HC Deb 18 April 1975 vol 890 cc880-902
Mr. Stephen Ross

I beg to move Amendment No. 35, in page 8, line 28, at end insert: ' Field Cow Wheat, Melampyrum Arvense' I hope that my pronunciation is correct. I understand that it is also known in some circles as Purple Cow Wheat. As I have taken some advice from the promoter of the Bill, I hope in this instance that my amendment may prove acceptable.

This plant is under attack. I gather that there is only one site in my constituency and one other elsewhere in the United Kingdom where it is to be found.

I shall not take up the time of the House any further. I move this amendment and hope that it will be accepted.

Mr. John Silkin

The on. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) has his drafting right and his pronunciation right. What is more, I have never had much of a quarrel with him about his amendments. However, there is a difficulty in this case which I shall explain in a moment. There always seems to be a difficulty.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the effect of the amendment would be to add field cow wheat to the list of protected plants in Schedule 2. It is certainly a rare plant. It is a species which occurs in such places as cornfield surrounds. It may be of interest to the House to know that it is thought to exist in only 10 places in the country—in Wiltshire, Isle of Wight, Essex and Bedfordshire. It is a very restricted plant.

There is evidence that it is declining both in numbers and in distribution. Here we come to the difficulty. The Nature Conservancy Council's advice is that the cause of the decline is almost certainly modern agricultural practice—ploughing close to hedges, the use of chemicals, and grain with fewer weed seeds. The Bill is not designed to provide protection against practices of that kind.

Clause 5 reads, If, save as may be permitted by or under this Act, any person without reasonable excuse picks, uproots or destroys any protected plant, he shall be guilty of an offence unless the picking, uprooting or destruction occurs as an incidental result, which could not reasonably have been avoided, of any operation which was carried out in accordance with good agricultural or forestry practice. That is the dilemma. Although we would like to arrest the decline, the advice given to us by the Nature Conservancy Council is that the decline is due to modern agricultural practice. We would be in some difficulty, therefore, if we added it to the list in Schedule 2, which would then be in conflict with Clause 5.

This is rather more than a mere drafting consideration. It is a consideration

which perhaps goes to the root of the exceptions to the protection given by this Bill. Regretfully, therefore, I must advise the House to resist the amendment.

Mr. Hardy

I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will find it possible to reconsider what he has just said.

My right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) have presented the situation clearly. This plant is found in 10 places in Wiltshire. Isle of Wight, Essex and Bedfordshire, and it is declining very rapidly. There is no doubt that the overwhelming cause of the decline is changes in agricultural practice. However, I am told that at one station, whereas there were 250 plants in the 1950s, at the last count only a single plant remained.

This is the difficulty. We recognise that the Bill in no way reduces our capacity to produce food. It does not prevent good agricultural and forestry practice. But, as soon as we move from hundreds to a single plant, that plant becomes vulnerable, not to agriculture, with which we are not interfering, but to irresponsible collectors who will recognise that because it is very rare it has also become quite valuable. It is because I wish to see protection provided against other causes of decline than agriculture that I have a great deal of sympathy with the view expressed by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight.

When the hon. Gentleman first tabled his amendment, I had a word with my advisers, and I understand that no great exception would be taken to the inclusion of this species in the list in Schedule 2. I urge my right hon. Friend to take that point on board.

If my right hon. Friend still insists that he must resist the addition of Melampyrum Arvense to Schedule 2, then in the interests of the survival of the Bill as a whole I hope that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight will agree to withdraw his amendment. If that proves to be the position, I shall understand the hon. Gentleman's disappointment. I share it. We shall lose very little by the inclusion of this plant. I re-emphasise that if we add it to Schedule 2 we shall in no way be interfering with good agricultural and forestry practice. That will continue in the future as it has in the past. Even though it may represent a threat to the continued survival of the species, that has to be faced. Food has to be grown.

However, there may be other threats which have little to do with agriculture and forestry and which may be more akin to the irresponsible or crooked activities of individuals. If agricultural activities continue to exercise a savage threat to the future of the plant, it is the activities of those individuals which will have to be restrained to ensure that the species does not disappear entirely.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will reconsider the matter.

