HL Deb 21 November 1974 vol 354 cc1204-27

7.22 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Cranbrook, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It is unfortunate that my noble friend has not been able to be with us to-night. I spoke to him on the telephone this morning and he is back at his home. Your Lordships will be glad to know that he is in reasonably good health and, although he has been told to take things easy for a while, he hopes to be back with us soon.

I cannot possibly present this Bill as my noble friend would have presented it. He has a knowledge of these matters which I cannot claim to have. I am happy and proud to be able to present it to your Lordships and to ask that your Lordships give it a Second Reading. This Bill, as has been made clear (because it is evident that the debate on this has already started and has been going on for some time), is concerned with the preservation of certain animals within this country. This is a matter with which most of us are rightly concerned because none of us wish to see the Wild Life of this country depleted. We are all proud of our heritage and wish to ensure that this is preserved. That is what these two Bills—the Bill we have just dealt with and this one—are all about.

Animal life is at risk all the time from three different causes: there are accidents which take place—people refer, for instance, to what happens when an unfortunate hedgehog is run over in the road. That is not a deliberate attempt at exterminating a species although it may have a disastrous effect. But there is the deliberate extermination of animals, and also the deliberate capturing of wild animals for the pet trade. There is extermination of animals as a result of their habitats being destroyed. We have a number of different things which affect wild animals.

This is a modest Bill and is concerned with one particular aspect, and that is the deliberate destruction of animals and the capturing of wild animals. Because of this reference is made only to certain species because these are the ones which, after careful consideration, my noble friend Lord Cranbrook considers are the species most at risk. He has taken much advice on the matter, as your Lordships will realise, because he is a thorough and careful man. I have with me notes which he sent me and, as I only received them on Monday, it has taken me some time to have a good look at them and I cannot pretend to know them in detail. If one were to look at the notes one would find a large number of animals which are described and which are on sale. He has gone through all these and—after consultation with others—has decided which are the ones most at risk and which therefore should be included initially in any Bill for preserving and conserving wild life. One notices if one looks at the clauses in the Bill that there is a provision for extending this later, if necessary. But at the moment these are the ones to which he refers.

One is always a little surprised, if one is not familiar with all the details of the countryside, at the great variety of animals and living matter which are at risk in one way or another. When living in Scotland about 30 years ago, I remember some friends wrote a charming little book on Scottish nursery rhymes. There was one about the Capercailzie. I tried to find the book when preparing for this debate, but unfortunately I have lost my copy of it as a result of changing house several times. There was a footnote to this charming nursery rhyme about the Capercailzie in which it was said that it was extinct and had disappeared from Scotland by the end of the last century. They received a note from a friend who lived in Angus. He said that they were wrong and he proved that they were wrong by sending them a Capercailzie for New Year's Day. My wife and I were asked to dinner to try this Capercailzie. I had no idea what type of bird a Capercailzie was.

In fact the bird is an enormous creature about four times the size of an ordinary turkey. I inquired as to how you dealt with it. I was told that it was a very troublesome matter. I believe the bird does not fly very well—it just about succeeds in dropping down from a tree, but not much more than that. A gamekeeper describing the Capercalizie, said, "If you shoot one you should always bury it." You bury it for at least a week because it feeds on pine needles, and the result is that it has a strong aromatic odour. And he said that at the end of the week you dig it up—and if you are a wise man you bury it again. No doubt many of your Lordships have consumed Capercailzie. I enjoyed it. It was like a fairly tasteless turkey, but otherwise quite good. These are the various things one finds about the variety of life in this country. The purpose of this Bill is to ensure that we and our descendants will continue to enjoy the wild life of these islands.

The Bill sets out, as your Lordships will have observed, a number of clauses. May I briefly go through them? Clause 1 makes it an offence to kill, injure or capture any rare wild animal on the Schedule, except in the protection of one's own property. Clause 2 makes it an offence to trade in scheduled animals. Clause 3 prohibits ringing or marking except as allowed under Clause 5. Clause 4 allows possession of scheduled animals to tend injuries, mercy killing, and incidental killing or injury when doing other lawful acts. Clause 5 allows the Nature Conservancy Council to give licences to kill or capture scheduled animals for scientific or educational purposes, for zoological gardens, or for ringing or marking; and allows the relevant agricultural authorities to license killing in order to prevent the spread of disease.

