Clause 20 - Environment control of animal and plant species

Infrastructure Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 6th January 2015.

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Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport) 9:25 am, 6th January 2015

I beg to move amendment 30, in clause 20, page 12, line 33, at end insert—

“(iii) which is not a species of Community Interest as defined under the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992)”

We move on to the question of invasive non-native species—an appropriate part of the Bill, given that we have been discussing the insertion of matters into the Bill that were never there when it was first introduced.

As we made clear on Second Reading, Labour supports a proper control regime to control invasive non-native species. They are one of the main causes—or at least a very significant cause—of global biodiversity loss. They compete for resources; they destroy habitats and result in the extinction of native plants and animals. They can pose a significant threat to health and can introduce new diseases and parasites. They are estimated to cost the economy £1.7 billion a year, including £1 billion to the agriculture and horticulture sectors and more than £200 million to the construction, development and infrastructure sectors. Early eradication is therefore crucial, and the species control orders created in the Bill will help to ensure that effective action can be taken.

We have tabled the amendment because we do not believe that the scope of the provisions and the definitions in the Bill are fit for purpose. As originally drafted, the Bill defined a species as being subject to control orders if they were listed in part 1 or part 2 of schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 or were “not ordinarily resident” in Britain. That included a number of species which had been native but had become extinct, or were considered native, including six native species that had been established in Britain. These include the capercaillie—I think I have the pronunciation right. It is amazing the things I have found out in prepping for this part of the Bill; I did not originally think they would be the responsibility of a shadow roads Minister, but there you go. As well as the capercaillie, those species include the common crane, the red kite, the goshawk, the white-tailed eagle and the wild boar.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

I should not have left myself open to that. I am absolutely not going to take any interventions on it.

Two species are beginning to return; the night heron and the eagle-owl. Four have been here all along; the barn owl, the corncrake, the chough and the barnacle goose. The Bill as initially drafted would have meant that all those species could be subject to eradication or control, so we are pleased to press the Government to amend these species lists. There is now a new category of “not normally present” in the Bill, but, like Wildlife and Countryside Link and Friends of the Earth, we still have significant concerns about the Government’s definitions, which my colleagues in the team shadowing Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have raised with me. As drafted, the legislation could classify absent native species, recently reintroduced native species and those naturally spreading in range as a result of climate change as non-native. They would therefore be subject to the new control orders.

This is not about abstract parliamentary provisions. The Government’s definitions could have real and damaging consequences for Britain’s wildlife. I want to talk specifically about the example of the European beaver. Although it has been absent for some time, it is undoubtedly native and is living wild in the UK today. While beavers largely died out in Britain about 500 years ago, there are several known populations of beavers in Britain today: there is one population in Devon and two in Scotland: the one in Argyll is an official trial reintroduction which is due to conclude this year, I understand, and has been widely described as successful. The other populations are made up of beavers that are likely to have escaped from wildlife centres and have begun to breed in the wild. The Government propose to make a native, established and growing British species subject to powers and techniques aimed at controlling invasive species. Is this something that the Minister really wants to do?

To date, there have been 157 beaver reintroductions throughout Europe, and there are free-living populations in around 30 European countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium and France. In 2009, a Natural England report outlined the clear benefits of the reintroduction of beavers in the UK. That report explained how beavers can improve fish stocks; how, by slowing water naturally, beaver dams can reduce the risk of flooding; and how beavers have the potential to deliver wider benefits such as tourism. In areas where wild populations are present, the public are strongly against the control of beavers as an invasive species.

I am sure that the Minister is aware of the situation on the River Otter in Devon, but for the benefit of other hon. Members I shall set it out. There have been rumours of wild beavers on the River Otter for the best part of a decade and there have been confirmed sightings within the past year. The Devon Wildlife Trust has applied for a licence to release beavers into the wild, and almost 8,000 people have signed a petition against DEFRA controlling the free beavers living on the River Otter in Devon. Local people do not seem to want the Government to control those beavers. They want to monitor their existence, ensuring that they are healthy and cause no problems to other riverbank users. Friends of the Earth has launched a legal challenge against the Government’s position, stating that because beavers were native in  Britain before they were hunted to extinction they must be protected under European law. DEFRA now appears to have made some concessions, and we understand that the Department plans to test the beavers for disease closer to Devon rather than in York, as previously proposed. This part of the Bill does not only pose a threat to the beaver. Concerns have been raised that the wild boar, which was also re-established as a significant species in the UK, will now be subject to control orders.

