HL Deb 14 December 1978 vol 397 cc718-43

11.24 a.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I find this a very humbling experience for two reasons which I shall now explain. First, because I am in loco parentis for the prime mover of this modest piece of legislation, the late Lord Cranbrook, whose unfortunate death was just three weeks ago. He was a man whose long list of achievements in the public service was immense. He started his adult life as a soldier, both in this country and in India, where he met my father. Knowing the late Earl as we did it is no surprise to your Lordships to learn that they were both founder members of the Outi Conservation Society in the early 1920s.

He had a long connection with local government both in his home county of Suffolk and in London where he became an alderman of the LCC. He also succeeded his father when he was only 15, making him, so I am told, the second longest serving Member of your Lordships' House, where he was constantly active. He was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the first Commissioner of Works, the late Lord Peel, and served over many years on several Royal Commissions. His lifelong interest was natural history in all its forms, and he was for 46 years a member of the Linnaean Society, and was its treasurer for 13. He was also a trustee of the natural history section of the British Museum for 8 years. From a Parliamentary aspect, he was the prime mover of all the early conservation measures and was concerned to move conservation from a bandwagon, to which many people pay lip-service, to a science; and this is not the least important part of the Bill to which I am seeking your Lordships' agreement this morning.

The Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants (Amendment) Bill which he introduced and saw through all its stages last Session was his last great work, seen through under great difficulties when he was very ill with cancer. Indeed, I maintain that it was this that kept him alive when he was so very ill. He taught me a tremendous amount about Parliament and conservation, and it is my great regret that the hope I expressed on Third Reading of the Bill last Session, that he would continue his teaching for many years to come, was not to be fulfilled.

It was my misfortune to get to know him only in the last year or so of his life, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, who I am glad to see is to speak later in this debate. Even at this late stage, knowing that he was to die soon, he set about taking up a new zoological study of Picidium species, the freshwater pea mussels, many of which are very small and almost indistinguishable from each other. This study necessitated much detailed work, both in books and in forming his own reference collection. In other words, he was active as an amateur naturalist right through until the very end.

He was, with his customary good nature, his ready smile and unstinting generosity, a true friend, to both my father and myself. Of course we had our differences and I felt obliged to vote against him over the otter controversy early last Session. I shall say more of this in a minute. He was not one to hold a grudge: he believed above all in the absolute supremacy of Parliament, that what Parliament decided was right. The nation in general, and your Lordships' House in particular, will be a poorer place without him.

Several noble Lords

Hear, hear!


The second reason why I feel humble, my Lords, is that it is mostly my fault that this Bill is not already on the Statute Book. In the Committee stage last Session, my late noble friend added a Schedule to the Bill which is still there on page 7 onwards, in a mixture of light and heavy type. This is in fact nothing really to do with the Bill at all but amalgamates an Amendment Bill with its existing Act in one continuous piece of prose. This particular Parliamentary aid was invented by a Member of another place, Mr. Keeling, in the 1930s and is usually used in finance and local Bills. It is beloved by lawyers because it obviously makes the Act very much easier to understand with its various amendments. But it is hated by draftsmen, and with my experience of last Session—which I shall tell your Lordships about—I can well understand why. It is surprisingly difficult to achieve a continuous piece of prose amalgamating both an Amendment Bill and the existing Act, and so it is seldom used. However, we seem to be getting a little more adept, and in recent years it has been used more and more both in connection with this Bill and, I believe, in the Petroleum and Submarine Pipelines Act of a couple of Sessions ago.

I suppose I should be standing in a white sheet today as I failed to duplicate my Amendments to the Bill on Third Reading in the Keeling Schedule. This prevented the Bill from going through another place on the nod, and, as there was no time there for it to be properly debated, it fell by the wayside. Perhaps, therefore, one could say that it is poetic justice that my late noble friend has left me to carry on this matter.

Turning to the Bill itself, not only has the new version enabled me to put right my innocent omissions of last Session but also to put right a few other matters. Regretfully, it is not perfect and has several spelling mistakes which the Clerks tell me can be put right when it is next printed. I was not responsible for checking the final proof of the Bill, as my late noble friend was still very much in control. That was unfortunate and perhaps, knowing the situation as I should have done, I am guilty in this respect. Even the Explanatory Memorandum is wrong in three places and refers to wrong dates of the principal Act, as you will see from the correction slips which I hope are available to everyone. The Act which this Amendment seeks to amend is the only Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act that we have, and its correct date is 1975.

I hope, my Lords, having gone through many Amendments and many discussions in the last Session, that the Bill itself is sufficiently well remembered by your Lordships for me not to go through the usual step of expounding on the Explanatory Memorandum. I hope it will suffice if I make a few general points. The Bill is intended to amend the 1975 Act to give partial protection to vulnerable wild creatures as listed in the Schedule—not the Keeling Schedule, but the one on page 3 of the Bill. Its main theme is that the existing Schedule 1 to the Act, which gives complete protection under the law, should be used only for endangered species. As the law stands, it is made up of what are called protected species. Unfortunately, science allows us no such category. The International Union for the Protection of Nature has listed four categories of species: the endangered, which deserve our full protection; the vulnerable, which may or may not move into this category; the rare; and those not deserving of any protection at all.

