Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 2 March 2011.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-8020, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

I am pleased to open the debate on the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill. I thank the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee for its close scrutiny of the bill and its excavation of complex issues, in which it navigated what was often conflicting evidence. At the end of the legislative process, a great many people must be thanked. They include the Finance Committee and the Subordinate Legislation Committee, which contributed to the lead committee’s scrutiny. Stakeholders’ significant contribution to the bill should also be noted. A wide range of people have invested much time. We should acknowledge that we in the Parliament demand that of people throughout civic Scotland.

The key word in the debate is balance. The Government has tried to produce a bill that maintains a fair and reasonable balance between the sometimes conflicting demands of a wide range of interests, some of which diametrically oppose one another. In the course of the bill process, I feared that some suggestions and amendments would upset that balance. However, I am happy to say that the Parliament took a constructive approach to the issues and conflicts that were before us. I hope that we can all agree that, although the bill will not satisfy all the interests all the time, it will nevertheless satisfy most interests most of the time. That is an achievement in itself.

From the outset of the original consultation to the lobbying e-mails, letters, persuasive press releases and briefings that have been received in the past few days, views have been expressed strongly. However, some subjects in the bill had barely a mention in the stage 3 proceedings, because consensus was reached much earlier. I will mention one or two of those issues for completeness.

The bill will deliver a framework for dealing with invasive non-native species that leads the way in implementing the internationally recognised approach. Invasive non-native species are identified by the millennium ecosystem assessment as one of the most important direct drivers of biodiversity loss and ecosystem service changes. That damage can also be measured by the significant negative impacts on economic interests of invasive non-native species, which cost Scotland an estimated £245 million every year.

I am aware of how important the Parliament considers the code on invasive non-native species to be. The early draft that was provided to the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee has benefited from informal comment and I will issue a public consultation on the code in the next few weeks.

Wildlife crime has loomed over many debates. The scrutiny of the bill sends the message that we are not prepared to tolerate continued persecution of our magnificent birds of prey. I say to those who question whether the problem persists that they should look at the facts. Despite sensationalist pronouncements on one side and almost denialist pronouncements on the other, we know that we continue to find birds poisoned in our countryside. As I have said before, that is a wholly unacceptable state of affairs.

It should now be clear to those who might have doubted us or to those who thought that they could call our bluff that the Government is prepared to act to introduce new measures to combat wildlife crime. If the motion to pass the bill is agreed to, we will press ahead to work with land managers to produce guidance on the new vicarious liability offences, to ensure that everyone has the advice that they need before the planned commencement of provisions this autumn. In looking to the future, we should all hope for an end to the behaviour of the unscrupulous minority who repeatedly tarnish the reputation of the majority of responsible estates in Scotland.

I will touch on an issue that emerged too late to be considered in relation to the bill. Some members will be aware that amendments were sought to protect the Scottish wildcat but could not be developed without proper consideration and consultation. Those who know me will know that I have a great attachment to and fondness for our wildcats, so I am pleased to advise members that the Cairngorms wildcat project will continue to work with estates to benefit wildcats and will work to reduce hybridisation in the coming year. Scottish Natural Heritage has confirmed £30,000 of funding for that under the species action framework. I hope that people who are as concerned as I am about the future of that iconic species will be glad of that. I look forward to the debate.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I call the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

For the purposes of rule 9.11 of the standing orders, I wish to advise the Parliament that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the bill, at the disposal of the Parliament for the purposes of the bill.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

For a second, I thought that an extra Government speech had appeared in the debate.

Labour is very happy to support the bill, but we believe that it could have been better. The bill tidied up rather than took the chance to start with principles and look at what was needed to put them in place. We tried to work constructively with colleagues. Although we have not always agreed with each other, particularly on some of our amendments today, my colleagues on the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee worked hard with colleagues across the chamber to strengthen the original bill. As Roseanna Cunningham said, the Parliament worked with communities, businesses, estates and environmental and animal welfare organisations to try to do what was possible to strengthen the bill. A lot of welcome changes have been made.

I am disappointed that Labour did not get the agreement of other parties across the chamber on the principle of banning snaring. The issue is controversial, but on this side of the chamber, snaring remains a cruel practice, even with the improvements that we have negotiated and legislated on over the previous two sessions of the Parliament. There are still too many instances where even those provisions are ignored. Irene Oldfather and Elaine Murray referred to the evidence. Animals suffer; we know that from the science and research. Snares are indiscriminate; pets still get caught in them.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

What the member says comes as news to me and possibly to other members of the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee. During stage 1, and even stage 2, none of the committee members of a Labour persuasion pressed for an outright ban on snaring.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

They pressed consistently for restrictions on snaring. You see that in the evidence. We were always of the view that it would be very difficult to get a majority on a full ban on snaring. The work that Elaine Murray, Peter Peacock and Karen Gillon did was to try to push the agenda on as far as we could. We were keen to support proposals that other colleagues put at committee and in the chamber today, but we remain convinced that snaring—as currently practised in this country—is not required. We need only look at other countries where snaring does not take place routinely. There are alternatives not only abroad, but in Scotland.

