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Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I shall not press the amendment, but I shall watch with great interest over the next 10 years to see whether there is still a significant quantity of limestone pavement left in Britain. I certainly do not wish to stay late in the Lords on a Thursday night to pursue the matter without an assurance that the Government will respond positively. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, before the amendment is withdrawn, I point out to my noble friend that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will be watching with him in North Yorkshire. He may also find my noble friend Lord Whitty there on many occasions--although I hasten to add that they will not be travelling together.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 74 [Powers of entry]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 219:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 220:

    Page 49, line 27, at end insert--

("( ) to determine any question in relation to compensation under section 20(3) of the 1949 Act as applied by section 28R of this Act;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 75 [Enforcement of wildlife legislation]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 221:

    Page 50, line 31, leave out from ("amendments") to ("has") in line 32 and insert ("relating to offences and enforcement powers under Part I of the 1981 Act)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment is consequential on Amendment No. 229, which is the substantive amendment in the group. It gives police officers new powers of arrest for certain wildlife offences. Many of us are aware of the difficulties that the police have faced when dealing with people who commit wildlife offences. I have been given examples of evidence that could be crucial to the investigation being removed before the police have had a chance to see it. That has probably led to some people being prosecuted for fewer offences and has almost certainly resulted in some people escaping prosecution. Wildlife crime can have a direct impact on populations of some of our more vulnerable species. I am concerned that the police should have adequate powers to enforce the controls on those species as effectively as possible.

The Bill already contains a package of measures to strengthen wildlife law enforcement. Amendment No. 229 makes certain wildlife offences relating to species

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of conservation concern arrestable, as an exception to the provisions of Section 24(1) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. In those circumstances only, police officers will be able to arrest anyone whom they have reasonable grounds to suspect has committed, is committing or is about to commit such offences. The amendment has the strong support of Association of Chief Police Officers, which believes that the present law is inadequate in that respect.

Amendment No. 225, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, would introduce new powers of arrest when evidence is spirited away. We believe that our more general amendment covers that. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, the amendment that we moved in Committee and have tabled again on Report is slightly narrower than the government amendments. It would give police officers the power of arrest to prevent the destruction of evidence that might be found at another place before the authorities could get a search warrant. Government Amendment No. 229 adequately covers what we were seeking to achieve in Committee. We welcome the fact that the Government have tabled their own amendment that covers our concerns and some other eventualities.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I support the government amendments and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for her amendment. I agree that many people in this country are extremely worried about wildlife crime. I believe that, in the past, adequate powers either have not been in place or they have been in place but have not been used. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, explained, it is helpful if the police have reasonable grounds for suspecting that wildlife crime has been committed. I believe that it is an issue with which we all sympathise. We welcome the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 222 to 224 not moved.]

Schedule 12 [Wildlife: amendments to Part I of Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981]:

[Amendment No. 225 not moved.]

Lord Buxton of Alsa moved Amendment No. 226:

    Page 136, line 44, leave out ("subsection") and insert ("subsections (2) and").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 227 and 228. I express my regret at not having moved this amendment in Committee. On the only occasion when that arose, I had to leave the House before midnight. I also declare an interest. I have had 50 years' association with English Nature, formerly the Nature Conservancy Council for England. I have been a member on various occasions and was asked to be chairman approximately 20 years ago. I also have a successful and informal arrangement with that body on my own area of wetland on the north Norfolk coast. I mention all that because I believe that this is

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the first time in 50 years that I have disagreed with English Nature. I am glad to see that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is here and that we shall hear her views.

First, I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting any change to the present protection of birds legislation. I am concerned solely with the threat of prison for certain offenders. Therefore, it is a humanitarian and not a wildlife amendment. I believe that it involves a great point of justice.

I believe that we are agreed on all sides in supporting prison as a punishment for genuine wildlife crime. The purpose of my amendment is to exclude from the threat of prison ordinary, honest country workers--shepherds, working farmers, keepers, gardeners and wardens--all of whom make no gain from an offence. Amendments Nos. 226 and 227 identify the items in previous Acts where wildlife crimes may occur. Amendment No. 228 goes on to exempt from prison people who live and work lawfully in the countryside and who have no serious criminal or commercial intent and make no gain.

