the process of the freeing of port development started a year ago when my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport revoked the Harbour Development Order which gave effect to section 9. It reflects the Government's earlier decision that it was no longer appropriate to retain this regulatory control, which latterly applied only to harbour developments over £3 million. The effect of ending the control has been that, subject to compliance with other relevant statutory requirements, promoters of port development are free to proceed with commercially desirable developments if they can secure adequate financial backing.

    Before concluding, I would like to quote a few words used by my hon. Friend in the debate in February 1983 on Ilfracombe harbour. He said:
    "There is an inaccurate belief that Members of Parliament are magicians, with better or worse rabbits in the hat, or that we have magic wands. This is a case not for magic wands, but for the local council to think through and to decide how a project should be organised and controlled." —[Official Report, 7 February 1983; Vol. 36, c. 666.]
    It is clear from what we have heard today that the local council has taken an initiative and started the wheels in motion.

    We recognise that there are problems in Ilfracombe and also that the people who live and work there want to see a halt in its decline and to put the town on a sound industrial and social footing through the harbour project. I sincerely hope it will succeed. I can assure my hon. Friend that when any project in Ilfracombe appears to be eligible for assistance under existing schemes of support it will be given every consideration by the relevant Government Department.

    I once again thank my hon. Friend for drawing these important matters to the attention of the House.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to Three o'clock.