HL Deb 11 February 1969 vol 299 cc307-42

2.51 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill deals with a matter which has given great concern to many people in Scotland; namely, that it is still legal there to use the gin trap for catching foxes and otters. My right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Scotland, indicated in December, 1967, that he intended to introduce legislation to make its continued use illegal for any purpose and this is the proposal in the Bill.

I do not think that any reasonable person would deny that the trap known as the gin trap is a most cruel method of capturing any animal. In the Scott Henderson Report it was described as a diabolical instrument which causes an incalculable amount of suffering". Because of this, it has been banned for more than ten years now in England and Wales; and in Scotland its use has been restricted to two animals—foxes and otters. This Government feel that it is not right to tolerate its continued use in Scotland for a further indefinite period, and that steps must be taken now to provide for its abolition as soon as is reasonably practicable.

The abolition of the gin trap was indeed strongly recommended 18 years ago by the Scott Henderson Committee on Cruelty to Wild Animals; but the Pests Act 1954, which gave effect to some of the recommendations of that Committee, provided for abolition in England and Wales only. For Scotland, it was decided at that time that retention of the gin trap was necessary and accordingly, although the Act in general prohibited the use of traps which had not been approved by the Secretary of State, he was given a specific power to authorise the use of unapproved spring traps which in effect means the gin trap. Using this power the Secretary of State made the Agriculture (Spring Traps) (Scotland) Order 1954, approving generally the use of unapproved traps against any wild animals in Scotland. This provision was later (in 1958) restricted to the use of unapproved traps against foxes and otters only, as during these four years satisfactory humane traps had been developed and approved for use against the other wild animals for which unapproved traps had hitherto been necessary.

When the 1954 Act was passed, it was clearly envisaged that a humane alternative would be found fairly soon, and the Act therefore provided that authorisations given for the use of unapproved traps could be withdrawn by the Secretary of State if a humane alternative became available. To encourage the development of such an alternative, the Humane Traps Panel, which was established in 1954 to advise the Agricultural Ministers on the approval of new traps, has, since 1958, devoted its attention to trying to find a humane alternative to the gin trap and so make it possible for the Secretary of State under the law as it stands to prohibit the use of the objectionable gin.

The Humane Traps Panel has applied itself very attentively to its task and the Government have made it possible for the Panel to offer sizeable rewards for any design of a suitable alternative. Nevertheless, so far, the Panel has not been able to recommend any design to the Secretary of State as being a satisfactory humane alternative to the gin. While my right honourable friend and I do not despair of some alternative trap being found, we feel that it is quite wrong to go on year in year out allowing the use of the gin and that it is necessary now to fix a firm date when we can say that the gin trap will be abolished. We propose that this date should be April, 1, 1973.

Your Lordships may ask why, if we are so sure that the gin trap should be done away with, we are not prepared to do this forthwith. We would, of course, like to do this very much; and I must say that personally it would give me the greatest possible pleasure if I could think it possible to do this immediately. But we must realise that there are a number of farmers, particularly in certain areas of Scotland, who have hitherto relied on the gin trap to enable them to control the predation of foxes on their stocks, and it is only reasonable that they should be given some time to consider what alternative methods may be most suitable for their particular circumstances. After consultation with the various organisations who are representative of the interests most affected, we concluded that four years was about the right time to enable those affected to look into their arrangements and explore the best methods of alternative control. I should say that we, in the Government, will do whatever we can during these four years to assist in this. I know that the Humane Traps Panel will continue with its search for alternative traps.

The Agricultural Departments will continue to foster research into maters relating to the fox population and its control, and will maintain contact with other agencies in this country and abroad undertaking work of this kind. We also propose to examine our present arrangements for encouraging farmers to undertake co-operative fox destruction activity. Moreover, the field staff of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries are always ready to help the farming community by giving advice or demonstrations of control methods to individual farmers or groups of farmers.

It is up to all of us, therefore, to use the coming four years to best advantage to ensure that there will be the minimum difficulty in controlling foxes when it is no longer permitted to use the gin trap. I know that some of your Lordships may feel that there will be difficulties in some areas, and I would agree that particularly in the remoter places it may take rather greater effort to control the fox without recourse to the gin trap; but I would not agree that it would therefore be right to sit back and accept for all time reliance on this barbarous method of control.

I should say a word finally about the provision which appears in the proviso to Clause 2 of the Bill allowing the Secretary of State to bring the appointed day forward to a date earlier than April 1, 1973, but not earlier than two years after the passing of the Act. There is, as your Lordships will know, much public feeling against the gin trap and no doubt its immediate prohibition would be widely welcomed. For the reasons I have outlined we feel that immediate prohibition would be inadvisable and we have therefore specified April 1, 1973, as the appointed day. We have, however, inserted this proviso which would enable the Secretary of State, if he were really satisfied that circumstances justified it, to bring the effective date forward to a date not earlier than two years after the passing of the Act. In such circumstances, he would have, as provided for in Clause 2(2), to give one year's notice. I should say that the Government do not at present envisage there being any great possibility of the date being advanced in this way; but this provision does introduce a small measure of flexibility into the provision.

I should also perhaps remind your Lordships that under Section 50 of the Agriculture (Scotland) Act 1948, as it now appears in Section 10 of the Pests Act 1954, the Secretary of State has power to make an Order forthwith withdrawing his authorisation of the use of the gin trap if at any time he is satisfied that a humane alternative trap has been found and is available in the necessary quantities. This provision will remain until the appointed day, so that the Secretary of State could immediately withdraw authority for the use of the gin if the conditions relating to the availability of alternative traps were satisfied. I hope it will be agreed that we have taken reasonable decisions on this very difficult question. We feel that we cannot defend the continued use of the gin for very much longer, but in giving effect to our resolution to abolish it we are trying to give the notice which will enable the farmers to work out the best methods of dealing with the fox problem.

Moved, That the Bill be now read lª.—(Lord Hughes.)

3.0 p.m.


My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who so lucidly puts everything into such a favourable light. I must apologise to him for not being in my place when he began his speech, but my friends have told me what he said. Obviously, we on this side support 100 per cent. the remarks that the gin is a diabolical instrument. About that none of us has any doubts at all. At the same time, we regard the fact that small lambs and poultry are attacked and eaten by foxes as a not very pleasant experience for those animals. As we depend on foodstock, and since the prosperity of many hillside farms depends upon their lambs, we need to worry a good deal about how they are going to be protected. I very much welcome, as I am sure do all Peers on this side of the House, the remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, about encouraging farmers to get together to work out something in the next four years. That is a wish which we shall foster and help in every way possible, but in the light of past experience I do not see much likelihood that anything definite will emerge.

I should like Her Majesty's Government to consider, even at this late time, the possibility of allowing in the crofting counties the form of gin trap known as the island set. This is used with water, the fox goes into it and is drowned within a very short space of time. That eliminates what we all object to, an animal lingering for a long time with the cruel claws of the trap on its face. In the case of the island set that does not happen. It is interesting to note that the Humane Trap Panel conducted an exercise in the year 1965–66 to find out how foxes were killed. They found that in the crofting counties nearly as many foxes were killed by the island set as by the open trap. The actual figures in the particular crofting counties were 677 for the open trap and 607 for the island trap. Therefore, in those crofting counties nearly 50 per cent. of the foxes accounted for by the gin trap were in fact taken by the island trap, which all open-minded people will agree is not to be regarded with the same degree of horror or to involve the same amount of pain as the ordinary gin trap. Therefore, could we not consider the possibility of allowing these crofting counties to continue using the island trap?

One must also bear in mind the fact that in the crofting counties, where distances are great and farms large, it is not possible to cover every trap every day, as one would expect a self-respecting man to do, but in the case of the island trap this need is not so evident. If one is certain that the animal, when caught, will be drowned, one does not have the same feeling of worry; and for people who live in the towns and people who love animals that feeling would be removed.

The Under-Secretary of State in the Commons, when this Bill first came up, expressed a personal opinion that it would be a good thing for a definite date to be appointed, but he several times said that he also thought it was advisable to provide for some flexibility. He wished to leave the Secretary of State a certain discretion. Those sentiments were expressed only two months ago, and it is a slight pity that he allowed himself to be overruled by the Grand Committee in another place into fixing a definite date, thus removing from the Secretary of State the power to defer. Supposing in the four years no viable solution is found, it would be very hard on the farmers to face more enormous losses. For example, in 1965–66 losses of 4,000 head of poultry and lambs were reported by the Humane Traps Panel. I think that the figure is very much larger, and we know that the number of foxes is increasing rather than decreasing.

I am talking particularly of the crofting counties, which are a well-understood geographical part of Scotland. There is no doubt or query about them; there is no difficulty in drawing up special circumstances for those areas, as has been done. Everyone recognises that they are part of a community which is not having things all its own way. They have to struggle, they have to be helped, and this particular measure, although humane to our hearts, is not going to help them to prosper. Therefore, I earnestly ask the House to consider whether we should not utter some slight protest that this power has been removed from the Secretary of State. I think it is a pity because we do not know what will happen.

In the other counties, such as Banff, Kilmarnock, Aberdeen and Ross and Cromarty, we have evidence that there has been an enormous increase in the numbers of foxes. It is one of those problems which one is never going to solve until some wonder trap comes along, and it is hard to see the way forward in this matter. This Bill is not going to help solve the problem, except that one knows there will be no ordinary gin traps. As I have said, we will help in every way we can. Having made these few remarks, I should like once more to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for the way in which he introduced the Bill.

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, it is entirely justifiable that the use of the gin trap for catching otters should be prohibited—in fact, I should have liked to see that done eight years ago. But the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has skated all too lightly over the effect which the prohibition of the use of the gin trap against foxes is going to have in many of the Highland areas. As the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, has said, foxes are increasing almost everywhere; they are certainly increasing in my own area. In the Lowlands it is possible to use snares against foxes with very good effect, although even a snare on occasion can be a rather cruel method of destruction; but in the Highlands there are many areas composed largely of broken rocks where the snare is absolutely unusable.

The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said that over the next four years farmers should consider what they are going to do. But there is nothing whatever they can do until a really efficient substitute for the gin trap for use against foxes is evolved. In fact, the noble Lord himself had to admit that there is no sign of any such trap coming on the market in the immediate future, or indeed within any reasonable period of time so far as one can see. In the broken rock country, which covers a great deal of the Highlands and a certain amount of other areas of Scotland as well, you cannot use snares. For technical reasons they are nearly always entirely inefficient. You cannot gas foxes in cairns, because the gas merely spreads in every direction. You very often cannot use terriers in driving foxes over large expanses of moor. Although you will reduce their numbers in a few cases, this method is by no means satisfactory in the majority of cases. You can usually get foxes in woods, but you cannot get them in the great expanses of moor, particularly where they border upon the deer country, where foxes find a great many refuges among rocks.

For that reason, until the really efficient substitute that we hope to see for the gin trap is produced—it may well be that it will not appear before 1973—this measure is going to impose a very definite hardship on the sheep farmer in a considerable number of the sheep-farming counties of Scotland. Such a trap must not merely be produced within a certain period of time but must also cover certain requirements. Obviously it must be merciful, it must be really efficient, it must be reasonably cheap and, most of all, it must be portable. The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, talked about the animal falling into a tank and being drowned. That is an efficient method in the low ground, but you cannot carry a great tank and get water to fill it right up in the hilly districts of Scotland. However well intentioned this little measure may be, it is going to be one more blow directed against the sheep industry of Scotland, which has already had a great many more blows than it can well tolerate.

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, I have no objection to the noble Earl's jumping the queue, but I disagree with a great deal of what he said. The question of gin traps has been discussed in your Lordships' House and in another place throughout the past years. In 1951 we spent a whole afternoon—nearly four hours, I think—discussing a Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who made a most masterly survey of the whole business. That Bill to abolish the gin trap was unfortunately defeated. But I think that the climate of opinion has changed very much since then, and it is a measure of the feeling that now exists against this hideously cruel instrument that this Bill has passed so smoothly through the other place and come into your Lordships' House. I am sure that we shall not hear all the arguments which we heard many years ago, going backwards and forwards for and against the gin trap, and I shall detain your Lordships for only a few moments.

Let us remember that the gin trap is not an instrument designed to kill. It is designed to catch an animal alive, and it was a godsend to the old professional trapper in the old trapping days. In the debate which took place fifteen years ago, there was talk about 3 million or 4 million rabbits being killed in a year in Britain by the gin trap, and I think of the abominable cruelty that must have been inflicted in all that time. But foxes seem to be what we are concerned with to-day. I do not know why the noble Earl cannot shoot foxes. We shoot them in East Lothian. It is only a question of taking a little more trouble, with people—whether Forestry Commission employees, keepers or whoever they are—lying out at night to wait for them, and shooting them. I admit that you cannot gas foxes, although you can, thank goodness! gas rabbits. We gas them now and it is a painless way of dealing with them. But you can shoot foxes—


My Lords, I did not say that foxes should not or could not be shot. I pointed out that driving across very large expanses of ten or more square miles of the Highlands is impracticable if you want to have a considerable reduction in the number of foxes. You will get some, but a great many will get away.


My Lords, I apologise to the noble Earl. I am getting rather deaf and I did not hear every word he said.

I want to tell your Lordships one story. I was out shooting many years ago and game was being driven up to me. I saw an animal coming towards me and I heard a clanging noise. It did not take a very good shot to dispatch that wretched animal because it hardly moved, and when it was dead we went to look at it and there was a gin trap. The teeth of the gin were firmly embedded in the animal's leg, with the skin and bone grown all around it. We reckoned that that animal must have been carrying that trap about, which it had pulled out of the ground, chain and all, for at least six months, if not a year.

Think, my Lords, of the abominable cruelty involved there. That is the sort of thing we want to avoid, and I earnestly support this Bill which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has introduced this afternoon. The only thing I could possibly say against it is that the appointed day is four years from now, and I hope he may be able to bring the day forward considerably. I hope that I have not bored your Lordships with this little story, but it is a true one and it created a profound impression both on me and on other people who saw that wretched, emaciated animal. I hope that your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading.

3.17 p.m.


My Lords, as I am sure many English people would do, I hesitate to intervene in this debate, because we do not know, nor do we appreciate, the different conditions prevailing in Scotland from those in our own country. Of course I know that there are very great distinctions—geographical, psychological, linguistic and otherwise; and another difference, apparently, is that in this country we are more quickly humane than Scotland has been. Therefore, I should like to put these questions to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes.

First of all, what has been happening since the abolition of the gin trap in this country? Has some other device been operated; and, if so, to what extent has it been successful compared with the barbarous gin trap? If it has been successful, why cannot that substitute device be employed in Scotland? For the life of me, I cannot see why it is apparently assumed that we can introduce more humane devices in this country but that we must wait a long time for the same more humane devices to be employed North of the Border. Secondly, why wait four years if the use of the gin trap is a barbarous practice? Surely a year would be quite sufficient, and in that time we could speed up the investigation into means by which these vermin could be destroyed much more humanely than now. These are two simple questions which puzzle me, and I am sure other noble Lords, and I should be very glad if the noble Lord could enlighten me in this respect.


My Lords—


My Lords, I hesitate to intervene, but we have a list of speakers which has not yet been exhausted.


My Lords. I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I did not realise that.

3.19 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for suggesting that I speak, since I have put my name down. Also, I should like to give my wholehearted support to this Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has said, the Scott Henderson Committee of 1951 described the gin trap as a "diabolical instrument", which it certainly is. I have known of two cases where foxes have left a leg in a trap. They must have bitten it off, presumably. The gin trap is a fiendishly cruel method of destroying foxes.

The trouble is that there are certain very wild areas of the Highlands, I agree, where it may perhaps inconvenience farmers not to have the gin trap because, whereas in the old days there were plenty of keepers to trap foxes, and to destroy them by other means, we do not now have them; and, owing to the shortage of labour, the gin trap is of course the easiest method of destroying a fox in these very wild areas. But in spite of that, I am all for having it abolished by 1973.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount? He said that this is a way of destroying a fox. The point of the people who support this Bill is that it does not destroy a fox. It catches a fox by its leg; it breaks the leg, and perhaps in this sort of winter weather, when the snow is lying three or four feet deep in the Highlands, it may keep that fox suffering in the trap, day after day, before a man can go and despatch it.


I am in complete agreement with the noble Earl. I am entirely for abolishing the traps by 1973. I was only saying that in the past there were plenty of gamekeepers who could control the foxes. But I do agree that, although there are certain areas of the Highlands where it may create difficulties if the gin trap is abolished, it must be abolished. It is an appallingly cruel instrument. The extraordinary thing is that, although it would of course be very difficult legislation to enforce, there is no legislation to ensure that a man visits his traps regularly. A fox might be in a trap for three days. It is an atrocious situation. The gin trap must be abolished; and I completely support the Government in this Bill.

My Lords, I am a big sheep farmer but I am rather fortunate because in the part of the Highlands where I farm sheep the foxes all disappeared a long time ago. They apparently got some form of mange. But I also farm sheep in the South-East of England, and we have a great number of foxes there. We have now had the gin trap abolished in England and Wales for ten years. Of course, this does not apply to the Highlands, but the point is that if you can bring your sheep into a park then all you have to do, as is done in the lowland areas—and this applies in the Lowland areas of Scotland as well—is to have the shepherd handle the lambs. Because if a lamb has been handled by a human, or if you just put a touch of tar on the lamb, a fox will never touch that lamb, since he cannot stand the scent of humans; with a touch of tar or creosote on the lamb, the fox will never go near it.

In the Highlands, the fox is, I think, maligned, because, although it is true enough that if you go near a fox earth you will find the remains of lambs in the lambing season, there is no evidence to show how many of those lambs were stillborn. In my opinion, the fox nearly always takes the stillborn lambs and the very weak lambs. I think my noble friend Lord Mowbray mentioned 4,000 hens or 4,000 lambs.


I said 4,000 head.


That might be hens or lambs. Of course, I have no sympathy at all with poultry keepers who have their poultry taken by foxes, because it is only necessary to build a proper fence and a proper house, and see that poultry are locked up at night, and they will be quite safe from foxes. Regarding lambs, we have no statistics, so far as I know (it would be impossible to compile them), as to how many lambs are killed by foxes. It is quite impossible to know. The number might be 2,000 or 10,000.


My Lords, with great respect to the noble Viscount, for the year July, 1965, to July, 1966, the Humane Traps Panel gave the exact figures county by county. The figures were: 2,187 lambs, 140 sheep and 1,979 poultry. They were proved.


My Lords, it would be very interesting to know how they were proved. What about golden eagles? I have a lot of eagles on my estate, and the golden eagles take a great many lambs. But eagles are protected, so they have to be allowed to go on taking them. A golden eagle will also take a fox sometimes; they will kill a fox. But I stick to my point that it is very difficult to prove how many live lambs the foxes take.

My Lords, we have large areas in England—we have the Yorkshire Moors, we have Cumberland and we have Westmorland, and other hill areas—where they have not had the trap for ten years, but where they appear to be able to keep foxes under control. There are other methods of control, of course. We have heard about shooting and gassing; and you can dig a fox out. But you cannot do that in cairns, and it is not very effective to gas in cairns. Nor do I think that gassing is all that humane. Also, shooting is not a very good method, because a great number of foxes go away wounded if they are shot with shot-guns. The only really effective method, if you want to do it with the least suffering, is to get up early in the morning, be a good shot with a rifle, have a telescopic sight and go and wait opposite the fox's earth or den. He will come home in the morning after hunting, and you can shoot him then. But, of course, there are few people who will do that because it involves getting up very early in the morning, and, as I said before, there is a great shortage of manpower in wild hill areas. But if you want to be really humane, that is an effective method. Then, in hill counties like Cumberland, they use two or three couples of hounds to hunt the fox, which again is quite effective.

