Orders of the Day — Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Protection Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24 January 1975.

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Order for Second Reading read.

11.5 a.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

To a very large extent this Bill is due to the work, concern and observation of thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands, of naturalists and people interested in our countryside and flora and fauna, who have carried out detailed observation and are now rather worried about the prospects for large numbers of species in this country. One cannot consider this Bill without paying tribute to those people, but I should like particularly to acknowledge the work of the Council for Nature and Mr. Tim Sands, the Friends of the Earth and Miss King, and the Botanical Society of the British Isles and Mrs. Briggs.

The Bill is basically an amalgamation of two Bills which were before the House of Lords—the Protection of Wild Plants Bill, which was introduced by Lord Beaumont, and the Conservation of Wild Creatures Bill, introduced by Lord Cranbrook. We have put these two together because it seemed that this provided Parliament with an early opportunity to take the urgent action which is required.

Basically the main purpose of the Bill is to establish a framework of conserva tion, which is becoming urgently necessary. The proposal in the Bill is that on the advice of the Nature Conservancy Council the Secretary of State for the Environment will by order add the names of creatures to Schedule 1 or of plants to Schedule 2 and thus confer a real and meaningful degree of protection on those plants and creatures. It is obvious that every single offence cannot be detected. The law may not easily be enforced, but it is quite clear that existing legislation in this field has a real effect, perhaps largely because of the educative influence that it has upon society.

We have said that the species named already for protection from the commencement of operation of the Bill are very much in danger. Perhaps it would be helpful if I said a few words about some of the creatures and plants named in the schedules. We have two bats, the greater horse-shoe bat and the mouse-eared bat. These are the two rarest of Britain's bats. I understand that there are only three colonies of greater horse-shoe bats and one colony of mouse-eared bats in the British Isles, and these species have suffered a tremendous loss of population in the last decade or two.

We have the sand lizard, the smooth snake and the natterjack toad. All three creatures prefer sandy and rather dry habitats, preferably near the coast. All three species have suffered up to a 90 per cent. decline in population in the last 20 years. At the present time they are extremely vulnerable to the irresponsible people in our society. I am told, for example, that one collector visited the only known site of the sand lizard in Surrey a year or so ago and removed practically every creature from that site. Thus the sand lizard is likely to be absent from Surrey, as it is now from most of the counties where it resided a century ago.

The same is true of the smooth snake, which was never very common in this country but is now exceedingly rare. It is wrong that it can be advertised by the pet trade for sale at £7.50, as I saw in a recent price list.

The natterjack toad was once very common indeed. In many parts of England a century ago it was more common than the common toad. It is now restricted to a few localities and is very much threatened, perhaps because it is easily to be found. It utters a very loud noise and thus can be detected without difficulty.

The dormouse is probably less immediately threatened than any of the others, but it has been declining rapidly, and if we have a harsh February and March it could be more severely threatened in most of the relatively few areas where it is still to be found. Normally, it suffers quite high mortality in the winter, and if the weather is particularly unkind in the next two months we could see the dormouse population reduced to minimal proportions.

There is one butterfly on the list out of the 50 or so species to be found in Britain. I understand that a score are in some danger, but the large blue butterfly is particularly rare. It ought to remain in Britain because it is in some ways unique. It lays its eggs on wild thyme plants near the hills of the red ant. The red ants take it into their ant-hills, where it is kept because it exudes a substance which the ants like. The ants tend it, I suppose, as a welcomed dairy animal. The large blue butterfly is not particularly grateful for this because it then feeds on red ant grubs, but it also has cannibal propensities, which is probably one reason why it is called the large blue.

Interestingly enough, in the list of plants to be protected in Schedule 2 there is the blue heath. The blue heath is a particularly rare plant, which has been declining rapidly quite recently. I am sure that hon. Members on the Opposition benches will be especially concerned about the future of the blue heath. I understand that it is now to be found on only one moorland in Perthshire.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that, although the Government wish to expedite the Bill, there is no hope of protecting the blue heath by 4th February?

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

That may be so, but I am sure that in my hon. Friend's constituency, just as in my own, there are relatively few large blues or blue heaths, but we are all interested in seeing that a few survive, if only as a tourist attraction.

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

In spite of what the Minister has just said, I hope that he has noted that in the "Concise British Flora" the blue heath was described as having evergreen leaves.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

That was probably when it bore the name Scottish menziesia. I understand that that name is now not regarded as the one to be used to describe this plant.

There are plants in danger. We have lost a lot of species from Britain in recent years, and I direct particular attention at this stage to the Cheddar pink and the Snowdon lily, the Cheddar pink being found around Cheddar Gorge in Somerset and the Snowdon lily in the Snowdonia area. They were relatively common not all that long ago but, unfortunately, collectors and gardeners have removed them from every accessible site, and the few plants remaining are to be found on cliff faces where people cannot easily get at them. They are very vulnerable, but they are regionally important and environmentally desirable and should be protected.

One of the plants listed in Schedule 2, the lady's slipper, is in a dramatic situation. It was once a relatively common member of the orchid family, at least in the North of England. It is now reduced to one plant only. Quite properly, the botanists concerned are keeping its precise location a matter of close confidence. If the lady's slipper disappears, if that single plant is uprooted by a collector, we shall suffer a loss which people in a couple of centuries may find far more regrettable than do people now living in this country.