The amendment is about getting definitions right. Along with non-governmental organisations such as Friends of the Earth, we propose that the EU habitats directive is given due regard within these definitions. The directive, which was adopted in 1992, aims to protect the 220 habitats and 1,000 species listed in its annexes. Those have to meet certain criteria and are species and habitats considered to be of European interest. Article 12 of the directive states that all species listed in its fourth annex require

“strict protection…in their natural range”.

The species listed in the annex include the European beaver, providing it with clear legal protection.

On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Bristol West said that our duties under the directive

“extend only to protecting those European-protected species whose natural range includes Great Britain.”—[Official Report, 8 December 2014; Vol. 589, c. 740.]

Given what I have set out about established wild populations in this country and the fact that they were formerly native before being hunted, we suggest that there is a very good argument for the beaver’s natural range including the UK. The hon. Gentleman set out the fact that exemptions in the directive can also apply in certain circumstances, such as for public health or environmental protection. That is a reasonable point, and I know of the concern that some beavers carry a potentially deadly disease called EM.

It is important to monitor and test these populations. However, they do not appear to pose a significant “public health threat” at the moment. Our amendment would ensure that these protected species, which are considered to need strict protection in their natural range, would not be subject to species control orders. If the Government go ahead with this, there is a strong risk that they will not be compliant with the obligations in the habitats directive, as shown by the Friends of the Earth’s legal challenge regarding the situation in Devon, which I mentioned earlier. First the badger, now the beaver and the wild boar—the Government’s track record on this issue is really not very good.

The Minister has been fond of quoting literature in our discussions so far, both on Second Reading and in Committee.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

Well, I was not going to talk about “The Wind in the Willows”, as I was thinking about “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C. S. Lewis. Hon. Members will remember that Mr and Mrs Beaver occupied quite an important role in that book and were certainly not a  species that anyone thought should be subject to control orders or even TPIMs, if that was the Government’s next idea.

However, quite seriously, we can see what the Government are getting at with this provision. Whether an infrastructure Bill is the right place to do it is another matter, but we can see what they are getting at. It needs to be changed, however, because I cannot believe that the Government really want to put the kind of species that I have been talking about at risk in this country. I hope that the Minister listens to the extensive concerns about the provisions in the Bill expressed by stakeholders outside the House. Incidentally, I think that that shows the importance of giving such stakeholders the time to comment on and scrutinise the Bill. I hope that we can improve the definition of non-native invasive species so that we can get the control regime right from the start. A firmer line in relation to the habitats directive is the way to do that, and that is what the amendment is all about.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

I wish to address the schedule introduced by this clause and I trust I will be able to do that now. I seek your guidance, Sir Roger, on whether we will have a stand part debate on the clause, in which case it might be better for me to address my remarks at that point.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member) 9:45 am, 6th January 2015

It is unlikely, but certainly not impossible, that we will have a stand part debate, so if the hon. Gentleman wants to touch on issues relating to this clause then he is entitled to do so and I will allow that. The schedule is not grouped with the clause so there is no ordinary provision for discussion of matters contained in the schedule at this time. That will occur later. Why don’t we give it a go? If the hon. Gentleman is out of order, I will tell him.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

Thank you, Sir Roger. That is very kind of you and I will listen carefully to any guidance that you issue as I proceed.

Clause 20, interestingly, amends the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 by introducing new schedule 9A. The clause therefore contains an entire schedule, and the new schedule contains—we hope—all the detail of what will happen in species control agreements and orders. I have a few queries about the new schedule. I am sure the Minister will be pleased to hear that during my recent appearance on Jeremy Vine’s show on Radio 2, I assiduously defended species control orders—not, I hasten to add, on behalf of the Government, but as a member of the Environmental Audit Committee. The Select Committee was keen to see such orders introduced and produced a report a while ago on invasive species and how they might best be controlled. I therefore found myself in a position on that radio show of defending these proposals very positively and encouraging their being made law very much on the basis that the Environmental Audit Committee felt that such provision—whether in this Bill or on another occasion—was highly desirable.

