Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord King of Bridgwater: Perhaps I may say that, having had the honour to represent that part of the world for 30 years, there were many instances of deer with half their jaws shot away and with other appalling casualties from poaching because carcasses are valuable and venison fetches a good price. The reality is that that the work of the Quantock and the Devon and Somerset staghounds was vital. Otherwise, those animals would never have been tracked down. You cannot just flush them out because you do not know where they are and you need a pack of hounds to find them.

Lord Mancroft: I am most grateful to my noble friend for his comments. The same applies to foxes, but obviously on a much larger scale because fox hunting is on a larger scale. I understand that 43 per cent of the foxes caught in the past season by hounds were casualty foxes—which means casualties of shooting, injury, illness or car accidents. As we know, an awful lot of them are killed by cars.

So why, one wonders, did the Minister in another place, in drawing up his test of utility, or when he reached Committee, allow it to be restricted to pest control only? I know that he has argued that we—by which I think he means the Countryside Alliance and Council of Hunting Associations—have made the case only for pest control, but that is not so. Our response to his consultation states:

So the concept that hunting is just pest control certainly never came from us.

28 Oct 2003 : Column 228

I have a suspicion about where it came from. If the Committee will forgive me for a moment, I shall explain. On Second Reading and in previous debates, I said that the Government were right to consult as they did; they were right to set up the Burns inquiry. The public hearings in Portcullis House were an extraordinary and effective exercise in open democracy.

The Minister, Mr Michael, met everyone that he could have and listened to everybody. I have no doubt that when he set out on this journey, which he is probably not much enjoying now, he intended to do his level best to find a resolution. Early in that consultation, he kindly agreed to meet me. We had a nice dinner together and covered a lot of subjects as we chatted away. Obviously, we talked a lot about hunting. I shall of course not reveal private conversation—that would be entirely unacceptable—but one part of that conversation that I do not think is especially private or confidential may shine a light on what happened.

At one point, I said to the Minister, "If your consultation process shows that hunting is pretty useless in most areas and is really very cruel, I expect your Bill will ban it, won't it?" He said, "Yes, that is a reasonable thought; it probably will". So I said, "On the other side of the coin, if your consultation shows that hunting is actually, in the scheme of things, not very cruel and causes little suffering and, in a number of areas, is useful and fulfils a lot of needs, your Bill won't ban it, will it?" He thought for a minute and said, "Well, theoretically, I suppose that that is quite right". I then said, "The problem is: that is where you will get to". He said, "How on earth can you know that? What on earth do you mean?" I said, "Listen, I have been in this hunting and politics game for about 10 years and there is not really any new evidence. There is a bit of research here and there but, to tell the honest truth, it is all in the open. There is nothing new to be told about this great debate, this great argument. If you conduct the consultation as you plan to"—and, indeed, the way that he did: very openly—"that is where it will take you. It will take you to the conclusion that hunting is not very cruel but is pretty useful. What will you do then, because your Back-Benchers will not buy that?"

That was the only unhappy moment of our entire happy evening. I suspect that that is exactly what happened. The consultation arrived there and the Bill was moved to here.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Perhaps I could remind the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that none of the timings in the Companion fits with 25 minutes spent to move one amendment; we are drifting towards the time for not one but two Second Reading speeches.

Lord Mancroft: I am most grateful to the noble Baroness; I hope not, but, as I said when I started, this is fantastically complicated. This is an amendment, but it is

28 Oct 2003 : Column 229

like a Second Reading because this is what should have been done at Second Reading; we were unable to do so. I shall attempt to finish quickly.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: For the record, I am not aware that anyone constrained any noble Lord's ability to speak on Second Reading.

Lord Mancroft: I did not suggest that for a moment; I do not know where that came from. I agree that no one constrained anyone.

The second test that your Lordships are being asked to reintroduce to the Bill is the test of least suffering. We must remind ourselves that Burns found no cruelty and that is why he talked about suffering. The other important point that emerged from the hearings was that suffering cannot be measured on the Richter scale. At Committee stage in another place it was referred to as the Opik scale, in the name of Mr Lembit Opik. The other immensely important principle to emerge was that man's motive in those activities is irrelevant.

A vast amount of work has been done on the issue, but none of it produces any evidence that hunting creates any more suffering than any of the other activities. We have chosen the words in the amendment to reflect the test in what we believe to be the most reasonable way possible. The amendment would put the two tests back into the Bill in nearly their previous form, with two small changes. I beg to move.

