HL Deb 21 May 1991 vol 529 cc187-9

8.6 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Nicol.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ALPORT in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Short title, interpretation and extent]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 26, at end insert: ("( ) This Act shall come into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day it is passed.").

The noble Baroness said: In speaking to this amendment, I shall, with the leave of the Committee, speak also to Amendment No. 2.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, is aware of the Government's wholehearted support for the Bill which would make a useful addition to the already stringent controls in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 for the protection of wildlife. We share her anxiety about the illegal killing of wild birds and animals, particularly where cruel or indiscriminate methods are used. The Bill would make people who manage or oversee land responsible for ensuring that they or their employees do not use unlawful means to kill wildlife.

Members of the Committee will be aware that I gave notice in the debate on Second Reading of the Bill that the Government proposed to introduce two further minor amendments to bring the Bill into line with other legislation on the creation of new offences. These amendments have been tabled. The first would ensure that the Bill did not come into force until two months after Royal Assent. It is customary to allow such a period to give the public an opportunity to become aware of the changes to the law before they start to operate. I commend this amendment to the House.

On Second Reading, the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, raised the question of an amnesty period for those who have stocks of unwanted pesticides so as to allow those pesticides to be withdrawn. The Bill of course does not change the law relating to the holding and storage of pesticides. We do not think that an amnesty is necessary. However, the two-month period following Royal Assent would enable landowners to re-assess their position and that of their employees before the owners themselves become liable for their employees' actions.

Although we recognise the fears expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, on Second Reading that there might be an increase in the number of poisoning incidents in the period before the Act becomes operative, I should stress that it is already an offence under the 1981 Act to use poisons on wildlife, and offenders face heavy penalties on conviction. The passing of the Bill does not affect that in any way.

I assure Members of the Committee that officials of my department are in touch with MAFF on the whole question of safe use, storage and disposal of pesticides. It is a complicated subject governed by various pieces of legislation and regulations, and thought is being given to ways to make people more aware of the safe management of pesticides. I do not think that it would be right to widen this debate into such a technical area. The best advice that I can give to anyone who wishes to find out how to dispose of poisons safely is to contact the waste disposal department of the relevant local authority.

The Committee may be aware that my department is very much involved in a MAFF publicity campaign against illegal poisoning of wildlife. The campaign which was launched on 6th March aims to make the abuse of pesticides less acceptable and desirable as a form of predator control. It will highlight the facts that the misuse of pesticides is cruel, dangerous to humans as well as animals, a threat to wildlife, illegal and unnecessary.

The second minor amendment would prevent the Bill, when enacted, from operating retrospectively. Anything done prior to the Act would not become an offence; only those actions taking place after the Act comes into force would be caught by the new provisions. I beg to move.

Baroness Nicol

I am grateful to the Minister for tabling the amendments, both of which are acceptable. As she reminded us, and as I stress, the protection afforded by the 1981 Act stands and therefore the two months which have been discussed do not provide a period of time during which there is a licence to kill.

On the second amendment, retrospective legislation is almost always unjust. I was a little surprised to find that the Government felt it necessary to spell that out so clearly in this case. That amendment too is acceptable.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Watch moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, line 26, at end insert: ("( ) This Act shall not have effect in relation to anything done 17efore it comes into force.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure until twenty-five minutes to nine.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.11 to 8.35 p.m.]