The researchers on the show had been assiduous and presented the case of a person who owned a property that was covered in Japanese knotweed. That individual’s  mother had lived there and they had inherited the house, to find that they were faced with potentially a very large bill to eradicate the Japanese knotweed before the property could be sold. A number of estate agents and other bodies are increasingly looking at whether a property has Japanese knotweed within its curtilage as part of the sales process. These days, if there is a large amount of Japanese knotweed in the curtilage of a property, it is likely that, on sale, some arrangement will have to be made to eradicate it. Of course, the control orders will not just be about Japanese knotweed, but that is the most well known of the invasive species that we are talking about.

The question of the costs and the process of clearing invasive species applies in a number of other situations. Killer shrimps from the USA, for example, are established. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield did not come across killer shrimps in his prep.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

Nevertheless, the march of killer shrimps is of concern to a number of people.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

I am happy to give way, as long as it is on killer shrimps.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Liberal Democrat, Taunton Deane

There is speculation among Government Members about who the killer shrimps are killing. Is the hon. Gentleman able to tell us, or has he not done his research as thoroughly as he suggests?

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that question. I am sure the Committee generally would like to know who or what are killed by killer shrimps. They kill other shrimps—native shrimps. They have been introduced from abroad, and in the areas where they have been introduced, they have decimated native shrimps and established their own colonies.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights)

To reinforce the hon. Gentleman’s comments, producer organisations in Northern Ireland are aware of the advance of the so-called killer shrimps in the seas off Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, because they have an impact on local fishing communities. Joking aside, there are issues to be addressed, one of which is the prawn quota. The December Council in Brussels gave fishermen in Northern Ireland a 3% increase in the quota, but if the prawns are not there because of the advance of an invasive species such as the so-called killer shrimp, that will have an impact on the fishing industry and communities across the whole of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

I agree that these issues have considerable ramifications, depending on the species, way beyond the familiar story of not being able to get rid of plants from the back garden. It is about invertebrates, plants and a number of other species.

Another invasive species in fresh water is the signal crayfish, which obliterates native crayfish. Where signal crayfish are established in ponds, a key part of control is to prevent their transfer from one area to another, so a species control order could be placed on landowners in such circumstances. Although the issue is essentially perceived to be about species such as Japanese knotweed, there are other ramifications.

I was slightly diverted down the route of other species but I shall return to the particular case I was presented with. The lady having difficulty selling her property without spending a large amount of money on species eradication provides an example of circumstances in which new schedule 9A might apply. I was asked whether that would be a case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Will householders who have the misfortune to find that a garden that has never been tended contains, unknown to them, a large amount of Japanese knotweed, be bankrupted by the process of eradication?

Looking at new schedule 9A, it is not entirely clear to me how that sort of question can be completely addressed. My answer on that occasion was that the species control order would be applied only in very exceptional circumstances, as would be the power to enter a property and undertake species control on behalf of the environmental authority—in that case, the local authority. Those exceptional circumstances would be where the person who owns the property or the land refuses to do anything about the invasive species, but it is possible that, as a result of them doing nothing, the invasive species will spread to other properties and other areas. Not only would that be detrimental to the general wildlife in the area, but it could cause problems with property values in the surrounding neighbourhood.

In my own area, just a little way up the valley from my house, a number of people got together to form a small club to eradicate Japanese knotweed on their properties. They all put in a small amount of money to make sure that the business was concluded in the whole valley and the Japanese knotweed was eradicated. If one of those people decided they wanted nothing to do with that programme of eradication, the collective work of everybody else in the valley would be undermined. There would be a pool of knotweed or other invasive species on that person’s property that could spread back into the properties of everybody else.

It is clearly very sensible to make an arrangement enabling entry and eradication to take place, even when—in extremis—this is against the wishes of a particular property owner. I welcome the Minister’s comments on what he envisages for such extreme cases, where entry would be agreed for the purpose of species control. Indeed, this is made clear in paragraph 18(4) of the new schedule, which states that:

“The authority may carry out the operation itself or carry out such further work as is necessary”.

Paragraph 18(5) states that:

“The authority may recover from the owner any expenses reasonably incurred by it in doing so”,

but sub-paragraph (6) refers to a previous provision in the new schedule, stating that:

“The authority is not required to make any payment provided for under paragraph 13(2)(b)”.