Clause 6 allows a person found, or suspected of, committing an offence to be required to give his name and address (I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, has departed, because I have no doubt this is the kind of clause he would not like) and to be compelled to leave the land. Clause 7 provides the police with powers to stop and search suspects, confiscate equipment and to arrest a suspect if necessary. Clause 8 allows the Schedule to be varied if the Nature Conservancy Council thinks it necessary. Clause 9 provides penalties for breach of the Act. Clause 10 imposes a duty on the Nature Conservancy Council to review the Schedule regularly and to report on the advice given. Clause 11 gives educational and enforcement powers to local authorities. Clause 12 provides procedure for orders amending the Schedule. Clause 13 defines some of the terms used. And Clause 14 limits the extent of the Act to England, Wales and Scotland, and provides for a delayed start. Those are the essential clauses of the Bill.

Then we have the actual Schedule at the end of the Bill. Your Lordships will notice that at the moment the Schedule is restricted to seven animals: the Greater Horse-shoe Bat, Mouse-eared Bat, Dormouse, Sand Lizard, Smooth snake, Natterjack Toad and the Large Blue butterfly. These are creatures which are apparently under very grave risk indeed. In some cases the communities are now so small that there is grave danger they will disappear altogether. I believe that in the case of the Natterjack Toad, for instance, there are only a few parts where it can be found. There only has to be a collector going along with a bucket and scooping up a number of them and he practically wipes out the population. Many of these animals fetch quite a good price on the market and therefore there is a great temptation for an unscrupulous person to get them.

Only two bats are included. I believe I am correct in saying that the most common bat, the Pipistrelle, is under no risk at the present time at all and there are many about. I was looking in Country Life for last week, and I saw there quite an interesting article by John Hooper. He had an ultrasonic detector and had been going round tracing where bats are in the South-West London area, and I think he found there were 170 different places where the Pipistrelle could be found. I also learnt what I had not known before, that the Long-eared Bat (I think it is) can be heard at a distance of only six feet by means of the ultrasonic detector, whereas the Noctule can be heard at a distance of 50 yards. There is this enormous variation between them. This is what makes the whole subject so fascinating. My Lords, the Bill is a simple and clear one; I commend it to your Lordships and ask that it be given a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Wynne-Jones.)


My Lords, may I point out something in regard to Capercailzie. I am sure the House knows that they are now heavily protected. They flourish on the Isle of Loch Lomond. They fly very simply. They taste foully of turpentine, and I would not recommend your Lordships to eat them unless really pushed.


My Lords, may I say that I totally disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones? It depends entirely what they have been feeding on. They weigh about 9 lb., which is not particularly heavy for a turkey; and I would not agree with the noble Lord on his culinary recommendation to your Lordships that one eats them the same as any other bird.

7.37 p.m.


My Lords, if I may I would intervene at this stage in the debate to give your Lordships an indication of the Government's attitude to this Bill. First, may I congratulate my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones on his clear presentation of the subject matter in the Bill before us, particularly in view of the short time he has had to prepare himself for to-day's debate. I am sure that we would all wish to be associated with his regrets that the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, who has taken the initiative with this Bill and done so much to develop it, cannot be with us to-day. We all send him our best wishes for a speedy recovery, and I am sure that the whole House is delighted to learn that he is now out of hospital.

I have already this afternoon, in the context of the Wild Plants Protection Bill, spoken for some time in a general way about conservation, and those general remarks also apply to this Bill. I accept the evidence of the decline and need for protection of rare species, and am pleased to see the way in which the noble Lord's provisions fit in with previous enactments. Now I hope I can save your Lordships' time by going straight into a discussion of some specific points in this Bill. May I apologise in advance to any noble Lords who were not in the Chamber earlier, and who therefore did not hear points I made about similar clauses in the Wild Plants Protection Bill. If I appear to be skipping or skimping any point in which any noble Lord is interested, I will be happy to expand on it further, if I can, before I sit down.

Your Lordships will have noted that the Schedule to this Bill provides a flexible means of adding or deleting species. But the protection measures are inflexible and allow only for what approximates to complete protection. I take it, therefore, that only truly endangered species can logically be included in the Schedule, and indeed the Bill is clear on this point. Except for the fact that the Bill provides protection for a species that is endangered in one locality but not endangered elsewhere, there is no scope for partial protection to be afforded to species which are uncommon but not endangered. I trust your Lordships will bear this in mind in discussing changes to the Schedule, and also bear in mind that any later changes to the Schedule will be subject to annulment by your Lordships' House.

Some of your Lordships may wonder whether, with such a limited list of species, the Bill has sufficient substance to justify it. Indeed, I am advised that the Nature Conservancy Council have doubts as to whether one or two of the species included are so endangered at the present time as to warrant this degree of protection. However, the Council strongly support the Bill and I am prepared to accept that it is a very worthwhile measure, with flexible machinery for protecting further species as soon as it becomes clear that they are threatened.

