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Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill

Volume 569: debated on Wednesday 14 February 1996

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7.37 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

By coincidence, it was on St. Valentine's Day in 1992 that my honourable friend Mr. Kevin McNamara introduced in another place the first Bill aimed at protecting wild mammals from needless cruelty. Four years later to the day we are still trying, but on this occasion, since there is now all-party and government support for the latest version, we can hope for a more favourable outcome.

The Bill now before us is similar to the one which was passed by your Lordships in the last Session of Parliament. I believe that almost all noble Lords who were interested in it at that time are here this evening. That Bill was promoted by my honourable friend the Member for Dumbarton, who succeeded in getting it through the other place with all-party support. However, some of your Lordships may recall that the Bill in its original form raised some serious worries in this House and a number of amendments were made at Committee stage. The final version was approved by the House; but, unfortunately, because of the amendments it ran out of parliamentary time.

My honourable friend the Member for Mansfield who was successful in the Private Member's ballot in the other place, decided to make another attempt to introduce the subject. I must commend my honourable friends for their determination to get this important measure on the statute book. But the delay was helpful in the sense that this final version of the Bill was submitted only after intense negotiations with the RSPCA, the League against Cruel Sports, the British Field Sports Society, the National Farmers Union and Members of both Houses of Parliament.

Consequently, we now have before us a Bill which although similar to the one which came before us last year has incorporated several important changes. It is now supported by all parties in Parliament, by the animal welfare organisations, the field sports lobby and those involved in land management and pest control. That is surely a tribute to the Bill's sponsor, Mr. Alan Meale, who chose to consult with a wide range of individuals and organisations before introducing this reasonable, yet effective, piece of legislation.

On 26th January the Bill had its Second Reading in another place. It was welcomed and supported by all those who spoke, including the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. Tom Sackville, who said:
"I take this opportunity to confirm the Government's very strong support for the aims of the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill".— [Official Report, Commons, 26/1/96; col. 562.]
The Bill was given a Second Reading, proceeded immediately to Committee stage and, without amendment, was promptly passed at Report stage and Third Reading with the support of the whole House. That must be an almost unprecedented feat for a Private Member's Bill. It demonstrates the backing that there is for this measure and the urgency with which MPs believe that it should become law.

I should like to draw attention to some of the important differences between this Bill and the last one approved by your Lordships. Clause 1 now contains the phrase:
"with intent to inflict unnecessary suffering".
That removes the anxiety about strict liability which the earlier Bill caused farmers and landowners. There have also been changes to the listed offences. The original wording included a long list, which included, kicks, beats, nails or otherwise impales, bums, crushes or drowns. The list has now been extended to include the words "mutilates", "stabs", "stones", "drags or asphyxiates" since examples of all those activities were available and needed to be identified. The long list was needed because it was impossible to find a cover-all phrase with which everyone could agree although suggestions such as "cruel ill-treatment" or "torture" were tried at one stage. I believe that the list is now fairly comprehensive.

The defences in Clause 2(b) were revised to provide exemptions for those who kill or injure a wild mammal,
"in the course of…lawful shooting, hunting, coursing or pest control activity".
It was felt that that is clearer than the use of the generic term "sporting activity" which appeared in the previous Bill.

Clause 2(c) replaces the words,
"under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986",
an amendment which the Home Office suggested was a desirable alternative.

Clause 2(d) was amended so that falconry would not be an offence under the Bill. Other small amendments are technical and do not change the effect of the Bill.

Although I have indicated that there is now widespread support for the new Bill, the Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union have expressed a wish for reassurance, from myself and from the Government, on one aspect of the Bill. Both organisations are concerned that the provisions of the Bill should not adversely affect the rights of landowners and farmers to pursue existing and lawful practices. In particular the CLA has asked whether the wording of Clause 2(c) is limited to activities specifically authorised by statute law. Would it exclude from the defence activities under common law, such as ploughing, if they resulted in death or injury to, for example a nest of field mice?