By definition, once identified as belonging to a particular group, they can, as I say, either go up or down into the next group. It so happens that the species on the protected Schedule, with the possible exception of the otter, are endangered. That makes the position easier; but there are a number of species set out in the Schedule to the Bill on page 3 which are vulnerable and deserve a modified form of protection. Clause 5 of the Bill allows a person to take a vulnerable wild creature for the purpose of identification or marking so long as it is released without unreasonable delay. In other words, naturalists can study it without getting a licence from the Nature Conservancy Council. This degree of protection is intended to interfere as little as possible with the normal activities of field naturalists.

However, Clause 5 goes further by specifically preventing the man-in-the-street who has a phobia about spiders, snails and slugs from committing an offence by treading on them or otherwise destroying them even though they are vulnerable or endangered. This was quite rightly put into the Bill last Session after several severe criticisms by your Lordships on Second Reading. The other thing the Bill seeks to do is to create a new offence of disturbing the nests of mammals while occupied with dependent young. This is a great step forward in conservation legislation, and for it we have principally to thank the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby.

I said earlier that I would say a word about my differences with the late Lord Cranbrook about the otter. I believe it to be vulnerable but not endangered. He agreed: he was all for waiting until this Bill became law before protecting it, by adding it to his new Schedule of vulnerable creatures. However, in the circumstances pertaining in last December the only way of giving it immediate protection was to add it to the protected Schedule to the Act that existed. I still believe this to be the correct action at the time and if this Bill becomes law, when the Nature Conservancy Council does its quinquennial survey in 1980, I hope the animal will then be moved from Schedule 1 to Schedule 3 of the composite Act—always assuming, of course, that the advice which the Nature Conservancy Council gives at that time will be much as I suspect it would be now.

Situations in the animal world can change quite quickly, and therefore I am not trying to obligate the Nature Conservancy Council. There is a case, of course, for doing it now, but my late noble friend and I agreed that while it is Parliament's job to produce laws, it is the specialist adviser's job (in this case the NCC) to alter the Schedules by means of persuading Ministers to give the force of law to their findings. In other words, in this case it is up to the Nature Conservancy Council to alter the Schedules: it is not a job for Parliament to do. Politicians, even part-time ones like me, are, alas! not normally scientists, although I am delighted to see that my new noble friend Lord Cranbrook, himself a professional zoologist, is to make his maiden speech today. I shall listen very carefully, as I am sure we all shall, to what he has to say.

On Third Reading during last Session the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, admitted that the Bill as introduced was a piece of legislation that was neither necessary nor desirable. However, my late noble friend had many consultations during the passage of the Bill with both the noble Baroness and her advisers, with the result that on 24th May, 1978, at col. 980 of the Official Report she said: … the Bill as amended is one that we can be very proud of in this House … It leaves the House now in a very satisfactory state. I hope we shall learn this afternoon that this is still the Government's attitude. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Skelmersdale.)

11.37 a.m.


My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, I, too, wish to pay tribute to my late noble friend Lord Cranbrook who for the past two years so gallantly carried on his work, defying his illness. I think this Bill which, as my noble friend has said, is his work, will be a most suitable memorial to him. I also welcome the fact that his son is going to speak on this, his late father's Bill, as his maiden speech: that is a most welcome and unusual event. We seldom have the opportunity to pay tribute to a father and welcome his son in connection with the same Bill.

My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, I think we would all agree, has taken on the mantle of the late Lord Cranbrook extremely well. He has introduced this Bill clearly and succinctly and he was good enough to explain to me what he was going to say. I hope the noble Baroness will be able to accept it on behalf of the Government. My noble friend, as I say, explained the Bill fully and I do not propose to detain your Lordships for very long.

The lack of protection in the principal Act of 1975 for so many creatures which were vulnerable but not directly endangered was, as I think we would all agree, a blatant reproach to us all who are interested in this matter. This Bill fills the gap and will, I trust, be welcomed by the Nature Conservancy Council. Had this Bill been law, as my noble friend has said, it would have obviated the necessity for the NCC to have a special order for the protection of the otter. It would only have to have been put in the Schedules of the vulnerable species.

I particularly welcome the fact that this Bill makes it an offence to destroy or disturb the refuge or nest with the unweaned young in it or of any endangered or vulnerable mammal. In this House, my Lords, we have had a very good record on conservation and I think we have covered this subject pretty well over the past few years. I hope we shall not hear today that this Bill is not necessary or desirable, or that it is a sledge-hammer to crack a small nut. It crosses the t's and dots the i's of the principal Act and gives it much more real meaning. If this Bill is passed, it will give us legislation in this field which could well be a model for other countries to follow. I look forward to hearing what is the Government's view, but, in the meantime, from these Benches I wish this Bill every success, and I also give my noble friend Lord Cranbrook every good wish in his maiden speech.

11.41 a.m.


