HL Deb 27 February 1969 vol 299 cc1204-21

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Use of spring traps other than approved traps no longer to be authorized]:

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?


This clause removes the power which was possessed by the Secretary of State under Section 50 of the 1948 Act, enabling him to give various remissions or exemptions from the prohibition against the use of spring traps. It has been decided in another place to carry this clause in its present form and I do not wish to challenge that decision.

I have been concerned in many ways over the last forty years, perhaps not directly but indirectly, in endeavours which many of us have followed with interest in the hope that some kind of humane trap which would effectively enable Highland sheep farmers to keep down the number of predatory foxes in their area could be discovered. I am afraid the fact is that up to now all the inventions which have been produced by various people who have had them patented have been judged by those who use them to be more dangerous to the trapper than to the foxes; and while we all continue to hope that some less inhumane instrument will soon be discovered I feel bound to say that I doubt whether this clause is realistic. I do not propose to challenge it, for two reasons: first, I do not think it would be practicable to do so, and, secondly, nearly everyone has the strongest reluctance to say anything which might seem to encourage or approve of the use of these spring traps, which people who think they are necessary all regard as a most regrettable and distasteful necessity. But I feel bound to put it on record that so far as I can see this clause is not wholly realistic.

I think that by the time 1973 comes, which is the appointed day under this Bill, it is probable that either we shall have to reinstate the Secretary of State's power of exemption or we shall have to contemplate a situation in which the Highland sheep farmers in Scotland will be unable to protect their stock. Naturally the farmers are very concerned about this situation, and we all know that when people are concerned about something like this they often overstate their anxiety, but I do think that is probable.


I apologise to the noble Lord that I was unable to be in my place on the Second Reading, but I read what he said with great interest, and I wonder whether this; would be a suitable opportunity for him to tell us the position with regard to otters. I should have thought there was no reason at all why the use of the gin-trap should not be banned on otters as from the passing of this Bill. It is generally thought now in Scotland that otters do little, if any, damage; that they are few in number and probably diminishing, and that the sooner their persecution by the gin-trap is stopped the better. I have one slight fear about this Bill and that is that in Clause 2 it says that it cannot come into operation within two years. Does this mean that the Secretary of State will not have the power for the next two years to remove the otter from the list of animals on which the gin-trap can be used?


The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, in talking about Clause 1 and the position that presently exists, of course reiterates what has been in the minds of many people during all these years. It is now 11 years since the Secretary of State made the Order under which the use of the gin-trap was confined to foxes and otters, and I think it is fair to say that during all this time it has been regarded as a temporary use of a detestable device and one which everybody concerned hoped could be brought to an end at the earliest posible moment. I have heard no one suggesting that the gin-trap is a desirable method to use against any animal.

The argument is that we have not been able to get anything to put in its place which will accomplish the result. That is true. But the Government have been persuaded and are firmly of the view that if we do not take action at some time to put an end to the use of this trap, the temporary situation is likely to go on and on and on; because, to put no finer a point on it, those who use the gin-trap have no incentive themselves to take measures to find an alternative. The steps are left to the research organisations, the Agriculture Departments and people of an inventive turn of mind. By placing a definite period of four years on the use of this trap we have increased very considerably by one stroke those who have in fact a vested interest in finding a satisfactory alternative, because every farmer whose stock may be attacked has just as much interest in trying to find a solution to the problem as the man who might collect £2,000 in reward from inventing a satisfactory trap. We think therefore that this is a justification.

In fact the Government, even in your Lordships' House, were under criticism, and the criticism can be justified, for waiting for so long as four years before putting a final end to the use of this trap. We have had to work very hard at balancing the interests of those who wish to put an end to cruelty immediately and those who say that the farmer, faced with this time limit, must be given some reasonable time to do something about it. And the Government came to the conclusion that two years was likely to be the very minimum in which this could be accomplished and that four years should be set as the maximum.