One plant on the list, the fingered sedge, is to be found in my constituency. I am especially pleased that we have a chance not merely to protect it but to demonstrate that my constituency is not completely covered by pitheads and slag heaps but has within it areas of real attraction. I am delighted that in my own area people are determined that the environment shall be improved rather than be brought to further ugliness. The fingered sedge will, I hope, receive protection from the tiny minority who would destroy it and thus bring about the disappearance of yet another species from this country.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

As one of the sponsors of the Bill, I know that my hon. Friend has put an enormous amount of homework into his proposals. He speaks of the tiny minority. We are chiefly concerned here, in relation to animals, with the pet trade. Could my hon. Friend say something about the consultations he has had with representatives of the pet trade?

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

I have myself had remarkably little consultation with the pet trade. I think it desirable that some organisation should be established to draw up, so to speak, a code of practice which the majority in the pet trade would, I am sure, wish to observe. In passing, I should add that a magazine which I saw recently carried three advertisements from the pet trade asking for dormice. In Victorian times dormice were looked on as pets in a good many households, but their scarcity in Britain now is such that no one should be allowed to make that species disappear merely because he or she wants to say that the family have a pet dormouse in order to be one up on Mrs. Jones with her 30-inch colour television set next door.

The Bill is a conservation measure. It relies on scientific advice, on hard evidence, not on emotion. To some extent it is based on the Protection of Birds Acts. It is interesting that birds have been protected for a score of years while plants and creatures have been neglected. It is right that we should now begin to broaden our approach on a more scientific and logical basis, not on the emotional approach which has previously applied. If we carry on as we have been doing, Parliament will have to look at each species in turn, and I am sure that very few hon. Members would wish to devote a great deal of time, or an opportunity such as is afforded to me today, to introduce a statute for the protection of the smooth snake or a Bill for bats, since these creatures have not the sort of cuddly image enjoyed by many of the animals which Parliament has viewed with affection in the past. The present position is not at all desirable in that respect.

We are relying also upon experience with the Badgers Act, which we passed two years ago and which has already begun to show a beneficial effect. I have to inform the House, however, that there is the possibility, to put it no higher, that Clause 8(1)(d) of the Bill will have to be amended in Committee. Consultations are continuing at present with a view to some amendment of that paragraph to allow the Ministry of Agriculture to destroy badgers in a few areas of England where badgers have been found quite certainly to be carriers of bovine tuberculosis. I emphasise that this is not a general problem but is restricted to a very few localities where bovine tuberculosis may have existed in badgers for centuries. However, we are obliterating this diseases and it would therefore be right to ensure that we do not allow badgers to carry the infection.

If we are to destroy badgers we have an obligation to do it humanely, and it may therefore be right to make the necessary change to permit the Ministry of Agriculture to destroy badgers by gassing, since that is by far the most humane way of doing it. The matter can be carefully considered in Committee, but I make clear that I shall be very willing to accept such a proposal because I regard gassing as the most wholesome and humane method of destroying this particularly attractive animal.

I shall not burden the House with a long speech, but I ought to add that one benefit which we hope to see from the Bill is a valuable educative influence. I think that the Badgers Act has been more influential by educative effect than by any threat of sanction, although sanction is important. I hope that the Bill will make people realise that our natural heritage in Britain ought not to be ruined by an irresponsible minority.

The minority is at times extremely irresponsible. I understand that it is increasingly difficult as each year passes for people living in this city to see primroses, because so many people have dug them up, probably at the wrong time of the year, in order to plant them in their gardens. Most of those that are planted in the gardens at the wrong time will never thrive, but once they are uprooted the plant may disappear for ever from that patch of countryside.

The countryside in Britain is one of the most precious parts of our heritage and I believe that it is right for Parliament to take action to preserve it. If we assume, and I think we are right to assume, that one-third of the total of our wild flowers will disappear this century and that the rate of disappearance is accelerating, this is plainly a matter for Parliament to consider with care. It is certainly quite wrong that although in any one area, for example, a large number of people within the community may get a great deal of pleasure from a particular wild creature, one person may come along and take or kill that creature without suffering any sanction.

It may be that up to now the fact that people may have been rather wary because their neighbours may have been rather critical of irresponsible conduct has been a deterrent, but the rate of disappearance of our flora and fauna is such that it is not a sufficient deterrent, and I believe that the Bill is urgently needed.

Finally, we propose a fine of £100. Perhaps I should explain that this is the level of fine generally applied in these matters. Indeed, in these days of inflation, if it were a lesser fine, it would probably not be the deterrent that is certainly needed. But I do not envisage that the courts of Britain will be filled with people who have committed offences in this connection. I hope that there will be relatively few prosecutions, because each prosecution will be in respect of an offence that we do not want to be committed.

I hope that the existence of the Bill will do the trick. I am convinced that the Bill needs to be passed in the shortest possible time, and I commend it to the House.

11.22 a.m.

Photo of Mr David James Mr David James , North Dorset

I do not wish to hold up the House for long, but as one of the sponsors of the Bill I should like first to congratulate the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) on his good fortune in drawing first place in the Ballot, secondly to commend his judgment in getting two important Bills and combining them into one, and thirdly on the manner in which he has presented the Bill to the House. There are a number of observations that I should like to make in Committee, if I am lucky enough to be on the Standing Committee, but at this stage I shall do no more than assure the hon. Member that he has my wholehearted support.

11.23 a.m.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

As another of the sponsors to the Bill, I should like to emulate the brevity of the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. James). There is every reason to think that although a £100 fine may not be a great deterrent in itself, the publicity that would surround anyone being prosecuted would be such as to cause him to be a bit shamefaced for having been brought before the courts for this kind of offence. Therefore I too, knowing the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) has done, wish to commend the Bill as a valuable measure.

