Clause 16 seems to define as “non-native” several species that are in fact indigenous to the UK. There is an important principle at stake here: that species that have gone extinct, often because of human actions, should not subsequently be considered non-native. My amendments are intended to help to improve the definition of “non-native”, and equally would help the Government to commit to enhance the UK’s biodiversity, as they have promised to do on numerous occasions. I beg to move.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, I very much support my noble friend’s amendment, to which I have added my name. I was looking through Schedule 9 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act to see what sort of things were in

8 July 2014 : Column GC90

it. There is everything from budgerigars to Egyptian geese, night herons and parakeets, so there is quite a bit there. The thing that struck me about the importance of this issue is that if we look at Cornwall not as a nation—which of course it is—but as a sovereign nation, its national bird, which features on its coat of arms with a fisherman and a miner, is of course a chough. It is widely known in Britain as the Cornish chough. Regrettably, it disappeared from Cornwall in 1947, but I am pleased to say that it reintroduced itself from Ireland in 2001 and since then has been fairly active in reproduction and has succeeded in west Cornwall. If we went back and passed this legislation in 2000 and looked upon Cornwall as an ecological area, we would now see the chough as an alien species, despite the fact that it is our national bird. I use that as a broad illustration of the issue. Having said that, it is an important issue. I absolutely support this part of the Bill and see this as a very important area.

We really should not mention Japanese knotweed, although that is in Schedule 9. If we are not allowed to talk about Japanese knotweed I could call it Polygonum cuspidatum.

This is an important area, but clearly animals and plants that have been part of the British habitat over a long period are native species and can return. We all know of important reintroduction programmes that have taken place. We should welcome them rather than outlaw them.

Lord Cameron of Dillington: My Lords, I, too, strongly support this section of the Bill. It was very encouraging this morning at the session that some of us attended at Defra to hear that the UK is ahead of the game vis-à-vis Europe in terms of trying to control and monitor invasive species. The more that we can do it, and the quicker that we can do it, the better. However, I am not certain about Amendment 65A; I am not sure that past claims to being native mean that they would not necessarily be invasive now. I agree about certain species—red kites are one, and perhaps the bustard will be another—but let us take a species that has been in the news recently: beavers. Actually, in spite of the newspapers saying that beavers have recently been discovered in the wild in the south-west, they have been running around in the south-west for some years now, as far as I am aware. They say that it is the first time they have around for 800 years but we do not quite know what effect they will have. Their habit of damming streams and blocking rivers—bear in mind that there have been floods recently in the south-west—might be a problem. I feel that that situation would need to be looked at.

Turning to my native Scotland, there is a suggestion that we might introduce wolves there. I have an interest to declare here: my ancestor Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel, who was known as the great Sir Ewen, apart from spending all his life in the latter half of the 1600s killing Englishmen, for which he got knighted by the English king as one tends to do—do not ask me why—also killed the last wolf in Scotland. I have always been led to believe that he swung it round his head and wrapped it around a tree, but that may be a detail too far.

8 July 2014 : Column GC91

The situation has changed dramatically for wolves in terms of both population density and livestock density in Scotland. So I do not think that you can put a provision like this in the Bill. Every species has to be judged according to its particular habits and interests in relation to the countryside today.

7 pm

I looked through these amendments to see where I could make this point. Some of us attended the very good seminar at Defra this morning, but one thing concerned me in connection with wild boar and the Forest of Dean. Defra seemed to indicate that where the local community was not in favour of controlling or eliminating the species, that would have priority. This is a dangerous precedent in principle. For instance, there was a lot of outcry from the nation about trying to kill ruddy ducks without the full picture being understood. I am pleased to say that the nation’s views, as expressed in the Daily Mail and elsewhere, were ignored on that occasion, and the ruddy duck is now a great success story—we have brought the number down to almost nil. I bet that a part of the community, not understanding the huge damage that grey squirrels do to trees, forestry and red squirrels, would not necessarily be in favour of controlling and exterminating grey squirrels, even if that were possible.

