HL Deb 09 November 1999 vol 606 cc1280-304

3.56 p.m.

The Earl of Lytton rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations laid before the House on 3rd August be annulled (S.I. 1999/2170).

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in speaking to the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper to annul the regulations S.I. 1999/2170, I preface my remarks by saying that this is probably the last occasion on which I shall address the House. Like the GLC, I am the victim of abolition in lieu of constructive reform.

As always, I declare an interest as someone who owns and runs a commercial pheasant shoot. It employs a number of people in an under-privileged area of the west of England. As a part of the shoot I rear several hundred mallard, also for the purposes of shooting. A sizeable part of the holding is in a site of special scientific interest. I am also a member of the Country Landowners' Association, although I have tabled the Motion of my own volition, without prompting from any other person or body.

I have written to the Minister setting out my concerns. In doing so, I stated that I was not fundamentally against a general policy of reducing the amount of lead in the environment. That has of course been an objective of environmental policy across Europe for many years. However, I am bound to take note that a former government vet, Mr Bygrave, stated in a paper produced earlier this year that: no statistically significant accurate scientific evidence credible enough to warrant legal restrictions on the use of lead shot in the U.K. has ever been published". None the less I take as read the desirability of reducing pollution in wetland areas although I would not go so far as to follow the Danish example with a total ban on the use of lead shot.

I have been informed that in the past the British Association for Shooting and Conservation—BASC—has discussed this measure with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Until the later stages, that body had been in some agreement with the Government's proposals, but later on there were differences of opinion, and at that point the DETR decided to go it alone. If that is correct, I should like to ask what consultations—if any—took place with conservation, wildlife and land management interests thereafter, particularly on the powers to be vested in the Secretary of State to authorise entry, search and seizure measures. I should also like to ask about the species criteria contained in the schedule to the regulations. In short, I should like to know who agreed to what on this issue, when, and what peer-reviewed domestic research leading up to the tabling of the regulations had in fact been carried out.

Curiously, the regulations apply to England but not to Wales and Scotland. Therefore my second question to the Minister is: why is that the case? It had long been understood that the intention was to phase out lead shot from wetland areas. I can certainly understand the translation of "wetland" as a term of art into a reference to a wetland site of special scientific interest. However, I have the impression that some of the listed sites are not wetland at all. I therefore ask why those areas are contained in the schedule to the regulations?

Furthermore, the species limitation, particularly in relation to all species of duck, geese and swan, as stated in the regulations, might have been appropriate for a wetland only habitat, but I question whether it is appropriate when extended beyond that to other areas—in fact, all areas—by a species-based criterion. Why is that being done? Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether it is proposed in due course to apply it to all sites of special scientific interest.

I am not aware that shooting with lead shot a duck which I may have reared on my own estate and away from any wetlands constitutes a specific environmental risk or reprehensible practice. I rear mallard—not a vast number but several hundred. It is one of the most common species and is often reared for sporting purposes. They are released onto small flighting ponds constructed for that purpose and they also attract other wildlife. The mallard is neither a Red Data Book protected species, nor is it listed in the schedules to the Wildlife and Countryside Act. In his paper, however, Mr Bygrave, to whom I referred earlier, revealed that the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Wetland Advisory Service report, entitled Biological monitoring of lead shot replacement in the UK—final report—contract No. CRO 184—Report to the Department of the Environment, published in 1997, commented on the need then for reliable statistical data. I also understand that mallard were selected as the principal study species with tufted duck and pochard as the secondary study species. It occurs to me, therefore, that the inclusion in the regulations of all species of duck may have rather more to do with the choice by conservationists and researchers of species convenient to them for their purposes rather than any compelling case justifying a ban on the use of lead shot for shooting the same species.

Conservationists and others are quite good at taking up issues in this way. Given a fair wind and enough of them giving mutually complimentary lectures, papers and the like, some not very well substantiated assertions assume the veracity of Holy Writ. Governments should be wary of that type of potential disinformation and they should expect the evidence to be properly scientifically scrutinised and conclusive, unless of course the severity of the effects is such as to justify overriding current practice in the interests of the precautionary principle. Anything else simply devalues legitimate conservation and engenders distrust. That is not helpful. I look forward therefore to learning the justification in this instance because I feel that the notice to adjust given to sportsmen and land managers involved in areas outside wetlands, foreshores, estuaries and other such places has been unacceptably short in respect of the wider criteria now being applied. In other words, there is a right way of proceeding, enabling the Government's proposals to be phased in, and there is a wrong way. I think that the wrong way has been chosen and it gets to the point of patent unreasonableness.

I do not wish to become too much involved in alternatives to lead shot but, according to my understanding, Bismuth/tin, tungsten matrix and steel shot cartridges cost between two and four times that of the lead equivalent. That is because there is a shortage of supplies. The industry has not had time to adjust to the scale of the effect now facing it. The American experience with steel shot is certainly not accurate in this situation and not directly comparable to England where guns are often of lighter construction and different build. Therefore, there are significant risks in using some types of alternative ammunition in these guns.

That is not to say that a reasonable cost increase should outweigh demonstrable conservation concerns. I am simply saying that I do not think that those overriding conservation concerns have been proven in this instance. There is no precautionary principle at stake with mallard, as they are reared and by and large very common, or for that matter with Canada geese, which fundamentally are grass eaters. As far as I am aware—I stand to be corrected by any noble Lord who knows better—neither species shows widespread morbidity through lead ingestion. A two to fourfold increase in ammunition costs is a severe impediment. So I ask the Minister to indicate what is the Government's justification for applying the restriction so widely as opposed to a more orderly phasing in if the evidence actually shows that that is necessary and desirable.

The regulations insert provisions empowering the Secretary of State to authorise entry, search and seizure similar to those contained in Section 108 of the Environment Act 1995, a measure intended to provide for the effective intervention by the Environment Agency's staff in the event of serious pollution incident or risk, for the protection of human life and health and, specifically, for the execution of the agency's functions of investigation in that respect. Sadly, those relevant savings clauses in relation to the section's application to those functions of the Environment Agency have not been replicated in the regulations. Can the Minister say why similar savings are absent in this instance?

So conveniently wide-ranging are some of these powers—particularly those of Section 108—that I have been informed privately by another noble Lord of instances where the police seek to involve the Environment Agency's personnel in order to gain them access to premises which under normal police powers they could not have achieved. Noble Lords may consider that far-fetched and I am bound to admit that I do not have any direct personal evidence. But I do have direct knowledge of an analogous situation from the time when I myself was a public servant so I can say that to my own certain knowledge that kind of thing does go on.