My Lords, I think one noble Lord said that it was rather bad luck on the lambs. That is a poor argument. I think somebody mentioned that we have to protect the lambs. Of course we do; but that is no argument for protecting them by a diabolically cruel instrument. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, mentioned a reward being given to anyone who could invent a suitable trap. Perhaps I might ask the noble Lord to say, when he replies, how much this reward is, because it seems to me extraordinary that we can fly round the moon to-day but cannot invent a humane trap. I can personally think of two or three methods now. Surely it is not outside the bounds of human endeavour to invent a stupefying drug which could be put in a bait and which would make a fox unconscious for 24 hours, or whatever the time required. You can then come along and destroy the fox. After all, by means of trip wires we can take photographs of wild animals in the night. You have a camera, the animal touches the trip wire and so takes its own photograph. I should not have thought it beyond the bounds of possibility to have a pistol with a shot-gun cartridge in it connected to a trip, so that when the fox comes along, instead of having its photograph taken, it is shot in the head. It would appear to be a perfectly easy thing to do. It is quite feasible.


And what happens when I come along?


The noble Lord is too tall to be in danger.

My Lords, before ending I should like to support my noble friend Lord Mansfield when he says that the gin trap ought to be prohibited at once for otters. Surely there is no excuse for keeping it on for these animals. Otters do very little damage, and if they do take a salmon it is usually a diseased or weak one. I should like to make the point that I hope that when the gin trap is abolished in 1973 the manufacture of such traps will be prohibited. If not, then certain people will break the law. So when this does come into force in 1973 I hope that the manufacture of these traps will be prohibited.

My Lords, I am sorry that I cannot completely support the farming community in this matter. I am a farmer: but perhaps I may be biased because I do not have foxes on my land in the Highlands. But this trapping is so cruel that I think, even if it were perhaps to cause inconvenience to farmers in some of the Highlands counties, it ought in the interests of humane treatment to be abolished. I support the Bill.

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, the Bill before us is, unfortunately, very different from that which entered the other place originally. It is indeed a totally different Bill from that which was discussed with the Landowners' Federation and the N.F.U., the two bodies most concerned. I am sure that none of us has any liking for the gin trap, described as "a diabolical instrument" by the Scott Henderson Report. On the other hand, if this Bill goes through I am afraid that the position in parts of Scotland and particularly in the Highlands will be rather serious, unless we find an alternative. There was an Amendment tabled in another place—it was defeated by the casting vote of the Chairman—which would have made a considerable difference. I hope that when we come to the Committee stage we may be able to have some similar Amendment put down.

The Government have it within their power to abolish the gin trap just as soon as a suitable alternative is perfected. As my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard has said, it is surely not beyond the wit of man to find some alternative. We all want to have the gin trap abolished, but I am sure that most noble Lords would not like to put the sheep industry into a much more difficult position than it is at the present moment. The question was asked: how much money is there available to find a humane alternative to the gin? I believe that the amount originally was £5,000, bat it is now down to £2,000, at which figure it has been for some time. Unfortunately, however, very few people know about this. Perhaps the Government will do something more to publicise the fact that this amount of money is available and how it can be claimed.

Only last week I was talking to a trapper who had devised a snare-type trap. With certain limiting restrictions, it was rather an effective trap. But he knew nothing about the possibility of getting an award for having found something like it. I feel that more should be done to publicise this matter. What worries me is that the Government are taking power to abolish the gin trap without finding a suitable alternative and apparently without fully considering the implications—or, if they have considered them, then their action is likely to be more reprehensible than if they had not.

I feel that first we should look at the overall problem of pest control. As this Bill presumably aims at alleviating cruelty, we should look at the whole problem and not at just a small section of it. Wild life is one of my interests and studies and it is becoming increasingly clear to me that the problem of pest control has never been grasped. Some of your Lordships may have heard of the song that includes the words, They all live in little boxes. How true that is! I get a great deal of pleasure from going out at about 4 or 5 o'clock on a summer morning to see what is going on in the countryside. It is very pleasant at that time because practically everyone else is tucked in his "little box" sound asleep. At that hour one can see what is going on in Nature.

My Lords, we are becoming more and more urbanised and getting more and more remote from nature. One small example to illustrate this is that of the population of Inverness, which is about 50,000. I doubt whether anyone knows—or whether many care—that a vixen is planning to cub within half a mile of the borough. I may say that she is planning to cub on State-controlled ground, and I dare say they may catch her in due course; but she would not have been allowed to survive if she had been a mile to the other side. It seems to me, therefore, that no one has been able or bold enough to lay down a firm policy on what to do with pests. Such a policy would no doubt be controversial and contenious, but I feel that it is becoming more and more essential that we should have some firm decision.

I wonder whether the Minister can answer this question. Do we want to contain the foxes and rabbits, and so on, at approximately their existing level, or do we want to reduce them or even, in certain parts, to exterminate them? I hope that he will consider this question because I do not think it has been looked at. What do we want to do with pests? I can imagine the outcry if it were suggested that there should be a general extermination of foxes. A lot of people would be up in arms. On the other hand, there are areas where no one wants foxes and there are others where rabbits are a plague. The present procedure causes a great deal of cruelty and damage and is wasteful and expensive. We are doing no more than maintaining a healthy population of a great many of these pests by cutting off some of their number and keeping those healthy that are able to support themselves on the food supplies that are available.

It was only in the last ten or twelve years that any foxes were known to exist in the Black Isle, in Ross-shire. They have now become a menace. I do not think anyone wants foxes there; but no one has got down to eliminating them. Why not? I believe we should get a lead from the Department of Agriculture here. In Skye there are two fox clubs which are costing the farmers, owners and taxpayers a great deal of money each year to keep going. Why not remove the foxes entirely from Skye? I do not think there would be any objection. Some may feel that this is not possible; but I can assure the House that it is possible. Only two years ago we set up a fox club in the Glenelg district, a wild area in the West, partly in Ross-shire and partly in Inverness-shire, to cover 50,000 acres. We engaged a trapper and had excellent cooperation from the crofters and the land-owners, with one exception—luckily, he was on our flank—and now within two years there is hardly a fox left. I talked the other day to the trapper who had been round in the snow. He said that he was finding no marks of foxes. Last year he knew almost exactly the number of foxes that were left. He got eight of the 11 dens whose location he knew. One was got over the boundary and two escaped as they had gone to new places.

If we are going to deal effectively with pests like this—and I know it will not be popular—there must be a certain amount of compulsion. You cannot have someone breeding pests in the midst of an area while everyone else is trying to get rid of them. If a certain proportion of the people in an area wants something, there must be compulsion. I know that on this point I probably shall not find support from some of my fellow members on the Landowners' Federation, but I know that this is a fact. I am being "stymied" at the moment in this particular fox club area by members of a sheep stock club who will not join—crofters, who have some very "foxy" ground.

Another small point I should like to make, my Lords, is that there has been talk about having overall pest clubs. This is not "on". A fox has a completely different habitat from a rabbit and the type of man who traps or kills them is different. But that is by the way. I am quite certain that none of your Lordships likes this weapon of pest control. Furthermore, we would not use it if we did not feel that it was absolutely necessary. What are the alternatives? The country dweller will not stand by and watch his lambs and other stock being taken year after year by an increasing number of foxes. If he is not allowed to use a gin trap he will try to employ some other means to exterminate them. To me the first alternative appears to be poisoning. This is illegal and I am quite certain that your Lordships would much less rather have poisoning than the gin trap. I agree that strychnine is very difficult to obtain, but there are other poisons on the market and I am afraid that poison is being used fairly extensively. If you ban the gin trap, you will undoubtedly increase the amount of poison used, and I am quite sure that none of your Lordships would desire that.