Lord Teverson: If I may interrupt the noble Lord, in Cornwall recently—last year, in fact—a company with which I have familial connections produced grey squirrel pasties, which were extremely successful, and there were no demonstrations whatever outside the shop.

Lord Cameron of Dillington: I am sure that the appetites of the Corns are something to be praised in this respect. My point is that I hope that this principle will not be too rigorously followed when dealing with invasive alien species in future.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I bow to the expertise of previous speakers because I am no great expert in species. The previous three speeches have demonstrated that it will be quite a challenge to decide what is in and what is out. The issue seems to be very subjective and no one is fighting tonight, but I expect that the experts will fight in the future.

I have two examples—and I do not know whether they are in or out; perhaps the noble Baroness can help me. I have a quote from the Western Morning News last week, under the headline:

“UK ladybirds are being eaten by their invading cannibal cousins”.

Ladybirds are now cannibals that are eating either the five-spot or two-spot ones—I could go on—and invade at the speed of 200 kilometres a year. Even though they came in 20 years ago, I do not know whether they have reached Cornwall yet. Maybe the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, will know. Are they included? Have they been here before? Where would it be?

My other example is from three or four years ago when a friend of mine discovered that the Duchy of Cornwall was introducing Japanese oysters into the Helford River in Cornwall—we seem to have been in

8 July 2014 : Column GC92

Cornwall a lot, but I cannot help that—without doing an environmental study or getting permission. Oysters were put in the cages, which all looked very nice, and some people liked them and some did not. However, after a year they all died, which may have served right those who introduced them, but it killed every other oyster in the river—the native oysters. I do not know whether those Japanese oysters would come within the context of this part of the Bill. Those that came from Japan certainly killed all the local ones, and it was of some comfort when my friend took the duchy to court. Its defence was that it believed that, for all practical purposes, it was above the law. I do not know whether that was why the court found against the duchy because the matter is still sub judice. That is an example of someone bringing in a species and perhaps not following it through to see if it was the right one to bring in.

That is why I tabled my Amendment 71. When I was researching it, I thought, “What is a species?”. I looked it up on some web dictionaries, and the best definition seems to be the wording that I have put in the amendment. Does it cover things in the air, be they birds, insects or whatever? Does it cover animals, birds or whatever that walk on the ground? Does it cover things in the water? That is a pretty important place from which we should start. It would be very good if someone could give a definitive answer so that we knew what the context was and where we might go from here.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with the main outline of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. I was a little less keen on the pasty that was identified as being available in Cornwall. I recall my brother-in-law, who is an expert on birds, arriving in Cornwall in the early 1990s and seeing a chough, which I did not see. He was certainly well versed in the significance of choughs to the Cornish position.

The purpose of the amendment that I have tabled is to get some sharpness of definition in the crucial area that we are concerned with. We all know that the issue of invasive species is of great significance. It is one of the causes of the loss of biodiversity and much of the world, and we have seen indications in this country of the extent to which that occurs. The annual cost of invasive non-native species to the economy is put at £1.3 billion, so we are not talking peanuts here.

I shall mention my own experience of this. I heard someone—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—suggest that we could not mention Japanese knotweed. I am going to mention Japanese knotweed quite often. My acquaintance with the problem of Japanese knotweed was to see a person lose the value of their house, in an ordinary suburban area with absolutely no suggestion of any threat at all except of Japanese knotweed. The plant effectively reduced the price of their house from £350,000 to £50,000 in value. They simply had to get out of that house as they did not think that they could afford the costs of controlling the knotweed.

That was my introduction to local difficulties, but when I was in the department I became acutely aware, and I am sure that the Minister is well versed in this,

8 July 2014 : Column GC93

that whenever a group of people come together to discuss Japanese knotweed, the railway industry is going to be there in force, as indeed it was on every occasion when we discussed it, simply because of the sheer cost to the railway system in this country of keeping the wretched plant at bay.