Those citizens will still be subject to the same laws as at present and can be fined severely if appropriate. The present legislation in this respect has been entirely successful and, in my view, there is no reason to change it. There is no suggestion whatever in the amendments that prison should not be available in the case of premeditated criminal activity of the kind that has been mentioned by noble Lords this evening; that is, where birds or eggs are stolen and sold, shipped abroad or locked away. There is certainly some nasty bird and animal traffic by which individuals seek to profit. We all agree on that. The noble Baroness, chairman of English Nature, and the chairman of the RSPB told me recently that that is their main concern.

A great deal has been said about SSSIs. In considering this amendment, it is important to keep in mind that they cover only 6 per cent of the country. My amendment is concerned mainly with the other 94 per cent; that is, the great mass of the country in which wildlife, especially birds, is entirely dependent on house owners, landowners, farmers, shepherds, private gardeners, wardens and keepers. It is they who protect wildlife in the country as a whole.

The main reason for ruling out prison for country workers and all the people I mentioned is that it has been proved to be unjustified and completely unnecessary. I shall come to that point. If an offence is committed occasionally, more than adequate penalties are already available. Heavy fines are an extremely painful sentence for any worker on the land. I am not suggesting that there should be a change to that. Those people are not criminals, even if one or two out of thousands once in a while may have been foolish or intemperate. They normally have slender resources and fines really hurt.

As we all know, the focus and preoccupation of these provisions is on the protection of birds of prey. I gave details on various aspects of the subject at Second Reading. It is emphatically raptors which prompted this unfortunate proposal. I shall try to

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remember to say "raptors" because one switches from one to another for birds of prey. "Raptors" shall be my word.

To introduce prison at this stage will make the Government look completely out of date. Since the introduction of earlier legislation, including the 1981 Act in which some of us took part--I moved amendments in this House--the overall population of the raptor group has increased by about 200 per cent. It is predicted to increase to 400 per cent in the not-too-distant future. Thereafter increases could be exponential depending on the food supply.

We are therefore already at the summit of a spectacular success story, looking to even more remarkable increases. That level of increase in the number of raptors occurred just as much in the 94 per cent of the country looked after privately as in the 6 per cent looked after or fostered by wildlife organisations.

The crux of the matter is this. That success was achieved without the threat of custodial sentences. Prison, or even the hint of it as a deterrent, did not exist and it therefore made absolutely no contribution at all for more than 20 years to one of the greatest bird recoveries in history. That proves that the threat of prison is completely unnecessary. The raptor recovery occurred without it ever being contemplated.

It may have been thought that birds of prey were endangered or even diminishing in number, but it is now abundantly clear that the reverse is the case. Raptors are doing very well indeed and no species are diminishing through persecution. So it looks as though the Government have been misled by a misinterpretation of the facts.

In view of those bird population statistics, which are beyond challenge, how can it conceivably make sense or be just to threaten citizens in the countryside with prison when the objective has already been achieved beyond everybody's expectations? I fear that it will be seen as vindictive activism by government and perhaps by the conservation authorities, or as an abuse of power. That will do nothing for birds and great harm to the Government's fragile image in the country.

I feel strongly about this because we succeeded with earlier legislation and to start talking about prison implies that we failed, which is manifestly absurd. Neither am I suggesting at this stage that anything should be changed in the protection of birds legislation as it stands, only that the threat of prison should not be piled on top--clearly now without any justification at all. That would be an insult to those people who have been the main contributors to the raptors' success. That increase has not been due primarily to people at base or to wildlife managements and government advisers, but to Parliament for making the law in which some of us here were personally involved and, more importantly, to the suspension of organophosphates and other chemicals. But it is due also to houseowners, landowners, keepers, gardeners and so on, across 94 per cent of the country for observing the law and allowing raptors to increase.

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Let me come to the detail. In its press campaign for this Bill there was our usual RSPB press release last month concerning 153 incidents of destruction of birds of prey. Those reports are helpful and that is of course 153 cases too many. But that must be seen in its proper context. If there were 153, it would not be one person killing 153 raptors or 153 people killing one bird each. For the sake of argument, let us say that there are 20 miscreants killing perhaps eight raptors each. They could be farmers, shepherds, keepers or whoever. There are roughly 5,000 keepers, including some wives as assistants, farm workers part-timers and helpers. That means that out of 5,000 there are possibly 4,980 keepers and assistants observing the law and doing a lawful job for conservation. That is more than 99 per cent of the total force.

