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Hunting Bill

House again in Committee.

Lord Mancroft moved Amendment No. 28:


Tests for Registration: Utility and Least Suffering
(1) The first test for registration in respect of the proposed hunting of wild mammals is that it is likely to make a contribution to—

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(a) the prevention or reduction of damage which the wild mammals to be hunted would otherwise cause to—
(i) livestock,
(ii) game birds or wild birds (within the meaning of section 27 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (c. 69) (interpretation of Part 1)),
(iii) food for livestock,
(iv) crops (including vegetables and fruit),
(v) growing timber or regenerating woodland,
(vi) fisheries,
(vii) other property, or
(viii) the biological diversity of an area (within the meaning of the United Nations Environmental Programme Convention on Biological Diversity of 1992), or
(b) the maintenance of sustainable populations of any particular species of wild mammal, or
(c) the sustainable development of the area (within the meaning of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development 1992).
(2) The second test for registration in respect of proposed hunting of wild mammals is that it is unlikely to cause significantly more pain, suffering or distress to the wild mammals to be hunted than would be likely to be caused by any other reasonably available method of achieving the contribution mentioned in subsection (1)."

The noble Lord said: The Committee is rather more peaceful, I am delighted to say. At the start of last week, on the first day of the Committee, Members of the Committee accepted the proposal that some of us made to reintroduce the Government's concept of registered hunting. The Minister whose Bill this is, Mr Michael, had previously made it clear that the Bill would be based not on a simple list of activities to be banned, but rather on a set of principles. Those principles would emerge first from the Burns report and, leading on from that, from the public consultation that he proposed to hold, followed by the three days of hearings at Portcullis House. That is pretty much what happened.

The original Bill that Mr Michael introduced set up what one might loosely call two classes of hunting, exempt and registered. By inference there was therefore a third class, hunting that was neither exempt nor registered and was therefore effectively prohibited. Prohibited hunting was to be hunting that was not exempt but had failed the necessary criteria for registration. The two tests that anyone seeking registration would have to pass have come to be known as the tests of utility and least suffering.

The purpose of the amendment is to put those two tests back into the Bill. It is a little cumbersome as it would have been more convenient to deal with them separately, but the drafting does not make that easy to achieve. The Committee will forgive me if I am a little long-winded, but the matter is quite complex to try to

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explain. Realistically, I am taking the role of a Minister at Second Reading in explaining a Bill, and I shall do my best.

The first test that we come to is that of utility. In a letter on 10th April 2002, the Minister described at the start of his consultation process what he meant by utility. He wrote of,

    "the need for particular activities, particularly in the work of land and wildlife managers. It might be described as the need or usefulness of an activity for vermin control, wildlife management, habitat protection or land management and conservation".

It is reasonable to say that that is the basis on which people responded to his consultation.

That was also basis on which the hearings at Portcullis House took place some months later. The extensive results of the consultation are in the public domain. They were posted on the website and I believe that they were placed in the Libraries of both Houses. They can be seen if anybody so wishes. Many people have looked at them. The evidence is well known. There is nothing secret or quiet about it. Ninety per cent of the evidence received was firmly in support of hunting in its various forms and few respondents offered any evidence that even remotely justified prohibiting any form of hunting.

Most of the responses against hunting came from the organisation which, even at that stage, was called Deadline 2000, although for reasons which have since become clear, it subsequently became expedient to change that name. I believe that it is now called the Campaign for the Protection of the Hunted Animal. It comprises three organisations: the RSPCA, the League Against Cruel Sports and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. They were the three main organisations which submitted evidence against hunting. They were joined by a few other individuals and a number of other smaller organisations, but the quantities involved were very low. The only scientific evidence of any substance to be submitted from that side of the debate came from Professor Stephen Harris of the Mammals Society. I am sure that he is a splendid fellow—I have debated against him, so I know that—but one could not regard him as entirely objective. His peers in the scientific word certainly do not, perhaps because a great deal of his funding comes from the three organisations to which I referred. Whether that matters or not, I am not in a position to say.

An enormous amount of evidence was submitted by a wide range of organisations that made the utility case for hunting. Virtually every land management organisation in the United Kingdom submitted evidence, backed in many cases by hard data and independent research, that clearly showed the contribution of hunting to wildlife management, the conservation of habitats, the environment, agriculture, forestry and the social and cultural life of the British countryside, as well as to biodiversity.

Among those organisations were the National Farmers Union, the National Farmers Union of Wales, the Country Land and Business Association, the British Association of Shooting and Conservation, the Game Conservancy Trust, the Countryside Alliance—noble Lords will recall that I am a board

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member of that—and many other organisations. In particular, the Game Conservancy Trust submitted a lot of hard evidence, from a variety of studies, of the contribution that hunting makes to the conservation and maintenance of the countryside by actively managing and creating habitat that benefits a huge range of wildlife and not just the four species that are relevant to the Bill.

