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House of Commons

Friday 10 May 1991

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Orders of the Day

Badgers Bill

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Clause 1

Amendment of s.

2 of Badgers Act-- 1973

9.37 am

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside) : I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 11, at end insert or'.

Mr. Speaker : With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments : No. 2, in page 1, leave out line 12.

No. 3, in line 14, at beginning insert

in a manner which causes harm, or would be likely to cause harm, to a badger,'.

No. 4, in line 16, at end insert--

(4) An accused shall not be permitted to rebut a presumption of guilt established under sections 1(1A) or 2(2) by evidence that he was engaged in any other activity save where he can show that he was authorised to be engaged in that activity by the occupier of the land on which the alleged offence occurred.

(5) A person shall not be guilty of an offence under section 2(3)(e) (disturbing a badger) by reason of entering a terrier into a badger sett provided that his action would otherwise have been lawful.'.

No. 5, in clause 2, line 25, leave out (a), (c) or (e)'. No. 16, in clause 4, page 2, leave out lines 47 and 48. No. 18, in clause 5, page 3, line 13, at end insert "harm" means bodily harm.'.

Mr. Colvin : This group of amendments is crucial to the Bill. Those Conservative Members who had reservations about the previous Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) are pleased to have the opportunity to support this Bill. The House will agree that there has been a different atmosphere surrounding this Bill from the start, largely to the credit of the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes), who has been only too ready to have discussions with those of us who expressed genuine concerns and reservations about the Bill that the House considered during the last Session. There has been much consultation and compromise. As the House will know, it is the nature of private Member's Bills that, unless such an atmosphere prevails, the chances are that a Bill will not make the progress that its promoter would like. I am afraid that that is what befell the previous Bill on the subject. Unfortunately, almost with the same breath as he proposed his Badger Protection Bill, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West proposed another Bill to ban fox hunting. That led one or two of us

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with an interest in field sports, who support the legitimate interests of those who go about their business in the countryside, whether they be field sportsmen, farmers, landowners or foresters, to be slightly suspicious about the hon. Gentleman's real objectives. There is no doubt about the objectives of the hon. Member for Newport, East. All of us in the House and the many constituents who have written to us on the subject have no doubt that his objective is to see the end of the obnoxious practice of badger digging and baiting. We are in total agreement about that. Any other side effect of this measure can be hotly debated, but the principal objective must remain.

I shall concentrate first on amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 4. As several hon. Members attending this debate have not been present at earlier debates on badgers, either in this Session or the previous one, I shall begin with a few general remarks about the problem as it is seen inside and outside Parliament. The Bill creates a new offence of recklessly or intentionally causing a dog to enter a badger sett and is designed to make it easier to prosecute badger diggers--something we all want to stop.

At present, it is an offence under section 1(1) of the Badgers Act 1973 to attempt to kill, injure or take a badger. Since 1985, when the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was amended, the burden of proof has been reversed, so that a person who enters a terrier into a badger sett is presumed to have been attempting to kill, injure or take a badger, unless he shows to the contrary--unless he shows that he is digging for foxes.

It is argued that, despite the tightening of the law in 1985, badger diggers are still evading conviction by taking fox carcases with them, so that they can claim that they were after foxes, not badgers. On the other side, it is argued that there are many legitimate terrier men who are truly after foxes and who have fallen foul of the law because they have been unable to prove their innocence--that happens a great deal in Wales.

There is general agreement that the law is unsatisfactory and results in lengthy proceedings, with expert witnesses called on both sides. However, although a simple offence of causing a dog to enter a badger sett would make it easier to prosecute badger diggers, it would also put an end to the control of foxes by using terriers in setts. Foxes frequently run into, or occupy, badger setts. Therefore, the new offence would be unacceptable to the sheep farming community.

The legitimate use of terriers by packs of fox hounds and others to control foxes does not harm badgers. If farmers were denied that method of control, alternative methods such as snaring and night shooting are likely to cause far more trouble for the badger, which is essentially a nocturnal animal. At present, packs of fox hounds and other above-board fox control operations do not fall foul of the law when using terriers in setts, as they are plainly not attempting to kill, injure or take badgers.