There is shooting, but there are comparatively few marksmen capable of dispatching a fox humanely. A fox presents a very difficult target with a rifle, and if you use a gun, you have to use big shot. I have taken part in fox drives; they are of little effect, and consume an enormous amount of manpower. The number of foxes that get away wounded is fairly high in proportion to the number killed. A good many suffer gangrene and die a horrible death which might be even worse than being caught in a gin trap. Many foxes are killed in the Highlands by terriers which go into the earths, or "dens" as we call them in the Highlands. But it is only a percentage which is killed, because inevitably foxes have their dens in new places and one misses them, or badgers dig out new sets. If terriers get in with badgers they are soon in a mess. Furthermore, at the dens one is likely to get only a proportion of the vixens. A good man will get a high proportion of vixens but he will get only a small proportion of dog foxes.

There is also extermination by gas, and we have heard of its effect among rocks. You do not know whether you have killed any of the adult foxes because you do not know whether you have killed anything inside the den. Snares are effective only on enclosed ground. The wily fox will not go into a bit of wire sticking out on the open hillside. Where there are deer and sheep the snares will not be effective because deer or sheep may be caught in them and a great deal of cruelty may be caused. I have seen deer with snares in their legs which were every bit as painful as a gin trap. Snares are indiscriminate. They will take badgers. A Forestry Commission trapper to whom I was talking the other day said that unfortunately he had killed no fewer than six pine martens in the past year with snares. The Forestry Commission use only snares—they do not use gin traps—and it was something that the trapper could not help. In another place we had mention of the pill, which I think is still very much a pipe dream.

We were asked why there has been no outcry and demand for the reintroduction of the gin trap in England and Wales. My Lords, the answer is quite simple. Control by snaring is possible in practically all of England, and in most of the areas where it is not possible there is hunting which undoubtedly keeps the number of foxes at a level at which a proper balance is maintained. If the gin trap is banned in the Highlands, I wonder whether the Government would aid the John Peel type of hounds. I can well imagine that some of those who have been most vociferous in shouting for the banning of the gin trap would be pretty peeved if the Government were to aid foxhounds. But what is the alternative?

There has been a suggestion that there should be a bonus per brush or tail, or whatever you like, for foxes. This my Lords, has always been a mistake. We are spending a great deal of money every year on the bonus payment system, and all it means is that a nucleus of animals is left every year, because a trapper is not going to lose his bonus. He will leave some stock so as to get his bonus next year. If you are going to put a reward on foxes the only method would be to mark one or two animals and release them and put a premium on them. If you released a fox somewhere in the Highlands with a bonus of £500 on it, I am sure that a lot of people would start killing foxes.

How much damage do foxes do? Some of your Lordships may have seen Dr. Lockie's report on a study in Wester Ross. He said that during part of the year 15 per cent. of the foxes diet is lambs. We have heard different reports of how many lambs are killed, but no one really knows. No one can tell, but let us assume that over 2,000 lambs are killed, though I think that is probably a low figures. There are also chickens, ducks, grouse, pheasants and deer calves. I am quite sure that the damage done by foxes in Scotland each year must exceed £10,000. Probably the figure is £50,000. This must be looked at.

Where the area has been cleared in Glenelg I am told that there has been the best deer calving that anyone can remember. It has been extremely difficult to find any yeld hinds this year, although this sometimes happens when the weather is particularly open. But that does not apply this year, and I am quite certain that the reason is that the foxes have been brought down to a low number. In another area which I know well there were more dead deer calves found at dens than the number of adult deer which were shot. At least 5 percent. or 10 per cent. of the deer born in Scotland are destroyed by foxes. I attended an excellent conference at the Rowett Research Institute at the beginning of January, where it was agreed unanimously that we ought to maximise the amount that we can do as much as we can with deer. Reducing the fox population would be one way to maximise the amount of venison which would be available.

The Secretary of State stated only three years ago that the banning of the gin trap would cause serious losses on our hill and sheep land. What has happened to change his mind? I suspect that he has been submitted to very severe pressure from certain people. In another place the other day the Under-Secretary stated that there will be practical difficulties. I know there will, my Lords, and I am not sure that even the Under-Secretary appreciates how practical the difficulties will be. To take away the most efficient weapon of control in our armoury and to offer no replacement is, I think, a very dangerous thing to do.

My Lords, I suggest that the foxes will multiply until they come to a certain stage, when they will undoubtedly take mange. I do not know whether your Lordships have seen an animal suffering from mange. There was an outcry about myxomatosis, but I am quite sure that mange is worse. Rabbits suffering from myxomatosis die in a comparatively short time but mange can go on for many months. It does not usually kill an animal; the animal is killed from some other cause, but it gets thoroughly emaciated and mange is a horrible thing. If the fox population becomes too large, undoubtedly that is what will happen. When playing about with nature one has to be very careful to avoid being cruel over one thing while trying to be kind about another. If foxes are allowed to get too old, or if they are killed only in their dens, as was suggested, the foxes that get away will be the old dog foxes and they will lose their teeth. That is one of the first things that happen to these animals. When a dog fox loses his teeth he has difficulty in feeding. I know of one dog fox who was left with just his four tusk teeth and could not chew meat, so he killed a ewe nearly every night purely by catching her by the throat and sucking her blood. It was the only way he could survive. We have already heard about the difficulties of poisoning, snaring and shooting.

I should like now to give some constructive suggestions as to how this matter could be looked into. First of all, we want a proper pest control policy. This, I hope, would reduce the number of pests and the number which would have to be killed, and consequently, the overall amount of cruelty. Secondly, we should remove the otter from the list of animals to be caught. The population of otters throughout Great Britain as a whole is going down, and by encouraging the killing of others the Government could imperil the existence of this species. Thirdly, there are two different sorts of gin traps. There is one with horrible great spikes. I saw the other day some of them lying at the door of a shop in Inverness. It is quite unnecessary to have these big spikes, and I believe that this type should be banned straight away. I do not see any reason why trapping should not be restricted to pool trapping, or island trapping, as it is called.

I would ask the Government to press on with the designing of a humane trap. Unlike another noble Lord, with whom I disagree, I believe that there are good prospects of producing one. At the moment, there is one called the Phelps trap, but it is expensive. It has a metal bottom which is difficult to cast, but as this is not the part which holds the animal, there is no reason why the bottom should not be made of plastic and the moulds turned out cheaply. I do not know whether this has been considered, but it has been tried and I understand that it is effective. I believe that a seagull was caught in one of these traps and that it was released without any damage to its legs, and this trap should equally be able to catch foxes and other animals.