We are not talking about trivial issues as far as the nation is concerned when it comes to certain aspects of non-native species in this country. For agriculture alone, the cost in England and Wales seems to be getting on for £1 billion. That is an awful lot of money being spent in seeking to control a plant. In the European Union, the annual cost of non-native species is €12 billion. We were gratified to hear at the Defra briefing this morning of the extent to which there was international movement and action on this, and that the European community was playing its full role in this. There were one or two interesting exceptions that we heard about, which raised an eyebrow or two; many of us thought that the Danish scarcely merited the kind of exemptions that we in this country could hardly get for particular products and local parts of the economy; nevertheless, the Danes had obviously put up a good case.

However, I want to emphasise that we have to get this right. I know when I say those words that it is not possible to get it right, because it is a continual battle against change, some of it produced by climate change, which accelerates the difficulties.

We support the clause. The reason we want to probe the Minister is obvious enough; the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, did the task for me. Red kites were reintroduced at Woburn, not far from where I live. The first arrival of a red kite on a tree, resting and then taking off in all its glory is something that I treasure. Of course I applaud the reintroduction of certain species, but I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said about his anxiety about beavers. That shows the differences there can be between different parts of the community. People I have been talking to thought that beavers might help to restrict floods because they build dams to do so, whereas the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, thought that beaver dams might accelerate the problems. There you are, you pays your money and you takes your choice on that.

Before the Olympic Games, an absolute fortune was spent on clearing the site of my dear friend knotweed. The site had to be cleared of a lot of other very noxious things indeed. One of the great expenses of the Olympic Games was getting the site clear, but Japanese knotweed featured in that and cost £70 million to remove.

We must not underestimate the challenges which such species present. My amendment is tabled in order to get, and I am certain that the Minister will oblige the Committee by giving, a clearer definition of what the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, asked for in the first place.

Baroness Kramer: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, is absolutely right: £1.8 billion is the estimate of the cost, a lot of it falling on agriculture but a significant amount on transport, of invasive non-native species.

8 July 2014 : Column GC94

It is important to understand that this measure is one part of a much broader range of measures. It is particularly focused on tackling prevention, and then early detection and rapid response, so that we do not always find ourselves, as we have with the grey squirrel, for example, in a position where an invasive species has so taken hold that we are now able to consider only control. I think that every one of your Lordships would regard that as an important strategy.

The questions raised by the amendments centre on definitions. On the sensible advice of the Law Commission, the definition of non-native used in this part of the Bill is consistent with that already used in Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Part of that is a list, and part of it is a broader definition. It is drafted to regulate the release of formerly native species. It is clearly not a list that matches what we are intending to do with control orders, because control orders give us the ability to go in to make sure that a species may be eradicated—that eradication is possible. There are also other lists, as noble Lords who came to this morning’s meeting will know, because the European Union will be creating a core list some time in 2015 and regional lists will follow. So we have a whole range of lists. The important element in all of this for the purpose of the control orders will be a code of practice that will overlay the lists. That should be available in draft form to your Lordships by Report.

The list in Schedule 9 referred to by my noble friends Lady Parminter and Lord Teverson contains species that we would not attempt to eradicate, with rhododendron ponticum being a good example. There are species on the list that we would attempt to eradicate, such as the monk parakeet, but a lot of the work under control orders would focus on species which have not yet arrived here and therefore are not on any list at all. The code of practice will provide the relevant mechanism for working out a complex situation where a number of lists are developed for a whole range of purposes.

7.15 pm

I want to be clear that we expect to use control orders only very rarely and that typically the Environment Agency will be working by consent. We would expect to see perhaps one control order being issued each year; that is the kind of pace we anticipate because such an order would deal with only the small number of landowners who are resistant to co-operating with the Environment Agency, either by not agreeing to come to a voluntary agreement or else doing so but choosing not to honour it. Again, I want to make it clear that control orders would not be used widely.