The offence, as drafted, makes no allowance for someone who genuinely wishes to take foxes out of badger setts. That is of particular concern, as the Bill presently defines "sett" to include disused setts. However, a simple defence allowing the use of terriers for fox control would not be acceptable, as it would open the loophole for badger diggers to claim that they were after foxes. Therefore, we must find a means of distinguishing between legitimate terrier men and badger diggers.

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A licensing system has been suggested, but that would be unnecessarily bureaucratic. A large number of licences would be needed--the figure would run into thousands--and it would be hard for the licensing authority, whatever it might be, to determine whether an application was genuine. A licensing system is likely to be resisted by the Government--perhaps the Minister will comment on that later.

Amendment Nos. 1, 2 and 4 provide a more simple means of permitting legitimate terrier work. It is accepted that almost all badger diggers are trespassers, but farmers or huntsmen who genuinely wish to control foxes are not. The amendments remove the right of defendants charged under sections 1 or 2 of the Badgers Act 1973 to claim that they were after foxes or engaged in any other activity, unless they can show that they were authorised to be engaged in that activity by the occupier of the land in question.

A person caught entering a terrier into a sett would face near certain conviction if he were trespassing, so it is far easier to prosecute someone for that offence. Even if authorised to be there by the occupier, the person would still, as at present, have to prove that he was after foxes, not badgers. Therefore, the amendments delete the simple offence of causing a dog to enter a badger sett. 9.45 am

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) : My hon. Friend talks about the difficulty of licensing. However, clause 3 extends the exceptions so that a person will not be found guilty if he is carrying out work on land

"with the consent of the landowner and is authorised by a Hunt recognised by the Masters of Fox Hounds Association".

Is that not likely to give rise to some difficulties, because the Masters of Fox Hounds Association is, on the whole, regarded as the establishment organisation? There is nothing wrong with that, but there are quite a large number of perfectly legitimate Welsh packs of fox hounds which, for various reasons, are not authorised--some of them do not like to belong to an establishment organisation. It seems that perfectly legitimate organisations might be excluded by the creation of what I suppose is a closed shop organised by the Masters of Fox Hounds Association.

Mr. Colvin : I am interested to hear my hon. Friend's intervention, but a later amendment addresses that issue in some detail. There is no doubt that a licensing system would be unnecessarily bureaucratic to administer. We should have reservations about the possibility of the wrong organisation being asked to carry out the licensing. If it were to be the Ministry of Agriculture, perhaps that would be all right, but a local authority might well be given the job. When we consider the political complexion of local government in some districts, we can see that, if a local authority were to issue licences, that might cause difficulties.

Mr. Budgen : I agree that it seems that there will be difficulties, no matter which organisation is given the duty of issuing licences. My hon. Friend spoke of the possibility of local authorities having a particular political view about a lawful activity. There is also a risk that a private organisation might carry out its licensing duties

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negligently or idly, which would create all sorts of difficulties. The Masters of Fox Hounds Association carries out its duties very well, but a significant minority of legitimate hunts do not belong to that association, and difficulties could arise.

Mr. Colvin : I absolutely understand my hon. Friend's point, but if he is still in the Chamber later, he will find that that issue is addressed in more detail in other amendments.

Amendment Nos. 1, 2 and 4 delete the simple offence of causing a dog to enter a badger sett. They also qualify the offence of disturbing a badger in a sett so that a disturbance is permitted if it occurs as a result of the otherwise lawful use of terriers in setts. That is necessary as, otherwise, someone could be prosecuted for disturbing a badger, however minimally--the level of disturbance is not quantified--by entering a terrier into a sett, even where that action was part of a legitimate fox control operation.

Amendment No. 5 involves the defence provided in clause 2(2), which was amended in Committee. It permits certain interferences with setts where the action is

"the intentional result of a lawful operation and could not reasonably have been avoided."

In essence, that would allow unavoidable acts that interfered with setts ; but the defence recognises only incidental damage, obstruction or disturbance of a badger in a sett. For some reason, the unavoidable entry of a dog into a sett or the unavoidable destruction of a sett will in no circumstances be permitted. Obviously, those behind this Bill regard the offences of entering a terrier into a sett or of the destruction of a sett as so heinous that no defence may be permitted. That is unfair, and also probably wrong in law. [Interruption.]