11.24 a.m.

Photo of Mr Jasper More Mr Jasper More , Ludlow

I, too, wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) on his good fortune in the Ballot, on his excellent choice of Bill and on the excellent manner in which he has presented it.

It is a matter of some shame to me that an eighteenth century ancestor of mine, Robert More, who for 30 years was a Shropshire Member of Parliament, was also an expert botanist. In these days it would be difficult to combine those two professions, such are the pressures of parliamentary life. He was a friend of the famour Linnaeus and he contributed to "Miller's" Gardeners Dictionary, apparently without any interruption of his parliamentary duties.

Among the other difficulties of modern life are the technical pressures. Modern farming methods have done damage in this connection. The unrooting of hedges has been mentioned. When I took over a farm 20 years ago, I tried to make it a rule that hedges should not be uprooted so as to make any field larger than about 20 acres, which I felt was a possible compromise between the shape that the countryside should have and the needs of modern farming.

The hon. Member referred to the danger of irresponsibility among the public and he mentioned the primroses. I am struck by the example of cowslips which I remember to have been visible all over England in my youth and which are now rarely seen. It is a matter of shame that when I was in Normandy last year I saw cowslips in masses along every roadside. We have done a lot of damage in this country.

I was interested to hear what the hon. Member had to say about bats. I am in the curious position of living in a house whose occupation the local bats have an absolutely irresistible urge to share with us. If bats are becoming scarce and it is possible to remove a colony of bats, I should be grateful if anyone interested would get in touch with the hon. Member for Ludlow.

On this side of the House we are all concerned that it is to be made a criminal offence to uproot the blue heath, but I do not think that this provision is intended to prejudice any electoral process that we may be going through, although it seems to have caused a certain amount of comment when the Bill was debated in another place.

Finally, I should like once again to congratulate the hon. Member on bringing forward the Bill.

11.26 a.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

This is the second occasion in a week that the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) has demonstrated his concern and interest in all matters to do with the countryside. On Tuesday he was the first Member on the Government side to refer to what I hope was the unwitting proposed effect of the capital transfer tax on forestry and today he has introduced this Bill.

As the hon. Member reminded us, the Bill follows his great interest in the Badgers Act and he is to be congratulated on that, and also on his record in the whole subject of environmental protection. In that respect the Bill fills a major gap. The protection of wild plants particularly is long overdue. It is rather surprising in view of the comprehensive nature of so much of the rest of our legislation on environmental protection that a Bill such as this has not previously had the approval of the House. Earlier Bills have come before the House but for one reason or another they have never succeeded.

Today is rather a red letter day for conservation and a day to be welcomed by all conservationists. I am sure the hon. Member was right to emphasise that the Bill's objective was to create a climate, not the possibility of a number of prosecutions. Prosecutions would demonstrate that the Bill had failed, and no one wants that. The penal powers of the Bill are a longstop.

I was pleased that the hon. Member drew particular attention to Clause 13, the educational clause. I believe that to be of great importance. He mentioned the possible disappearance of about one-third of our wild flowers during the course of this century. I do not agree with him about that. They may have disappeared temporarily, but I believe that there are more than enough dormant seeds lying around somewhere within the United Kingdom and that some day they will begin to sprout. What is important, on the other hand, is that when they decide to take on a different form of life they should have the sort of protection that the Bill will provide.

I should like to make one or two points now in case I am not on the Committee, although I hope that I shall be. The title of Clause 4 is Restriction on uprooting wild plants but the clause refers to "any" plant. In the schedule is included the daphne mezereum, but some people have this in their garden. Perhaps that point should be clarified in Committee.

I am not sure about the provisions of Clause 7. Under Clause 12 the Nature Conservancy has the power to review the schedule at five-yearly intervals. That seems a sensible period, which is broadly acceptable, but there should be some opportunity for interim amendment if that should prove necessary. After all, environmental disasters happen from time to time. We are suffering from dutch elm disease at the moment, and a similar outbreak might have an adverse affect on a small plant. That should be provided for.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but under Clause 12(a) the Nature Conservancy "at any time may"—in addition to the provision that it must every five years—contact the Secretary of State with the necessary information.

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

I am grateful for that clarification.

Finally, it has occurred to me that some of the plants in Schedule 2 have alternative names. For example, it is proposed to protect the Lloydia serotina, the common name of which is given as the Snowdon lily. I have discovered, again according to Keble Martin's "Concise British Flora", that it is also known as the spiderwort. It is important to ensure that names known in different parts of the country are included in the schedule as alternatives.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. Keble Martin was once the vicar of the parish in which I live. I was concerned when I saw the original list, but the names of the flowers are those which the Botanical Society of the British Isles, after careful consideration, has decided should be the official names of the species.

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

I am grateful. In that case perhaps it will not be necessary to change the name in the schedule, but it may be worth while to ensure that the alternative names are contained in any order which is made.

I congratulate the hon. Member on a considerable step forward to fill a gap in our legislation. I am sure that the country will have cause to be grateful to him.

11.35 a.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) on his place in the Ballot and on the Bill. I also congratulate the other sponsors. I think that the House greatly appreciated the way in which the hon. Member introduced the Bill.