An Amendment was proposed in another place suggesting that the gin trap should be removed from certain areas. This, I can see, has practical difficulties, but I wonder whether it might not be possible, not to ban it altogether, but to give the Department powers to allow its use where they consider it is essential. This might be a reasonable compromise. It was mentioned that its use might still be permitted in the crofting counties, but of course this does not get over the difficulties of the high areas in Aberdeenshire and Banffshire. Finally, I apologise for being so long, and again press the Government to see that a humane alternative is expeditiously sought.

3.54 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise at the outset for attempting to jump a queue of which I was unaware and had not seen. I am sorry. It was the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, that has driven me to my feet. I do not always, or indeed often, agree with the sentiments of the noble Earl, but I think that he made an extraordinarily good, and brief, speech this afternoon. I am delighted that he came to the rescue of the otter—something which ought to have been done long ago. He made his point most forcibly, and I beg the Government to give us an assurance that they will give this matter serious consideration, because killing otters by means of gin traps seems to me to be almost criminal.

Having represented a North of Scotland constituency in another place for 34 years, I entirely sympathise with the views of the noble Earl about the danger of foxes and the damage that they do, and about the difficulty of getting rid of them by any other method than this cruel gin trap. On that matter I am on his side. It is a tremendous problem in Scotland. We have to tackle it as best we can, but gin trapping remains a brutal way, a barbarous way, of tackling it. Here I come down on the side of the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, when he said that wherever it can possibly be used the gun is better than the gin trap. Shoot them. Foxes (and I say this with some temerity in the face of a largely English audience) were born to be shot. I think that some day the English may well follow our Scottish example. In some ways I hope that they do, for the fact remains that it is the most humane way known now of killing foxes and getting rid of them. Shoot—and shoot to kill—with the gun or rifle. That is the best thing to do.

Meanwhile—and these are my last words, my Lords—we live in the Space Age: every conceivable invention is being produced, not only from day to day but from hour to hour; and it seems to me almost inconceivable that we should not yet have devised a more humane method of killing animals than the gin trap, which we all know inflicts unfathomable suffering on animals who have done nothing to deserve it. I beg the Government to say that they will conduct some research into this problem of more humane killing than killing by this brutal gin trap.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he realises (though I agree with much of what he said) that his point about shooting being the kindest way of getting rid of foxes is a doubtful proposition. It is a fact that in open country, using an ordinary shot-gun and ordinary cartridges, the kill is reckoned to be only about one in three, and, as my noble friend Lord Burton said, when a fox is wounded gangrene sets in, and this is just as bad, if not worse.


My Lords, the only answer is that one must shoot when the fox is within range.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, I am not a Scot. Probably that is my misfortune. I never thought that I would hear in your Lordships' House, as we have heard this afternoon, noble Lords advocating the shooting of foxes. This sounds to a countryman almost like sacrilege. Many pleas have been made to my noble friend to modify this Bill in one way or another, but I hope that he will reject them all. I hope that the Bill will be pressed forward and that it will ultimately reach the Statute Book in its undiluted form.

I should like to say something that nobody else has said this afternoon. The fox is really a beautiful animal. I do not know how many noble Lords have taken their grandsons out for a country walk and suddenly put up a fox and have been able to point to one of the few wild animals we have left in this country and about which their grandchildren have only read in their story books, and say, "Look, John, there is a fox".


And met the Quorn hounds chasing him.


I will come to that in a moment. The fox is a beautiful animal, but it is also a menace, particularly in the Highlands of Scotland, as we have heard this afternoon. And if it is to be a choice between the fox and sheep and deer, then I come down on the side of the sheep and deer every time: and something must be done to keep the foxes under control. I have done my own little bit in the saddle to keep foxes under control during ten or eleven seasons, but I do not look on that as a particularly humanitarian exercise; nor would it be possible to keep the fox under control in the Highlands by this method, although they come fairly near to it in John Peel's mountainous country.

We have wandered a long way in this debate from the stark original proposal in the Bill. We have heard what is happening in Russia, about flights to the moon, about the eagles of the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, about pine martens being trapped in State forests and about making foxes trip over a wire and take their own photographs. And we have heard of gamekeepers—although I presume that in these days gamekeepers are met more frequently in English literature than in the landed estates. I am against the shooting of foxes. I think it is cruel. A man has to be a real marksman, with a very heavy missile, to kill a fox. Moreover, foxes frequently maraud in the night, when a good aim is not possible. Even when you do hit a fox, it is ten to one that you do not kill it outright, and it wanders away to lie in some hedgerow, to die from bleeding after three or four days. I think that to set out to exterminate foxes by shooting is very cruel indeed, and almost parallel with the cruelty which is inflicted by the gin trap. We have heard of gas, which obviously is cruel; we have heard of poison, which is equally cruel.

As I have said, I am convinced that this Bill should not be diluted. I am convinced that if our inventive genius were brought to bear, and if the offer of this prize were sufficiently publicised, we should be able to find some adequate substitute for the gin trap within four years. We are not justified, despite all the pleas made by noble Lords, in keeping this gin trap for more than four years, and I sincerely hope that the Bill will go through without modification.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, I should like, with the indulgence of your Lordships, to intervene for a few moments. I speak as a farmer who has never used a gin trap, and I hope never will, but I have a certain sympathy with those who have to rear sheep in the Highlands of Scotland, where it is not easy to organise a pack of hounds as is done, as Lord Leatherland said, in the John Peel country. Nor am I an early riser (advancing years preclude that), like the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, or the noble Lord, Lord Burton. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, that the shooting of the fox is a chancy business and is no more likely than the gin trap to kill the fox outright.

I have one question that I should like to put to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. I think we ought to be informed what the Government have done to enable a substitute for the gin trap to be discovered. We have a tendency towards making legislation which wills a very good object but we are unwilling to provide the means towards that object. I think it is incumbent on any Government which brings forth a Bill of this nature to accept the responsibility of prosecuting vigorously the means by which the object of the Bill can be fulfilled.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive me for intervening: I will do so quite briefly. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, no doubt knows, farmers talk a lot of hot air about foxes. I have no doubt that foxes do a great deal of damage, but I have no doubt also that they are credited with a great deal of damage which they do not do. I ran a remote hill farm in the South of Scotland, and I herded my own sheep for eight years. At no time did I see any necessity to use a gin trap, and I never used one. I think the only action which was taken against foxes was that I had a man working for me who dug up some young foxes. Apart from that, we did not take any action against them; and, so far as I know, apart from the disappearance of the odd twin lamb we never lost a lamb. I could hazard a guess that 60 or 70 per cent. of the lambs which foxes take are either lambs that are so weak that they would not live or lambs that were stillborn.

