|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
(1) Parts 1 to 3 and section 46 shall come into force on a day appointed by order made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument; and different days may be appointed for different purposes.
11 Nov 2004 : Column 1064
(2) The Secretary of State may not make an order under subsection (1) before 1st December 2007.
(3) The Secretary of State may not make an order under subsection (1) before he has received a report from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons commissioned by him on the relative pain, suffering or distress caused to wild mammals by hunting with dogs compared with other methods of controlling those wild mammals.
(4) The species of wild mammal included in the report under subsection (3) must include deer, fox, hare and mink."
The noble Earl said: My Lords, Schedule 1 deals with exempt hunting. Paragraph 2 allows for the use of a dog underground to protect birds for shooting. This concession is warmly welcomed and acknowledges the Government's appreciation of the difficulties posed for gamekeepers when having to deal with predation by foxes.
There is a perverse logic in allowing gamekeepers this concession for dealing with game birds, or wild birds which a person is keeping or preserving for the purpose of their being shot, but not for birds which are not going to be shot.
As I am sure your Lordships are aware, many upland birds are biodiversity action plan species and only survive in reasonable numbers where gamekeepers are employed. It is now a rare sight indeed to see a curlew, a golden plover, a green plover or a black grouse in any area which is not managed for sporting purposes. If we are to see the expansion of the range of such species into areas where the habitat is well suited but their paucity is due to unacceptable levels of predation, it would be idiotic to restrict the control of such a major predator as a foxor, for that matter, a minkto those involved in the protection only of birds to be shot.
Furthermore, it would be equally idiotic if, for example, a warden of a nature reserve was having difficulty with a fox predating birds in his carelet us say a colony of black-tailed godwits in East Angliaand called in the local keeper to deal with the problem, but the keeper replied that he was unable to act under the law as he was permitted to put a dog underground only to protect game birds or wild birds which could be shot.
I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 25 and 26. Amendment No. 25 would extend the permission to use a dog underground for the protection of livestock.
11 Nov 2004 : Column 1065
Once again I suggest to your Lordships that it seems somewhat perverse that a dog can be used in such circumstances to protect game but not livestock. Where is the logic in a gamekeeper being allowed to do this and not a farmer?
Let me make it clear from the outset that in both amendments I am referring to terriers, which would flush out the fox, which would then be shot. This is notI repeat notin any way an attempt to extend hunting in the traditional sense of the term.
Livestock predation by foxes can be very severe, as any countryman knows. As to the meaning of "livestock", I refer to the definition in Section 8(1) of the Agricultural (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968, which covers sheep, goats, lambs, pigs, poultry and rabbits. All are prone to mammalian predation, sometimes at intolerable levels. I was interested to read that in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, it was noticed that in mid-Wales, for example, more than one-third of the cull of foxes was through terrier work.
I gather that the Minister, Alun Michael, in a letter to a certain David Thomas from Powys, maintained that predation of lambs by foxes is insufficiently significant to warrant permitting the use of dogs below ground to flush out foxes. The Minister referred to the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, where it is estimated that foxes kill less than 2 per cent of viable lambsbut he conveniently passed over the Burns conclusion that,
In other words, a farmer who may be suffering a 15 per cent level of lamb predation on one farm should be penalised because there was negligible predation on surrounding farms. That does not make much sense to me. Furthermore, it is highly likely that these figures could be grossly distorted in the event of any potentially damaging fox having been culled in advance.
But ignoring that for the moment and returning to the figure of a 2 per cent lamb predation rate by foxes, this still amounts to around 340,000 lambs out of the 17 million lambs produced in England and Wales. This, I believe, involves a cost to the industry of £13.6 milliona figure which the Minister describes as being "insignificant".
It is worth recallingI have already quoted this figurethat the National Farmers Union for Wales calculated that the cessation of foxhunting during the recent foot and mouth epidemic resulted in predation rates on lambs by foxes increasing by up to six times. Even taking a conservative figure of three times, that would mean a loss to the industry of £40 million a year. That is not insignificant. In this day and age, with the hill communities struggling as they are, this is a very real problem.
I hope that your Lordships will agree that the restriction on farmers being allowed to use a terrier underground to flush out a fox when a gamekeeper can do so is nothing short of daft. It is even dafter that the
11 Nov 2004 : Column 1066
only defence a farmer would have when protecting his livestock in such a manner would be for him to start releasing game birds. That cannot be right.
Amendment No. 26 deals with stoats and weasels. Some noble Lords may recall that we had an interesting debate in Committee where several Members asked the Minister why rabbits and rats as opposed to hares and miceand, indeed, foxesshould be exempt. There appeared to be no logic behind this decision and, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, we were no wiser at the end of that debate.
I introduced an amendment in Committee which would have made mice exempt and would have brought them into the same category as the rat. But the Minister gave a sufficiently persuasive and helpful reply for me not to pursue that particular amendment again.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has saidI paraphrase slightlythat if there was no intent on the part of the owner of the dogs to organise a pack and to hunt, that would be a reasonable defence. We should accept that response. It could have considerable ramifications so far as concerns the implementation of the Bill.
There are three good reasons for this. First, both stoats and weasels are deliberately killed by dogs. Secondly, to my way of thinking, there is absolutely no logic in treating these two species differently from rats. They have the same physiological properties and cannot be hunted in the traditional sense; both species would travel only relatively short distances before disappearing into a hole, a wall or a peat runner. So there is no logic why they should not be exempt and every practical reason why they should. Thirdly, both species are prodigious predators and account for a large number of birds. Indeed, as I mentioned in Committee, a recent survey showed that there were up to five times more wadersand, as I have explained, many of these are biodiversity action plan specieson uplands managed for grouse as opposed to those areas which are not managed in such a way.
There can be no doubt that one of the main reasons for that is the predator control carried out by gamekeepers. This, as I have already said, includes stoats and weasels. What is more, the Moorland Gamekeepers Association maintains that of all stoats killed, 25 per cent are taken by dogs. By dogs, I do not mean hounds.
So there is no intention on my part in this amendment to try and keep hunting alive by some sleight of hand, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle. This amendment would simply ensure that gamekeepers can continue to carry out their hugely important responsibilities without being inadvertently caught by legislation designed to restrict hunting.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said in Committee that he is not trying to prevent shooting. I take that in good faith. Equally, I am not attempting to encourage hunting but simply attempting to deal with an anomaly that, if
11 Nov 2004 : Column 1067
not accepted by your Lordships, would affect the work of the gamekeeper, which I know the Government do not wish to do. I beg to move.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|