I am, I am sure, the person who knows least about wild animals and plants who has taken or will take part in these two debates to-day. However, I was interested to see in the Schedule to the Bill that the Natterjack Toad is thought to be endangered only in Norfolk and Suffolk. It is not called Bufo calamita in Norfolk and Suffolk only, as might appear to be the case from a legalistic reading of the Schedule to the Bill, but presumably it is to be protected only in those two counties. My noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones has already talked about the Natterjack Toad, but as I live in Norfolk I took the opportunity to ask local naturalists about the Natterjack and I have been told by everybody to whom I spoke in Norfolk that it is very rare in that county. I understand that it exists only in a very small number of locations and is easily caught and readily available, should one want to buy one. In fact, it appears that it might be suffering especially because it is rare. Rarity leads to increased interest; people find out where the rarity exists and catch it up to study or sell it without realising in many cases the harm that they are doing. That is what makes this kind of legislation so urgently needed. Indeed, this process has already been mentioned with reference to wild plants in a previous debate by noble Lords.

The list of species in the Schedule poses serious problems of recognition—more serious, perhaps, than those in the Wild Plants Schedule—and thus of enforcement. Who, for instance, among the general public can tell the difference between a Greater Horse-shoe bat and a Lesser Horse-shoe bat? I confess to your Lordships that I, for one, certainly could not, but it will be even more difficult. I imagine, to distinguish between the eggs or larvae of the Large Blue and some other butterfly. But if the effect of these difficulties in the Bill is to make all those as ignorant as myself extremely careful not to destroy any butterfly eggs or larvae, so much the better. However, I think that there may be a case in this Bill, as in the Wild Plants Protection Bill, for replacing "wilfully" in Clause 1 with the concept of "without reasonable excuse" because of the difficulties of the various legal interpretations of "wilfully".

What, my Lords, of somebody who strikes at a snake thinking it to be a poisonous adder, only to find out too late that it is the harmless but protected Smooth snake? I hope that the noble Lord will give some further thought to this matter. I know that I should not, to-day, be offering detailed advice, but I would again commend to my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones that the "without reasonable excuse" formula is something which might well answer these problems.

Most of the meat of the Bill is concerned with a short list of protected wild creatures only, but in Clause 3 it is made an offence to ring or mark any wild mammal. I understand that the object of this clause is to curtail marking by keen but inexperienced naturalists who may injure the creature during the marking process. While sympathising with this aim, I am not sure that it is wise to widen the scope of what is otherwise a fairly simple and specific Bill by including all mammals in this way, and the Government would like to consider further the difficulties involved.

Under Clause 4 a person will not be guilty of an offence by taking into care any protected wild creature that has been disabled, solely for the purpose of tending it. I am advised that in order to make satisfactory provisions to ensure that any such creature is ultimately released, a clause similar to Section 8(2)(d) of the Badgers Act would need to be introduced into the Bill, and I put this forward as something which the noble Lord might like to consider.

Clause 6 provides for offenders to be required to quit land. I am advised that as it stands the clause is defective as it would allow landlords to remove tenants, and vice versa. However, an amendment to bring it into line with the equivalent clause in the Wild Plants Bill would cover the point.

Clause 7 deals with the powers of arrest and a constable's powers to stop and search any person whom he reasonably suspects of committing or having committed an offence under the Bill and to search vehicles, boats and animals. It follows Clause 6 in the Wild Plants Protection Bill, and I must register similar reservations about it. Again I suggest that it might be more acceptable if, for example, the right to search existed only where a constable has reasonable grounds for suspecting that evidence of the commission of the offeence is to be found on the person, or in or about the vehicle, boat or animal.

Clause 8 is clearly intended to allow orders to be made for the whole country or in respect of a particular area. It may be necessary to provide for two distinct types of order to make the noble Lord's provision workable. Moreover, anomalies could arise where an animal is, for example, taken in one area where it is not protected and sold in another area where it is. However, these are technical points which we can doubtless consider at a later stage.

Lastly, in respect of Clause 10 I would repeat my comment on Clause 7 of the Wild Plants Protection Bill, that the powers are already provided by the Nature Conservancy Council Act 1973. In addition, the reviews and reports called for are well within the competence of the Council and should be left to their discretion.

Much of the text of the noble Lord's Bill is based upon earlier enactments. This being so, it ought to be a relatively simple matter to reconsider the questions which I have raised and to deal with a number of details which are not sufficiently important to be debated to-day. Such questions apart, Her Majesty's Government are once again happy to give general support to this Bill as a worthwhile conservation measure.

7.47 p.m.