I should say to my noble friends Lady Parminter and Lord Teverson and other noble Lords who have talked about reintroducing various species that circumstances have changed. Species which died out some 500 years ago in the UK for whatever reason might be extremely disruptive if reintroduced. We had an example from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, who talked about wolves. Others have talked about wild boar, where some have been reintroduced. There is a question over whether that reintroduction has to be strongly controlled. Beavers are another example. We

8 July 2014 : Column GC95

do not yet know what their potential impact might be on our attempts to manage flooding. A great deal of modern flooding policy turns on trying to divert water on to an acceptable flood plain, so a beaver dam is exactly what one does not want. There are many situations where we do not know definitively what the consequences will be. The rationale for not providing a blanket protection for species that were once here recognises the changed circumstances, and I think it is wise to ensure that this legislation maintains that recognition by embedding it. As I say, the focus is primarily forward-looking; that is, to species which we cannot yet name or put on any list.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, suggested that we should change the definition of the word “species”. The definition set out in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is in fact well established and does what he intends it to do. It is a broad, simple definition which includes sub-species. For clarification, an “animal” includes all the major groups, which include invertebrates, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds and many other groups. The definition of “plants” includes fungi and algae. We have an accepted definition which covers the territory that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was anxious about. I ask the Committee for the flexibility not to provide a blanket protection for a species that once existed in the United Kingdom, because the examples I have given make it clear that we need to look at these issues on a case-by-case basis. The code of practice will aid us in understanding how the process can be applied. With that, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Parminter: I thank the Minister for those comments. It is encouraging that the comments from around the Committee show just how supportive we are for the initiative that the Government are taking.

The definition of non-native invasive species is key not just to what the Government are rightly trying to achieve here but to the impact that it could have on future reintroduction programmes. I hear the Minister when she says that we should not be opening almost a blanket pass for what are now extinct but were once indigenous species. Given that this, for me, causes some problems, I would certainly want some reassurances before we get to Report about the processes for assessing reintroductions. Clearly, we need to give species as much support as possible to meet our biodiversity targets. There are plenty of people who will argue against reintroduction and I would not want that definition to give those people any succour. If this definition is to stand, there must be a very clear process with which we feel comfortable for the assessment of reintroduction so that biodiversity can be put at the heart of that process. On the basis that the Minister has said that there will be a code of practice for us to scrutinise before Report, I am more than happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 64A withdrawn.

Amendments 65 and 65A not moved.

8 July 2014 : Column GC96

Amendment 66

Moved by Lord Davies of Oldham

66: Clause 16, page 11, line 25, at end insert—

“( ) The Secretary of State must publish an annual assessment of species control operations.”

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I have quite a lot to say about this next amendment so I shall speed up as I respect the fact that time is moving on. The clause centres round the sustainability of new species control agreements and orders. The Government’s capacity to take an intelligence-led approach to prevent non-native species becoming established in the UK has been significantly reduced. We valued the presentation at Defra this morning and the work that the department has done, but the cuts that have been sustained in some of the scientific establishments concern us, particularly the ecological science services at Kew. One should not underestimate the difficulties that flow from the reduction of that activity.

The Government have failed to implement the ballast water convention in spite of evidence that non-native invasive species transported in ballast water tanks pose a significant biosecurity risk. There is enough evidence for us to take these issues very seriously, and I hope that the Minister will indicate that there is a possible change in the Government’s perspective on their actions. The Woodland Trust has also raised concerns regarding the ability of environmental authorities financially to support species control agreements and orders. Many of the environmental budgets are already stretched but eradication control of invasive species is vital and needs to be adequately prioritised and supported. That is the burden of the opening statement made by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter.

The Government need to face up to the fact that the cost to agriculture and fishing is growing. Climate change is probably a key reason why the number of invasive non-native species arriving in the UK is increasing. The Government must reassess the work of the GB Non-native Species Secretariat in the light of this evidence. After all, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report made it clear that for an eradication campaign to be successful and cost effective it needs to be timely and informed by good evidence and sufficient funds to sustain it until complete eradication is achieved. None of us underestimates the challenge represented by that comment by the Environmental Audit Committee. The Government need to engage with the EU’s work in revising the plant and animal health regulatory frameworks to ensure that the result is a unified approach to biosecurity threats between these regulatory frameworks and the invasive species framework. Some of us were reassured this morning about the degree of co-operation within the European Union. It is obviously a germane time for us to take the fullest possible advantage of good will among the nations of Europe.

