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Earl Peel: I am extremely grateful, as I am sure are other noble Lords, for the concise explanation given by the noble Baroness of the way in which the definition has been expanded under this amendment. I add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Mancroft for explaining at such great length the complexities of this amendment.

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I had the distinct impression that when the Minister, Alun Michael, originally decided to base a system of licensed hunting on cruelty and utility—bearing in mind the original definition of "utility"—there was a general agreement that that was a useful way forward. Why that definition of utility was later allowed to be confined solely to pest control was, in my view, something of a mystery and certainly a travesty. I say that in particular given that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, produced his lengthy and time-consuming report on a whole host of other factors which embraced the social, economic, environmental and conservation elements that inevitably accompany hunting. Indeed, those discussions went further and were deliberated during the Portcullis House agreements.

So I believe that everyone had a genuine expectation that the definition of utility, as explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, was something that we wanted and expected to find set out in the Bill. As a result, I think it is wholly sensible for the amendment to be worded in this way.

One has to ask, therefore, why the Minister removed such tests, thus prejudging in effect what decisions the registrar was going to make. Of course the truth of the matter is that the proposal was tightened so that there would be a ban in everything but name—and that, I repeat, is the truth.

We are being asked, through the amendment, to reinstate under the utility tests the other considerations that were so painfully considered by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and in the Portcullis House discussions. It is a perfectly legitimate and reasonable objective.

As regards the sustainable development of areas within the meaning of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development 1992, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, what on earth is the point of the Government negotiating and agreeing these declarations if we do not implement them into the law of this country? We should bear in mind the cultural, social and economic aspects rooted in these agreements which are such a fundamental part of hunting. We cannot isolate the human dimension from the environmental dimension and the economic dimension. They are all part of the thread that makes the countryside work.

I hope that the Committee will accept the amendment. It is a thoroughly responsible way of redefining—not in a massively different way but in a more comprehensive way—the word that the Minister himself wished to use as a test, that of "utility".

10 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: This is a very important amendment. Many of the issues I wished to address have already been spoken to and defined. I shall therefore confine my remarks to the topics of utility—in particular its impact on livestock, fisheries and mink—the Middle Way Group scientific study on

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shooting and the principle of least suffering. I shall also address some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, in his excellent amendments.

As we have heard, "utility" in the context of the Bill was defined by the Minister, Alun Michael, at the time the hearings took place. Indeed, quotations of what he said have already been given. The doubts expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, about the possible impact on fishing cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, the debate at the moment concerns the way in which these topics were defined by the Minister at the time. Quite clearly he intended to use the two tests of utility and least suffering as part of his Bill. The fact that it was overturned in the House of Commons and modified as time went on is a story with which we are all familiar.

I declare an interest as someone who was brought up on a farm, who has managed farms both in a commercial sense and in an agricultural college, and who farms a medium-sized sheep flock. I also declare an interest as someone who is particularly keen on fishing.

There is no doubt that foxes prey on poultry and livestock such as lambs, calves and piglets. It is widely acknowledged that foxes engage in surplus killing—that is, killing more than they need to eat. There is a great deal of evidence of lambs being killed and left in the field. I have experienced it myself. Usually, headless lambs are found first thing in the morning. When you are lambing, "first thing in the morning" is about 5 a.m. That is when you find that lambs have been killed and their carcasses left in the field. This is quantified much more easily these days because sheep farmers often number their lambs from one to 300 as they are born and it is quite easy to count the numbers that have gone. In my worst experience, 37 lambs disappeared, which came to twice as much as the £500 loss quoted as an average figure.

It is the propensity of the fox to prey on agricultural stock that brings the biggest demand for fox control from farmers. The Burns report said of mid-Wales, my part of the world, that farmers, landowners and gamekeepers consider that it is necessary to manage the fox population. Over one-third of foxes in mid-Wales are culled as a result of terrier work, for example.

