Hunting Bill

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Mr. Soames: Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Garnier: Let me just finish my sentence, because I know that my hon. Friend is about to criticise me for having shot a fox. I shot it in north Pembrokeshire because—

The Chairman: Order. I hesitate to interject, but I am a little concerned that we are moving away from the subject of establishing a registrar in Wales. I hope

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that the hon. and learned Gentleman will return to that.

Mr. Garnier: It may seem that I am getting to the church by way of the moon, but I can assure you, Mr. Stevenson, that the example that I am about to give is entirely pertinent to the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Caernarfon.

Mr. Soames: Will my hon. and learned Friend describe to the Committee the circumstances under which he committed that act of vulpicide?

Mr. Garnier: I am not sure that I would describe it as vulpicide. The dairy farmer on whose land I was would describe it as pesticide, and so would I. The circumstances were just such as a registrar dealing with a Welsh application will have to consider. It is his local knowledge, and the evidence that local farmers in Wales will be able to give to a knowledgeable registrar, that will be pertinent to the granting of a licence under the clause 8 tests.

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I was in a steep wooded valley on the banks of a river. The range at which I shot the fox was approximately the same as the distance that the Minister is from me. I was able to get a good clean lung shot and the beast died at once. However, as the registrar in Wales will have to bear in mind, it is not always possible to get that close to a fox, let alone a Welsh Minister, and get a good clean shot. Furthermore, I was using a 12-bore shotgun and ammunition more suitable for the disposal of game birds than for the disposal of foxes. I was lucky to be able to get so close. I am fearful that, if Welsh farmers and their agents are unable to use dogs of any kind to control foxes, there will be more indiscriminate use of shotguns, leading to the wounding and the slow and agonising death of foxes, of which no Committee member would approve.

Lembit Öpik: It is worth emphasising, as I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree, that many of the farmers of mid-Wales—this is certainly the case in Montgomeryshire, Caernarfon and, I imagine, Ceredigion—regard foxes as a pest. If they cannot use their preferred method of pest control, namely killing foxes with dogs, they will go out and use whatever means they have available. They are very unlikely to buy a new gun to do the job. The hon. and learned Gentleman's point, therefore, is completely correct. In my judgment, it will probably diminish, not improve, the welfare of the fox if we do not give this dispensation to Wales.

Mr. Garnier: It is just such factors that the registrar in Wales ought to bear in mind. That returns us directly to the amendments.

I want to underline the importance of foxhounds and dogs in general to the Welsh rural economy, shown especially during the foot and mouth crisis of the past year or so. A survey of a third of foxhound packs across the United Kingdom in the summer of 2001 found that the temporary suspension of hunting owing to foot and mouth had reduced their normal fox

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cull by 4,900. There were 4,700 calls from farmers asking for assistance with fox damage, and Welsh farms in sheep rearing areas lost an average of £500 in stock value from additional fox predation. Since the resumption of hunting—on 17 December 2001 in some areas and a little later in others—there is clear evidence from standard reporting forms from hunts that many areas have unusually large concentrations of undispersed foxes.

The Farmers Union of Wales has said of the fox population:

    ''The ban on foxhunting over the last year has led to an explosion in the population to unprecedented levels. In some cases, farmers who lost six or seven lambs to foxes normally have seen the numbers they lose jump to between 35 and 40.''

The union wrote to the Federation of Welsh Packs on 18 October 2001 stating:

    ''All Counties in Wales have reported an increase in fox numbers and predation since the Hunting Authorities commenced their voluntary ban on 22 February 2001. The Union's County Branches are receiving an increasing number of calls from farmers concerned at the effects of a protracted ban on fox control during the autumn period . . . feedback from members demonstrates a growing concern about the rising fox population, which needs urgent action before next year's lambing season.''

I am concerned that the Government, by introducing the Bill in its current form, are attempting to think of the issue in an entirely homogenous way. England and Wales are no different, nor is Sussex different from Leicestershire, Norfolk, Montgomeryshire or Pembrokeshire. It is vital that the hon. Member for Caernarfon can persuade the Government and members of the Committee that the Welsh aspect of this problem should be properly recognised and considered.

Alun Michael: Would the hon. and learned Gentleman also argue for devolution to the regions of England in the operation of this Bill?

Mr. Garnier: No, I would not, for two reasons. First, England, like Wales, is an identifiable political and geographical unit, despite the fact that there are many regional and local differences between aspects of the country. Secondly, the less government and fewer bureaucrats, Secretaries of State or their equivalent we have, the better; certainly for the tax-paying public who end up paying for all those people.

Hywel Williams: Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the context of government in Wales is different, given that we already have a National Assembly for Wales? We are dealing here with real matters, not conjecture. The legislative context for the Welsh language is different, in that we have the Welsh Language Act 1993, which was enacted under a Conservative Government. Those are real differences, not conjecture.