My Lords, I have been told on good authority that it is proper, and I am sure that in most circumstances it is indeed very sensible, to wait longer than 21 hours and 10 minutes as a new Member of your Lordships' House, before venturing to make a maiden speech. As your Lordships know, there are special circumstances which prevail today on this occasion, and I crave your Lordships' indulgence. I beg your Lordships to grant me, if not total protection, at least a temporary place in Schedule 3 among other vulnerable creatures. Permit me, by your generosity, a few moments, during which I hope I may be forgiven any minor solecism that your Lordships may detect in my words.

The sad event which has brought me to your Lordships' House is still too close in time to let me respond with equanimity to the many kind words that have been spoken, both privately and publicly in your Lordships' House, yesterday and today. I am much moved by the tribute paid by my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale. From reading the pages of Hansard, I am as fully aware as your Lordships that he himself has played a notable part in shaping the Bill now before us, and brings to the subject a high degree of expertise in his- own right in the field of botanical conservation. I am equally grateful for the warm words of my noble friend Lord Mowbray, who has shown a consistent interest in this Bill. Again from my reading of Hansard, I am aware that on some occasions some of the more arcane points of zoological nomenclature have badgered him, if not exactly had him foxed.

But I do not wish to stand before your Lordships today merely to utter words of filial gratitude, nor am I in a position to comment in detail on any particular phrase or clause of the Bill now before your Lordships. During its passage through this House, it has received the close attention of several noble Lords to its undoubted benefit. There may yet be small points that require refinement, but it is clear that the aims and main concepts are very sound.

Although nowadays I might qualify for amateur status, I am, in fact, as has already been mentioned, a professional biologist and conservationist. Twenty years ago I entered the final stage of my education as a graduate research student under the benign but stimulating supervision of the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, who I am glad to see is due to speak later this morning. At that time, the noble Lord simultaneously held three jobs, any one of which would have fully occupied a normal man. Since my graduation from the University of Birmingham I have spent the greater part of my professional career abroad, engaged in zoological research in the tropical rain forests of the Far East. I still maintain close connection with the region.

In my latest involvement, I have been treading, quite literally, in the footsteps of the noble Lord, Lord Shacklcton, who is also due to speak after me this morning. It is that noble Lord's pioneering climb to the summit of Mount Mulu that I have actually followed, and I can assure your Lordships that the noble Lord is still recalled in the long houses of Borneo with affection and admiration, simply under the name of Edward. It is from the standpoint of the professional biologist that I wish to say a few words in review of the main features of the Bill which is now before your Lordships' House, coupled with the 1975 Act, and commend it to your Lordships.

First, this is not a Bill based on sentimentality, but it is based on science. It seeks to protect not organisms which appeal by virtue of big, round brown eyes, fluffy fur or beautiful blooms. It seeks to protect organisms of all kinds, extending throughout the plant and animal kingdom into realms which, I recognise, have sometimes been unfamiliar to many noble Lords. Moreover, it seeks to extend protection not for protection's sake, but only in cases where human activity is shown to be detrimental, or potentially detrimental, to the survival of the organisms in the Schedules. It is only in such circumstances that legislative intervention can be expected to be effective as a conservation measure.

I have used the term "organism" not to add to your Lordships' confusion, but to hold in reserve my second point of commendation; namely, the introduction of the word "creature" into the vocabulary of British conservation. Though perhaps, at first sight, this is a minor achievement, I think it has proved very useful in moving away from the term "animal", which had been previously used, and which in the popular sense, is far too often confused, both by noble Lords and by other people, with the term "mammal."

Thirdly, the present Bill introduces the concept of graded status that has been evolved by international conservation bodies. I refer, of course, to the distinction already mentioned by my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale between endangered species and vulnerable species; endangered species being defined as those in danger of extinction, whose survival is unlikely if the causal factors continue to operate, and vulnerable species being defined as those likely to move into the endangered category in the near future, if the causal factors continue operating; that is to say, those species whose populations are decreasing because of over-exploitation or from other causes, or whose populations are already seriously depleted and whose ultimate security is not assured. There is a significant difference between these categories and their separate recognition in legislative terms is another breakthrough.

Fourthly, the Bill contains the concept of periodic monitoring. Conservation is not a static process, especially in lands, whether Eastern lands or Western lands, with dense human populations and expanding rural technology; especially in those places where the environment is changing rapidly, in directions hard to predict. In such circumstances, conservation legislation must contain provision for regular review and for appropriate modification in response to new eventualities.

I now come to my final point. As I said, I have spent much time abroad in developing countries whose responsible authorities have been, or are, currently engaged in the process of devising conservation legislation appropriate to their national needs. Not infrequently, I have seen British legislation provide at least an initial model for local game laws or conservation Statutes. I therefore very warmly support the point raised by my noble friend Lord Mowbray. Just as the Bill now before your Lordships drew upon the lead provided by an international conservation agency in its own formulation, so do I believe that, in its turn, this Bill, if it becomes law, could prove to be not only important to British wildlife, but also of great benefit as a guide to conservation practice in those other countries—still not a few—which continue to look to the United Kingdom to provide a lead, or at least some kind of guidance in the field of conservation.