Mr. Mather

I have considerable sympathy with this amendment. It does not cover the Isle of Wight specifically. It covers other parts of the country where the plant grows. I have before me a picture of it which appears in Keble-Martin's "Concise British Flora".

The difficulty is that the plant happens to grow in cornfields. As the Minister said, there is a clause devoted to the continuance of good agricultural practice. However, this amendment would give some protection to the species if it happened to be growing outside the cornfields in non-arable areas. For that reason, what the Minister said may not be entirely true, because in such a case the amendment will not conflict with that clause. That is triggered off, in any case, when farming is carried out. This provision would afford some protection outside those areas.

I am not technically qualified to know whether this is an endangered species. We must go to the experts to discover that. However, perhaps the Minister will look at the amendment a little more sympathetically than he has done so far.

Mr. John Silkin

I hope that the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) will acquit me of not looking at the amendment sympathetically. On the contrary, I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's amendment. I fully understand it.

Field cow wheat is a declining species. In normal circumstances we would say that it was a candidate for protection, and I should like to help as much as I can. However there is one difficulty, about which I have already informed the House.

The problem might be met if I were to give an undertaking that if the hon. Gentleman withdrew the amendment at this stage we should look at the matter as sympathetically as we could, in the hope—I can go no further than that because I must look into the technical situation—that the amendment might be introduced in another place. I wonder whether that might meet the hon. Gentleman's point? I realise his disappointment. On any other terms I should have to resist the amendment. However, I should like to go some way along the road with the hon. Gentleman on this point.

Mr. Cope

Since I know little about the matter, I hesitate to intervene. However, I cannot accept the Minister's answer that there would be a conflict between Schedule 2 and Clause 5 if the amendment were accepted. It may be advisable for the mover of the amendment to accept the undertaking given by the Minister. I should not stop him from doing that.

It seems to me that if the plant is in danger of being eliminated as a result of ploughing closer to the hedges. the Bill will not prevent that, since Clause 5 specifies "good agricultural practice". Therefore, the Bill will not prevent the elimination of that plant. On the other hand, the elimination of the plant would be prevented as a result of the reason given by the promoter of the Bill. For instance, if a collector saw that good agricultural practice threatened a species, he could eliminate the species, and I should not think that the agricultural interests would be concerned about it.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I am grateful for the support given to the amendment, much of which was more learned than the reasons that I was able to produce when moving the amendment.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire. South (Mr. Cope). It seems to me that Clause 5 does not conflict with what we seek to do. However, since I have the backing of the promoter of the Bill, I accept the Minister's generous suggestion to look again at the matter. I hope that it will be possible to introduce an amendment in another place.

I hope to realise an ambition of putting legislation on to the statute book, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) for his support.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

The next amendment will be No. 36, in page 8. line 35, at end add ' Wood Calamint, Calamintha Sylvatica'

Mr. Stephen Ross

I am tempted not to move this amendment. I have discussed the matter with the promoter of the Bill. Wood calamint grows only in my constituency. However, I do not think there is general approval that that species should be added to the schedule, since it is not considered to be under any threat. Although I have been asked to add wood calamint to the list, I am in agreement with its omission. Therefore I shall not move this amendment.

1.5 p.m.

Mr. Hardy

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

I am grateful for the co-operation of hon. Members in dealing with the Report stage of the Bill so thoroughly and so concisely. I regret to detain the House with further consideration of the Bill. However, there are good reasons why a little more time should be spent on it so that various positions can be clarified.

I apologise on behalf of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who is unable to be present. Yesterday evening he drew my attention to certain anxieties which the Scottish Law Society had expressed about the Bill. We received those views only yesterday. I have looked again at the Bill in the light of those points. However, as I am not a lawyer, I am not qualified to comment accurately on their anxieties. The decissions made by the House on Report may be helpful and welcome to the Scottish Law Society. I know that it was anxious about Clauses 4 and 5. However, I feel that there are adequate safeguards to resolve those anxieties. The society wished to see the deletion of Clause 6(c). We have done that this morning. I hope that the comments and decisions made and actions taken on Report will reassure the society that here Parliament is not presenting lawyers with heavy burdens.