I have considered the precedents for Section 108, the powers of entry, search and seizure, which are almost unique on our statute book. They are there for the understandable purposes which I described earlier. Unfortunately, paragraph 4 of the regulations does not recite them. I am indebted to the Library of your Lordships' House for unearthing a paper on entry, search and seizure by Professor Richard Stone of Nottingham Trent University which sets out the powers available under various Acts of Parliament. I should like to hear from the Minister why such powers have been considered appropriate here and what environmental imperative justifies them. It is one thing for the Environment Agency to authorise trained personnel to investigate where necessary and to protect the general public from serious pollution and health and safety risks; it is quite another for the Secretary of State to be given powers to authorise any person at all to enter onto land to perhaps seize a dead duck to check whether it has lead shot in it. In short, the powers are wholly disproportionate.

Even in a case of dangerous dogs, an application for access has to be via a justice of the peace and the information justifying the order for access has to be given on oath and to the effect that there are reasonable grounds for believing that an offence is being committed. While under Section 108 of the Environment Act the powers are very wide, they do, as I said, relate to checking on compliance, carrying out the pollution control functions of the agency, determining whether such a function should be carried out, or carrying out an assessment and preparing a report required by the Minister. But even in the case of preparing a report, the power of entry relates only to incidents or potential incidents involving serious pollution to the environment, harm to human health, danger to life, and so on, while the seizure of property applies only where those items to be seized have caused, or are likely to cause, pollution to the environment or harm to human health. I agree with the views of the Country Landowners' Association that the Wildlife and Countryside Act powers are more appropriate here, not those of the Environment Act 1995.

What will be the outcome? If the House will excuse the pun, in the case of shot wildfowl, the sportsman and landowner are quite simply sitting ducks. The evidence is transient and highly portable. It could he introduced by a third party or even by the person purporting to carry out the investigation for which access is required. It seems to me that there is absolutely no defence, particularly if, as I suspect, we are dealing with environmental strict liability. Can the Minister say how the liability issue will be addressed? What standard of proof will apply and how will the innocent be protected?

Noble Lords may think that no one would stoop so low as to concoct evidence. But I say this to the House: an official of English Nature once told me of his abiding suspicion that a particular species had been introduced to a site for the purposes of procuring for that site a protection that it did not otherwise merit. It was supposed to have been introduced by a third party, but he lacked absolute proof.

Environmental sharp practice is not new. It is a. risk that most landowners accept in the greater interest of environmental protection. But to say that landowners and those using lead shot in shotguns for legitimate sporting purposes should be put at such risk, with non-recourse powers of entry, possibly by unqualified personnel—the regulations do not state whom the Secretary of State shall appoint—bereft of the caveats of the legislative parentage of Section 108 of the Environment Act is wrong. When it also involves a potentially criminal act of using a firearm, it is not surprising to hear, as I have, concerns being raised in some quarters as to whether this provision is more about firearm and shotgun control than the legitimate protection of bottom feeding species of wildfowl in important wetland habitats.

Therefore, will the Minister tell the House what the Government's intentions really are? The Prime Minister may state that there is no agenda to ban shooting after a hunting ban—and I am prepared to believe that—but the body language of this new regulatory power appears to be saying something rather different. We should be told the reality.

The effects of the regulations would in some instances be patently absurd. Away from a site of special scientific interest scheduled in the regulations, a pheasant can be killed with lead shot with impunity, but not if it is pricked and wanders off or falls to earth to die within a scheduled SSSI. A mallard reared for the purposes of shooting on the same estate may not be shot with lead at all. A landowner may shoot with lead shot a mallard on the Welsh or Scottish side of his hill, but not on the English side. A farmer in a scheduled SSSI may not shoot anything with lead shot, whether it be crows, magpies or rabbits. Matters have moved away from what I understood was an agreed geographical approach based on wetlands and marshes to an SSSI base, which may include all kinds of different land forms, some of them not involving much, or anything, in the way of wetland at all. And, of course, a species criterion has been inserted on the way, which has the effect of far wider geographical application than was ever originally envisaged, and without good scientific grounds.

That causes confusion and consternation. It creates high risks with criminal sanction and potentially large gaps in the fabric of the necessary protection of the individual before the law. It bestows direct liability and penal costs on legitimate activities for no substantial reason; and it could seriously disadvantage the genuinely harmless pursuit of sports away from sensitive areas. It will certainly increase the costs of sport in terms of ammunition, ensuring compliance by shoot managers, landowners and those who are entrusted with enforcing the legislation. As I wrote to the Minister, it may be appropriate to criminalise culpable neglect, but not honest mistake or innocent acquiescence.

The department has indicated that, currently, only the police will be authorised to enter on to land. Will the Minister confirm that for the benefit of our discussion today? If so, the regulations should state as much. As framed, they are far too wide, having regard to the nature of the objectives, and could readily by changed at a moment's notice at the whim of Ministers. Please will the Minister give some reassurance on that point?

I am bound to say that minor infringements relating to the ownership of shotguns have recently been interpreted by the police as prima facie grounds for the withdrawal of licences. If a licence holder can be taken to court by the police for telling his mother where he keeps the key to the gun cabinet, as was reported in the press recently—thankfully, the case was thrown out by the High Court—surely this statutory instrument will produce high risks related to the shooting of common species protected from certain types of shot solely by the regulations. Moreover, how enforceable will the legislation be? Or will the law be seen as an ass?

This looks like bad law. It is unjustified in its extent; unreasonable in its effect; and inconsistent in its application. It uses the wrong legislative precedent. The Minister should either give the House a reasoned justification for it, or undertake to review its terms. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations laid before the House on 3rd August be annulled (S.I. 1999/2170).—(1The Earl of Lytton.)

4.15 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, first, I should declare an interest. I take part in shooting, although not commercially. We are all grateful to the noble Earl for providing the opportunity to debate the statutory instrument. I do not want to deal with the technical aspects of whether or not it is necessary to protect wildlife. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, kindly supplied me with a great deal of information on that aspect. I read it carefully and did not find it immensely convincing. We shall no doubt hear from the noble Baroness later.

There is a suggestion that an international obligation is involved. I find it hard to think that we in Britain should have to do this kind of thing for international obligation at a time when in Europe the Spaniards are still allowed to torture bulls to death in public for amusement. Be that as it may.

I want to discuss the way in which the Government have set about this matter and in particular the use of the powers of entry into private property. Taking powers of entry is a very serious matter in this country. In a parliamentary Question on 28th October, I asked on how many occasions since May 1997 the Government had laid statutory instruments giving powers of entry to private property. The Government's Answer was that it would be a disproportionate effort to answer the Question. Surely that indicates their attitude. So I asked our most efficient House of Lords Library. Using the Lexis legal database, and by tapping in "powers of entry", some 15 statutory instruments were immediately found.

