I beg to move amendment No. 20, in page 2, line 1 at beginning insert—
'( ) In section 8 of the Badgers Act 1973, after subsection (1B), there is inserted—
(1C) A person shall not be guilty of an offence under section 2(3)(a), (b), (c) or (e) of this Act if he is lawfully engaged in the maintenance or improvement of any existing watercourse or drainage works, or the construction of new works required for the drainage of any land, including works for the purpose of defence against sea water or tidal water.".'.
In the storms during 1990, a flood bank in my constituency burst under the attack from the sea. More than 1,000 acres of high quality agricultural land were flooded and one domestic property was affected. The clear cause of the breach in the flood bank was a badger sett. Local farmers had drawn the matter to the attention of the National Rivers Authority, and there had been some debate about what should be done to deal with the problem. The delay militated against any action being taken, and the bank burst, with the consequences that I have outlined. A heavily piled repair was required and was costly. I went to inspect the work with local farmers and found that the badgers were at work again, as is often the case.
There should be an exemption under the Badgers Act 1973 so that those engaged in such flood protection work—the various fluvial and tidal flood defences, of which there are a great many in my part of the world—should be allowed priority.
People and property can be placed in danger. I asked the Wessex region of the National Rivers Authority to carry out a review of this matter throughout the region. In a letter dated 10 July 1990, Mr. Nigel Reader, the regional general manager of the Wessex region of the NRA, said:
I have initiated a survey of all sea, tidal and fluvial flood defences in the Wessex Region, to identify the presence of badger setts. To date, some 10 significant setts have been identified throughout the region together with a smaller number of minor or inactive ones. I agree with your view that it is not in the best interests of safety to allow the matter to continue unchecked. It is for that reason that we are systematically pursuing with the Ministry of Agriculture appropriate methods of dealing with the identified problems, applying one or more of the options outlined earlier to you.
The difficulty is that such consultations, licences and so on take a great deal of time. Responsible bodies are involved in these matters—and they are responsible—and the main one is the National Rivers Authority. However, drainage authorities have responsibility for some areas, and practices differ from one part of the country to another. They should be exempted from the legislation, and my amendment seeks to do that.
There should not be any worry about the welfare of badgers, because it may well be possible to move them from the sites. However, we need legislation to protect people, who are now so conscious of the many ways in which the badger Acts apply that there is an essential nervousness. That was the objective of the legislation, and it has been achieved. I hope that the Bill's promoter will accept this modest amendment in the interests of safety and the countryside. It would in no way affect the welfare of badgers, which we all accept as the paramount purpose of the Bill.
I am sorry that I have not made myself clear. It is question of time. In the past year or two, my part of the world has suffered from storms. When the wind is in the right direction and spring tides coincide, much of my constituency is threatened by the sea. When it is necessary to proceed, it is perfectly reasonable to say that, if badgers are in the way, they should not be considered. That is the aim of my amendment.
I appreciate the concern of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) on this issue. He expressed similar sentiments on Second Reading. I assure him that drainage works or sea defence works, which are especially relevant in his constituency, are covered by clause 2(2), which states that, where damage caused
was the incidental result of a lawful operation and could not have been reasonably avoided.",
section 8(1A) of the Badgers Act, 1973 makes the amendment unnecessary. Such works are also covered by the Bill's licensing provisions—I refer the hon. Gentleman to clause 4(b). I hope that I have given the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks.