House Of Lords
Monday, 9th February, 1981.
The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Truro.
Satellite Monitoring: French Proposal
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their attitude to the French proposal that the United Nations should have an international control system in outer space to monitor troop movements and war preparations.
My Lords, the Government view the French proposal as an interesting one. We look forward to the report of the United Nations group of experts which has been attempting to work out the details of such a scheme, including costs.
My Lords, is it not the case that the United Nations General Assembly endorsed this proposal in 1978? Is it not the case that the USA and the USSR now have their surveillance satellites reporting on each other's territory, and would it not be much better to have a United Nations surveillance, the information from which could be known internationally and might aid verification of international conventions outlawing certain weapons and facilitate further disarmament?
My Lords, I do not think the United Nations could have endorsed this proposal in 1978 because it was not in fact made until 1979. However, the general tenor of the noble Lord's remarks, along the lines that this might be a useful proposal to agree, is worth considering, and I can tell the noble Lord that we look forward to the report of the group of experts to which I referred.
My Lords, while thanking the Minister for his correction, may I ask him this further question: Might this not be a precursor to a United Nations peace-keeping force in outer space, where four-fifths of the satellites are now for military purposes and are threatening conflict?
My Lords, I think the noble Lord is rushing me on a bit. I would prefer to wait for the report of the committee of experts before taking this matter the further several stages which the noble Lord suggests.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord when he is expecting the report that he has mentioned? How long will it take before we get it?
My Lords, I do not have the note in front of me but I recall, I think, that the report of the group of experts is expected before the end of this year.
My Lords, is it not the case that the report is to be presented by June for consideration by the United Nations General Assembly?
My Lords, the noble Lord, as always, is very well informed in these matters, and I feel sure he is right.
My Lords, could my noble friend say whether the report will put a costing on this project, and can we be sure that all the other members of the United Nations will contribute to the cost?
My Lords, it is too early to say who will contribute to the costs of this project, but I can say that the report of the group of experts will include an estimate of the likely costs.
My Lords, is it not true that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, is quite wrong in saying that the majority of satellites have military purposes, and that the real truth of the matter is that the whole space around this earth is being slowly filled with small bits of satellite rubbish which now serve no purpose whatever and will some day have to be swept up?
My Lords, it is true, of course, that many of the satellites circling our earth are in fact spent and now serve no useful purpose. As for the noble Viscount's earlier point as to the percentage of satellites used for military or civilian purposes, again I do not have the precise figures in front of me, but I should perhaps say that many satellites—like some communications satellites, for example—in fact serve both military and civilian purposes.
Small Businesses And Vat
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, as part of their policy to aid small businesses, they will raise the VAT threshold from £25,000 to £50,000.
My Lords, the VAT registration threshold is at present £13,500, not £25,000 as my noble friend suggests. Any change in the threshold is a matter for the Budget statement of my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which I am unable to anticipate.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for that Answer, including his correction, and I apologise for being misinformed of the facts. Does my noble friend not agree that the easing of taxation would assist productivity in small businesses as well as in others?
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for what he says. I think that the easing of taxation would be to everybody's benefit, but, so far as the VAT threshold is concerned, there was a very substantial increase last year from £10,000 to £13,500, and any further increase is a matter for my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
My Lords, would my noble friend the Minister not agree that to have to do all the form-filling and all the other accounting that is required for VAT purposes is a very heavy burden on small employers and small businesses? Would he not also agree that it would increase productivity if the threshold was raised a lot higher? May I further ask my noble friend why small businessmen should be unpaid tax collectors? It really is a great imposition.
My Lord, my noble friend raises a number of points. First of all, the simple fact is that when the threshold was increased substantially last year some 80 per cent. of the businesses which were entitled to be deregistered did not do so. We are of course anxious to reduce the burden of administration wherever that can be done, but the collection of tax at the source—and the collection of VAT is an example of this—has existed in the tax system of this country, and indeed of almost every other country, for a very long period of time.
My Lords, would my noble friend not agree with me that in many cases small businesses profit in terms of cash flow by being unpaid tax collectors in that they have the use of VAT money until it has to be returned?
My Lords, that is a perfectly true and valid point. Indeed, very large sums of money are provided as working capital for business through the machinery which is adopted for the collection of VAT.
My Lords, did the noble Lord see in the recent edition of "The Money Programme" on BBC television the sale of factory machinery, when the extremely interesting point (which was not made much of in that programme) was made that, although major firms were selling off, the firms which were doing best, and to whom machinery was selling most briskly, were the small firms? Will he not agree with me that this shows that there is a growth of small industry willing to be encouraged and able to be encouraged in this country, and that this is the best and most promising way of getting out of our present entanglements and the unemployment problem?
My Lords, there is a considerable growth potential in small businesses and we are anxious to give it every possible encouragement.
My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that raising the VAT level would be a contribution to encouraging entrepreneurs in the hidden economy to come out into the open and that that would be of great assistance in a number of directions?
My Lords, the point raised by the noble Baroness is one that has been raised on a number of occasions. I very much doubt whether an increase in the registration limit would have any very significant effect on the size of the black economy.
My Lords, would the Minister not agree that 90 per cent. of the revenue collected by Customs and Excise for VAT is contributed by fewer than 10 per cent. of the firms who are registered for VAT?
My Lords, it is perfectly true that a very large proportion of the total VAT comes from a relatively small number of firms, but that has no very direct bearing on the level of the threshold.
Nhs General Medical Practices In Inner London
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government how many National Health Service general medical practices in Inner London have less than 1,000 patients and how many doctors in those practices are over 70 years of age.
My Lords, on 1st October 1980, there were 58 general medical practices in Inner London with less than 1,000 patients providing unrestricted general medical services. Twenty-four doctors in those practices were aged 70 or over. A further 36 practices provide restricted services, mostly to staff of hospitals or institutions. Two doctors in those restricted practices were aged 70 or over.
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for that information. Is the noble Lord aware that more doctors with small lists of patients, more doctors with very large lists of patients, more doctors of 70 years of age and more doctors working single-handed are to be found in Inner London than anywhere else in the country? Is this not largely due to the fact that lists of 1,000 patients enable a doctor to claim the basic allowances permitted under the National Health Service—which means that, having got the basic allowances for the 1,000 patients, they are then free to go and earn additional income outside the National Health Service?
My Lords, that is absolutely true. There is nothing to stop a National Health Service doctor from having private patients as well as National Health Service patients. That has always been the case and I do not think it has been suggested that it should change.
My Lords, may I ask the Minister this: Does not this mean that there must be a large number of people in Inner London who are not being properly cared for from a health point of view or not being cared for at all; or who, if they want care, have to go privately? It seems that everything points to that; and that in areas like that of this House, in Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, 1 in 8 of doctors in general practice is over the age of 70 and 1 in 6 has fewer than 1,000 patients. Is this not quite deplorable? I should like to know whether the Government are proposing to do anything about it.
My Lords, the noble Lord is no doubt aware that the whole question of primary health care deficiencies in Inner London—and we realise that there are some—is currently being considered by a study group established by the London Health Planning Consortium under the chairmanship of Professor Donald Acheson, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Southampton. The report is expected in the next few months and will be studied with interest.
My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that the age of 70 is rather an arbitrary figure to fix for a doctor's retirement?
My Lords, like everyone else, I agree with the noble Lord.
Fast Breeder Reactors: Future Policy
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will announce their future policy towards fast breeder reactor power plants.
My Lords, fast reactor policy is under review in the light of advice that the Government have received from the Atomic Energy Authority and nuclear industry. No decisions have been taken; but a statement will be made as soon as Government policy has reached the appropriate stage.
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl for that reply. I would say, arising out of that, that we debated this subject—
My Lords, I should like to put this question to my noble friend. May I ask him this on reply? It was debated in this House last December-year and we were promised a Statement early in 1980 and we still have not had that Statement. I think that it is unsatisfactory that we are told today that it is still under consideration.
My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with the frustration of my noble friend, as I am well aware of the interest throughout the House in nuclear policy. But the House and my noble friend will be aware of the complexity of this issue, the very great expense, the long lead time and the importance of getting policy absolutely right. I must ask him to bear with us a little longer.
My Lords, as there is likely to be a world uranium shortage early in the next century, would the Government agree that a fast breeder reactor policy is probably essential for our future energy requirements?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and I have debated this subject on many occasions and we have often found ourselves in agreement about it.
My Lords, no matter what is the outcome of the considerations that the noble Lord is seeking, may I ask what steps will the Government take to prevent the fast reactor becoming an example of so many praiseworthy British initiatives which have been heavily backed with public funds only to find themselves lost in the sands of governmental penuriousness until the day when we have to pay others for the know-how whose completion we have foregone —in this case probably the French?
My Lords, we have no intention of being—I think the word is "penurious". We have every intention of trying to get a policy of this complexity and sophistication right.
My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that, given the uranium shortage expected at the end of the century, it is urgent to get a prototype fast reactor of the commercial scale going for at least 10 years and proved to be safe so that the programme can go ahead? Therefore delays on this matter are really very worrying to those who take the matter seriously. This is not a party issue at all; our views are the same on both sides of the House.
My Lords, I accept that this is not a party issue and I also have always registered that your Lordships' House takes a longer term view of energy policy, as is only right, than perhaps other parts of our economy. I shall bring what my noble friend has had to say to the attention of my right honourable friend.
My Lords, may I ask the Minister this: If we can look forward to a uranium shortage, surely we can look forward too to a uranium famine and so perhaps have a more peaceful world?
My Lords, I am not quite clear as to the point that the noble Baroness is making. If she will look at the other answers to the supplementary questions, she will see that it is a grave prospect for nuclear energy if there is a uranium shortage. That is one of the reasons why the Government are considering fast breeder reactor policy.
My Lords, would the noble Earl agree that our present stocks of uranium and plutonium in this country, if used in a fast reactor, exceed the energy from known reserves of coal? Secondly, would he also agree that though there may not be a uranium famine worldwide until the beginning of the next century, one always has to consider a political situation when one examines the continuing supply of any mineral?
My Lords, I think that that is one of the very interesting features of the fast breeder reactor.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Government's unwillingness to declare a policy regarding the future of a fast breeder reactor is already beginning to threaten the existence of the very teams who will be needed if the fast reactor is wanted? Will the noble Earl admit that the real reason why he is unable to give us an answer is that all of his research teams are currently engaged in examining the safety or otherwise of the pressure water reactor and therefore there is no spare capacity to do the reviews on the fast reactor? That is the real reason why he is unable to give us an answer about Government policy.
My Lords, I do not accept that interpretation. As my original Answer made plain, we have received advice from the Atomic Energy Authority. We have received advice on fast breeders from the nuclear industry and this is precisely the advice that we are considering.
My Lords, it may be for the convenience of your Lordships if I announce that dinner will be available this evening at the usual time. It is proposed that the Committee stage of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill should be adjourned at approximately seven o'clock for approximately 40 minutes and the Second Readings of nine private Bills will be taken during this adjournment.
Brought from the Commons on Friday last and printed pursuant to Standing Order No. 47; read 1a .
Disused Burial Grounds (Amendment) Bill Hl
Wildlife And Countryside Bill Hl
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Bellwin, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—( The Earl of Avon.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The Lord Aberdare in the Chair.]
Clause 9 [ Protection of certain wild animals]:
moved Amendment No. 240:
Page 54, line 36, at end insert—
(" ( ) After subsection (8) there shall be inserted the following subsection—
"(9) In any proceedings for an offence under subsections (1) and (1A) any averment that an article is a restricted article shall, until the contrary be proved, be sufficient evidence of that fact.".").
The noble Lord said: This amendment is almost exactly the same as Amendment No. 243 in the name of Lord Houghton of Sowerby. May I suggest that we discuss these two amendments together. The only main difference concerns where this new clause should be inserted. I have no strong views on this. If it seems more convenient that Lord Houghton's choice be adopted, I am very content; but mine is the first amendment on the List. My amendment deals with the 1976 Act and the problems which have arisen under that Act. A lot of the difficulties have arisen in controlling the trade in endangered species because of problems associated with the correct identification of species; ensuring that the terms of reference of licences or permits are valid and with protecting those traders who deliberately avoid customs procedure entirely; the deliberate mislabelling of species to evade controls, for instance, by claiming that a certain species—which is on Appendix I and therefore banned from commercial trade—is a common species upon which there are no restrictions; forgery of documents issued by country of origin, which allows limited trade; and the smuggling of endangered species for sale to private collections. Those are common occurrences which result in a substantial commercial market being illegally supplied with endangered species and their products; skins, furs, feathers, et cetera.
There are two ways of tackling this, and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and myself should like to cover both of them. One is by dealing with the strengthening of the powers or the ability of Customs and Excise at the ports of entry. This is what Amendment No. 242 is about. The other way is by strengthening the powers of the police to deal with evasions once the endangered species have entered the country.
Because of these difficulties in controlling the import of restricted species or their derivatives, the 1976 Act also makes it an offence to sell these articles. This amendment seeks to resolve a difficulty over prosecuting for an offence in connection with the sale of restricted articles. At present, a prosecutor must prove, first, the lack of any licence and, secondly, that the article is restricted. However, even if this is proved, it is sufficient for the defendant to declare that so far as he is aware the article in question was either home-bred or imported before the 1976 Act came into force for the prosecution to fail, unless the prosecution can show otherwise, which is very often an impossible task.
It is doubtful whether, when the 1976 Act was passed, this was intended because where the Customs and Excise prosecute in proceedings relating to Customs and Excise, certain matters are assumed unless the defendant proves otherwise. The burden of proof is on the defence; and these matters include the fact that the article in question was imported illegally under Section 154 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. Therefore, prosecutions for unlicensed imports under the 1976 Act do not present a problem, being brought by Customs and Excise and the burden of proof lying there. However, even if a prosecution under Section 4 of the 1976 Act relates to Customs and Excise, the assumptions referred to apply only when proceedings are brought by Customs and Excise or by a Law Officer of the Crown, such as the Attorney General. These prosecutions are most unusual, for the police are the body primarily responsible for the enforcement of offences to sell under Section 4 of the 1976 Act; Section 154 of the Customs and Excise Act does not apply to them. Therefore, the police do not have the same advantages that the Customs and Excise have in prosecuting suspected breaches of the law; and this is an anomalous position.
This amendment seeks to apply the assumption that the articles in question, in a case involving the illegal sale of endangered species or their derivatives, were illegally imported. A defendant could no longer just claim that an article was imported before 1976 without any corroborating evidence. He would have to show that the article was legally imported in some manner, for example, by referring to the necessary licence or to some receipt showing when or where the article was obtained, or witnesses attesting that the article was legally obtained, or witnesses attesting that he had possession of that particular article before the 1976 Act was passed.
The Endangered Species Act is Britain's primary piece of legislation for ensuring that we meet our obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Unless the commercial market for endangered species is effectively controlled, the illegal trade will continually undermine the efforts of countries of origin of these species to protect and conserve them in their natural environment. I think it is easy to underestimate the skill and ingenuity which goes into the trade in these very valuable and lucrative rare products. A very great deal of effort is expended in trying to smuggle, and therefore a great deal of vigilance has to be used in order to try to prevent this. It is essential that our legislation is as effective as possible in being able to stop that illegal trade, but while this loophole in the prosecution of selling offences exists, it cannot hope to be. Therefore, I hope that the Government will accept this amendment to Schedule 9. I beg to move.
Very briefly, we from this side support any attempt to give the police and the customs a better chance to detect and bring to prosecution the very disagreeable smuggling trade—in particular in birds, which I know about, and in rare animals in general. I think I need say no more than this: unless the Government can give some good reason why there is something illiberal or wrong about this, we hope that they will accept the amendment.
I hope the Government will accept this amendment. We are dealing with people charged with the illegal sale of endangered species; they are the people to whom this amendment relates. At present, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has explained, when a Law Officer or the Customs and Excise are bringing the charge they do not have to prove that the endangered species being illegally sold were also illegally imported. The presumption is in those cases that the person illegally selling was also illegally importing, and it is up to him to produce a licence if he claims that he had earlier permission to import these endangered species, or otherwise to bring some corroborative evidence if he claims that he was lawfully in possession of these endangered species.However, the police, as the noble Lord explained in moving this amendment, are not put into the same position as a Law Officer or the Customs and Excise, and therefore they are at a disadvantage. I know that we do not like putting the onus of proof on a person who is charged—that is, upon a defendant—because it is a cardinal feature of our system of jurisprudence that the prosecution should prove the charges and that the defendant is not called upon to prove his innocence. Nevertheless, departures from that rule have been found necessary in dealing with particularly difficult and slippery people, and especially when one is dealing with the illegal sale of endangered species. The problem of identification and of proving that a certain bird or animal was illegally imported is very difficult. All the advantage lies with the defendant in these cases and, therefore, I hope that the exceptions that are made for prosecutions undertaken by a Law Officer or by the Customs and Excise will extend to the police. It may be that what one does for a Law Officer or the Customs and Excise one does not do for the police. That may be a reflection, if you like, on the police, or at least it is perhaps a testimonial to Law Officers or to the Customs and Excise that they would not bring a prosecution frivolously or without a good deal of evidence that the charge could be brought home to the defendant. However, this trade is so squalid, and the people engaged in it so despicable, that I think we are justified in being severe with them; otherwise the protection given to an endangered species ceases to be adequate and they become more endangered still. I think we have to depart in this case from any general rule we might have on this subject and ask the defendant to show at least that he held these endangered species lawfully. The charge against him is that he unlawfully stole them. But, at least, he should prove that they were lawfully in his possession. So I support this amendment.
I also rise to support this amendment. The intention behind the Washington Convention was to protect endangered species by strictly controlling the trade in them. Everyone in this House knows that this just is not working as well as it should. In practice, such rare creatures reach the market because it is claimed that they are a common species and are not subject to control. In some cases, it is almost impossible to tell the difference. Such deliberate, incorrect labelling, forgery of documents and smuggling are all part of this unpleasant trade. Our weapon is the 1976 Act, which the noble Lord seeks to strengthen. Unless commercial markets are effectively controlled, the illegal trade will continue to undermine the efforts of the countries of origin of these endangered species to protect and conserve them in their natural environment. I support the amendment.
I should like to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord. Lord Beaumont of Whitley. I do so very briefly from experience of having served over a number of years in an overseas customs and excise department, dealing with smuggling. People who enter into this trade do so for profit, and all kinds of subterfuges are adopted by them. I have recently had some experience of the practices followed by people who engage in this trade, and I think that there is a necessity for this amendment. Therefore, I certainly support it.
I do not want to be in any way derogatory about this amendment, because I totally support the principle lying behind it. But if we passed this amendment into law, we should be in danger of putting a lot of innocent people at risk. There are so many bits of ivory which are legally entering world markets. Elephants die and tusks come onto the market legally, and if every tradesman dealing in ivory had to prove that he had a perfect right to it, it would put an enormous onus on him.I am not trying to be a wet blanket about this, because, in principle, I strongly support the amendment. But it goes frightfully wide and it is on the wideness of this amendment that I should like to hear from the Government. Innocent people are dealing in ivory which has come from dead elephants' tusks and there is nothing wrong with that. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and I corresponded for weeks and months on this and I could not agree more that everything we can do to stop illegal trading is all to the good. But how does one get to the root of this? And is this amendment not a little dangerous? That is all I am asking your Lordships to consider.
This amendment relates to living species—not to products, not to tusks and not to skins. It relates to endangered species.
The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, said that he did not want to be a wet blanket, but I think he was being one.
I am a little surprised at the strength of the arguments which have been introduced in favour of this amendment, and we may have to think about it again. The reason I say that is that we have had legal advice that the powers are sufficient. I am also told that the customs powers which are already in existence are considered sufficient to cover breaches of the import prohibition. This is evidenced by the ever-increasing number of seizures which are made at ports and airports.
I am sorry to interrupt, but the amendment strikes at the question of prosecutions. I hope the noble Lord may be going on to tell us about the ever-increasing number of prosecutions, but I doubt that he will be able to.
I was going on to the question of prosecutions. Obviously, the difficulty here is that the burden of proof, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said, is being shifted under this amendment. As the Committee knows, it is usual in criminal proceedings that the burden is on the prosecutor and not on the defendant. That is the nub of the problem over this amendment. I think most noble Lords would not wish to have an exception to the normal legal process. But, as I said, the case has been so strongly put forward that I shall take further advice and, if it seems that something should be done on these lines, we will amend the Bill on Report.
May I just say with great respect that I think the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, got his last intervention slightly wrong? In fact, this amendment deals with products, whereas the next amendment deals only with living animals. The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, raised the very important question of the danger to innocent people. I am very well aware of this problem and would not wish to widen unnecessarily the number of cases in which the burden or proof is on the ordinary person.But I find it difficult to think of instances where, in innocent cases, it would not be very easy for the defendants to prove that they had bought something from someone else or that they had had it some time. This is a case where the enormous number of guilty people who would be caught would not be at all balanced by the innocent. Quite honestly, I cannot visualise, in practice, the kind of case which the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, quite rightly produced in theory. Having made those two points, I should like to say how much I welcome the Government's undertaking to look at this again, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[ Amendment No. 241 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 242:
Page 54, line 41, at end insert—
(" In section 5 of the 1976 Act, subsections (1) and (2) shall be omitted, and there shall be inserted the following sub-sections:—
" (1) The Secretary of State shall make an order under this section relating to live animals of the kinds to which Schedule 1 to this Act for the time being applies. (2) An order under this section shall provide that (subject to such exceptions as may be specified in the order) it is prohibited to do the following— (a) (i) either to import by sea any live animal of any kind to which the order is expressed to relate; or (ii) to import any such animal by sea unless it is imported at a port or one of the ports specified in the order in relation to animals of that kind; (b) (i) either to import any such animal by air; or (ii) to import any such animal by air unless it is unloaded at an airport or one of the airports specified in the order in relation to animals of that kind; (c) (i) either to import any such animal by land; or (ii) to import any such animal by land unless it is brought across the boundary into Northern Ireland at a place or one of the places specified in the order in relation to animals of that kind.".").
The noble Lord said: This carries on the discussion of the 1976 Act and the difficulties raised by its major exemption. Here we move on from just the products of animals to the animals themselves, and to the method of enforcing with greater efficiency the control at ports of entry. The Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976 is one of the best pieces of EEC legislation to control the trade in endangered species and their products, but as we have already heard there are considerable practical problems.
At present, we allow trade in endangered species to be continued through any of our land, air or sea ports. This poses serious problems with regard to monitoring the levels of trade in particular species; ensuring the welfare of live species, particularly exotic ones from other continents; providing adequate enforcement controls to meet out international obligations to ban or limit trade in certain wild species; providing adequate quarantine facilities and providing auxiliary expertise, either zoological or veterinary, to customs officers who are experiencing difficulties in the course of exercising their duties.
Section 5 of the 1976 Act gives the Secretary of State power to restrict places at which live animals may be imported; in particular, to assist the discovery of any importation of species in which trade is banned. So far, this permissive power has not been acted upon and this amendment would oblige the Secretary of State so to designate certain ports. Obviously, if the Secretary of State were to say that he was intending to enforce the power that he already has and proceeded in that way, that would be an equally happy solution to the problem. The principle already is in force for the control of rabies, where only certain ports handle freight in domestic animals. It would seem to be logical to extend this system to wild species as well. The advantages would be considerable. I believe there is reason to think that Customs and Excise would also welcome the proposal.
It should be stressed that this amendment applies only to live animals. It does not include their products. It is a very limited amendment. At present we expect all our customs officers to understand the complexities involved in differentiating between species, many of which seem similar even to the knowledgeable layman. By restricting ports of entry to a small number, this expertise may be built up among a small group of customs officers who could be effectively and economically trained to identify listed species, the trade in which is banned or otherwise controlled. Moreover, in the case of difficulties, outside expertise could be more easily drawn upon. Already there are experts in species identification. Members of the Species Conservation Monitoring Unit are part of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature who are prepared to assist customs officers, if necessary.
In the case of live animals turning up at other ports, the problem of identification would not occur. A live animal can easily be rerouted. Facilities for the effective handling of live animals would also be much more readily established, ensuring that their welfare was properly considered. Corresponding checks for disease and quarantine controls would be more effectively enforced than can presently be the case. Many of our obligations as a signatory of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species depend upon controlling the trade at entry: checking that licences are in order, verifying their country of origin and intended destination and ensuring that certain species are not traded in. This is a difficult and a wide-reaching task. It would be made much easier by having limited ports of entry.
The only substantial change in the enforcement procedure proposed by the Wildlife and Countryside Bill is the provision to allow customs officers to inspect on demand the premises of licence holders where live animals or plants which have been imported under licence are kept. That is good, so far as it goes, but it is not enough to overcome the current enforcement difficulties. Europe is currently one of the largest markets in the world for trade in endangered species. For conservation to be effective it is essential that these efforts to protect those species in their natural environment by their countries of origin are backed up by those countries, mainly in the industrial west, where the trade in endangered species is established. It was for this reason that we signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. This amendment will help to tighten up the enforcement procedure and ensure that we as a nation meet our international conservation obligations. I beg to move.
I strongly support the amendment. I think we can congratulate ourselves upon having perhaps the best piece of legislation for the protection of endangered species of any country in the Common Market. There are some things that we are good at. There are other things we are better at than other countries. On those rare occasions when we are better than anybody else it is worthwhile noticing it, just for morale purposes, if nothing else.I wish to stress that again we are dealing with living things. The problems over importing the products of endangered species arc difficult enough—obviously it would be almost impossible to channel those through designated points of entry—but for living species it is possible to do what the amendment proposes. Indeed, it is not only possible; it is already permissive, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has said. We want to know from the Minister why the Secretary of State has not so far used the power that has already been given to him—this is important—before we insist that he should. We shall listen very carefully to the reply on that very point. Otherwise, we are minded to start the afternoon with a little show of strength, we hope. It is important that every effort should be made to stop some of the scandals that we read about concerning the importing of endangered species from other countries. It is quite reprehensible that the RSPCA, for example, should have to keep a large unit of veterinary and other qualified persons at Heathrow to take care of the scandalous conditions in which many species are imported into this country. It is heartrending sometimes to read of the conditions under which birds and animals arrive. One wonders whatever possesses the so-called human beings at the other end of the line to cram these animals and birds into small spaces, thus killing large numbers of them before they arrive. This amendment would not stop all that, but at least it would enable better provision to be made for reception at designated points of entry. It would also enable the Customs and Excise officers to be more knowledgeable in identifying the kind of species which are banned and upon which they might have to take action. I hope that the Minister has a convincing answer to the question why the power already given has not been used. He will have to be equally convincing in persuading us that we should refrain from imposing this obligation upon him if we are of the opinion that the Secretary of State has not been as zealous or as imaginative as he should have been in using the powers already given by the 1976 Act.
The problem raised by the amendment has for a long time seriously worried both the conservation and the zoo world. I know that the cost of putting right ports of entry is very high—I have written to the Minister and suggested this—but, as the noble Lord has just said, I would ask the Minister to go as far as he possibly can in meeting, if not this amendment the spirit behind it. Each place of entry ideally needs adequate quarantine, adequate temporary accommodation and zoological and veterinary experts and customs officers able to differentiate between the species. We cannot hope that this will happen everywhere but there are ports where the position could be very much improved. From the point of view of the taxpayer, the fewer the authorised places of entry the better and the cheaper the control would become. Therefore I strongly support the amendment.