I wish to speak on Third Reading because in recent months I have been bombarded with letters from people who are anxious about Clause 16 and about the Minister's policy of destroying badgers. I have received letters from people who are fond of and concerned about badgers. However, some of those people have written to me in terms which suggest that they were not in control of their emotions. Some of the writers were hysterical and angry, while the majority of them were not well informed. Indeed, judging by some of their remarks it appears that I devoted years of public life purely to securing the complete extinction of the badger from the British scene. One lady wrote to me a letter which suggested that I was disgusting and should be brought to public notice. I am happy to draw the attention of the House and the notice of the public to the fact that a lady from Ipswich wrote to me, regarding the Bill, in the following terms: I have never known anything so hypocritical in my life. In her view, I am about to urge the Ministry of Agriculture to destroy every badger and presumably every other creature or wild species in this country. A campaign has been whipped up by a few individuals, some of them not unaccustomed to the media, including a noble Lord of the other place, who made some strong but inaccurate comments about the Bill. However he did not draw the attention of the public to the fact that not long ago in the other place he suggested that not only badgers but bats should be gassed. It hardly seems appropriate for that noble Lord to be criticising the small-scale destruction of badgers as provided by Clause 16.

The initiative which caused me so much work, and which stimulated a large number of people to write to me, came from an article published in the Daily Mail on 10th February. I see many inaccuracies in the national Press from time to time. However, I have never seen any article in a newspaper which contained so many inaccuracies in such a short space.

First, it was said in the article that we were going to drive the badger into extinction. Secondly, it was alleged that

the Minister was to gas badgers, with the implication that this would happen all over the country. Third, it was said that there was no evidence, or only extremely circumstantial evidence, that badgers carried disease. Fourthly, it was alleged that a small commercial lobby would like an open season declared on this shy woodland creature. The article said that badgers were used to make fur coats, clothes brushes and sporrans for the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. A few years ago there was a campaign whether the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders should continue to exist. I have no great anxiety either way, but I believe that that regiment should seek to use a plastic substitute. It is disgraceful that those of us who helped to secure the passage of the Badgers Act 1973 should now be accused of being tools for the commercial fur lobby.

An attack was then made on the Ministry of Agriculture. We all know that it is a tradition that civil servants cannot defend themselves, so that it is fair to say that the Ministry officials to whom I have spoken on this topic have not become evil sadists, as some people appear to believe.

We are told further in that article that badgers are very clean animals, and that when they cross areas where there are infected cattle germs get on to their feet—the implication being that this animal is so clean that germs could not get anywhere else but on their feet.

Mr. Willoughby, the writer of the article, goes on to say that the arrangement has been carefully calculated to destroy badgers in the current breeding season. In that article published on 11th February, he said that it was then the middle of the breeding season when females were busy with their litters and at their most defensive. It is now 18th April and I hope the Bill will be enacted, but obviously it will not receive Royal Assent for a number of weeks or even months. Therefore, it will he well beyond the breeding season before the destruction can take place.

Once again we have examples of sweeping inaccuracies in that newspaper article. The article concludes with these words: If the new law—ironically entitled the Wild Createures and Wild Plants Protection Bill—reaches the statute book it may write the tragic final chapter in the cruel persecution of the badger. I took great exception to the article and telephoned the editor. He agreed to accept a letter which I sent him correcting the serious misconceptions promoted by that article. Unfortunately, the letter was never published. I believe that a letter from somebody connected with World Wildlife was published which corrected some of the inaccuracies. The gentleman in question did not consult me, and I do not regard that letter as an adequate substitute for a complete correction of the mischievious and inaccurate article—an article which has caused me a great deal of work. One lacks the resources to deal with heavy bombardments in correspondence, particularly when letters come from people who are not within one's constituency. If the Boyle Committee suggests improvement of the resources of hon. Members, I hope that the Daily Mail, having caused one hon. Member a tremendous amount of work, will not suggest that assistance to hon. Members is not necessary.