My advice and understanding is that the wording of Clause 1, which includes the condition of intent, and Clause 2 paragraph (c), are clearly designed to protect those who either accidentally or as a result of an otherwise lawful action, cause suffering to a wild mammal, and I understand that the Bill has this effect. It would certainly not be my intention, nor the intention of my honourable friends, to open the way to prosecution for farmers and landowners engaged in lawful activity. However, I think it would be helpful if the noble Earl who is to speak for the Government would confirm to the House that this is his understanding and that of his advisers.

I have spoken at some length, but I feel that we have before us a Bill which in its way is historic. If passed, this will be the first time that all wild mammals will have legal protection against deliberate acts of cruelty.

Last year I gave horrifying examples of the mindless cruelty which is too often inflicted on helpless creatures. That sad list has grown even longer in the months since we last discussed the need for legislation. I do not propose to harrow your Lordships with the details, but I assure the House that they are unbelievable in some cases. The procedures of our House do not allow us to proceed at the speed afforded to the Bill in another place, but I hope that we may progress without undue delay with this much-needed measure. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—( Baroness Nicol.)

7.46 p.m.

My Lords, I welcome the Bill and do so both in my personal capacity as a Member of your Lordships' House and in my capacity as deputy chairman of the British Field Sports Society.

I am delighted to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for introducing the Bill in your Lordships' House today. Your Lordships will recall the noble Baroness's tremendous courtesy and understanding when the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill came before your Lordships' House in the last Session. I also congratulate the promoter of this Bill in the other place, Mr. Alan Meale, and the chairman of the British Field Sports Society, my honourable friend Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes, for achieving a tremendous agreed measure. This involved lengthy and constructive discussions between them and officials and legal advisers from the BFSS and the RSPCA. The Bill which the noble Baroness has presented follows, and is in line with, a long line of sensible animal welfare measures which have passed through this House. It has full consensus support in the countryside, as did the Pests Act 1954, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985, which all improved the welfare of wild mammals.

Your Lordships will recall that in the last Session the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill, which came from the other place, was deemed to be flawed in a number of respects, as the noble Baroness said. It was our task and responsibility then, as it so often is, to ensure that its defects were rectified. It has been mooted in certain quarters of the press and picked up by a number of Members of the other place that the amendments moved and passed by your Lordships in the last Session were designed to wreck that Bill. As the mover of some of those amendments, I can safely say that that was not the intention, as the incorporation of those amendments into the current Bill so clearly demonstrates.

It is also worth recalling that those amendments were agreed by all sides of this House, including both Front Benches. Therefore, it seems somewhat unfair for Members in the other place to accuse your Lordships of delaying that Bill when we only spent 15 days deliberating on it. I remind your Lordships that, by comparison, the other place spent four and a half months passing it through its Commons stages. Much of that time was wasted debating anti-field sports provisions. The House of Commons could find only 28 minutes of Committee time to devote to discussing the amended Bill without its anti-field sports clauses.

There are some important issues surrounding the Bill which need examination. Once again, some wild claims have been made. The first is that wild animals should have exactly the same level of protection as domestic ones. It may be helpful to your Lordships and may benefit some people who have not thought the issue through to its logical conclusion—possibly not beyond a quick read of "Animal Rights World" or whatever they take to bed with them—to recognise that we cannot possibly give wild rats and pet rats the same degree of protection—and for very good reasons. Wild rats regrettably need controlling, while pet rats need looking after. That is not to say that wild animals need no protection, but they cannot possibly receive the same protection as we give to pets. Wild animals do not form neat queues at vets' surgeries. They do not answer to names like "Tigger" or "Bounder", and they are not always welcome in our homes. We poison wild rats, but poisoning pet rats is, quite rightly, a crime. If a pet rat falls ill we take it to the animal hospital which we do not do with wild rats. That is the difference.