Paragraph 13(2)(b) sets out the payment that may be made by an environmental authority to an owner—that  is to say, a local authority presumably may, out of the goodness of its heart, decide to provide some compensation to the owner. However, it is not clear in the schedule whether that compensation is based on the property owner co-operating with the species control order, or resisting it. Indeed, to confuse matters further, paragraph 25 enables the Secretary of State to

“make arrangements for the payment of compensation to an respect of financial loss resulting from…a species control order.”

In the new schedule we appear to have two carrots and one stick. There is possibly an arrangement whereby the environmental authority—the local authority—may provide compensation, but is presumably not in its turn compensated by the Government for having compensated the owner. Separately, it appears that the Secretary of State may set up a compensation fund, but it is unclear how that fund will operate. We do not know whether it operates in parallel with the local authority arrangement, or whether it is the local authority arrangement, or whether the local authority may apply to the fund set up by the Secretary of State to provide compensation, the powers for which are provided under paragraph 13. It is clear that the arrangement made by the Secretary of State,

“may secure that compensation is payable only for financial loss above a specified amount”.

Presumably, that amount is specified by the Secretary of State and not by the local authority, which may have made compensation payments separately. If there is a specified amount, there is no mechanism in the new schedule for deciding what it is. It would be interesting to hear whether the Minister considers that he would decide what the specified amount is, and whether the specified amount is such that it could cut across the fact that the local authority might separately have made arrangements to compensate the owner at a different level.

I am attempting to establish whether the new schedule is coherent in what it does as far as the operation of species control orders is concerned. In doing so, let me say that I support the idea that there should be species control orders and recognise that there should be mechanisms by which such orders can be enforced, if necessary against the resistance of a landowner or property owner. However, it is clear that the balance of punishment and reward, as it were, needs to be properly spelled out and set in protocol as far as the environmental authorities are concerned, as they actually have to apply these orders. As the schedule is currently drafted, it is unclear whether that balance has been attained.

I am keen to hear whether the Minister considers that balance to have been attained; whether he considers that there may be further issues to discuss to get that balance right in the schedule; and indeed whether he would be willing to look further at how the schedule might work, to see whether it could clarify further who has responsibility for what and at what point various responsibilities cut across each other. Will he have a look at the schedule again and come back, perhaps at a later stage of our proceedings, to see whether some of those issues can be resolved before the Bill is passed into law?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member) 10:00 am, 6th January 2015

For clarification, I have now satisfied myself that the hon. Gentleman is entirely in order, because—exceptionally and unusually—this is not a schedule to this part of the Bill, but a schedule, contained within the clause, to another Act of Parliament. Under those circumstances, it is entirely proper that it should be debated. That being so, and given the breadth of the debate we have had, I do not propose to hold a clause stand part debate. I say that now, in case it affects any other hon. Member’s interests or wish to intervene.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons), Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons)

In addition to my hon. Friend’s observations, I wanted to say that because—as you said, Sir Roger—the schedule is to another Act of Parliament, it is important when the Minister responds that he explains how it fits in with that Act and what it does to it.

I struggle with some of the language in the schedule. Paragraph 2(3)(b)(i) says:

“in the case of a species of animal, it is a species—

(i) whose natural range does not include any part of Great Britain”.

In that context, does the Minister mean “does not” or “did not”? Are we clear about the use of English there? Similarly, paragraph 2(3)(b)(ii) says:

“which has been introduced into Great Britain or is present in Great Britain because of other human activity.”

An interesting observation would be: “When was it introduced?” What are we dealing with? I know that in the south-east the ring-necked parakeet has appeared. Amazingly, there was one in my garden in Cheshire a few weeks ago, which I took a photograph of. Whether or not that species is extending its range, I do not have a clue. However, it seems that we need a “when” in the explanations. Similarly, because of the gap that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield pointed out, we need a “when” for paragraph 3(a)(ii), which says

“which has ceased to be ordinarily resident in, or a regular visitor to, Great Britain in a wild state”.