It seems to me, from the tone of the debate, that some of your Lordships have been listening to your gamekeepers. I have been a small landowner, without the benefit of one of these gentlemen, for a long time, and I have come to the conclusion that gamekeepers look on almost every wild animal, whatever it may be, as a pest. I hope that the Government will not fall into this trap. I should like to make one point about the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, when he talked about putting tar on lambs. I have tried that. The fox would not take the lamb, it is true; but the mother would not take it back either.


I have not found that. Creosote, too, is all right. I have not found that the ewe would not take the lamb back. It depends how much you put on.

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, this has been a most interesting debate, and although I am not at all certain that my colleagues South of the Border waiting for the other business will agree with me, I have found it most enjoyable. There has been so much to-ing and fro-ing on the Benches opposite that I almost feel like an interloper coming back again. I must say right away how pleasantly surprised I am at the strong support which has been given by noble Lords opposite to this Bill. Those who have defended the retention of the gin trap have done so with considerable apology. What I did not expect was to find so much outright support for its abolition.

Although I have enjoyed the debate, I must say, quite frankly, that nothing which has been suggested as an alternative to the Bill is new to me. For two years my responsibilities in the Scottish Office were in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and almost immediately on coming into office I started to be subjected to pressure. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Burton, who talked about pressure having been put on the Secretary of State for Scotland. On coming in as a new Government we were almost immediately subjected to pressure from the lobby against the use of the gin trap. As a townsman, with little knowledge at that time—and perhaps I must confess little knowledge still—of some of the problems that beset the farmer, I was much impressed by the evidence that was put to me. I rave in my room some of the photographs of animals and birds caught in these gin traps, and was tempted to bring them to the House so that some of your Lordships could see them. But it seemed to me that, if I had done so, the only purpose it would have served would have been to intensify the pressure on me—which I should have reluctantly had to resist—not to wait for four years. Anyone looking at these photographs must, I think, say that to wait for hours is perhaps indefensible, let alone to wait for four years. But we have to try to balance the interests of the humanitarian with the interests of the farmer. It is that, and that alone, which has persuaded us to allow so long a period as four years to elapse before the complete abolition comes into effect.

The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, referred to the use of the island or drowning set. I would agree right away that compared with the other use of the gin trap this is relatively humane: but only if it works properly. There are so many cases, in fact, where it dogs not work properly; and if it does not., it is just as cruel as the other set. Furthermore, the difficulty is that as soon as one allows a gin trap to be used legally in certain circumstances, one opens the door to its illegal use. I must say that was impressed by the point that we shall not have complete success in this matter until we make it illegal to manufacture the trap. That, of course, is a different proposition which we may yet have to come to consider.

The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, also asked why we had abandoned the provision for postponing the appointed day which was in the Bill originally. We have, in fact, been living since 1954 under legislation which effectively permits the postponing of action until some other satisfactory device has been found; and we came to the conclusion that if we were to continue the provision that was in the Bill originally, either to bring forward or to put back the date, we should not in fact be changing the law at all and should be just as likely to find the same situation a dozen years from now. We therefore felt that we had to put a definite period on it. Lord Mowbray also raised a question about the possible rise in the fox population. This is a matter of speculation. All I can say is that it has not happened in England and Wales during the ten years that the gin trap has been abolished there.

That brings me to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Sorensen. He asked why were we so prepared to tolerate for another four years something which the English had recognised as barbaric ten years ago. I do not suppose he was joining the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, who some time ago talked about the "tribal areas", the inference being that when one got a little too far North one ventured beyond the fields of civilisation. It is not that we are less humane; it is simply that the then Government, and this Goverment, have perhaps leant over backwards too long in the interests of farming, and perhaps we have closed our eyes, as they closed their eyes, to the dreadful cruelty which this trap inflicts on animals. After all, it has been ten years under the previous Government and will be four years under this Government before this action is taken. We say, "Enough is enough", and we are now prepared to ban this trap, as it was banned in England.

The noble Lord said: Why wait for four years? Well, for the reasons which I stated. We cannot expect farmers who have been given this right for so long—and if people say, "for too long" I shall not disagree with them—to be able to change over to satisfactory alternative methods of control overnight. There must be a period of adjustment. I must admit that during that time a number of animals are going to die a very cruel and lingering death. If I could see my way in fairness to cut that period down, then I should be delighted to do so. What I hope is that during this period something will happen which will enable us under the existing law to bring it to an end immediately. I have already pointed out that the law at present allows the Secretary of State to ban the gin trap if there is a satisfactory alternative trap.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether a similar period of four years operated in this country before the gin traps were entirely abolished; and if not, why not?


My Lords, I was coming to the main reason why we did not ban the trap at the same time. The fact is that they are different countries. The terrain is different. Methods which are successful over the greater part of England and Wales are difficult to apply. We are not now accepting that they are impossible to apply. We have in the past been perhaps over-persuaded about the impossibility of using these methods, and we have had conflicting statements from noble Lords opposite on the merits and effectiveness of shooting foxes. But because of the type of terrain there are large areas of Scotland where, for instance, gassing is ineffective. If one uses gas in the case of an ordinary earth it works, but if a fox has its den in an area of rocks, all you are doing is pumping the gas in at one hole and it is coming out somewhere else, with the fox perhaps just sitting and laughing at you.


My Lords, may I raise just one point? The noble Lord realises, I take it, that there will be very little incentive for people, even the best brains in the country, to invent a substitute to the gin so long as the gin is allowed to be operated. That is why we hope the period may be shortened from four years to perhaps two years.


My Lords, noble Lords South of the Border will be quite willing to believe that the best incentive that can be offered to any Scot is a monetary reward. Yet the fact that a substantial sum has been available has not yet, in 14 years, produced a satisfactory alternative.


My Lords—


Will the noble Earl allow me to finish this point? A question was asked about the amount and the noble Lord, Lord Burton, correctly gave the information, with perhaps the wrong emphasis. He said it had originally been £5,000 and it had now been reduced to £2,000. Your Lordships might assume from that that in the interval the Government had become parsimonious. The figure has come down from £5,000 to £2,000 because £3,000 has been paid out for the traps which were successful against anything other than foxes and otters. That was why a number of years ago the trap was made illegal for use against any other wild animals; the awards made it possible for other traps to be approved.


My Lords, I was going to ask the noble Lord whether much greater publicity could be given to the fact that there was still £2,000 for award? And would it not be as well to raise that figure to £5,000 for a really satisfactory trap? Then we should be able to get rid of the gin trap at a very much earlier date, which we all want to do.


My Lords, considerable publicity has been given. The matter has been publicised on television; it has been publicised in the Press; it has been publicised on the radio. The most effective publicity was perhaps in the Press, with the photographs, the revolting photographs, of animals caught in traps. I am afraid that what has happened is that nowadays we have become accustomed on television, in the newspapers and on the radio, consciously or subconsciously, to pass over the items in which we are not especially interested. I do not know how we can increase the publicity, but we certainly will do what we can to bring the matter to people's notice. Unfortunately, we do not have any lists of potential inventors to whom we could send a circular. That would provide a nice, easy way to do it.