My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, for having introduced this Bill in such a succinct way. Equally, without denigrating from Lord Wynne-Jones' effort, we are sad that he has had to introduce the Bill because of the illness of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, which we are delighted to hear from the noble Lord is not too serious. Some five years ago I was associated "three times running" with the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. in respect of his Conservation of Seals Bill. It was only after the third attempt that it became an Act of Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was heavily involved—he, in those days, from the Government Front Bench and I from the Opposition Front Bench—with this Bill. It was a rather nice trinity which I am happy to partake in again. I admire, as we all do, the knowledge of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, because no other Peer in this House is his equal in this matter.

May I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. It is the first time that I have spoken opposite him since he moved to the Department of the Environment, and knowing that he is occupying my old room there I wish him well. I hope I am not embarrassing him by saying that I knew his father, mother, uncle and grandfather very well and liked them all. That will not help the noble Lord in this light, but I am delighted to see him standing there and doing so well.

At the same time, may I say (as this is the first time that I have had the opportunity to do so) how sad I am that the late Lord Garnsworthy, is not able to be in his place during this debate. He and I were opposite each other for many years. I grew to know, like and respect him, and to admire his enormous sincerity of purpose. I think few of us appreciate this until we think of what he achieved. One found him outside the Chamber discussing the points which he had put across so sincerely inside the Chamber and explaining why he had done so. May I pay that brief tribute to the late Lord Garnsworthy—because I have not had the opportunity to do so in public—and say, both to the Government Party and, of course, to his widow and his small son, how deeply sorry I am at his loss.

To return to this particular Bill, I was very curious about it when I first looked at it, because it appeared to be such an enormous hammer which was being used to crack such a small nut. I even got to the stage of ringing up that very clever research body, the Conservative Research Office, to ask what they thought about it. We all turned to the Schedule and we scratched our "nuts" as to what was behind it all and I still am, I must confess, puzzled as to what was in the noble Earl's mind. Obviously, this is a peg on which he is planning to hang some hats later on. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, may be able to tell us what particular hats may be wanted to be put on this particular peg. I find it impossible to believe that this list of six animals and one insect are worthy of a full-blooded Act of Parliament.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will permit me, there are seven animals on the list. I should point out to him that this is the first Bill dealing with animals as opposed to what are, strangely, separated from them as birds. Birds, and of course the badger, have been separately dealt with, but this, I think I am right in saying, is the first Bill dealing with animals, in the sense that the word is commonly used.


My Lords, I appreciate that, but I must confess I did not realise that a butterfly was an animal—I have learned it from the noble Lord, and I accept it. Nevertheless, I still find this a curious list. I find various things odd about this Bill. in particular Clause 3, dealing with restriction on marking and ringing. Let us be honest, my Lords: are there really in this life many people wishing to do this sort of thing, except for the good of the species? I find it hard to believe that there are people going about to mark or tag or ring animals to the animals' detriment. Normally, these things are done by people interested in the welfare of the breed, to see how far they go from the habitat in which they were found, or ringed or marked or tagged. No one, I imagine, could possibly be able to mark our bat friends; the dormouse, I suppose, could be marked, but I imagine he would never do any harm. I suppose you could mark toads. Here is an enormously important Bill of Parliament, my Lords, but dealing with such tiny things. I am still puzzled.

Clause 5 gives a let-out to people who need to do these things for scientific purposes or who wish to improve the breed. Clause 7 and the Schedule again revert to the ludicrous. I am very glad to hear the Minister say that he found some of these things slightly heavy-handed. I think I am not exaggerating in saying that. I do not wish to be against the Bill as such. I think there are animals which might be covered by it but they are not yet in the Schedule. We have heard that certain animals are rare, but, quite honestly, which of the people in the country who are supposed to be doing this damage to the species will alter their way of life one iota because of this Bill which may become an Act? I find it fantastic.

The name, the Natterjack Toad, is too tempting for words to resist; I cannot resist it. I know our friend the common toad, but all I could find out about the Natterjack Toad was that it much resembles the common toad but it is of a yellowish brown colour clouded with dull olive, having a bright yellow line passing along the middle of its back. The one big difference is that it has a disgusting smell. But which of us, before we tread on the animal by mistake, is going to find that out?

One other point of difference is that it never hops, and its motion is more like walking or running than the crawling of a common toad. The common toad is an animal which you can collect or buy or sell or tread on, or do whatever you want to if you have that mentality. I found out that in the 1860s there was a sale price for the common toad of four old pence, and the people who bought it were gardeners because it was a useful keeper-down of insects. My Lords, when you have a breed of people like gardeners wanting animals like toads for this purpose they are not going to destroy it; they are going to try to encourage lots of toads so that they can get hold of them when they want them. It does not necessarily follow that because something is offered for sale it will do harm to the breed. I am not talking about nasty little boys who may tear legs off or something like that; I am talking about the principle. I accept that in this Bill there are definitions covering things that can be done for proper purposes. I am just looking at the thing in common sense.