When the hon. Gentleman spoke the other night on the Finance Bill in favour of forestry and of planting more trees, I wondered how that would affect his Bill. One of the main effects on wild plants has come from the great increase in forestry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) was not too gloomy about the prospects for wild plants, saying that he thought that they might seed themselves after some years. According to the World Wildlife Fund, however, nearly a quarter of British invertebrate animals and plants are threatened to some degree, and Dr. Frank Perring has said that probably 100 to 200 plants and animals, apart from insects and so on, are in danger of extinction in the next few years. So we cannot be too hopeful about the prospects.

The last debate concerning wildlife in which I took part was on the Wild Creatures and Forest Law Bill, which dealt with Royal animals—the whale, the sturgeon, the deer and the swan. We had some fun with that Bill, and it was on the tip of my tongue today to say that we had gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the swan to the natterjack toad, but that would be doing the Bill an injustice.

Perhaps I should declare an interest as a keen gardener and amateur collector. I know how difficult it is to try to dig up a wild plant with a plastic picnic spoon. I also once took part in an expedition to the Atlas Mountains as a kind of botanist extraordinary. I asked Kew whether it would like some plants. It said it would and gave me all the equipment. I discovered that the last person to collect plants in the Atlas Mountains was Col. Hooker, so I hope that my 12 plants in the herbareum have their modest place in botanical history.

Some of the plants and animals in the schedule may sound ridiculous—the oblong woodsia, for example—and someone said in another place that the list reminded him of Edward Lear's "Nonsense Botany", particularly the "manipeoplia upsidedownia". Perhaps "nasticrechia krorluppia" would describe some of these animals in the Bill—the bats, the toad and the dormouse. They may be tiny and insignificant and it may seem strange that the full power of the State is being brought in to protect them, but they are part of the stern battle between man and his environment which we are fighting today. Who knows, perhaps we may be actually turning the tide.

If I criticise some aspects of the Bill, that does not alter the fact that I am a dedicated conservationist and appreciate very much the hon. Member's initiative. A beautiful poster has been produced by the BSBI, a copy of which I have here, which reproduces wonderful pictures of the plants which are to be protected. However, one of the most delightful, the pasque flower, is missing from the schedule. Is this a good thing? The curious situation is that the more publicity these rare plants get, the more desirable they become to collectors and, therefore, the more vulnerable and the nearer to extermination.

One also asks oneself whether the best way to improve the quality and enjoyment of life, which is what the Bill is all about, is by roping off areas where hundreds of visitors will go to see these rarities, carrying cameras and trampling all over the habitat on which these plants depend. There is a conflict here. This is a real dilemma at the heart of all well-intended conservation measures.

My second question concerns the fact that the target of the Bill seems to be collectors when, according to the experts, the main menace seems to come from a different quarter. Dr. F. H. Perring's paper on the flora of changing Britain in the past 70 years speaks of agriculture, forestry, draining and ditching as the main culprits, and not the collectors. The only defence we seem to have against that kind of inroad is the Nature Conservancy Council's statutory duty to educate and advise and liaise. In the summary at the end of the paper, collecting was given only seven danger marks out of a total of 74. When the natural causes are taken away, that is seven out of 53.

My third question concerns Clause 4. I do not wish to dispute Clause 5, but Clause 4 seems all-embracing. When I first saw it, it struck me that it went wide and would be difficult to enforce. What would happen, for example, about pulling up ragwort? The only way to get rid of the plant, which is a danger to cattle, is to pull it up by the roots.

Photo of Mr Stephen Ross Mr Stephen Ross , Isle of Wight

As one who has suffered a great deal from ragwort, I can say that one can get rid of it by spraying, but it must be done two years in succession.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher

But spraying is yet another danger to wild plants.

What about children collecting bull-rushes, which come up by their roots? What is the position over crofters, some of whom still, by traditional means, collect not only lichen but ragwort for the yellow dye, and knapweed for the blue dye in the outer isles. Will they have to have a licence?

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

Do I understand from my hon. Friend that Clause 4 is completely general and covers anyone uprooting any wild plant, so that if I pull up plantains on my lawn I am in trouble?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher

I think that the hon. Member for Rother Valley knows the answer.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

Clause 4 is basically a consolidation clause. The Home Office had model byelaws on the subject about 50 years ago. The clause says: If any person other than an authorised person without reasonable excuse uproots any plant, he shall be guilty of an offence. We are dealing with people who trespass on other people's property or community property and uproot the wild plants therein. Most county councils already have byelaws to prevent and deter such action. We are seeking to emphasise and strengthen a position that has existed for a considerable time.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher

I understand that the clause does not affect private owners on their own property, but I think that the Nature Conservancy Council liaises with them if they have any sites of special interest, and advises them on the best method of protection.

I understand that byelaws have existed since 1928 dealing with public open places, but that some counties still have not introduced them. However, I think the byelaws are pretty general, so that we can accept the clause as a consolidation measure.

There are also provisions in the Theft Act 1968 and the Criminal Damage Act 1971 which give powers to deal with the digging up of wild plants.

My fourth question concerns enforcement. The Bill says that a constable may stop and search any person he suspects with reasonable cause of having committed an offence. The mind begins to boggle when one wonders how the constable will search a person for a dormouse or, even worse, a natterjack toad, which I understand is a very smelly animal. I can see the look on the faces of chief officers of police when they receive the Act and wonder how they will instruct their men to enforce the law. The Bill seems to go quite wide. We do not want to put extra burdens on the police. I believe that the reason for that wording is that it has been used in all the conservation Bills, covering badgers, plants and so on.

Why is there no reference to the code of conduct which I believe advises people about the collection of protected wild plants?