Yesterday, my noble friend Lady Blatch asked the same Question about powers of entry. She received a similar Answer from the Home Office Minister; namely, that it would be a disproportionate effort to investigate on how many occasions that had happened—although he went on to say: An initial survey"— whatever that means— has indicated that 35 statutory instruments giving powers of entry to private premises may have come into force since May 1997".—[Official Report, 8/11/99; col. 1152.] I hope that the Government will reconsider their reply. I hope that they will accept that enough of us regard this as an important matter for them at least to satisfy us that they keep a careful record of the number of occasions on which they have allowed this kind of thing to happen.

The matter is important enough for any decision by the Government to introduce a statutory instrument allowing powers of entry to private property to be taken at the highest level. Ideally, one would like it to be taken by Mr Alastair Campbell, who has great knowledge of the implications for public policy. But at the very least, surely the decision should be taken by the whole Cabinet.

Let us have a little more detail on exactly what is involved in this particular statutory instrument. It does not include premises used for residential purposes. But does it include all other premises? Land, vehicles and vessels are included, but are shops included? What about farm buildings? Legislation in such matters must be precise.

The noble Earl referred to the question of who has the power to enforce the legislation. In his parliamentary Answer, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, told me: The decision on who will enforce the regulation lies entirely with the Secretary of State". —[Official Report, 28/10/99; col. WA 41.] That is delegated legislation within delegated legislation. Will the Government at least inform Parliament if they decide to give consent to anyone other than the police, who have been given the primary responsibility so far, to implement the powers of entry?

I have consulted the police. They indicated that they would be very unhappy if anyone other than themselves had such powers of entry. Certainly, that view applies to local authorities. I understand that this regulation will not be top of police operational priorities and that essentially enforcement will be on the basis of complaints. Given the stretched resources of the police, particularly in rural areas, I suspect that in most cases enforcement will be minimal. The problem of trying to prove an offence, will, I believe, be that in a number of cases it will be difficult to establish who has fired any particular shot.

Aggressive enforcement runs the risk of damaging relations between country people and the police. That is most undesirable in rural areas where the police are particularly dependent on the eyes and ears of ordinary people including those who shoot, especially through neighbourhood watch schemes, to prevent and detect real crime. Unenforceable law is bad law. Because of the way that this instrument is drafted I believe a large part of it will be unenforceable.

We should never forget that statutory instruments originated with Henry VIII's Statute of Proclamations of 1539. That was a tyrannical Act later repealed. The Act said that any royal proclamation should have the force of law. I believe that in accordance with today's standards of parliamentary scrutiny we should be able to ask the Government to think again. However, I am aware that in this House it is not the convention to follow a prayer against a statutory instrument with a vote that would require the Government to reconsider it. I hope that the interim House may have more confidence in these matters and consider changing that particular convention.

I remind the Government who, from the tone of Answers to my earlier Questions appear to feel irritation that we question these matters, that from the days of Magna Carta the function of Parliament has never been to be a convenience to the executive. It is to be an inconvenience to the Government. Therefore, I make no apologies for raising today what I regard as a serious matter.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am glad to support my noble friend's Motion. In doing so I declare a minor interest in that I shoot duck on about three half-days a year on average. My noble friend, with his usual thoroughness, has covered the ground so well that there is not a lot that can be added. However, I should like to put two or three questions to the noble Baroness. First, why are snipe included in the restrictions? If snipe are hit at all, even by a not very well aimed shot, they are almost certain to be killed outright. In this respect they are about as different from mallards as can be imagined. The latter can survive for a long time with a great deal of shot in them. Moreover, what about the availability of the newly-approved cartridges? Snipe are normally shot with size 7 shot or smaller, but very few non-lead shot cartridges containing such small size shot are made. The demand is so small that it is not economic to manufacture them.

My second question is by no means flippant; it is entirely serious. Have the Government consulted the dental profession about this instrument? However meticulous one may be, it is impossible to guarantee that all shot is removed from a game bird before it is cooked. Even lead shot can do terrible things to a tooth, as I know to my cost. Will not steel or tungsten shot be even more dangerous? There are also forestry considerations. One hears that the Scandinavians, apart from the Danes, who have very few forests of any size, are extremely worried about the effects of steel shot on trees. Apart from other considerations, once steel shot is embedded in a tree it can cause great damage to saw blades when it is felled or trimmed. But the main objection to the regulations, among many others, must be the draconian and disproportionate entry, search and seizure measures allowed therein, as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, stressed. My noble friend Lord Lytton pointed out that these measures are normally employed only when there is a risk of serious harm to human health.

I conclude on a slightly different note. My noble friend Lord Lytton, conscientious as always—I am aware that his business commitments have prevented him from attending as regularly as he would wish—decided not to stand for election, at the possible expense of less qualified but more regular attenders. The House will therefore be deprived of the benefit of his particular expertise which is not so easy to replace. The same can be said of 50 or 60 other noble Lords in various quarters of the House who did not stand for the same reason or, being over 70, believed that younger Peers should be given a chance, or stood for election but failed to be elected because their faces were not particularly well known. What a tragedy that an amendment along the lines of that tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, which would have secured the retention of the services of a modest number of speaking but non-voting Peers, was rejected by both the Government and Opposition Front Bench. Your Lordships' House—and the nation as a whole—will be the losers thereby.

Lord Monro of Langhohn

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving the House the opportunity to question the Minister on why the decisions that the Government have taken are in this statutory instrument. I declare various interests, from involvement in Solway wildfowling to membership of the Nature Conservancy Council and as the Minister who took the Environment Act through another place in 1980. With that environmental background, it is perhaps all the more important that I demonstrate my concern at what has been done about the blanket inclusion of SSSIs in this statutory instrument. It shows that the heavy hand of what is now English Nature has the ear of the Minister and perhaps has overtaken what many of us believe to be common sense.

Noble Lords have covered much of the detail of the instrument. I indicated my interest in the Solway, having represented it in another place for over 30 years. This instrument applies only to England. Immediately, we run into a distinct conflict between Scotland and England as to precisely where in the Solway is the border and on which side we are permitted to use lead shot and on which side we cannot. We had this debate during the passage of the devolution Bill relative to the boundary between England and Scotland, which at the present time varies from the centre line of the River Eden, or River Esk, down the middle of the Solway to what was agreed in the Bill; namely, that there would be a specific indication by latitude and longitude of the precise boundary between England and Scotland. Has it been resolved? Do we know what is the exact boundary between England and Scotland, particularly in the upper Solway which is mentioned in the schedule to the regulations? If not, we have no right to place before Parliament an instrument with a vague idea of where the national boundary lies and what is legal and what is illegal. The Government should have resolved that and made it clear in the statutory instrument before they placed it before Parliament.