In the RSPB we have been preaching this for years and have produced a great deal of information showing the appalling results of this not being done. Nobody in the Governments of either party has ever given a reason which satisfied me for one moment that a great deal more could not be done about it. I hope very much that we can be told that something more will be done.
Cannot the airlines in particular be prosecuted or made to enforce their own regulations when cases arise of the type which we see from time to time splashed across the national newspapers: birds, mammals, or whatever it may be being imported and being killed in large numbers in their boxes? This really is an affront. Can they not be held more responsible? That is the first question I should like to ask.Secondly, I think one must put on record the excellence of the RSPCA hostel at Heathrow. It is extremely good and we should be very proud of it and thank the RSPCA for running it. But there is a caveat that I think one should enter. Let us assume for the sake of argument that the Government accept at least the spirit of this amendment, and somebody uses a port or airfield without facilities for quarantine or veterinary examination. Will that not possibly produce a situation we have not foreseen? I just put that thought into my noble friend's mind before he answers. On the whole, I would support the spirit of this amendment if not the actual wording.
I should like to ask the noble Earl whether he would accept that at the moment, when there is absolutely no restriction on ports of entry, the problem he has mentioned is much more likely to arise than if the amendment is accepted and there is some protection.
I see the force of that argument as well.
We touched on this in a short debate on the question whether Clause 14 should stand part of the Bill, and I am afraid that I must oppose this amendment. We have recently undertaken a review of the working of the whole of the licensing arrangements under the 1976 Act, and among all the various aspects considered was the question of whether points of entry should be designated for the importation of live animals. Your Lordships will be aware that a power enabling such designation to be made is already available in the Act, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, mentioned. We concluded that there might be a benefit in designating ports of entry for certain species, but that the overall designation of ports would not be of value. There is the constant problem of what to do with live animals that turn up where they are not expected. It is not, for example, in the interests of the animals themselves to have them sent back or even diverted to another port. By the time they get there it may be too late. All the evidence from countries which operate blanket designation is that it does not aid enforcement to the extent that is sometimes claimed.There have been recent instances, however, where we have used the power in the 1976 Act to place a condition on an import licence that the consignment be imported at a specified place and even at a specified time. This is an invaluable aid when we have reason to suspect that certain consignments may be irregular, and it is our firm intention to make increasing use of this device. There is a great advantage in that we can get all the exports at the port which has been designated on the licence, and we find that this works extremely well. If ports are designated it encourages people to bring animals in at other places clandestinely. So we believe this is a better system then designating ports.
I simply do not understand this. It is exactly the point that was made by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow; I did not understand it then and I do not understand it now. If you give somebody a licence and specify a place and a time, say London Airport at 11o'clock, and the animal turns up at Glasgow two days later—in other words, the wrong place is deliberately used, at the wrong time—does that not lead to exactly the same sort of problems as having a blanket designation of ports? I cannot see any difference.
But they lose their licence.
But they will lose their licence if they do not go to a designated port of entry. If there is a limited number of ports of entry which are designated, of which Heathrow might well be one and perhaps there would be one other, if somebody takes live animals to any other port of entry they will lose whatever licence they might have had. I simply do not see the difference.
We are of course talking about endangered species. Eighty per cent of the animals that come in are neither endangered nor vulnerable, and it is really about endangered species that we are talking, where a licence is required. If we tie that to the port of entry and even the time of entry it probably gives as good a control of the situation as one could possibly get.
But the two methods are in no way exclusive. Surely we should have both. The system of designated licences is admirable but it does not exclude the refusal to accept animals elsewhere than at a certain number of ports. I cannot follow the argument at all.
Instinctively, a designated port is suggested, and the arguments adduced by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, are very powerful. But what happens to a peregrine falcon if it lands in an aeroplane at Leith when it is supposed to land in an aeroplane at Heathrow, and the man has a one-off licence and it is said that it cannot land? What do you do with it? Do you send it back? Do you knock it on the head? That would achieve nothing, except that you would fine the man the equivalent of £5,000 which is the value of the falcon, or whatever it may be. It is a very difficult problem. Having listened to the argument, I think that my noble friend has power behind his case.
The first thing you do is to stop this particular event happening, because the person who sends it to the wrong place, for one reason or another, loses the value of the bird.
Of course noble Lords who are in favour of this amendment welcome the increasing designation of ports for specific licences. That is very useful and I am delighted that it is being done. It probably achieves a lot, but the Government have said nothing—although the noble Earl was making faces across the Chamber—which makes me want to withdraw this amendment. The point, validly raised, about animals possibly suffering because they come to ports where they are not allowed to come, is, I am sure, true. But I am quite clear that it will be well outweighed by the growing proportion of animals which come to designated ports and therefore are well looked after, and do not run into the kind of problems that we have heard about at other ports and other airfields.
If I may interrupt the noble Lord, will he accept that the position of an endangered species going to a port which is not designated in future, if the amendment is accepted, as I hope it will be, will be absolutely no different from the present position? If somebody suspects that an animal is being illegally imported, it can be seized and placed with a competent zoological garden, just as happens now. There will be absolutely no change.
Indeed. Of course there will be problems, but they will be less if this amendment is passed—very considerably less—than if it is not passed. I do not take the other main point which was made about clandestine smuggling. All right, it may be that there will be some. I do not know quite what the Government have in mind. If they are speaking about clandestine smuggling at ports of entry other than the designated ones, it is difficult to see why it should be any more so than it is at the moment, and the chances of discovering a boa constrictor tucked away in someone's suitcase will be exactly the same as they are now.
I understand that in the United States of America they have had considerable difficulties as a result of their blanket designation. That is one of the reasons why we prefer the licensing system.
Perhaps the noble Lord would care to expand on that. What kind of difficulties have they had?
I am sorry, I cannot expand on it. All I know is that they have had difficulties and that is one of the reasons why we have decided on this as being a better system. I cannot say much more on this subject. The noble Lord either withdraws the amendment or he does not.
If the noble Lord cannot expand on the difficulties that they have had in the United States, perhaps he can confirm that they are maintaining the system of restricted ports of entry and not changing it back to the English system; so that they are not doing what the noble Lord is trying to do.
They have not changed it yet, but it may be with our good example they will do so.
If I may continue with my argument about clandestine smuggling, if the noble Lord is saying that this will be not at normal ports of entry but by motor boats from the French coast or something like that, I do not see that that would be any more encouraged if this amendment is passed than if it is not. I must admit that I am intrigued by what the noble Lord the Minister says about American experience. I wish we had been given greater information about this; it seems to me very germane to the Government's case, and after all it is they who are putting this Bill forward. I am surprised that they have not thought fit to enlarge upon this particular argument.However, I am in some doubt as to how to proceed. It seems to me that in a way the noble Lord has said that the choice is between withdrawing this amendment and pressing it, and although I would be interested to hear the American experience, I have heard nothing in the Government's argument so far to cause me to withdraw the amendment. Therefore, I think we ought probably to try the feeling of your Lordships' Committee.
On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 242) shall be agreed to?
Their Lordships divided: Contents, 66; Not-Contents, 83.
|Amulree, L.||Blyton, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Boston of Faversham, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Briginshaw, L.|
|Banks, L.||Brockway, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L. [Teller.]||Brooks of Tremorfa, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.|
|Beswick, L.||Byers, L.|
|Blease, L.||Chelwood, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|David, B.||Melchett, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Oram, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Pargiter, L.|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.||Peart, L.|
|Foot, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Gaitskell, B.||St. Davids, V.|
|Gore-Booth, L.||Seear, B.|
|Gosford, E.||Shinwell, L.|
|Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Somers, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Hale, L.||Stone, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Strauss, L.|
|Henderson, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L. [Teller.]||Thurso, V.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Leatherland, L.||White, B.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Killearn, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Ampthill, L.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Avon, E.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Bathurst, E.||Lindsey of Abingdon, E.|
|Bellwin, L.||Long, V.|
|Bessborough, E.||Lonsdale, E.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Loudoun, C.|
|Caithness, E.||Lovat, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Lyell, L.|
|Clancarty, E.||McFadzean, L.|
|Clwyd, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Marley, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Newall, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Onslow, E.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Radnor, E.|
|Effingham, E.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Savile, L.|
|Energlyn, L.||Seebohm, L.|
|Exeter, M.||Sharples, B.|
|Ferrers, E.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Soames, L.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Spens, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Glenkinglas, L.||Stradbroke, E.|
|Gormanston, V.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Granville of Eye, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Hanworth, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Henley, L.||Wise, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Wolverton, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 243:
Page 54, line 41, at end insert—
(" ( ) In any proceedings for an offence under subsections (1) and (1A) any averment that an article is a restricted article shall, until the contrary be proved, be sufficient evidence of that fact.").
The noble Lord said: This amendment was dealt with along with Amendment No. 240. Therefore, I shall not move it.
[ Amendment No. 243 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 244:
Page 55, line 38, at end insert—
|("Lorisidae Tarsiidae||Lorises, bushbabies Tarsiers").|
The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 244 and, with the approval of the Committee, I shall discuss with it all the other amendments up to and including Amendment No. 271. I promise your Lordships that on this somewhat complicated matter, which I hope your Lordships will understand when I have finished—I think that I understand it—I shall not divide the Committee or seek your Lordships' opinion as to whether I am right or wrong. These amendments show yet another way in which endangered species can be better protected. They are suggested by that body which in the whole world knows best what is actually going on—namely, the IUCN body called the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Unit. That organisation monitors the trade movements around the world of endangered species protected by the Washington Convention. It has practical knowledge and experience of the difficulties of enforcement and of the evasion—often on a very massive scale—of the export and import provisions that nations seek, or should seek, to enforce.
As your Lordships will know, the Washington Convention, to which we are signatories, lists endangered species in two appendices. The species listed under Appendix I require import and export licences and as a result there is virtually no trade in the animals concerned. Appendix II aminals require licences for export only and there is more or less a free licence trade in them. As presently drafted Schedule 4, which is what I seek to amend, refers only to the animals listed in Appendix I of the Washington Convention. My amendments, apart from a few minor points to which I shall refer later, all suggest the same policy because, as your Lordships have heard when discussing the previous amendments, the schedule which I seek to improve is, I regret to say, virtually unenforceable. Those are strong words, but let me give two examples, and what I say in this connection is common to the whole series of amendments to which I am speaking today.
Asian elephants are in Appendix I and in Schedule 4. African elephants are in Appendix II and are not in the schedule. However, who can tell the difference in the ivory? I understand that it is impossible to tell the difference. Again, among the cats there are two sub-species of ocelot which appear in Appendix I. All the other sub-species of ocelot are in Appendix II and so they are not in Schedule 4. But the skins of the other sub-species are indistinguishable. One needs the skeleton to recognise one from the other. It is the skins that are traded in and the skins that we seek to protect are, in fact, being dealt in now by unscrupulous traders. So the ocelot as a whole is an endangered creature. The only safe protection is to group all the Appendix I and all the Appendix II animals together, which is what I have done.
There are old world monkeys, new world monkeys, otters, cats, elephants, monitors and tortoises to mention only a few. I have reduced 85 names to 11. Thirty-one cetaceans and crocodilians are better covered by 12 names. Here is the safe, simple and easily administered way of protecting these creatures. That is the main point.
There are a number of minor amendments which I should put on the record so that the noble Lord when he comes to reply will, I hope, simply say that he notes what I say and will examine it and correct the Bill at the next stage. I shall deal first with Amendment No. 244. Bushbabies and tarsiers are on Appendix II and should be included to make the new schedule, as I suggest, complete. Amendment No. 251 adds the grey wolf. Appendix I of the Washington Convention contains the population of grey wolves from the Indian sub-continent. All the other populations are in Appendix II. The skin of the grey wolf is indistinguishable, wherever it conies from, and there is an error in having left the grey wolf off altogether, either with or without my amendment.
Amendment No. 262 is a fascinating amendment. Moschus moschiferus moschiferus, at the top of page 59 is not a Himalayan musk deer at all, or so I am advised: it is a Siberian musk deer. There are three species or sub-species on the two appendices so moschus covers the whole world population.
As regards Amendment No. 265, at the bottom of page 62 the Bill already does what I am seeking in that buceros bicornis embraces the whole species of great pied hornbill, so the phrase in brackets, "(other-wise known as …)" is, I am advised, incorrect.
Finally there is my late amendment, No. 251A. Schedule 4 refers to the Baluchistan race of Asiatic black bear. The Baluchistan race was originally on Appendix II but the CITES Convention in Costa Rica added the whole species to that appendix. So my amendment is to insert " selenarctos Thibetanus— Asiatic black bear" which covers all the Asiatic black bears, and that is correct as they are all now on Appendix I.
In these amendments, apart from the corrections to which I have just referred—and they are only really for the record—I have suggested grouping only where members of the endangered species are on the first or second appendix. With these amendments we go a long way towards affording protection, although I am aware that there are species, such as iguanas and birds, which are not in Appendix I and have been omitted from my proposals because some of the species are not in Appendix II either. So in moving this amendment and praising the new schedule as it stands, I ask the Minister how the Government, without my amendments, can hope to enforce the schedule as it stands. I do not know, and neither does the controller of the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Unit. I beg to move.