I come now to the question of animals. We are indebted to my noble Friend, Lord Cranbrook for this part of the Bill, with the exception of the large blue butterfly, which has come from the entymologists. My noble Friend makes a modest claim to being a bat-fan, but I believe that he is one of the greatest living experts. We have all been dive-bombed by bats—bats in the bedroom, not the belfry. I can say with experience that the best way to swat a bat is with a tennis racket, because it does not affect the bat's radar, and he cannot take evasive action. No doubt it is heresy to say that in the context of the Bill.

I hope that I am not betraying a confidence when I say that my noble Friend told me that he was very pleased that the dormouse was included, because he wanted at least one cuddly animal in the Bill. If he had met the fruit-bat, which lives in the Cocoa de Mer Forest in the Seychelles, as I have done, he would say that that animal is also eminently cuddly—a kind of cairn terrier with wings. However, it does not come under the Bill.

I have two questions about the animal part of the Bill. With regard to the ringing of bats, one accepts that it is important that they are not disturbed in their caves, particularly when they are hibernating. Should not the Bill also say that they should not be disturbed for the inspection of those with rings already on them?

Secondly, will the Minister examine the effect of the Rabies Act on the Bill? Some bats are very prone to rabies. The Act includes provisions for orders for the complete destruction of wildlife in affected areas. Therefore, in some respects the two measures run counter.

With those reservations, I have no hesitation in supporting the Bill and wishing it well. Unlike the plants and even small creatures in the Australian desert, which can bloom and come to life again after 50 years, our plants and creatures cannot come to life after such an interval. Once a species is extinguished, it is gone for ever, thereby impoverishing our national heritage.

11.50 a.m.

Photo of Mr Alan Clark Mr Alan Clark , Plymouth, Sutton

I hesitate to add my congratulations to those of my hon. Friends to the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) lest the universal approbation of the Opposition should be embarrassing. Yet certainly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) said, the hon. Gentleman has added further testimony to the care for the countryside which he showed in the debate only two days ago when he spoke so eloquently about forestry.

I should like to say what a relief it is and how remarkable it is that the House should be discussing a subject which is in no way related to productivity or efficiency or any of the contentious subjects with which we seem to preoccupy ourselves until such late hours. I am grateful for this opportunity of making a somewhat wider point which it might be appropriate for the House to take on record. That is that so much of the danger to those which the Bill seeks to protect arises from the use of mechanical and chemical contrivances which are often introduced for quite another purpose. In so many cases it is the local authorities which are to blame in their widespread and often indiscriminate use of chemicals and particularly in their use of mechanical hedge-cutters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) referred to the danger and the unfortunate consequences of totally removing hedges. But it is equally true that the decline in the old craft of hedging and the increasing use of brutal mechanical cutters, which just slice the tops off the hedges, deface them and disturb the nesting and breeding habits of those who inhabit the hedges, will in time lead to a gradual and very disagreeable alteration in the appearance of the areas in which they are used.

This might lead the House to consider a fundamental point: that these contrivances and devices of chemical spoilage are introduced so as to substitute machines and formulae for labour. Efforts are being made to reduce the labour intensity of industries, crafts and occupations which have tended the countryside for many centuries. Is it not appropriate that we should start considering whether we should make it possible to reintensify—if one may use that disagreeable jargon verb—the labour content used by all those who care for the countryside, and make it worth while for those crafts and occupations to be revived? Should we not recognise that the value of the labour of those who tend the countryside is, in terms of the quality of life, so much greater and more important than that of those who work on a production line in industry and employ the kind of powers that they do to extract ever-greater sums of money from the economy?

It is measures such as these which, when the House listens to them, and the quiet eloquence with which they are put forward, will help us and the country to realise that there is a sector far more deserving of our vigilance and care than some of those which we deal with night and day.

11.53 a.m.

Photo of Mr Stephen Ross Mr Stephen Ross , Isle of Wight

First, I apologise for having an extreme cold. I also apologise to the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), but I congratulate him on having introduced the Bill. I apologise to him because I did not hear all of his speech. What I did hear of it I thoroughly enjoyed, and I shall certainly read the remainder in Hansard.

My interest in this matter is that I am chairman of the branch of the World Wildlife Fund in my constituency, which happens to have been reasonably successful in that it sends the third or fourth largest donation in the country to the national headquarters of the fund—over £1,000 regularly every year. There is also on the Isle of Wight a very active natural history association, of which my wife is a very keen member.

I want to take up a point made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) when he dealt with the matter of hedges and mechanical machinery, which is unfortunately, as he rightly said, destroying the hedges purely by topping them, and there is none of the old craft of laying, or very little of it, being done. As the hon. Gentleman raised the subject, perhaps I may make a plea that we should somehow be persuading agriculturists—and I am one—at least to leave some of the elm saplings, because this country will be completely denuded of elms within the next few years unless we do so. Certain countries have seen the death of almost 100 per cent. of their elms. I have tried injecting my elms, but I am afraid that it has not worked. I have some 50 elms around my home, and I have seen them die off one by one.

Although it has nothing to do with the Bill, perhaps we could leave some saplings.

I like Clause 12. It gives the Nature Conservancy Council the power, at any time—it says "may"—and in any case five years after the passing of the Bill and every five years thereafter to review the schedules. I hope that the schedules can be extended in Committee.

May I also plead for the addition to Schedule 1 of a very rare butterfly—the Granville fritillary. In Britain it is unique to the Isle of Wight. It comes from the Continent, but it certainly breeds and lays eggs on the island, and in a mild winter it survives.

