I support the comments of my hon. Friend who has forcefully described the importance of speed in certain instances of wildlife crime. I endorse his remarks. The amendment provides a minor, but significant improvement to the powers of the police. I should also like to identify one or two anomalies to highlight the importance of the amendment.
The powers given to wildlife inspectors, as described in schedule 5 and clause 44, are greater than the extended powers that we are proposing for constables.
Existing powers enable constables to enter land if they have reasonable suspicion that an offence has been, or is being, committed. However, the key point is that in many circumstances—my hon. Friend has described a small number of them—wildlife crime could involve the theft of eggs from the nests of protected species, badger baiting or many other examples of offences that might not yet have been committed or be in the process of being committed, but there could be overwhelming evidence to make a constable suspect that they were about to be committed. That seems a powerful argument for extending constables’ powers to enter land in those circumstances.
My second point does not pre-empt the debate on part 6 of the Bill about motorised vehicles on rural roads. However, as things stand, in cases of offences committed in remote rural areas, constables with motorised vehicles might have access to tracks and bridal paths that would enable them to collect evidence that an offence was about to be committed. They might be observing people acting suspiciously, who might have all the tools of the trade for stealing rare eggs, badger baiting or whatever else. Now, the constables would not be able to enter the land adjacent to such tracks and carry out the necessary arrest or conduct their inquiries.
I understand that there may be some resistance to the amendment on the part of those who think it an infringement of the individual landowner’s liberty. Again, I refer back to the earlier debate, in which the Opposition said from time to time that the powers given were too intensive, and that that step represented an infringement of liberty and was tilting the balance a little too far.
It seems to me that many landowners would welcome the powers. Not all landowners are in favour of the kind of offence that we are talking about. We should be clear that this is not an extension of powers that would inevitably or automatically impact on the freedoms, liberties or privacy of landowners—indeed, precisely the opposite. The powers would in many cases be supported by landowners, who find all kinds of wildlife offences taking place on their land utterly against their will.
We are considering a reasonable and comparatively minor extension of constables’ powers. It would not extend their powers in any way beyond those that wildlife inspectors have at the moment, and many landowners would welcome it because it would increase the ability to conduct inquiries or arrest people committing wildlife offences. I support the amendment and hope that the Minister will consider carefully what has been said.