When the noble Earl made the remark about the Government of the day in 1973 being faced with the possibility of having to reverse this measure I hope that that is not to be taken as an indication that if there were unfortunately to be a Government of another complexion in Scotland or the United Kingdom at that time it would be the intention of the Conservative Benches to seek to reverse this measure, because I think that would be very regrettable.


All I said was that I thought that in 1973 the Government might be faced with the alternative of reinstating the powers of the Secretary of State which are removed by this clause or of dealing with a situation in which the farmers were unable to protect their stock. Of course, I hope they may have invented some other means of doing so, but I think that the alternative is likely to be the case.


Put on a hypothetical basis, I cannot object to it. I wanted to be quite clear that I was not getting an advance warning. On the question of otters, on Second Reading I was rather pleasantly surprised at the reaction, and I undertook that if the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, or others tabled an Amendment to deal with this situation I would give it careful consideration. No such Amendment has been tabled; so there has been nothing for me to consider. There are great practical difficulties. To answer the noble Duke's question, under the Bill as it stands, if there is no Amendment, it would not be possible for the Secretary of State to stop the use of the gin-trap for otters in less than two years.


Would the noble Lord consider co-operating with me in trying to find some suitable Amendment for the next stage? Although the gin-trap is not used much on otters, I think it would be a very bad blot on this particular piece of legislation if it had the effect of stopping the Secretary of State from putting otters on the list for two years.


I wish to digress from this particular discussion to raise another point, and I suppose to be in order I should say that I support the Motion, That the clause stand part. In one of his answers to the noble Duke, my noble friend said, "If in 1973 there were a Government in Scotland". We have had many leaks of official policy recently, and I was wondering whether it was an accidental slip of the tongue or whether he is formally officially indicating in your Lordships' House that by 1973 Scotland will have Home Rule.


No; it was no inspired leak. I rather thought the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, in talking about what might happen in 1973, was getting into the field of pure hypothesis and I did not see any reason why I should not enter into a similar unlikely field.


I thought from what had been said on the Second Reading that it was going to be possible under present legislation to ban the use of the gin-trap on the otter, otherwise I would have put down an Amendment for to-day. Do I take it from what the noble Lord has said that this is not now possible?


The case of otters is entirely different from that of foxes. Farmers may be anxious about damage to their flocks from foxes in 1973, but otters do not do any harm to sheep; and surely, in view of the general opinion of naturalists now, it would be reasonable to prohibit the use of spring traps for otters in less than two years?


It is perfectly true, so far as I know, that otters do not do any harm to sheep, but there are a number of people, particularly in fisheries organisations, who suspect that they do a certain amount of harm to salmon. Even the very guarded remarks I made on Second Reading about being willing to consider an Amendment if the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, put one down, brought an almost immediate reaction from the people concerned that they had agreed, with some reluctance, to what was in the Bill only because a certain amount of time was to elapse before it came into effect, and that if any such Amendment either to bring the ban forward or to make it operative immediately were brought in, it would be a grave breach of faith on the part of the Government. So in this matter also there is no unanimity. We are in danger of mixing up two things here. We are seeking to prohibit the use of the gin trap because it is a cruel method of killing animals, and the reaction on Second Reading of at least some noble Lords concerned was really on the question of the desirability of preserving otters, not of finding an alternative way of killing them. Listening to some noble Lords, one would have almost thought that the Bill was for the conservation of otters. That may be a very desirable thing, but it is not one of the functions that we are seeking to cover in this Bill.


Surely under the 1948 Act it was possible to abolish the trap for any specific animal or at any specific place, if there was an alternative. If the number of otters is reducing, surely it proves that there are quite adequate methods, because I am sure the gin trap is not used very extensively on otters at the moment. Can you, therefore, not ban it under the 1948 Act?


It is the case at the present time that if a suitable trap can be devised the Secretary of State has power to ban the use of the gin trap, either for otters or for foxes, right away, but he cannot ban it under existing legislation unless he is satisfied that there is a suitable alternative. So what we are seeking to do in this Bill is to give the Secretary of State power as from 1973, or, alternatively, from 1971, but not earlier than that, to ban it, even though a suitable alternative humane trap has not been found.


Surely the point is that there is a suitable alternative. It does not say a "suitable alternative trap". There is already a suitable alternative, and therefore I should have thought you would be able to ban it under the existing legislation.


No, it is a suitable alternative humane trap which the Secretary of State is obliged to find.


Could the noble Lord say specifically which organisation it was which felt, with reference to the otters, that there should be at least two years before the gin trap was banned? Because I have teen led to understand that modern thinking is that in the fisheries otters do almost as much good as harm by the number of eels and other coarse fish they take, although it must be admitted that they do take some salmon parr, too.


I am very sorry; offhand I could not state the name of the organisation. I could state the name of the lawyer in Aberdeen who is its Secretary, but I do not know that that would be helpful to your Lordships other than to those who know Aberdeen lawyers.

Clause 1 agreed to.

LORD BURTON moved the following Amendment: After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:

Use of spring traps under license

".—(1)Notwithstanding anything in section 50 of the Agriculture (Scotland) Act 1948 after the appointed day a licence may be granted to any person by the Secretary of State authorising that person for the purpose of killing or taking animals to use spring trays other than approved traps subject to compliance with any conditions specified in the licence.

(2) A licence granted under this section may be revoked at any time.

(3) Any person who contravenes or fails to comply with any conditions imposed on the grant of a licence under this section shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £20."

The noble Lord said: Knowing as I do the intense desire of many of your Lordships to see the end of the gin trap altogether, I have introduced this Amendment only after very much consideration. As things stand at the moment, as the Secretary of State said only a matter of three minutes ago, there would be serious loss if no alternative were found to the gin trap and it was banned completely. The noble Lord said that he wished to do away with cruelty, but, after all, if we are going to have an excess of foxes we are going to have a great deal of cruelty to lambs. I do not know if this point has been considered. You try and do away with cruelty on the one hand, and you will introduce increased cruelty on the other.

There is no reason why the trap should not be banned in a great deal of Scotland. It would be quite reasonable to ban it at the present time in any place where it is possible to use a snare, but there are large tracts of Scotland where the snare is not feasible. There are areas where there is no alternative, and serious difficulty will occur in those areas if these traps are banned. I discussed the position during the last fortnight at branch and area meetings of the N.F.U., and they were all unanimous that an Amendment on these lines was essential. I gather that N.F.U. headquarters have also backed it and sent a circular to certain noble Lords.

The Government have expressed their desire for the complete abolition of the trap. If your Lordships approve of my Amendment it still need not result in the trap being used again after 1973, because if the Government really got down to finding an alternative the gin could be banned straight away. Certain noble Lords suggested that the amount of the prize should be increased, and some noble Lords suggested that the universities should be engaged in this work. It is most disappointing this afternoon to hear the noble Lord say that the prize still stays at £2,000.

The Amendment would restrict the traps to very limited areas, even if no alternative is found, and one hopes it will be found by 1973. The Amendment would permit the Secretary of State to stipulate that the trap could be used only for foxes, and, further, he could stipulate exactly how it was to be used. For instance, he would probably stipulate that it could be used only in pools, on what is called the "island set" although I think it is really on a peninsula, where the fox would fall into the water and be drowned. To my mind it would be causing more cruelty by not permitting the use of the trap in this very limited sense unless an alternative is found. Therefore I have much pleasure in moving this Amendment, because I am certain that your Lordships would not wish to involve the Highland sheep farmers and others in a great deal of excessive loss.


I have naturally listened with interest to the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Burton, in moving this Amendment, but I must tell your Lordships right away that the new clause would be fundamentally at variance with the principle on which the Bill is based. That principle is quite simply stated. It is that the gin is too cruel a device to be tolerated beyond the minimum reasonable period of notice to those who at present rely on this means of control. The noble Lord, Lord Burton, said as a sort of balancing factor against the cruelty of the gin trap against the fox that we did not consider the cruelty that would be inflicted on lambs. I do not think there can be any comparison between the two. The lamb which is attacked by a fox meets an instant death.




Let me put it another way. There is no question, when a lamb is attacked by a fox, of its lying for anything up to four days dying slowly because there is nobody to come to its assistance. If the gin trap could be guaranteed in all circumstances to kill as quickly as the fox generally kills, it would perhaps be an argument for the toleration of its use. But the fact is that a fox may be a long time in dying and spend the whole of that time in the most intolerable agony which nobody could justify if this happened in front of witnesses. Those which may get away from the trap by gnawing off the trapped limb, may then die a slow death because, owing to their physical disability, they will not be able to get their natural food. For these reasons so many people have clamoured over the years for the removal of the trap. There is a definite difference between the two problems.

The noble Lord envisages the issue of licences to use the gin trap in a limited way. My advice is that what would be involved would be the use of the gin, on a considerable scale, in those areas of Scotland where control by other means is difficult. The noble Lord's Amendment does not mean that a few dozen Highland sheep farmers would be allowed to use the gin trap. It means that in practice the gin trap would continue to be permissible as an instrument in large areas of Scotland. Frankly, we consider that the only way to stop this cruelty is to go ahead in the way suggested in the Bill.

Apart from the objection of principle, there are two sound practical reasons why the new clause is not acceptable. I have drawn attention to the hopes which were repeatedly expressed that the four-year waiting period before the appointed day will be used by all concerned to make preparations for control by alternative means. Does the noble Lord, Lord Burton, really think that if the new clause were accepted, those at present using gin traps would apply their minds vigorously to the problem of devising alternative measures? Would the fox club with which he himself is closely concerned do this? It may be that they would, but I must express doubts about this being the likely outcome of getting a licence to continue the use of the trap. It is more likely that, if a licensing system were introduced, there would be a general presumption that the majority of those at present using gins, particularly in the Highland area, would be allowed to continue doing so. That is not what the Government want. Our intention is to tell the fanning community clearly that gin traps are on the way out; and that with every encouragement from the Government they must make preparations for control by other means. I am sure your Lordships will agree that after waiting some fifteen years from the passing of the Pests Act 1954, and eleven years after the making of the Order, for a decision on this issue, the time has come for the Government to make a clear and unequivocal decision.

There is, finally, the point that illegal use of the gin is very much more likely if its use is still permissible in some circumstances. We have already evidence of this in the relatively frequent reports of the illegal use of gin traps for the purpose of taking birds and other creatures. Under the Bill as it stands it will from the appointed day be an offence to use, or knowingly permit the use of, a gin trap, or to possess or sell a gin trap with a view to unlawful use. If a gin trap is discovered set by any person so as to take any creature, there will be evidence that an offence has been committed. Moreover, when the appointed day arrives there will he some incentive for those possessing gins to get rid of them; or at least there will be no incentive to keep stocks readily available and in good working order. I ask your Lordships to contrast that situation with the situation which would be created if the new clause were accepted. There would still be a demand for these cruel instruments. Supplies would be readily available; it would be lawful to sell them. Enforcement of the law would be difficult, since any licensee using the trap for illegal purposes would be able to claim that this was not his intention. He could say that he had not set it to catch an eagle, but to catch a fox, and that it was unfortunate that the other animal or bird got into the trap.

In all these circumstances, we have come to the conclusion that the only way to put an end to the illegal use is to put an end to the legal use. The one thing which legal use and illegal use have in common is that the gin trap is a despicably cruel instrument which Scotland, through economic circumstances, has permitted to be used for ten years longer than has been the case in England and Wales. I refuse to accept that it is beyond the wit of the Scottish farmer, with another four years' leeway, to accomplish what has been accomplished by those even in the difficult areas of England and Wales. Those areas have managed for ten years to do without the pin trap. What they managed to do in 1959, Scotland should at least manage to do by 1973.

