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(a) is of a kind which is not ordinarily resident in and not a regular visitor to Great Britain in a wild state; or
(b) is included in Part I of Schedule 9,

That offence can result potentially in two years' imprisonment. So what are these creatures which are so dangerous, referred to in Part I of Schedule 9 to the Act?

I entirely understand that if one has a Himalayan porcupine one might hesitate to release it into the wild; that might have unforeseen and unforeseeable circumstances. On the other hand, we also have reference to "Dormouse, Fat" whose Latin name is glis glis. I do not know how many noble Lords know anyone who possesses a glis glis but it should not be released into the wild. The list refers also to melopsittacus undulatus. I do not know how many noble Lords know what that is; it is a budgerigar. This Bill proposes to make, on indictment, imprisonable for two years, the release into the wild of a budgerigar. I suspect that if a number of members of the RSPB knew that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, had persuaded the Government to introduce such draconian penalties for releasing a budgerigar, a number of budgerigars would cease forthwith to be members of the RSPB!

I could go on, because there are many other strange things in the list. For example, anyone who causes a giant hogweed to grow in the wild can be subject to two years' imprisonment on indictment. I do not have any brief for giant hogweeds. They are nasty things and if one escaped from me I would regret it, but I am not sure that I would deserve to be subject to even six months in prison, let alone two years.

Such legislation discredits the conservation movement and alienates many rural people, who will be encouraged to feel contempt and resentment against it and the Government that enacted it. The suggestion that the courts would never apply such sentences for those offences merely strengthens the argument that Parliament should not introduce the sanctions.

I need hardly say that this is a time when all parties are seeking means of reducing the prison population rather than increasing it. Community service orders--or community punishment orders, as they are being renamed--might well be appropriate for some offenders, although not for the releasers of budgies. Unfortunately, they are currently available only for offences for which imprisonment is also prescribed. However, the Home Secretary announced in May a Home Office review of the sentencing framework in England and Wales. This morning I spoke to Mr John Halliday, who is directing the study, which is due for

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completion in May next year. I understand that he will be considering the possibility of decoupling community punishment orders from imprisonable offences. This is a particularly inappropriate moment to extend so greatly the offences for which prison can be prescribed.

Finally, in certain cases there could be custodial remedies for persistent offenders through the civil injunction procedures. It would be possible for an interested body, such as the RSPB, or a landowner to apply to a court for an injunction restraining an individual who had been a persistent offender under the Act from continuing to enter land to interfere with wildlife. Once such an injunction was granted, an offender who broke it would be liable to immediate imprisonment under the normal contempt procedures.

This is not a party matter. It is in the interests of all of us as legislators to ensure that the people of this country, urban and rural, support and co-operate with government measures to safeguard nature. As one who yields to no one in my determination to protect our natural environment, I ask your Lordships to prevent this excellent Bill being marred by the divisive, heavy-handed and ludicrous remedies in Schedule 12.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, having put my name to the amendment, it is appropriate that I briefly explain why. On Report, I pointed out that the provision could result in serious injustice. I am as keen on conservation as anyone in the House. However, we also have to be aware of the need for justice.

A gamekeeper could be sent to prison, whereas it is the employer who required him to pursue policies that brought him into conflict with the law who should be imprisoned, not the employee. A gamekeeper employed by a ruthless owner of a shoot who required a huge proportion of the birds that were released to be shot, would inevitably be tempted to kill the raptors to keep his job and possibly his house. I believe that we should be very careful before we put a man who is under enormous pressure into the dock, and perhaps into prison, when the person who employs him and who has required him to act as he did gets away scot-free. I should not like to see that happen, much as I should like to see those who are responsible for the situation being penalised. I trust that the House will consider this amendment most sympathetically.

Lord Monson: My Lords, when we supported the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, a week ago, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made the following criticism, among others:

    "I cannot think of any other area of crime where the occupation of the perpetrator differentiates how they will be punished".--[Official Report, 16/11/00; col. 481.]

That is probably a valid argument, hence the present amendment which makes no mention of occupation. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, although I do not object to higher fines and even community service orders, could that be in some way arranged, I remain very unhappy about the option of

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imprisonment and certainly imprisonment for up to two years. As the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, said,

    "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?".--[Official Report, 16/11/00; col. 482.]

Last week I asked, and do so again this evening, whether the Government want to follow in the footsteps of the previous administration, who introduced a record number of new offences for which individuals could be fined or imprisoned, and increase the number of maximum penalties for existing offences? If they persist in following in the footsteps of the previous administration in relation to this Bill, that must surely have something to do with their arm having being twisted by a minority in the conservation movement whom the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, described last week as,

    "people with very extreme and ... fanatical ... ideas".--[Official Report, 16/11/00; col. 477.]

