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Saturday delights

The coming week will present me with a busy program and in particular the need to travel to be present in Parliament for the first time since I was there for the budget Stage 3 on 12th March. A full three months absence, the longest since being elected in June 2001.

I have to be back for the Stage 3 debate on the Animal Welfare Bill. Having been part of all the previous deliberations on the Bill, I should be present at the end.

It is a proper part of an opposition MSP's duties to press policy initiatives whenever they can. Legislation is the key opportunity for so doing. It's something I did when sat facing the then Labour/LibDem administrations before 2007.

But there are huge risks associated with bringing forward new policy initiatives right at the end of the process. Without the taking of evidence in Committee and the opportunity to build a consensus on such proposals, we seriously risk making bad law.

The area that is worrying me most relates to moves to extend vicarious liability. This makes people liable for the actions taken by others. Even when the "others" referred to have not had legal action taken against them for a crime.

I suppose it is somewhat like a receiver of stolen goods. They knowingly "benefit" from the crimes of others and are thus themselves criminals. But it's a proper defence if they could reasonably have thought that the goods being sold to them were the property of the seller.

[Note: I am not qualified to provide legal advice. All that I write here is my lay person's view of the law. You should check with your own lawyer if necessary, rather than rely on any of my commentaries.]

So to avoid being caught by vicarious liability one needs to be able to demonstrate that you have in place rules and procedures, and a regime of supervision, that ensure that your employees, agents or contractors are doing nothing that will harm a protected species.

Sounds good?

The species that the proposed amendments to the Bill seek to enhance protection of is one of our most recognisable animals, the badger.

That's an animal that I see frequently. There is a cluster of sets not far beyond our field (in the North East we would cry that a "park"). And quite a few others within a five-mile radius of our home.

The greatest risk to which badgers seem to be exposed to is a collision with a car. I could take you to view several badger remains which lie at the side of the road within that radius. I have narrowly missed hitting one on many occasions on our country roads during the hours of darkness.

An accidental collision between a car and a wild mammal is not a crime under the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 because there is no "intent to inflict unnecessary suffering" on a wild mammal (the phrase used in Section 1 of the Act).

Section 3 defines for us what a wild mammal is. It says that a, “wild mammal” means any mammal which is not a “protected animal”. So I have an early conclusion that at least one amendment designed to enhance protection for badgers does not do that because badgers are protected animals.

Now you may have almost lost the will to read on by now. Don't worry. I won't take you further into the legal undergrowth. But I will have to travel there on your behalf as I continue over the weekend to try to understand what the effects of the proposed amendments may be. And continue to worry that the intentions are different from the effects.

But you may now see why such weighty matters should be subject to intense scrutiny. There will be no expert witnesses before our Committee to help us understand. The final stage of a Bill is not the time or place to be wrestling with complex amendments which, if agreed, would make substantial changes to the law.

I have many hours of reading and analysis ahead. I undoubtedly want our wild mammals and our protected species to have the strongest of legal protections. But I will have to understand the full implications of Members' proposed changes. At the moment, it's doubt about the wisdom of passing these amendments that's at the front of my mind.

I look to Wednesday's debates to end with my concerns having been assuaged.

Another of life's realities intruded on Thursday. This time, in our personal lives. The box which enables us to watch television from a couple of satellites about 40,000 kilometres above our heads stubbornly refused to power up. Actually, they are definitely not above our heads. They only would be at a single spot on the earth's equator. And even there, only intermittently because our planet wobbles a wee bit on its axis.

Something in a geostationary orbit, all our broadcast satellites are, has to be above the equator. So for us at 57.6453 degrees North and an altitude of 500 feet, the Astra 2C satellite would be at an angle of about 20 degrees. As the hill slopes up to the south and we are surrounded by mature trees, a dish on our house receives no signal. So even without our sat-box failing, life is complex and the dish has to be some distance from the house. And adjacent bushes need cut regularly.

Help is at hand. A new box arrives today. I shall have endless hours of fun pouring over its manual. And then there will be the setting up. Added to which is the quiet satisfaction that Rupert Murdoch, whose interests include Fox "News", will continue to derive no income from us. We use Freesat. Means we don't get a "free" box from the Sky TV but don't have to pay a subscription to them either.

Today also marks nine days since we visited a food shop. The fresh produce has long been consumed, apart from the four carrots I bought on my walk two days ago - two left, and it's time for a top up. A temporary escape from the prison compound beckons.

Masks, gloves and sanitisers are ready to be loaded into the car.

And yesterday's mist has thinned.

The excitement of a Saturday.


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