3.56 p.m.


The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has by his speech illustrated some of the fallacies under which the Government are working. He stated that he thought lambs would be killed quickly. I have with me a letter from a shepherd, which was written as a result of our Second Reading debate. He says in his letter that he has had very many lambs still alive after being savaged by foxes. He goes on to say that there is clear evidence of lambs having had their legs chewed off and virtually having been skinned alive; and that it is a pity that photographs of wounded foxes could not have been backed up with pictures of these lambs. He goes on: It is perhaps possible to imagine the feelings of a shepherd when he finds a lamb in this state, and the feelings of the shepherd's wife when she has to try to doctor the poor little beast. The principle of reduction of cruelty whenever possible is inescapably right …". This makes quite clear the position with regard to lambs. Under this Amendment the trap would be used only where it was essential.

In his reply the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said that this use of the trap under licence would apply in large areas of Scotland. At one moment he says, "We are going to ban it", and at the next he says that it is essential. The position is that the Secretary of State would issue a licence only where it was essential to use the gin trap. And the noble Lord says that this would relate to large areas of Scotland. He further said that the trap would have been banned long ago in Scotland had it not been for economic considerations. He now says that the Government are going to cause economic difficulties, not only in the Highlands but in large parts of Scotland.


The noble Lord is entitled to a good deal of licence, but he cannot be allowed to get away with misrepresentation of this kind. I did not say anything of the sort. In the first instance I withdrew the remark that the lamb never had a lingering death. I substituted for that remark that I accepted that this could be the case, but I pointed out that the animal caught in the gin trap always had a cruel death. There is no comparison on that basis.

On the economics of the matter, I said that over the years the Government had accepted that the economic situation required them to continue to allow this dispensation, overlooking the cruelty aspect. The Government have now accepted that the community in Scotland must put itself on the same basis as that in England and Wales. We are giving it four years in which to find a way to deal with the situation. We are giving the people concerned a very strong vested interest in allying themselves with attempts to get a solution. That is a very different thing from saying that we now accept that we are ignoring the economics of the matter.

It is said that at one moment I say this does not involve much, and that I then say there will be large areas of Scotland involved. But the point is that when Governments are dealing with matters like the issue of licences they cannot deal with them on the same basis as an individual might do, where you give someone a licence because you like the look of his face, but do not give a licence to a person whose face you do not like: you have to give licences on the same sort of basis. If the Amendment means anything at all it is that those people who, in the absence of a humane trap, could show that in their particular case it was essential that they should be allowed to use a gin, should therefore get a licence for it. We should thereby be removing the encouragement to find an alternative, and almost everybody, over large areas, would be able to make as good a case as the next person. Licences either have to be issued on a wholesale scale, almost repeating the existing position, or should not be issued at all. We prefer that they should not be issued at all, and the straightforward method is to do what is in the Bill; that is, to make them illegal.

4.2 p.m.


I apologise for having been at a meeting and not having heard the noble Lord, Lord Burton, speak. I appreciate that I speak with some risk, but I am an extremely tenderhearted and sensitive animal lover who lives in the country and I cannot forget what the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, said about the fox that had a gin-trap on its leg. I have seen a fox which has been blinded by being shot at at long-range with small shot, which has been wandering about until it was destroyed. Also, of course, snares still have their brutal effects on animals.

What makes it right for me to speak is that as I read the Amendment, I thought the Government would have power to give the most limited number of licences, and only to skilled people who would not do wholesale trapping such as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, described. I am one of those who agree that any fox caught in a gin-trap must inevitably have an end infinitely worse than being bowled over by a pack of hounds or being "chopped" in cover, but the economic side is a very serious aspect in country where gassing is impossible. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Burton, that there are large areas of Scotland concerned.


