Humane Trapping Standards

[back to previous text]

Mrs. Dean: If the directive was not implemented—if we could persuade colleagues in Europe not to implement it—would we still be able to keep the ban on fur trapped in countries with leghold traps?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes. In the absence of a directive that involves the lifting of that ban, it remains in place. However, I caution my hon. Friend that quite serious trade conflict issues could arise from that situation and there might be reasons why we do not want that. However, as I have made clear, we intend that anything that happens should, at the very least, retain the status quo in terms of trapping standards and welfare in the UK. I have also made it clear that we would prefer to use this as an opportunity to update some of the outdated and archaic legislation that governs trapping in the UK.

Matthew Green: Can the Minister confirm that if the directive was in place, and a new form of trapping was invented—he mentioned drowning traps—that new form of trapping could be used in Britain, unless we were to introduce legislation specifically to outlaw it?

Mr. Bradshaw: I understand that we would not need to outlaw it. We would need specifically to allow it—at present it is not allowed.
Column Number: 7

Dr. Vis: I have received reports from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and from Respect for Animals—no doubt my hon. Friend the Minister has also received them. I have read those reports carefully. The report from Respect for Animals throws great doubt on those who negotiated the directive in 1996 and earlier. It states:

    ''Negotiations continued between Commission officials and experts from those countries—the US, Canada and Russia—but excluding the EU scientific experts.''

The House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities subsequently commented on the exclusion of those experts. Does my hon. Friend have any comment to make on that?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am not an expert on international trade negotiations, but I would imagine that it is quite normal for them to be undertaken initially at official level. However, they eventually become a political matter. That is why we are debating these matters today. I have no doubt that because of their controversial nature they will provoke debate at the political level not just in the UK, but in other EU countries and in the European Parliament.

Mrs. Dean: Besides the briefings that we have had from the RSPCA and Respect for Animals, we have also received a briefing from the League Against Cruel Sports, which states:

    ''Traps are only required under Article 5(2b) and 5(3b) to be 80 per cent. successful in tests of humaneness. We do not believe that this is a high enough test.''

Could the Minister comment on securing tests that provide for 100 per cent. humaneness?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am not sure that 100 per cent. humaneness is possible. However, the United Kingdom has probably the world's—certainly Europe's—leading experts in trapping technology. We invest considerable amounts of money in constantly trying to improve the welfare standards of trapping. Some of that trapping is non-lethal, but some of it has to be done for testing purposes, such as the current Krebs trials on badgers, or to protect biodiversity, such as the removal of rats from certain environments to protect ground-nesting birds.

There are different reasons for trapping and we work consistently to try to improve welfare standards. For the record, I warmly welcome all the representations that we have had from the animal welfare organisations. This shows that over the next year to 18 months we will have a helpful and lively consultation on this, which I hope will allow us to consolidate and modernise our own trapping legislation.

Matthew Green: What possibility is there to negotiate changes into the proposal? Most people would regard humane trapping as trapping alive, but traps that are designed at present to kill allow a five-minute period before the animal dies. That seems an excessively long period. Can the Minister negotiate a reduction in that time?
Column Number: 8

Mr. Bradshaw: I do not want to give the Committee too many hostages to fortune, but there is considerable scope for changing the proposals, not least because they have so far been discussed at an official level. Once politicians and the European Parliament become more engaged, I believe that the Commission will accept some of our criticisms of the holes in the proposals and change them.

Mr. Foster: My hon. Friend mentioned that this is ultimately a political judgment. As the official Opposition do not appear to have shown up, has he had any indication from them about whether they have a view on this important issue?

Mr. Bradshaw: No. It is quite extraordinary that a party that pretends to represent rural areas and bangs on constantly about the need for effective wildlife management does not even bother to turn up to such an important debate.

Matthew Green: May I also draw the Minister's attention to the derogation in the proposal for the protection of public and private property, which seems entirely unnecessary? Will the Government try to negotiate that derogation out of the proposal?