I share with other noble Lords grave concerns about the draconian powers given by this instrument. They go far beyond any possible damage that may be involved. The Government should look at this matter again, particularly in the context of a general discussion with the police in Scotland and England, and Wales for that matter, given the boundary between England and Wales, as to how they might interpret this draconian measure. It does no good to stir up unnecessary confrontation in the countryside where everyone works towards a common goal and understands the reasons for this statutory instrument, even if many believe that it is misguided and there has been insufficient consultation, particular on the availability of alternative types of shot, such as tungsten, tin and so on. One is aware that from the point of view of wounding birds it is far better to use lead shot with a high kinetic energy than steel, tungsten or tin which is less effective, and, therefore, we are not assisting the birds. It is better to have a clean kill than a bird wounded by alternative shot.

The Government have to give many answers on the statutory instrument. Will the Minister indicate the position as regards a punt gun? The regulation indicates that a shotgun is a smooth bore weapon but it does not indicate whether a punt gun is legal, as it is at present. I appreciate that under the regulation the punt gun would have to be used with alternative shot. However, there should be a reference if the regulation covers it.

I hope that the Minister will explain why we have included all SSSIs. Some are miles away from wetlands. An answer seems to have been accepted from English Nature without considering the original intention: to cover wetlands alone, and estuaries such as the Wash, the Solway and other parts of the United Kingdom.

I should like the Minister to respond to those questions and to think again before introducing a regulation which is so widely flawed.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, I, too, wish to indicate my sympathy with the concerns of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and other noble Lords who have spoken.

As a landlord I have an SSSI within the land that I own. For the past five years I have leased out my shoot to a tenant. The lease makes it clear that he is not allowed to use lead shot over any of the waterways or lakes. To that extent he is meant to use bismuth cartridges. However, he seems inadvertently to use lead shots over those areas and recently we obtained an injunction to stop him doing so. My point is this. No matter how hard I try to regulate the lease, the tenant, his guests and other such people have inadvertently used lead shot over those waterways over which I have sought to ensure that it should not be used. Every time the tenant uses inadvertently such shot, I may be taken to court through his use of it. Surely the regulation is wrong. It should put the liability on the shooter and not the landlord. There is no incentive for the shooter to use non-lead shot. If the liability were on him, he would have an incentive to do so.

One queries how many sensible landlords would want shooting to take place with these regulations in force. How do the Government intend to enforce this part of the regulations?

Lord Dunleath

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Lytton for raising this matter. I declare an interest. As the Minister will be aware, I live and shoot in Northern Ireland where, at present, like Scotland and Wales, we do not have restrictions on the use of lead shot. However, perhaps more unusually, I am fortunate (if that is word) to be invited each year to shoot in Holland where no lead shot in any form is allowed. When I go there, we are equipped with bismuth shot.

However, like my noble friend Lord Lytton, I, too, wonder whether these restrictions are the beginning of a more concerted campaign to do away with shooting of game and wildfowl in the United Kingdom. In the Netherlands the cessation of shooting has been a creeping process. For example, the raising of game for shooting is now wholly illegal. One cannot put down pheasants. In recent years, it has become illegal to shoot snipe and woodcock. Last year it became illegal to shoot partridges.

There are further restrictions. In Holland, one may shoot ducks but only more than a certain distance away from where they are fed. One is still allowed to shoot geese but only, for some reason I do not know, until 11 o'clock in the morning.

Like my noble friend, while I have no particular argument against the controlled use of lead shot in specific instances" I am concerned that the regulations are the beginning of something more comprehensive and worrying for the many thousands of people in the United Kingdom who enjoy shooting and wildfowling.

Lord Kimball

My Lords, the noble Earl has made it clear that there is grave concern on the subject of lead. It becomes an emotive issue. We have had to remove the lead pipes from our houses. People have had to give up their lead soldiers; or they cannot buy more of those lovely toys. Lead paint is no longer acceptable in one's house; and fishermen have long given up using lead weights. We have to recognise that there is genuine concern about lead.

I think that I am correct in saying that most members of the Countryside Alliance accept the removal of lead shot where it is a proven cause of poisoning through ingestion by water fowl. We have accepted a voluntary undertaking not to use lead shot over marshland habitats and areas below the high water mark.

As the noble Earl pointed out, one of the problems is that it adds to the schedule many areas which do not fall into the definition. The Stamford training area in Norfolk is hardly a wetland. The Cairngorms are in Scotland, so that issue does not arise yet, but they are hardly a wetland. Those inclusions bring the regulations into disrepute. There should be a formal method to challenge the inclusion of an SSSI within the schedule.

The distressing and alarming matter—as other noble Lords have pointed out—is that the schedule has moved from the scheduling of areas to the scheduling of extra species. In no way can a golden plover and a common snipe ingest lead shot by going along the water with their beaks. They drill through the ground. I used to have a snipe bog on an SSSI. We used to put out dried blood from the slaughterhouse on mown strips. The snipe stuck their beaks through and caught all the lovely bugs underneath. It was a certain way of collecting them. But in no way do those birds ingest the lead shot over the marsh. So there is no evidence of poisoning of golden plover and common snipe. The effect of including those species in the regulations makes most sportsmen think that the regulations are not well founded.

In introducing the Motion, attention was drawn to the question of enforcement. I remind noble Lords that the premises of every game dealer are subject to inspection. If there has been a complaint about a shoot, it is perfectly in order for the police to inspect the game dealer's register, and the game on his premises.

I believe that the regulations are more enforceable than people realise. But I am equally confident that the shooting community will not break the regulations. If this is the law, it will be abided by even though it is bad law, will be a burden on people, and we should not have allowed it to go through. Perhaps in the revised House we shall get rid of the convention by which we do not throw out unsatisfactory regulations. Perhaps we may have a good hunt and kill a fox next time.

Baroness Young of Old Scone

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of English Nature, which has been mentioned on several occasions during the debate. I want also to declare an interest in ducks and water birds and in shooting. The management of land and water for shooting is extremely good for conservation. It would be wrong to see the regulation as a polarisation between the shooting and conservation communities.

I should like to think that the Government have made a move on this issue, not hastily in an ill-thought-out way, but carefully and far too slowly. For more than 15 years, we at English Nature have had an interest in the issue, and discussions with the shooting interests have taken place for some time. I assure the House that in our discussions we have not sought surreptitious government control by the back door or a cessation of shooting. We have simply been looking for a way forward that would suit the shooting community and conservation.