We worked very constructively. The great irony is that a petition to ban snaring that is live in the Parliament was not made a formal part of the process. I say to Mr McArthur that, given the live nature of the petition, our expectation was that it would be discussed in the context of the bill—that was the natural place in which to discuss it—and we remain disappointed that that did not happen. We are particularly disappointed that we could not go further than the minister’s initial offer on the review period, which is the parliamentary equivalent of kicking the issue into touch—into never-never land. Progressive Parliaments have changed legislation; they have changed the ground rules on snaring. I give a commitment today: Labour considers a ban on snaring as unfinished business. We will return to the issue in the next parliamentary session.

We are disappointed that other amendments were not agreed to today. I refer in particular to amendments that Peter Peacock lodged in relation to action on the persecution of wild birds, particularly raptors. We know that those birds are under pressure from illegal killing. Just this morning, a drop in the number of hen harriers was mentioned. There remain concerns about the potentially weakened protection for species such as pine martens and red squirrels. Those concerns should not be ignored. I am keen to ask the minister to set out in her closing speech the further steps that she will take on promoting action on wildlife crime.

We welcome the general provisions on vicarious liability and we are glad that they have remained in the bill. Again, we know that this is a complex issue. It is important to ensure that estate owners take responsibility for what happens on their estates. This area is a classic case of the actions of a few impacting on everyone else. I put on record the welcome hard work that estates in many parts of Scotland have carried out. There remains a problem in certain areas. We should send out the key message: accountability needs to be strengthened.

We welcome today’s discussion; in particular I focus on the amendments on species licensing, deer and biodiversity. Again, the issues are controversial. A clear lead from the Parliament on its priorities is important. I mention in particular the need for a stronger commitment on sustainable deer management. It would have been good to have had that in the bill.

I will finish on the subject of biodiversity. We know that we have not met our targets for 2010, and the amendments proposed by Peter Peacock and Robin Harper both aimed to strengthen our chances of protecting our rich biodiversity. It will not survive without our help. We impact on biodiversity in the legislation that we pass, the Scottish Government’s moves to give a lead and local government’s day-to-day planning decisions. As we pass the bill, we will work strongly and constructively to ensure that its good provisions are implemented, but I wish that we had gone further, particularly on animal welfare and support for the protection of biodiversity. Biodiversity is the basis of our economy, tourism and quality of life, and it would have been good to see more done today.

Notwithstanding those comments, I think that there are strong and constructive elements in the bill. For that reason, we will support it at stage 3.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

I begin by thanking all those who have contributed to the development of the bill and by declaring an interest as a farmer, which I should have done earlier.

To all those who responded to the consultations, to those who provided expert evidence and advice, and to all the lobbying organisations, whatever their point of view, I say a huge thank you. I say a huge thank you, too, to the clerks to our committee, to Tom Edwards from the Scottish Parliament information centre, to the bill team and of course to colleagues on the committee, with whom the bill has been much debated and argued over, for what from my perspective has been the largely good-natured way in which the work and effort has been carried out by all involved. I also thank the minister, particularly for her sympathetic consideration of my amendments.

Today we will pass into law the WANE bill, which is in essence a tidying-up bill. By and large, the bill is welcome and much needed, amending most notably the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996, the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and the Hill Farming Act 1946. In addition, it repeals 18th and 19th century game acts, so its scope is wide ranging.

There is one key element of the bill with which I disagree: the introduction of vicarious liability in part 2. Although I understand and agree with the minister’s motives for introducing vicarious liability—namely, the need to stop raptor persecution—I do not believe that that is the correct way of resolving the problem, especially as it introduces the concept that an individual is assumed to be guilty of a crime or crimes of another individual unless and until he or she can prove him or herself innocent. Notwithstanding the defences offered in the bill, I believe that to be a disproportionate response to the crime of raptor persecution.

However, we are where we are. I look forward to guidance being issued this autumn, before that part of the bill is commenced, and I hope that all those who are directly involved and affected by it will be fully consulted. Perhaps the minister might give us her views on that, particularly on who will be consulted, in her closing remarks.

On a more positive note, I welcome the retention of snaring as a useful tool in the box for the control of foxes, although like Liam McArthur I am somewhat surprised at the apparent divergence of views between—[Interruption.]—on the Labour front benches. I also agree with others that more needs to be done to ensure that snares continue to be developed into an easily monitored restraining device, and I welcome the adoption of Bill Wilson’s amendment to ensure quinquennial reviews of snaring.

Forgive me, I meant to refer to the divergence of views on the Labour front bench between Sarah Boyack and her colleagues in the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee. I was having a senior moment. [Laughter.]

Turning now to the protection of hares, I believe that the Parliament has taken a valuable step forward by introducing a close season for brown and mountain hares, and I for one will be very interested to see what effect that has on hare numbers across Scotland.

With regard to deer management, I hope that we have struck the right balance in inviting SNH to introduce a code of practice on 1 September 2011—a code of practice that will be subject to the affirmative procedure and therefore widely consulted on. I ask the minister, notwithstanding her announcement today, whether that timetable is technically feasible given that, I suspect, the summer recess will not have ended by that date.

The rules on competency to shoot deer have been further tightened up, with an enabling power introduced to deal with the situation if voluntary training schemes are subsequently regarded as inadequate. That, too, is to be welcomed.