I have written to a number of journals and newspapers in response to mischievous and hysterical letters to give the basic facts. In certain parts of the country—areas within the South-West—ardgers have contracted bovine TB. It is in those areas that the problem is found, and nowhere else. The difficulty is that hysterical and inaccurate reports may well have caused people to destroy animals in other parts of the country where there is no problem. I should not be surprised to discover that, following the sensationalised treatment of this matter, farmers 100 or even 200 miles away from affected areas have destroyed badgers because of their quite unnecessary fears.

Bovine TB is a serious problem. To some extent it can be controlled in cattle because diseased cattle can be slaughtered. If we are to control the disease, serious reservoirs of infection in wild life may need to be dealt with and destroyed.

I understand that badgers in the South-West have been killed to stop the spread of the disease. That is a fact, and it was the situation before my Bill went into Committee. I attended a demonstration in Gloucestershire last year when the Ministry was destroying badgers by means which were legal. I had no criticism to offer of the Ministry at the time and I gave evidence in court when the court was considering a case in which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and his officials were prosecuted. I offered no criticism at that time because officers of the Ministry were acting in the only legal ways available to them, but I suggested that I would be willing to help secure changes in the law which would allow Ministry officials to gas badgers by ways which are more humane than those which at present are legally available to them. Hence, when I presented this Bill the Ministry saw it as an opportunity to act in the earliest possible way to provide their officials with the capacity to behave rather more humanely than the law currently allows.

It is the destruction of badgers which is involved, and the badger is an attractive creature. I have for many years derived a great deal of pleasure from badgers, as my recently published book demonstrates. I hope that those who have written abusive letters on the subject at least will be prepared to purchase my book.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Hear, hear.

Mr. Hardy

I would not mind if my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) purchased it, too. However, I am not indulging in a commercial break.

The fact remains that the badger is an attractive, fascinating creature and provides many naturalists, amateur and professional, with a great deal of pleasure. All those people are extremely regretful that this destruction has to take place. The pity is that some have refused to face facts.

One gentleman, for example, expressed the anxiety that Ministry officials might spoon-feed gas rather than use power-pumping methods. But that gentleman has now changed his view and suggests that homoeopathic medicine should be practised. I am not an expert in medical matters, but the principle of homoeopathic medicine comprises the administration of minute doses of that which in a normal person may reveal symptoms of the disease. If that is the case, I wonder how it can be regarded as practicable for Ministry officials to become practitioners in the art of veterinary homoeopathic medicine in administering minute doses of drugs to wild animals. I have often fed badgers with bread and honey and chocolate drops, but I have never indulged in administering or attempting to administer to them drugs used by a practitioner of veterinary homoeopathic medicine. Suggestions of that kind are very damaging indeed, because they lead the farmer, the realist and the sensible person to believe that one has to be a crank to be interested in the environment and wild life. Unfortunately, there are a lot of cranks in this field.

When I first entered the House in 1970 one of my hon. Friends said to me "You want to stay clear of all animal welfare, and all natural history activities, because if you enter that field your life will be made intolerable by bombardments from cranks". It is a fact that one does get bombarded by cranks. It is often a regrettable bombardment, because hon. Members who seek to ensure that there is protection for the environment and that there is an advance in our arrangements for animal and wild life are up against the fact that hundreds of people will write to them as soon as an initiative is taken to complain that they are miserable, wretched, had and evil as they do not go far enough.

Hon. Members have to be realistic. It is a pity that there is not a greater degree of realism outside this House among the individuals who are interested in this matter. I am sorry to go on about this, but in recent months, my mail bag has been so heavy that I have become exceptionally sensitive and rather sore about the attitudes displayed by individual correspondents.

The fact remains that interest and initiative in this House is as marked as, and perhaps more marked than, it is outside in this area. The individuals who are prepared to be extremist, and who are prepared to make way-out demands—some times of the most unreasonable kind—ought to realise that this House cannot act beyond the bounds of realism.

We have acted realistically as far as this Bill is concerned. It is an extremely useful measure, and although those who object to the gassing of badgers in the few areas of the South-West which are involved may remain dissatisfied and upset, I hope that they will recognise that the Bill fills an important and quite wide gap in our conservation law. That being so, I hope, despite their own disappointment and distress, that they will feel that the Bill is an important step forward and one against which they ought not to continue to campaign.