The toll on wildfowl due to ingesting lead shot is unacceptable in conservation terms. There is research evidence of that. Apart from the conservation impact, lead poisoning causes a nasty and lingering death. For that reason, the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement requires the British Government to produce regulations to enforce a ban by the end of next year, not just in England but in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We looked for a voluntary ban. I should have preferred this to have been resolved without regulation, but that did not work. There was insufficient interest in the voluntary ban to encourage the market to produce adequate supplies of cheap nontoxic shot to allow sporting shooting to continue using such shot. As a result, the regulation is not the draconian measure it may appear in cold print, but is a signal to the market and the shooting community to move into the next generation of water fowl shooting.

The United States banned lead shot in wetland areas two years ago, and I do not see that as a country where sportsmen are easily deprived of their sport or guns. The provisions for enforcement may look draconian, but they are less draconian than those in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 in that local authorities may be mandated to take action on behalf of the authorities. I envisage that they will be rarely, if ever, used. The whole purpose of the regulation is to send a signal that non-toxic shot needs to be used in these circumstances. The cost argument need not delay us too long, bearing in mind the cost of cartridges versus the total cost of a shooting day.

I hope that your Lordships will accept that this is a reasonable way forward for the shooting community and for conservation; that the responsible shooting community will rise to the signal that this gives; and that in two or three years we shall consider this to have been a bit of a storm in a teacup.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Burton

My Lords, I support the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, in his objection to the regulations. Despite being highly contentious, the regulations are a grave infringement of the rights of the individual. Until today, this matter has never before been debated in Parliament. It was sneaked in after Parliament rose for the Summer Recess.

There has been little scientific research into the issue in this country and certainly there have been no peer reviews of the little scientific work that has been done, and preferences within the regulations are largely American. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned America were some research has been carried out. The situation is different because a large amount of shot was found over a small area.

The result is that many inaccurate assumptions have been presumed. Probably the most extensive research in Britain was done by Dr G P Mudge in 1981. His report records very low or zero incidents in pink-footed, barnacle and white-fronted geese, wigeon, pintail, shoveler, scaup and moorhens. It seems that some of the lead pellets found in the very small number of other species affected may have been caused by wounding and not by the swallowing of lead pellets.

Yesterday, I spoke with one of Dr Mudge's researchers who monitored the Beauly Firth near Inverness; waters which were heavily populated with wildfowl at that time. The three most heavily shot-over areas were used for sampling. Twelve cores were taken out to a depth of three feet in each of the three places once a month for five months over an autumn and winter. Thus, 180 core samples were taken. These were carefully washed and strained. At the end of the experiment they found only three or four pellets. I hardly think that over such a heavily shot area the risk is serious.

Some of the best grouse moors are on hills which have been mined for lead; for instance, there are lead hills in south Scotland and in many areas of the Pennines. The regulations refer to the protection of "animals", but does that description mean birds, mammals or both? If it means mammals, what effect are the regulations intended to have on them? I thought that their intention was to protect birds.

If lead is banned, what are the alternatives? There is bismuth, a substance which is said to be highly toxic. Dr Bellamy seems to agree with the danger. Has research been carried out into the toxicity of bismuth? Bismuth, of course, is five or six times the price of lead, but that is another matter.

Then there is so called "steel". That is very dangerous. This shot is inclined to ball and can blow up gun barrels. It certainly severely damages the carcasses of any quarry shot at. We experienced that when Belgians came to shoot grouse. At lunchtime, the keeper said to the owner of the property, "I don't know what these people are firing at our birds, but they're not fit for the market any longer". For the rest of the day, he provided the Belgians with cartridges. However, the substance has already been banned in Sweden as it is so damaging to forestry. Any tree damaged by the shot will set the sawmill metal detectors bleeping in order to prevent damage to the saw and perhaps even to the saw-miller himself.

Another material is tungsten, but that is also a nonstarter. There are various reasons why it cannot be used; it is just not suitable.

One wonders therefore whether there is any good alternative to lead. My noble friend said he was worried about wounding and I believe that most of the alternatives are likely to cause more wounding than is caused by lead.

I consider the draconian wording of Article 4(i) to be totally unnecessary. It empowers the Secretary of State to authorise any individual, not necessarily a police officer, to break into anyone's premises at what is termed "a reasonable time". It authorises such persons to remove private property and to have tested anything found thereon. There have already been many cases where environmental bodies have interfered with evidence. I know of three cases where certain bodies removed the evidence or clearly interfered with it.

I am not sure what will happen at the Country Landowners' Game Fair next year because I understand that that area is protected. I do not know whether the shooters will have to use bismuth, but what are they going to use to shoot the clay pigeons at the game fair? Apparently, one cannot use lead shot in that area. These regulations must be withdrawn, at least until proper research has been carried out, and I do hope that the Minister will understand the difficulties which have been talked about on all sides of the House this afternoon.

The Earl of Selborne

My Lords, I wonder whether we are in danger of slightly over-stating the case. I find myself in slight disagreement with some of my noble friends on this side of the House. I should declare an interest, as chairman of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee from 1991 to, I believe, 1996. I have to report that during that time there was a lot of agreement from all sides of shooting and conservation interests as to what was required.

Some of the issues which have just been mentioned simply did not represent live debate any more. It was recognised that the ingestion of lead was undesirable.

It was recognised that it had to be phased out, and at the meetings that I attended—and I attended quite a few—I found that people were very co-operative. Again, with due respect, much of science was simply not disputed. It was recognised that this was something that had to be addressed and it was hoped that it could be addressed by voluntary bans.

I do not want to go into the issues of whether or not these regulations contain draconian measures but I think that we need to put the record straight as to whether or not there is any serious dispute over whether lead is a desirable element to use in shot where there is a danger that wildfowl may ingest it. I do not think that is in dispute and I do not think that at this stage of the debate, which has been going on for many years, we need to put it in dispute.

I was interested to hear my noble friend say that he had sought to impose a ban by law and of course he has had to do this by means of an injunction. It is precisely the interests of, if I may say so, such far-sighted landlords of shoots which we are protecting in this measure. I do not think that many people would want to take a tenant to law in order to enforce such a covenant. It is very desirable that there are regulations of this kind, but I do not wish to discuss the minutiae because it is the principle with which we have to concern ourselves.