Lord Palmer moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 28, Amendment No. 28A:

    Line 21, at end insert—

"( ) the control of nuisance animals"

The noble Lord said: I am very sorry to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Fyfe of Fairfield, is unwell. I am wearing my Co-op tie especially to please him, so I am sorry that he is not here. I wear it out of respect more for the Co-op's retail movement than the countryside management aspect of that enormous operation. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Graham, that the largest landowner in the country is the National Trust rather than the Co-op.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: I did not say that the Co-op was the largest landowner; I said that it was the largest farmer.

Lord Palmer: I bow to the noble Lord, Lord Graham. I am not 100 per cent certain whether he is correct.

When the Government conducted their six-month consultation, the definition of "utility" was drawn widely, recognising in the light of the Burns report that hunting had complex utility value. As I said at Second Reading, I believe that the Government will rue the day that the dreadful word "utility" was introduced into the Bill. Pest control is not simply about numbers killed but about the control and management of species. The amendment, in conjunction with the other conditions in the new clause, seeks to ensure that the

28 Oct 2003 : Column 230

registrar, in assessing utility, takes account of all aspects of hunting's utility. The amendment looks at the role of hunting as a control mechanism.

The contribution of hunting to species management is recognised by every major land use organisation, as the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said. It must not be forgotten that hunting is financed by its participants and, therefore, provides species management at no cost to the farmer or the public purse. Hunts do not require an enormous police presence as at any football match. All alternative methods of control have direct cost implications for farmers, who already suffer the most terrible economic hardship.

Following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, the hunting associations immediately and voluntarily suspended all hunting. Although the hunting season was drawing to a close, there were many areas where normal spring hunting, including the "lambing call service", was prevented. Within a few days, hunts started to receive calls from farmers suffering acute fox predation resulting in severe lambing losses.

In summer 2002, a survey of one-third of foxhound packs across the United Kingdom found that the temporary suspension of hunting owing to foot and mouth disease had reduced their normal fox cull by nearly 5,000. There were 4,700 calls from farmers asking for assistance with fox damage. Welsh farms in sheep-rearing areas lost an average of £500-worth of stock by additional fox predation. To a hill farmer in Wales, that is an enormous amount of money.

Since the resumption of hunting—on 17th December in some areas and much later in others—there is clear evidence from standard reporting forms from hunts, that in many areas there are unusually large concentrations of undispersed foxes. Other UK major land use groups also express the importance of control. The National Farmers Union stated in its submission to the Burns inquiry that:

    "Pest control requirements will vary sharply from one region to another and from one farm business to another depending on a range of circumstances".

Indeed, it is dangerous to generalise at all. For example, a sheep farmer may suffer persistent predation of his sheep by foxes which is not shared by his neighbours in the locality, perhaps because of his proximity to completely different features such as woodland. Full regard must be had to the fact that problems caused by agricultural pests, whether they be foxes, deer, hares, or mink—and I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, about what a shame it is that the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, is not in her place—or other species, can have severe consequences for farmers' businesses. It must not be forgotten that most farmers are still suffering terrible financial hardship.

Of gamekeepers asked in 1994, 96.4 per cent said that foxes were present on their land and needed to be controlled. Control was necessary to ensure that damage to game, wildlife and livestock was reduced or kept at acceptable levels. The particularly vulnerable times of year were obviously lambing and nesting.

28 Oct 2003 : Column 231

The Ministry of Agriculture as it was in those days also stated in its submission to the Burns inquiry:

    "Brown hares are typically a farmland species and high densities can be associated with grazing damage to crops and damage to young, unprotected forestry plantations. Hares are considered as agriculture pests and the Ground Game Act 1880 allows farmers to take them at any time of year".

However, foxes can cause serious local problems to farmers and landowners; as a result they may take measures to control local fox populations, as well as responding to individual incidents of fox predation. Foxes may also cause localised problems to free-range poultry interests, have a detrimental impact on grey partridge numbers and disperse colonies of all types of ground nesting birds. Nearly 95 per cent of those farmers questioned normally allow hunting with dogs on their farms. That includes the use of terriers and lurchers. Almost 4 per cent of those questioned said that they did not allow hunting with dogs on their farms. Nearly 50 per cent of farmers carry out no alternative methods of control other than hunting with dogs. I beg to move this amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page