HC Deb 14 February 1973 vol 850 cc1299-301

4.8 p.m.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the taking or killing and the attempted taking or killing of badgers on land without the prior written consent of the owner of that land. The House will see that this is a modest proposal since it does not provide comprehensive protection for badgers and a good case could be made for that. However, some action is needed urgently. I propose, therefore, only that which I regard as generally acceptable. I believe that this will receive general approval rather than the obstructive doubts which a wider protection might arouse. That response could extinguish hopes for protection which would mean the likely disappearance of badgers from many areas in which the species has already lived for many thousands of years.

Generally the badger is not scarce to a critical extent. In the 1940s and 1950s the population increased. But there is now a very severe decline. This is particularly marked in East Anglia, parts of the South-East, in the counties of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cheshire and the West Riding of Yorkshire. There is decline in other areas perhaps, but this is a little less severe today than in those areas mentioned.

My authorities for that assessment are the Mammal Society County Recorders and Dr. Ernest Neal one of our leading naturalists and the acknowledged expert upon this species. He believe that a real measure of protection has now become urgently necessary.

Most people may only see a badger in a zoo or dead upon the road. In its natural surroundings it is an impressive and attractive creature and the spectacle of cubs playing is fascinating. Yet some people view the badger with a strange hatred. It is from those people that the most savage cruelty is inflicted and the survival of the species threatened in many of our regions.

Yet the badger is usually harmless to man's interests. The Forestry Commission welcomes the species and offers protection to it through its byelaws. Unfortunately, the penalty for infringe- ment is small and there is some evidence now that the offenders are likely to continue their offensive practices.

In areas where the population is in decline the principal reason appears to be deliberate persecution. I had better briefly describe the practice of digging. Small terriers, which are often on sale, are sent into a set. Their job is to prevent the badger from moving away. Frequently the dogs are injured. Usually there is noise and towards this noise the people above ground dig. When the badger is within reach tongs are used and the animal is literally dragged out.

If the business ended there it would not be so disgusting, but frequently the badger is not humanely killed. It commences to suffer a long period of dog baiting and torment. In order to improve the chances of the dogs, the animal is often viciously injured beforehand. One case recently brought to my notice involved a badger having a broken lower jaw before the dog baiting began—in order to improve the dogs' chances.

The badger is a formidable opponent. It is retiring and shy and extremely shortsighted, but it is ferocious when roused and provides a great deal for sport for people who are disposed to this kind of activity.

I am reluctant to describe all that may happen—for I know what does happen—in badger digging. Suffice to say that often if a set is so large that digging is impracticable, the people concerned place snares and perhaps wipe out the whole population of the set. Only last autumn, as a further example of the attitude of badger diggers, after a set had been dug unsuccessfully, a gin trap was placed there at the side of a children's nature trail in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

The Bill does not provide a complete answer for this kind of practice. However, there may be times—I am sure that many people would concede this—when the badger could remotely be a nuisance, and therefore there is scope within the Bill for humane treatment in the control and removal of badgers where necessary.

I express the wish—I think that the Bill would provide for it—that land owners, whether private or public, will view the badger with approval and tolerance and not give permission lightly for the removal which is allowed.

Any doubt about the harmless effects of the badger upon man's interests have been largely dispelled by the work of several naturalists in recent years, not least of whom is my constituent and friend, Dr. Richard Paget. Their researches, in which he has played a large part, offer extensive evidence that the badger's diet makes it a welcome neighbour for man. There may be exceptions, but basically the forester and the farmer ought to welcome this animal.

Given our present knowledge of the species, it is clear that the badger in no way merits the persecution which he is currently receiving. I have watched this animal over at least 10 years and can confirm the evidence which naturalists throughout the country are now providing. I can offer not only my confirmation of the merits of the species but also my suggestion to the House that it would be justified in viewing the Bill and the animal favourably.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Peter Hardy, Mr. Peter Archer, Mr. Joseph Ashton, Mr. Sydney Chapman, Mr. David Clark, Mr. Eric Cockeram, Mr. David James, Mr. Brynmor John, Mr. William Price, Sir John Rodgers, Mr. Cecil Parkinson and Mr. Terry Davis.