I find myself in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that a voluntary measure would have been desirable but apparently it was difficult to achieve and therefore I think that we are now bound to follow this route.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Donner

My Lords, we on these Benches certainly welcome these regulations and hope they will be the first step in moving towards greater protection for SSSIs and wildlife in general. After what we have heard this afternoon I think there is widespread agreement that lead is harmful, but I will not go further into that. The noble Lord who has just spoken has said that there had been a long process since 1991 and that there has been plenty of time to reach a voluntary solution.

It has been said that the landlord or the shooter should be the person accountable. However, it is plain that the landlord is the person who owns the land; he is there and he makes the rules for the people who shoot on the land. Therefore, the landlord is the person who is most easily held accountable. Most noble Lords who have spoken seem to be principally worried about the fact that the law enforcement is too draconian. I think that, given the state nationally of our SSSIs, and given the concerns that have been voiced about lead to the wildfowl listed in these regulations, their needs to be a sufficient power to say that this is a serious matter and one which will be taken seriously. Given the failure of voluntary agreement, I think a clear message needs to be sent of it that these are wildlife and birds regulations.

One speaker mentioned that it was strange that we should be living up to our international obligations. Surely in the case of wildfowl and in the case of migrating birds in particular we must all live up to our international obligations. I do not want to detain the House for any length, given the time that we have spent on this debate, but I hope that these regulations will be kept in force and I am sorry that this will be the last occasion that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, will be speaking to us. Certainly in my brief acquaintance with him I have enjoyed the extent of his knowledge, but I cannot agree with him today.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, before I start I must declare an interest in that I have been associated with the British Field Sports Society and the Countryside Alliance over a number of years.

In principle, I personally support the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, in this appeal. Perhaps, rather more importantly, this is yet another bad piece of legislation that has been poorly put together because at the heart of it there was really not much dispute, as we have already heard. There was a fair amount of agreement about the need for some kind of legislation if it was found that the voluntary agreement was not working. However, the whole business of lead shot—I will not spend much time on it—is still being debated. It is certainly not proven and Professor Bellamy himself says that "lead" is not the right word to use. He suggests that "toxic" is the word that ought to be used in this legislation, which puts the thing in a very different perspective from that angle.

Moving to what is prescribed in the first part, that any wild bird included in Schedule 2 to these regulations should not be shot anywhere, again, this is clearly poorly phrased. As we have heard from speakers around the House, the common snipe flies regularly over grouse drives and the mallard travels freely and regularly. The golden plover is also available a long way from wetlands where people may be shooting in semi-light and so on, and shooting with lead shot.

However, for the purposes of today's debate I think that we would accept the need for restriction over wetlands, even though I personally think that this is not yet proven scientifically. There are some percentages quoted in papers that I have read; one was 12 per cent of geese, and that actually refers to flying birds. Anyone who has seen geese in flight knows that they flight in thousands. Also, with due respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I have seen a paper that I suspect she has also seen from English Nature. Clearly I did not draw the same conclusions from it as she did. I found it quite misleading.

I think there are a lot of things in the air that need further discussion before serious legislation is brought. I also think that to have legislation based on a species schedule was quite unnecessary—it really was—and it was unnecessarily restrictive. As has been stated by my noble friends, there is no disagreement. Those of us who shoot for sport clearly support protecting the wetlands from lead poisoning. In spite of that, I have to say that I live in a home where the water is kept in lead tanks and flows through lead pipes, and I have been drinking it for over 50 years. Your Lordships may regret it, but I am still standing here! Therefore although lead poisoning may be very painful, the only painful lead poisoning that I know about is when you get shot.

As to the second stage, which is really much more serious, this is yet another example, as we heard earlier, of over-restrictive legislation. It is draconian against the individual. Why should regulations like these be worded so loosely? They could have referred to "a policeman" or something similar. Inevitably people like myself and others are going to be suspicious. If we happen—God forbid!—to have a Secretary of State responsible for these matters who is strongly affiliated to the ALF or something similar, we can expect the ALF to be authorised to come and stop a grouse shoot in the middle of a moor because it is thought that somebody shot a snipe that they happened to have seen see through binoculars. The whole thing becomes ridiculous.

Over-prescriptive legislation should never be at risk of being ridiculous. I beg to offer that comment, and I seriously think that to have a law which cannot be enforced geographically because the borders cannot be clearly defined, the reason for which is hard to prove because the scientists do not yet agree and there is insufficient proof and evidence, and which really goes overboard in regard to taking actions against a private person and private property, is bad legislation. Arguments have been put from all around the House, and those are mine. It is a convention of this House that the Opposition do not vote against negative instruments and I do not intend to do so.

5 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for initiating the debate, and I should like to join with other noble Lords in paying tribute to his work, knowledge and contribution to the work of this House. I know personally from the detailed work that he carried out on the Rating (Valuation) Bill that his professional knowledge in his own specialist field is second to none.

Noble Lords all around the House have put forward their arguments—with, I must say, varying degrees of personal conviction—ranging from the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, who did not totally convince me that he believed that there was a need for this issue to be tackled in a determined way.

There is no doubt that the toxic effects of lead in terms of the reproduction, development and survival of animals and wildlife are well known, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said, the stricter controls have covered areas far beyond the issue of protecting wildlife. However, in wetlands where hunting takes place, there has been widespread lead poisoning among waterfowl. Such losses to the bird population are simply unnecessary. Waterfowl are particularly prone to eating lead as they take grit to help in digestion, and it is estimated that in the UK 2 to 3 per cent of mallards have been dying each year from lead poisoning. That figure may be as high as 5 per cent for other waterfowl species in some areas.

As long ago as 1983, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended that, as soon as alternatives were available, the Government should legislate to ban the use of lead shot and fishing weights in circumstances where they are irretrievably dispersed in the environment. Since 1987 the supply of lead fishing weights judged to be the most harmful to swans has been prohibited and the new swan population has risen by over 30 per cent since that date.

I am sure that all noble Lords would welcome the progress being made. Progress on restricting the use of lead in shotguns was slower because of the need to develop alternative shot types. Those shot types are now available and there is no reason why wildfowl should continue to be exposed to the risk associated with the deposition of lead shot.

From 1993 to 1996 the Government, with the assistance of shooting and related organisations, funded a ballistic testing facility to aid manufacturers in the development of suitable alternatives to lead. That facility tested the many different types of shot available today. Apart from steel, which has been used in the United States for a number of years, bismuth, tungsten polymer and tin shot are now available to shooters.