That is what the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said.


I missed that point owing to not being here earlier. I should have thought the only difficult areas were those with corries and rock dens, where gassing will not work. All sorts of animals have been mentioned, but I am a little surprised that we have not heard more about the otter. However, that is another matter. So far as this Amendment is concerned—and I imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Burton, will withdraw it, which will be a pity—I ask the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, to think again. I also ask him to think of another matter which I raised on Second Reading, and that is the point about the reward for an improved trap. It has been said that there will be four years in which to invent another trap, and yet I think the noble Lord told me that he thought a reward would be liable to tax. If he is sincere in his desire for an improved trap—and I am one of those who long for the day when there will be one—and if the amount of the reward has now been cut down from, I think, £5,000 to £2,000, I really believe that what is left should be tax-free in the hands of the recipient. It must be worth while for him to give time and trouble to the purchase of materials and to experimentation; and, as we all know, it is the experiments which fail which are the costly items in any invention. Will the noble Lord give that matter some thought before another stage?


I certainly cannot support this Amendment, but I will not repeat my Second Reading speech as I spoke at some length on this subject. I should like to take up the observation of my noble friend Lord Burton, who quoted a letter from his shepherd about foxes chewing the legs off lambs. I understood him to imply that those lambs were left alive. But if a fox attacks a lamb he usually kills it outright. The fox is a quick killer and lambs whose legs have been chewed are nearly always stillborn lambs, or are very weak lambs which have died within an hour or two of birth. I cannot believe that a fox—if, in fact, he attacks a strong lamb—will chew its legs off without first killing it.

On the question of otters—and I quite agree that they are not covered by this Amendment—may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, whether he could use his great ingenuity and that of his Department who are behind him, to try to devise by Report stage an Amendment to enable the otter to be saved from being caught by gin-traps? I have found it impossible to devise such an Amendment, but the noble Lord might be able to think of one. If so, I sincerely hope that he will bring it forward on Report stage.


I thought the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, was slightly unfair to my noble friend Lord Burton, when he said that the whole country had to be covered and that there always were cases of cruelty involved. In his Amendment my noble friend took the trouble to include the words: subject to compliance with any conditions specified in the licence. If we do not have an efficient and humane trap by 1973—and after ten years we still do not have one, so it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that we shall not have one in four years—it will surely be possible for the Secretary of State to limit the use of traps to certain counties, such as crofting counties.

As I pointed out on Second Reading, the island set, to which my noble friend Lord Burton referred, accounts for about half of the foxes killed in the crofting counties al the moment, and 99 per cent. of the time the foxes are drowned. So there is no long lingering death. It is a little unfair of the noble Lord, the Minister to say that there is always a long, lingering death, because than is not the case in the crofting counties. Under this Amendment, the Secretary of State would have power to limit the use of traps to one or two counties where the foxes cannot be kept down by other means, and if he wished he could specifically limit the use to the island set.


The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, is basing much of his argument on the respective cruelty which the gin commits to the fox and which the fox commits to the lamb, and saying that the former is much greater than the latter. I hope I am not misquoting him. But he appears to have forgotten that very often the fox commits this cruelty not to one lamb, but to quite an appreciable number of lambs before it is caught. I strongly suspect that if one totted up the amount of cruelty committed to all the lambs by one fox it might easily amount in aggregate to as much as, if not more than, the gin commits to the fox. Therefore, I should have thought that this argument was, to put it mildly, somewhat fallacious.


I apologise for rising again, but I had not in fact finished; I merely sat down for an interruption. My noble friend Lord Mowbray has answered the question about all the foxes dying a cruel, lingering death. This is just another example of the mis-thinking of the Government on this matter. This again, I am afraid, is where we in the countryside suffer from urban thinking, as opposed to those of us who live and know what happens in the rural areas. My noble friend Lord Dundee said that it might be necessary to reintroduce the trap in 1973. This, I am sure, is not what any of your Lordships want. If my Amendment is accepted, although it might never have to be used, if it were necessary to use it then it would permit the trap only on a very limited scale, not on the scale which my noble friend suggested.