I should like to refer to the plight of the red squirrel. It may not be the time to include that in this particular Bill, but it is well worth thinking about rather more seriously. There are some parts of the United Kingdom where it still survives. It certainly survives on the Isle of Wight, where we do not have the invader—the grey. If the red squirrel is to be driven out of the British Isles generally, at least we could preserve it in one particular quarter—the Isle of Wight.

I must tell the House an amusing story of the efforts taken to keep out the grey. One grey from the New Forest got on the ferry from Lymington one day. It was spotted when it reached Yarmouth. The RSPCA and a number of people tried to catch it. It ran down the side of the ferry and even swam in Yarmouth Harbour. A few people got bitten in the process, but it was finally caught. It was taken back to the New Forest and released there. We went a long way to keep the grey out. The longer we do so the better.

Certain wild orchids abound in my constituency. Some people might be consulted about them.

I am sure that the Bill will be given an unopposed Second Reading. However, I should like to express the hope that possibly the schedules could be extended even at this stage.

11.58 a.m.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

Having intervened in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), I feel that I, too, should express my apologies to the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) for not being present during his speech. He will probably realise that the parliamentary timetable this week has not been conducive to a large attendance for the Second Reading of his Bill this morning. But that does not indicate any lack of interest.

As the hon. Member for Rother Valley will realise, my immediate reaction was one of some doubt about a Bill which appeared to impose a considerable number of restrictions, because I have the general feeling that we pass too many Bills and impose too many restrictions on our fellow citizens. However, I have been examining the Bill more closely. In the light of that, I do not find any specific objection. It has been carefully drawn. It is the kind of Bill which needs to be carefully drawn, because it would be so easy for people with motives other than the hon. Gentleman's to add to the schedules, and one does not want that to happen. I hope therefore that the hon. Member will not get the impression that he might have got that I am opposed to it.

I have one query about the dormouse as it is covered by Schedule 1. Presumably the fact that the Latin name is given in the right-hand column will isolate the dormouse the hon. Member has in mind. There is, however, the edible dormouse or the glis-glis, which is a serious pest in South Buckinghamshire. I should hate to think that it would be protected by the Bill since we want to get rid of it. I imagine that, although it might have the same English name as the dormouse to be proteced, its Latin name will be different and, therefore, the point will be covered.

12.02 p.m.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I am delighted to speak on behalf of the Government and to join every hon. Member who has spoken in expressing appreciation to my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) for the excellent service which he has done the cause of the environment and the House in using his opportunity to promote the Bill. As hon. Members have said in paying tribute to him, this is not the first time this week that he has shown a tremendous interest in the whole question of the protection of the environment.

I hope I may be forgiven for introducing a personal note. I am also very pleased to have this opportunity to speak because I usually speak in the House only on the subjects of sport and recreation. I do not think it is yet generally understood that when in July the Prime Minister redesignated my portfolio to cover sport and recreation he intended to create within the Department of the Environment a new Ministry on reasonably equal terms with the existing three—local government, transport and housing—to deal with much wider questions concerning the growth of leisure and the quality of life. This is the first time I have had the opportunity to speak on such a measure since then and I therefore particularly welcome it.

I could not put my present purpose better than to use the words of the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) when he said that the Bill was about improving the quality and enjoyment of life. I think that he expressed there the responsibilities I am now presumed to undertake within the Government, and that is very much to the good.

We already have a number of measures on the statute book which are designed to conserve various kinds of wild animals, and there have been several unsuccessful attempts over the years to devise means of protecting plants. About a year ago the Wild Plants Protection Bill was introduced in another place. We then had its successor together with the Conservation of Wild Creatures Bill, which were again debated in the other place in October. As my hon. Friend explained, his Bill is amalgamating these two previous Bills.

In the course of my new duties I have become aware of a rather rare species which perhaps symbolises this union. It is the lizard orchid. I wonder whether my hon. Friend will advise us whether it should appear in Schedule 1 or Schedule 2

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

It is found only on the Government Front Bench.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

There may be some orchids on the Government Front Bench, but very few lizards. No doubt in Committee we can turn our attention to these matters in greater detail.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

That particular species would go with the wild plants and it would join the monkey orchid, which presumably occupies the Opposition Front Bench.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I am delighted at the political connotations which have appeared in what I thought was a pleasantly non-controversial Bill.

I wish to pay tribute to the collaborators of the two original Bills as well as to my hon. Friend and the people and voluntary organisations who have co-operated with my Department in the discussions which preceded the introduction of the Bill. As a result, most of the text of the Bill will be commendable to all sections of the House. I therefore need not detain hon. Members for very long, because as far as I know none of the interested bodies has expressed opposition to it. Indeed, the reverse is the case.

I do not think that any intelligent person these days would in any way question the need to protect and preserve our species of animals and plants. I am glad that many organisations and particularly the schools, to which I pay tribute, have taken up the cause of the environment and the need for protection in an interesting and exciting way in recent years. I hope that they will find this measure a just reward for all their efforts.

My hon. Friend mentioned particularly the Nature Conservancy Council and the Friends of the Earth, and I join him in paying tribute to those organisations for their pioneering work. When he was speaking in the House of Lords on this matter, Lord Beaumont gave an example of the summer lady's tresses orchid which, he said, had become extinct in around 1947 due to drainage and clearance in the New Forest. I was interested that a number of hon. Members today have drawn attention to the fact that action such as this, and not simply uprooting, can affect such plants. In Committee we might have another opportunity to discuss those aspects of developing the countryside which endanger the species covered by the Bill as well as other species.