The Bill creates serious offences with heavy penalties. For the sake of equity, proper and even-handed defences must be allowed--I am sure that the promoter of the Bill agrees with that. Amendment No. 5 alters the defence in clause 2(2) so that it is available for all offences of interfering with a sett-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. I am finding it difficult to follow the hon. Gentleman's remarks with so many conversations going on.

Mr. Colvin : I should like to raise one other point with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. So many amendments are grouped in this first group that it will be difficult for those who want to comment on them and question them to be given answers on each amendment in turn, either by me or by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor). Would it therefore be for the convenience of the House if I concluded my remarks now and spoke later on amendments Nos. 3 and 15?

Mr. Deputy Speaker : On Report, the rules of order allow hon. Members to speak once only unless they move the amendment in question.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) rose --

Mr. Colvin : I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hardy : My anxiety about amendments Nos. 4 and 5 arises because of the following problem. I recognise that dogs cannot read law and that, if a dog illegally chases a rabbit, it is no good reading out the statute to it. On the other hand, if this amendment is inserted in the Bill, there is a danger that the badger digger will say that he was walking lawfully in the countryside when his dog

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inadvertently entered a badger sett. He could use that loophole to excuse badger digging every weekend for another 20 years, while a succession of his dogs sometimes got lost down badger setts. No one wants to persecute an innocent citizen whose little dog inadvertently enters a badger sett, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a real difference between that innocent citizen and the thugs who perpetrate an activity which I hope the hon. Gentleman deplores as much as I do? He should not try to amend the Bill so as to provide such a wide loophole that would give the villains a field day.

Mr. Colvin : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's concern is shared by myself and by the House. The whole object of the Bill is to close loopholes, but in doing that we must not make the legislation so onerous as to prevent perfectly legitimate activities. If the hon. Gentleman was listening carefully to me, he will know that the permission of the occupier or the owner of the land is necessary in cases of so-called interference with setts. The example that the hon. Gentleman offers, of an ordinary walker whose dog goes down a sett, could not work as a defence for badger diggers in a court. For a start, if the digger had no legitimate right to be on the land, he would be trespassing, because he would be doing damage and would therefore be liable to the laws of trespass. Once the Bill, if amended as I would like it to be, is in force--we should remember that badger diggers are probably mainly townspeople who have no respect for country life--the defences and how the law stands will eventually become generally known.

The purpose of amendments Nos. 3 and 18 is to ensure that interference with setts which is not harmful to badgers does not become a criminal offence. The prosecution would have to prove that the interference was likely to cause bodily harm to a badger. The protection that the Bill gives badger setts would be unlimited, in the sense that any reckless or intentional interference, however slight, would be an offence--for instance, any disturbance to a badger when occupying a sett, however trivial, would be an offence. The National Federation of Badger Groups has suggested that this provision could be used to prevent people from playing war games in a wood in a way that disturbed badgers, or that it could prevent the leaving of sacks in the proximity of setts. The Bill does not specify that any disturbance must be serious or harmful to badgers. While we may disapprove of playing war games or the leaving of sacks near setts, those are hardly matters that should become serious criminal offences. It is extremely worrying to learn that there are people who would be prepared to use the wide provisions of the Bill to prosecute others engaged in such harmless activities.

No harmful interference with setts occurs in farming operations or during hunting when setts are temporarily stopped or blocked or when hounds temporarily mark--which means indicating the present of a fox at an entrance. The amendments would permit such activities provided that they were not likely to harm badgers.

Although the amendments would allow the destruction of setts if no harm was likely to be caused to badgers as a result, it must be remembered that only setts showing signs of likely occupation and use are protected in any case. A

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person who destroyed an occupied sett would find it difficult to claim that there was no likelihood of harm to badgers.

The amendments would allow farming activities that disturbed badgers or slightly damaged setts, provided there was no likelihood of harm to badgers. The National Federation of Badger Groups has drawn attention to the impact of the Bill on non-harmful farming operations. It says of farmers who annually plough over the entrances of sett tunnels near the edges of fields neither intending nor causing harm to the badgers, which probably reopen the holes : "this is known to several of our member groups who have contacted us to ask to ensure that such farmers, who are badger- friendly, are not placed at risk by the new provision."

