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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendments Nos. 213 to 216:

    Page 129, line 10, leave out ("within") and insert ("on or before").

    Page 129, line 13, leave out ("period of three months") and insert ("date").

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    Page 133, line 16, at end insert--

("Powers of entry
21. Section 51 (powers of entry) has effect on and after the substitution date as if, in subsection (1), after paragraph (l) there were inserted--
"(m) to determine whether or not to give or vary a stop notice;".

Service of notices

22. Section 70A (service of notices) applies in relation to notices given under this Schedule as it applies in relation to notices and other documents required or authorised to be served or given under the 1981 Act.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 217 not moved.]

Clause 72 [Limestone pavement orders: offence]:

Lord Hardy of Wath moved Amendment No. 218:

    Page 48, line 35, at end insert ("together with the confiscation of any vehicle which is used to assist in the committing of such an offence"").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Government have cause for pride in fulfilling that part of their election pledge which was to be tough on the causes of crime. Here we have a case to be tough on crime itself; indeed, it is a rather nasty crime. Some noble Lords may see a similarity between this amendment and Amendment No. 191, but they are different.

I do not seek to alter the financial penalty in the Bill but the step I propose seems a particularly appropriate one to deal with this theft. This afternoon my noble friend read a commendable Statement which envisages the building of hundreds of thousands of new homes. Those homes are needed but many of the owners of those new homes will want to build rockeries in their gardens. That constitutes a ready made market for this theft. The limestone pavements of these islands are shrinking due to that theft, which could not occur if the people carrying it out did not have a motor vehicle, probably a 4x4, in which to transport the stolen limestone.

The Government will say that they have responded to this concern as they have included in the Bill a maximum fine of £20,000 for this offence. That is a significant sum. However, if someone is charged with stealing what will appear to be £5, £10 or £20-worth of rock, no court will impose the maximum fine for that offence. If that did occur, it would be regarded with astonishment. The only way to safeguard the remaining limestone pavement is to ensure that this theft is stopped. I hope that the amendment will be speedily accepted.

I do not want to speak for too long but my next point is relevant to this Parliament. Some 20 years ago I learnt that virtually every peregrine falcon's nest--there were fewer peregrine falcons then--was being watched by thieves who intended to take the fledglings at an appropriate moment as the going rate was £600 per bird. At that time if thieves were caught with a stolen bird they were fined £2--a derisory sum.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds gave me a draft Bill one day. The following day I obtained sufficient signatures from all parties. The following

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Friday the Bill passed through all its stages in the other place in, I believe, 55 seconds. The Bill was then piloted through this Chamber by the late Lord Cranbrook, one of the most distinguished conservationists of the previous century. Noble Lords will be aware that his son is also a distinguished conservationist. The late Lord Cranbrook piloted the Bill through this Chamber in a similar period of time and it was enacted with astonishing speed. I believe that it set a record for a Bill to reach the statute book. I wish that we had achieved that with a few more Bills over the past few months. The Bill was enacted and the penalty for that theft was massively increased. The courts did not always impose the increased penalty but the Bill responded to a need.

The need to tackle the theft of limestone pavement is equally urgent, at least in a geological sense. Hundreds of thousands of houses need to be built in this country, preferably on brownfield sites. However, their gardens should not be filled with limestone pavement which has been stolen because society is too weak to introduce sufficient deterrents to prevent that. I beg to move.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I support the amendment. The noble Lord will remember the long debates on Section 34 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act which for the first time introduced restrictions on the removal of limestone pavement. As the noble Lord rightly said, while one may be able to undertake fishing, shooting or poaching without a vehicle, one certainly must have a vehicle to cart away lumps of limestone pavement. To have one's car, four-wheel drive or lorry confiscated as part of the penalty for committing that theft seems to me an eminently sensible provision.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I too support the amendment. It obviously makes sense and would constitute a deterrent if it were accepted. Frankly, the argument which was used in relation to the noble Lord's previous amendment--namely, that the confiscation of a vehicle was associated with something that was not a criminal offence--does not apply in this case. It clearly would be a criminal offence. It would be a major deterrent on an issue which will become increasingly serious. I hope that the Government will feel that it is a penalty suitable for the crime.

11 p.m.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, we on these Benches follow the line of thought which the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, put forward so robustly. It is a great crime that so much of this valuable limestone is being taken. It is pure theft. I may be wrong but I suspect that the Government will say that the amendment is not right or acceptable. I hope that the Minister will give the amendment due thought. It would send a strong message. People are often quite happy to pay a fine. However, the amendment provides for the confiscation of any vehicle. Making the commission of such an offence more difficult has much to recommend it.

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I support the amendment. I hope that the Minister will consider it sympathetically.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the amendment seeks to permit the confiscation of any vehicle which is used to assist in the commission of the offence in Section 34 of the 1981 Act in relation to limestone pavements.

I am pleased to reassure my noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that the courts already have the power under Section 143 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 to order forfeiture of property used for the purpose of committing or facilitating the commission of any offence.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, if my noble friend will allow me to intervene, I made a relevant point in the previous debate. I pointed out that I have been involved in a number of conservation Bills in which that provision has been inserted. As far as I know, it has never been applied in England. It has in Scotland, but that is irrelevant to us today.

It is essential to emphasise the point. The courts in Britain have not been using the power my noble friend describes.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I repeat that I refer to the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000. Therefore, I do not think that it is reasonable to make the judgment that over a long period of time the power has not been used.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, with respect, the Bills to which I referred were enacted 10, 20 and up to 24 years ago.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I understand the point my noble friend makes. The point I make to him is that there is evidence here of recent action which has been taken with regard to the penalty that he seeks. I believe that the provision addresses the objective. That, coupled with the substantial increase in the existing maximum penalty for an offence under Section 34 from £5,000 to £20,000, to which my noble friend referred, should prove a deterrent.

My noble friend makes the point that in the past legislation has been introduced with maximum penalties available and that in the past the courts, he alleges--perhaps with some justification--have not taken seriously some of the offences. He referred to offences against birds. Speaking personally and perhaps anecdotally, the courts appear to take more seriously now interference with birds and flora and fauna. I think that my noble friend's work in this field may have helped to ensure that those who make the decisions in the courts are aware of the severity of the problem.

My noble friend referred to Amendment No. 191, which relates to the new Section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 found in Schedule 7 to the Bill. The key

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distinction is that Section 34 of the 1988 Act is a road traffic offence. We explained on Amendment No. 191 that the power of forfeiture is available only for certain road traffic offences--broadly those that are punishable by imprisonment. I hope that my noble friend will feel that the Government have acted as he wished and that the power is available to the courts.

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