Those who cling to the spurious idea that existing protection for domestic animals, or something similar, could just be extended to wild ones need to answer some simple questions. Why, then, do we not make a simple, single amendment to the Protection of Animals Act 1911 so that it applies to all animals, wild and domestic? There are two crucial reasons why not. First, because the legislation protects domestic birds and fish as well as mammals. It is just as unlawful to starve a pet goldfish as a pet dog. The logical step would therefore be to support protection for wild birds and fish. Yet wild birds and fish are excluded from the Bill. If they were not, the Bill would make angling a crime. The Bill may be a necessary measure, but do not let us pretend that it redresses some great anomaly in the law. We are in practice creating a far greater anomaly by excluding wild birds and fish, but, nevertheless, a wholly desirable anomaly.

The second reason why it would be unwise to extend the identical provisions of the Protection of Animals Act 1911 to wild mammals is that the blanket protection it affords would at a stroke place in jeopardy any form of pest control. The broad offences it creates, such as "cruelly ill-treating" an animal, could be used as ammunition by anyone objecting to a particular activity, and it would have to be tested in the courts. Those who disapprove of certain countryside activities must try to see beyond their own dislike and think through the full implications. It would not just be hunting that would be in doubt. The legality of fishing and shooting would be questioned, too, as would agricultural practices so necessary for the management of the countryside.

The Protection of Animals Act 1911 creates offences of strict liability. It is no defence under the Act to say, "I didn't mean to be cruel by starving my dog". That level of liability is right in the case of domestic animals or captive wild animals, because once a dog is in my dominion, I have a clear responsibility for it. If we had simply applied the strict provisions of the 1911 Act to the previous Bill, anyone could have been prosecuted for running down a wild animal whether they meant it harm or not. That would have been unjust and that is why the Bill needed amendment. The Bill before us now restricts the scope of the offence to intentional acts. The inclusion of mens rea in the Bill was essential in order to prevent law-abiding citizens from inadvertently committing a criminal offence.

It is encouraging to see that Mr. Elliot Morley, the Labour spokesman on animal welfare in the other place, has travelled some way since the previous Session, when he described your Lordships as "buffers and duffers" and felt that all the amendments we made last time were unnecessary. Mr. Morley now concedes that there were anomalies in the original legislation and that it is a better Bill now.

Who is the buffer and duffer now? What that effectively means is that Mr. Morley was prepared to see a flawed Bill forced through last time on the grounds that a flawed Bill was better than no Bill at all. That shows scant regard for the innocent victims who might have been made criminals by the Bill's defective wording. It is also the worst feature of this kind of "pressure group politics". I have to say that I am slightly perplexed by his claim that the research assistance he receives from the Political Animal Lobby (an offshore based company which promotes animal rights) is not relevant to this debate. No doubt he knows best. Let us wait to see whether the right honourable Member for Sedgefield meant what he said when he declared on Radio 4 on 8th June 1995:
"What is important for us (the Labour Party) is to break through (pressure group) politics".
Mr. Morley's lack of concern for the business of drafting tight, well-worded legislation was evidenced in other ways. He suggested that the country sports lobby should have accepted the word "torture" in the Bill. He and others have argued that in order to score points against hunting. What they have yet to understand is that in law such a general offence of torture would mean exactly the same as "ill-treating" and would be unworkable in the case of wild animals. Under no circumstances do I concede that country sports involve "torture". It was not the country sports lobby but officials from the Ministry of Agriculture who objected to the word "torture" as being too imprecise.

The promoter of the Bill in the other place has suggested that tens of thousands of cases have been identified every year in which charges cannot be brought, yet, at the same time, Mr. Morley considers that the Bill is limited. I would be interested in further evidence of such large numbers of cases which would fall within the scope of this Bill. Where have the figures of tens of thousands come from? The research I did thankfully showed me that police forces around the country are closer to my estimate about the number of cases of cruelty committed each year—a small handful. We must be careful that Bills of this nature are not "sold" to the public in a misleading way. I hope your Lordships will agree with me that the hard sell and sometimes misleading methods adopted by pressure groups to sell their own Bills do nothing for our political process.

It is important that we remember that wild animals are already protected when they become captive. Most wild animals are either free and have to look after themselves or they are captive, when man takes responsibility for them. It is only in a few cases where animals have been held by the courts not to be in a state of captivity that they have been exposed without protection. There are some real examples, even if they are comparatively infrequent, of appalling cruelty where the perpetrator has got away. It is therefore right for the Bill to seek to deal with those instances in a measured way, while bearing in mind that they are comparatively rare.