Research shows that hunts manage 10 per cent of the woodland in the areas over which they hunt. One of the few new pieces research to be published since the consultation was completed—it was published in the summer—was from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent. It was a remarkable piece of research and it brought to light a number of things. Most of the conservation work in the United Kingdom takes place in uplands, moorlands and wetlands. The single biggest contribution to conservation in lowland UK is from landowners and managers who take part in hunting or shooting and who manage their land with that in mind. The report is in the public domain and I hope that many of your Lordships will have seen it. It concluded that the motivation that leads to that conservation work could not be replicated by subsidy, even if that level of subsidy were available.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Fyfe of Fairfield, is not in his place this evening. At Second Reading, he talked with pride about the work of the Co-op. When I was a master of hounds 10 years ago, my kennels were next door to a substantial estate owned and managed by the Co-op. All the gates were painted that revolting turquoise blue, which I suppose does not matter except that it appeared to infect the villages. There were no foxes on the land anyway—they would not have wanted to go there. There was no wildlife. It may have been well and profitably managed for the members of the Co-operative Society but, as a piece of environmental and conservation work, it was an absolute disaster.

That is one of the problems. Constructive and motivated management is required in order to produce the type of countryside for which we are famous. It only needs a landowner or manager to take his eye off the ball, as the Co-op has done in its Gloucestershire estates, to end up with an ecological desert with no wildlife, no hedgerows and coverts with no bottom in them. That is the other side of the coin.

There are examples to the contrary from the sporting world. I shall give just two; I do not want to detain the Committee for long. The Sinnington Hunt in Yorkshire manages a gorse cover, which contains the last remaining colony of piebald fritillary butterflies in the North East of England. The Butterfly Conservation charity wrote congratulating the Ravenswick Estate Company on achieving what the rest of Yorkshire had failed to do. The management strategy for that woodland was fox hunting. In the

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New Forest, the survival of the Montagu's harrier is threatened by foxes taking the chicks. In 1997, the Forestry Commission—

Lord Graham of Edmonton: I am grateful. The noble Lord referred to the absence of my noble friend Lord Fyfe. Perhaps I may tell the noble Lord that my noble friend is ill and has had an operation. He would have liked to be here. He would have defended himself. However, I rise because of the astounding remarks that the noble Lord ascribes to the management by the Co-op—that is, the CWS—of its farms. He is well aware that members of the Co-op comprise the largest group of farmers in the country. They have an impeccable record. I can assure the noble Lord that I shall seek an early response either from the chief executive, Mr Martin Beaumont, or from the farms manager. I am sure that he will be written to and asked to substantiate what he said. What he said was a slur upon the quality of the management by the CWS of a very large holding. Whatever they say, I resent what he has said.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Mancroft: I am sure that all Members of the Committee will extend their sympathy and encouragement to the noble Lord, Lord Fyfe, and hope that he returns to us hale and hearty very soon. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Graham, for drawing that to your Lordships' attention.

I am very sorry if the noble Lord is upset by what I said about the Co-op land. I know that its members form a large group of farmers. I did not know that they comprised the largest group in Britain, although of course I know that the Co-op owns a large amount of land. I know only that one estate, which comprises perhaps 2,000 acres in Gloucestershire. I do not know it today, but 10 years ago I knew it extremely well. The manager, who was an extremely nice man whom I knew well, and his wife managed the estate as they were instructed, but I know that they were not particularly happy with the conservation policy that they were obliged to follow. I am certain that it was a very successful farm economically but it was not very pretty to look at and it stuck out like a sore thumb compared with some of the farms nearby, which were managed rather more sympathetically. However, I shall look forward to receiving a letter and hearing what the Co-op has to say about that.

I return to the subject of the New Forest, where the survival of the Montagu's harrier was threatened by foxes taking chicks. In 1997 the Forestry Commission called in the New Forest hunt to help. The hunt killed eight foxes within one mile of the nesting site and, using the hounds, was able to locate a den near the nest. A fox was dug out and humanely destroyed. So it is not just the quarry species themselves which benefit from hunting; a variety of other animals benefit from sympathetic management and the things that hunting can do.

The utility is not solely directed at culling or pest control. Both culling and pest control are important but pest control is simply one part of the management

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of any species. No doubt the Minister will return to the old theme that hunting accounts for only about 10 per cent of foxes killed in places such as the East Midlands. In my view, saying that demonstrates the absurdity of the position which the Government have got themselves into.

Why does anyone think it is that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has a wildlife management department but not a pest control department? It is because wildlife management is the aim. Pest control is just one part of it. Wildlife management is about conserving healthy and balanced populations of species in numbers that are sustainable for very different environments up and down the country. I say that with one exception, on which we have not touched in these debates, which is that of mink. I am sorry to see that the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, is not in her place. I am sure that she would have something to say on this subject.