Prevention is definitely cheaper than eradication, and it is in the best interest of the environmental authorities to have annual assessments to put in place

8 July 2014 : Column GC97

goals and objectives that would, in turn, allow them to plan their capacity to carry out species control operations. It is also extremely important that we continue to monitor the development of these species control orders and to analyse effectively their ability to hit their targets.

The Bill does not allude to the monitoring of this new scheme and how we can track its progress and achievements. We need that. Not all of us—certainly not many of our colleagues—will have the same kind of opportunities vouchsafed to those of us who went to Defra this morning. We need to ensure the wider public is well informed about progress. An annual assessment would look at which species have been identified, which would be subject to species control orders, how many have been carried out, the success of the scheme, and an evaluation of the scientific evidence surrounding invasive species, animal welfare and so on.

There is clearly a great deal to be done. The amendment seeks to identify the fact that the Government are not doing enough at the present time. I beg to move.

Baroness Kramer: My Lords, I need to be rapid in my response, so let me simply say we think an annual assessment of species control orders is too frequent, as we estimate there is only one control order a year. However, we agree that an assessment of how these provisions are working is required. The code of practice will make clear that this assessment should form part of the five-yearly review of the GB invasive non-native species strategy.

We do not accept Amendment 67, which states that there should be a requirement on the Secretary of State to ensure that the environmental authorities,

“have the necessary capacity to carry out species control operations”,

because, at the rate of one order a year, it is entirely feasible for this to be met from existing resources. The environmental authorities are already resourced with this kind of activity in mind.

We do not support Amendment 68, which would remove the requirement for agreements made in relation to a dwelling to be made only by the Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers. We believe that this is an appropriate additional safeguard for the more intrusive use of powers under this regime.

I hope that that reassures the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and that he will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that reassurance is noted. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 66 withdrawn.

Amendments 67 and 68 not moved.

Amendment 69

Moved by Baroness Kramer

69: Clause 16, page 13, line 36, at end insert—

“(2) Unless it is made under paragraph 9(2)(c) (emergency), a species control order—

8 July 2014 : Column GC98

(a) may not require an owner of premises to carry out species control operations, or provide for an environmental authority to carry out species control operations, before the end of the period in which an appeal may be made (see paragraph 15), and

(b) must provide that if an appeal is made within that period, the owner need not carry out the operations, or the environmental authority shall not carry out the operations, before the appeal is finally determined.”

Baroness Kramer: My Lords, Amendment 69 clarifies that there is no requirement on an owner, or provision for an environmental authority, to carry out any operations contained in a species control order until the 28-day period for making an appeal has expired. It also clarifies that, where an appeal has been made within the 28-day period, the owner need not carry out the species control operations and the environmental authority will not do so until the appeal has been determined.

The amendment merely clarifies our original intention in the Bill. Without it, the order could potentially require an owner or allow an environmental authority to carry out the operations contained in a species control order before the period for making an appeal has expired, or before the appeal is determined by the First-tier Tribunal. However, the amendment does not apply to emergency species control orders made under paragraph 9(2)(c) of this Schedule. Where a species control order is made because it is urgently necessary, the environmental authority may carry out the operations immediately. However, the First-tier Tribunal has the power to suspend the order should an appeal be made by any owner.

Amendment 70 ensures that the environmental authority must notify all owners of the premises that it is aware of, and not just the owner specified in the order, that a species control order has been made. It is necessary because any owner of the premises has a right of appeal against a species control order within 28 days of notice being given that the order has been made. However, as currently drafted, there is no requirement on an environmental authority to notify all owners That could potentially lead to another owner of the premises being unaware that a species control order had been made and thus being unable to exercise their right of appeal. This amendment merely clarifies our original intent.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it is fairly rare for the Government to produce amendments unless they have been prompted to do so by a critical opposition. On this occasion, we were not the critical opposition. I am happy to accept the amendment.

Amendment 69 agreed.

Amendment 70

Moved by Baroness Kramer

70: Clause 16, page 14, leave out line 12 and insert—

“(a) all owners of the premises of whom the environmental authority is aware,”

Amendment 70 agreed.

Committee adjourned at 7.31 pm.