Finally, muirburning provision and practice has been altered for the better. A licence for burning out of season introduces a welcome flexibility, and that no burning under normal circumstances is to take place anywhere in Scotland after 30 April is, again, to be welcomed—

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

—particularly in the light of climate change and earlier nesting of ground-nesting birds.

Tonight we will support the bill’s passage into law—

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I am sorry. We really have no latitude.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

In the limited time that is available, I will offer a few observations on the bill and the process that we are bringing to a close. I start by again putting on the record my thanks to the committee clerks, Scottish Parliament information centre staff and other staff who helped us to get to this point, and my thanks to the wide range of individuals, businesses and organisations who gave evidence and provided briefings. It was not always easy to navigate a sensible and workable way through evidence that was often conflicting, but our work would have been immeasurably more difficult if we had been unable to draw on the advice and expertise of stakeholders.

The bill is worth while. It tidies up anomalies and anachronisms and it confronts serious and substantive policy issues. Its importance is a reflection of the value that we attach to the activity that helps to create and sustain our biodiversity and that shapes the landscape and our typically Scottish natural environment. Of course, biodiversity is under threat and more needs to be done to protect it, but for now I am pleased that we have agreed a new reporting requirement, which is linked to existing biodiversity duties.

Whatever satisfaction we take from the bill that we are about to enact, we must pay heed to the advice of Sheriff Drummond, who said that the law in the area is complex, fragmented and difficult to find and that it is difficult to see the direction in which the law is going. That is not good for public understanding or, by extension, for compliance. I repeat the committee’s view that consolidation will be needed before further amendments are made.

Let us consider the changes that we are introducing. Many people might think that we have not gone far enough on snaring, but I think that we have struck an appropriate balance and left the way open for further action, should it prove necessary. Despite steps that have been taken in recent times to improve the design and placement of snares, abuses still occur, sometimes with disturbing consequences. However, on the balance of the evidence that the committee took, I am persuaded—as were all three Labour members of the committee—that the case was made for allowing snaring to continue, as one tool in the predator management box.

Further safeguards are being introduced, including better record keeping and improvements in training on animal welfare. There are also improvements in snare design and use, which must continue. The prospect of a review by the end of 2016 and subsequent rolling reviews will help to ensure that such improvements happen and will keep a focus on an area that will continue to arouse strong emotions. It is sad that the posturing and historical revisionism of Sarah Boyack and Elaine Murray this afternoon leave an unpleasant taste at the end of the process.

I repeat my condemnation of acts of wildlife crime. Despite efforts in recent years to tighten the law and increase resources, the problem persists and in some places it is getting worse. I am delighted that we have added to the armoury of the people who are tasked with combating wildlife crime. The introduction of vicarious liability is welcome, as are the changes to cause-or-permit provisions. Of course, obtaining sufficient proof will be a challenge. Nobody thinks that vicarious liability will be a silver bullet, but we have taken an important step.

All holiday leave for members of partnership for action against wildlife crime is likely to be cancelled as PAWS considers a range of issues. Some people will be frustrated, notably by the Parliament’s unwillingness to adopt the amendments in Peter Peacock’s name that would have introduced an approach of three strikes and you’re out. However, we have sent a strong signal about the need for change. I suspect that if the Parliament has cause to return to the issue in future, such provisions will be the starting point for members and ministers.

We have struck an appropriate balance on deer management. I hope that some of the minister’s comments today will reassure people who were concerned that back-stop powers would be used effectively where necessary in delivering the sustainable deer management that we all want.

I have enjoyed working on the bill, which rightly enjoys and is the product of a great deal of cross-party consensus. I am grateful to committee colleagues for the way in which they approached our collective task. We have worked together to produce a bill that is greatly improved and strikes a good balance between competing claims and demands. It will serve well our natural environment and the people who do so much to help to sustain it. I will be pleased to add my support and that of my party to the bill at decision time.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

For members of the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, reaching this stage of the bill late this afternoon means that we see light at the end of the tunnel. It feels as though the process has been protracted, because of the sheer weight of evidence from various stakeholders and perhaps because of the need to debate amendments at stage 3 on issues that we dealt with at stage 2.

I thank the people who were involved in the work on the bill. The work of the clerks and SPICe went well beyond the call of duty. I thank everyone who contributed to the process.

Many articulated deeply and passionately held views. As I said in the stage 1 debate, it was difficult for members to decipher the true picture because of the sometimes exaggerated claims that were made.

There have been attempts to use the bill to do things that it was never intended to do. The intention behind the bill is to ensure that Scotland’s wildlife and environment are managed successfully in future. It is not a vehicle for land reform or land tenure changes. The amendments that were agreed to at stage 2 and today will lead to a bill that is fit for the purpose for which it was originally intended.

I am pleased that the minister has readily taken on board many of the committee’s recommendations, which we picked up as we went round the country. Examples of that are the catching-up and muirburn provisions, which provide sensible flexibility for work on the hills, taking into account the vagaries of the Scottish weather.

Many safeguards and reviews are also built into the bill, and I have no doubt that we will return to many aspects of it in the future. However, I hope that its various elements are given sufficient time to work before people seek to amend them. For example, I hope that gamekeepers, landowners and land managers do not take their foot off the gas in relation to training, and adhering to the code of practice, on snaring.