I am grateful to my noble friend for speaking to all these amendments en bloc. I should like to say before going further that we accept Amendment No. 251A, which deals with a drafting error. I must say at the outset that the species of animals listed in the Bill under the proposed Schedule 4 to the 1976 Act are those which are regarded as endangered. As my noble friend has explained, the list is that used under the 1976 Act and is basically Appendix I of the Washington Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Trade in the species on that appendix for commercial purposes is not allowed. Conversely, commercial trade in species not on that appendix is allowed.It may also help noble Lords to see these amendments in perspective if I remind the Committee that all the species mentioned—and to be mentioned up to Amendment No. 271—by my noble friend are subject to full licensing control on import or export. For all parts and derivatives from these species that are considered readily recognisable by customs officers, there is also licensing control. It is not the Government's purpose to restrict trade in species that are not in danger, and the effect of the new controls on selling is to ensure that without extending customs coverage of imports to a ridiculously wide range of goods, it is nevertheless not legal for a trader to make a profit by selling goods on the basis that they are worth more because they derive from a species in danger of extinction. I should be reluctant to add to the new Schedule 4 of the 1976 Act any species in which commercial trade is permitted under the convention. To do so would entail the consideration of a licence for the sale of these species or any part or derivative from them, and this would constitute too heavy a burden on legitimate trade and have no useful conservation benefit. Therefore, as we have the Washington Convention, by which we abide, we are not at all in favour of accepting any of my noble friend's amendments and I hope that he will withdraw them.
I followed what the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, had to say as best I could, and it seemed to me that there was a great deal more in some of the points than the noble Lord, Lord Cullen, has given him credit for. For example, if it is completely impossible to tell the difference between two species of ocelot and if the noble Lord cannot do it, if I cannot do it, if the customs officers cannot do it and if no expert in this country can do it, how can it be sensible to list one as being banned from trade and the other as not being banned from trade? It simply makes the banning a mockery; it is a nonsense; there is absolutely no point in doing it. It would be sensible to take that off Appendix I, but of course the noble Lord and the Government cannot do that because they would be in breach of the CITES Convention. Therefore, it seems to me that they are saying "All right, we will obey the letter of the law, but we will make darn sure that it does not work in practice by not listing something which is indistinguishable from the species that we are banning from trade". That is just one narrow point of a number which the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, raise, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Cullen, did not even begin to respond.
The basic point is whether or not we stick to the Washington Convention. If what my noble friend has said about the "look alike" problem is true—and I have no doubt that it is—then it would be up to the Washington Convention to alter its appendices, because this is an international convention and we should all go with it. It is very likely that we would make that suggestion to the Washington Convention.
If that is to be the stance of Her Majesty's Government at the Washington Convention meeting in New Delhi and of this country internationally on world conservation matters, it is a deplorable state of affairs. We were one of the first countries to ratify this convention. Originally we introduced legislation to ensure that we could control endangered species by using a section of the legislation left over from the Second World War, in order that we could be in the forefront of setting an example to the rest of the world.It seems to me to be deplorable for a developed and rich country like ours not to give some sort of lead to the developing world, where economic problems and economic pressures on people are far greater than they are in this country, bad though it may be here at present. For the noble Lord to say, "We will stick to the letter of the Washington Convention, even though we know that that means that our own domestic legislation is a mockery, is totally unenforceable, but that does not matter", surely is not the attitude that this country should take internationally on a matter like this, and it certainly is not the attitude that, so far as I am aware, this country has taken up to now.
I have not yet spoken, although the Opposition Front Bench has spoken quite a lot this afternoon. Of course, we are going to Delhi with a good plan, and, of course, we are going to Delhi hoping to lead as we have done before. There is no doubt that this Government's attitude will be as it was at the last conference, and we hope to achieve as much and to lead as we did at the last conference. Having said that, we shall certainly read what my noble friend Lord Craigton said and of course we shall see whether we can adapt in some way. But I must back up my noble fridnd Lord Cullen about the Washington Convention; it is there to be our guideline.
I think that we must press Her Majesty's Government a little more on this recognition point. Let us assume that a chap comes before the customs officer with a load of ivory, puts on a blank face and says, "This is African elephant ivory" when, in fact, it is Indian elephant ivory. The customs officer would not have the slightest clue whether or not it was African. Surely, this is a matter about which we should do something, and we should not allow such a trade to continue. This recognition point seems to me to be the most important of all the points made by my noble friend Lord Craigton. Perhaps the Government could say, "Yes, we will go away and look at this; we understand that this is a major problem, and we must try to do something about it". If they do not do anything about it, from what I have heard it seems that a coach and horses could be driven through the legislation. Please will they go away and think about it constructively and hard, in order to put right this very important matter?
Surely the noble Lord appreciates that these international conferences frequently produce a result which is the lowest possible denominator. Surely we are interested enough in conservation to take a lead in advance of a conference. This is one way of achieving our object at a conference. It is quite extraordinary that the Government should shelter behind an international conference and will not take any action over these species where clearly the law cannot be enforced. It is a mockery.
In order to save time, may I say to the noble Earl, Lord Avon, that I was extremely grateful for his response and for his commitment on behalf of the Government to look at this. I am sure that that will also satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Craigton.
Before my noble friend replies, I, too, should like to support what my noble friends have said. I appreciate what my noble friend Lord Onslow has said. I am sure that the Government are well aware of my noble friend's words of wisdom, but it is slightly annoying that their actions are dragging behind what is necessary. Surely it would be practical for the Government to table amendments before their noble friends and the Opposition do so for them.
I had rather anticipated the reply which my noble friend on the Front Bench gave. I wanted to raise this matter—and I am grateful for noble Lords' support—because we are genuinely and gravely worried about the question of the "look alikes". We wanted to bring pressure to bear on the Government to make them realise that this is not something which we can stand idly by and watch happen. There is the debate at CITES in New Delhi, and it is timely that this debate should take place now because I am sure that this subject will be discussed at New Delhi. My noble friend Lord Avon said that we will lead as before.I do not know whether your Lordships know that at Costa Rica the Government representative—the civil servant concerned—with the assistance of the non-governmental organisations, achieved a most wonderful series of successes at the Washington Convention. We have much to thank him for and I am glad to hear that we shall endeavour to do the same again. I leave it at that. I am grateful that the Government have promised to look at this matter again. I thank the noble Lord for the Himalayan black bear. I think that we shall have to add the wolf because, likewise, that is a clerical error. On that note, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[ Amendments Nos. 245 to 251 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 251A:
Page 57, leave out lines 20 and 21 and insert:
|("Selenarctos Thibetanus||Asiatic Black Bear").|
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[ Amendments Nos. 252 to 271 not moved.]
Schedule 9, as amended, agreed to.
[ Amendment No. 271A not moved.]
Clause 15 [ Power to grant licences]:
[ Amendment No. 272 not moved.]
I have to point out that if Amendment No. 273 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 274.
moved Amendment No. 273:
Page 14, line 35, leave out paragraph (f).
The noble Lord said: Matters have moved rather quickly, and I beg your Lordships' pardon while I find the place in the Bill.
While the noble Lord is doing that, could I suggest that we discuss Amendment No. 274 at the same time, because it is a modified version of the noble Lord's amendment?
I am delighted that we should consider it at the same time if that meets the wishes of your Lordships' Committee. Mine is a more general and probing amendment. There is this worrying remark, statement, sentence at the beginning of Clause 15:
Then it goes on to list a number of motives for doing things which immediately give a blanket exemption from everything in Sections 1 to 8. Even if every single one of these purposes is correct it does not seem to be a very good thing. Admittedly it has to be done under, and in accordance with, the terms of a licence granted by the appropriate authority. But it is sufficient to say that there are whole areas here which give rather more leeway to the Secretary of State than one would normally have wanted in a Bill of this kind. I have put down two amendments, one of which I share with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, Amendment No. 276. They are probing amendments to find out exactly what is intended by the Government, how they justify these particular exemptions, and to allow them to give what I think are very necessary assurances that the permissions that they give, and the licences they give, will be very limited, and will deal with specific points which they have already thought about and which they are now prepared to explain to your Lordships' Committee. The first one I have chosen with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, is paragraph (f). Licences can be granted to do anything in Sections 1 to 8," Sections 1 to 8 do not apply to anything done—"
I repeat,"…for the purpose of providing food for human consumption or for poultry, ornamental ducks, ornamental geese, or swans; "
That seems fairly wide in itself, if it really does give blanket powers to the Secretary of State, and it is not necessarily acceptable as it stands. But the second half of it I do not understand one little bit. I understand,"… for the purpose of providing food for human consumption ".
but I do not understand the second half. Is the grammar of this that it is,"for the purpose of providing food for human consumption",
or is it even more recondite than that? Why indeed, if it means that, should you have to take special steps and give licences under Sections 1 to 8 in order to feed ornamental ducks? I am completely baffled by the second half of this, and I look forward with interest to the Government's explanation. I beg to move."… for the purpose of providing food … for poultry, ornamental ducks, ornamental geese or swans;"
May I speak to my amendment, which is the next one? First, I should like to agree with the generalities which the noble Lord put forward as to the whole of these exceptions. We want to scrutinise them very carefully and see that the exceptions are limited and, so far as possible, specific, and I shall move amendments to that effect a little later. In relation to this particular amendment it clearly is historical in some sense. It makes no sense in this country whatever. Because the collecting of any form of egg is forbidden, except for the collecting of gulls' eggs for human consumption, it should make that available by licence. We do not want everybody collecting gulls' eggs everywhere, but those people who wish to do so can perfectly well get a licence to do so. That is as far as it should go. The other things in the amendment, as the noble Lord said.
are entirely irrelevant and should be cut out, though my amendment is only to insert the one thing which is sensible; and I hope that of the two amendments noble Lords might prefer mine."… poultry, ornamental ducks, ornamental geese or swans;"
I should like only to strike a slight note of discord here. If this amendment means that everybody has to get a licence to collect gulls' eggs, I think that the Government would be in great danger of seeing this law disobeyed very often. That would be a pity, because this includes the eggs of the black-headed gull and a vast number of people throughout the country pick them up and eat them and sell them, and all the rest of it. The black-headed gull, as we all know, and the RSPB know very well, is a bird which if you take its nest the first time will go and lay a second nest. It is in no danger whatever of being in short supply. I hope that this amendment does not go quite so far as I think it does.
May I say a word on that? The intention of this amendment, and like that of the noble Lord it is a probing amendment, is that we want to stop the freedom given under paragraph (f) that if the purpose is
you cannot get a licence for it. We do not want to exclude the perfectly legitimate collection of gulls' eggs. I have no doubt that in certain areas for commercial collection it might be desirable to get licences, but for individuals collecting where there are plenty if a means can be found of making this all right, I should not object."providing food for … poultry, ornamental ducks, ornamental geese or swans; "
Can my noble friend answer this? As I read it, it means that you can apply for a licence to feed a black-necked grebe to your ornamental swan? Is that true? If it is, it seems a funny state of affairs. I may, needless to say, have utterly misread the clause.
These exceptions subject to the granting of a licence go very wide indeed. I wonder whether somebody sat down to find all the possibilities of the situation and stick them on the list, because we come in a moment to,
Then we come to photography. I wonder there is not a paragraph at the end, "and for any other purpose not covered by the above". The wide descriptions of possible exceptions subject to licence suggest that somebody is contemplating very wide permission to escape the probitions of the new law. When one looks at the principal clauses concerned I to 8 and 9 to 12, and then looks at the provisions here in Clause 15 regarding animals and birds, one wonders whether there will be any real protection at all. Considering that the licences can be granted as freely as some bureacracy decides, or depending on how ready they are to respond to strong claims for exemption, it seems to me that far too much licence has been given for the issue of licences. That is why 1 support the amendment relating to paragraph (f) and it may not be necessary for me to speak again on paragraphs (h) or (j). These conditions of licence need to be scrutinised with care because this is the final let-out in the Bill. While all the others that go before are quite extensive on their own, this is the final one because, subject to a licence, one can do all the things that are prohibited earlier in the Bill and listed under these various headings." for the purposes of any public exhibition or competition; ".
Surely at the end of the day one would have to convince the licensing authority that one had a case, and I have always found it difficult to convince civil servants that I have a case; they are always very well prepared by Ministers and people like the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. I think the noble Lord has missed the point. One cannot do it just because it says in the Bill that one is providing food for an ornamental duck; one must convince the licensing authority that it needs to be done.
I assure the noble Lord that I have not missed the point. It is just that perhaps he has greater confidence in bureacracy than I have.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has raised an interesting point. I have raised it personally and so far I have had no satisfactory answer. I would therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment at this stage, and if I still do not have a satisfactory answer by Report, I shall ensure that the offending few words are removed—that is, not the gulls' eggs for human consumption part of it but the ornamental side of the amendment. As I say, I have been trying to find the answer but have so far failed to do so.Coming to the gulls' eggs side of the matter, in particular Amendment No. 274, I do not know to what extent the Committee would like me to deal with general licensing at this stage, but this is an ex- cellent example of where one would have a blanket licence for the collection of gulls' eggs. Later, when we come to specific licences—again an amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson—I shall make the point that this is the sort of example where we do not want to be all that specific because it would obviously be impossible to licence everybody collecting gulls' eggs in Scotland. I would remind the Committee that in an earlier debate I explained that to sell gulls' eggs also needed a licence. I assure the Committee that we do not intend to issue licences that would go beyond what is allowed in the 1954 Act, and of course none would be issued to allow the taking of eggs of species in areas where it could harm the conservation status of that species. However, we resist the amendment, as it would, among other things, prevent the issue of licences to take the eggs of the lapwing, which currently can be done before 15th April. There is not, we are informed, a conservation case for introducing a total ban on this traditional activity. If in the future it was shown scientifically to be necessary, licences would not be issued. I hope I have made myself clear to the noble Lord.