Country people have the responsibility for caring for the well being of the majority of domestic animals in this kingdom, as well as the management of the countryside, to the benefit of wildlife. Animal welfare and good husbandry are something that country people have carried out instinctively from time immemorial. Country people in particular will welcome the Bill in its aim to outlaw disgraceful acts of cruelty to wild mammals. Most of those, I am sad to notice from reading the RSPCA's briefing, are perpetrated in towns.

I welcome the assurances that the noble Baroness has given that the Bill is not in any way intended to interfere with agricultural practices, pest control and legitimate field sports. We have made an important step by implicitly recognising in the wording of this Bill that pest control and field sports play an integral part in managing our diverse countryside. It is also an important step in protecting wild mammals through a sensible and practical approach to the matter. In promoting the Bill in that measured way Mr. Meale has come to recognise what we have always said. A Bill which attacks field sports rather than addressing sensible animal welfare will never succeed. We have come a long way since the rhetoric we heard before Christmas. The right approach is the consensus approach—an approach which can enjoy one nation support: the support of both town and country.

In working together, the BFSS and the RSPCA demonstrate the considerable common ground that we all share. Animal welfare organisations like the RSPCA will attract increasing support from country people with that type of approach. That is in stark contrast to those animal rights organisations which would have liked to have hijacked the Bill. They would have risked wasting another opportunity as they wasted opportunities with the McNamara and McFall Bills. The Bill before us now could have reached the statute book a lot earlier had the promoters of those previous Bills not chosen to sacrifice their measures on the altar of animal rights.

In conclusion I should like to repeat my gratitude to the promoter of this Bill in the other place and my honourable friend Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes, chairman of the British Field Sports Society, for achieving an agreed measure and I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, on promoting a Bill which I am delighted to commend wholeheartedly to the House.

7.58 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for introducing the Bill, and I should like to join other noble Lords in congratulating her on obtaining all-party support. I shall speak just briefly in its support.

I recognise that the Church's record in its attitude to animals is a mixed one. On the one hand, there is the tradition, particularly strongly developed in the Orthodox Church, of animals as fellow creatures of God with whom we human beings have an affinity. The emphasis in this tradition is on the harmony that should exist between humans and other creatures. It finds vivid expression in these stories of the saints who gather animals around them in peace and conjubilant praise to God.

On the other hand, the phrase in Genesis that man has been given dominion over animals has too often been taken to mean that we can do what we like with them. But that, I am glad to say, is now changing rapidly. Dominion is being interpreted not as domination but as stewardship. As an important Church report puts it:
"Man has often used his power over animals in ways which revolt, and do violence to, his moral consciousness. On a theistic understanding of creation, such as the Christian entertains, it is misguided to suppose that all animal life exists only to serve human kind; or that the world was made exclusively for man's benefit… In terms of this theistic understanding man is custodian of he universe he inhabits with no absolute rights over it. This implies a profound responsibility to deal with his environment in the light of his factual situation. This responsibility, therefore, extends not only to the betterment of his own but also to that of other species".
This Bill is a very welcome expression of the principles stated in that paragraph. It extends to wild animals some of the protection that the law affords to domestic animals. That there is a need for such a Bill is, I believe, shown by the examples provided by the RSPCA. There are distressing examples of wanton cruelty to hedgehogs, foxes, hares and other animals. I know that other noble Lords will have received them and so I shall not repeat them.

There are two possible forms of ethical support for the Bill, both of which have value. The first is that these animals have value in their own right, and that should be recognised. Furthermore, they experience pain and should therefore be protected from gratuitous infliction of suffering. It is not necessary to go as far as saying that these animals have rights—though some churchmen would certainly argue that they do—to recognise that in practice animals should be treated with respect and dignity, including the wild mammals with which the Bill specifically deals.