Photo of Marilyn Livingstone Marilyn Livingstone Labour

Maureen Watt summed up the debate on banning snaring when she said “I hope that”. For animal welfare’s sake, I hope that it is more than a hope.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

I am confident that, because it has had such an airing at all stages of the bill, the code of practice will be adhered to. Marilyn Livingstone does not live in the real world of the rural economy if she does not realise that gamekeepers and other land managers are not the only ones who are involved in snaring. The code of practice on snaring will not help with illegal snaring anyway; that is a criminal matter and is one for the police.

Similarly, I hope that the estates vigorously pursue the wildlife estates initiative and that they all come on board. If they do not, I suspect that there will be moves to introduce further legislation—such moves would not be unreasonable if wildlife crime, for example, does not shift significantly.

All who are involved in our rural economy wish to manage it sustainably. That does not mean that it should be managed in the same way throughout Scotland. I hope that all involved allow diversity not only in wildlife but in the way in which our land is managed.

I look forward to the passage of the bill tonight.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I thank the clerks and the bill team, whom I burdened considerably, given the size of the amendments that I lodged—although they also had a hand in that. I genuinely thank them for all their efforts in helping me.

I also thank RSPB Scotland, of which I am a member, the Scottish raptor study groups, which do remarkable work in helping our understanding of the condition of our raptors throughout Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and others who helped with the amendments that I proposed today.

The bill has made some good progress, although it has not gone as far as I would have liked. As Roseanna Cunningham rightly said, it is not only what is in the bill that is important, because there have been important policy clarifications along the way. Indeed, there were further clarifications today about the consultation on the powers of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which I hope will happen in the not-too-distant future so that we can get the issue bottomed out properly.

I draw attention to the fact that, in the course of the bill’s passage through the Parliament, we have clarified that its provisions will help to protect the native black bee on Colonsay and other islands. That is a significant and important development.

I welcome the vicarious liability provisions in the bill—I have said that many times throughout its passage—but I do not underestimate the difficulty that there will be in securing any convictions under them. I suspect that some of the estates that are involved in nefarious practices realise that difficulty as well. They are the kind of clientele that can readily afford to get the best lawyers to defend them in the courts. I think that there will be big challenges on vicarious liability, but I genuinely hope that the provisions work. That is why I lodged amendments in that regard, and I am disappointed that they did not make the progress that I would have liked them to make. However, as Liam McArthur said, the amendments have—at least, I hope that they have—explored some territory and opened up future possibilities that we may have to come back to as we continue to monitor what is happening.

One important thing that has been developing is the science of understanding why territories are unoccupied by certain birds. I refer to a book that is being published this week—sadly, it is being published posthumously. It was started by Jeff Watson, who used to work for SNH and was a considerable expert on Scotland’s golden eagles. I remember being in Harris with him many years ago. He pointed out an eagle that was soaring above us and, during a walk around the shoreline that evening, he talked about the problems of protecting raptors. He explained some of the basic science that was being explored then. I hope that those principles go much further in the scientific world, and that we develop our understanding, which is already quite sophisticated, so that it becomes far greater and enables us target our efforts increasingly around good scientific evidence on where things are clearly not right in certain parts of Scotland. I hope that that work continues in the spirit of Jeff Watson’s scientific work.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

I will try to be brief; I apologise for using up Peter Peacock’s time.

Is Peter Peacock aware of the feature known as intraguild predation, which involves superior predators predating on other predators? Hen harriers are predated on by golden eagles. That is one well-known reason why hen harrier populations are not growing as they might.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

But it is not the only reason—that is the point that I am trying to make. We need to develop the science further. I am talking about rigorous work that we ought to respect, but we also ought to encourage its further development so that we can use it as a tool to bear down on a problem that we all believe still exists.

Having said that, I think that we may have to come back to the issue of licensing estates at some future date. The more I have thought about that matter in our interesting journey through the issues, the more it seems that there is a simple solution. Every estate can be licensed. They can be given five years to sort things out; if they do not, they should not get a licence. That would focus people’s minds wonderfully. The issue has not gone away; it will come back. I hope that my colleagues who are on the front bench in future years will pursue it. If they do not, I will lobby them from outside the Parliament.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

One of the problems in considering Scotland’s wildlife and natural environment, let alone legislating on it, is that there are so many potentially competing interests. The needs of hunting estates—of grouse shooters, for example—are very different from those of bird watchers and ramblers. There are also the needs of our children and those yet unborn who deserve to enjoy all that Scotland has to offer in that respect. We are the guardians for the future, not the owners, of Scotland’s rich natural heritage. The bill attempts to balance all those interests, and it largely does so.

I intend to concentrate on merely one or two aspects in this short speech. I turn first to wildlife crime. We all unite in condemning the poisoning of raptors, the stealing of eggs and other wildlife crimes, but such crimes still occur too frequently despite measures that have been taken in the past. As far as raptors are concerned, the suspicion arises that poisoning and shooting are often illegal efforts to preserve the stock of game birds—or even lambs, where eagles are concerned. However, it is difficult to attribute blame in specific instances, and those who get caught are often relatively lowly estate employees who may or may not have acted under orders. The vicarious liability provisions in the bill are a welcome step forward in that respect, although I suspect that still more needs to be done. I hope that the subject will receive further attention in the next parliamentary session.