Someone once told me that a politician was a man who spent his life trying to make sure that he had a big funeral and that one judged another politician by the length of the obituary notice that he received. There may be an element of truth in that, in so far as many politicians are concerned who wish to ensure that at least a reference is made in the history books of future centuries to their lives or their activities. However, the best memorial may not lie in references in history books but in the realities which will apply in the future.

Hon. Members—not large in number, perhaps—who have put a little effort into this Bill may well feel that if a dormouse sleeps in a wintry wood in Bedfordshire, if a Lady's Slipper is to be found in more than single numbers in Yorkshire or if a Natterjack Toad croaks in the evening in East Anglia in a century's time, that will be an appropriate memorial to a little of our time and a little of our effort in 1975.

I commend the Bill to the House. I should like to thank hon. Members for their support and thank the advisers who have given me so much assistance.

1.25 p.m.

Mr. Bishop

My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) mentioned public criteria or the assessment of the value of a politician. I ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind that, whatever he thinks about the work we do in politics and in public life, it is a sobering thought that when so many of us pass away the first question people ask is "What was his majority?" That should help us to a realistic assessment of where we all stand.

However, I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene briefly on Third Reading of the Bill because I wish to emphasise one or two of the points made by my hon. Friend. I speak on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in saying how much we value the considerable co-operation which my hon. Friend has shown during the passage of the Bill. I recognise the enormous amount of work which has been entailed on his part and, of course, the manner in which he has been able to co-operate with the Ministry in getting the safeguards which are now in the Bill.

The Ministry has been concerned—I stress this—for a considerable time about outbreaks of tuberculosis in cattle. We know that all outbreaks are investigated by the Ministry's veterinary officers. There is no doubt that there have been real signs of the danger of the spread of the disease by the badger. This disease has affected cattle in various parts of the country. I recognise the point made by the non. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope), because his area is one of those affected.

In 1974 the compensation paid by the Ministry for TB reactors and dangerous contacts in the South-West Region of England alone was over £200,000, and for the remainder of Britain it was £90,000. We are talking in terms of cash, and this is important. What is even more important is the fact that as food is such a major consideration, we should take all the steps we can to protect the life of our cattle and the prospects of our farmers, but we should also protect badgers. However, there is clear evidence in the behavioural patterns of badgers which leads us to believe that they have been responsible for the carrying of TB. Post mortem examinations at the Ministry's laboratories of nearly 1,000 badgers from problem areas have shown approximately 18 per cent. to be affected by TB. This is an important factor. The fact that we now have some safeguards in this measure is due mainly to my hon. Friend, for his sponsorship of the Bill, and to the co-operation of a great many other people.

I am rather sorry that my hon. Friend has been attacked in the way he claims by a number of people up and down the country about his lack of concern for badgers. His excellent book called "A Lifetime of Badgers" has just been published and I certainly commend it to all concerned, critics and others. He begins his preface by saying:

Perhaps it might be considered odd that a politician should have the sort of interest which demands periods of personal silence and a degree of isolation". The book clearly shows that his period of silence in the woods and his isolation there have been very beneficial, not only for him and the population generally but also for the badger population.

I was wondering why my hon. Friend was so keen on badgers and whether they had any particular political leanings in his direction. On page 106 of his hook he says: For a long time it was thought that the badger's legs were shorter on one side than the other. Nicholas Cox, in his day presumably regarded as knowledgeable about these matters, wrote of the badger in 1677: ' He hath very sharp teeth … his back is broad and his legs are longer on the right side rather than on the left '. Quite clearly the badger has leanings to the left. I do not suggest that that was the only aspect of badgers which made my hon. Friend so keen to do something about their well-being.

Those of us who have brought in Private Members' Bills recognise that our lives afterwards are never the same. I had the honour a few years ago to bring in a Bill dealing with equal rights, which has brought me into that lobby over the years. One sees the benefit of one's work after some years.

I am sure we are grateful for my hon. Friend's efforts to ensure the equal rights of the badger population and for the other aspects of the Bill on which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Planning and Local Government many want to comment presently. I should like to say how much we in the Ministry and all those concerned, particularly the farming community, appreciate the safeguards in the Bill. My hon. Friend played a valuable part in the passage of the Badgers Act in 1973.