11.50 a.m.


My Lords, it is seldom, if ever, that I have been so glad to congratulate a maiden speaker in your Lordships' House. The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, carries a name which is very familiar to all of us, and I see that he is sitting by, I believe, a kinsman of his—the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow—who is a distant kinsman of mine. Indeed, if I may say so, if there is justification for the hereditary principle in your Lordships' House it is to be found in the name of Cranbrook.

Perhaps I may say a word about the noble Earl's speech. Then I should like particularly to pay my own tribute to his father. As the noble Earl pointed out, he did benefit from having some education from my noble friend Lord Zuckerman, but he is quite inaccurate in saying that my noble friend Lord Zuckerman only does three jobs; I have never known him when he is not doing 12.

All three of us have had a continuing interest in that beautiful country of Sarawak in Borneo. The noble Earl developed an interest that turned him into one of the world's greatest experts on bats when working with Tom Harrisson at the Kuching museum in Sarawak. He has written a standard work on mammals in Malaysia. I am glad that he is helping to teach us that animals do not mean just mammals, because I have spent so much of my life trying to explain this to other people. He is the editor of Ibis, so he must also be a considerable ornithologist. He is, of course, a professional zoologist, and noble Lords will know from his speech the quality that he is bringing to your Lordships' House.

The fact that the noble Earl follows so quickly after his late father is a sorrow. But also there is satisfaction for us, because the noble Earl—and I speak now very much as somebody who sits on this side of the House—was one of those individuals who rose above Party political issues and who established areas of interest and continuity among us all. It was my good fortune, both when I was a Back-Bencher and later when I was the Leader of your Lordships' House, to co-operate with him in a number of ways. Indeed, I had hoped to write a short obituary note for The Times, but alas! there is no Times to write it for; so I take this opportunity to refer to some of the noble Earl's contributions.

Perhaps his most well known contribution was the Seals Bill. This was a Bill which took several years to get through. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, has already learned that to pilot a Private Member's Bill through your Lordships' House is not the easiest thing in the world. Nor do the ramparts of technical opposition fall at the first blast of anybody's trumpet. It is a prolonged and difficult task. It is one that calls for skill and understanding on the part of both the individual who is moving the Bill and the Government. I believe that the late Lord Cranbrook did get that understanding.

In the case of the Seals Bill, I was, perhaps fortunately, put in at the last moment under orders to block the Bill. It is an illusion among civil servants and, indeed, Ministers that the House of Lords is like the House of Commons, where you can block anything if you want to do so. When I rose to speak it was quite obvious that your Lordships were going to move with the Earl of Cranbrook. Therefore, I had the pleasant task—which is what I wanted to do—of disobeying my instructions and encouraging the Bill, which ultimately, after a long and tedious passage, passed into law. It has had a great effect. Not long after the Bill had passed into law I remember that I was in Shetland, staying with the Lord Lieutenant, Robert Bruce. He said, "A remarkable thing has happened. You see that jetty? Lying upon it are a lot of sleeping seals. Within six months of the passing of the Bill the seals knew that they could no longer be shot at. They come up regularly now and sleep on that jetty".

As chairman of the Seals Advisory Committee, the noble Earl played an important part in conservation. I do stress the importance of the understanding of conservation as opposed to the rather blind views of those who, regardless, consider it to be some form of protection. I shall not go into the issue of the culling of seals. None the less, there is such a thing as a scientific understanding of these matters.

If I remember rightly, the noble Earl was also responsible for ensuring that whales should continue as a Royal fish. I remember that the Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hail-sham of Saint Marylebone, was very cross about this particular measure. Indeed, the Conservative Government had the Whips on against the noble Earl. That was a very dangerous thing to do to the late Lord Cranbrook; he had too strong a following on both sides of the House. The Government were defeated on that occasion.

The noble Earl was involved with meteorites. Indeed, he was involved in any scientific issue. I remember that he helped me when we were trying to do something about the British Museum Library, particularly in regard to the National Reference Library of Science and Technology. He and I were allies, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, and others, and this ultimately, I believe, contributed to the setting up of the British Library. The noble Earl was a great and good man and a good friend to us all.

I could go on to deal with many aspects, but to those who are sometimes critical of the Seals Bill and who now hold this rather blind view on the culling of seals, may I say that one of the things which most concerned the noble Earl was the use of strychnine in the killing of seals by fishermen. Unless we look at these problems of conservation and of culling, we shall find people taking the law into their own hands, and there will be the poisoning and indiscriminate killing of seals.

There was the Meteorites Bill, which I do not think passed into law. However, the noble Earl was certainly a great ornament of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, my noble friend Lord Hunt and others all knew him and his work.

It is satisfactory that the noble Earl is going to join us. He is involved in present-day scientific activity, particularly in the Mount Mulu expedition. My noble friend Lord Hunt has been out there. There is still one unclimbed peak there if anybody wants to try it. I do not know whether it was the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, who was responsible for climbing Gunong Api. For mountaineers, however, there is still another nice mountain, Gunong Bennerat, to climb in that area. But the important point is the scientific work and the excellence which may contribute to the survival of rain forests and also be of real importance to the survival of mankind. Therefore, we are very pleased to see the noble Earl.