On deer management, there is another potential conflict of interest between the owners and managers of shooting estates on one side and those who can loosely be called environmentalists on the other side, although I think that the perceived differences are often magnified. Deer have no natural predators in Scotland apart from man, and it is vital that their numbers are regulated, as in meeting their dietary needs, large numbers of deer can cause severe damage to natural habitats and protected areas. Moreover, overpopulation causes extreme food shortages, with consequent malnutrition and a form of animal cruelty that is caused by neglect. Culls are needed, but they should be carried out according to carefully formulated deer management plans. I welcome the power that the bill gives the Scottish Government to introduce a competence requirement for deer stalking, should a voluntary approach and self-regulation fail.

Finally, a more determined effort to combat non-native invasive species of plants such as Japanese knotweed, which seems to be spreading all over our country, is to be welcomed.

In summary, we are taking another significant step forward in the wise management of our envied rich natural heritage, but I am sure that there is much more to be done. Perhaps we will see further legislation in the next session.

I commend the bill to members.

Photo of Marilyn Livingstone Marilyn Livingstone Labour

I am pleased to contribute to the debate and to outline the importance of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill, which gave us the opportunity to ban snaring of Scotland’s wildlife. Significantly, there is a difference between the protection that the law offers pets and livestock and the protection that it offers wild animals. The bill provided the opportunity to narrow that gap and to offer wider and greater protection from actions such as attempts at pest control through the use of snares.

I believe that the bill represents a missed opportunity. We have moved forward, but we needed to take a major step forward on animal welfare. Snares inflict immense physical and mental suffering on animals. Their vigorous attempts to escape can lead to kinking of the snare wire and can change a free-running snare to a self-locking one. Animal charities such as OneKind and the League Against Cruel Sports describe how animals that have been caught in snares are often strangled and choked, with injuries from the wire including evisceration and amputation.

In addition, there is extensive evidence of the indiscriminate nature of snaring. In 2006, an SSPCA report on snaring showed that of the 269 animals that were reported as having been caught in snares, which ranged from badgers and deer to pets such as cats, only 23 per cent were considered to be pests. The report of the independent working group on snaring said that the proportion of non-target animals that were caught in snares was as high as 69 per cent.

Although I believe that most landowners in Scotland are responsible in their pest control measures, there is no firm evidence of the need for snaring or that a ban on snaring would significantly impact on Scottish agriculture. A cost benefit analysis that was conducted by OneKind suggests that, as a general rule, resources could be better focused and that a lot of money that is spent on culling wildlife should be redirected to long-term measures to reduce the impact of wildlife on agriculture.

That is why I lodged an amendment to the bill at stage 2 that sought to ban the use of any snare. I withdrew it because I believed that the continued use of snares needed to be debated and voted on by the full Parliament. As we have seen, the Scottish Government has resisted such calls for a ban, insisting that snaring is vital to the rural economy, although no figures have been produced to support that argument. A member of the Government’s party said that I do not live in the real world. My opinion is simply different from hers, and I think that that remark was probably uncalled for.

Evidence that has been gathered by animal activist charities indicates that the new regulations on the use of snares that will be introduced by the Scottish Government under the bill are not sufficient and will not prevent thousands of animals from suffering. A recent poll commissioned by OneKind shows that 77 per cent of people in Scotland—and 75 per cent of people in rural constituencies—think that snaring should be illegal, and a joint survey that OneKind carried out with the League Against Cruel Sports found that 75 per cent of vets are opposed to snaring. We have all had Valentine’s day messages from our constituents supporting a ban on the use of snares.

The Scottish Parliament had an opportunity and, I believe, a responsibility to represent the views of the people of Scotland by voting to ban snaring and to protect Scotland’s wildlife. Like my Labour colleagues, I am happy to support the bill, but I would have liked it to go much further on animal welfare. I believe that we will come back to the issue when Scotland’s Government changes in May. We on this side of the chamber will bring forward the measures that are needed to protect Scotland’s wildlife and to act in line with 10 of our European colleagues.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I thank the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee for all its hard work on the bill, which is a welcome measure. It will improve and modernise a range of statutes on wildlife and the natural environment, especially as they relate to game species, wildlife crime and invasive non-native species.

On snaring in particular, it is a great disappointment to us that, again, the Parliament did not see fit to ban the practice outright, but that issue will keep with us. The bill makes some modest but insufficient improvements on deer management. Despite its inadequacies, we will support the bill at decision time.

I will address what I think is a more significant inadequacy. Neither the bill nor, as the response to my amendments made clear, Government policy has a clear enough vision for Scotland’s wildlife and our natural environment or, more important, for how the Government’s vision will be delivered.

A land that is rich in wildlife is one whose social and economic development is truly sustainable. The loss of biodiversity is a symptom of unsustainable lifestyles and, like addressing climate change, conserving biodiversity by protecting and enhancing the natural environment cannot be achieved in isolation.

To reduce our carbon emissions, we must address planning, transport, energy and land use policies. The same and more applies to biodiversity. Indeed, some policies, such as the expansion of native woodlands through more sustainable deer management, or restoring peatlands, can contribute to achieving both climate change and biodiversity objectives. Although the bill makes welcome and incremental improvements to a range of statutes that affect wildlife and the natural environment, it fails to address the strategic issue.