Our friend the Sand Lizard is an inhabitant of sandy heath. The only thing I was able to find out about him as opposed to the common lizard, is that he is oviparous as opposed to the poor old common lizard who is viviparous. I do not know whether Great Britain will be a lesser or greater country if our friend the Sand Lizard dies out. I do not think many of us are going to miss him. He has another odd habit. If by any chance you should drop something on his tail, which is very fragile, it drops off easily, but within a short time he has grown it again. This is something which I gather that our friend the common lizard cannot do.

I have not met many people who collect or are wanting to sell or buy or harm such animals. The Greater Horse-shoe Bat is a very unusual gentleman. I personally do not think I have ever seen him, though I know what he looks like. He has this extraordinary snout which goes up against his head. I am delighted to see these two bats being protected. My wife's name was Bateson, which means "son of a bat" and my uncle-in-law, or wife's uncle, Lord Deramore (I must be careful what I say), has the arms of three black bats' wings on his shield and his motto is Nocte Volamus. So my wife's family has an hereditary interest in bats. But I have yet to meet people who are in any way wishing to injure or do damage to bats. I think our modern civilised life is in itself anti-bat; they thrive on an old-fashioned type of countryside. I do not think they like electric and telephone wires and modern concrete. There is no place where they can reside. Our ambiance, our environment, does more harm to these animals than do human beings.

My Lords, having said all this, and poked a little bit of fun at this Bill, I accept that in principle, if applied to animals which are considered by the Nature Conservancy Council to be in danger, this Bill is the peg to hang that hat on. At this moment, I do not see the necessity for this Bill although I must confess that I see no reason why its passage should not be allowed. Equally, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-J ones, I do not think we have heard the reasons for it really proved. It is a perfectly reasonable Bill if there is a necessity for it and. assuming that somewhere in the mind of my noble friend Lord Cranbrook there are some animals which may need to be protected in the future, I wish this Bill well and, again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, for having introduced it.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question? Is he saying that he does not accept the word of the Nature Conservancy Council that these seven animals are in danger, or that if they are endangered and the Nature Conservancy Council is right it does not matter?


My Lords, I cannot believe that the Schedule as listed is of great import to this country or to the normal animal life of this country. They are such small species. When you are spraying your cabbages or other plants against disease and pests, you might easily kill the larva of the Large Blue; when you are putting down rat poison to kill rats you may inadvertently destroy the dormouse. I suggest that nobody intentionally, in their wildest moments, could possibly wish to injure these species as listed. If it is thought that this Bill will do good, then I am delighted. I accept the advice of the Nature Conservancy Council; they are expert and I am not.

8.2 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to offer my qualified support for this Bill, because I feel that even at a time when we are faced with solemn and burdensome difficulties we should make time to debate ways to protect and conserve the smaller and rarer species. But in welcoming this Bill, would I be thought to cavil if I suggested that if it was proposed to limit protection to the species named in the Schedule then, in the eyes of many, it would be a somewhat restricted list? The Bill is good so far as it goes, but might it not go further? There are other, better known species which call for protection. The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, lists certain rare species but would it not be desirable to deal at the same time with others more common, and which are also, according to my information, at risk?

First, there is the grass snake, natrix natrix natrix which is well known to your Lordships, though perhaps not under its Latin name. This creature is entirely harmless but the species is under pressure, not least from sale in pet shops. I do not know your Lordships' views on wriggly things, but it seems a pity wilfully to allow any species to disappear or to diminish for lack of protection. Next there is the slow worm, anguis fragilis, which is threatened by loss of habitat. Again, it is utterly harmless and I have personal experience of it from the island on which we live in Scotland. Then there are the newts and the toads. Seemingly, there are many types of newt, but one of our commoner newts is the palmate newt, triturus helveticus, which seems to have a Swiss origin, and in the toad tribe (here is the common toad, bufo bufo. I mention them together because both are suffering from the disappearance of ponds, either through urbanisation or through drainage. The toad breeds in water and the newt, of course, lives in it.

As early as 1968, in an article in Habitat, the publication of what was then called the Council of Nature, these species were said to be in particular danger, more especially because of the 1967 Agriculture Act, whereby farmers could apply for a grant to drain their land. In short, my Lords, I do not subscribe to the view of St. Patrick, who gave the snakes and toads a twist and bothered them for ever. The species I have mentioned make a formidable addition to the list now submitted and not all of them, by any means, may stand in need of conservation. But I believe that at this time, when we are given a golden opportunity to conserve we should occupy ourselves not only with the rarities but with the common or garden species. I am not proposing heedlessly to throw these other species, as it were, into the pot, but after investigation and inquiry I may at Committee stage include the names of one or others on the grounds that they are in danger for one reason or another of disappearing, or at least of becoming scarce.