We are also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. I must say that I am grateful for the Schedule—however painful that may have been to the draftsmen—which in effect consolidates the new provisions into the old Statute. It makes it a great deal more intelligible.

I am confident that the Government will encourage the Bill. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, was rather suspicious. He must realise that my noble friend is always helpful on good occasions. I wish only that she could be more helpful on the subject of the Ordnance Survey, which I shall not now draw into the discussion.

This is a worthwhile Bill and I hope that it will have a speedy passage through your Lordships' House. Presumably it will then be picked up by the Commons. Whether it will be picked up there during the course of this Parliament is, however, a matter that we shall know about later. I am very glad to support the Bill. I shall not go into the details, beyond commenting upon the fact that the definitions and the further refinement of thinking in this area is itself a permanent contribution.

11.59 a.m.


My Lords, I wish to add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, on his maiden speech. From personal experience I have found that he is both extremely well informed and highly respected as a naturalist. I had the pleasure of sitting with him on two committees, the Council of the Fauna Preservation Society and the editorial board of the International Zoo Year Book. On both of those committees his father also sat with great distinction and the son sits today with the same distinction. Noble Lords will already have realised how great a contribution the new Earl of Cranbrook can make to our deliberations.

For myself, as for other speakers, a great loss was occasioned by the death of the late Lord Cranbrook, it was a great loss to the cause of conservation and it will be greatly felt. I have said before in this House that no one in either House knew more of the history and the intricacies of current wildlife legislation than Jock Cranbrook; we shall miss him and we shall miss his great knowledge. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for the tribute that he paid. He said what we all want to say, and as with Lord Skelmersdale, the late Lord Cranbrook and I did not always agree. Twice I joined in dividing the House against him: once I won, the other time I lost; but we remained friends and colleagues and the late Lord Cranbrook would not be surprised—although I am afraid my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton may be disappointed—when I say that I do not support this Bill. In my view it is not essential at this time.

In recognising that some animals like the otter can possibly be classed as vulnerable rather than endangered the Bill creates the Schedule 3 vulnerable class. Those in Schedule 3 are given all the same protection as Schedule 1 except—and it is the exception that worries; me. Schedule 3 animals can be taken for identification or marking. Thank goodness! we could not take the otter for identification or marking. Otters can be taken by an authorised person —authorised by whom?—by the landlord, provided they are subsequently released on the spot where they were caught. How can anyone, however skilled, be sure of catching, marking and returning to where it was caught a fish—a burbot—without injury to it? How does one enforce the catching, the marking and the returning provisions for a butterfly or a dragonfly, or even a beetle? How does one mark a black-veined moth and return it, without injury?

This is an important but not a vitally urgent matter and, in my view and in the view of many people for whom I speak, it should properly be included in the legislation which must follow from the Nature Conservancy Council's statutory quinquennial review in 1980; and although I disagreed with the late Lord Cranbrook in regard to this Bill I agree entirely with his views on future conservation. Those of us who heard him speak on the 15th July at the all-Party Conservation Committee of both Houses of Parliament realised that he laid down completely what should happen in the future. He laid down the broad lines that the legislation in 1980 should take; powers to protect not only species but to include habitats and species management; powers to control populations; powers to control the over-exploitation of species in inshore waters. These are major problems, and out of that 1980 review without doubt will come the major increased powers of protection that the late Lord Cranbrook called for when he spoke upstairs on the 15th July. Perhaps added to that Bill will be some of the provisions of this minor Bill, if it does not reach the Statute Book before then, and which will then be included, as they should be, in their proper context.

12.5 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, would like to pay my tribute to my friend the late Lord Cranbrook. I am probably fortunate among your Lordships because I knew him in this House 50 years ago. When I took my place in your Lordships' House he had been sitting here for two or three years and he was the kindest guide and mentor that I have ever had. He taught me many things about your Lordships' House and we had one or two stirring moments in committees upstairs, where he was most active and adequate in dealing with counsel.

I was always interested in what he did. Although I am not a naturalist I am interested in the conservation of wild creatures, and it is my great pleasure to see his son here today making his maiden speech. I should like to congratulate him on a marvellous speech and I hope we may have many more opportunities of hearing my noble friend speak on this and other subjects.

I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for starting the Bill again. He has obviously learned one thing which has been apparent to me all the time I have been sitting in your Lordships' House; namely, that ultimately there is only one way to get anything done—provided you can last the time out—and that is by constant persistence. My noble friend is of an age when I think his persistence, before he actually grows a long white beard, might well pay oft" in many directions in your Lordships' House—provided we last that long!