Nothing in the bill will specifically discourage the Government from overturning the protection of sites of special scientific interest for a golf course, a coal-fired power station or an opencast coal mine. Nothing in the bill will specifically require the Government to embrace common agricultural policy reform and improved agri-environment schemes in order to encourage farmers and crofters to adopt more sustainable land management practices, or to ensure that native woodlands are protected and well managed and that woodland expansion is focused on native trees in the right place.

A range of Government policies suggest that those are the Government’s objectives but, from our failure to meet the 2010 biodiversity target, we know that the objectives are not delivering the outcomes. They are no more than aspirations. We need to turn good intentions into real delivery. A real and overarching purpose for the bill might have made a difference, as was incorporated in my very modest suggestion in amendment 28. Addressing overriding, cross-Government issues was the objective behind my amendment, and I am disappointed that it was not agreed to. I ask the minister to indicate in her summing up how the Government intends to ensure that the fine intentions behind the bill and the 2010 biodiversity target will be achieved without the entirely sensible details that I tried to insert into the bill.

After May, if the Green party is in a position to do so, those are among the issues that we will seek to address. If we are not in that position, I, like Peter Peacock, shall have to haunt the Parliament from beyond dissolution.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

I begin by thanking OneKind and the League Against Cruel Sports for their assistance in drafting my amendment to ban snaring and for their work throughout the parliamentary session to support parliamentarians across the political spectrum on animal welfare issues.

I also thank my colleague, Marilyn Livingstone, for all her work to lodge my amendment at stage 2 when I was unable to do so. I thank colleagues on the committee for the efforts that they have made to improve the bill throughout the process.

I cannot deny that I am disappointed that my amendment to create an outright ban on snaring was not supported by the majority of members in the chamber. Even if a gamekeeper inspects a snare every two hours, he cannot absolutely eliminate the possibility of serious animal suffering. Despite the aim of improving the way in which snares are used, I am concerned that the complexity of the regulations will continue to work against effective implementation.

On the subject of enforcement, snares will be tagged with numbers to allow authorities to identify who is responsible for setting them, but when breaches occur, investigation after the event cannot prevent the suffering and death of animals. Only an end to snaring can do that. Like others, I look forward to returning to the matter in a future parliamentary session when, I hope, the voice of Scotland’s people will be heard.

I will try to end on a positive note. Improvements in record-keeping and annual reporting on wildlife crime through monitoring, reviewing, training and enforcement will be crucial. The chamber has sent a key message today that wildlife crime will be viewed just as seriously as any other crime, and that action will be taken when breaches occur.

Animal welfare organisations also consider that the improvement of the animal welfare content of training schemes is crucial. I hope that the minister will consider developing that element further.

On the basis of what I have said, I will support the passage of the bill tonight, but I reserve the right to return to the issue during the next parliamentary session, under, I hope, a Government that has a more positive attitude to banning snaring.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

I welcome the chance to sum up for the Liberal Democrats in this stage 3 debate on the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill. As a Liberal Democrat with rural interests, which I declare, I, like other members, am completely opposed to any crime—but I am opposed to wildlife crime in particular. There is simply no space for it in a modern, civilised society. However, as with all crimes, it is all well and good having laws but proof is needed if those laws are to have any effect. Finding proof is not easy in any situation, but it is particularly difficult in a rural situation.

Many different issues have been raised at various stages of the bill. In certain of his amendments, Peter Peacock attempted to suggest that suspicion was enough to take away the rights of individuals and organisations. I doubt whether such an approach would have been legally competent; indeed, it could well have been abused. Of course, it would have affected not only large estates but any land user, including crofters.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

Does Mr Hume realise that under current cross-compliance rules agricultural support can be removed on similar evidence?

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

I am well aware of that. However, the proposals would have applied not to people who get subsidies but to all land users. After all, cross-compliance rules apply only to people who receive single farm payments and the like.

Although it was not moved in the end, the amendment that proposed giving a constable’s powers to other persons would have had a negative effect. Wildlife crimes are difficult enough to prove in court and the police receive many years of training to ensure that their evidence is sound before there is any attempt to prosecute. It is not a competency for a lay person, and police forces alone, whether or not we are talking about special constables, should continue to have those powers. Of course, police forces—of which I hope there will be many left after the next election—continue to invest in wildlife crime officers; indeed, perhaps tackling wildlife crime should be retained as part of police training.

We have had to strike a balance. For a start, we need to remember the importance of rural sports to rural economies. Many country hotels, bed and breakfasts and so on would not have enough trade, especially at winter time, if they did not have their regular fishers and shooters. Of course, it all helps the broader tourism industry. Moreover, 80 per cent of woodland in the Borders is at some stage used for country sports and many woods and copses are managed solely for such purposes, which, along with the feeding of released birds in the open, obviously benefits the wider wildlife community.

The provisions on vicarious liability have concerned many—indeed, they still concern the Conservatives—but have gained further support. As Roseanna Cunningham suggested, they should be implemented methodically, giving organisations time to implement the changes in their work practices.

The bill is not just about wildlife crime. It deals with protection for brown hares as well as white hares, which are of course blue in the summer. They do not breed in the same way as rabbits, which hide away in burrows, and I welcome the fact that they will be protected during their breeding season.