Lord Burton

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that bismuth is not available in sizes seven and eight, which would normally be used on snipe?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I lack the noble Lord's detailed knowledge of the availability of specific shot for particular types of birds. I shall write to him with the answer that he seeks.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, raised the issue of the effect of steel shot in woodlands. The concerns he mentioned were raised during the consultation process, but they were not deemed significant enough to widen the total ban to woodlands. We have previously stated to the Forestry Commission that we do not intend to apply a complete ban in forested areas. However, we look forward to the consultation that will take place in the light of experience. If landowners are concerned about possible damage to their timber, they should, as stated in the response from the Forestry Commission, impose their own restrictions on the use of steel shot in that particular area.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, raised the issue of consultation with dentists. I must say that his contribution was quite evocative; I remembered the small lead pellets in rabbits that I ate as a child, and I must agree with the noble Lord that one had to avoid those as well as the harder steel shot.

The move to regulation was taken only after detailed. consideration of the issues and wide consultation with all involved. In 1995, a working group of government, shooting, farming and conservation organisations, along with the gun and ammunition industry, was set up by the previous Government to consider the phasing out of the use of lead shot in weapons in the UK. Through a programme of research, guidance and publicity, the group encouraged the development of alternatives and of means to encourage people who shoot over wetlands to switch voluntarily to these. However, the working group reached a conclusion, after considerable publicity for the voluntary phase-out, that it was necessary to move on from the voluntary phase.

At the end of 1997, the Government carried out a consultation exercise with more than 60 interested organisations, local authorities, representatives of field sport societies, gun and ammunition manufacturers, shooting organisations, conservation groups and enforcement agencies. They all worked together to establish which approach should be adopted at the end of the voluntary phase-out period. Responses to that consultation revealed overall support for a move to a statutory ban as soon as possible. As a result, the Government took the view that a voluntary approach is not sufficient to ensure the protection of waterfowl, as my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone said.

A detailed consultation document issued on 8th April 1999 outlined draft regulations to restrict the use of lead shot in Great Britain. It was sent to over 4,000 individuals and interested organisations. Responses were accepted until the end of June. Following analysis of the responses, my right honourable friend the Minister of State at the DETR, Michael Meacher, announced on 2nd August that restrictions on the use of lead shot would come into force in England on 1st September, the start of the hunting season for ducks and geese.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and other noble Lords, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Monro, have referred to the face: that similar legislation in Scotland and Wales is a matter for the devolved authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Monro, and the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, raised the issue of cross-border shooting. It is a fact of life that frequently one needs to know whether one is in Scotland, England, or Wales. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that he talks to his noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who seemed to be clear as to who had a right to vote in the Scottish referendum and who did not. He must therefore know the borders better than anyone.

Much legislation applies to England only, and it is not a unique feature of this particular statutory instrument. If there is any question of prosecution, obviously evidence would be gathered as to whether or not the offence took place in England.

It was important that any regulation was easily understood by both the shooting community and those who would be responsible for enforcement. We considered prohibiting the use of lead shot in all weapons. However, there are difficulties associated with drawing up a working definition of a wetland. Wetland areas are dynamic: new gravel workings change flood control regimes; there are habitat restoration schemes, etc; and they are subject to fluctuating use by waterfowl.

After consideration of a number of different definitions of wetland, it became clear that it would not be possible to define wetlands in such a way that all shooters would know exactly where the ban applied. Therefore, enforcement of legislation would be very difficult. For that reason, the Government decided to prohibit lead shot over those SSSIs on which waterfowl regularly occur, as well as areas below the high water mark which are, by their nature, wetland areas.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend for intervening. I should like to have spoken in the debate but I was fulfilling my duty to ensure that there is a quorum in our Select Committee. Is my noble friend aware that there is a particular need to ensure that the wildlife interest is safeguarded in those areas which are close to or within conurbations? One of the particular dangers faced in those areas is the use of air rifles by irresponsible trespassers. Is it possible to prohibit the ammunition which they use? Can we also be given some assurance that the Government will urge the police authorities, particularly in such areas, to ensure that enforcement receives some priority?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his intervention. I believe that he is referring to areas which are not covered by this statutory instrument. However, I believe that the issues and concerns which he raises will be covered by other legislation. If my noble friend writes to me giving details of the areas he has in mind, I shall look into those matters carefully and seek to reply to him.

While I accept that prohibitions would contain a substantial proportion of the most important habitats for waterfowl, a means needed to be found to limit the risk from lead poisoning in the areas where birds are generally hunted. Therefore, the most practical means of achieving a reduction in the deposition of lead shot outside the designated sites was to prohibit the use of lead shot for shooting ducks, geese, coot, moorhen, snipe and golden plover. Careful consideration was given to the list of species covered by the regulation. Those species directly at risk of lead poisoning were automatically included. As a consequence, birds such as ducks, geese and swans were included in the list, although swans are not legally hunted in this country. The other four species—coot, moorhen, snipe and golden plover—were included after advice from English Nature indicated that those species, although not at risk from lead poisoning, could be hunted in areas where ducks and geese occurred. Therefore, the risk of lead poisoning in those species would affect them adversely and put them at risk.

Several noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, in introducing his Prayer, asked whether the Government have any plans to extend the list of sites to cover all SSSIs. The Government have no plans to extend the list to cover all SSSIs.

I understand the reservations expressed about blanket prohibition relating to certain areas. Later, I shall refer in more detail to the fact that there will be widespread consultation in the light of experience of the hunting season in the coming years.

We recognise that the cost of some alternatives to lead shot are more expensive. However, set in the context of the overall cost of shooting and given the environmental benefits which will accrue, we believe that the increased costs of certain cartridges are not unreasonable. I have been made aware of the concern of noble Lords that people might use steel shot in unadapted guns, which, I am reliably informed, could become dangerous very quickly if used in that way. Obviously, we, along with all those who are responsible in the field of hunting and shooting, will continue to ensure that people are made fully aware of those dangers.

The noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, raised the issue of the use of lead shot by a tenant against the wishes of the owner of land and property. There is no liability. In such a case, the liability lies with the person who uses the lead shot if he does so against the wishes of the owner.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, asked about the application of the burden of proof. It would be the responsibility of the prosecuting authority to prove that an offence had been committed.

The issue of enforcement has been referred to by many noble Lords. I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Burton, that any evidence which environmental agencies or those who are concerned might have of tampering with evidence should be reported in great detail to the proper authorities. It is impossible for me to deal with such a generalised statement of concern.

