Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Clause 15


Lords amendment: No. 4.

Jim Knight: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 5, 7 to 10, 28, 32, 38, 39 and 56 to 63.

Jim Knight: During the Lords Committee, we were asked to consider whether any guidance that is published by    the Secretary of State should be published "contemporaneously" with the issuing of it. We could not accept that wording, but could not argue with the principle. We believe that there should be a degree of consistency in the Bill and once we decided that it was right to publish such decisions as soon as practicable, we thought it sensible to apply it to any decisions made by the Secretary of State under this Bill. Therefore, this group of Government amendments adds various requirements that the Secretary of State should publish directions, guidance and lists that she may issue under this Bill as soon as reasonably practical after their issue.

Amendment No. 38 to paragraph 16(1) of schedule 1 and the identical amendment No. 39 to paragraph 16(1) of schedule 2 are purely grammatical. They have no effect on the Bill's text other than to improve the grammar, and I am sure that all hon. Members will approve of that. Amendments Nos. 56 to 63 are minor amendments to schedule 11 and address two technical issues. The first three amendments of that group are small clarifications to three paragraphs in schedule 11 of minor and consequential amendments. They will ensure that there is consistency of application within the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, clarifying whether particular provisions apply to the 12-mile territorial waters around England and Wales.

The remaining five amendments contain small consequential amendments in the schedule 11 paragraphs that make minor amendments to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in relation to the protection of limestone pavements. The National Assembly for Wales has relatively recently confirmed that it wishes to benefit from the existing alteration to subsection (1) of section 34 of the 1981 Act so that Wales will benefit equally from
29 Mar 2006 : Column 939
the enhanced protection for limestone pavements. The substituted subsection (1) will enable pavements to be more easily protected both in England and Wales.

Amendment No. 28 is designed to reflect the fact that the new Inland Waterways Advisory Council will be an advisory rather than an executive non-departmental public body and ensure that it can be appropriately supported. The amendment substitutes wording customarily used to authorise Ministers to support advisory NDPBs.

I commend this group of amendments to the House.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 5 to 10 agreed to.

Clause 44

Enforcement powers in connection with pesticides

Lords amendment: No. 11.

Jim Knight: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 12 to 14, 40 and 41.

Jim Knight: Clause 44 contains the powers available to inspectors authorised by the Secretary of State in England, and the National Assembly in Wales, to investigate an offence under section 43 of the possession of a prescribed pesticide. During the Committee stage in the other place, suites of amendments were introduced in response to concerns raised about the apparent wide-ranging nature of these powers. A further two amendments were introduced on Report, to require inspectors to have regard to the codes of practice under which they will be operating. I will deal briefly with each of the amendments in turn.

Amendment No. 11 rules out on the face of the Bill the possibility of speculative visits, an issue about which the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr.   Paice) was especially concerned in Committee. Much effort was expended in finding a form of words that achieved the right balance between protecting the rights of the individual while not constraining inspectors to such a degree that they could not enter unless they believed that a prescribed pesticide would be found on a particular premises. For example, we do not wish to prevent inspectors from entering where a poisoned bait has been found at or near several properties where pesticides are likely to be used and where it is not certain on which of these properties the pesticide would be found. The form of words adopted will allow entry in those circumstances while allowing inspectors to be challenged to justify what the grounds for suspicion are. We also looked closely at all the powers that are available to an inspector once he or she is on the premises to see whether any should be disapplied in respect of the pesticide offence in clause 43.

5.45 pm

Amendment No. 12 removes the ability to require a statement of truth when questioning people about
29 Mar 2006 : Column 940
substances found on their premises. That power was considered unnecessary in view of the power to require information already contained in clause 44(1)(b).

Amendment No. 13 introduces three new subsections that clarify the rights of the person in the event that the substance is seized from their premises as evidence of an offence under clause 43 by setting out the procedure relating to its retention. That will ensure that property rights are not eroded by the investigation process. A person may make a claim to have the seized substance returned, for example by providing evidence that they have a defence under clause 43(3).

During the course of the Bill's passage, we have made it clear that my Department intends to issue codes of practice to inspectors exercising their powers in relation to the possession of prescribed pesticides and to wildlife inspectors exercising their powers as set out in schedule 5. It is appropriate that inspectors must have regard to such codes. Amendments Nos. 14 and 40 therefore not only provide the mechanism by which the Secretary of State can issue codes of practice relevant to the duties of inspectors, but place an obligation on inspectors to have regard to any provision of such codes when discharging their functions.

Amendment No. 41 extends current powers of constables to obtain warrants under section 19(3) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to four other Acts where police currently have only very limited powers of entry: the Destructive Imported Animals Act 1932, the Conservation of Seals Act 1970, the Deer Act 1991 and the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. The powers would allow constables, under a warrant issued by a justice of the peace, to enter and search premises for evidence where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence has been committed and that evidence may be found on those premises. Those extended powers would ensure that wildlife protection legislation is complied with and that wildlife crime can be more effectively investigated. They also provide greater consistency across the main wildlife legislation.

Mr. Paice: I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the issues behind the amendments, which I welcome. As he kindly said, the lead amendment concerns an issue that we debated at considerable length in Committee: the possibility of what the Minister described in Committee as a fishing expedition—he just used the word "speculative"—by inspectors. I am grateful to him for accepting that and tabling, as he undertook to do, amendment No. 11.

As he said, we also debated in Committee several other aspects of the powers that are being given to inspectors. On Report, we again debated the possibility that they were being given more powers than the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) has given them in the Animal Welfare Bill. I remain of the view that there is a distinction between the two pieces of legislation that I do not fully understand. I should have thought that it would be easier for the public to understand the legislation if it gave inspectors the same powers.

Jim Knight: Just to assist the hon. Gentleman and others, we have put some guidance on this in the Library to help people to interpret what is, I agree, extremely complicated legislation.
29 Mar 2006 : Column 941

Mr. Paice: I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he has put the guidance in the Library. I hope that he will put it elsewhere as well; otherwise it will not be much use to most people. I understand and appreciate his point, but it does not detract from my question: why is it necessary to have two pieces of legislation, bearing in mind that, in its widest context, it is all to do with animal welfare issues? We are concerned about the matter.

Amendment No. 14 about the codes of practice is welcome. It is sensible that the code could be admissible in court proceedings. Obviously we shall observe carefully to ascertain whether the powers are used and whether the fact that the inspector "must have regard" to the code is sufficient in practice.

Amendment No. 41 deals with extending the search warrant to "certain other Acts". That is a new idea, which we did not consider here, from the other place. I shall not claim that it was our idea—it was Government inspired and I can understand its logic. It underlines my point about having separate legislation. Most people would argue that the protection of badgers or the conservation of seals, although perhaps not the Deer Act 1991, are to do with animal welfare, and that to have a Bill on that subject with one set of powers for inspectors and another measure with similar provisions can only add to the confusion. I do not argue that inspectors do not need the powers but we have added to confusion through the Government's approach.

Nevertheless, overall, the group of amendments is welcome and I am happy to support it.

Next Section IndexHome Page