The bill also introduces improvements to deer management in Scotland. Issues surrounding deer are complex; we have our indigenous reds and roes and I believe that Jamie McGrigor mentioned the monarch of the glen—or perhaps it was the mongrel of the glen. There are also non-native sikas and the like that can damage the environment, including mature trees.

This important bill shows that the Parliament is concerned about the Scottish environment and listens to the many interests that understand not only the broader Scottish economy but the fact that we have to strike a balance between the two aspects. We are united in opposition

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I am afraid to say that the member’s time is up.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

—to any wildlife crime and I look forward to its eradication from Scotland. If unsuccessful—

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

As I said in the stage 1 debate,

“It is vital that we get the bill right for those men and women who work in the hills and glens and keep them well managed”.—[Official Report, 2 December 2010; c 31244.]

After all, the bill will impact on land managers and estates throughout Scotland, and I am always incredibly conscious of the socioeconomic importance of the country sports industry, especially in fragile remote and rural areas. Although the parliamentary process has improved the bill in many ways, some concerns definitely remain and, given that much of the media coverage of the bill has focused on wildlife crime, I want to use this opportunity to bring some balance and proportionality to the debate.

I believe that everyone in the Parliament deplores wildlife crime of every kind and supports strong action against it. The vast majority of landowners and land managers deplore it, too. We should not forget that we are talking about a very small number of culprits. We must be aware that the vast majority of Scotland’s sporting estates are among the best managed and often most conservation friendly in Europe—and, indeed, further afield.

I agree with the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust Scotland that peer pressure is likely to have a greater effect than overburdensome statutory intervention. That is one reason why the Scottish Conservatives were the only party to oppose the vicarious liability provisions at stage 2, and we make no apology for doing that. Nonetheless, as John Scott said, we are where we are. Can the minister give detailed timescales on the commencement of that part of the bill? Is it correct that it will not be commenced for six months, to allow the Government to draw up guidance, and that organisations such as the SRPBA and the GWCTS will be involved in that process? I would be grateful if the minister could put that information on the record. Also, what defence does a landowner have against being framed or stitched up by people who are intent on doing them down by placing poisoned baits on their land? How can they prove their innocence?

During stages 1 and 2, it was clearly demonstrated that the snaring of foxes is vital in allowing land managers to protect livestock and maximise biodiversity. Snaring, with the strict regulation that is placed on it, is a key tool for many farmers, crofters and land managers in my region of the Highlands and Islands. Anybody who has witnessed the bloody, distressing and savage results of Mr Fox’s visits to a chicken run, a lambing park or a pheasant pen would probably be shocked into realising the necessity of snares as a preventive tool.

The Scottish Conservatives were pleased to amend the bill successfully at stages 2 and 3. We welcome large parts of the bill, including the modernisation of game law and the regulation of non-native species, and I thank the minister for supporting my amendments. As I indicated, however, we remain concerned that the Government has pushed ahead in some areas—notably on vicarious liability—without the support of key countryside stakeholders. We are content for the bill as a whole to pass at stage 3 but ask that ministers work as closely and positively as possible with all the countryside interests in the most co-operative manner as the bill’s provisions are enacted.

I close by saying how good the committee was, as were the people who made contributions to the debates.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I will first touch on snaring. As I said earlier, an outright ban has been Labour Party policy for a number of years. The opinions that have been expressed by Sarah Boyack, Irene Oldfather and Marilyn Livingstone are the views of the Labour Party, Labour members and the Labour conference.

This may take Liam McArthur slightly by surprise, but when I go into committee I take off my party hat and I listen to the evidence. To me, no evidence was presented to the committee that proved totally that there should be an outright ban; therefore, it was not possible to argue for that as a committee, as we had not heard the evidence for it. The one thing that really troubled me is the fact that there are perhaps circumstances in which no other form of control can be used. That was the background to my amendments.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

No. I am sorry, but I have only about four minutes and I cannot take any interventions.

There might be occasions on which no other form of control is possible, so I sought to tighten up the regulation while the evidence was accumulated. I also wanted a review in every session of Parliament, not after one year. The regulations are already in place and we have evidence, so let us collect the evidence. Let us also not allow people who have been convicted of an offence—we are not talking about licensing, but about people who have been convicted of an offence in using a snare—to continue using snares. That is wrong. The matter was not pointed out to me until stage 3, by the bill team, which is why I did not raise it before.

I do not have a problem with having a slightly different view in committee. I just want to see the evidence and have a bit more time to think about it before we make a decision. That may be a boring way of doing things that I learned during my training—I am not sure—but I would like to see the evidence first and I do not have a problem with that.

On wildlife crime, I must say that I am not anti-shooting, and I am not going to argue that shooting has no place in the Scottish economy; I agree that it contributes significantly to the Scottish economy. However, we must be clear that wildlife tourism also contributes significantly to it. As the minister said, there must therefore be balance. Wildlife tourism is growing. In Galloway, for example, the red kite trail is assessed as having contributed some £21 million to the local economy over six years. It is necessary to preserve that part of the economy as well as the other.

I welcome the fact that the minister introduced vicarious liability at stage 2. As I said at that time, I thought that it was brave of the minister to do that. However, we have to accept that it might be difficult to secure convictions.