Mr. Garnier: Yes, I understand the strength of the hon. Gentleman's argument.

I touched briefly on the risk of wounding with a shotgun in my discussion with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex when we were talking about the local knowledge a registrar will need when he considers an application for a licence for a hunting pack, individual or group in Wales. The risk of

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wounding with a shotgun is even greater than with a rifle.

Mr. Soames: My hon. and learned Friend makes a very important point, but he does not make enough of it. The risk of wounding with a shotgun is substantially greater than with a rifle. A shot from a high-velocity rifle will lay down a fox, but a light wound in the rear end of a fox will cause it to die a very slow and painful death.

The Chairman: Order. The argument of shotgun versus rifle is one that could be applied throughout the whole of this debate and the whole of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Garnier: Arguments in relation to many clauses in this Bill could be applied throughout the whole of England and Wales. I am concentrating on the need for special care to be taken in the example of applications for licences within Wales. The hon. Member for Caernarfon is right to draw the Committee's attention to the need for this special care. With respect, Mr Stevenson, my hon. Friend's concerns about the use of shotguns are peculiarly relevant to the considerations of the registrars in Wales, because of the special needs of the Welsh farming community in controlling the fox population.

I will not deal with the differences between rifle shot and shotgun shot; not least because many members of the Committee will already be familiar with them. It is not a new issue. The Royal Society for the Protection of Animals considered it as long ago as 1951 when it contributed to the Scott Henderson report, which I know all members of the Committee have read. The opinion of the RSPCA at that time about the use of shotguns and rifles is clear.

Andrew George (St. Ives): On a point of order, Mr. Stevenson. I seek your guidance. As I understood the case made by the hon. Member for Caernarfon for his amendments—he did it very well—they are simply about the principle of devolution, not about the practicalities of hunting or the topography in certain regions or nations of the UK. The speech that we are hearing does not address the principle of devolution, but is rerunning most of the arguments about various methods of pest control and hunting.

The Chairman: Order. [Interruption.] Let me respond to the point of order, please. The principle of setting up a registrar for Wales is part of the devolution argument and the hon. Member who moved the amendments pointed that out. I am a little concerned that we are beginning to stray to arguments that are not within that ambit. I take the point and hope that Members will be guided accordingly.

Mr. Gray: Further to that point of order, Mr. Stevenson. I believe that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) is pointing out that it is important that the registrar should have local knowledge because of the differences in topography between Wales and England. To make that point and support the hon. Member for Caernarfon, it is necessary to describe the differences between Wales and England. That is what my hon.

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and learned Friend was doing, perhaps in a roundabout way.

The Chairman: I take the point entirely. In my previous interventions, which I have not liked making, I have tried to clarify the situation. However, I am sure that hon. Members understand the way in which the debate should now continue.

Mr. Garnier: It is perhaps worth considering the terms of amendment No. 192. The hon. Member for Caernarfon wishes to insert at the beginning of line 32 on page 3 the words ''as regards England''. With respect to the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), it is entirely proper to draw attention to the differences between what is or may be applicable in England and what is applicable in Wales, because the hon. Member for Caernarfon is trying to separate the judicial process in Wales from that of England.

I accept that the appointment of the registrar, be it an individual or a group of individuals, will be dealt with by the Lord Chancellor or his Department. The Lord Chancellor under whom we currently are blessed to have a judicial system is the Lord Chancellor of England and Wales, despite the fact that he is a Scotsman. It seems right when we are considering the usefulness of the registrar system in either England or Wales that the Government should ensure, in producing the legislation, that the most appropriate people are appointed to the task. If the registrar who is appointed to deal with Welsh applications is unfamiliar with the rural community and way of life or the activities that farmers require of their dogs or local packs of hounds, he will fail in his duty and the Government will not have produced a Bill designed to deal with the problem that they perceive to exist.

I am as concerned as the hon. Member for Caernarfon—although I do not share his political views about the future of the constitution of the United Kingdom—that there should be justice, fairness and popular acceptance of the registrar system. Unless the Committee bears in mind his arguments, which I hope I have not undermined but reinforced, Welsh farmers, like English farmers, will feel that they have been dealt a bad blow. They will feel with some justification that the Government have ignored and failed to take into account the concerns and local differences between England and Wales and between the various parts of Wales.

I hope that the former Secretary of State and First Minister will not simply brush aside those worries as the concerns of a political opponent in Wales, but treat them seriously and invite Ministers to pay particular attention, both in Committee and on the Floor of the House, to the concerns of the Welsh rural population and to Wales's economy. If they do that they will have a margin—I accept that it will be only a margin—of acceptance for this otherwise dreadful Bill. If they ignore those concerns—the evidence is that they have done so in the past—they will have further problems, in which case the Minister will not be the only the former Secretary of State for Wales; other Labour Members will be able to hold up their hands and say, ''I, too, am a former Secretary of State for Wales.''

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