Mr. Bradshaw: That is one of the things that we will wish to consider during the consultation. The derogation in effect means that the vast majority of land where trapping occurs in the UK and the vast amount of trapping will be exempt from the regulation anyway, which renders it rather meaningless.

Dr. Vis: In defence of the Conservatives not being here, would my hon. Friend agree that some Liberals are Conservative and others are Labour? I do not know where the hon. Member for Ludlow stands, but there is a possibility that he is one of the first group.

The Chairman: The Minister does not need to answer that.

Mr. Bradshaw: Thank you, Mr. Sayeed.

Matthew Green: We have already heard about the 80 per cent. proposal. What does the Minister think is a realistic aim? He has said that 100 per cent. humaneness is probably unachievable. Where are the Government trying to negotiate up to? Is it 95 per cent. or 98 per cent?

Mr. Bradshaw: I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of any consultation, not just on these proposals but on modernising and consolidating our own trap legislation. There is certainly room for improvement.

Matthew Green: May I draw the Minister's attention to another problem with the proposal? Where traps are being used to field test they have to be checked only once a day. Clearly that could leave an animal caught for almost 24 hours. What might the Government try to negotiate that down to?
Column Number: 9

Mr. Bradshaw: If my arithmetic is right, it could lead to a trap being checked only every 48 hours. One could check a trap at five minutes past midnight and then at five minutes to midnight the following day. We certainly think that 24 hours would be a better period.

The Chairman: If there are no further questions, we will now proceed to the debate on the motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

    That the Committee takes note of European Union document No. 12200/04, draft Directive on introducing humane trapping standards for certain animal species; and supports the Government's view that the human trapping standards should be implemented and adopted in the United Kingdom.—[Mr. Bradshaw.]

2.19 pm

Matthew Green: It is not often that I get the opportunity to speak first. Clearly in the absence of the Conservatives I will take the opportunity with relish.

There is unanimity across the Committee that what is proposed does not go far enough in terms of standards. However, I accept that we do not want to end up entering more trade wars with either Russia, America, Canada or whoever we are negotiating with at the WTO. There is a balance to be struck. I urge the Minister to use every influence that the Government have to negotiate a strengthening of the proposals.

It is clear that allowing an animal to remain in a trap for potentially up to 48 hours, as the Minister said, is unacceptable. I would suggest to the Minister that 24 hours is not really acceptable for an animal to be kept in a trap away from sustenance. Anyone engaged in field trials would want to be more responsible than that and I am sure that responsible researchers would want to check traps far more often that. There is an opportunity to strengthen that part of the proposal.

I hope that the Government do some work on a regulatory impact assessment. I realise that in the UK that only applies to the trapping of stoats, which is a minor part. However, European directives can often have unforeseen consequences that are thrown up only by a regulatory impact assessment. I know that consultation is going on, but the earlier that such an assessment can be made, the better the consultation will be aided as we realise what the likely effect of the proposal will be.

The other area that I urge the Minister to strengthen is the five-minute time limit. In an ideal world, it is difficult to think of humane traps that kill. Even accepting that that might have to be negotiated in any agreement between Europe and other countries, five minutes of dying is an excessive period. The Government should push for a much shorter maximum. Just as the Minister backed away from setting a target of 100 per cent. humaneness, I suspect that proposing instantaneous death would also be unrealistic, but the Minister must push for a much shorter period for animals to be allowed to die in traps.

I do not want to say a great deal more, except to urge the Minister to work within Europe to ensure that the proposals are strengthened and all parties to work with Members of the European Parliament. The other direction from which the attack to strengthen the
Column Number: 10
proposals can come is from MEPs. They are often accused of being unable to do very much, but clearly they can do something on this matter. I hope that it will be an ideal opportunity for MEPs of all parties to show their worth.

2.24 pm
Previous Contents Continue
House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 12 January 2005