It is extraordinary that that happened on the same day that we were told that the Government intended to use the Parliament Act to force through a Bill which would make it legal for the first time for a smooth-talking older man to persuade a gullible or besotted 16 or 17 year-old girl to submit to an act which is presumably uncomfortable and certainly harmful. As the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, informed us at col. 36 on 13th November, her life will be statistically shortened thereby. It is not a laughing matter. I suggest that the great majority of the public regard such behaviour as far worse and far more anti-social than shooting a raptor or releasing a budgerigar.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, I find myself in a dreadful position because I can see that many noble Lords around the House are dying to go home.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Baroness Young of Old Scone: However, having had the gauntlet thrown down by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I am afraid that I shall have to respond and noble Lords will have to suffer for a little while. I consider it to be incredibly important that the option of custodial sentences should be in the Bill. If noble Lords stay quiet for long enough, I shall tell them why in a moment.

First, perhaps I may match the list given by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, of the credentials of people who had advised him. I believe that it is important to lay out some of mine. This is not quite, "My list is bigger than your list", but it is something similar. I have been chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I am currently vice president of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I am chairman of English Nature. I am vice president of Flora and Fauna International, and I am the vice president of Birdlife International.

The proposition in the Bill for custodial sentences comes about as the result of a recommendation from a broad-based partnership called The Partnership

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Against Wildlife Crime. It is composed of the Department of the Environment, conservation groups and the police. Therefore, the proposal is not simply a whim of the conservation groups; it comes from a wide-based and thoughtful partnership. It brings the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 into line with a great deal of other wildlife legislation.

Custodial sentences are important for a variety of reasons. First, they give a range of options--not only custodial sentences but also community service orders, probation and suspended sentences, which are necessary if we are to deter a number of repeat offending criminals. We are not talking about one-off cases; we are talking about people in organised crime who repeatedly offend and who at present receive ludicrously small fines that simply do not deter them.

The current penalties are inadequate, particularly for people such as persistent egg thieves and thieves of birds of prey. A thief can sell a peregrine in the Middle East for £10,000 and, if fined £250, would regard it as a business expense or a tax on profit. We have seen the judiciary complain about the currently inadequate sentencing options, including judges sitting in two appeal courts recently. They were strongly critical of the options available to magistrates and sheriffs under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

The problem of persistent stealing of birds and eggs can often impact on the whole viability of the species. Amendment No. 56, also tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, concerns the serious issue of the introduction of exotic animals. Exotic plants and animals have a habit of becoming pests. I have not yet noticed budgerigars becoming pests. However, the problem is that we do not know what will become a pest until it does so. By then it is too late. Often, such introductions have an impact not only on national wildlife; but a huge adverse economic impact.

The fruit growers of Kent are terrified of the ring-necked parakeet, for example, which was introduced as a present to the Queen by the grateful people of Australia. Unfortunately, it is now eating fruit across the South of England. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature declared recently that the introduction of alien species was the second most important conservation threat after climate change. This, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, tells us, is inconsequential and not worthy of more serious penalties.

That is the serious response to these amendments. One could take the view that this is simply last week's amendment--to let offending gamekeepers off--dressed up with the result that everyone would get off serious wildlife crime. I hope that the Minister will strongly resist the amendments.

11.30 p.m.

The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, this is clearly an exercise in trying to demonstrate one's conservation credentials. I shall start by explaining that I used to be chairman of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the body which advises government on exotic species and their release into the wild. I believe

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I am right in saying that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is still a member of that committee, although it may be that she retires tomorrow; I am not sure. I am also vice-president of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. However, once I have said what I am about to say, I suspect that I shall be sacked tomorrow.

I am a fruit grower in Hampshire, not Kent. Having said all that, perhaps I may make it clear that as a fruit grower, I would not expect somebody who released a parakeet which created havoc in my orchards in Hampshire, to go to prison for the offence, much as I would like to see him punished. In all seriousness, I do not believe that the cause of conservation is helped by overkill. One can become wrapped up in the emotive language of raptors, gamekeepers and the like. However, as my noble friend Lord Marlesford reminded us, the amendment seeks to eliminate from the Bill the power to send people to prison for offences such as releasing into the wild a number of species, be they plants or animals.

Whatever we might think about killing raptors, we should accept, for the moment, that it is an outrageous extension of punishment to expect that to be an imprisonable offence. However often one released a budgerigar, hogweed or the like, I cannot conceive of any need to put this provision on the face of the Bill. I recognise, however, that the present fines, to which the noble Baroness referred, are inadequate. Short of imprisonment, many more draconian penalties are required if we are to prevent exotic species from causing havoc. In retrospect, I should like to have seen the noble Duke who, in the last century, was responsible for releasing the grey squirrel, have great penalties heaped on him. In that regard, I refer also to the muntjac deer and many other species. That is all behind us now. However much damage has been caused, I do not believe that, in hindsight, anyone would contemplate a custodial offence. I hope that the Minister can persuade me that I am wrong, but I do not believe that the case has been made today by any one that the cause of conservation will be served by making it an imprisonable offence to release into the wild or kill a protected animal.

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