When I read Lord Beaumont's remarks I was surprised to see that the orchid he referred to was extinct. However, it seems to be illustrated in Keble Martin's excellent "Concise British Flora" in colour. The author of that excellent work died in 1969 at the ripe old age of 92 and he worked on his drawings, I gather, from about 1918 to 1965. That presumably means that he drew this orchid when it was still flourishing. The fact that we have such an illustration in colour and the fact that Lord Beaumont thought it right to mention it illustrate the terrible dangers of failing to take action. The picture must now be regarded as a memorial to that orchid, but for the sake of future generations we must take steps to protect such lovely flowers as the Cheddar pink. Also appearing in the schedule is the military orchid, a very upstanding flower, I suppose. For the sake of future generations, we must ensure that such a gloomy fate does not befall the military orchid and other flowers.

This species has been persecuted by gardeners and collectors and is now found only in a handful of places in Oxfordshire and East Anglia, and it is right that it should have found its way into the schedule.

Hon. Members have also mentioned species which interest them and which are listed in both schedules. I listened with interest to the discussion about the dormouse, and I had a little sympathy with the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell). No doubt in Committee we can discuss whether we should add to the schedules. I confess that I was surprised to see the dormouse included in the schedule. It seems to have a great attraction for hon. Members—no doubt going back to the days of Alice and similar pieces of literature. Someone said that there is a natural affinity between dormice and children, so that if it is in any danger it ought to be protected.

The House may be interested to know that the Bill follows closely the drafting of some earlier statutes, particularly the Protection of Birds Acts of 1954 and 1967, the Deer Act 1963, the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 and the Badgers Act 1973. The Bill appears to fill an immediate gap in our law relating to conservation of native species and wildlife and represents a useful addition to those earlier measures.

Hon. Members may also feel, as I do, a certain uneasiness about the way in which, from time to time, we have debated these matters in a rather piecemeal fashion. It is helpful that we should begin to concentrate our attention on the problems and upon legislation. I am therefore glad to tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has asked the Nature Conservancy Council, in consultation with voluntary bodies, to take a thorough look at the adequacy and effectiveness of our existing legislation dealing with environmental and similar matters. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) has already mentioned the important rôle of the council. While we intend to have a thorough and comprehensive look at this, I can say that the Government see no reason why the Bill should not be proceeded with. We regard the Bill as complementary to the review we are asking the Conservancy Council to carry out on our behalf.

Above all, a measure such as this must be educative in nature. The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) made that point forcibly in drawing our attention to the excellent provisions of Clause 13. Since I have already paid tribute to what the schools are doing, I hope that Clause 13 will give them further support. An Act can be most useful in bringing home to people the need to preserve our native wildlife. It is important that this should be backed up by suitable publicity. This is one of the aspects of this measure, should it find its way on to the statute book, at which my Department will be looking. I am glad to say that the voluntary organisations have produced a poster depicting most of the rare species of plants which would be protected by the Bill. There is clearly scope for an extension of that approach in helping with the educational aspect.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) doubted whether there would be many prosecutions following upon the passage of this measure. We all hope that there will be few prosecutions. Our hope is that the educational nature of the Bill will make them unnecessary. I have no doubt that from time to time prosecutions will be necessary. I again express the hope that such prosecutions in well-merited cases will enhance public awareness of the importance of protecting wildlife.

The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield told us that at one stage he had his doubts as to how far prosecutions would be proper. On reflection he has kindly said that he thinks prosecution would be an effective means of backing up the main educational purposes of the Bill.

We are satisfied that the general approach to the creatures and plants covered by the schedules is about right. The species listed in the schedule constitute a reasonable list of those threatened at present. We can look at individual cases later. It is important to recognise that the Bill is designed to afford complete protection to the scheduled species which are truly in danger. Unlike, for example, the Birds Acts, it does not provide for partial protection of the species which are uncommon but not threatened by possible extinction.

It is for that reason that it would be inappropriate to add species to the schedule without strong justification. It is in that respect that the views of the Conservancy Council will be much respected. It is for that reason that we think it right to ensure, as the Bill does, that the council reviews the whole situation every five years.

I was asked about the pet trade and whether it had been consulted. So far as we know, no discussions or consultations have been held with it. Most of the creatures mentioned in the schedule are not normally regarded as pets, except possibly the dormouse. We did not think it was appropriate for the Government to engage in discussions, although if there are any representations we will be glad to receive them.

Photo of Mr Stephen Ross Mr Stephen Ross , Isle of Wight

I am concerned about the importation of pets, particularly such creatures as tortoises, which die in large numbers on their way to this country. I wonder whether in the review to which the Minister has referred the Government or the Department should look at the trade in imported pets such as parrots and other creatures which are brought into an alien environment. Many of us would like to see that trade banned completely. Does the review cover that?

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I do not think so but I could certainly arrange for it to do so if I thought it was relevant. I am not sure, from what the hon. Gentleman has said, that it is relevant to the Bill. I think that the considerations he has been raising are more to do with a concern about cruelty to animals and certain birds. If he can convince us that this ought to be looked at for the purposes of the Bill, I will gladly arrange for the Conservancy Council to do so.

Doubt was raised on the general question of uprooting. We gave a great deal of thought to the present legislation, particularly as Clause 4 is rather wide. We were concerned that children and others would not be unnecessarily prosecuted if they went into the countryside and inadvertently, through ignorance, uprooted certain of the species.