As it stands, the Bill would lead to badger-friendly farmers committing criminal offences--damaging setts and disturbing badgers. The defence provided in clause 2(2) would be of no help because, unless a farmer was unaware of the presence of the setts, he could have avoided ploughing over them. It is precisely that sort of innocent activity that should be protected. I believe that the promoter of the Bill accepts that. The amendment ensures that harmful farming operations such as the wholesale flattening of occupied setts would not be permitted. I end with the hope that other hon. Members will take part in the debate and support some of my propositions.

Sir Charles Morrison (Devizes) : I entirely concur with what my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) has just said, but I want to refer to amendment No. 16, to clause 4. It concerns the use of dogs, especially terriers, but in a different context from that dealt with by the amendments to clause 1. Clause 4 is about the granting of licences and the type of licence that may be made available for the removal of badgers in certain circumstances. For example, they can be removed for agricultural operations, for town and country planning or for the maintenance or improvement of a water course. However, lines 47 and 48 on page 2 refer specifically to the fact that dogs may not be used, even under a licensing system, for entry into a badger sett. That appears to be a natural corollary to clause 1, but in clause 4 the lack of the ability to grant a licence allowing a dog to enter a badger sett is a disadvantage to farmers and possibly to badgers, hence my amendment No. 16.

10 am

The National Farmers Union is anxious that fox destruction societies should be able to continue to enter dogs into badger setts where authorised to do so by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I suspect that the issue of such licences would be fairly rare, but the control of foxes by organised clearances involving dogs in certain parts of the country, and especially in Wales, is very necessary.

I understand that it is quite common in Wales for small groups of perhaps three or four farmers between them to own three or four foxhounds which are used in the open countryside to raise foxes and chase them, so that they go to ground in a foxhole or badger sett. No doubt Welsh Members with more experience of that matter will speak about it. Such foxhounds are not used in any sporting sense but purely to control foxes.

Having chased the fox into the earth, or perhaps into a badger sett, it is necessary for farmers to continue to have the ability to control it. Without the authority to use dogs,

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specifically terriers, under licence, the objectives of such minifox hunts cannot be achieved. That is why I tabled amendment No. 16.

Secondly, before I received the representation from the NFU, it occurred to me that when a licence is granted for the removal or destruction of a badger sett, it is essential to ensure that no badger or any other animal remains in the sett. In the case of a large sett, I am not sure how one would determine that except by putting in terriers to push out the badger or other animal that may be there. As hon. Members know, some badger setts have existed for centuries and are gigantic. I hope that the House will accept amendment No. 16, or that it will be possible to vote on it separately if need be.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : I support amendment No. 16 to which the hon. Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) has just spoken. In my constituency, it is clear that farmers hate badger baiters. There is no curse on the farm worse than the trespasser and no greater curse than the trespasser who is a badger baiter. I have been told about a recent incident in Montgomeryshire, in which a farmer who caught some badger baiters was petrified with fear : he would not go to the police, because the badger baiters threatened harm to himself and his family, and threatened him with firearms. Those badger baiters were not from Montgomeryshire ; such people are never country people. I regret to say that they had clear Merseyside accents and had started to dig for badgers in order to pursue their vile sport when they had transported the badgers to wherever they were taking them. Those of us who care for badgers, such as the farmers of Montgomeryshire, think that it is extremely important for a proper balance to be preserved between badgers, foxes, dogs which roam the countryside, and people. It is crucial to remember the people. Farmers are keen to preserve and look after badger setts. I know many farmers who are proud to take me to badger setts on their farms. They must also be allowed to carry out their legitimate activities in the countryside, and the most legitimate of those activities is sheep farming. Whatever industries have been brought to my constituency, it still depends on the major industry of Wales, which is sheep farming. If there were no sheep in the hills, there would be no people there either. Farming is already in enough financial trouble for one reason or another, without creating more problems.

It is somewhat difficult to obtain accurate figures about what is happening to foxes in rural Wales. However, I suggest that the threat posed to lambs by foxes is as great as that posed by uncontrolled dogs. I have obtained figures from the huntsman of the David Davies hunt in Llandinam in mid Wales. As some hon. Members know, that hunt is extremely well respected, and Mr. David Jones, the huntsman, is given the regard that such experienced huntsmen receive in the countryside.

