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Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, I support the amendment so ably moved by the noble Earl, Lord Peel. I join him in emphasising that we are not here talking about hunting in the traditional sense of the word, as something which other people do for pleasure; we are talking about using terriers to flush out animals which are causing serious damage. This is purely a practical, pest control activity to get rid of animalsfoxes in particularwhich are causing serious damage. As the noble Earl has said, the curious thing is that, at the moment, the exemption is restricted to serious damage to game birds or wild birds which are kept or preserved for the purposes of being shot. It does not include any form of livestock, particularly lambs, or highly desirable birds such as curlews and others that the noble Earl mentioned, which are preserved purely because they are admirable things to have and not for shooting.
This is a very curious distinction, as was pointed out in an admirable letter in Farmers Weekly last week. It said that it is all right to put a terrier underground to kill a fox to preserve his Lordship's pheasants, but it is not all right to put a terrier underground to preserve his tenant farmers' lambsto which one could add, "or to preserve the RSPB's highly protected birds". Some people have suggested that the Bill is somewhat motivated by class prejudice, but it seems upside down that that class prejudice should now protect his Lordship's pheasants but not his tenant farmers' lambs. I speak as somebody who rears pheasants, but, thank goodness for my bank balance, no longer rears lambs.
The situation is, quite frankly, ridiculous, and these amendments must be right. The noble Earl quoted some figures. I venture to suggest to the Minister who wrote that letter that to say to any producer, "You can wear with equanimity the loss of 2 per cent of your gross product while doing nothing about it" is curious. The theory that we should sacrifice 360,000 lambs a year to protect a few foxes again seems a rather curious exercise in the protection of animals from cruelty or in terms of animal welfare.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I support the amendments very strongly, particularly the amendment dealing with stoats and weasels. Anybody who lives in the countryside is horrified at the damage that they do to wild ground-nesting birds. The curlew, as I mentioned in an earlier debate, has been completely wiped out of large parts of the United Kingdom. That is a great shame because it is a harbinger of spring. So I believe very strongly that stoats and weasels must be controlled in the way in which the noble Earl, Lord Peel, has described.
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I am particularly concerned about the use of dogs underground. In the uplands, that is often the only method of flushing out the foxes. The same applies in dense woodland. Lamb losses can be immense unless foxes are kept down or, rather, kept in balancewe are not looking at wiping out the fox population.
This is the most efficient method of control. As we know, more foxes are killed by shooting than in any other way. It is vital that this should continue; indeed, there will always be more foxes to be shot next season because there is a balance to be secured.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing back his amendments. It is important that we consider them very seriously. I hope that the House will support my noble friend if he puts the matter to a vote.
Many noble Lords have referred to the damage to lambs, and to the cost. As a former poultry producer, I am only too aware of the dangers and difficulties that foxes cause to those who breed poultry. We are being encouraged to have more and more free-range units. This difficulty will only increase, so I am grateful to my noble friend for bringing the amendments back. I do not have the figures for poultry, but they would be interesting.
I hope that the Minister will accept my noble friend's assurance that the amendment deals only with the use of terriers and would not extend hunting, as was suggested in Committee. Instead, it would specifically protect livestock and help control the spread of foxes, which is becoming an increasing problem to the livestock community.
The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, raised an important point, which he picked up from my noble friend. We have been working on our livestock and biodiversity plans for several years, and if the amendments are not accepted, that will make our work much more difficult. So I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the House will no doubt decide on the amendments. However, the ban on terrier work and the exemption thereto reflected a very strong concern in the Commons about the animal welfare effects of terriers. The House of Commons was, with some difficulty, persuaded that there should be an exemption because otherwise this would interfere substantially with the shooting sector. It was a very specific exemption, known generally as the gamekeepers' exemption, which the House of Commons was persuaded to accept. These wider issues would further antagonise the Commons because one could claim to use terrier work for the protection of any birds, not just game birds, and of any livestock. My view is that that is a much wider exemption than the Commons would be prepared to accept.
As for weasels and stoats, we are rather in Toad Hall territory here. As the noble Earl said, 25 per cent of stoats were caught by terriers. That indicates that 75 per cent are controlled by other means. Therefore, it is not essential to have dogs controlling the stoat population.
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In any case, if we are talking about a registration system, then the hunting of stoats and weasels could go through that system. So I am not at all sure that a convincing case is made for a blanket exemption in this area.
Lord Denham: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he tell the House whether he has consulted the officials in his department concerned with sheep farming as well as those concerned with this Bill on hunting? I think he will find that he will get a very different answer from the officials in Defra who know about rearing lambs.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am responsible also for the sheep industry. Clearly, there is a problem of predation by foxes in the sheep industry, but it is not being particularly well controlled by hunting as it is. Therefore, any change to the situation is unlikely to have as dramatic an effect as noble Lords are claiming. The position that has been adopted in this Bill, as in other Bills, without revealing too much about the internal consultation and joined-upness
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the advice of officials right across Defra is sought on all legislation. The noble Lord knows better than to press me on which official gave which particular bit of advice at any given time. Clearly, all officials in Defra are aware of the position that we are taking in the Bill. They are aware of the feeling of the Commons about terrier work and they are aware that in order not to undermine the position of shooting we would need to make an exemption at that point. As I have said, the situation of sheep farming is well known, but hunting as it is is not protecting sheep from the predation of foxes.
Earl Peel: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have supported the amendment. I was very grateful for the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey. He was right, but I would not want any noble Lord to think that biodiversity action plan species are found only in the hills. They are found throughout the United Kingdom. Certain birds are in serious decline for a number of reasons, but one of them is predation; I refer, for example, to waders in the Somerset Levels, where fox predation is a very serious problem. Without the use of a terrier underground, I would suggest to your Lordships that controlling foxes is going to be extremely difficult. The prospect of enhancing those species, which we all want to see, is going to be made very difficult indeed.
The Minister referred to the endorsement which the Government have given to shooting. As I have already said, I welcome that. However, I cannot see why a gamekeeper should be given powers by the Bill to be able to put a terrier underground to protect game birdswhich, as I have said, I welcome enormously
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and not a farmer who lives 100 yards down the road to protect his livestock. It is simply inequitable and it does not make any sense. As a consequence, I have no option but to seek the opinion of the House.
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