My hon. Friend referred to beavers as an obvious positive example, and one hopes that the Bill would not define them as a non-native species. Paradoxically, it seems that the Bill could include the mink but exclude the beaver, which I do not think is what the people who drafted the Bill intended. Can we have some clarity on how that fits and on precisely what is behind the Government’s intentions? I do not think there is much between us, but we have to get it right in the interests of some of our endangered wildlife.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport)

May I belatedly wish you, Sir Roger, and all Committee members a happy new year? Let us hope that we can continue to scrutinise this important matter alongside the other important matters in the Bill in the spirit in which we began before the holiday. Once, Britain ran wild with bears, boars and wolves. Some would say only bores remain, but as the shadow Minister said, that is not an avenue that I intend to explore in our consideration today.

The purpose of the matters we are debating today are well understood. As the hon. Member for Southampton, Test said, they have been debated at considerable length prior to today. Indeed, the Environmental Audit Committee, of which he is a distinguished member, also considered  this matter in some detail, as he said. I have its report here and, as I gather from reading the transcript of those meetings, he was an important contributor. One of its key recommendations was that the Government should indeed strengthen the law and take the powers necessary to deal with these matters with rather more vehemence than is possible currently. In essence, that is what this part of the Bill does. It reflects the concern of that Committee about the effect that non-native species can have, both environmentally—I will deal with all these matters in the course of the debate today—and on other species. That is a well reported effect and a largely deleterious one.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights)

I seek clarification from the Minister—the debate has become very wide-ranging; perhaps this question is within the parameters of the legislation. The shadow Minister referred to capercaillie, at one time a numerous bird across the whole United Kingdom, but not today, while the wild boar is a much more prevalent beast than it was in the past few years. Is there opportunity or scope in the legislation to realise the sporting potential and possible harvest of, for example, either of those species?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport)

That is an interesting question. Of course, wild boar are shot in a number of countries across Europe; indeed, people travel to Europe for that sporting purpose. It is not a matter that I have given detailed consideration to, but I will as a result of the hon. Gentleman’s inquiry. Maybe I can deal with it in the course of my peroration; if not, I will do so subsequently. There is an interesting issue associated with the question he raises, about which I do not want to comment in detail now, but that I will give further thought to. Certainly in legislative terms this part of the Bill has no effect on sporting rights, but I think the hon. Gentleman is making a slightly different point about whether sporting potential is within the bounds of that consideration. That is a matter for debate to which I will give further thought.

Essentially, the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield would remove species of community interest as defined in the habitats directive that are not part of Great Britain’s natural range from the scope of the provisions. While all native species are already excluded from the scope of the provisions, the amendment would effectively remove a number of former native species, including the beaver, mink, wolf and brown bear.

Wolves have not stalked Britain for a considerable time. The hon. Gentleman mentioned C. S. Lewis, and he knows that I am a great admirer of not only Lewis’s works of fiction, but his works of fact, too. I therefore thought that I would respond by quoting Macaulay, because we have not heard enough from Macaulay so far in our considerations—I know that you are concerned about that, Sir Roger. He said:

“The pass was steep and rugged,

The wolves they howled and whined;

But he ran like a whirlwind up the pass,

And he left the wolves behind.”

Collectively, as a people, we left wolves behind some time ago—or perhaps they left us behind. We recognise, however, that in some circumstances reintroductions of  former native species can be merited and desirable. That may not be true of the wolf, but it certainly is true of some other species; indeed, the hon. Gentleman mentioned some of them. The red kite is an obvious example. In fact, one occasionally sees red kites in my part of the world, in Lincolnshire.

As the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, we made amendments in the other place to remove those animals from the provisions where they had been reintroduced lawfully following consideration of their likely impact by a licensing authority. We also introduced the additional requirement that before using the provisions for any formerly native species, the environmental authority must be satisfied that it has no appropriate alternative way to address such an adverse impact. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test raised that point, which, as the shadow Minister and others will know, was also raised in the other place. Essentially, the separation of that category of species from the general assumptions places an additional check on the exercise of the powers.

However, when a former native species has been reintroduced unlawfully, without proper consideration of its impacts, it is entirely appropriate for us to use those powers. To ensure clarity of our intention not to use species control provisions on licensed reintroductions, we will give further consideration to the merits of listing the European beaver alongside other native species in proposed new part IB of schedule 9 to the 1981 Act. As a direct result of the overtures from the shadow Minister and others, I will return to that on Report. Given the circumstances that he described in Devon and the consideration that Natural England is giving to how it responds to the approach made to it, it will be appropriate to debate this matter again.