8.6 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in expressing regret that the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, is not able to be here to-night; I hope that he will very soon be here again in his usual good form. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, on the way in which he presented this Bill, which I wholly support.

The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, said at the end of his speech that he was no expert. May I say that throughout his speech he amply demonstrated that point. He does not realise that because an animal or a creature is not very striking to look at it may none the less be exceedingly rare and of great scientific interest. Such also is the case with flowers, but I did not hear the noble Lord object to some of the orchids included in the Wild Plants Protection Bill. Some of them are really nothing at all to look at but are exceedingly interesting to the botanist. In any case, this Bill makes ample provision for the Schedule to be added to from time to time. I have a certain amount of sympathy for the noble Earl, Lord Arran, in his wish to see it extended. I think at the moment the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, has limited it to the absolutely necessary ones which are so endangered that they might at any time become extinct.

I should now like to come to ringing, a matter that was attacked by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray.


My Lords, with great respect, I did not attack ringing and I did not attack the species concerned. I merely said that I did not think people would intentionally do these things to these species, and therefore I was merely querying, in a very humble way, whether in fact this Bill would achieve its object. I accept that it might be educational; I was merely lightly casting doubts on whether it would be effective.


I quite understand that, my Lords. However, there are a great many people whose knowledge is not very extensive and who may do something which they think is perfectly harmless but which in fact is not. As an instance of this, I will quote from some notes on the Bill which the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, has sent me. He said: Clause 3, controlling the ringing of mammals, is the only one which has little effect on the conservation of endangered species, although there is evidence that waking hibernating bats to ring them can waste so much of their reserves of fat as to prevent them from surviving the winter. Of course, the average person would not know that. He would not be aware of the highly technical points. Therefore I think it is a very good thing to prevent people from doing things which are harmful, although they do not realise it—things which may, quite accidentally and unintentionally, cause the extinction of an entire species.

My Lords, Clause 8 is very important, I think, because it allows for protection in certain areas where animals are rare. That is very necessary. It makes this a very flexible Bill, one which can be enforced in certain places and not in others. Altogether, I think the Bill has been designed in an extremely efficient way. As I said with reference to the previous Bill, I only hope that it can be enforced. It will be slightly easier to do this with animals than with plants, because a plant is so easily hidden in the pocket, with no evidence that one has picked it. But in the case of an animal, you probably need to have with you either a gun or a trap, or something of that nature, and therefore possible detection will be easier. In any case, I wholeheartelly support the Bill.

8.12 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to add my regrets that the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, is not present. As has been said before, we know what a past-master he is at putting this type of Bill through Parliament. I hope he may be here for the Committee stage. In the absence of the noble Earl, I hesitate to raise some rather critical questions. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, will be able to answer them, but if he cannot, I shall quite understand. I would query the need for the Bill, as did my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton. The noble Lord, Lord Somers, has just said that people might not know that waking a bat would kill it. I would submit that a person is not likely to be ringing bats unless he is an expert. I do not know how to do it myself, not being an expert on that in any way.


My Lords, there are people who are expert enough to know how to ring, but not quite expert enough, perhaps, to know that the ringing they do might cause damage.


My Lords, has the noble Lord, Lord Somers, ever met such people who have done this? Does he really know that they exist? Or is the noble Lord imagining their existence?


My Lords, I am not imagining anything. I have not met these people personally, but it is well-known.


My Lords, does the noble Lord really say that it is well-known that people who know nothing about it go about ringing bats?


My Lords, I should have thought it was sufficiently obvious. Anybody who is interested in wild life, and who discovers what he thinks is an unusual bat, may want to identify it. Possibly that person is a little more interested in unusual animals than is the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton.


My Lords, I am very interested, but I do not know people who do these things without knowing anything about them.


My Lords, it will soon be said that we all have bats in our belfries.


My Lords, the only attacks on bats known to me have been when panic-stricken old ladies, under the misguided intentions that bats will get in their hair, have fled from their bedrooms and something like a rolled-up copy of the Field magazine has been used to remove the intruder. Occasionally, when one is fishing late at night a bat will try to take the fly. Usually the bat gets hooked in the wing rather than in the mouth, and is generally capable of being released. However, I believe the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, said that bats getting into this sort of trouble are not the rare ones; it is only the common species, and we need not trouble unduly about them.