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly) : Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Carlile : I shall give way when I have concluded this point. In the lambing season, which recently ended, Mr. Jones was called out many times. For example, he was called three times to the farm of Mr. Newey at Tynymaen,

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Llandinam, where 22 lambs were lost to foxes. He was called four times to the farm of Mr. Williams at Dolhafren, Caersws, where 27 lambs were lost to foxes.

He was called out twice to the farm of Mr. Higgs at Cefnllydan, Tregynon. Mr. Higgs is the chairman of the Llanidloes branch of the National Farmers Union and a moderate and highly intelligent farmer. Twenty-five lambs were lost to foxes there. He was called out four times to Mr. Trow at Llandinam hall, Llandinam, where 27 lambs were lost to foxes. Mr. Jones was called out often and took 46 foxes during the season, of which 28 were removed from badger setts. This is all clear evidence of the problem.

Mr. Jones and others like him control the problem of foxes with minimal damage to the badgers. Mr. Jones does not want to hurt badgers. Control of foxes in the way that it has been done in the countryside of Montgomeryshire for a long time is done humanely--the foxes are shot when they are caught--and with rigour and accuracy.

Mr. Colvin : What the hon. and learned Member has been saying is important, because it proves that fox hunting is a legitimate business carried out to control foxes. He has described a working hunt, as most are. They are not a collection of toffs in top hats out to enjoy themselves spoiling the countryside.

Mr. Carlile : I cannot contradict what the hon. Gentleman says, although I have never been fox hunting. I speak as someone who has no desire to go fox hunting, but I know that most of the hunting of foxes in my constituency is not done by toffs in top hats. Not many people there could afford the top hat, let alone the rest of the uniform or the horse. It is done to control foxes. It is generally done by--I hope that they will forgive me for saying so--ordinary farmers with a small number of terriers, over a restricted area. We do the badger no service by preventing such hunts from continuing. I have to say, with much regret but realism, that there is a real danger of such fox hunting being driven underground and farmers feeling driven to disobey the law because the law does not meet their legitimate needs and aspirations. I shall now give way to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies)--I apologise for taking so long to do so.

Mr. Ron Davies : I understand the difficulty for the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I am grateful to him for giving way. I should like to understand the totality of his argument, so perhaps he could clarify an apparent inconsistency in his position. He spoke glowingly of the David Davies hunt at Llandinam. However, I understand that it is official Liberal party policy to ban fox hunting. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman's endorsement of the Llandinam hunt extend to Liberal party policy generally?

Mr. Carlile : If the hon. Gentleman had read what he ought to have read, he would know that it has always been the policy of the parliamentary Liberal party, the parliamentary alliance and the parliamentary Liberal Democrats that this is an issue of conscience. This is a private Members' day, on which hon. Members express their own views. I am expressing my view, conscientiously. The hon. Member is right to say that my party has passed a motion calling for the banning of fox hunting, but he should bear in mind the fact that my party has always

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recognised, and endorsed, the parliamentary party's view that this is a matter of conscience. Perhaps we can get back to the merits of the issue.

Mr. Ron Davies : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Carlile : No, I will not give way again. I do not want to turn the debate into a political one. It is disgraceful to try to do so. I am trying to help to strike a balance between the needs of the farmers in my constituency, whose interests I have described, and the important needs to protect the badger. If amendment No. 16 is not carried, the Bill will be detrimental to the interests of the badger. It would be nonsense to suggest that any farmer would deliberately flout the law, but when his livelihood is under threat and his lambs are being killed by foxes, and the law has removed from him the instrument of protection, he will find it difficult to understand what else he can do.

I strongly applaud the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) for promoting the Bill. It is desirable that we should do whatever we can to protect badgers further. However, we must do so in a way that balances the interests of the badgers, the danger from the foxes and the needs of the people who live in rural areas such as I represent. For that reason, I support amendment No. 16.

10.15 am

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : The purpose of the Bill is to correct an omission from the Badgers Act 1973 so as to give protection to the home of a badger as well as to the badger itself. The clear duty of those of us here this morning who support the Bill--I am certainly one of them--is to resist any amendment that would weaken the shape of the Bill so much that it would become ineffective, and to support responsible amendments that improve the Bill and reflect, and protect, the genuine interests of farmers where they are not in conflict with the aims of the Bill.