The view of some local people and organisations that the shadow Minister mentioned is that there may be a case for adding the beaver to the list, and, as I said, I will consider that point—he may be right. I should add that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, the National Farmers Union, the Country Land and Business Association and the Angling Trust all support the Bill’s provisions—as does the hon. Member for Southampton, Test as a matter of principle—which are very much in line with the Environmental Audit Committee’s report.

I must also point out that the application of the provisions to a species of community interest in limited circumstances is entirely consistent with the habitats directive. While the directive provides strict protection for some species of community interest, such protection is not absolute. The directive allows for derogations from protection in certain circumstances, including the reasons for public health and environmental protection. The new provisions do not affect the existing licensing requirements in place in respect of this species. Any action that could affect such a species would still require a licence, in accordance with the habitats directive requirements.

I will now go through a number of points—as speedily as is reasonable—that have been raised in our consideration so far. A question was raised about whether the provisions are in breach of the habitats and birds directives. As I have already said, the provisions are consistent with those directives.

An issue was raised about whether we consulted on adding the European beaver. I have mentioned the beaver already. DEFRA and the Welsh Government consulted on proposals to add the species to schedule 9, as the shadow Minister will know. If the species were added, it would become an ordinary resident of Great Britain and the release could therefore be regulated in England and Wales only by inclusion in schedule 9. Again, the hon. Gentleman knows that. That consultation took place in 2013 and most of the consultees supported the listing, so there is popular support for adding the beaver and, indeed, some local support in Devon.

Views are mixed there: there is considerable local support, for all kinds of reasons. One view is that beavers may assist when there is flooding, by reducing water flow from high ground to lower. The view has been expressed that they can co-exist with other species. Obviously, there are concerns about the otter, but the evidence seems to suggest, at least on the ground in Devon, that beavers co-exist with otter populations, which has been re-established over a considerable time following their demise 30 or 40 years ago. There is also some support for the beaver on the grounds simply that it adds to wildlife diversity. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield described, the beaver is a creature that is widely regarded as edifying and efficacious, certainly from an aesthetic perspective.

However, the hon. Gentleman was also right to raise the issue of disease. We need to be clear about that. The UK currently is free from the disease that he mentioned, EM—I will not attempt to pronounce the long title.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport)

It is far too complex and far beyond me, too.

It is important that we test for that disease, because it has quite dramatic effects. We know that in other countries it has created considerable problems. Ironically, where beavers are located in the wrong places, they can have an adverse effect on flooding, notwithstanding what I said about their reducing water flow. There have been reports in France, Germany, Poland, Slovenia and Denmark that they can cause such problems with flooding. Returning to the issue of disease, several of the beaver populations in those countries show signs of EM. Echinococcus—no, I will not go there, although I was tempted for a moment. In respect of control of that disease and its spread to other species, it can be transmitted to human beings. Essentially, it is contracted via a parasitic worm, which, although typically does not affect the rodent that carries it, can cause cysts on multiple organs of the body, including the heart, lungs and brain, and can prove fatal, so these are not inconsiderable risks and they must not be taken lightly.

Testing of beavers needs to be done as locally as possible. Because I know that concerns have been raised about where the testing takes place, that is another matter we are considering, and Natural England will respond on it. Understandably, the idea of capturing a beaver and sending it to a distant location to be tested is causing worry and doubt. I could go into all kinds of invasive species, but I do not want to prolong the Committee’s consideration unduly. Nevertheless, we are aware of the important issue of the killer shrimp, which was raised by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test.

The problem is that species control orders are not an ideal vehicle for dealing with a whole range of aquatic nuisance or menace, because of the nature of the beast, as it were. Eradication is not a viable option, and the provisions are largely drawn up to deal with those creatures that we can contain. We did not get into it, but there is also the signal crayfish, which the hon. Member for Southampton, Test mentioned briefly, and a number of others. In those kinds of circumstances, the most effective means of dealing with such species is to promote good biodiversity practice, such as through the “Check, Clean, Dry” campaign to slow the spread of a species when it arrives.

In the case of the killer shrimp, that kind of good practice has been reasonably effective in restricting its spread—it is identified in only four locations. It arrived in 2010 and has not had quite the dramatic effect that some feared it might. I do not want to be complacent about that, but we need to apply the right method to deal with different sorts of potential menace that originates with invasive species.

