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Volume 77: debated on Friday 26 April 1985

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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.