I should like to close my reply to my noble friend Lord Sorensen by saying that there is no method, including hunting, which is used in England which is not used in Scotland. The fact, of course, is that so long as the gin trap is there there will be less encouragement to use these more difficult and perhaps less satisfactory methods in other parts of the country. And we are now prepared to take the risks—because risks are involved in doing away with this barbarous method.

I thought that the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, was a little unfair to me—but that would not be the first time that that had happened—when he said that I had skated lightly over the effects of abolition and that I had had to admit the difficulties. My Lords, I do not admit that I did either of these things. It is because we fully recognise the facts of abolition, because we fully realise the difficulties, that we are waiting for this period of four years. The only possible justification for accepting the continuation of this abominable cruelty for another four years is the fact that we are accepting the difficulties. As I say, I hope that something will come along which will enable us to shorten this period, because it is only the economic necessity of looking after the interests of sheep farmers which provides the slightest justification for accepting so long a period as four years.

I am most grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, for his speech. I disagree with only one remark that he made, when he went into past history and said that the gin trap was a Godsend to the trappers. I do not think the Almighty had anything to do with the gin trap; if it had any origin outside this world it was from another direction altogether!


Hear, hear!


My Lords, reference was made to the killing of lambs. The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, gave statistics and it is true hat a certain number of lambs are killed by foxes, but at least we have the knowledge that although the lamb's end is no doubt violent and painful, it is relatively swift. The fox's end in the gin trap is neither; it may be hours, it may be days, because the trap is not designed to kill, it is designed to trap, and the animal can suffer the most appalling cruelty for a very long time indeed.

The noble Lord, Lord Burton, with the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, was alone among your Lordships in seeking to wish to continue for a more indefinite period—because I do not think either of them wish to continue it in perpetuity—the use of the gin trap against foxes. The noble Lord, Lord Burton, referred to what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said three years ago and he asked what had happened in the interval. He asked: "Has he been subject to pressure?" Of course he has. We have all been subject to pressure on this matter, but it was not pressure that determined that the Bill should be brought in at this time; it was the realisation that, unless we took a step of this kind sooner or later, we were just as likely to find ourselves in exactly the same position ten, or even twenty years from now. The passage of time without any satisfactory result is the justification for this Bill.

The noble Lord went on to suggest six proposals, the first of which was proper pest control. He spoke of his experience with fox clubs and he gave rather interesting evidence of the value which can be attached to alternative methods of getting rid of foxes.


My Lords, I must say that the fox trapper to whom I referred killed nearly all his foxes with gin traps.


My Lords, I rather think the noble Lord must carefully have concealed that, because I certainly did not get that impression. I was going to say that the Government would look with interest at proposals to help fox clubs, but not in that direction. I would not give a single penny of public funds to a fox club using that trap, but for other things I am certainly most interested in the possibility of giving assistance. Indeed we do this at the present time. It depends on the area in which the club operates and the resources available to it. There are places where the club cannot possibly carry on with just its own resources, and in those circumstances the Government have given a grant of up to 50 per cent. It is supposed to be on a diminishing basis, but that is difficult in some cases because the other resources are not there. Therefore I agree with the noble Lord on proper pest control, subject to not going all the way with him in regard to his methods. He then said that we should remove otters from the list, and there he was in agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, and the noble Lord, Lord Boothby. I should like to look at that suggestion and if an Amendment along those lines were put down I would undertake to give it the most careful consideration.

The other suggestions, some of which I have referred to, really all boil down to permitting the use of the gin trap in a limited form or in limited areas for an indefinite period. We considered this; we considered the possibility of specifying areas in which it might be permitted, but we came to the conclusion that at the end of any given period of time we were unlikely to be any nearer a solution and that it was better to do it in the way suggested by the Bill.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Leatherland for his support, although I was somewhat confused by the time he had finished because although he was completely in support of the Bill, he did not favour gassing or shooting or the use of gin traps. He thought the animal was beautiful—


But he hunts it!


—looking at it from the back of a horse. Eventually I thought he was saying that what the Bill was doing was the best of a bad job. For that I am grateful. The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, asked what the Government were doing in regard to finding a substitute. We cannot do anything in this case other than what was done by our predecessors and what we ourselves have done, that is, to give every encouragement to the invention and the production of a suitable alternative. The noble Lord, Lord Burton, referred to the fact that there was a Phelps trap. This is one of two that is being investigated at the present time, but the present opinion is that neither of the two is likely to be a satisfactory substitute which would enable the Secretary of State to alter our existing legislation.

I would remind your Lordships that if the Secretary of State is satisfied that there is a humane alternative he can ban the gin trap right away. If we were unscrupulous and just took something that came from the panel and said, "Let us say that this is a satisfactory alternative and get rid of this abominable thing right away", we could do it, but that would not be honest. The law says that it must be a satisfactory alternative. A panel has been set up and so far they tell us they have not got a satisfactory alternative.


My Lords, the noble Lord speaks of encouragement to the inventor. May I ask him whether the reward given to the inventor is taxable, even though he may classify himself as an inventor by profession?


My Lords, I have the most excellent brief; I think I was briefed on everything under the sun, but the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has chosen the one item that is not there. I do not know the answer. Of course, the real incentive to the inventor is what he is going to get out of it after it is made, and I should think at the end of the day that would amount to a great deal more. I have never invented anything, so I cannot say from the receiving end whether the sums payable to inventors are tax free. It would be surprising if they were, because very little escapes the eye of the Chancellor in this 20th century.


My Lords, I have invented something and certainly the reward I sought was not in terms of a reward by the Government. My question is really whether the reward offered by the Government is to be tax free in the hands of the successful inventor.


My Lords, the noble Lord already has my answer, that I do not know.


My Lords, carrying on the point on which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, was speaking, the development of a suitable trap is surely a technological problem. Merely offering a prize to people who are not technologists is not necessarily likely to produce the answer. It might. But have the Government considered the possibility of approaching the technological universities in Scotland and offering them, say, £10,000 in order to conduct research into this acute problem? I think there would be a good chance of getting a solution if the Government did that.


My Lords, I hope that what the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, is saying is not to be regarded as a typical approach, that as soon as you propose to give money to universities it has to be five times as much as to anybody else and with the certainty that it is tax free. I will consider the noble Lord's suggestion, but not necessarily am I committed to the amount.

The debate, I think, has shown that the Government have correctly gauged the state of public opinion on this matter. Ten years ago such a Bill could not have received the reception it has received from your Lordships to-day. We were reminded that a Bill of this kind—not in identical terms, but a Bill to abolish the gin trap—was rejected, and if this Bill had come ten years ago I am certain that it would not have got a Second Reading. I am quite happy in its reception. I am reasonably satisfied that it is likely to go on the Statute Book in the form in which it is, or even in an improved form if we can do something about the otters, as has been suggested.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.