I was asked whether the provisions can extend to widespread species, which was also a matter raised in the Select Committee report. The measures are designed primarily to support national eradication programmes to deal with newly arrived species. In general, it would not be appropriate to use the powers, because it would not be an effective use of resources, apart from anything else, on invasive non-native species that have become widespread. Notwithstanding that, there may be some limited circumstances in which it may be appropriate to use a species control order on widespread species—for example, where the widespread species is being removed by the environmental authority or as part of a local, regional or national eradication programme, or where a widespread species has newly arrived in a geographical area and eradication remains viable. A good example of that would be knotweed which, although it is widespread, has not extended to every locality and where the orders can be used to keep it out of places where it has yet to arrive—they could be, but they are not primarily designed for that purpose.

As the hon. Member for Southampton, Test knows, local authorities are not environmental authorities in the terms described in the Bill. While co-operation with local authorities will become an important part of good practice, in legislative terms they do not form part of what we are considering or scrutinising today.

The other matter that caused concern was compensation paid to landowners. There is a discretionary power to compensate for financial loss resulting from any agreement or order. The circumstances where that may be appropriately set out in a ministerial code of practice include where incidental damage is caused as a result of any operations. That may be a circumstance where compensation would be appropriate.

I will drop a note to hon. and right hon. Members about that, alongside a note picking up some of the specific points raised by other hon. Members in terms of drafting. They were good points, and although it is probably not appropriate to go into great detail about them during the course of this consideration, they seem important and considered. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, for example, raised some specific semantic points about the orders, and I will deal with those. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test also  raised some queries about the details of the legislation’s wording and the implications for its scope and effectiveness, about which I am happy to write to him.

With that, as well as the commitment I have given on beavers and our clear view that the provisions can sit comfortably with the habitats directive requirements, I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield might seek to withdraw his amendment. Just to encourage him to do so, I will also deal in the note with the other matter that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test raised, about how this affects other legislation, which is a perfectly good point. That is better set out authoritatively in some detail in a further note to the Committee.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

We have had an interesting and, as you said, Sir Roger, wide-ranging debate on the amendment and the questions that it raises. As the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test illustrated perfectly, the ramifications of this part of the Bill are very wide indeed. I concentrated my remarks on mammals and birds and the ramifications of what may or may not be covered. We heard about Japanese knotweed, and the hon. Member for Strangford reminded us about killer shrimp. Even though it initially caused some mirth, for understandable reasons, it is a serious issue for many communities. The hon. Gentleman also raised the important question of compensation. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston brought out some important definitional points: for example, when we are dealing with species that were present in Britain in the past and were eradicated—by hunting, for example—and then reintroduced, questions of whether we use the past tense or the present tense in this part of the Bill are not simply matters of semantics; they are important definitions that could make a difference. My hon. Friend made some very good points on that.

On both of those points and indeed in response to my remarks, the Minister, with his customary courtesy, agreed to look again, and I welcome that. On the matters, such as compensation, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test, on my question about where testing can reasonably take place, and on the specific question of the beaver, which I talked about at some length in my opening remarks, I welcome the Minister’s offer to come back to those points on Report. However, I am afraid that I will have to disappoint him in relation to the amendment. Even though all of those things are welcome, they do not alter the fact that the amendment is necessary.

It is critical that this piece of domestic legislation cross-references the habitats directive. As a member state, we are not opposed to the directive; we think it is a good thing. The two have to cross-reference. That would provide us with ways of overcoming some, albeit not all, of the problems associated with this part of the Bill. The amendment is designed only to cross-reference the European directive and our domestic legislation. I do not think the Minister is right to be worried that incorporating reference to the directive in the Bill could lead to unfortunate consequences in terms of protecting species and preventing the authorities from controlling them where there is a real risk. He himself said that the directive contains within it the facility for derogation on  specific grounds, particularly public health, so I do not see why we should not have something relating to the directive in the Bill.

I am not being churlish, as if we were rejecting his agreement to look again at various matters. I think his offer is very well meant and we welcome it, but let us also cross-reference with the directive. There is no reason why we cannot do that. I wish to push the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 12.

Division number 4 Decision Time — Clause 20 - Environment control of animal and plant species

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 12 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.