My Lords, I go along with this Bill. I am not very knowledgeable about the wild creatures that are included in the Bill but I fully understood from my late friend the importance of what he was trying to do. I should also like to say that we, as inhabitants of this country, during the course of trying to improve things, should make sure that we do not endanger by our own acts so many of these wild creatures. I think we must watch our legislation with considerable care. We have reached the stage now where by our own deliberate acts we are making endangered creatures. One of the creatures about which I am particularly worried, is the badger. By our own acts we are slowly but surely eliminating this animal, which is to my mind a basic part of the countryside. I trust that Parliament will watch carefully all the steps that are taken in such cases. I end with those few words. I hope that your Lordships' House will give this Bill a fair wind.

12.9 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think that I should add to the eloquent and moving tributes that have been paid to my old friend Lord Cranbrook. There are many things that I could say in addition to those that have been said, but perhaps the only thing I should add is that in the work that I have done—in one of those several jobs to which reference appears to have been made—in connection with the Zoological Society of London, he demonstrated an enormous wisdom in dealing with what are essentially emotive issues, where science comes after feeling. He had this wisdom in dealing with people and showing which way one should handle a subject where there is controversy, in order to bring the matter to the right solution.

I am one of those who have been made lonely by his death, and I sincerely hope, and I know, that his name will be carried on in your Lordships' House with the same brilliance that the present Lord Cranbrook demonstrated this morning. Lord Cranbrook did me the honour of referring to the fact that I was his supervisor in one part of his education. My noble friend Lord Blake is not here at the moment, but he will remember perhaps an old don at Christchurch, called Carter, I think. When I joined the House, I remember Mr. Carter telling me, "You will hear a lot of nonsense from some of the people round here about teaching these undergraduates. Pay no attention. Most of them will look after themselves. Certainly do not bother about those people who are not going to get a third, but if you spot in advance someone likely to get a first associate your name with him and take the credit'". I should like to take a little of the credit for the magnificent maiden speech of Lord Cranbrook today.

I do not know whether this is a controversial Bill. I have read it carefully. I was in correspondence with the late Lord Cranbrook many a time about this Bill, and as President of the Fauna Preservation Society—and here I fear I differ somewhat from my noble friend Lord Craigton—I must say that I support this Bill. As Lord Skelmersdale has said, we are all anxious to achieve the goal of the conservation of as much as can be realised in the circumstances of today. We do not want to see endangered species disappearing. We do not want to make vulnerable species more vulnerable. It is all a question of tactics. The 1975 Act separated endangered species from the rest. I think it was always the late Lord Cranbrook's feeling that there is an intermediate class of vulnerable creatures. He defined it in an article which appeared in Country Life on 5th October this year, in which he told us that vulnerable creatures are, as it were, different from creatures which are already totally endangered. As he put it here: By definition, vulnerable species are not rare to the point of being endangered. Indeed they are probably not even very rare to the point where it is at first noticed that they are declining in numbers and should be regarded as vulnerable. The question is who judges the evidence, or who gathers the evidence. Reference is made to field naturalists and specialist societies. Are they really competent to decide these matters? We know that if we had been debating this Bill in the age of the dinosaurs, those dinosaurs would still have disappeared. Every five years, I can see the Nature Conservancy Council asking itself," Shall we put these old dinosaurs on the endangered list?" And the day would have dawned when there were no dinosaurs. It is a dynamic world in which we live; evolution is still taking place. Major geographical and environmental changes are taking place. Human population is expanding. Animal habitats are being encroached upon. These things are happening all the time. But are we to wait until, in the words of my old friend Lord Cranbrook, it makes a difference if you just take one specimen away from the existing stock? No, my Lords, I do not think that is good. I do not know whether—and this is where I sincerely hope the Government will give a clear line—the only advice the Government accept on these matters is that of the Nature Conservancy Council. When the Otter order was being debated—I do not see the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, in your Lordships' Chamber at the moment, but I hope he will not mind my recalling something he said on that occasion—

A noble Lord

He is here.


I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, is here to hear me differ from him. On that occasion when the Otter order was being debated, Lord Cranbrook was opposing the Nature Convervancy Council's advice to the Government, and Lord Wynne-Jones surprised me by saying that the Government—and he was quite correct: here, I do not differ from him—had set up by Act of Parliament, and your Lordships' House had helped in doing so, the Nature Conservancy Council in order to advise Government on these matters of when creatures should be put on the endangered list. Then he went on to ask—and he was commenting on the attitude of those like myself who were not quite certain about the otter: Are we to go to this man here or that man there, or are we to choose some other body not named in the Act? Do we realise how subversive this attitude is and how we are completely upsetting the whole procedure of an Act of Parliament which we wanted? He went on to say that the named authority, the statutory body, was the Nature Conservancy Council. Therefore, I suggest that we would be doing something which is political madness, to overturn this order without very much clearer evidence and advice."—[Official Report, 6/12/77: col. 1551.] I wanted to rise after Lord Wynne-Jones had made those remarks, but I did not because in one of my jobs in the past I was adviser to Government, and I was once taken to task by a Permanent Secretary colleague who had heard that at some dinner party I had made a cynical remark, saying about this business of advising Governments that the day I heard my advice had been accepted I should know it was bad advice.

