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Lord Mancroft: I support the noble Viscount's amendments. In doing so I declare my interest as a board member of the Countryside Alliancean organisation which has more than a passing interest in these matters. I congratulate both the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, and the noble Viscount on the work
These amendments seek to achieve a system of self-regulation with statutory underpinning. I hope that with these difficult matters that will be the way forward in the future. The system of self-regulation with statutory underpinning relates to what the hunting community now does through the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting. In the light of those two innovations over the past two years, I hope that we are moving very slowly in the direction of an overarching wildlife management authority, which is what this country needs and has needed for some time. It is rather a pity that neither the present nor the previous government thought of that. I hope that those innovations are steps in that direction.
These amendments, if accepted, would enable a system to be established that is flexible enough to be capable of being changed as circumstances change over time. That is what we need. Rigid enforcement is much too difficult in these kind of areas. New knowledge and new science will require changes to be introduced if we are to manage these activities while at the same time preserving the best possible standards of welfare.
The Bill as originally drafted was rather unsatisfactory. It was bureaucratic for the Secretary of State to be directly involved in drafting codes of practice. However, it is satisfactory for the Secretary of State to have effectively a power of veto over the codes or a power to agree them and give them his stamp of authority. I hope that the Committee will support these amendments.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My noble friend Lord Livsey of Talgarth spoke at Second Reading. He has asked me to apologise to your Lordships as he is unavoidably absent today. I understand that Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 will not be moved if Amendment No. 1 is accepted.
The Committee should bear in mind that in March 2001 Members of this Chamber made a considerable mistake in believing that self-regulation would gain the public's confidence. I hope that we shall not make that mistake again. I believe that the noble Viscount and the noble Lord in whose names the amendment stands are still under that illusion. I hope that we shall have an authority that is both representative and independent. If that is the case, there might be some possibility of moving forward.
Self-regulation is still envisaged in Amendments Nos. 1 and 4. I believe that there is still widespread difficulty with that concept throughout the country. I do not agree that the amendments offer the prospect of an overarching wildlife management authority when the proposed authority is so narrowly composed.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): As the Committee will recall, at Second Reading I indicated that the Bill had some desirable effects but that the Government had a number of concerns, not all of which are resolved by the amendment that we are discussing or any other amendments before us today. Nevertheless I welcome the principle behind the noble Viscount's amendment. It moves away from what was otherwise pure self-regulation in certain areas. It also establishes an authority which is at arm's length from the Secretary of State in the first instance. Both of those are desirable moves within the context of this Bill.
However, I have a number of concerns with the amendment. I am concerned most obviously about the composition of the authority. If, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said, the authority is to be representative and independent, I am afraid that the list of members specified in the noble Viscount's amendment does not give the impression of a balanced authority. For example, there is no representation on the part of animal welfare bodies. The movers of the amendment will need to consider whether a more balanced composition would help the progress of the Bill. If it is seen to be unrepresentative, it will appear closer to self-regulation and further away from independent and representative oversight of the areas.
On what may be a wider point, it remains unclear which activities overseen by the authority would be covered by the codes of practice, and which would be considered either outside the codes or as lawful and customary activities even though not in conformity with the code. That seems a central dilemma of the early part of the Bill. As drafted, the Bill provides no guidance on the matter. If a code of practice approved by the authority did not cover an activity, that activity could still be defended as customary and lawful. The Bill would have to resolve that ambiguity before it could go on the statute book.
Lord Donoughue: I would like to thank those who have contributed to the debate, and especially the wide number of bodies consulted in the preparation of the amendment. That has been extremely helpful. We have talked with bodies from much of the countryside and had many talks with representatives of the shooting community, and the amendment meets the concerns raised.
I am sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, will give a more informed response, but I would be very happy to welcome other appropriate bodies on to the authority. On Report, we will have an opportunity for more bodies to be added. For instance, our shooting friends have suggested some scientific bodies, which seems a very helpful suggestion. I am very open to suggestions on that front. The Minister raised the subject of costs, which has been pursued. I am confident that it would not be a problem. The noble Viscount will speak on the point about what is customary.
Above all, I completely agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, about progress towards an overarching wildlife management organisation. There is no doubt that that is deeply required in this country. We have made some progress. I point out to the noble Baroness that such a body would be both representative and independent. It would meet the criteria for which she called.
Viscount Bledisloe: I am very grateful to all Members of the Committee who have spoken for their support and their helpful criticisms. However, I must confess that, like the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, I am somewhat disappointed by the reaction of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. I hope that the body is designed to be independent, although of course its composition might be improved.
The amendment answers the point made by the Delegated Powers Committee, and I am relieved to find that I have satisfied the Committee as the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, has not felt it necessary to tell me that I have failed dismally. It is the Government and Parliament who will decide what is an acceptable code, not the bodies themselves. With their knowledge, the bodies will draft them, but if the Minister or Parliament do not like, it a code will not have any effect. Although the initiative comes from the bodies, it is not self-regulation as Parliament has the control and has set up the offence.
I shall deal with one or two points made by the Minister. He said that there were no animal welfare bodies. The vets might take that a little amiss. I must confess that I had thought that vets were keen on animal welfare. Subject to that, as said by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, of course we would welcome suggestions of further names. However, there must be
Secondly, proposed new subsection (6) is deliberately designed to ensure that there can be no question of costs falling on the public funds. If no one thinks that the authority is sufficiently useful to put up any money for it at all, it will not happen. So far as the costs of the code-making bodies are concerned, as expected, those would be borne by the authority itself. If it does not have enough interest to draft a code, it is not an appropriate body to be appointed to do so.
On the Minister's third point, I venture to suggest that there is no ambiguity. It is a defence to prove that one's actions are in accordance with either the code or the normal and humane conduct of the activity. It is hoped that a code will be made for most major activities. Some activities, such as moving hedgehogs from remote islands to other places, occur sufficiently seldom not to merit a code. If there is no code, one has to prove the matters in detail or merely fight something on the principle that no undue suffering was caused.
Whether an activity is sufficiently regular, frequent and customary to merit a code will be for the authority initially to decide, and then for the body invited to make the code to consider whether it feels that it is appropriate to do so. No one can make a body produce a code if it does not want to. Basically, if the Bill becomes law, I would be amazed if the relevant bodies in most of the activities were not very keen to produce a code acceptable to the authority, the Secretary of State and Parliament.