Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Duke of Montrose: We have debated the interests of sheep and a number of other types of livestock quite extensively around the Committee. I begin by declaring an interest as someone who, like the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, owns sheep and lives in a national park—the only difference being that the park I live in is in Scotland. Noble Lords will understand how, subjectively, I must be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for tabling these amendments. I can perhaps understand the limitations he has placed on their effect.

The noble Lord drew to our attention the speech made by my noble friend Lord Jopling at Second Reading in which he described a most telling case. Unfortunately, my noble friend is unable to be in his place today, and he has asked me to remind your Lordships about the Plas Machynlleth hounds and how one of the huntsmen of the hounds had to be recalled during the Second World War because the foxes got so out of control that they were threatening food production in the area.

When my noble friend Lord Mancroft mentioned statistics, he was no doubt thinking of those provided in the Burns report, which were taken from studies carried out by the Game Conservancy Trust and other bodies. The studies looked first at lambing in mid-Wales and then at lambing in the whole of England and Wales, not necessarily in national park areas. Burns drew out that the percentage of losses is greatly influenced by the number of sheep that are lambed indoors. He quoted a rate of loss of 0.6 per cent in mid-Wales and a best estimate of less than 2 per cent for England and Wales together. This has perhaps given the impression that, in general, it is not a very serious problem for sheep production. However, he added the

28 Oct 2003 : Column 178

rider that the effect of the loss on the individual farmer will vary, depending on his or her circumstances. Most of the circumstances that have been described today have involved people lambing out of doors.

I expect it will not have escaped your Lordships' notice that in the recent Scottish legislation, the use of dogs in the control of foxes, particularly underground, has been allowed as a general rule because the legislators in Scotland were impressed by the importance of this kind of control for sheep farming. Like the Lake District farmer whom the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, mentioned, I should like to share some of my practical experience, which is in slight contrast to the more general statistics provided by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison.

It so happens that this spring, there was a period when I was not able to have someone controlling foxes in my area. I had 40 ewes running in a couple of fields next to the open hill. In the first 10 days, the shepherd lost between 10 and 15 lambs to foxes. This is a man who knows every one of his sheep individually. In the main, healthy lambs, seen with their mothers last thing at night, were not there in the morning. Does the Minister consider that the shepherd's trauma was limited because nobody was there to witness the lambs being killed? This represents about 25 to 30 per cent of the lambs we would expect from these ewes. Our impression was that it tailed off only because the man further up the hill started lambing by the end of this time so the foxes moved on to pastures new, as they will do.

I have more ewes whose lambs were not affected to this extent so, overall, it was not a disaster of the proportions that it might first have appeared. But perhaps this serves as an illustration of what happens in particular areas at particular times if one or more foxes in a sensitive area escape the most effective method of control available. We will come back to this issue later when we debate a number of amendments on the use of dogs underground.

In the mean time, my difficulty with this amendment is that, like a number of other noble Lords, I know that a lot of sheep and livestock do not reside in a national park, and we have before us a Bill which is now to be based on registration. This will allow rational decisions based on individual areas across the country, and it will allow those making the judgment to tailor their decisions on the threats that actually exist.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Whitty: I shall speak in this debate very briefly. If I am slightly more benign towards my noble friend's amendment than I am to some others which are before us today, it is not because I agree with it but because he, at least, shows some consideration of the fact that the Bill before us, from the House of Commons, has a structure, and his amendment is geared to that structure. Most of the other amendments before us would effectively delete that structure and replace it with something entirely different.

28 Oct 2003 : Column 179

It is therefore important to recognise that my noble friend's amendment could sensibly be considered by the House of Commons within the structure of the Bill originally before us. It could, with some tweaking—some significant tweaking—also be considered in the context of registration, which was agreed in earlier proceedings, although it would not be appropriate to do it in precisely this form.

