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Wildlife And Countryside (Amendment) Bill

Volume 77: debated on Friday 26 April 1985

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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.