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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I do not disagree that we have had an informative and enlightening debate on many aspects of these issues, but I find the conclusions of the debate bizarre. I also find the amendments brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, very odd. To find the noble Lord, Lord Monson, for example, supporting them is very odd indeed.

No one disagrees that much of the protection of wildlife in the countryside rests in the hands of thousands of countryside workers, the vast majority of

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whom for the vast majority of time take very seriously their responsibilities in this respect. They would not knowingly endanger a rare species or the biodiversity objectives we are trying to achieve in the Bill.

But throughout our proceedings, many of your Lordships have said that we need stronger protection of wildlife, flora and fauna within the Bill. In this schedule we have provided a substantially greater sanction--not only for raptors but for all the birds and animals in Schedule 5 and for all the plants in Schedule 8. We are therefore talking about a very wide range of possible offences against often rare wildlife--plants, animals, birds, and so on. To make an issue of the position on raptors seems an incredibly narrow approach.

Almost everyone believes that the current sanctions relating to wildlife offences are not adequate. Whether we blame the courts for not imposing the maximum penalties, the police for not pursuing them, the inadequacy of the penalties themselves, or whatever, they are not working. It must be part of a wildlife Bill to make sure that the sanctions are greater and that there is a greater deterrence for people who breach the regulations and endanger significant parts of our biodiversity.

If that is agreed, it is surely illogical to say that it matters who perpetrates an offence. What seems to be behind the noble Lord's amendments is that if a rare egg is stolen, or rare plants are torn up and so on, and that is done by a worker on an estate, then the penalty that applies to somebody who comes in from outside and does exactly the same should not apply. I cannot think of any other area of crime where the occupation of the perpetrator differentiates how they will be punished.

That is not to say that there cannot be significant mitigation put before the courts. In a sense, I am doing what the noble Lord, Lord Monson, predicted. It is already a clear defence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act that if a person can show that an act he has carried out, which might otherwise be against the law, was the incidental result of lawful activity and could not have been avoided, that is a defence and an offence will not have been committed. Even if an offence has been committed, mitigation has to be taken into account by the courts.

But we cannot exempt people from the effects of increased penalties for wildlife offences--which are vital to the preservation and enhancement of our countryside and wildlife--by dint of their occupation. It is the role of the courts and the judiciary to decide whether or not people are guilty of offences, and then to judge, in the light of all the circumstances, what are the appropriate penalties. We have upped the penalties. There may be mitigating circumstances--there often will be in the kinds of cases to which noble Lords have referred. The courts must be able to judge whether to impose the full sentence or as to what lower sentence they will apply.

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We believe that it is necessary in order to deter wildlife crime--much of which is in pursuit of profit--to impose maximum sentences. We recognise that the courts will often not impose those maximum sentences. To differentiate by motivation is a matter for the courts; but effectively to differentiate by occupation would be an incredible new precept in English law. I do not believe that we should go down that road.

Arguments about whether or not raptor populations have increased are for the conservation agencies to take into account, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, rightly said, and they may have to alter the schedules in terms of which species fall under which schedules. However, I cannot accept the basic premise of the amendments, even though I recognise the strength of feeling on the need to ensure that countryside workers, and estate workers in particular, do not feel threatened, and the feeling that certain matters are getting out of balance in relation to raptors, and so forth. Many of the individual points are no doubt valid. But the central point of the amendments is utterly wrong; it would be a wrong principle for us to enshrine in English law.


Lord Buxton of Alsa: My Lords, I should like to thank noble Lords on all sides of the House who have spoken in this debate. Their views were expressed with such eloquence and wisdom that I do not want to demean them by repeating anything that has been said. I look forward to reading the debate in Hansard.

However, I am deeply disappointed with the response from both the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who is an old friend, and from the Minister, who has hitherto been much more helpful in discussion. I do not want to be on record as having had a punch-up with anyone concerned with conservation. Therefore, I shall merely say that they have completely missed the point. The main point I was making was that everything has gone right without custodial sentences. Why in the name of God do they suddenly want to ratchet up the position and introduce such a provision when it has been proved to be completely unnecessary?

I should like to leave the matter there. I feel that I cannot say anything now which is not fierce and which might be wounding. It is better to leave it as it is. I should like, therefore, to withdraw the amendment--but in the certain hope that the Minister, the Government and English Nature will consider everything that has been said on all sides of the House and that they will try to find their way to fairness. Much of what I heard from both those quarters scares the daylights out of me. God knows what would happen and where I would go if my friend became Prime Minister and that sort of attitude was adopted towards perfectly good, legitimate people. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 227 and 228 not moved.]

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Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 229:

    Page 137, line 29, at end insert--

("Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (c. 60)

13. In section 24(2) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (arrestable offences), after paragraph (r) there is inserted--
"(s) an offence under section 1(1) or (2) or 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (taking, possessing, selling etc. of wild birds) in respect of a bird included in Schedule 1 to that Act or any part of, or anything derived from, such a bird;
(t) an offence under any of the following provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981--
(i) section 1(5) (disturbance of wild birds),
(ii) section 9 or 13(1)(a) or (2) (taking, possessing, selling etc. of wild animals or plants),
(iii) section 14 (introduction of new species etc.)."").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 77 [Procedure for designation orders]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 230:

    Page 52, line 2, at end insert (", local owner/occupier representative bodies").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we come to the part of the Bill that deals with areas of outstanding natural beauty. This small group of amendments deals with the confirmation of orders by the Secretary of State.

Areas of outstanding natural beauty can be created by orders brought forward by the Countryside Agency or, as appropriate, the Countryside Council for Wales. They have to be approved either by the Secretary of State or, indeed, by the National Assembly for Wales. It is a moot point whether one should have this breadth of consultation at this point or whether it should be undertaken at the earlier stage by the Countryside Agency or the Countryside Council for Wales. In that regard, these amendments are somewhat imperfect and perhaps need a little more thought.

However, I ask the Minister to consider what we are raising by way of these amendments. Areas of outstanding natural beauty occur for two reasons: first, because they are fortunate in their topography; and, secondly, because they are fortunate in the people who have custody of the land within their boundaries. I refer to farmers and landowners, by and large, but also to people who live in favourable communities and take great care of them. I know of no other reasons for the existence of AONBs.

With this little group of amendments we seek to bring within the consultation process a wider group of people to represent the communities--especially those who have an interest in the creation and maintenance of those communities--than is presently provided for in the Bill. The Bill currently provides for consultation with local councils. Our amendments would bring in the representatives of landowners and occupiers. That may, perhaps, be better covered by using words like, "other relevant organisations". Indeed, local conservation bodies will have an interest in such matters and could well be consulted at this early stage.

We are dealing with a consultative process in the creation of areas of outstanding natural beauty. I find it inconceivable that the process will not take place in

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this way. I suspect that the Minister will tell me that we are in the business of dotting "i"s and crossing "t"s once again. However, as currently worded, I do not believe that the Bill is sufficiently broad. It could be improved. I hope that the Minister will consider that point.

Amendment No. 231 would apply the same consultation process to variations in the areas of outstanding natural beauty. These are quite small, sensible and unobjectionable amendments. I hope that the Minister will consider them positively, even if he cannot agree to them tonight. I beg to move.

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