I want to know whether the Nature Conservancy Council can really tell us at what moment a vulnerable species becomes an endangered species. Are these five-year intervals sufficient? On the occasion of the debate on the Otter order, I myself—and I know that here I shared the late Lord Cranbrook's views completely—was very sad about the separation from the Nature Conservancy Council of its research body, which is now NERC, and I made remarks to that effect My point here is that, unless we do recognise this intermediate class, I would like to know who will say, and at what moment, that these grey area creatures must now be put on the right schedule so that they are protected by Act of Parliament.


My Lords, I should like to interrupt the noble Lord. He will recall that this House did, in the end, persuade the Government to allow the Nature Conservancy Council to do some research. Indeed, I am told that if anything there are now complaints that it is doing too much research.


My Lords, I accept that correction from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. On the other hand, I think I know a certain amount about the research that is being done here and there. I am not confident about the separation from executive bodies of the information-gathering functions and limbs which they ought to have: we have done too much of that. I still believe that there is a separation, however much is being done by the Nature Conservancy Council.

In conclusion, I should like to raise one or two small matters. With respect, I should like to inform the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, that it is possible to mark animals in ways which are not apparent. It is not necessary to put a ring on them. A radio transmitter can be fitted. How ever, I agree that it would be extremely difficult to fit a radio transmitter to a grasshopper, but it is possible to mark a grasshopper in other ways which would identify the said grasshopper. These are scientific matters which—


My Lords, if I may say so, the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, has laid himself wide open. Can he catch the grasshopper and be sure of not injuring it?


My Lords, it now becomes a zoological matter. I am certain that if one caught the said grasshopper in the first instance, one could do so in the second. I hope that the Government will give the Bill a fair wind. I support the Bill and I hope that if there are any controversial matters they can be dealt with during the Committee stage. I hope that when we have finished with the Bill it will be passed in time to the other place, whatever Government is in power, and will then receive the right kind of treatment. At present, we are dealing with something to which the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman—who is to reply for the Government—referred on a previous occasion. She said, "No piece of legislation is perfect; we have to change as we go along". My Lords, this is a moment for change.

12.23 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships would think it appropriate for me to pay a small tribute to the maiden speech which we heard earlier of my noble friend Lord Cranbrook. I do not think that I could possibly improve on the delightful way in which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, paid his tribute to what my noble friend said, or indeed improve on the tribute he has paid to the hereditary principle which brings my noble friend to the House. I hope that if consideration takes place in connection with any reform of your Lordships' House, the tributes which have been paid to that principle might bear fruit in any such future consideration.

I warmly welcome the Bill which has been moved by my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale. I interpret its main aim as to strengthen the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975, and I do so for a number of reasons, but for one outstanding reason which is that of public opinion in the country at present upon which I shall make a few comments later. I have only one reservation. In my view the amendments to the main Bill do not go far enough. However, I have no doubt that there will be time for consideration of that matter during the Committee stage.

I particularly welcome the substitution of the word "protected" by the word "endangered". In this connection I must declare an interest for I have the responsibility of being an adviser to the People's Trust for Endangered Species. In view of that responsibility, for experience gained from my work in connection with the People's Trust for Endangered Species, and the splendid work which it is performing at present, I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to the widespread concern in Britain, among all classes, about our endangered species and the extent to which that is being supported financially by members of the public.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, mentioned whales, and I think it not inappropriate that I should say something about whales. During 1978 up to the present date the public in this country subscribed £100,000 to the People's Trust for Endangered Species in connection with its whale project. As noble Lords will know, Great Britain, with a number of other countries, is a co-signatory of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling which was set up in Washington in 1946 and which came into force, I believe, in 1948.

The co-signatories of that Convention recognised the interests of the nations of the world in safeguarding its natural resources for future generations and the dangers that could be caused by the over-fishing of whales and the desirability of establishing a system of international regulation. During this year there was an abortive meeting of the Commission in London, which achieved nothing. It would seem that what predominated was commercial pressures, scientific disagreement as to what should be done and so on, which nullified the objects for which the Commission was set up.

The Trust which I humbly represent is virtually concerned with the future of the sperm whale. Indeed, 5,000 tons of sperm oil are imported to Britain on an annual basis. The International Convention will be meeting in Tokyo in 1979 and the Trust is making representations to the Convention and is making funds available for further sicentific research. However, it is believed—and this has yet to be established scientifically—that only 4,000 sperm whales remain in existence. It is also being established scientifically that substitutes are possible in place of sperm oil. I believe that at present the import of sperm oil is prohibited to the United States of America. Therefore, why should it not be prohibited to the United Kingdom. Why should not consideration be given to that?

I welcome the Bill. I believe that there is public concern for its acceptance. I have gone perhaps wider in my consideration of this subject than other noble Lords in their speeches. However, the Bill covers the conservation of wild creatures and I stress, for the reasons that I have given, and the public support which the Trust which I have mentioned has received, that public opinion is widely concerned, at present, about the conservation of all species. I call attention to that public opinion and to the concern for our endangered species. I give a warm welcome to the objects of the Bill.