My Lords, if this Bill becomes law I wonder whether there will be any more of these protected creatures, or any less of them, in 10 years' time. I very much doubt it. As my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton said, there is not likely to be any wilful attack from human beings on these creatures. I cannot see that the Bill will do anything to educate the public in this matter. If there were something in the Bill to educate the public and tell them how rare these animals were, that would be a different matter. But it is wrong to make one liable to a criminal offence if one accidentally does these things.

My Lords, I suspect that the Schedule is only a start, a ploy to get the Bill on to the Statute Book. Thereafter, substantial additions may slip through by order. According to the Bill, the Minister has only to consult the Nature Conservancy Council and in certain circumstances the local authority. If we are to pass this Bill, it is vital that there should be additional consultation with other bodies interested in the rural areas. I am thinking particularly of the Country Landowners' Association, the Scottish Landowners' Association and the National Farmers' Union, which must be taken into consultation if there are to be additions to the Schedule.


My Lords, I mentioned this point earlier. I am not sure whether or not the noble Lord misunderstood, but no animal can be added to the Schedule or slip through in any way. It would be subject to a Negative Resolution of either House of Parliament. All that is quite clear in the Bill as drafted.


Yes, my Lords, but I think we know how comparatively easy it is for these matters to slip through. It is not nearly so easy for a Bill which has to go through various Readings. The Minister has only to rise and move orders. I am not enthusiastic about placing nature conservation in the hands of public bodies. This may not be correct, but I heard the other day that in Russia for instance, where presumably public bodies deal with the matter, they have almost exterminated the European wolf by dropping poisoned bait from aeroplanes. This is not the sort of thing ever to have taken place in this country. I am not suggesting that the Nature Conservancy would do such a thing. But it is better that a private individual should be educated to protect the animals, rather than the matter being left in the hands of public bodies.

The Bill provides that the implementation of its proposals should be by the local authorities. I am not at all happy about this. I have been a county councillor for some time and we have the greatest difficulty in keeping the rates down. We get more and more administration pushed on to us, and unless this administration is really necessary we should not have it. This will not be an easy Bill to administer. The onus will be put on the local authority to publicise what animals are or are not on the Schedule. They can be added to at any time. Indeed, every five years the Nature Conservancy Council are instructed to revise their Schedules. So the enforcement by the local authority will be difficult. The noble Lord, Lord Somers, mentioned the matter of enforcement to protect wild plants, and enforcement is difficult. On the previous Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said how few prosecutions there had been. This is because it is so difficult to enforce in this field. If we have a Bill which is difficult to enforce, and which is not considered very highly by the public, it is liable to come into contempt, and it is wrong to introduce legislation which is liable to come into contempt.

I am particularly worried about the creatures which may be added to the Schedule. I have heard mentioned outside this Chamber the possibility of including the pine marten. This creature has had an enormous population explosion in recent years, and I am quite confident that it will continue to expand in population so long as we have increasing afforestation. It is now very widespread throughout the Highlands, but what concerns me more is that it is probably the biggest enemy of the red squirrel. I do not think anyone here would argue against protection of the red squirrel, although foresters might, with a different species in the North of Scotland. The red squirrel is under severe attack from the grey squirrel and to try to protect one of its biggest predators, which I believe was largely responsible for wiping it out in the North of Scotland some years ago, would be a great mistake.

We are already protecting quite a number of predators, such as buzzards, owls, kestrels and so on. I suspect that they are probably destroying more dormice than would ever be destroyed by human beings. I may be wrong, but I suspect that this is the case. Indeed, though I might incur the ire of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, by making this remark, I suggest that possibly a far greater danger to the dormouse than human beings is the badger, and we have already protected the badger. This is where we have to be extremely careful.

I should not have thought that this Bill was necessary. Several noble Lords have mentioned adding to the Schedule, but I have not heard it said that there should be additional protection for the creatures that we have in Loch Ness and in Loch Morar. They are probably rarer than any other animal or creature in this country. I understand that we have already instituted some protection in Loch Ness by local byelaws. If it is necessary to have protection for these creatures, then it can equally well be done under present legislation. I suggest this Bill is really quite unnecessary.


My Lords, may I. by leave of the House, make a couple of observations. I feel rather responsible for starting off the debate we have had on ringing, as the Government have some reservations about this clause. It is the Government's view that the clause is not fundamental to the Bill in any way. Indeed, the reservations we have stem in part from the fact that it is not an apt extension of the Bill. So I should not like anybody to assume that this is a fundamental or really important point so far as the Bill itself is concerned.