The other approach focuses not on animals for their own sake but on human responsibilities and what it is to be a human being. The kind of cruelty depicted in the examples set out by the RSPCA is a disgrace to the name "human" and a denial of what it is to be a human being.

I believe that for either of those reasons, separately or taken together, all Christian people and other people of good will will want to support the Bill most strongly.

8.2 p.m.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for introducing the Bill. It has not been an easy time for her. I appreciate only too well, as does my noble friend Lord Mancroft, the great deal of time that she personally has spent on seeing the Bill in its present state. There has been a huge amount of negotiation and discussion. Indeed, the noble Baroness has attempted to bring forward several Bills dealing with animal welfare where the whole question could be agreed upon. I welcome the Bill. It is sensible and effective without being unnecessarily restrictive.

There is no doubt that the issues are complex. Without careful drafting, ambiguities could easily cause confusion and mistrust. My noble friend Lord Mancroft made a good case about the dangers of single issue pressure groups. At an early stage in the discussions there was a real danger that those single issue pressures would try to dictate the whole issue. Fortunately, common sense has prevailed and we now have a Bill which is much wider and more sensible. I say as a general point that in the countryside today far too much of what we are told comes from the single issue pressure groups. They are doing a great disservice to themselves and to the management of land and animals.

What brings us together in the Bill is one key word, which is "respect". I participate in field sports but I have a great deal of respect for my quarry. In the same way, those who have been so keen to promote the Bill have respect too. That is the word which binds us together.

I appreciate that there are some who would have liked the Bill to have gone further. However, the organisations with which I am involved—I adhere to the traditions of the House by declaring an interest in the Game Conservancy, of which I am chairman, the Moorlands Association and more recently the Countryside Movement—had grave misgivings about many of the proposals in the previous Bills.

Apart from the obvious need to protect wild animals against deliberate and wanton cruelty, I am pleased that the Bill has an implicit recognition of the need for sensible predation control. I have many years experience of managing land in the Yorkshire Dales and that has shown me—indeed, the Game Conservancy research clearly shows too—that without such predation control many of the game species whose well being is so crucial to the management of much of the habitat in Great Britain would decline drastically. Together with the game species would decline a whole range of other species that we all wish to see protected and thriving. Furthermore, there is the important economic aspect.

I believe that with the passing of the Bill we have achieved a crucial correct balance. There is the need to protect wild mammals from intentional gratuitous cruelty, but we must also ensure that the legitimate interests of farmers and game managers are protected.

The CLA had raised one matter with me and I am delighted to say that the noble Baroness addressed that. I can say confidently that the CLA will not see the need to table any amendments in Committee as a result of the advice that she has given to us. However, like the noble Baroness, I would be grateful if my noble friend on the Front Bench will assure the House along the same lines.

I conclude by congratulating all those who have worked so hard to achieve the right balance and who have enabled the Bill to be before us today. I wish it speedy progress.

8.7 p.m.

My Lords, as one who took part in most of the stages of the previous Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill and who introduced a couple of amendments, at least one of which appears to have found favour with the sponsors of the present Bill, I feel it proper to say a few words tonight.

The Bill that reached us last October, shorn at the last moment of its illiberal attacks upon rural traditions, was in principle good. However, for whatever reason, the drafting left a lot to be desired. There were far too many imprecisions and ambiguities. Your Lordships did their constitutional duty by going through the Bill with a tooth-comb, knocking out ambiguities and preventing the possibility of unintended consequences, thereby improving the Bill enormously while rightly preserving intact its main purpose.

We sent the Bill back to the other place, accompanied by our genuine good wishes and the hope expressed from all quarters of the House that it would pass speedily into law. However, citing precedent, the Government, as they were entitled, refused to allow any time at all for consideration of our amendments. That was hardly our fault, yet for our pains your Lordships' House was vilified, firstly, in an uncharacteristically sloppy and unprofessional report in a normally much respected national broadsheet; secondly, by the RSPCA, unfortunately not entirely unexpectedly these days; and, thirdly, by certain individuals in another place who had not taken the trouble to brief themselves properly.

