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Baroness Golding: I, too, strongly support this amendment on the grounds that I hope that it will concentrate Defra's mind on doing something about mink. My noble friend recognises that mink cause a great problem in the countryside, but Defra seems very reluctant to do anything about it. In the previous debate, my noble friend Lord Hoyle said that he thought that only 7 per cent of mink were caught through hunting. I have to tell him that at a meeting that I attended last week, the vets present calculated
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that there may be up to 110,000 mink in this country following their release from farms. Seven per cent of 110,000 amounts to a lot of mink.

Lord Hoyle: I do not want to interrupt my noble friend other than to correct one point. I said 1.7 to 2 per cent, which is less than my noble friend is saying.

Baroness Golding: The figure of 7 per cent is quoted in Hansard and that is the figure that I am quoting. In any case, there are far too many mink in our countryside. Wildlife in the countryside needs to be managed, and one way of doing so is to do something about mink. I hope that Defra will take note of this amendment.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: Amendment No. 10 is extremely important. It concentrates on utility tests of least suffering and, in particular, it stresses the importance of wildlife management—correctly so, I think. All this is in the context of registration.

It is extremely difficult to debate this subject when, as has already been said, the countryside and the environmental circumstances are very different in different parts of the United Kingdom. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, say that wildlife management was very important in relation to this amendment, and quite right too, but in other parts of the country pest control is also extremely important. I believe that the amendment covers both wildlife management and pest control.

In many parts of the country—particularly in the west and the north—farmers sometimes have to call in hunts and hounds in order to control foxes because they are a pest and kill their livestock. That is a fact of life in many upland areas. But the serious damage to mammals and crops, which is mentioned in the amendment, impinges very much on the countryside, and the circumstances will be very different depending on whether the habitats are dense or sparse.

The issue of wildlife management in the countryside makes the Bill workable. It is through habitat conservation and development that hunted species and, indeed, many other mammals obtain the cover to exist and thus produce biological diversity. The Bill would enable that to happen and it is extremely important because it is in line with the EU biodiversity directives. Indeed, the Government have signed up to such directives. Therefore, the Government have a duty to ensure that wildlife is managed properly in the countryside.

I have personally experienced the damage that foxes can cause. In my worst season with a 250-ewe flock, I lost 37 lambs. Most of them had had their heads chopped off. They were not eaten but were simply left where the fox had attacked them. We discovered that the attacks were due to one fox in particular.

Having been away from my home area for about 20 years, I regretted, in particular, coming back to find that there were no curlews and no curlew calls in spring. They are ground-nesting birds. The fox
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population had increased and the foxes were predating on the young birds and the birds' eggs. In the part of the world that I come from, the call of the curlew in the spring was an essential part of the spring arising, but we hear them no longer. That is the situation. We used to see lapwings in profusion, but they do not exist either. One sees them only occasionally on the M4 when coming to this place. All that is a consequence of inadequate wildlife management. Indeed, those of us who farm have seen a great deal of damage to crops and those of us with forestry have seen a great deal of damage to timber.

So far as concerns fisheries, I respect very much what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, because of his acute and detailed knowledge of that area. But I also commend what the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, said about mink. Mink cause a massive problem in the countryside. They are terribly destructive. They have wiped out the moorhen population in my part of the world, and they have caused mayhem in the countryside, including at some fisheries. They are extremely destructive and the Government must do something about having them eliminated—I use that word advisedly.

The test of least suffering is a harm test. Subsection (2) of the amendment refers to "significantly less pain". Those three words are very important indeed. I believe that the comparisons that have been made between hunting and shooting are fairly crucial. Shotguns certainly wound foxes and not infrequently in the countryside foxes are found in a very poor state with gangrene. That is substantiated by the findings of the Middle Way. There is a correct way to shoot foxes and that is with a rifle, which can be fairly certain if one shoots accurately.

On suffering, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, in particular called in his Second Reading speech for more research; he also called in March 2001 for more research. He said:

He wanted more research into that. It is very important that the words of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, are taken into account in this respect, otherwise we are talking about subjective, not objective, matters.

Earl Ferrers: Perhaps I may support what the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, said about mink. At Second Reading I had occasion to describe to your Lordships what had happened near where I live. All the antis turned up and people were knocked down and those who came to their rescue were typically arrested.

As I understand it, if the Bill goes through, there will be no mink hunting and if there is no mink hunting, as the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, said, what will happen? I ask the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, what he thought would happen if there were no mink hunting and he said, "Well, it is a very difficult problem; mink breed like mad and get killed in various ways and hunting is just one way of killing them".
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If there is to be no mink hunting, mink will multiply. They are very difficult animals to shoot because they disappear under the water most of the time and are almost impossible to deal with. Hunting is one way; it does not include horses or toffs and it should not include nastiness. The characters who came to our place were good enough to put on a website the fact that they thought I should be strung up and I think they suggested I should be executed and that maybe that was too good a way of dying. As I have never hunted or had anything to do with mink, I thought that was a rather extreme view to take.

The fact is that if the Bill is to do away with mink hunting, not only will it do away with a part of people's life in rural communities—which they enjoy while having a good day out in the countryside—but we shall also prevent the control of mink. I think that is a bad thing. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, asked what Defra will do about it. That is a very good question. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will answer what Defra will do and what he suggests people who own land and who have the responsibility for other animals on the land should do, bearing in mind that mink eat almost every young bird that they can.

Baroness Byford: I shall speak briefly as 20 noble Lords have spoken in great detail. Their contributions have been most valuable to the debate. I would like to sum up the situation from my point of view. We are trying to ensure that when the Bill leaves this House it is a good, robust law. I hope that it encompasses the enormously important aspect of the management of wildlife, as wildlife does not always control itself, as many noble Lords have mentioned. My noble friend Lord Soulsby mentioned the view, which I well respect, of vets who have carried out much work in this area.

A total ban would bring difficulties in keeping and maintaining a healthy wildlife, which is what we want. Two points came out of yesterday's debate on Wales. The first was particularly noticeable: how does one cope when terrain is very difficult compared with normal lowland terrain? Secondly, if hunting is not allowed to continue there, how will the situation be controlled?

I have not given up on the Minister, who is to respond. I believe that he is a realist. In his response I hope that he does not let down noble Lords by just saying that the Government will not consider the matter. If the Government do not accept the amendment, they are beholden to the Committee to say very clearly this afternoon how will they control matters and ensure that we have a healthy wildlife to enjoy in the future.

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