Yes, but I should like to see what sort of amendment the Government produce. There are difficulties here. I do not wish to make it illegal to pick up a gull's egg. On the other hand, I do not wish to agree to blanket licences, something that could be most dangerous, although we shall discuss that on a later amendment. I am therefore in rather a dilemma in knowing how to play this hand. It might be possible to have a licence covering a very limited area, or something of that sort, so that the collection of gulls' eggs, about which we heard such a sad story concerning Scotland, could be carried out in that area. However, this is a probing amendment and we shall be interested to see what the Government produce on this subject. On that basis, I beg to ask leave—
First may I say a brief word about the lapwing? I remember that in 1954 and 1967 we had endless discussions about the taking of lapwings' eggs. That has not arisen yet, but obviously the taking of their eggs would be covered by the amendment and I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on this later in the Bill. As I understand it, under the 1954 Act is was possible to take lapwings' eggs before 15th April in any year and to sell them, but under the 1967 Act it was made illegal to take the eggs of this species before 15th April, and the sale of the eggs was also forbidden.I understand that the EEC Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds prohibits the taking of birds' eggs except under licence. That applies to all birds except those on the pest list. In future, therefore, it will be illegal to take lapwings' eggs at any time except by licence, and I presume the same applies to gulls' eggs for human consumption. It will be necessary, I understand, to have a licence to take the eggs of any bird other than those listed in Part II of Schedule 2. Licences will no doubt be given for those purposes, certainly for gulls' eggs and maybe for lapwings' eggs, but presumably—and I hope I am right in saying this—they will be given to persons only if they can demonstrate that they have the landowners' permission and that there is no conservation problem. I shall be grateful if my noble friend can confirm at a later stage what I have said.
That emphasises the weakness of the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Avon, that this would be a good case for general licences; if we are to ensure that the landowner's permission has been given, that of necessity must mean that licences are specific.
If a general licence were given subject to the landlowner's permission, that would not necessarily follow.
So far as my amendment is concerned—the one which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, was trying to withdraw—I have some sympathy with him because I am delighted that the Minister is seeking an explanation himself. When he has got it, I trust he will share it with me, I hope in ample time for the Report stage. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[ Amendment No. 274 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 275:
Page 14, line 38, leave out paragraph (g).
The noble Earl said: I shall, with permission, speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 278, 314 and 319, which are consequential. These are complementary and technical amendments which have the effect of transferring the purpose of preserving public health or public or air safety for the granting of a licence from paragraph ( g) to the paragraph before ( k). If this is done, the three public policy purposes will be listed consecutively. This sequence of listing will also accord with the sequence used in Amendment No. 52, to which your Lordship agreed as long ago as 27th January. The latter amendments, Nos. 314 and 319, adjust the appropriate reference in the context of the licensing authority and on consultation as a consequence of the proposed change. I beg to move.
I am content to support the amendment.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 276:
Page 14, line 40, leave out paragraph (h).
The noble Lord said: This is, so far as I am concerned, another probing amendment, although the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, may have deeper motives than I have. The Notes on Clauses say:
" The Bill includes in Clause 6 a restriction on exhibition for competition purposes. The new purpose is included to allow the possibility of other birds, besides those in Schedule 3, being exhibited ".
That is a very wide little piece of legislation, is it not? to empower the Secretary of State to produce licences
in order to exempt from the whole of Clauses 1 to 8 for what is a rather small purpose. However, that is the wider question which I have already said something about.
On the rather narrower question, surely the correct way to deal with the possibility of birds other than those in Schedule 3 being exhibited is to expand Schedule 3, rather than to make possible this blanket exemption. I am a humble seeker after knowledge, and with those words I beg to move.
I think that I can help the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, a little on this matter. This new purpose has been included as a consequence of the restrictions placed on the competitive showing of wild birds in Clause 6, which limits such showing to specimens of species listed in Schedule 3, Part I, and would permit the showing of captive-bred specimens of other species under licence, subject as usual to consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council. We would not normally expect to issue such a licence for birds which have not been captive bred. As aviculturists improve their ability to breed certain species, this licensing provision will be of value in monitoring the progress of certain species from the category that cannot normally be freely exhibited to the ultimate addition to Schedule 3, Part I. That is something which my noble friend Lord Cranbrook may rather like. I hope that I have clarified this point sufficiently for the noble Lord.
Yes, indeed; I am grateful to the noble Earl, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 277:
Page 15, leave out line 1.
The noble Lord said: I made a general comment on this clause a moment or two ago. I should like to know in what conditions photography would justify the granting of a licence to do something which otherwise would be unlawful. What kind of situation is envisaged in the granting of a licence for the purpose of photography? Is it to kill something in order to take a photograph of it, or what? I am a little dim on this. I cannot understand why it is necessary to grant a licence to do something dreadful to a living thing—an act which otherwise would be unlawful, but which is justified if one has a licence for the purpose of photography. Any good ideas that come from the Front Bench opposite I shall be prepared to consider. I beg to move.
I should like to say a few words on this point, since I have suffered from it in Scotland, where I have some very rare birds, such as the peregrine, the golden eagle, and one or two others. I am all for having photographers licensed. I understand that they will be licensed on the advice of the Nature Conservancy Council by, I suppose, the Secretary of State, but will the landowner be informed when the licence is granted? I ask that because I think of instances involving amateur photographers, many of whom come and ask, "Where is the eyrie?" If we do not like the look of them, we always send them in the opposite direction. Many people come along saying that they are ornithologists or are members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Of course they may be members of the society, but that does not mean that they are very expert at photographing extremely rare and shy birds. I should like to ask my noble friend on the Front Bench whether the landowner is told that people are coming to take photographs of his rare birds. I do not really understand how this works.
I do not see how it would work under a general licence; I quite agree. From the RSPB point of view, we think it desirable that most careful restrictions be imposed regarding photographing certain rare birds in certain rare conditions, and that it is done only under rather scarce licence. Apart from that, people who like to photograph birds can go to our reserves, where there is no landlord who has to be asked. From hides which we provide, they can, without licence, take what photographs they like of anything they happen to see. That is about as much as we can do for the bird photographers, I think, but the scientist must be looked after.
The Nature Conservancy Council has been empowered to give approval to the photographing of wild birds since the offence of disturbing birds while nesting was created in the Protection of Birds Act 1967. There is therefore an established procedure for authorising photography. The offence of disturbance will under the Bill be extended from nesting birds to include young birds; that is in Schedule 1. There is a need therefore to modify the arrangements for authorising photography, and it is sensible to incorporate them within the licensing procedures. The availability of a licensing arrangement will enable the Nature Conservancy Council, as licensing authority, to determine who would be a suitable person to be allowed to photograph specially protected birds during for instance, the breeding season and to assess the circumstances in which photography should be allowed. I would submit that the alternative to a licensing system would be a total disregard for the disturbance of the birds—which I think some noble Lords have already been hinting at.So far as landowners are concerned, the licence will enable them to see whether someone should be on their ground taking photographs. The licence also makes it clear that it does not give authority to enter land in circumstances which would be trespass. Bearing that in mind, I think that this photography is a process which, provided it is subject to strict licensing, is of benefit to people in all walks of life. I hope that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful for that explanation, and I am persuaded. Therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 278:
Page 15, line 1, at end insert—
(" ( jj) for the purpose of preserving public health or public or air safety; ").
The noble Earl said: I am grateful to my noble friends for having tabled this amendment. It is a logical consequence to the amendment to Clause 4 which has already been accepted. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 279:
Page 15, line 5, after (" to ") insert (" livestock ").
The noble Earl said: I apologise to the Committee; I spoke to this amendment on the previous amendment, which was consequential. This amendment has been tabled by three of my noble friends. It is a logical consequence of the amendment which was made to Clause 4. I beg to move.
Before the amendment is agreed to I wish very briefly to repeat some of the points that I made when this matter last arose. We can agree to this amendment only on condition that we are given a new definition of "livestock", and I want confirmation that we are to be given that. We do not agree to game birds being included in the definition of livestock because we think it is impossible to protect birds of prey, if a licence to shoot can be got if they take game birds which are being reared in the wild. This matter has been fully discussed, but it depends on the definition which we have not yet had. I wish to reserve my position on this matter, with all guns firing, in case something goes wrong later.
The idea is that the definition that we now have of "livestock" will be withdrawn. There will therefore be no definition of livestock, on the grounds that the normal dictionary definition will be used, rather than a definition especially intended for the Bill.
Does that mean domestic creatures? If it does, I am content.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 280:
Page 15, line 5, after (" to ") insert (" sheep or lambs ").
The noble Lord said: We had hoped that the bronze medal which we had been given under Amendment No. 279 might have been extended to No. 280. I certainly feel that sheep and lambs should be included here, and I will not weary your Lordships by speaking any longer. I beg to move.
As an amateur shepherd of some standing, I am happy to agree to this.
This really is consequential on the one before, because having put in, by Amendment No. 279, the word "livestock", sheep and lambs are of course included.
In view of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 281:
Page 15, line 5, leave out (" any other form of property or to ").
The noble Earl said: This amendment is again consequential on two amendments which have been accepted, Nos. 43 and 52. It would remove from the purposes for which a licence could be issued against birds the prevention of serious damage to "any other form of property". This removal is necessitated by the terms of Article 9 of the European Community directive. I beg to move.
Can my noble friend confirm that he is looking at the question of the words, "any other form of property ", in view of the precedent I gave him when we last discussed this?
Yes. I think it was my noble friend Lord Stanley who told the Committee, when we were considering Clause 4, that he considered that the revised provisions in that clause would not adequately provide for emergency control to deal with all forms of serious damage if these words were omitted. We are looking at that again. We believe that all situations where control measures require killing or taking are covered by one or other of the purposes listed in Clause 15(1). However, I know of my noble friend's concern and I will let him know by letter if I am wrong.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[ Amendment No. 282 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 283:
Page 15, line 8, leave out (" appropriate authority ") and insert (" Nature Conservancy Council ").
The noble Lord said: We start a new topic of discussion here, and, if the Committee agree, I should like to speak to, first, Amendment No. 283, which is the amendment called, and also to Nos. 289, 293, 304, 308 and 316. The issue here, put in its bluntest way, is: is the right body to issue licences a body which represents one part of the community only? It is almost inevitable that at some time, however fair they may be, they will favour the farmer, whom they represent, rather than the nature lover or the conservancy lover, who will be asking for something. At the moment I think the relationship between farmers and nature lovers is not half bad. We have had very little trouble in your Lordships' House, and we have some fairly extreme representatives on both sides, of which I am happy to be one, though I also belong to the other because for many years I have made a living farming. But the fact remains that it is a highly questionable decision to take one department of government, which in many ways is the best of the lot (it is a jolly good department, and I have had to deal with it for years) but whose main interest is one particular side of the problem, and give it the right to check people on the other side who wish to go a little further.
We believe that the correct thing to do would be to give this right to the Nature Conservancy Council. The Nature Conservancy Council is the Government's adviser on conservancy as a whole; conservancy includes agriculture, and is meant to include agriculture; so there would be no loss from the agricultural point of view. At the moment it looks as if, for various purposes under the Bill, there would be at least four separate Government departments empowered to grant licences; that is to say, the Secretary of State for the Environment himself, MAFF, the Nature Conservancy Council and also, presumably, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries of Scotland, the Scottish Home and Health Departments and the Welsh Office. This is the kind of thing which is always apt to happen, and I think that a Bill of this kind is the sort of place where this ought to be straightened out and made absolutely clear.
Our earnest wish is that the granting of licences should be the duty of the Nature Conservancy Council in discussion with whatever appropriate department is involved. This means that you would always go to the same place—the Nature Conservancy Council has regional offices, and a telephone call to the regional office would deal with the thing—they could build up a case history of the way they dealt with this, which if you had several departments engaged it would be very difficult to do; and clearly you would get a much quicker answer than if you had to consult three or four departments. I really think it is unanswerable.
Certainly the EEC directive on the conservation of wild birds requires member states to send a report to the Commission each year on the implementation of Article 9. This is the article which allows for delegations (which are the things we have been talking about) under this subsection (1), thus making provision for the granting of licences; and, clearly, if one body were handling licences I think the report would be a great deal more accurate and probably a good deal more punctual than it would be if it was done in any other way.
There are one or two changes in current practice which, were my amendment to fail, would cause a good deal of concern among the voluntary nature conservation bodies and the many thousands of people who appreciate our wildlife. There is a considerable involvement of the Ministry of Agriculture in the licensing arrangements as presently drafted in the Bill, and I recognise that they and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland have a considerable interest, particularly where the potential exists for birds or mammals to seriously damage crops or property. But it must be recognised that their interest reflects the wishes of one group, the agricultural industry, out of many others who may be involved.
In the past the Ministry has not always had our unqualified approval when handling problems associated with such damage. The licensed culling of oyster catchers authorised by MAFF a few years ago springs to mind. The scientific evidence upon which the authority for the cull was based was conflicting, based on widely inaccurate figures and generally most unsatisfactory. I am pleased that the culling of oyster catchers at the Burry Inlet, at least, has now ceased. That is a very good example of exactly the sort of thing which should not have happened but which did happen.
I realise that there is an element of conflict of interest here, but I am in any case opposed to the granting of sweeping licensing powers which could be abused, and, as I have said before, in a short while I shall move amendments to deal with this. But I should like to look in a little detail at the position of birds in Schedule 1 to the existing Protection of Birds Act—those rare species which will continue, with minor amendments, to be carried forward in this Bill. In the 1967 Act powers were taken to enable licences to be granted to take or kill specially protected birds in order to prevent serious damage to crops or property. Such licences, however, would only be issued by the Secretary of State after consultation with the appropriate advisory committee on wild birds. Thus, a good case had to be made, and the evidence carefully and properly considered, before a licence could be issued to allow someone to kill one of the rare birds listed in Schedule 1.