I take issue with some of the things that have been said about pest control. It is clearly an important part, although not the only part, of the issue. In its press statements, the NFU refers to the control of foxes as pest control. It refers to pest control tests that can lead to a notice being served on occupiers of land by the Ministry of Agriculture, as was, and now by Defra, under Sections 98 and 99 of the Agriculture Act 1947. That notice can require people to ensure that these pests are destroyed. Failure to comply may result in the pest being destroyed by the ministry at the occupier's expense. I know of no repeal of that part of the 1947 Act.

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Those problems impinge on the effective management of ewe flocks. As has been said, the impact of foot and mouth and the fact that there was quite a long delay until hunting resumed caused a considerable increase in the number of foxes in the countryside.

I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, is absent from the debate. I am sure there is a very good reason for that. The situation with regard to fisheries and feral mink is very serious. Apart from preying on ground-nesting birds, mink kill a tremendous number of fish in our rivers and have contributed to the virtual disappearance of the moorhen, a delightful bird, from our countryside.

The mink is not native to this country; it was introduced in the 1920s from America. Hunting with dogs has a huge utility in controlling mink. It is my view that mink should be exterminated from the United Kingdom and that the Government should bring forward legislation to achieve that. In the mean time, the hunting of mink is very important. Mink are not passive. Being confronted by one in a farmyard is very challenging. It is a very unpleasant animal. The trapping of mink does occur, but as far as fisheries are concerned, it is imperative that mink are controlled.

The Middle Way Group commissioned a scientific investigation into shooting foxes instead of hunting them. The results of the study were released in June 2003; it was conducted by five independent qualified animal experts who observed and filmed foxes being shot by both shotguns and rifles. The study was made under field conditions and concluded that,

    "for every fox shot dead with a shotgun, at least the same number of foxes are wounded and many of these are never found".

I have done quite a lot of shooting in the countryside, and I am not making a case against shooting in a general sense. I am saying merely that it is not an effective method of controlling foxes. Even with experts, only about one-third of all shots fired hit their target. Shotguns are not a very effective method of doing it, and we all know the dangers of using rifles in the countryside, given the increased access that people now have.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said:

    "Cruelty is justifiable only if the alternative is worse cruelty or there is no alternative in achieving the utilitarian objective".—[Official Report, 16/9/03; col.892.]

There is scientific evidence to show that certain types of shooting will cause a much higher level of wounding than previously claimed. Indeed, that claim of low wounding rates has been exposed as seriously flawed. In December 2002, Alun Michael said of the regulatory Bill in a Written Statement:

    "There are no restrictions on hunting with dogs of rats and rabbits because this method of controlling the populations satisfies the two tests and causes less suffering than alternative methods of control such as poisoning or snaring".—[Official Report, Commons, 19/12/02; col. 79WS.]

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So snaring is considered by the Minister, and presumably by the Government, to be worse than hunting with dogs. Now there is scientific evidence to show that certain shooting regimes will cause high levels of wounding. Indeed, it appears that the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is right—that only hunting with dogs is to be singled out for abolition.

Animal welfare issues must be addressed—that is very important indeed—but there is a clear inconsistency in many of the arguments put forward by some anti-hunting organisations. The Government have stated that they want to improve the welfare of wild mammals, so they must surely see that such muddled thinking provides no basis for good legislation. The more that the Government ignore scientific evidence and restrict their attention to hunting with dogs alone, while at the same time accepting that there are methods that cause even more suffering, the more they will leave themselves open to the charge of hypocrisy.

I am pleased to say that, at a press conference this morning, there was a discussion on the Middle Way shooting study. There was present a representative from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Professor Stephen Harris. It was exposed in this morning's meeting that his evidence challenging the Middle Way findings was contained only in a press release. The completion of his research had not been validated yet, and not even published, so he was making assertions with no substantial background.

I am pleased to be able to report from that meeting that the co-operative discussion eventually took place after some confrontational argument. There is now a basis for a joint study to be held by the Middle Way Group and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, so that independent principles can be established for least suffering, and in particular in relation to shooting as an alternative to hunting.

We believe that to be a breakthrough and to deserve consideration, because it will be a much more objective outcome than some assertions that have been made on the issue. It is a constructive set of proposals, perhaps to find out the truth. In the mean time, there is insufficient evidence to say that hunting is not the best way of controlling foxes. Indeed, it is the most effective way of doing so.

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