Earlier, John Scott talked about raptors predating each other. I do not think that that is why there are not many hen harriers around, because there are not many golden eagles around either. Something man-made is happening to raptors. I know of estates near me where peregrine falcons are not breeding—a breeding pair appears, but the female disappears and there are no chicks. Something that is not right is going on.

When I was a small child, I used to think that buzzards were an American bird. I had never seen a buzzard, and thought that they did not exist in Britain. Now, I like seeing them, because they are a native species. Over many years, we did a lot of damage to our wildlife and our native species. We need to reverse that and I welcome all the steps that we are taking to do so.

I, too, had representations made to me about wildcats, but they were too late to be brought into consideration today. I am glad to hear that we might find ways of taking forward that issue.

We must be clear that we have to do more about our biodiversity duty. We are not hitting our targets and, as others have said, neither are other European countries. We must take that seriously, and I am pleased that Robin Harper, in what I think was his last amendment in Parliament, raised some of those concerns.

The issue of ecological coherence, which we did not touch on today, is not just a planning issue within local authorities. We must have a national overview on that.

I conclude by thanking the clerks who, as ever, worked extremely hard. I also thank the witnesses, who brought us a plethora of sometimes conflicting information, and the bill team, which assisted members with the amendments that we lodged at stages 2 and 3. I know that we caused them a lot of work. On behalf of Labour members, I thank all those who helped during the passage of the bill.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

I thank members for their contributions and I want to cover as many as possible of the points that members have raised during this short debate. However, I want to start by making a slightly more general statement, which is that this Government does not believe that we can sit in an office in Edinburgh and micromanage land management practices throughout Scotland. That is why we will always argue for retention of flexibility in legislation. That needs to be said from the outset, because some of what has been said today suggests that others think that it is possible to sit in an office in Edinburgh and micromanage a situation elsewhere.

As we anticipated, there has been great focus on snaring. Statements have been made on both sides of the argument, and we well understand what the argument is about. However, to those who are opposed to snaring on the ground that it is a cruel practice, I gently say that they need to think carefully about the language that they use. In some of what has been said this afternoon, the cruel practice that is under discussion has been the harming and death of the animal. However, banning snaring would not, of course, change the likelihood of an animal’s being harmed or killed; it would merely change the method that is used. If snaring were banned, the only methods that would be left to people would be shooting and lamping. I have absolutely no doubt that, if the ban on snaring were to go through, it would shortly be followed by a campaign to ban shooting and lamping as well, because that is the direction from which the approach comes. Before making some of the suggestions that have been made, people need to have a long, hard look at the rural economy.

Some of the evidence that has been referred to—today and previously—has been about illegal snaring. However, illegal snaring is illegal, and it is illegal because it is wrong. Talking about illegal snaring and the cruelties that it involves does not address the issues around the sensible approach to snaring that we are trying to bring in.

I should say that many of the estates that snare are managed for different purposes than those that are managed for economic reasons and profit-based reasons.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The debate on snaring today was inevitable and, in many senses, it was helpful. There is an unhelpful element, however. Despite there being discussion of the matter at stages 1 and 2, there was no suggestion at any stage that it was a party-political matter. In fact, we all have colleagues who have voted for a ban on snaring. It is slightly uncomfortable that, at stage 3—perhaps with half an eye to an election—the subject is suddenly deemed to be a party-political issue.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

Liam McArthur’s comments are justified. The issue was never raised or pushed for at an earlier stage.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

This leads me to think that committee members representing the Labour Party

Photo of Marilyn Livingstone Marilyn Livingstone Labour

I would like the minister to withdraw that statement, as I raised the issue at stage 2.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

The member knows that she is not a member of the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, and she was not involved in all the evidence taking that led up to stage 2. Perhaps somebody has discovered at some point—fairly lately—what Labour Party policy is, and members are now having to pull themselves into line on it.

The review period, which was discussed by Sarah Boyack, was a committee recommendation. I did not come up with it out of thin air—it was what the committee, on which Labour Party members sit, recommended.

The bill is not an animal welfare bill, but it nevertheless includes many aspects that relate directly to animal welfare, and I have said that animal welfare will be at the forefront of snaring training. The way in which some of the issues have been raised suggests to me that, if its members are not very careful, the Labour Party as a whole will be in grave danger of being seen as being completely out of touch with rural Scotland. Perhaps that is not a matter of concern to Labour members, but it ought to be.

I will move on, as I have a very short time and an awful lot of points to make. On vicarious liability, I appreciate that not everybody will agree with the policy. I am sorry that the Conservatives could not see their way to supporting it. They asked for more time—I have to ask them how much more time before we bring in measures to change the position. The code of practice will be on ministers’ desks by 2 September, and it will be before Parliament later in the autumn, so members need not be worried about people going on holiday. That matter will be dealt with pretty quickly.

I join Peter Peacock in paying tribute to the exceptional input that was provided by the late Jeff Watson. The point about his research into golden eagles was well made in the debate. However, some of Peter Peacock’s other comments suggested to me that he is somewhat impatient with the boring reality that proof has to be established before a crime and guilt are established. However tough it is, that is fundamental to our criminal justice system and must surely remain so.

I am not able to address other points that were raised in the debate, so in closing I commend the motion that the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill be passed by Parliament.