But in this Bill the power to grant licences for such purposes will be extended to cover all birds, including the rarer ones, and the package handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture. This is a major departure from what already exists and works quite well. I find the prospect of this really rather daunting and, from our point of view, quite unacceptable. The Schedule 1 species are the ones for which we must make the maximum effort, allowing the birds to be killed only if all other solutions are tried and have failed. A cool, impartial and scientific assessment of the facts must be made. This seems to be a retrograde step.
If my argument is accepted that, on the grounds of efficiency and economy, one agency alone should handle the licensing, it seems logical that that should be the Nature Conservancy Council. The Nature Conservancy Council does not want these powers; they are not anxious to do this job. I can hardly blame them. They are not given enough money to do properly what they already have to do. But somebody must do the licensing and, surely, it is far more appropriate that they should do it. Why should it cost them more than it costs MAFF to do it? At worst, if the Government will not accept my view and would make a compromise, at least the Department of the Environment is, at any rate, neutral and has a responsibility for conservancy of a stronger kind even than that of MAFF.
I think the kind of argument which may be used against my point is that it is very likely that the most informed local advisers are the ADAS ones; but this Government have been constantly cutting them back, have reduced their strength very much and have been trying to encourage them not to do things outside their purely farming business. So I think that that argument falls to the ground. I feel strongly about this and I very much hope that we can be given some satisfaction from the Government over this which is the first really major point we have had this afternoon. I beg to move.
I was interested in the approach made by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. I wonder whether my noble friend could help us. The Secretary of State must ultimately be responsible, I understand for issuing licences. Will they not therefore be issued by a Government department rather than an advisory body? If that is so, one could achieve part of Lord Donaldson's objective by the department (whatever department it might be) issuing the licence on the advice of the NCC. This might be the right way. If I had to choose between the Department of the Environment and the Department of Agriculture then, as a countryman, I am bound to say that I would take the Department of Agriculture every time.
Before my noble friend replies, could I say to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, that I do not agree entirely with the arguments which he has put forward. The reasons are these. First and foremost, the NCC is an agency and not any part of Government. As he himself said it is an advisory body. I know that the RSPB would like the NCC to take this on. Indeed, the noble Lord is producing the RSPB argument this afternoon. But we must look at past and present experience in this. If one looks at what happened in the Berwyn Mountains, it was there that the NCC, acting under great pressure from the RSPB, brought in something which was going to take over a vast area of Wales under an SSSI. This is just an example of how strong is the RSPB in the councils of the NCC. The noble Lord is quite right when he says that the NCC do not wish to take this on. I do not think it would be an appropriate job for them to do.As to his argument against the Ministry of Agriculture dealing with this, I can only speak for the part of the world that I come from. I believe that the attitudes of the Ministry of Agriculture are not quite as he put them. I would say that the Ministry of Agriculture is far the best of the various authorities which he brought forward this afternoon. I will not say more except that I hope the Government will not accept this amendment.
I, too, should like to support what my noble friends Lord Home and Lord Gibson-Watt have said about this. When the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said that the last people who want these powers are the NCC, he was speaking words of gospel truth. The Department of the Environment, the Secretary of State, have the task of appointing this body. They are a very sensible, wise, advisory body. Advising is their function. I should have thought that in this country the last thing that we would want to do is to give a scientific advisory body actual, factual powers of saying yea or nay. You will make for them enemies they do not want. You will give them powers they do not want.The Ministry of Agriculture is concerned with one of the main industries of this country, the production of food. Yet they are people who are of the country. They are well aware of where the laws of nature and agriculture cross. They do cross, we know. Sometimes, for more yield, one can do things which are not good for nature. The Ministry of Agriculture are not fools, I would suggest. I do not think they are peopled by hardfaced bureaucrats, but they are people who put on gumboots and get about the countryside. I should like to suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, in trying to press this amendment—and it is not just this amendment, but the principle we are coming to in future amendments—should not try to make two Government departments fight each other. The Department of Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture should be complementary. We must not try to create obstacles where they do not exist.
Could the noble Lord explain whether he is opposed to the NCC issuing any licences—which is what I take from his words? In that case, is he objecting to Clause 15(8)(c) where the Bill gives the NCC power to issue licences under a number of provisions of the clause? This seems to contradict what the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, had to say and also some of the remarks that the noble Lord, Lord Home, made earlier.
I want to say a word about this. I feel strongly about it. In a long experience of farming, I have always dealt either with the Ministry of Agriculture in England or the Ministry of Agriculture in Scotland. I have never had to deal with the NCC and I think most farmers would find it rather strange if they suddenly had to deal with another organisation which they have never had anything to do with because no question of interference with conservancy had ever arisen. The Secretary of State for Scotland, whom the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, mentioned, is the authority which I think is the right authority to be used on this and other occasions where agriculture is involved. It is the same thing with the Ministry of Agriculture. I am all for consulting with the NCC if required and for their giving such advice if asked to do so but I do not think that they should be a licensing authority.
As some noble Lords know, I am a member of the NCC. I am not their spokesman but, naturally, my views on this particular subject reflect theirs, as we have discussed this matter at some length. May I for two or three minutes put on the record what generally speaking they feel about it or, at any rate, what I feel about it? I feel that the status quo should be maintained whereby the Department of the Environment and the Scottish Department remain the licensing authority for all purposes where a balance is needed between conservation and any other interests. The department currently exercises this role in local orders and through specific licences for Schedule I birds. The NCC, I feel sure, are willing to continue to administer those elements of licensing, such as licences for scientific research, ringing, marking or photography, which do not involve reaching judgments beyond those relating to the interests of wildlife conservation—in other words, only those things which are consistent with their present statutory role. A logical arrangement therefore would be for the DoE and the Scottish Department to be the sole licensing authority for those areas where the question of balance enters into consideration. That really ought to include agricultural damage. I do not think it is right that the Ministry of Agriculture should be judge and jury in its own case. They have a very special job to do for agriculture. I doubt whether they have the expertise or the capacity to ensure that the need for pest control was properly substantiated—at any rate, without the advice of the Nature Conservancy Council—that methods other than killing had been adequately explored or that the terms and conditions of any licence were properly enforced.I doubt very much whether that is really a job for the Ministry of Agriculture, though they are of course under an obligation to consult the Nature Conservancy Council if this job remains with them. The DoE has and should continue to have the primary administrative responsibility for conservation purposes for anything basically within the Protection of Birds Act. There is a major point which is that quite frankly the Nature Conservancy Council, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has admitted, do not have the resources. Even if we had them we would not want to do these jobs for which we do not have the knowledge or expertise. I think that it would be rather ridiculous to expect the Nature Conservancy Council to issue licences for the purpose of preserving public health or public safety, which they are down for at the moment, for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease or for these agricultural purposes. That does not come within their remit. The Bill has the balance just about right, excepting that there is, so far as the Nature Conservancy Council is concerned, something in Clause 15(2)(e) which is right outside the responsibility of the Nature Conservancy Council:
That cannot be the Nature Conservancy's job. I would have thought that the DoE should have that. I hope very much that the Bill will remain broadly as it is and that these very heavy responsibilities will not be put on a body which really is not appropriate." for the purpose of preserving public health or public safety ".
I have my name down on this amendment. I hope the Government will consider it and, if they cannot accept it, then come back to it at Report stage. Having read the different matter on it, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, that it seems sensible that the Nature Conservancy Council should be given this task. It is appropriate and I cannot see why it should cause any ill-feeling in any way. In reading all the matter which I have read about it from different bodies, I would have thought that they should not be afraid to take this on. If they need more money, surely that is one body for which the Government should try to find a means of supplying the necessary finance.
Having listened to the arguments, I am not sure that the Bill, as it stands, is satisfactory. Who is to know which the appropriate authority is? I should be hard put to judge myself. But I understand the objection to the Nature Conservancy Council being the licence-granting authority. It should be the Ministry of Agriculture in consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council.
May I respond to Lord Donald-son's Amendment No. 283 and speak, as he did, to Amendment Nos. 289, 293, 304, 308 and 316 first. On the territorial matters, the aim is to have a Great British licence and a Great British licensing authority as such. I feel that I should open by saying a few words about the Ministry of Agriculture. I should like to allay what I think are groundless fears by assuring the Committee that the Ministry fully intends to operate on the principles outlined by my noble friend Lord Bellwin in the Second Reading debate; that is, that licences will be issued in accordance with policies which take account of the extent of damage caused, the conservation status of the species involved and the availability of alternate methods of preventing the damage. I should also like to say that there is an administrative agreement between my department and the Ministry of Agriculture that all Schedule 1 birds will be licensable by only the DoE.
That is not in the Bill, is it? This is an internal agreement?
If I could repeat myself, this is an administrative agreement; an internal agreement. Regarding licensing, my noble friend Lord Home asked whether the NCC could give a licence. I nodded the wrong way at the time. They can give licences. As my noble friend Lord Chelwood mentioned, they have been giving licences for photography and will continue to do so. As one or two noble Lords pointed out, the responsibility rests with the Government no matter which part of it is the licensing authority for any particular purpose. However, we have attempted to give the responsibility to that branch of Government which is best equipped to exercise it. Thus while licences for the photography of birds which are based solely on the scientific judgment has been allocated to the NCC, licences for precautions against spread of disease or the safeguarding of crops will go through the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, whereas for all other purposes they will go through the Department of the Environment.The amount of scientific judgment varies between the purposes listed in the Bill and for example the purpose listed under paragraph (b) of Clause 15(8) are considered basically to involve no scientific decisions. However, for all these purposes—and this is an important point—there is a built-in requirement to consult with the advisory bodies just as now; a procedure which has worked well. Where the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is the licensing authority, the Bill makes provision for consultation with the Secretary of State, and the NCC, and, as I indicated in the Second Reading debate, the final licensing decisions should represent the balanced view of all the relevant interests. There is no question of anybody being judge and jury. The NCC is there to give all advice. That is their statutory obligation. I hope, bearing in mind these points, and considering the useful debate that we have had, that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, will appreciate that we have thought the matter through and have done the best to satisfy the conservation interests while balancing it with the procedure which is now happening.
I take it that when my noble friend mentioned the Ministry of Agriculture he included the Secretary of State for Scotland, because that is the authority in Scotland.
I must inform the noble Baroness of one fact about which she seems unaware: she has to consult the NCC anyway if she wants to do any works and claim grant aid if the land is an SSSI. Anybody in that position is already in touch. However, that is a detail.I shall read what the noble Earl has said very carefully. He told me a number of things of which I was not aware. I am not absolutely certain where it leaves me. I do not wish to retreat totally. I have the feeling that when we come to Amendments Nos. 309 and 313, pressing those might have the effect I am trying to produce. I am not sure yet and I must think about it. For the moment, and until the next stage —giving us time to read what the noble Earl said—I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 284:
Page 15, line 8, at end insert (" in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State ").
The noble Lord said: In moving my amendment could it be coupled with Amendments 290, 294 and 321, for which the first three amendments are in fact paving amendments? The first three say in various places on this page that the words,
in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State ",
should be inserted. Then they are followed up in Amendment 321, which says:
" Regulations made under this section shall make provision for an appeal against refusal of a grant of a licence by the appropriate authority ".
There are very few things in this country where a seeming injustice may have been brought about by a decision where an appeal cannot be made to some authority or other. It is for that reason that my noble friends and I have put down this amendment. I beg to move.
I am grateful to my noble friend for speaking to this amendment and perhaps I might also speak to the other three amendments, Nos. 290, 294 and 321. These four related amendments would effectively oblige the Secretary of State to make regulations covering the procedure for the granting of licences for all the purposes listed in Clause 15 of the Bill.It has never been the Government's intention to make licensing the subject of regulations. I appreciate the reasons why my noble friends have suggested this, but we believe it would be impracticable if not impossible for regulations to be made to cover every individual aspect of licensing. Each application will be different and the Government will have to consider, among other things, the applicant, the species and location, the time and proposed method of executing the activities to be licensed. The flexibility of the whole licensing system, which is illustrated by the list of aspects to consider, would be severely circumscribed by the rigidity of regulations to which licensing authorities would have to adhere. This does not mean that we have any intention of riding roughshod over any discipline or of acting improperly. I can assure my noble friends that we shall do our utmost to ensure that fair play and equal treatment will be given to all under the licensing procedures and that all application will be decided on the same basic criteria. Perhaps I might speak for a moment to Amendment No. 321 regarding the procedure for appeal against refusal to grant a licence. To do this would open the floodgates to a demand for appeals procedure against the issuing of licences for all manner of purposes. As in all administrative processes, the first round of appeal is to the licensing authority to reconsider its decision. This recourse has been open in the past and there have been several instances when they have been considered two or even three times. There are also cases when an initial decision has been reversed in the light of fresh information having been presented. Thereafter the powers of appeal, as now, lead a disappointed applicant to his Member of Parliament or to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. The Government are satisfied that the system already in existence gives adequate safeguards to applicants for licences and ensures that there is recourse for those who are refused licences. I am equally convinced that there is nothing to be gained from enshrining this in the present legislation. I very much hope that, with these assurances, my noble friends may feel able to withdraw their amendment.
As the noble Earl has said, I think quite rightly, that he does not like regulations but has indicated that he will talk about possible guidelines, would it be possible to publish those guidelines or let it be known what the criteria are—I think "criteria" was the word used. I am not quite sure of the difference between criteria and guidelines, but they are probably the same. Could the criteria be published?—because if they were I think it could save a lot of time for the licensing authorities by cutting down the number of frivolous applications for licenses and it would also stop the application for licences by people who have no hope of getting them.
