Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Monson: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, does she accept that in bad weather conditions--fog, mist and heavy sleet--people can make an honest mistake, perhaps not with golden eagles but smaller birds of prey?

Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, with respect, the noble Lord must have met some very poor gamekeepers or farmers. My experience is that most people know very well what they are shooting. Indeed, in normal game shooting, people take great pride in knowing what they are shooting.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Buxton. I would not presume to trade between the technical expertise of my noble friend and the noble Baroness. I found my noble friend's points convincing on the technical front.

The conservation movement is a very broad church. Having been active in the conservation movement--certainly for the past 20 years--I can claim to be a part of it. It includes--I have seen it repeatedly and in many areas--some people with very extreme ideas and some people who are quite fanatical in their ideas: one has only to mention the animal rights groups. The statements of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, do not accord with what the ordinary people of this country believe to be the seriousness of the matters to which she referred. The noble Baroness's language is disproportionate to what the people feel. There is almost an echo of the 18th century in this debate. It is rather like having a debate on sheep stealing--hanging people for sheep stealing. It is staggering.

I used to say when I was on the Countryside Commission that it is a government's job to differentiate between sensible and foolish views. One

16 Nov 2000 : Column 478

cannot take every view that is put forward by the conservation groups within the conservation movement. It is for the Government to come to a sensible view. The amendments suggested by my noble friend are sensible and are in close accord with what the people of this country feel.When my noble friend referred to the "fragility of the Government's support in country areas", I thought that I noticed the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, scoffing slightly--I may be wrong--at the idea that their support was fragile. In my opinion it is very fragile. Funnily enough, paradoxically perhaps, I spend much time defending the overall record of the Government to people in the country who can no longer find words condemnatory enough to say about them. If those people could find an attractive political party, many would desert new Labour in droves. Therefore, we need better balance in this matter.

Furthermore, I was rather concerned to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who in many respects I greatly respect, using language more appropriate to some of the really evil crimes in our society.

11.45 p.m.

Earl Peel: My Lords, my noble friend has raised one of the most important issues facing the countryside at the moment in terms of management. I have a great deal of sympathy for what my noble friend said and I certainly have a great deal of respect for what he says. Like other noble Lords, I know much about his provenance. He is not just someone who talks about conservation. He is an active conservationist. What he has achieved on his home patch is quite remarkable.

This is a thorny question. I accept much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said. But there is something wrong with her argument. It is all very well bringing in custodial sentences and severe fines--what one might term "the stick"--but if one has no carrot to balance that stick, then it is wrong and unjust. At the moment, we have no carrot.

My noble friend Lord Monro talked about the disasters of Langholm. I have to declare an interest at this point because at that time I was chairman of the Game Conservancy Trust, which was the body that carried out the research at Langholm. It demonstrated beyond any question of doubt that hen harriers can reduce grouse populations to a point where a moor can become unviable and consequently, as my noble friend rightly said, jobs are lost and a whole management structure is removed.

There is no disagreement between any of the bodies about the science. It is purely in regard to how we go forward that there is a difference between the various organisations. To date, no consensus has been reached on how we go forward successfully and how we can produce a carrot to counteract the stick.

I do not want to say much more about this subject because it is a detailed and complex one. But I shall quote from a recent paper, Raptors and Red Grouse: Conservation Conflicts and Management Solutions, produced by four very eminent scientists--Simon Thirgood of the Game Conservancy Trust, Professor

16 Nov 2000 : Column 479

Peter Hudson of Stirling University, Steve Redpath of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology and, for those who are aware of his importance in these matters, Ian Newton of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology. Ian Newton is, without doubt, the leading expert in this country on raptors. I shall go straight to the conclusions of their paper:

    "Resolving the conflict between raptors and grouse remains a major challenge. Accepting the status quo of illegal persecution of raptors, declining grouse bags, and continuing loss of heather is not a sensible option".

I cannot believe that anyone could disagree with that. The paper goes on to say that,

    "immediate measures are required to reduce conflicts between raptors and grouse".

Great efforts have recently been made to try to resolve the situation. I have to say that those have very largely failed. I do not believe that either the RSPB or the conservation bodies have shown a will to overcome this problem. I urge them to do so. I urge them to strive much harder to reach a solution to deal with the immediate problem; otherwise we shall see more Langholms, more management systems destroyed, more jobs destroyed and, ultimately, more wildlife destroyed.

I make this request to the Minister. I hope very much that we can set up in England and Wales a moorland working group similar to that which operates in Scotland, which is chaired by SNH in that country, so that we can have proper dialogue between the conservation bodies--the NGOs, the statutory bodies and those with an interest in these matters. Science and research will continue. Incidentally, in response to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, work on sparrowhawks has started, but that is another matter. New issues will appear and develop as we go along. We need this forum for proper dialogue.

I have raised the matter with the Minister's right honourable friend Mr Meacher and I should be very grateful if, before too long, I could receive an answer in letter form to that specific question.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I should like to speak briefly from these Benches. I agree with noble Lords who have pointed out that, on occasion, we fall behind the event when it comes to controlling species that have become far too numerous. In the case of these amendments, which deal with Schedule 1 birds, I should point out that earlier tonight we passed an amendment on biodiversity. Having done that, it will be for a number of different authorities to deal with species that are getting out of control.

Personally, I would start this process not with Schedule 1 birds, but rather to put on a ban on magpies. Furthermore, in the case of songbirds, I would look at the effect of domestic cats on their populations. However, while I understand some of the frustrations as regards those raptors that seem to be increasing in numbers--in my area it might be the buzzard--while they remain Schedule 1 birds and thus are protected, then we should regard them as such. The

16 Nov 2000 : Column 480

right course would be to examine whether, if they have multiplied in such numbers as to present a threat to other species, they should continue to be included in the schedule.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I rise from the Front Bench to speak in this debate not in any way as an expert, but to demonstrate my support--in case the Government Front Bench thought that it might be lacking--for my noble friends from this side and, indeed, for most of those who have spoken on all sides of the House. I think that everyone would agree that this has been an extremely enlightening debate about the problems of raptors. However, it has strayed somewhat from the basic proposition in the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Buxton, which concerned the question of imprisonment.

Throughout the progress of this Bill, the Minister and the Government have consistently maintained that they are in the game of balance here. They have resisted sanctions of virtually every kind over large parts of the Bill. We have accepted their arguments and their rights. I strongly believe that severe sanctions are necessary against the killing or stealing of Schedule 1 birds. However, I was perhaps a little disappointed by the passion demonstrated by noble Baroness, Lady Young, though I understand exactly her arguments.

I believe that there is room for some amendment in this part of the Bill to improve its balance. I suggest that a strong case can be made to differentiate between those to whom the noble Baroness, Lady Young, was referring; namely, those who knowingly trade in and profit from the killing of birds and the stealing and sale of the eggs or chicks of such birds. But I can tell the House that there are occasions when both gamekeepers and sportsmen have the misfortune to shoot a raptor or a protected species. It can happen in bad weather, when one is operating with a limited line of sight, or it can happen at dusk. I accept, however, that it can also happen when such shooting is undertaken wrongly and with evil intent. However, the balance of the Bill as presently drafted is wrong.

I realise that the House cannot divide on this matter. However, I shall go home tonight feeling rather sour if the Minister cannot see his way to having another look at this. I said in Committee, and I have felt throughout today, that the Bill has been going along extremely well. It is developing into a first-class piece of legislation, which is supported on all sides of the House. This issue grates; it has the wrong tone and is a little out of balance. I ask the Minister to accept that and to have a re-think.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page