The other thing I want to say is to repeat what I said on the Protection of Wild Plants Bill, but some noble Lords were not in the Chamber at the time and did not hear me. It is the Government's view that while only a small number of prosecutions are likely to result from this measure, the educative value of legislation, and to a lesser extent the educative value of any resulting prosecutions, would have the effect in the short term of conserving this small number of our most endangered animal species, and in the longer term of changing people's attitudes towards them.

8.24 p.m.


My Lords, I must thank all your Lordships for having taken part in this debate. I would particularly thank my noble friend Lord Melchett for his appearance for the first time—not, it is true, in the debate on this Bill but on the previous Bill—and thank him for the way in which he has expressed the Government's point of view. From what he has said, I have no doubt that the Government will treat the matter favourably but critically, which is all that one would ever ask should be done.

I would always hope, of course, that the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, would continue to entertain us with his knockabout farce. It was very good fun. The mere fact that he occasionally got mixed up in what the Bill was about, whether it was dealing with plants or animals or some other form of life which he suddenly introduced, merely added to the enjoyment of the scene, and I would tell him that it was thoroughly entertaining.

It was the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, I think, who said that he would never be able to recognise the Greater Horseshoe Bat. I think I am right in saying that apart from the interesting facial description given by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, it is also the largest bat in this country; it has, I think, a wingspread of nearly 18 ins. So it is not unidentifiable, even to people who are not highly expert, like myself.

Reference was made particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, to ringing. He suggested that this either was not done at all or was always done by experts. The actual fact is that an immense amount of ringing goes on. I was not aware of this, but I am assured it is the case, and that bats are frequently being ringed. The ringing is being done by people who may be described as enthusiastic amateurs (if one wishes to use the expression) and who do this sort of thing, as Lord Somers remarked, without understanding fully the nature of the species that they are dealing with. They may be perfectly expert at the technique of ringing, but they can do considerable damage. I am also informed that marking in various forms is practised on reptiles and toads, and this means slipping away part of the scales and making actual marks on the creature. This is something which, if it is done by people who do not fully understand the biological nature of the animals they are dealing with. may cause considerable damage. What this Bill says is that all such practices should be carried out by licensed practitioners. This is exactly what we do when we are dealing with vets and doctors; they are licensed practitioners.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment. Would it not be much easier just to prohibit this practice? I think there is already some control on birds. It would seem to be unnecessary to have this mammoth Bill for the sake of a few people who are apparently marking or ringing creatures.


My Lords, this Bill, it must be realised, is essentially a companion Bill to other Bills. Reference is made to it as though there were only one or two things being dealt with here. One has to remember that one has previous Acts giving protection to birds. It might be possible to put them all together, and it might be a sensible thing to do. But the birds have already been dealt with; seals have already been dealt with; and badgers have already been dealt with. This Bill deals with certain other animals, and it proposes a control on those methods of dealing with animals which can cause maltreatment of them and can cause a disappearance of certain species. The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, said, "Yes, but we have not anything dramatic here". We do not have lions and tigers roaming about the country; we do not have wolves, as Lord Burton said. It is perfectly true that we are not in the tropics and we do not have all this horde of animals. But we have a number of animals in this country, and the point of the Bill is to deal with the protection of such animals as we have and such animals as are at risk.

I do not want to detain your Lordships, but I have, in a letter from the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, a comment which deals with exactly the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton—forgive me if I once more refer to the noble Lord—when he said that one would not know, if one saw the pupae of the Large Blue butterfly what one was dealing with. The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, wrote to me in that letter: The Large Blue's caterpillars are carried into ant's nests, where they live on the larvae and exude a substance which the ants like. A friend of mine went to a Large Blue reserve and saw the tops of some ants' nests removed, obviously by someone looking for the pupae". That is the whole point: the person who wants to obtain of these knows where to look for them, and can go and destroy a whole colony in this way. The purpose of this Bill is to deal with matters like that. Admittedly they are small matters on the scale of great international events, and perhaps one can ignore them, but surely one ignores them at the peril of a decent existence in the kind of society that we hope to expand in this country.


My Lords, may I just say again that I was interested to hear this fact about ants' nests. It may be a different kind of ant, but earlier on the noble Lord mentioned Capercailzie, and one of the favourite diets of Capercailzie is ants; therefore they are liable to scrape open the nests and I think that they might have done some damage to the same kind of ants.


My Lords, the noble Lord has had much knockabout fun with me, deriding what I was saying. Because I put something lightly it does not mean that it was not serious. I have never decried these species of animal because they were small or insectlike. I did not once mention plant life in my speech, and I have not once said that I thought that any of these species did not deserve to live. I was merely querying lightly whether this Bill was not too heavy an instrument to deal with these problems.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. Of course I return the shuttlecock in the spirit in which he sent it over the net.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.