Concerns have been voiced that regulations have introduced new draconian measures to allow undesirable organisations to police the ban, enter people's homes and seize property. Nothing could be further from the truth. The enforcement powers of the regulation are closely related to those in Section 108 of the Environment Act 1995. The enforcement provisions of that Act superseded those of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 under which the regulations were made. It is usual for regulations to have similar enforcement powers to the primary legislation under which they are made. As such, the powers contained in the regulation are clearly not new. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, raised that issue.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. Does she agree that Section 108 of the 1995 Act contains several provisions which could be seen as protective provisions relating to the use of this power to determine whether provisions of pollution control enactments are complied with? Those similar provisions are not in these regulations.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that this legislation is being enacted in line with the normal practice. The enforcement of the regulations will be carried out primarily by the police. Notices have been sent to chief constables of all police forces in England authorising them to enforce the legislation. There may be occasions, albeit very rare, when organisations such as the Environment Agency or English Nature are better placed to enforce the regulations. We need that element of flexibility. However, I assure the House that there are no plans whatever to give enforcement powers to any NGOs. The regulation does not give powers to enforcing authorities to enter dwelling houses without a warrant. Several noble Lords raised the issue of the right to enter premises. Authorised persons have power only to enter non-residential premises in order to make necessary examinations and carry out their investigations.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, before the noble Baroness leaves that point, she said that there might be occasions when bodies other than the police—she mentioned the Environment Agency and English Nature—may be in a better position and therefore may be authorised by the Secretary of State to enforce these regulations, under paragraph 1(4)(i), which means entering premises. What arrangements are proposed to inform Parliament if and when that happens?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I am not aware of any arrangements to inform Parliament. I shall write to the noble Lord if I am wrong about that. I do not believe that it is normal practice for that to occur, nor that that was envisaged in the original measure which, as the noble Lord will be only too well aware, was passed under the previous administration. As I have said, if I am wrong on that, I shall write to the noble Lord and place a copy in the Library.

I was asked about a punt gun. In so far as it uses lead shot it is covered by the regulations.

In closing, I am conscious that this is a complex subject. In spite of badly overrunning my time, I have not been able to answer all the points raised by noble Lords.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, that this is not the beginning of the end of allowing shooting and wildfowling. That is not the intention of the Government. Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Burton, he will be aware that across the House there is concern that, while shooting and wildfowling can continue, the use of lead shot, where it damages wildlife, should be controlled and constrained to protect the species.

The noble Lords, Lord Marlesford and Lord Kimball, raised many complex issues concerning which sites are covered. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, will be pleased to know that the Government are aware that the lists of sites covered by regulation might need revision. They are willing to consider whether any changes to the list of sites are needed and, if necessary, will make changes to regulations in the light of any difficulties encountered. In addition, the Government will reconvene the working group of interested parties at the end of this year's hunting season to assess the effectiveness of the regulation.

Having listened to the debate today, I have absolutely no doubt that the response to that consultation will be detailed and knowledgeable and will obviously inform the Government in order that the best decisions can be made.

5.23 p.m.

The Earl of Lytton

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to today's debate. I am extremely grateful to them for taking part. Perhaps noble Lords will excuse me if I do not mention individual contributors by name; the Minister has been through the matter exhaustively. In view of the time we have taken, I shall keep my remarks to a respectable length, if not an absolute minimum.

I turn to the comments made by the Minister. I believe I am right in saying that the evidence of toxic effects, particularly to mallard, was based on a tiny sample. I simply ask whether that was statistically relevant for the purposes of backing up the need for the regulations.

I am bound to accept that the phasing out of lead shot is probably desirable as a general objective, subject to it being found to be necessary. The emphasis on what is necessary is where I shall start and finish.

I was gratified that the noble Baroness referred to the fact that there was no intention to extend a complete ban to forested areas. I was also glad to hear her closing remarks on the question of reviewing which sites of special scientific interest, and perhaps which parts of them, would he included in future. Had she also agreed to review the species list, I would have been much happier. I am bound to say that the fact that plover and snipe could feed on wetland areas seems to me to be a remark ably thin piece of technical evidence. With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, if that is tire standard being put forward by the Government's nature adviser, I believe that every landowner and shoot manager will take due note of that and of what has been said here today.

One issue which concerns me is liability. I am pleased to note that the burden of proof will be on the authorities. I am concerned about strict environmental liability. I had a real panic attack after the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, made her comments. We know what happens under environmental legislation. If the polluter cannot be found, the landowner, the owner of the property who is there with his goods and chattels, is in the firing line, even if he is self-evidently not the person who has perpetrated the act of pollution. When we discussed that measure in 1994–1995, I said that that was wrong. I still say that it is wrong. That is looking for deep pockets, not for people who are culpable of criminal offences. That is a point I particularly want to stress.

I am pleased to hear that the working party will be reconvened. I hope that that will give those who remain in this House and those who have had so much input into this matter in the past an opportunity of raising issues such as species, geographical areas, the use of particular shot and whether there are difficulties in the light of the shooting season.

From my own personal shooting operations, I know that it will be impractical to change shot for shooting the mallard we have reared. I have issued instructions to my shoot staff that the mallard will simply be caught up in due course when they are mature and put in the freezer. The only sensible thing to do is to send them off unshot in that way. I said to my local branch of English Nature that if they thought that a 40 per cent fall in the mallard population over the past couple of years was high—I understand that that was the order of magnitude—to expect an even bigger one next year. John Lytton will not be putting down more ducks until there is a practical way of shooting them on a mixed shooting estate. There are real problems in dealing with this issue. Noble Lords have explained how it is practically impossible to try to enforce this as a matter of contract. It will be something of a nightmare. It is best for me to say that we will not deal with duck any more.

I am concerned about what might happen to forestry and about the criticisms of steel shot. I am also concerned with steel shot in use in older guns in particular. That needs careful watching.

I do not feel it appropriate to seek the opinion of the House on this issue. The Minister is quite clear as to where we are all coming from. I echo the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. We should not have a situation where landowners and shoot managers are at loggerheads with the conservation authorities. However, by the same token, as I said earlier, such authorities need to watch their step. It is no good for these matters to be done "on sus". They need to be based on hard, understandable facts. They should not be done in the neural network of discussions between conservationists, but should be understandable as practical expediencies to landowners.

As I said earlier, this is the last occasion on which I shall address your Lordships, and I ask your indulgence. I have been honoured to serve in this House. I have been supported throughout by the indulgence of your Lordships, for which I am extremely grateful. I am also grateful to the Officers and staff of the House—I cannot mention them all by name—for their support, commitment, total expertise and devotion.

I shall leave here with a slightly heavy heart. On the other hand I do not regard myself as indispensable here; I never have. There is probably as much that I can do outside the House as in. I have a profession to which I shall return—indeed, which I have never left. The cost of attending here to deal with some of the legislation with which I have been involved has, at times, been high. However, it has been an enormous challenge and privilege. I wish your Lordships well for the future. I am slightly fearful as to how things will "pan out", to use the vernacular. However, I pray that wise counsel will remain with those in this House to continue the independence of view that has always been its hallmark. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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