Now let us turn to the damage. We must check the bird numbers and be quite clear about how significant was the damage as a result of 153 casualties. My information comes from the most up-to-date and authoritative publications, including the book by Chris Mead of the British Trust for Ornithology and the report of the Government's own raptor working group. According to those publications, there are now well in excess of 100,000 raptors in this country of about a dozen species. As I explained, most species increased substantially, some even by 300 per cent and one or two by even more.

I apologise for the details but if your Lordships are not yet nodding off, perhaps I may give the figures for birds of prey in percentages: the kite, plus 150 per cent; the marsh harrier, plus 340 per cent; the hen harrier, which is always in the argument, plus 35 per cent; the goshawk, 574 per cent, which is a serious problem because the goshawk eats other birds of prey; the sparrowhawk, plus 20 per cent, which sounds low but we are getting near saturation point in any event; the buzzard, plus 10 per cent; the eagle, plus 5 per cent; the osprey, plus 572 per cent; the peregrine, plus 104 per cent. Every single one of those figures has increased. Is it surprising that things are looking fairly rosy for raptors overall?

There are two species which have not increased. One is the kestrel, but there are 50,000 pairs. There is a small decrease which is entirely due to farming and the absence of shrews and voles and nothing whatever to do with persecution. There is the Montagu's harrier, of which noble Lords may or may not have heard, in relation to which there is no change. It is a rare bird. It was a rare bird when I was small and it will always be a rare bird, as far as I can make out. But there is no question of persecution.

I must tell your Lordships that 153 is less than one-sixth of 1 per cent of the present total population of raptors. The threat of prison enforcement, therefore, becomes more and more incomprehensible and impossible to justify. If the threat of prison was ever justified, if it had ever been considered a good idea as a deterrent, we should have introduced it in 1981 or even earlier but it was not because nobody in those days thought about enforcement, only about leadership and persuasion. There were the great giants--Julian Huxley, Peter Scott, Max Nicholson and others. They

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started a huge movement which has been enormously successful but they never thought about enforcement. And they turned out to be right. A deterrent was clearly not needed; the raptors have now multiplied beyond expectations; so prison cannot possibly be justified. The threat of prison is an insult.

My great concern is that the Government will appear, by this ill-judged measure, not to understand balance. Maintaining the balance of nature in modern circumstances, already overwhelmed by the human race, is the last hope for natural biodiversity. The balance of nature is the actual meaning and purpose of conservation. That is what all those organisations are supposed to exist for. Birds of prey have no natural enemies except, in certain cases, from other birds of prey, and are therefore bound to multiply and upset the balance. Popular songbirds have been and are being decimated, probably by numerous causes but nobody is yet sure of the answers. It could be climate, winter starvation, winter wheat, the CAP, fast traffic, domestic cats or even Chernobyl, so they say, and so on. Perhaps it is a combination of them all. But what is now certain is that while popular birds decrease the raptors will still be on the increase. When there are very few popular songbirds left, the residue will easily be mopped up by birds of prey and may then never recover.

I am embarrassed that that has not been properly addressed. What is required is a conference of everyone concerned, like the 1970 conference of which Max Nicholson was director and which was presided over by the Duke of Edinburgh. That was enormously successful and produced a sea change in knowledge generally. That would be much better than looking stupid and ignorant in due course because of being completely out of date.

The serious aspect of all this for the conservation movement is that custodial sentences are being incorporated in a Bill through misleading information or perhaps even the suppression of information. Therefore, it is based on false conclusions. Inevitably, that means that if the Government persist, nobody will ever believe the department's wildlife advisers again. They will lose all credibility. Everything that they say will be suspect and there will be a shattering reverse of everything that so many of us have striven to achieve and worked for over half a century. In discussions and in various exchanges, the Minister has been helpful to me. I do not doubt that the amendment could be improved, but I sincerely urge him and the Government, in view of the false impressions now proved, to reconsider this serious injustice. I beg to move.

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