HC Deb 28 July 1983 vol 46 cc1313-4
3. Mr. Robert Atkins

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what advice is offered by his Department on the control of vermin, particularly foxes.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Peggy Fenner)

When advising on the control of any agricultural pest, including foxes, and on damage prevention techniques, my Department recommends those methods that are most effective, economic and appropriate in the particular circumstances.

Mr. Atkins

Does my hon. Friend agree that the higher than average incidence of stock losses in the north-west, caused above all by foxes, requires firm treatment? As the Labour-controlled Lancashire county council is seeking to prevent hunting with dogs on all its tenanted land, does she not agree that that will make the control of such vermin increasingly difficult for farmers, to the long-term detriment of the consumer as well?

Mrs. Fenner

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the increased incidence of stock losses. I earnestly advise him that the occupiers concerned should seek urgent advice from their local Ministry office. I am advised that the action taken by the county council does not extend to persons practising essential agricultural pest control operations.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Does the Minister agree that it is a known fact that more damage is done to crops by fox hunting than by the fox? On animal cruelty generally, should not the hon. Lady's Department consult the Home Office so as to bring up to date the Cruelty to Animals Act, which goes back to 1876?

Mrs. Fenner

It is the Government's view that people should be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to hunt. We therefore have no plans for legislation to ban field sports. It is for individual landowners to decide whether to permit hunting on their property. In answer to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, he will know that that is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend at the Home Office.

Mr. Farr

Is my hon. Friend aware that hunting has been banned by the Co-operative Wholesale Society, which owns about 7,000 or 8,000 acres in Leicestershire, and that as a result my constituents have had no alternative but to keep the foxes down by much more cruel methods such as poisoning, gassing, snaring and trapping? Will my hon. Friend look into this matter, which is highly relevant, to see whether there is some way in which hunting can be restored?

Mrs. Fenner

The legality of hunting is a matter for the Home Office, but occupiers are free to decide whether co-operation with the local hunt would achieve effective pest control. It is for the occupiers to decide.

Mr. Leigh

Will my hon. Friend pay tribute to the hours of patient research into the control of vermin conducted in the House of Commons Library, and only occasionally elsewhere, by my predecessor, the former Member for Gainsborough, Sir Marcus Kimball.

Mrs. Fenner

His name is legion in this place.

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