As to the substance of the proposition, the protection of sheep, particularly in upland areas, was considered as a separate issue when the Government were discussing the Bill at previous stages. Because there were fewer adverse welfare implications than hunting with dogs in other areas, this may not be appropriate in all upland areas, particularly the more remote upland areas, most of which are within national parks. It was therefore suggested that some sort of exemption should be provided there.

On the other hand, as my noble friend Lord Harrison indicated, much of this is for flushing out, and the Burns report recognises that the welfare of foxes could be affected adversely unless dogs could be used at least to flush out foxes from cover in upland areas. That, therefore, is a different situation from that which prevails in the rest of the country where, in the estimation of the majority of the House of Commons and the Government in both the original Bill and the Bill which is now before us—or was before us—in most circumstances there will be less cruel methods of conducting the control of foxes. In the upland areas, there is an argument that that might not be so, but most of those could be covered by the exemption in the Bill for flushing out, as my noble friend Lord Harrison suggested.

Earl Peel: What evidence does the Minister have, either from Burns or Portcullis House, that hunting is actually crueller than other methods? That is what he is implying.

Lord Whitty: We have discussed that at great length, as we have discussed many amendments at great length. I am not prepared to respond to that question, as I have responded to it in various forms at various stages. Those who supported the Bill originally before this Chamber strongly felt that the cruelty was greater in relation to fox hunting with hounds than in other circumstances. That may not apply in some areas, and it is reasonable therefore that my noble friend should ask the Committee and, subsequently, the House of Commons, to consider whether a further exemption might be necessary.

I do not believe there to be an overwhelming case for that, although I believe that the Committee should consider it. If this Chamber supported it, the House of Commons should consider it—whether by way of the amendment introduced by my noble friend on grounds for defence, or by the method proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, in Amendment No. 100, which would add to the exemptions and which we shall reach later. Both those amendments respect the original structure of the Bill, which can be adapted.

I do not believe that the case has been made, and I am not therefore prepared to advise acceptance of the amendment. All that I am saying is that the discussion

28 Oct 2003 : Column 180

is somewhat different from some that will come, where the amendments would in effect construct an entirely different Bill from the one sent us by the Commons.

Lord Campbell-Savours: I thank the Committee for the serious and frank way in which it has considered my amendment. I shall comment briefly on the observations made by those noble Lords who have spoken.

I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, who was wise enough to acknowledge that under my amendment at least one bit of hunting would be preserved. Those were his words. I thank my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for his balanced contribution and his use of the correspondence. I thank, too, the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for his recognition that this is a last-ditch attempt. That is precisely what it is.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord King, for his reference to the dangers from the use of high-speed rifles and for his irony; the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, for bringing to the debate his great knowledge of the countryside; and the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for his good eye in recognising the gradation of the three amendments. I am afraid that I cannot cede to his request to press Amendment No. 27, as it would be amended in the way he wants. In doing so, I believe that what left this Chamber would not be taken seriously by the House of Commons.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, who referred, in the absence of my reference, to the services provided by the hunt, especially during the period of foot and mouth. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, for his understanding of the position in the national parks, coming as he does from the north of England. I fully understand the dilemma faced by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, who does not want to compromise the principle of registration, which is the position taken by a number of Members on his side of the Committee who are wavering on the amendment.

I have to thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, for his colourful combination of irony and sarcasm, which I so often enjoyed listening to when he was a Member in another place. I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, felt unable to support my amendment. I would ask him to recognise that I am putting to the Committee tonight only what I believe to be credible in the other place. I am being as frank as I can; that is my objective.

I am afraid that I have to reject the views of the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, who described my amendment as "humbug". Oh, that we could have perfection and consistency in all legislation! I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, for at least understanding the problems.

My noble friend the Minister referred to his contribution in response as benign, and I took it in that way. However, in light of the debate, and because there are many people in the Lakeland and in the national park in Wales who are watching what happens during our proceedings this evening, I now wish to test the will of the Committee.

28 Oct 2003 : Column 181

5.55 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 25) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 104; Not-Contents, 68.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page