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House of Lords

Thursday, 2 February 2006.

The House met at eleven of the clock; the CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.


Lord Kimball asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Bach): My Lords, the Health and Safety Executive, as the UK competent authority, received a request for derogation from the Biocidal Products Directive from the industry on 12 January 2006 on the ground of "essential use". That is being considered. If a suitable case for derogation has been made, it will be put to the European Commission and the member states for consideration.

Lord Kimball: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but it is not really good enough. There is an explosion of moles throughout England. On 6 September, licensed pest controllers could use only Phostoxin. It costs six times as much and is 10 times less efficient than worms dressed with strychnine. I hope that the derogation will continue.

Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord will understand that I can say very little at the moment because the matter is before the Health and Safety Executive. We acknowledge that strychnine is an effective means of control, but the over-riding considerations are of course the safety and humaneness of the chemical and the availability of alternatives.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is not simply a question of the chemical? I declare an interest as someone who spends a great deal of time trying to exterminate the velvet-clad monsters. They exist in very large numbers, and they produce large nurseries that are impossible to see. They will go straight through a tractor mower and throw people over—I have had experience of this, although not with me sitting on the mower—and there is no other way of controlling them.

Lord Bach: My Lords, there is no doubt that they cause a lot of inconvenience to a lot of people. On the other hand, many people find them very agreeable animals, although sometimes more at a distance than
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close to. There are alternative methods, however; one is phosphide gas, which I am told is used widely in northern Europe to achieve the same rather grisly end.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, the Minister mentioned cost-effectiveness, but does he agree that, if we did not balance that with humane methods, we would not have the highest standards of animal welfare in our farmed animals of anywhere in the world, and that that is a major consideration when dealing with methods of controlling wildlife?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree entirely, which is why I answered the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, as I did.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is a genuinely European question? My noble friend Lord Kimball mentioned the explosion of moles in England. My experience at my home in France is that there is a similar phenomenon there this year. It has never been as bad as it is this year, so what effort is the Minister making to get French support for this important derogation?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I have not yet made any attempt to get French support. Given the noble Lord's comments, I shall ensure that we are on to the embassy straight away.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I declare an interest as we have millions of moles. Why has there been this extraordinary increase in the past few years?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I suspect that it may have something to do with natural breeding.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, is the Minister aware that another good method of control is old-fashioned traps? In domestic situations with which I am more familiar than other noble Lords, my wife some years ago became a considerable expert on this matter and was very successful, too. However, as we now have no grassland, she has retired and is not available for advice.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am sorry to hear that.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I declare an interest as one who employs a professional mole killer to try to deal with the plague of moles that do grave damage to the agricultural land around my property and then advance like a Napoleonic army into my garden. Is there any evidence that people have been hurt or injured in any way by the use of strychnine and that there is a threat to human safety? Can the Minister tell the House that he will take the matter very seriously?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord is right that this is a serious matter for many farmers and for householders too. In some examples, strychnine has been considered to have been abused. One involved dogs and another foxes. In 2005, some other cases, which are not yet in the public domain, involved
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suggestions of abuse. This is a serious problem, but there are some cases in which strychnine has been abused.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, is this not a rather heavy-handed way of dealing with the problem from Whitehall?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am rather disappointed that my noble friend should think it is heavy. I thought the approach of Whitehall on this—waiting to see whether derogation was appropriate—was a light touch.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, following the suggestion that traps can be used to catch moles, does the Minister accept that in the pure agricultural sense it is impossible? You cannot put in enough traps, so it is not an option. Does the Minister not accept that it is a pity that the Government did not lobby earlier so that this suggestion was nipped in the bud?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I thought that I was going to agree with the noble Baroness. I agree with the first part of her question that traps are not suitable for farms. That is why we have used the method that we have and maybe we must look for another. I certainly do not accept for a moment that we have been tardy about this.

Lord Boston of Faversham: My Lords, will the Minister accept that I do not usually regard myself as an excessively violent person, but like my noble friend Lord Marsh, I spend a certain amount of time trying to exterminate these creatures? Does the Minister know that there is a simple, small electronic cylindrical device which, if inserted into the ground, is very effective? When I heard about it, I was very sceptical.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I must confess that I did not know, but I know now, as does the House.

Water Supply

11.14 am

Lord Trefgarne asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Bach): My Lords, each water company has a drought plan to manage short-term water shortages that contains various triggers to be used depending on the severity of the drought. The provision of drought plans became a statutory requirement in October 2005.
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Water companies also have 25-year water resource plans that seek to balance supply and anticipated demand. They are voluntary plans but will become a statutory requirement under the provisions of the Water Act 2003.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am greatly obliged to the Minister. Is there not now an acute problem in the south-east of England, not only in the short term because of the limited rainfall of recent months but in the longer term, given particularly the Government's plans to build a large number of new residences in the south-east, which will require more water?

Lord Bach: My Lords, there has certainly been a drought in the south-east of England for around 15 months; it continued through the winter. Throughout much of south-east England this summer there may be the worst drought since 1976. About 70 per cent of water supplies in the south come from ground water—as the noble Lord will know—as opposed to rivers and reservoirs, which depend on rainfall to replenish.

With regard to sustainable communities, some extra water resources are planned to meet future demand, including the additional housing to which the noble Lord referred. They are set out in the long-term plans—the water companies' 25-year water resource plans.

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