We are pleased that the Bill has made such progress so far and we look for ward to its coming into force shortly. One thinks inevitably of the teddy bears' picnic. As for getting a surprise on going down to the woods. I am sure that when my hon. Friend goes down to the woods in Yorkshire and elsewhere he will be received at a badgers' picnic in a friendly way, not only by the badger community—perhaps I should say the badger set—but by all those who value conservation as well as agriculture.

1. 32 p.m.

Mr. Cope

I congratulate the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) on his luck in coming so high in the Ballot, on his taste and judgment in introducing the Bill and on the skill with which he piloted it through.

I want to say a word only about Clause 16, dealing with badgers. As I said when I moved an amendment earlier today, my constituency contains an area—about one-fifth of my constituency—where the problem is serious. In case anyone should still think, either here or in another place, that this provision is not necessary, I must point out that 29 herds in that area have had TB reactors in the last three years. That is part of the reason why the Ministry's grants in that part of the South-West have been so high. The Minister of State said that 18 per cent. of badgers taken in an area including my constituency have been shown to have had TB. I have no doubt about the need for this action.

However, when the matter was first raised with me I could not see the legal necessity for the clause. Section 9(1)(d) of the Badgers Act 1973 specifically provides as one of the exceptions that the Minister of Agriculture or the Secretary of State for Scotland may give a licence for the killing of badgers for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease …within an area specified in the licence by any means so specified. After reading that, I though that Clause 16 of the Bill would be unnecessary legally, but lawyers tell me that the 1973 provision has not proved sufficient to permit the most humane methods to he used.

I do not know the intention of Parliament when that provision was inserted—I was not a Member at the time—but it is logical to suppose that Parliament intended the killing to be done by the most humane method. As that intention does not seem to have succeeded, Clause 16 is legally necessary, although it has proved controversial. It is necessary for the farming community and for the badgers themselves. If TB is not eliminated among badgers, it will spread to other badgers, let alone cattle and human beings. That is the reason for the clause. It is one that I thoroughly support, as indeed I support the whole Bill.

1.36 p.m

Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

There are two reasons why I should ask the indulgence of the House for intervening. First, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister for Planning and Local Government, who is to speak later, I suppose that I need to ask the indulgence of the House as well as his before I speak. My right hon. Friend has already given me a dispensation to say a few words. I am not speaking as a dissenting PPS. Indeed, I think that my right hon. Friend and I and my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) are broadly in agreement about the Bill.

The second reason why I should say a word of apology, as the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) has done, is that I have not been involved in the passage of the Bill until now. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley will pardon me for entering the debate at this stage.

I do so partly to congratulate my hon. Friend on his good luck—that is a less valuable thing, I always think, on which to congratulate someone—but also on his skill and the enormous amount of hard work which he has put into this legislation. I think that the whole House will want to congratulate my hon. Friend on the form of the Bill.

I should like to underline two points. It has been said that perhaps the most important aspect of the Bill is its educative effect. One of the troubles with legislation of this kind is the difficulty of enforcement, because inevitably the sort of things with which the Bill is designed to deal happen in places that are difficult to supervise and where it is difficult to apprehend offenders.

However, I am in no doubt that legislation can and often does have an important educative effect. A prime example is the Race Relations Act. One might almost say that there is bound to be an area of legislation in social matters and in matters such as this where the educative effect can be vital. Clause 13(1) of the Bill says: A local authority shall take such steps as they consider expedient for bringing the effect of this Act to the attention of the public and in particular schoolchildren. If the Bill becomes law, I hope that local authorities and local education authorities will be encouraged as much as possible by the Government to do something along these lines.

I am sure that the fact that by law certain plants are protected will have an impact on schoolchildren, and if teachers are aware of the provisions of the measure they can play a part in seeing that certain plants—some of them, as we have heard today, highly localised—are protected. That is perhaps one of the most important consequences that can come out of the educative effect of the Bill.