The amendments in this group fall into two categories. The first are those moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) and the second is that tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison). The second, spoken to so articulately by my hon. Friend, reflects the clear view of the NFU that, without such amendment, the work of the farming community would be seriously hampered and the control of foxes as a pest would be made difficult, if not impossible. For that reason alone, I hope that the House will accept amendment No. 16. I believe that it would not have a detrimental effect on the prime purpose of the Bill. However, I cannot accept the first group of amendments, moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside. These, and other amendments that we shall discuss later, would have a detrimental effect on the shape of the Bill to the point where it would become virtually worthless. That would be a great opportunity lost for the House to set right an omission from an earlier Act.

I hope that, when he responds to the debate, my hon. Friend will clarify the sentiment behind one of his amendments. The League Against Cruel Sports, in a brief sent to Members of Parliament, says--wholly incorrectly- -that one of the amendments would create "a criminal offence ONLY if it could be shown that the interference was likely to cause bodily harm' to a badger."

That is not what the amendment says, and we must be clear about that and deal with fact rather than emotion. The amendment says that an offence would be created if an incident were conducted

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"in a manner which causes harm, or would be likely to cause harm, to a badger."

If I disagree with the inaccuracy in the brief from the League Against Cruel Sports, I still concur with the sentiment that it is expressing. The badger is a nocturnal animal and therefore leaves its sett to hunt at night. If the amendments were passed, the unscrupulous would be able to block a badger's sett while it was out hunting, and it would therefore be unable to return to its lawful home. Does my hon. Friend regard the deprival of the lawful home of the badger as being harmful? It seems that the amendments present us with a series of quibbles and that they are designed to create a loophole in the Bill. I should find it impossible to support any amendment that would weaken the Bill and I hope, therefore, that the House will reject the amendments that would have that effect.

Mr. Eddie O'Hara (Knowsley, South) : I shall speak to amendment No. 16 and take up the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). I accept the seriousness of the anecdotal evidence of the killing of lambs by foxes.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) : The evidence is not anecdotal.

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe) : It is. Where is the hard evidence?

Mr. O'Hara : The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery presented a series of anecdotes--I accept the seriousness of his anecdotal evidence-- concerning the killing of lambs by foxes. The source of that evidence could not be regarded as impartial.

Mr. Alex Carlile : Is the hon. Gentleman saying that my figures are inaccurate? If he is, I challenge him to make that statement outside the House. It is my view that the figures are accurate. Irrespective of whether the hon. Gentleman agrees with the conclusions which I drew from them, it is disgraceful to suggest that there is some dishonesty behind the figures. They are the figures of the person who went and took the foxes. That man spoke to the farmers and took the dead lambs. What more accurate evidence does the hon. Gentleman expect than that?

Mr. O'Hara : I was not casting any doubt on the accuracy of the statistics, nor was I casting any aspersion on the honesty of the providers of the statistics. I was simply saying--it is a matter of fact--that the statistics were anecdotal. I wish to set against that anecdotal evidence--I accept that the statistics that the hon. and learned Gentleman quoted are serious for the individual farmers who provided them--some evidence that is more scientific.

There have been studies of the activities of foxes, including the killing of lambs, in areas such as those to which the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery referred. I start with a publication that was produced by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It was produced, I accept, in 1979 but I have more up-to-date evidence. The MAFF survey of farmers' estimates of lamb losses in three predominantly sheep-rearing counties in mid-Wales yielded the figure of 0.5 per cent. loss to foxes. More recently, in 1985, the MAFF reference book 255(83)--"Research and Development Report on Mammal and Bird Pests'--stated :

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"In a study carried out in an upland hill area of Powys stocked with 3,500 lambing ewes, Lamb losses were found to be unaffected by foxes present in the area."

More recent MAFF studies in Northern Ireland and Scotland have produced the similar conclusion that, although lamb mortality may reach more than 20 per cent. in upland areas, most of that is due to stillbirths, malnutrition and hypothermia. All studies show that fox predation accounts for only between 0.5 and 2 per cent. of the mortality.