I thank my noble friend for that intervention. I did actually refer to "aspects to consider" illustrated in this section; but I think that the Nature Conservancy Council might well wish to consider the idea of publishing certain of the basic criteria; and perhaps we might leave that to them to consider.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Avon for what he has said, and particularly with regard to a re-application to a licensing authority to review its decision. In the circumstances I see that it is a little difficult for a Minister himself to be the court of appeal for his own department. In view of what has been said on behalf of the Government—and I am grateful for the explanation of the position—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[ Amendments Nos. 285 to 290 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 291:
Page 15, line 26, at end insert—
(" ( ) The appropriate authority shall issue a licence only if the person applying for a licence satisfies them that the purpose of the issue of the licence cannot be achieved otherwise than by the issue of the licence.").
The noble Lord said: This amendment is intended to strengthen the conditions under which licences would be issued for certain purposes. I want to refer first of all to the EEC Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds. Article 9 allows for derogations from the provisions of Articles 5, 6, 7 and 8, which deal with the protection of birds—
"where there is no other satisfactory solution for the following reasons "—
and then the reasons for which they need to be satisfied that there is "no other satisfactory solution" but the granting of a licence relate to the interests of public health and safety, the interests of air safety, damage to crops and so forth. Those are the ones one would expect where satisfaction should be given that there is "no other satisfactory solution ".
Similarly, the Council of Europe Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats has an article in almost identical words. Article 9 of that convention allows for exceptions to be made to the provisions of Articles 4, 5, 6 and 7 which provide protection,
" provided there is no other satisfactory solution "—
and again for purposes under the convention similar to those specified for the EEC directive. We do not have in this Bill so far words of that definite kind,
" where there is no other satisfactory solution ".
What we do have is something a little milder than that, and, of course, we have the assurances of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, on what would be the Government's policy in the granting of licences. However, it would be better to include something in the Bill which is a little stronger, rather than to rely entirely on a description of how the licences would be granted. It has been suggested to me that an alternative to this amendment—a little weaker but more in line with what the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said—would be as follows:
" Page 15, after subsection (2) insert the following new clause—
' Before issuing an licence in respect of subsections (1)(k) and (1)(l) or subsections (2)(g) and (2)(h), the appropriate authority shall take account of the availability of alternative methods of control '.".
That might suit the Government better than the EEC directive and the Council of Europe convention. However, I hope that they will opt for the stronger alternative. But I keep the second, weaker version in reserve, in case I have to fall back on it at some sub-sequent stage.
All in all, the exceptions, the licences, the conditions of granting licences and the purposes for which licences are to be granted, worry me a great deal because, very often, these exceptions weaken the whole structure and purpose of legislation. I have seen so much of it in the statute law in my time in the hands of slack administration, or indulgence which was never intended at the time of passing the statute law, and I have seen the weakening of what was the original intention of providing some definite protection. That is why I feel it is quite reasonable to be pressing all the time against the possibility that licences, and the conditions for the granting of licences, may err on the side of generosity to those who seek to have them.
This amendment has a perfectly reasonable pedigree. After all, it is in line with the EEC directive, to which the Government should pay some regard. It is also in line with the Convention of the Council of Europe, to which the Government should also pay some regard. The two together add up to support for this amendment, and I sincerely hope that the noble Earl will have something favourable to say about it. I beg to move.
I do not suppose the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, will be surprised if I say that I am not very keen about this amendment. It would, as he knows, cause considerable delay and, by the time we received our licence—if we did—the damage would be done. I would just draw the Committee's attention to the words:
It is not very often that I feel sorry for civil servants, but I would feel very sorry for them if they were trying to interpret that phrase, particularly if they felt that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, was on one shoulder and I was on the other. It is asking a lot of them, although I know that we do ask a lot of them. But I really cannot support this amendment." the licence cannot be achieved otherwise ".
I do not feel terribly strongly about this amendment. I am entirely in agreement with what is in my noble friend's mind. In other words, if in considering the protection of crops against any kind of reserved animal there is a better way than giving permission to shoot it, then clearly a licence should not be given. That is common sense. I should have thought that the licensor would observe this anyway, but I should like to hear what the Government have to say.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. One is entirely sympathetic to the amendment. My main argument would be that it is rather unnecessary. I should like to open by saying that, of course, we understand the requirements of the European Community's directive and, indeed, have to comply with it and will do so. This amendment seeks to impose the specific requirement that an applicant for a licence shall satisfy the licence issuing authority of the need for its issue. But if we think of this deeply, the amendment is unnecessary as the licence-issuing authority responsible will not issue a licence if it is not required. In any case, it would be totally wrong to place the onus on the applicant who would not necessarily be aware of other alternative methods. The licence-issuing authority will have this information, and will advise the applicant on the use of these other methods before issuing the licence. I hope that that rather brief explanation may satisfy the noble Lord.
I am afraid that the noble Earl has not satisfied me. I was delighted to hear his reiteration of the Government's support for the EEC directive, and the fact that they will comply with it—as, indeed, under international law they have to do. He said that a licensing authority would not issue a licence if it was not required, but the EEC directive states that if there is no other satisfactory solution a licence should not be issued.This may be a semantic point, but it seems to me that it would answer some of the worries that have been expressed about the licensing provisions in this Bill, if the words of the EEC directive—and the Government have been quite happy to import them into other clauses of the Bill, where it suited those interested in protecting agriculture and other things; and we made no complaint about that at the time—were imported into this part of the Bill. The words in Article 9 are that member States may derogate from the provisions of the directive where there is no other satisfactory solution. I should have thought that if those words appeared in the Bill, we could all be absolutely assured that we would stick to the EEC directive.
Yes, I take the noble Lord's point. But I honestly think that the licence-issuing authority will have the information and will therefore advise the applicant on the use of other methods. I am rather back to front with the noble Lord on this amendment, but I will find out why we have not used the exact words and will have another look at it.
That would be helpful, because the noble Earl will find that a number of words from Article 9 have been incorporated into the Bill and, by the nature of things, it will arouse some suspicion if three or four words which look good from the conservationists' point of view are left out of the Bill, when all the words which look bad, about preventing damage to crops and so on, are put in. So it would be helpful if the Government would look at the point again, and I am grateful to the noble Earl for saying that he will do so.
I am always upset when the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, is not on my side. That weakens my position greatly. My reply to the noble Earl is that I imagine that those who have crops, livestock, or other property, which may be exposed to the depredations of species that might otherwise have the protection of the Bill, will no doubt ascertain from the appropriate authorities beforehand what kind of situation will arise if their expected enemies fly over or settle on their land in large flocks and begin to gobble up the winter-sown wheat and so on. I do not think that farmers and others will apply for licences out of the blue, if some unexpected catastrophe or threat befalls them. On the whole, they will know what is likely to come their way.However, I shall not delay the Committee any more. I shall be interested to know in due course why the words chosen were not those of either the EEC directive or the Council of Europe convention. Where we are dealing in words, we naturally like to rely on words which are of general application in a directive of this kind. It may be that there are alternatives to the words used in conventions, but it is better to stick to them if they mean sense to us and, in this case, the words of the directive do. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment and, probably, will hear a little more about this at a later stage of the Bill.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[ Amendments Nos. 292 to 295 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 296:
Page 15, line 31, leave out paragraph (a) and insert ("(a) shall be specifie; ").
The noble Lord said: I referred earlier to the fact that I should be moving some amendments on the specificity, as opposed to the generality, of licences and, with the permission of the Committee, I should like to discuss Amendments Nos. 295, 296, 297, 299, 300, 301 and 306, all of which apply to the same point.
I did not hear the consequential numbers. However, the noble Lord mentioned Amendment No. 295, which has been withdrawn.
I am at fault. I meant to mention Amendment No. 296, which has not been withdrawn. I apologise to the Committee. That is the first amendment which I am pinning this group on to. Noble Lords know the general point which I am trying to make but I want to go into it in some detail. The licensing provisions contained in the Bill are wide. They differ in a number of respects from the arrangements contained in the existing Protection of Birds Acts with which, on the whole, we have been fairly satisfied. To begin with, the Bill enables licences to be granted to kill or take any wild bird in order to prevent serious damage to crops, property, et cetera. This will also apply to creatures otherwise protected in Clauses 9 to 12. This is an innovation of a derogatory kind from the point of view of the protected animal which we have got to look at very carefully.My reaction was to turn to the existing arrangements under the Protection of Birds Acts to see how we have coped with the problem, if it existed, in the past. I have found that Section 4(2)(a) of the old Act provides a defence for persons suffering serious damage or wishing to prevent serious damage to crops, property and so forth to take action against protected birds other than those in Schedule I, which are the rare species. However, anybody who uses the defence provided in this section must, if challenged, be prepared to show in a court of law that his action was necessary. In other words, a farmer or other person suffering damage must think before he reaches for his gun, but not so long as to see his crop disappear. On the whole, this has been a reasonable, self-policing system. The new proposals, though they are not yet perfect, provide a framework upon which I hope and think we can build to produce a fair, workable and reasonable system. One might have thought that the organisation which I have had reason to quote several times in these debates, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, would be hostile in their response to this principle of new licensing proposals. That is not the case. They tell me that in their response to the Government's consultations they supported a licensing system. They said that they had for a long time suggested, indeed promoted the idea of a licensing system to cater for species causing serious damage. However, they qualified their comments with two important provisos, with which I agree. The first is that licences should be granted on an individual basis, and only on an individual basis, each case being judged on its merits and clearly in relation to the seriousness and extent of the damage sustained or anticipated. The second is that the administration of any licensing system should be carried out at least on the direct advice of the Nature Conservancy Council. We have already discussed whether the Nature Conservancy Council should issue the licence. The noble Earl has said that he cannot arrange that. But at least it must be on their advice. We need to be very careful about the two provisos. The point of the Bill is to protect wildlife. We must keep a reasonable balance between the commercial man and wildlife itself. In the alleviation of damage, or potential damage to crops or property one must certainly consider the wise and judicious use of deterrents, or wise husbandry, to prevent damage. Allowing somebody to shoot the offending protected species is only a very small part of the answer, and a last resort answer at that. In a sense, this emphasises the last amendment which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. It is most important that the licensing-administering body should have advice available on the deterrents to prevent damage. Only if these have been tried and have failed and the likelihood of serious damage has been demonstrated should a licence to kill birds be issued. This sounds much more difficult than it is. Most farmers always do this first before they go for a licence —and if they do not they ought to. So they ought to be able to telephone the regional office, or whoever gives the licence, and say, "I have done this and I have done that, but I cannot get rid of them. I now want a licence to use one of the derogated methods ". I cannot see any problem about this. I think that the noble Earl will say that this is the position. If so, I shall be relieved. That being so, let me repeat what I said earlier: I see no justification whatever for the issue of general licences. Clause 15(4) states that a licence may be, to any degree, general or specific and that it may be granted either to all persons, to persons of a class or to a particular person. My amendments say, first, that it must be specific and, secondly, that it must be to a person. There are a number of consequentials. However, that is the important point. Under the Bill as it stands, the licensing authority would have the power to grant a licence to all of the farmers in Southern England to take action against brent geese—and furthermore, indefinitely. This is exactly the kind of thing which would save trouble for farmers but which from the conservation point of view is not acceptable. It is absolutely reasonable that if there were a plague of brent geese in a certain crop area a special licence should be given to one, two, three or half a dozen people. That is quite different from a general licence being given to kill brent geese north of the Humber. It is a very extreme result and one which we must oppose. To give an example, a general licence to allow herons to be destroyed at fish farms would remove from fish farmers the onus to design their farms in such a way as to minimise heron damage. There is a great deal of information on how to do this. If you were foolish enough to grant a general licence, nobody would then take the trouble to do that. A general licence would be very little different from placing the bird in Part II of Schedule 2. Those are the species which may be killed or taken at any time—the pest list for the said area. It could be worse, for at least those species are stated clearly in the Bill. If general licences were granted, how would enforcement authorities or the general public know if the bird was the subject of a general licence, or what were the conditions of such a licence? I do not want to flog the case. What I am driving at is fairly clear. However, I cannot understand how with such a loose arrangement, the Government believe that they can fulfil their obligations under Article 9 of the EEC directive. My amendments would allow the issue of licences where damage has occurred or is likely to occur. Nobody can object to that. General licences would not be issued and the conditions laid down in Article 9 of the directive would be adequately covered. I have said sufficient to show what is in our minds. There may be a middle course between my objections and what is contained in the Bill. I shall be glad to hear whether the noble Earl has anything to add. I beg to move.
I am surprised at what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, has said. This is a question of principle. The trouble with the noble Lord is that he has no trust whatsoever in anybody. These licences will be granted by a licensing authority. I happen to have enough faith to think that licences will be granted only in reasonable cases. There are going to be cases when the licence will have to be general. May I quote an extreme example, as did the noble Lord. There would be need for a general licence in Anglesey against greylag geese.I will make only one other point because I hope other noble Lords will support me on this. The noble Lord said "Indefinitely granted" but I do not see that. The licence could be granted for a day or a week or two months, but I do ask the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, to have a little more trust. I am sure we should then all get on much better.
I do not see how we could get on better. I do not trust people whose commercial interests are affected. I have never found them to be trustworthy in any way. They look after themselves and not the other man. This is not the Christian doctrine but it is adopted by everybody I know, Christians or otherwise. I would even say socialists or otherwise and we may as well expect no more. Really, the whole of this clause shows lack of trust; it is derogating certain things to which Clauses 1 to 8 will not apply. One might as well say, There is no point in putting this down; let the licensing people do as they think fit ". The greylag goose in Anglesey is a very good example. I do not believe for one moment that if you wish to protect Angelsey crops at a certain period from the greylag goose it is necessary to do it for the whole of Anglesey. I do not know how many farms there are in Anglesey but it cannot be a large number. I know the area fairly well and I should have thought it would have been possible to have individual licences for a fortnight when the crop was ripe, or whatever might be the appropriate period, and that is exactly what my amendments would make possible.