We keep coming back to the question: Why has it not been missed in England? I thought I answered this question on Second Reading. Practically all the areas in England which are not suitable for the snare are hunted over, and the hunting controls the foxes in England. In the Highlands of Scotland, you cannot go in a short distance from sea level up to 3.000 feet on a horse at a gallop. If you are going to do this, you have to be jolly fit and you have to use a sort of John Peel pattern. It may be that this is what we shall have to come to; but, equally, this may well be something which a good many people who are trying to abolish the gin trap will not like. Also on Second Reading, dealing with cruelty, I mentioned the old fox who was left with only his front teeth and who sucked the blood of the old ewes in killing them. This must be cruel. I am equally anxious, as most of your Lordships are, to see the end of the gin trap; but, equally, I must look at the other side. I must look at the economic position, and I must look at the cruelty which would otherwise take place. On Second Reading I also mentioned mange, which would be a very slow and lingering death for the fox. I am quite sure that your Lordships' Committee ought to accept my Amendment.


I did not actually finish advising your Lordships not to accept the Amendment, although your Lordships may have gathered that I am against it. The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, took up the suggestion made by Lord Massereene and Ferrard that I might be possessed of a certain amount of ingenuity. I can assure the noble Lord that it would be exceedingly difficult so to devise the issuing of licences that the issue could be confined to a comparatively few people, because if the noble Lord does not know it I can inform him that the ingenuity of the Highlander in finding reasons why anything which applies to anybody else can be equally applied to him will beat any Minister any day. So it would be impossible to restrict this. I have at least reached a point where the noble Lord, Lord Burton, agrees with me, if nodding his head means anything.

I am pretty certain that the noble Lord, Lord Burton, is going to withdraw the Amendment, but I am in a position to answer two points which were raised on the Question that Clause 1 stand part, and I think that perhaps it is desirable that your Lordships should have the information. The answer to the first point is that the organisation which wrote on the subject of immediate action against otters was the Salmon Net Fishing Association of Scotland. On the subject of the Secretary of State having power to ban the use of the trap immediately, he has the power to ban it immediately under the existing law if a suitable alternative is devised. That power will remain, because this Bill merely puts an end to the Secretary of State's power to keep on deferring it. It limits it to four years at the outside; and he cannot put an end to it in less than two years unless the existing law is being complied with.

There are two traps being investigated at the present time, and if it should turn out that the Humane Traps Panel decides that one of these is a suitable alternative to the gin, then under the existing law the Secretary of State has power to ban the use of the gin as soon as this other trap can be brought into operation. So there is the possibility that we might be able to deal with the situation before the four years are up. If that were the case, and if there was a satisfactory alternative, then I think everybody would be satisfied. I mention this point as showing the way in which the Government have acted. They are giving the maximum possible time to the farmers. At the same time, they are not depriving themselves of the power to act if a suitable alternative should present itself before the end of the four-year period. I hone, therefore, that in all these circumstances—although I have no doubt at all that the noble Lord, Lord Burton, has not been persuaded by what I have said—that he will accept that it would not be reasonable to press his Amendment.


I am in some difficulty, because I suspect that I should be heavily defeated here, and I am not sure that when I return North the Highlanders would not slit my throat if I had withdrawn the Amendment. I know they feel very strongly on this matter—and I do not know whether I could show my face at another N.F.U. meeting.


I think the noble Lord could take the risk, although I must say that when he talks about the dangers to Highland lairds of cantering about after foxes at 3,000 feet, there are at least some people in Scotland who would have accepted that the possible death of a few Highland lairds fox-hunting was a reasonable price to pay for eliminating cruelty to the fox.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.