However, ironically, we now see that a great many of our amendments, perhaps a majority, have been taken on board by the sponsors and incorporated in essence into the present Bill. Not only have our efforts been further refined and polished—and we must pay tribute to the sponsors for their efforts in that regard—but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, pointed out, falconry has now been protected, which was an omission that most of us overlooked last time. Again, certainly, loopholes have been closed. We note, as she said, that stabbing, stoning, asphyxiating, and so on have been added to the list of intentionally cruel activities to be banned, and rightly so. Therefore, one hopes that it will be conceded that this House was right to perform its constitutional scrutinising and revising function.

I have two questions to put to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, or to the noble Earl who is to reply for the Government, or both. Why, in the current Bill as opposed to the previous one, is Scotland excluded in part, albeit a very minor part? Secondly, and far more important, why is Northern Ireland excluded completely? I have consulted a wide range of Northern Ireland opinion, including the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, earlier this afternoon, and have ascertained that there is no opposition to this Bill in Northern Ireland; quite the reverse. Indeed, the feeling is that people in the Province will be very angry when they realise that Northern Ireland is excluded from the Bill.

It may be that the political wing of the IRA—an organisation not exactly noted for humane treatment of mammals, certainly of two-legged mammals—opposes this Bill for a variety of reasons among which will almost certainly be a knee-jerk reaction against anything emanating from Westminster. But at least 90 per cent. of the people in the Province oppose the IRA and it is surely their wishes which should prevail. Perhaps we may attend to that in Committee.

To conclude, at the cost of four or five months' delay, we have before us a very much better Bill than that which went before. I speak only for myself and not on behalf of any lobby but I know that I can say with confidence that we all wish this Bill well.

8.12 p.m.

My Lords, I too welcome the Bill from these Benches and congratulate the noble Baroness on bringing forward something with which I agree. We are often at odds on these matters but, as amended, this Bill is a good Bill. We have only to look at the list that we have all received and to remember the knowledge of awful people that we have to know that these kinds of activities go on, and of course they should be made an offence. The torturing of wild animals revolts all decent people. Therefore, a Bill which makes that a punishable offence is not only good but totally necessary.

I speak as a farmer and as a person who occasionally still shoots. I was brought up in the country. I believe that all of us who were brought up in the country have been solidly taught that the suffering of wild or domestic animals is something which cannot and should not be tolerated. The exception which deals with the killing of wild animals as an act of mercy is very necessary. We all know that if a wild rabbit is run over, it is obviously better to kill it quickly because that is an act of mercy whereas to leave it or to try to cure it may merely cause more suffering. Therefore, that is a very necessary provision in the Bill.

Noble Lords have referred to the difficulty of tabling amendments but obviously that may be necessary to make the Bill a reasonable one. I was rather worried that a clause had been taken out which might have protected a farmer who, for example, had crushed the nest of a wild mouse. It must be remembered that farmers are always worried about that sort of thing. Robert Burns was a farmer and he wrote a specific poem on that point. When he turned up a nest which he had gone over with his plough, he said to the mouse:
"Wee, sleekit, cow'rin', tim'rous beastie,
O what a panic's in thy breastie!".
Like most Scots, I know only the first line but I remember the tenor of the rest of the poem. However, that shows the kind of compassion that farmers feel for wild animals. I am glad that we have had an assurance from the noble Baroness that that sort of thing will not be caught by the Bill. Although that is not on the face of the Bill, it is on the record from the noble Baroness and perhaps the noble Earl will confirm that. This is a good Bill but, by heaven, it needed the amendments.

8.16 p.m.

My Lords, from these Benches I too express strong support for the Bill, a support which has been given by noble Lords who have spoken from all sides of the House. Its aims are not controversial. Gratuitous acts of deliberate cruelty towards wild animals at present are not a criminal offence and, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, has just said, all reasonable people would accept that they should be. For far too long there has been a lacuna in the law which needs to be remedied and, if this Bill is passed, it will rightly make such acts not just morally reprehensible, as at present, but unlawful too.