We had to strike a balance and I think that the wording "without reasonable excuse" is sufficient and strikes the correct balance between people who may have acted ignorantly and those who may have wilfully gone around, for one purpose or another, uprooting plants. If necessary this is something we can look at in Committee. I would just add on this question that the need to prove intent permanently to deprive, which is necessary under the Theft Act, makes it almost impossible to mount a successful prosecution under the Act.

We have also found a difficulty under the Criminal Damage Act. The need to prove damage to property of some value plus a criminal intent makes it almost impossible to prosecute. In that respect the powers under the Bill are of considerable importance and will, I think, be welcomed by all environmentalists.

In his opening speech my hon. Friend made some very interesting comments on the subject of badgers. He said that the Bill would be a proper vehicle for dealing with the problem which had recently come to light. My hon. Friend is in an authoritative position to make those comments since two years ago he introduced the Badgers Bill to the House. Therefore, when he gives advice to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to authorise a certain degree of gassing of badgers, since he has been anxious to protect badgers we can accept his advice as extremely authoritative and important. The subject of badgers raises a great deal of concern among ordinary people.

My hon. Friend told us today that he is prepared to accept a new clause as a result of the infection of cattle with tuberculosis which, I am advised, has become an extreme difficulty in parts of Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. Learned people have discovered that it is almost certain now that the cause of this repeated infection of the cattle, which had not been previously appreciated, was a strain of badgers which acted as the carrier and infected the cattle. This is a difficult and delicate problem which I hope we can discuss fully in Committee, when I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be serving with me to advise hon. Members of the importance of the agricultural considerations in that respect.

If the House and the Committee accept that the best way to deal with the problem of the infection of cattle with tuberculosis is to use this Bill as a vehicle, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley, the Government will be pleased to do so. I emphasise that the new clause would not permit badgers to be gassed by any occupier at any place for any reason. If the House agrees to these powers, I give an assurance that they will be used sparingly and only to the extent that evidence and experience show them to be necessary to protect the cattle population.

This measure will help to stop the destruction of badgers by inhumane means, which I know causes a great deal of public concern. I hope that this short statement will allay any public doubt as to the purposes the Government have in mind.

In this respect Parliament is acting in the classical tradition. We have been stimulated and encouraged to act by the concern and the campaign of a dedicated number of people, and especially by a number of first-class voluntary organisations in which the Nature Conservancy Council and the Friends of the Earth have taken the lead. In expressing national concern, our hope must be to protect our wildlife.

By enacting this legislation Parliament will be giving a strong educational lead to public opinion, expressing support for all those people and organisations who have helped us to create an acute awareness of the dangers of allowing the existing situation to deteriorate even further and, most important, to provide an Act of Parliament which may be effectively used for the purposes we have in mind.

For all those reasons I commend this measure to the House and I express the appreciation of the Government to hon. Members for the support and constructive approach which they intend to show during further stages of the Bill.

12.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

First, with permission, may I express my sincere thanks for the kind words uttered by hon. Members on both sides? I should like to reply to some of the points made by hon. Gentlemen and to offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), whom I have not seen occupying a position on the Front Bench before.

No attempt has been made to ignore economic reality. We recognise that good agriculture and good forestry must be maintained. The Bill does not seek to prevent evolution. For example, if a plant is to disappear because of climatic change, we cannot prevent that. We can seek to build an arrangement for protection which will give those creatures and plants an opportunity to survive if they can survive within the present environment. The Bill in no way prevents someone from picking a dandelion from a lawn. The Bill is designed to prevent irresponsible people from pulling up plants on land belonging to other people or the community.

The stop-and-search provision, as the hon. Gentleman suspected, is in line with similar legislation. It is appropriate that we should not provide too many varieties of clause of that kind.

The Bill will deal with the question of disease. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the rabies legislation. There is an adequate arrangement for that situation in my Bill, a situation which we hope will never arise, but we must be prepared to deal with it drastically if necessary.

Mention was made of the ringing of bats. A good deal of bat-ringing has taken place and is extremely harmful to the species. However, the Bill recognises that scientific and educational research and activity have to proceed. For that reason we have the arrangement for the exemptions allowed by the Nature Conservancy Council, which will operate in the same way as exemptions offered by the same body under the Badgers Act.

My right hon. Friend suggested that we should be cautious in adding the names of creatures and plants to the schedules. We must be sure that the inclusion of any name in the schedules is based on good scientific argument. Whilst I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), I was grateful for his promise to read our speeches in Hansard, which seems to be a declining practice. He said that there was a rare butterfly in the Isle of Wight, and he particularly stressed the position of the red squirrel. I listened with great sympathy. There are some red squirrels in my constituency. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food seemed reluctant at the time of the warfarin order to accept that I had seen what I described two or three days before.

Red squirrels are on the boundary of threat. If red squirrels in the Isle of Wight were included in Schedule 1 and given regional protection we should find a great deal of clamour from areas such as mine where the species is found. That could lead to a considerable amount of argument. At this stage it is essential to include measures which can be clearly accepted, overwhelmingly approved and put on the statute book rather than see difficulty, delay and possible embarrassment about arguments of a regional kind. However, we must first get the Bill on the statute book and gain experience in its operation.

Parliament has been in existence for a very long time. Through the centuries it has seen many crises and many days of great difficulty. It has weathered those crises. We face many crises and difficulties now. It would be highly in accord with the history of Parliament if, despite the difficulties and crises that we face, we could demonstrate that we had faith that there would be a future which should not be one of barren and desolate monotony. I commend the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).