I cannot follow the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, at all in his argument because if we read the whole of subsection (4), and in particular paragraphs (c), (d) and (e), we find that it seems to take account of everything that he is concerned about. The licence, although general, could have specific conditions attached to it. It could be modified or revoked at any time by the appropriate authority and it could be valid for a limited period of time, so what is he concerned about?
The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and others have suggested that there is not much to worry about and that we all ought to trust each other. Of course, we do, but nevertheless, having done that we are still concerned about the intentions of the Government and others if this power to grant general licences is retained in the Bill. I think my noble friend dealt effectively with the one example which we have been given so far of the need for general licences; the other example which the NFU have actually given their own members is that under the Bill they are assured that there would be a general licence issued to everybody in South-East England to kill brent geese whenever they need to. That has been published by the NFU and it is apparently an assurance which they have been given. That is a general licence to cover all brent geese anywhere in southern England at any time they want to kill them. That is an appalling state of affairs. That is why there is some suspicion, worry and doubt about this provision in the Bill.We had a long discussion in this Committee about brent geese and whether they needed the protection which they are given under the Bill. The amendment which suggested that they did not was withdrawn, with Government support against it, and now this provision simply makes the whole of that discussion worthless. What was the point of it if the NFU have already been guaranteed a general licence to kill brent geese in South-East England? That is why we are worried about the provision.
But if the Nature Conservancy Council says to the Secretary of State, "The farmers are disobeying the conditions of the general licence" surely the Secretary of State would merely revoke the licence.
I would rather play it the other way round.
I think it really is a case of which way round we play this particular one. The noble Lord mentioned herons and if I may take that as a specific point of the policy on licences for each species, it is the intention that it will be worked out with the NCC, with MAFF and with my department and for herons it is expected that licences will be granted to individual fish farmers and only when other types of deterrent have already failed.To answer the other point put by the noble Lord opposite there has been absolutely no guarantee to the NFU about brent geese. Licences for brent geese are under discussion and if they are considered it would probably only be to individual farmers who are affected and it would not be an umbrella licence. The idea behind this paragraph is flexibility, as noble Lords know perfectly well and the amendment tabled would make specific licences necessary in cases where the Government think that it is not justified. I think the great safeguard is the duty which is there to report annually to the Commission on the derogations authorised under Article 9 of the British birds directive, which would mean that the Government would have to justify the licences issued. Equally I should like to ask the noble Lord who proposed the amendment to give some idea of how we get round the general licences which we arc thinking of. For instance, if there were some pest birds in Schedule 2, Part II, and one wanted to cover them in a particular county, or something of that nature, also gulls' eggs, which have been mentioned, and fruit farmers in connection with which bullfinches have come up in our discussions on other occasions—how are we going to cover these if we cannot use a general licence? This is why the Government do not want to be tied down to the word "specific".
I do not myself see the difficulty. If we take fruit farming, for example, it is entirely in areas; it is usually a matter of under 30 farmers over a very large area, not all of whom grow the same fruit. I should have thought the bullfinch was admirably suited to a specific licence to be issued to a specific farmer on a specific farm. I think they would want to get it extremely quickly, and that is one of the reasons why I am sorry that my suggestion about the regional offices of the Nature Conservancy Council has not been accepted. I do not see a problem here at all. I do not understand why the noble Earl, having said that he would be specific in his opinion at this stage in regard to brent geese in the South of England and would not want to issue a general licence, should want to be able to issue a general licence in other cases. I do not believe that is necessary.
The discussion so far has concentrated entirely on birds, but if I am not mistaken we are also concerned with other animals, including those which are in Schedule 5. We know that the red squirrel has been added to Schedule 5 and the schedule already contains seriously threatened mammals and other vertebrates and invertebrates. May I seek assurances, for the record, that the licensing system will be equally particular where it is applied to non-bird species?
Yes, if the noble Earl considers a general licence to be particular, it will.
I do not know whether the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, is satisfied with that but it seems to me to be the exact opposite to the assurance he was seeking. Of course, that is the problem. If we have this particular form of words in the Bill we are obviously going to use it and the examples given by the Government all seem to me to be perfectly good places where a specific licence could be issued. In the case of a fruit farm, most people who are growing soft fruit which is liable to suffer damage from bullfinches will know in advance when there is a risk to the fruit. Farmers are not stupid in that way and they will be able to apply in plenty of time. The Bill already allows one to apply for a licence if damage is anticipated. It does not have to have occurred or to be occurring; all that one has to show is that it is likely to happen in the future.I do not think that the Government, in sticking to this extraordinarily general and unqualified form of words, can seriously put forward the case that they are sticking to the EEC directive. In Article 9(2) the directive says that the derogations (which is what this licensing procedure is) must specify the conditions of risk and the circumstances of time and place under which such derogations may be granted. It semed to me that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, to some extent recognised this in his Second Reading speech when he said that it was misleading to think of a general licence allowing anybody to kill anything of a certain species in a certain area, which was certainly how the NFU had viewed the possibility of getting licences to kill brent geese. The noble Earl has reassured us on that. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, at Second Reading, said:
It seems to me that in that there may be the possibility of a compromise. If the noble Earl is saying that that is what a general licence means, would it be possible to put Lord Bellwin's words in the Bill? Then we would not be worried about the blanket licences which run for any period of time, apply to any number of people for any reason whatsoever, for anybody to kill anything they want to kill." The licence will be limited to that group of people and will be specific as to the species to be killed, the period of time, the area of the country and the purpose and method of killing for which it is valid ".—[Official Report, 16/12/80; col. 984]
I was getting perturbed that the specific licence was almost reaching my general licence. Obviously we want to retain the word "general". I take the point made by the other side. I do not think I can say that I am going to consider it again, but I shall read in detail what has been said and see if we can get a little closer, because we are very close on this.
I would not like the noble Earl to read what I said, but if he could read what his noble friend Lord Bellwin said at Second Reading and see if those sentiments could be incorporated into this clause in qualifying the word "general", I think that would go a long way to meeting the worries that have been expressed in this connection.
With that particular assurance which I think has been granted, that at least the noble Earl will look at what his colleague said, it seems to me that if those words could be added to the definition of "general" we should be fully satisfied. In any case, I am happy to withdraw the amendment until such time as we have an opportunity to hear what the noble Earl's conclusions are.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I have to point out that if Amendment No. 297 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 298.
[ Amendments Nos. 297 to 302 not moved.]
I have to point out that if Amendment No. 303 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 304 or 305.
moved Amendment No. 303:
Page 15, leave out lines 40 and 41.
The noble Earl said: It seems to me rather peculiar that a charge is going to be required by the appropriate licensing authority. This amendment is a probing amendment; I should like the Government to explain their view on this matter a little further. I beg to move.
It is the Government's policy to ensure that they are not inhibited by law from making charges for issue which place additional costs on all taxpayers for the benefit of a few where such charges are appropriate. This provision does not itself mean that licence fees will necessarily be levied but it is considered essential that the Government should not be restricted in their ability to do so.This is rather a brief answer, as I was expecting to have a rather longer discussion on this subject. My noble friend said that this was a probing amendment and I am not quite sure in which direction he wishes to probe. If I have not given a sufficient answer perhaps he could explain further.
If the noble Earl wants further discussion far be it for me to deny him. I thought the opposite was the general direction required. I would only say that it is the normal thing in the social services or anything of that kind—agriculture, for instance—that if you are going to ask for a grant you should pay the necessary expense of getting it, and I see no objection to it at all.
What I was trying to get from the Government was whether they have any proposals at the moment for making a charge, and if so how much? If they make the charge, will this delay the granting of a licence?—because as we discussed earlier, this could be a critical question of timing for the farmer.
I thank my noble friend for clarifying the point. This matter is under discussion at the moment. I will make sure his point about timing is fed into the discussion if it is not already there.
I am grateful to my noble friend for that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[ Amendment No. 304 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 305:
Page 15, line 41, at end insert—
(" Provided that no such charge shall be made in respect of the grant of a licence—
(a) for the purpose of preserving public health or public or air safety; (b) for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease; or (c) for the purpose of preventing serious damage to livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber or any other form of property or to fisheries.").
The noble Lord said: My noble friends and I who have put this amendment down really think it is a bit much that when people are asking for and getting a licence for the specific purposes under ( a), ( b) and ( c), they should then have to pay for the licence. Are we honestly saying that if a fish farmer is plagued with herons and gets a licence he has got to pay for getting rid of half a dozen herons? Are we honestly saying that if a fruit farmer is bedevilled by bullfinches he should equally have to pay? I really think those concerned with this Bill are going to have quite enough time and trouble understanding the Bill, a point made earlier on Second Reading by my noble friend Lord Margadale. I think it is outrageous that they should have to pay for a licence. We all of us as taxpayers pay for having these various people working in the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of the Environment so that they can do just this sort of thing. I really think it is too much that private individuals should have to pay for this type of thing. I beg to move.
I do not want to get involved in this because it is between two Members on the same side of the Committee. I would only like to say that if something costs money to do and is for your benefit there is absolutely no reason why you should not pay for it.
Is it not for the benefit of the consumer, because the farmer is producing crops and if those crops are under attack it means the price of food might go up.
If he does not get a licence, he will not be allowed to protect them under this Bill.
I hope my noble friends will be satisfied with the same answer as I gave to the previous amendment. This matter is at the moment under discussion. I have been reading the documents which have so far been produced, and I have not seen a suggestion on the lines of my noble friend's. I will make sure that these suggestions are brought to the attention of the appropriate people and undertake that we do look at this.
With that assurance, I shall be glad to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
If Amendment No. 306 is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 307.
[ Amendment No. 306 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 307:
Page 16, leave out lines 22 and 23.
The noble Lord said: This is only to say that I do not believe that if a licence is given to a person it should automatically be given to other persons at the same time. I am being rather specific about this. With those few words I beg to move.
May I say how grateful I am for the noble Lord's support?
We have already spoken to this subject in some detail. This amendment relates to, and seeks to delete, one of the aspects designed to achieve flexibility in the system—the proposal that a licence may be issued to enable a person to authorise others to undertake the activity specified in the licence. I can assure your Lordships that we do not intend to use this power to do some of the more extreme things which have been bandied about. As I said, it is designed to give an extra flexibility to the system. If I may give an example, we might wish to make an arrangement whereby the British Trust for Ornithology could authorise its qualified members to ring birds. The alternative to this would be a welter of individual applications, with all the attendant bureaucracy. That is not, of course, what we want and, with that in mind, I hope that I have said enough to persuade my noble friends that the Government really would rather like to keep this in the Bill.
I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge. I think that it was he who was supporting me and I shall naturally look forward for a quid pro quo later in the Bill. However, I am very glad to accept what my noble friend has said and that the Government have a strong view upon this matter. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The next amendment is No. 308. I must draw to the Committees' attention that if Amendment No. 308 is agreed to I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 309, 312, 313 or 314.
[ Amendment No. 308 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 309:
Page 16, line 25, leave out from ("under") to ("(1)" in line 26 and insert ("paragraphs (a) to (i), (k) and (l) and under paragraphs (g) or (h) of subsection (2)").
The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 309. With this amendment, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 312 and 313, and also Amendment No. 315, because they all go together. The purpose of these amendments is try to simplify the definition of "the appropriate authority" very much along the lines the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, suggested when we had an earlier debate about making the Nature Conservancy Council the appropriate authority throughout these licensing provisions.
This series of amendments does not go that far, but what it does do is to seek to make the Secretary of State for the Environment, or, in Scotland, the Secretary of State for Scotland, the licensing authority with advice from whichever of the advisory bodies the Secretary of State sees fit to consult, or from the Nature Conservancy Council. That is the wording
in Subsection (8)( a) on page 16 of the Bill. It removes the licensing power from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
It seems to us that, even if the Government are not prepared to go as far as making the Nature Conservancy Council the licensing authority for all purposes under the Bill, there are some very strong arguments in favour of some rationalisation and simplification as to which is actually the appropriate authority; and that, as I think more than one noble Lord opposite said in our previous debate, the Secretary of State for the Environment would by and large be seen as holding the ring in a fairly fair way between the competing interests of agriculture and conservation—and there are, of course, competing interests here. There is the economic interest of the farming community and the interest of those who wish to protect very rare species, whether birds or other things listed in the Bill, from being killed. Those who wish to see them protected wish to see them protected even if they do cause some damage, and those who are farming wish to see them killed even if they are very rare. There is a serious conflict of interest which I do not think any of us ought to hide or be ashamed of. It is a perfectly natural and respectable conflict of interest. But, given that, it does seem to some people involved in the conflict a little unfair that, as it were, the main protagonist for one side should be in the business of issuing licences for these very rare and protected species to be killed if they are causing the sort of damage set out in subsection (2)( h) on page 15.
The Secretary of State for the Environment, with advice from various bodies, as I understand it, has always provided a perfectly satisfactory service as regards issuing licences in the past. Whether we tighten up the wording of the general licences or not—whatever we decide about that—it would nevertheless be the case that under this Bill there would be far more licences issued for far more purposes than has been the case in the past. I would suggest to the Government that we run the risk of opening up an enormous area of conflict and controversy with the Bill, unless the people making the decisions arc seen to be reasonably fair and impartial to both sides of the conflict.
That is not the case under the Bill at present. The Ministry of Agriculture quite rightly and properly is seen a acting entirely in defence of agricultural interests. I am very glad, as a farmer, that they do that, and I would not wish them to do anything else. But, in those circumstances, I do not think that it is fair to them or to anyone else to see them issuing licences for the destruction of very rare birds, simply on their