We want sustainable, manageable, balanced populations of fox, hare and deer. We want, I think, no population of mink. Hunting is just one way of getting rid of them. I should like to see more ways of getting rid of them—of course humanely. Everyone accepts that and would like to see that, but we must get rid of mink.

It has to be remembered that in lowland Britain, where every man's hand is against the fox, hunting is the great preserver of foxes. Of course, in the uplands and moorlands the role of hunting is as the main or sole reducer of the fox population. We do not need to go over ground that we have been over earlier today to talk about hunting on moorland and in hill country. There, it is absolutely vital and the role of hunting is very different. Hunting in its many forms is an extraordinary activity and adapts to the local environment. It finds its way in so that it is suitable in lowland country, hill country and moorland country. Rather like the animals, it adapts to the circumstances required for the management of the environment. The object is that the level of livestock predation does not become untenable or that foxes encroach too heavily on fragile populations of ground nesting birds, another subject that we have discussed.

We were frequently told—we discussed this earlier—that foxes account for only 2 per cent of viable lambs. I do not apologise for repeating what I said earlier. Two per cent is 300,000 lambs. That is not so paltry for those who have to derive a living from them. It must be remembered also that that is against a background of intensive hunting—in any area where hunting accounts for over 50 per cent of the annual cull. I ask Members of the Committee to imagine what it would be like in Wales, the Lake District or the moorlands if we did not have hunting and it was not managing 50 per cent of the cull in an area where it would be difficult to find another way of culling.

At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Laird, who is not in his place, asked why the country was not overrun by foxes in the year of foot and mouth when there was no hunting. There was hunting for three-quarters of the first year and for half of the second

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year. So a great deal of the cull during the foot and mouth year had taken place at the front end and at the back end. But, as the Farmers Union of Wales said in January 2002,

    "The ban on fox hunting over the last year has led to an explosion in the fox population to unprecedented levels".

In some cases farmers who lost six or seven lambs to foxes normally have seen numbers they lose jump to between 35 and 40. That is not an easy issue either. It is an important factor. One of the most difficult things about this debate is the sweeping statements that are made, possibly on both sides, which bear no relation to the facts.

There are two sides to the management of wildlife which are unique to hunting. The first is dispersal. Hares are not a pest in my part of the world in Gloucestershire or in many other parts, but they are in East Anglia and in the North East. One factor that leads to damage, whether it be hares in root crop—deer in young forestry is another example—or foxes among poultry and game, is concentration of numbers. In fox terms that occurs usually in the early autumn.

Whereas a small grass farmer in the Quantock Hills, for example, may tolerate half a dozen deer eating his spring grass, he cannot accept 40 or 50. All keepers know that they risk losing a few young partridges, but when three or four foxes get in among partridge coveys after they have been released, the economic loss is too great. Of course you can cull them all if you can get at them, but only hunting has the ability to disperse numbers.

The reason farmers in East Anglia invite in the beagles or the harriers is not because of the one or two hares that they kill, but to disperse the 20 or 30 hares that would do all the damage. Fox hunting alone can disperse the litters of cubs in the autumn that do the kind of damage I have just talked about.

Furthermore, hunting does that which no other method of culling, control or management can do: it encourages survival of the fittest, which is immensely important. The stronger foxes, hares and deer get away and the weaker ones get caught. There was some very interesting research done in Canada some years ago. Wolves had become extinct and over a period of time the caribou herds became listless and the quality of deer deteriorated enormously. The Canadian wildlife department reintroduced wolves to hunt the caribou. After a relatively short period of time—two or three years—the quality of the herds and their vigour improved beyond all recognition. They regained their previous energy and quality. They are a natural prey species. When such species are not preyed upon, clearly they start to deteriorate.

Hunting has a unique ability to despatch the weak, the injured and the old. No other culling method can do that. I draw your Lordships' attention to the recent report from the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting by Professor John Webster, the professor of animal husbandry at Bristol. In the last year to which this report refers—last season—of the deer killed by the deerhounds in the West Country, 44 per

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cent were casualty deer, which means that they had already been injured either by shooting or by motor car accidents, illness or some other injury. Without hounds it would be impossible to find those deer and despatch them.

About three or four months ago I spoke—it was nothing to do with this debate—to the warden of the National Trust's Holnicote Estate in the West Country. It must have been in the early summer. He told me that in February he had seen a hind with a broken leg. She was too far away for him to get to. Because he could not use scent hounds he could not catch up with that deer for more than six weeks. He finally found her. Her leg had not repaired. It was still gangrenous. She was in considerable pain and unable to feed. If he had had access to hounds—they are there, but as the Committee will know, they are not allowed on National Trust land—he could have caught up with that deer and put her out of her misery in probably half an hour. That is half an hour versus six weeks—an interesting equation in suffering.

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