HL Deb 22 March 1979 vol 399 cc1280-2

3.52 p.m.

Read 3a.

Clause 2 [Vulnerable wild creatures]:

The PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY of STATE, DEPARTMENT of the ENVIRONMENT (Baroness Stedman) moved Amendment No. 1: Page 2, line 30, leave out subsection (2). The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will speak at the same time to the consequential Amendment to the Schedule; namely, Amendment No. 5. While I was in favour of the Amendment to the defence in the proviso of Section 1 of the 1975 Act moved by the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, on Report, subsequent reflection has led me to the view that his Amendment would not produce an acceptable result. First of all, the noble Lord's Amendment removes the need imposed by existing defence to consider the necessity for and hence the reasonableness of the accused's action. The noble Lord's Amendment does not mention the accused's action at all but would require him to establish there was no other reasonable course of action which he could have taken. Apart from ignoring the question whether or not the accused's action was justified, the form of words substituted would involve the accused in having to exclude so many possibilities that it might be impossible to use the defence successfully even in a case where the accused's action was reasonably justified.

On the assumption that it is correct to provide a defence in respect of serious damage to land, crops, poultry or any other form of property, which in the case of a farmer may seriously affect his livelihood, it would seem right to ensure that the accused has a defence if he can establish to the satisfaction of the court that the action he took was necessary for that purpose. The existing defence does that. The defence in its existing form, moreover, is a standard form of defence and is well precedented in other Acts; for example, it is to be found in the Protection of Birds Act 1954, the Deer Act 1963, the Badgers Act 1973 and the Deer Bill, which left this House as recently as 13th February. I therefore ask the House to agree to this Amendment and thus allow the proviso to Section 1 of the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975 to remain in its present form.


I must put on the record, my Lords, the incredible experience we have had with this Amendment. I moved an Amendment in which I genuinely believe and which had been suggested to me by Friends of the Earth. At the last moment the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, who is always so helpful, said, "If you will add just one word to the Amendment—the word, 'reasonable'—I believe I can accept it." Accordingly, at the last moment I moved a manuscript Amendment to add the word "reasonable", and the noble Baroness accepted it. Now she says she does not accept it. I accept what she says very willingly—I never liked the Bill very much in any case—and of course I agree with her.


My Lords, it is fair to say, as my noble friend just said, that the Government's attitude as personified by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, has throughout the Bill been one of neutrality, not armed but decidedly helpful neutrality, and it would seem that on this occasion helpfulness has perhaps gone a little too far, which is why we have this slight impasse at the moment.

I made faint disapproving noises when this Amendment came up on Report, but I was in favour then, as I am now, of anything for a quiet life and I did not want the noble Baroness to teeter off the fence in the wrong direction. Perhaps it is a question now of whether she has actually fallen in the right direction or whether she had a slight push; I would not expect her to answer that. I am now satisfied that she has accepted the right advice of her Department and I hope your Lordships will agree that the situation is now back to square one, which is exactly where it should be.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for the way in which they have received the Amendment. This has been an extraordinary Bill in that it has virtually been rewritten on the Floor of the House. I hope that with the modest Amendments we have before us today we really shall have got the job right.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.