I do not want to detain the House for too long, but I recall a story that I heard many years ago of a district forestry officer who was keen to see that certain woodlands close to a town in the West Riding were looked after and that trees were not damaged. The solution that he finally hit on was to get the schools and even individual children to adopt certain trees. As a consequence, the whole situation altered because the children felt a sense of pride in their responsibility for the trees which it was their job to protect.

That has direct relevance to the Bill, and particularly to Clause 13. If children recognise and understand that in the area in which they live and go to school there are rare plants for which they as children and later as fully-grown citizens have a responsibility to see that they are looked after and saved from the depredations of tourists or others who do not understand the value of these things, we can hope that there will be a greater public awareness of the importance of protecting rare species, both animal and plant, which are endangered and may disappear.

I hope we shall recognise that in passing this piece of legislation, and, indeed, in passing a good deal of legislation through this House, one of the things that we are doing as a consequence is educating people. The purpose of legislation is not entirely to punish those who offend but to obtain in the community at large a wider recognition of things that need to be done.

I think that the House was a little taken aback by the quality of some of the correspondence which my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley has been receiving, but I think everyone knows that in the whole area of animal welfare and so on there is an enormous amount of sentimentalism. I am a member of the all-party group for animal welfare. In general terms I support a lot of the contentions that are made on the subject by organisations concerned that animals should be treated kindly and that their welfare should be protected. Nevertheless. I think we are all aware of this danger of sentimentalism, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the fact that the Bill seems to be a balanced piece of work, not least because it recognises the demands of agriculture and spells them out.

I use the word "balanced" advisedly. If we are talking about the use of land we must think in a mature way about how we can balance the conflicting demands, and one demand is for the protection of valuable species, both plant and animal. I recall reading many years ago—I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bother Valley will not mind my introducing this, because it seems relevant to the Bill the words of Albert Schweitzer, who said that however we behave towards animal and plant life, the principle behind our behaviour must be a reverence for life. He said that we may stand on them as a farmer does when cutting corn but that if on our way home we strike down carelessly one plant we are guilty of an irreverence towards life. That principle is enshrined in the Bill.

We have to support good agricultural practice, but we must not wantonly destroy animal and plant life. We must pay particular attention to the species which are now endangered because of the effects of agriculture and the greater use of land by people.

I was interested in the brief debate on field cow wheat, because here we see this very issue arise. A plant is in positive danger because of the practice of agriculture. It cannot come within the provisions of the Bill because it appears to be a plant which grows in cornfields and near them. Perhaps that is contradictory, but there are obviously places where this plant grows where good agricultural practice need not necessarily interfere with its continued existence. The principle remains that we must find a balance in our appreciation of these problems, and I think that in a real sense the Bill attempts to do that.

I conclude by congratulating my hon. Friend on the tremendous amount of work he has done and the tremendous interest he has shown in this whole subject. To have played a major part in getting through the House a measure dealing with badgers and to have written a book about them must be unprecedented, and I therefore express my complete support for the Bill.

1.47 p.m

Mr. Mather

The Third Reading debate has so far been mainly about badgers. It is rather unfortunate that the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) has had added to his Bill, which seeks to protect wild plants and creatures, this element of destruction, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) said, it is important that tuberculosis is eradicated from badgers because it can endanger the whole species if it is allowed to spread. For this reason I think everyone accepts that this destruction has to take place on a small scale.

I do not know whether it is the late sittings which the hon. Member for Rother Valley has to attend in this House, and a particularly late sitting which we attended on the Housing Finance Bill, which makes it easier for him to stay up all night and watch badgers or whether his nocturnal habits are the other way round and it is continually watching badgers late at night which enables him to stay up with such ease during all-night sittings.

Mr. Hardy

I had better get this on record before my constituents think I do nothing but watch badgers whenever I am in my constituency. Despite the fact that I am in London for most of the time I have occasionally watched them, but I have never indulged in sitting up all night. I do not think my wife would like me to sit up in a local wood all night, and I have never found it necessary to do so. Yorkshire badgers are most accommodating and generally appear within 15 minutes of my arrival by their set.

