I welcome the Bill, which is long overdue. It is time that we had an update to the protection of wildlife. As the Chairperson said, perhaps it does not go far enough. Nevertheless, there is much in the legislation to welcome.
It is important that the Bill will introduce a statutory duty on government and public bodies to take action to conserve biodiversity. In particular, I am pleased with clause 2, which will place a duty on the Department of the Environment to designate and publish a biodiversity strategy, and I welcome the fact that the clause has been strengthened to require the production of a progress report every five years, although we suggested that that should happen every three years.
I welcome the strengthening of controls on the use of snares, particularly the outright ban on the use of self-locking snares to prevent unnecessary suffering. However, in that regard, the Bill does not go far enough. If the Department is serious about preventing unnecessary suffering, the only option is a complete ban on the use of snares. I am more disappointed that the Bill will not give full protection to the Irish hare; nevertheless,clause 38, which will ban hare coursing, is extremely welcome. I have campaigned for that for 40 years, so I am delighted to see that it is finally in legislation.
I also welcome the two new offences that will be created as part of measures to protect areas of special scientific interest, which are an important part of our environmental heritage. Reckless and unnecessary damage to those sites damages the whole community, so it is important that that will now be recognised in legislation. The Bill will increase the powers available to the Department’s wildlife inspectors, and enforcement was one of the main considerations in developing the legislation. However, I am concerned that, if cuts have to be made, the Department may think that it is easier to cut enforcement rather than its general day-to-day business. Therefore, although the legislation will give the Department additional powers, I am concerned about whether, in the longer term, they will be enforced properly.
Nevertheless, with those reservations, I support the Bill.