Mr. Hardy : The information that my hon. Friend is giving to the House is sufficiently serious and sufficiently soundly based and in sufficient conflict with the scale of the evidence quoted by the hon and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) that it may be that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree that my hon. Friend is doing the House a service, and that following his comments it would probably be useful if hon. Members who are now in the Chamber and who are members of the Select Committee on Agriculture were to embark on a study to establish the facts, given the enormous discrepancy between the evidence produced by the hon. and learned Gentleman and that which has been presented by my hon. Friend. I have formed the view that the hon. and learned Gentleman may have eaten far more sheep than the foxes have done in his constituency.

Mr. O'Hara : My hon. Friend has made a most useful suggestion. I have one more piece of scientific evidence to present. The report is very recent--October 1990--and it emanated from Aberdeen university. It suggests that the persecution and killing of foxes has no impact on either fox numbers or lamb numbers. Given the discrepancy between the evidence produced by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and that which I have put before the House, I commend the useful suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy).

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley) : Is the hon. Gentleman referring to the work that has been done on the Eriboll estate in Sutherland in taking up the findings of the survey that was undertaken by Aberdeen university?

Mr. O'Hara : I believe so.

Mr. Soames : I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is familiar with that research in any depth. Is he aware that the Eriboll estate is a unique part of the United Kingdom in terms of its landscape and the way in which the wildlife would be distributed on it? The author of the research has made it plain that it is impossible to extrapolate from the survey that was undertaken at the Eriboll estate any further conclusions for anywhere else within the United Kingdom. It is one of the great wild areas left in the United Kingdom. The key finding of the survey--this comes as no great pleasure to any of us--is that foxes do take and kill viable lambs.

Mr. O'Hara : Whatever the merits of the evidence, it is one example of the scientific studies to which I have referred. It reinforces the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth that there is room for a close investigation of the matter to be carried out by a Committee of this place.

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If there are pockets of serious predation by foxes upon lambs as described by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, I suggest that the provisions in clause 2 provide adequate means for coping with such instances as they arise. If the Welsh fox hunters are as concerned as the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests to play their part in coping with the problem, the provisions for the temporary stopping of setts will provide an adequate remedy.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare) : Unfortunately, I was unable to remain in the Chamber for the whole of the debate on Second Reading, but I listened to the opening speeches. I take this opportunity to say that, along with all other hon. Members, I abhor the evil practices of badger digging and badger baiting.

In reading the report of the Second Reading debate, my attention focused on comments made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office. She reminded the House that the Protection of Animals Act 1911 forbids the fighting or baiting of any animal, and said that the maximum penalty for that offence has recently been increased to £5,000. She then referred to the Badgers Act 1973, which similarly provides for a maximum fine of £5,000. Thirdly, she referred to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which provides for a level 5 fine. My right hon. Friend said that the badger is an unendangered species and therefore it already enjoys unique protection in the countryside.

I understand that the purpose of the Bill is to make it easier to prosecute those evil people who engage in badger baiting. That is a most eminent purpose, and one which I strongly support. However, the number of instances where it appears likely that the Bill, when enacted, will be used for successful prosecution is very small indeed. The reality of the countryside is such that the majority of farmers know what is happening on their land. I support the view of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) that farmers, who understand the countryside and love the animals with which they work and the wildlife that surrounds them, will do everything in their power to prohibit badger digging on their land.

10.30 am

My interest in the Bill is confined to agriculture. The farmers have no option but to use their land as their factories ; it is where they earn their living. This is not a unique Bill, because other legislation already affects the right of a man to do what he will with his land. However, it would impose a new and serious burden on farmers in the use of their land. I tabled an amendment, which unfortunately did not attract Mr. Speaker's attention, to make it possible for farmers who, in their agricultural operations, destroyed a badger sett not to be prosecuted under the Bill. I realise that clause 2 provides that a person shall not be guilty if it happens in the process of lawful acts, but I wanted to draw attention to the legitimate rights of farmers and foresters as they go about their duties.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) said on Second Reading :

"Accidents happen in the countryside, particularly involving farmers and forestry staff. It is easy to drive a truck or heavy vehicle carrying trees over a sett and damage it. I should not wish such an accident to result in people being sent to court."--[ Official Report, 15 February 1991 ; Vol. 185, c. 1159.]

I hope that the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) will mention that aspect. I do not doubt that the majority of farmers will not be too concerned, as they

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