Mr. Mather

Finally, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the Bill, which he has introduced and steered successfully through all its stages in this House. I wish him well in the future. I wish that some of the Government's other legislation could be as non-controversial and as constructive as the Bill. I see that the Minister is consulting his hon. Friend. He might wish to consult him again outside the Chamber to see whether we might have more of this type of legislation and a little less of the legislation to which we have now become only too well accustomed.

1.51 p.m.

Mr. John Silkin

The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) is expecting too much. We are elected for our political convictions as well as for our nonpolitical convictions. I cannot promise him that the rest of this Session will not be as exciting as the previous parts of the Session have been.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is pleasant to be able to speak on the Third Reading of a Bill of this type. I am the fourth Minister to speak on the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), whose patience in the watching of badgers we know about, has even greater patience when it comes to wearing out Ministers. Not only has my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food been present today to deal with those matters that concern agriculture but my hon. Friends the Minister of State, Department of the Environment and the Under-Secretary were both concerned at various stages of the Bill.

It is pleasant to be able to add another environmental tribute, if I may put it that way, to my hon. Friend. We have had some discussions about Latin pronunciation. If we go back to Roman history, there can be little dispute that all Roman generals thought it better to be lucky than to be skilful. My hon. Friend came first in the Ballot; that was lucky. It was only then that his skill was needed. He was both lucky and skilful.

My hon. Friend was justified in drawing attention to a totally wrong-headed campaign against him on the question of badgers. It must have been extremely hurtful to him. I deplore this, as other right hon. and hon. Members have done. For a man whose chosen Bill was designed to protect the environment, a man who had so close an association with the Badgers Act 1973 and who has written a book, "A Lifetime of Badgers", which contains so much love of badgers, it must

have been extremely hurtful. How pleasant it is now that he has succeeded so well in getting the Bill through the House, quietly working hard behind the scenes. The Bill has been improved enormously in Committee and on Report. So much of this has been due to the calm and easy way in which my hon. Friend has moved as the Bill has gone through its various stages.

It is interesting for us to see how the Bill has developed closer relations, contact and co-operation between the various Government Departments and the Nature Conservancy Council. We have had to work together on various aspects of it, and this has helped considerably. The Government have learned more and more of the objectives behind the Bill, and I hope that we have played some little part in getting it into such good shape.

It was a difficult Bill to sponsor because its origin was two separate Bills. Part of it concerned animals and part of it concerned plants. They started as separate Bills last November in another place. To have married them so well and so successfully is a tremendous act of piloting on the part of my hon. Friend. Having said that, I think he would probably wish me to pay a great tribute, on his behalf as well as on behalf of the Government, to the hon. Members from all parties who worked together to make the Bill a success, who supported it and who have done everything they can to assist it. I understood that that was what the hon. Member for Esher was saying in his usually uncontroversial way a moment ago.

I turn to the Bill itself and its effects. My hon. Friend passed me a note a short while ago, saying that at the annual conference of the Mammal Society in Sussex last weekend it was reported that the late cold spell had probably had a fairly disastrous effect on the bat population, particularly the greater horse-shoe. If that is so, it demonstrates how timely and apt it is for the Bill to come through at this time.

The Government's attitude was clearly demonstrated on Second Reading by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. The Bill will have every support in another place. It has also been strongly supported by the Nature Conservancy Council. My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley in his book "A Lifetime of Badgers" said that there could be no taking of nature for granted. That is true. That is why we need a Bill of this type and why we have been glad to give it all the help we can.

The Bill is an important step forward, perhaps a greater one than any of us realise. We are protecting, as trustees, the environment in which we live, not just for ourselves, not just for the species concerned—although that is important—but for the enjoyment, love and care of future generations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett), reiterating something that my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said on Second Reading, said that there would probably be few prosecutions under the Bill. I certainly hope that is so, although perhaps for another reason.

I entirely agree with both my hon. Friends that the Bill is educative. Its whole basis must be to make people aware of the need to conserve, preserve and encourage the natural things in our society. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich made a good and strong point when he talked about Schweitzer's reverence towards life. We in this House have taken some steps towards that admirable goal. As a result of the Bill we shall have protected species of animal and of plant that would otherwise have disappeared. Who knows? A time may come when man, having learned to protect other species, will also learn to do something about protecting his own.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.