I believe that the aims of this Bill have widespread public support. Indeed, concern for animals and a desire to improve their welfare have never been more strongly felt or expressed by the general public and particularly by young people than at present. Those of us who have been lucky enough to keep animals and live close to them share those concerns and fully support them.

There are those who would have wished to see the Bill go further. Some aspects of the way in which we treat animals are of course controversial. In our own society some regard it as acceptable to kill animals for food while others do not; some regard it as permissible to kill animals in the course of sport while others do not; some regard it as acceptable to kill animals to test scientific procedures which will enhance human lives while others do not. The moral issues raised in those matters are often difficult. But the history of animal welfare legislation over the past 100 years or so shows that real progress towards getting legislation on the statute book is usually achieved only through co-operation and consensus.

This Bill is a real advance towards improvement in our treatment of wild animals and a prime example of co-operation too. It is right that I should pay tribute from these Benches to some of those who have co-operated to produce the legislation in this form. First, as all noble Lords who have spoken have said, my noble friend Lady Nicol deserves the thanks of the House for outlining the purpose of the Bill, the changes that have been made since it last came before your Lordships and the way in which it would operate, with a clarity and a skill which we know to be characteristic of her. I am grateful to her for the additional reassurance that she has given this evening to farmers and landowners, which I hope we shall hear also from the Government.

Secondly, in another place the promoter of this Bill, the honourable Member for Mansfield, Mr. Meale, and the promoter of what has been called the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill Mark I, the honourable Member for Dumbarton, Mr. John McFall, have, I understand, worked hard to meet the concerns of those who were troubled by some aspects of the earlier Bill. It is thanks to them and to other honourable Members from other sides of the House, in particular the honourable Member for Wimbledon, Dr. Goodson-Wickes, that this Bill will at the end of the day, I very much hope, reach the statute book.

Thirdly, I believe that the House should be grateful to the RSPCA, which has done much to draw attention to the need for the Bill and to see that a workable piece of legislation has been produced. It is also right briefly to say something about the role of your Lordships' House in relation to the history of the legislation, especially as there has been some criticism of it which I believe to be unjustified, in common with the noble Lord, Lord Monson.

The original Bill which came before us in the last Session, while its aims were universally approved, was flawed. It created an absolute offence to which the defence of accident or lack of intent would have had no application. Its effect, if enacted, would have been to render liable to prosecution the driver who ran over a hedgehog or the dog owner whose pet killed a rabbit. It would have been no defence under that Bill that those things had happened by accident.

As your Lordships know, that Bill was amended here and returned to another place where it failed through lack of time. The Bill now before us—thanks to those to whom I have already paid tribute—is, I believe, a better Bill even than that which left your Lordships' House. The end result is that, through a combination of your Lordships' vigilance and the hard work of those in another place, and of course of my noble friend, good legislation will, it is to be hoped, replace the original flawed Bill and reach the statute book.

On the last occasion when the matter came before the House, my noble friend gave horrific examples of the sort of activities to which the Bill is directed. There may not be many such cases; indeed, I hope that there are not. I would that there were none. I believe that the Bill now before us will play an important role in clearly defining our attitudes and the law towards wild animals and our obligations in relation to them. Animals greatly enhance the lives of men and we owe them both respect and concern for their welfare in return.

8.22 p.m.

My Lords, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, the Bill now before the House completed its Second Reading, Committee and Third Reading stages, in another place in the course of a morning. That remarkable fact reflected the thoroughness of the preparatory work that had taken place. As your Lordships will be aware from what has already been said this evening, the text of the Bill before your Lordships reflects substantial discussion and agreement between the Bill's sponsor, the British Field Sports Society and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

I should like, in that context, to echo the tributes which have been made today and in another place to all those who were involved in reaching the consensus. As my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary said, that consensus is a tribute to all concerned. Here I want to pay a special tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for the skill with which she has piloted the Bill, and her tolerance in accommodating all sides on the issues involved.

