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Schedule 5 - Enforcement powers in connection with wildlife

Part of Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity) 6:30 pm, 28th June 2005

I will return to that point at the end of my remarks, because there remain other issues worthy of consideration. There are also human rights issues, which I might need to consider. There is also a real need to ensure consistency of enforcement powers across legislation.

To some extent, there are alternative remedies. We are dedicated to the effective enforcement of wildlife legislation, as we have been saying today. Nevertheless, there is a real need to focus resources sensibly. Appropriate offences are listed in the 1981 Act, with appropriate penalties per offence, including a custodial sentence that we hope will act as a deterrent to those considering committing a crime. Where offences have been committed, we will pursue prosecutions with vigour. The amendments to schedule 6 will assist effective investigation and enforcement.

Individuals must apply for a licence to move certain European protected species. That would cover, for example, moving bats from a disused barn that is about to converted into a dwelling.

Tree preservation orders may be applied to trees that have an amenity value. Wildlife habitat may be taken into account when designating an order, which can be issued at very short notice. The relevant inspectors already have the necessary powers to gain access to land to assess any application, so if, for example, my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw has constituents who are concerned about bats in trees, and if they suspect that an offence might be committed against bats in a tree, they have the power to use a tree preservation order to protect those bats. Similarly, all hedgerows more than 20 m in length that are not part of a garden are also already protected. Anyone proposing to remove a hedgerow must apply to the local authority for permission to do so.

To some extent, therefore, we have other remedies for some of the important problems raised by my hon. Friends. However, the amendment raises timing issues about wildlife offences, as my hon. Friend the. Member for Bury, North said, such as what powers the police should have to enter land on which an offence has been or is likely to be committed. Those are difficult issues, and they call for a judgment to be made about the protection of wildlife on the one hand, and landowners’ rights on the other. I am not in a position right now to make a judgment about how that balance should be struck.

I have promised to give due consideration to the subject raised by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, and I have also promised to take action on non-native invasive species for the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall, so it would seem churlish not to promise my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw and my other hon. Friends that we will consider the matter with colleagues and return on Report or at a later stage to tell them whether we can take this important issue a little further. On that basis, I urge my hon. Friend to withdraw the amendment.