HL Deb 07 July 1975 vol 362 cc588-92

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. In so doing I should like to thank all noble Lords who have throughout supported the Bill. In particular, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, for the great help which he gave us on behalf of the Government at the last stage of the Bill in moving some important new Amendments in replacement of some not so effective ones.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(The Earl of Cranbrook.)


My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Cranbrook on his great success with this measure, and also the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, on the very able way in which he has dealt with this Bill for the Government, especially for the way in which he has calmed the genuine fears of animal lovers on Clause 16, which fears in many cases were probably misunderstood fears. I think that he and the Government have done extremely well.

If I may paraphrase Dean Swift, I congratulate the Government on making two natterjack toads exist where one existed before, and for that the Government probably deserve more thanks than for many of the other measures that they have passed. I should like to thank both the noble Lord and the noble Earl.


My Lords, if I am not out of order, as happens from time to time, I should like to support my noble friend Lord Cranbrook on this Bill. However, I feel that it is not quite sufficient in its cover. I should prefer a kind of blanket Bill for all wildlife, with a list of those things which may be killed without a licence. In the case of the badger, in an outbreak of foot and mouth disease you isolate the farm and kill all badgers within two miles of the area. I should like to strengthen the Bill in relation to wild deer in England. Your Lordships will be familiar with the use of a very modern crossbow which is at least as potent for killing deer and for mischief as a 22 rifle, but of course it is not a firearm and therefore does not require a firearm certificate.

I have 40 wild plants which I should like to add to the list. They are just as wild as most of those the noble Earl has referred to. What we want is a blanket order, without using the Latin name since to do so makes it very complicated for people not familiar with the Latin way of dealing with things. We ought to give power to the Ministry of Agriculture concerning a bird or plant not among those already protected. I think more power should be given to the Ministry of Agriculture in granting a licence in relation to a particular form of animal life which exists in too great numbers.

I realise that we are in a bit of a hurry, and I support the Bill. Whether it is possible to make any Amendments at this stage I do not know; I imagine not. I am particularly worried about deer and the misuse of a high-powered crossbow. At 20 yards the arrow will go through 2 inches of oak plank; it has an absolutely fiat trajectory up to 40 yards, and is silent. The matter is being dealt with by the chief constable of the Thames Valley police force. I have been able to produce evidence that these poachers or so-called sportsmen go out in their cars with crossbows and shoot anything in sight. This is not necessarily poaching; it is just a depraved form of sport. Generally speaking, I support the Bill, though I should like to extend it and make it more general, and I should like to make it more difficult to get a licence for the use of a 22 rifle. This is a far more deadly weapon than a rifle, for which one must have a firearms certificate.


My Lords, I shall be brief. As one who had the honour of addressing your Lordships at an earlier stage on the subject of smooth snakes and natterjack toads, I want to make a suggestion. This is a very valuable Bill, but will it be understood by the members of the general public? It has a Schedule which gives a list, both in English and in Latin, of various plants and animals which may not be taken by the general public. But the general public will not know anything about it. I therefore suggest that notices giving a list of the plants and animals the taking of which will in future be prohibited should be posted outside police stations and in post offices. Further and most important, I suggest that the notices should be illustrated with pictures of the plants and animals concerned. A mere statement on a notice that I am not to take a natterjack toad would be meaningless to me if I were unable to recognise a natterjack toad. I therefore suggest that these notices should be issued and that they should be illustrated.


My Lords, I am certainly a nature lover, but every time enthusiastic people pass a Bill of this nature my heart sinks because I know that in a few years' time it will have grave repercussions upon my gardening activities. The previous bird Bills which have discouraged small boys from collecting birds eggs have resulted, in my part of the world, in our being infested with enormous numbers of birds—blackbirds, jays and so on—which eat everything. I do not know what the natterjack toad will do to me in due course, but my heart sinks and I am apprehensive.


My Lords, I do not think that we can claim to have achieved quite the record on this Bill which my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said was achieved on the Litigants in Person Bill. There is no subject which provokes your Lordships to talk quite as much as animals. However, I think we have played a very useful part in this Bill and I feel that congratulations are due, in particular, to the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, who were responsible for introducing the two original Bills upon which the present Bill has been based.

I can reassure my noble friend in regard to his point about the appearance of the animals. This is a problem of which we are very well aware. There are two excellent posters already in existence depicting animals and flowers and the Government are doing all they can to inform all local authorities of the existence of these posters. I am sure that the sponsors of the Bill will also be doing all they can to draw the attention of everybody in the countryside to the existence of the animals and plants which are now protected.

I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Camoys, was wrong when he said that there were gaps in the Bill. I believe that the Bill, in its comprehensive form, now fills the one remaining gap in conservation legislation. Protection may be a different matter, but in conservation legislation the main gaps have been filled. I feel that noble Lords can be proud of the part—though it was somewhat lengthy—that they have played in getting the Bill on to the Statute Book.


My Lords, I should like to reassure noble Lords who are frightened about what is to happen. First, with regard to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Camoys, most of what he wants can be done under the Deer Act and, if he wants any alterations to the Schedule, if he will write to the Nature Conservancy Council, no doubt they will deal with the matter. In response to noble Lords who are frightened as to what will happen in their gardens if a natterjack toad comes in and eats their potatoes or even their roses, they have a way out under the proviso in Clause 1 which allows them to prevent protected animals from doing serious damage to their property.

The question of informing the public has been dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. I believe that one of the most important points about the Bill is that for the first time it brings parish and community councils in: they have a duty to inform the public in their area. They can get appropriate pictures from such bodies as the Friends of the Earth, who have produced admirable posters, and I have no doubt that they will be rubbing the noses of both schoolchildren and adults in the subject very soon.

On Question, Bill read 3a with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.