I can confirm the Government's support for the aims of the Bill—although, like others, I am sad that such a measure is necessary. The Government have already given considerable priority to the protection of wild animals, and the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill fills a recognised gap in the protection afforded to wild mammals. That gap arises from the fact that the Protection of Animals Act 1911 applies only to captive and domestic animals. The Bill that is before your Lordships tonight will make it an offence to commit certain acts on any wild mammal with intent to inflict unnecessary suffering. But it does not affect either pest control or legitimate agricultural practices.

As requested by my noble friend and, indeed, by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, I should like to emphasise that last point. The Government are satisfied that, as currently drafted, the Bill has no effect on existing rights of landowners and farmers to pursue legitimate and lawful practices. The substance of the offence created by the Bill is set out in Clause 1. None of the acts there constitutes an offence unless it is carried out with intent to inflict unnecessary suffering.

Clause 1 is designed specifically to prevent the legitimate practices of farmers and landowners, such as ploughing, harvesting and heather burning, from being outlawed by the law. Those normal agricultural practices manifestly do not involve an intent to inflict unnecessary suffering.

For example, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie—and I am ashamed to say that I know nothing about Robert Burns—if a farmer happens to run over a fieldmouse while ploughing his field, he will clearly not be committing an offence under this Bill. That is because his intent is innocent; that is, he would not be intending to cause unnecessary suffering.

As I made clear, the Government support the aims of the Bill and are content for it to pass into law.

8.25 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I shall try to deal with the points raised. I am very tempted to enter into a philosophical discussion with the right reverend Prelate, but perhaps we may postpone that to another day. However, I very much liked his comment that dominion has changed to stewardship. I would put it another way and say that we have to learn the difference between use and abuse. I believe that animals are there for our use, but that we must use them without descending into abuse.

I had a very rural upbringing and, therefore, I understand the concerns expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, was especially anxious about the Bill when it first came to this House. However, in all our dealings the noble Lord has been courteous, helpful and constructive. I am most grateful to him for the way in which he conducted his discussions in our meetings.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked me two questions: why not Scotland or Northern Ireland? I am sorry that I cannot answer the Scottish point. I have grown so used in this House to leaving Scotland out of everything that I am afraid I did not look into that aspect of the matter. However, because the matter was raised in the House of Commons and was duly answered there, I can tell the noble Lord why the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland. There is no need for such a law in the Province because the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 already covers all animals, whether domestic, captive or wild. It may be of interest to other noble Lords to hear some of the detail involved.

It is an offence in Northern Ireland to,
"cruelly beat, kick, ill-treat, torture, infuriate or terrify any animal",
including any bird, fish or reptile. Therefore, the law in Northern Ireland has been much fiercer than that which we now propose. I understand that it has not caused any difficulties to either the hunting lobby or any other sporting lobby. But it is possible that the character of Northern Ireland is different, so I shall not press that particular aspect. I see that the noble Lord wishes to respond. I give way.

My Lords, I am much obliged. I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me for not mentioning the matter to her beforehand. Scotland is exempt only so far as concerns the confiscation of cars and implements. It is a very trivial point and, of course, most of the Bill does apply to Scotland. However, since the last time we discussed a similar Bill, Scotland has been exempted in respect of that very small aspect. It probably does not really matter, but it would be interesting to know why it has been introduced in the few months since we last debated the Bill. That is all that I wish to say on that point.

My Lords, any question raised by your Lordships is important. I shall endeavour to obtain the answer for the noble Lord and send it to him.

All I can do now is express my thanks—indeed, there are many thank-you's to be said—to the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners' Association and to the BFSS. They have all had very constructive inputs into the matter. I should like especially to thank the RSPCA. I do not know whether the society comes into the list of single-issue campaigners which some noble Lords found so difficult, but it seems to me to have quite a wide brief. I have been most impressed by the way in which the society works. Indeed, it has been extremely helpful in the preparations for the Bill. I should also like to thank the League Against Cruel Sports, because, despite its name, it, too, has shown a great deal of tolerance in changing the Bill.

It is obvious that there is a great deal of goodwill in the House towards the Bill. I hope that we may now get it on to the statute book as quickly as possible.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at twenty-nine minutes past eight o'clock.