12.29 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, as noble Lords have said, this House has a very good record as regards conservation matters and I should like to add my tribute to the late Lord Cranbrook by saying that that is due to a very great extent, to the work which he did in this House as regards various forms of conservation. He was responsible for seeing this Bill through to its present stage and I endorse all that has been said about the noble Earl by other noble Lords. We all know of the late Lord Cranbrook's very great service to nature conservation, including the part which he played in getting the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975 on to the Statute Book. I am sure that his enthusiasm for the cause of nature will be missed not only in this House, but in many other places, as will his very wide-ranging knowledge of the subject.

I should also like to express my appreciation and congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, who, as he hinted in a sense fell into this position by accident but who, for this Bill, has really taken on the mantle of the Late Lord Cranbrook. We wish him well in the passage of the Bill through the House and we appreciate the efforts that he has made in order to bring it once again to our notice. I should also like to pay tribute and to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, himself on his excellent maiden speech. It was a very thoughtful and a very knowledgeable contribution. I am sure that everyone in the House looks forward to hearing him regularly on conservation issues especially, and on other issues which come before the House.

Noble Lords, will know that at the Government's request a number of changes were made at various stages by the late Lord Cranbrook when we had this Bill before us last Session. We have welcomed the willingness with which these were incorporated into the Bill. Like the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, we are still not completely convinced about the need to introduce a legislative distinction between the endangered and the vulnerable creatures, which is the fundamental purpose of this Bill. But we are agreed that the Bill would make a useful contribution to the cause of nature conservation.

The noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, asked questions about the advice which the Department receives. The NCC is still our advisory committee. We are happy to receive thoughts, ideas and even advice, gratuitously or otherwise, from any of the other specialist societies, but our ultimate authority for giving us official advice is the Nature Conservancy Council, and it is now able to do much more research than was possible initially.

The quinquennial review is coming up, and the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, questioned whether the five-year period is the right one. I suggest that we wait until we have that quinquennial review, and then we shall have a better idea whether the review needs to be for a longer period or even for a shorter period. In the circumstances, Her Majesty's Government will not oppose the passage of the Bill if that is your Lordships' wish, and I am certain, from the speeches we have heard today, that it is. We shall also work with the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, if any crises arise during the passage of the Bill through this House, in the hope that we can send a good and proper Bill to the other place with a fair wind.

12.32 p.m.


My Lords, in summing up, may I say how very grateful I am to the noble Baroness for her expressions of limited appreciation for this Bill. Of course, I am also extremely grateful to my new noble friend Lord Cranbrook who made such an outstanding maiden speech today. He was good enough to pad out part of my speech which I omitted concerning the actual definitions of the IUCN categories of "endangered", "vulnerable", "rare", and so on. I am grateful to him. My noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton spoke about the lack of protection in the 1975 Act for vulnerable creatures, which is now corrected. I think that in fact he made one small mistake when he said, if I understood him correctly, that there would have been no need for an order to be made for the otter had this Bill been enforced. In fact, an order would still have been needed for the otter to be put into Schedule 3 as opposed to Schedule 1.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, paid tremendous tribute to my late noble friend, as indeed did every speaker in this debate. I shall certainly make it my business to ensure that my late noble friend's widow receives the relevant copy of Hansard. The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, who is my overseer on the all- Party Conservation Committee of both Houses of Parliament was, to say the least, critical of the Bill. I know that he was putting forward the views of the Society for the Promotion of Nature Conservation, which I know well; I have had long discussions with the society. However, perhaps I could point out three matters to him. First, as I said right at the beginning, this is a scientific Bill, and Schedule 2 is to define in law a scientific category of creatures. I suspect that he would like to give total protection to both vulnerable and endangered species. If so, he would only cloud the issue by amalgamating two categories into one Schedule.

The noble Lord also mentioned marking. Of course, one is not obliged to mark a moth. Here, I should like to quote from a letter written by the late Lord Cranbrook. It says: On the question of marking vulnerable creatures for population studies, all those specialist societies whom I have consulted do not think that it is likely to cause significant mortality".— In other words, not so much mortality that the creatures are likely to move up into the endangered group. The letter continues: One of the objects of the Bill is to stress the importance of encouraging field naturalists to study our fauna generally". That point was made in the debate. Therefore, to answer the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, I think that by their very nature the specialist bodies have a tremendous amount of expertise, and although it should not be up to them to define the groups which eventually get into law, they should certainly be one of the sources to which the NCC goes for its advice.

The noble Lord, Lord Gridley, again welcomed the Bill. He spoke at some length about the Whales Convention of 1948. However, I would remind him that this Bill deals with inland species of creatures, whether they be fish or land-based, and does not seek to do anything about creatures in the sea. As I said at the beginning, I am very grateful that the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and her Department for the Government remain willing to see this Bill through on to the Statute Book. Her Department has already given me various pointers as to where I could improve the Bill, and I shall be moving a few Amendments in Committee. However, for now, it only remains for me to wish all noble Lords a very merry Christmas. My Lords, I beg to move.

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